In one of my favorite television comedies, there is an episode where a cult wants to rent a public park to host a group meeting. They want this park so they can wait for Zorp the Surveyor to return, to melt everyone’s faces, and subsequently to destroy the world. The thing is that they’ve rented the public park many times only to have their eschatological prophecies thwarted. But to appear rational to the public, the name the group gave themselves was The Reasonablists.
Since the Enlightenment, reason and faith have been seen, at least in the public sphere, as at loggerheads with each other. You can have one or the other, but not both, they say. Oil and water. But is this really the case, or is it a tactic used to downplay religion’s place in public? Has reason become religion? Do religious people, by extension, not use reason in the formation of their beliefs? Historically, at least within Western Christian thought, reason and faith, though not identical, were siblings. They came from the same family.
To add some brio to the blog, today I’m going to define a word that is something to reject.
Fideism. Noun. One must ascent to Christian truth by faith alone and reject reason and evidence as necessary components of theological knowledge.
You’ll find all sorts of forms of fideism. For some, fideism relates to all truth in every field of knowledge. 2+2=4 on faith alone. For others, fideism only extends to the theological, moral, or philosophical. This is a circular loop. Fideism in the theological realm, even if we say is rooted in authoritative Scripture, can’t help but be circular and somewhat arbitrary. Do you think Christians disagree now?
Fideism is rooted in authority. So in one sense, all Christians are fideists. We believe in one supreme authority, God himself. And from him comes all truth, and we are obligated to believe all that God has said. But to jump to the conclusion that reason, therefore, is unnecessary, denies how God conveys truth.
What fideism does do is show the limits of human knowledge. There is a sense in which everything we “know”, especially in the scientific realm, is accepted on faith. For instance, we see gravity at work in the tides and kids falling off of bicycles, but ne’er a soul has seen gravity itself. This is how science works. People make observations and try to repeat them. That’s the best we can do. How many other scientific theories have been corrected or discarded?
But here we see the limits of fideism proper. Scientific theories are corrected or discarded because of empirical evidence, or reason.
But what about theological convictions? Do we need reason to believe in every doctrine?
In order to believe what God says is true, you must first prove that God exists. Do we believe that God exists on faith alone, or has God given us evidence of his existence, his authority, and therefore our obligation to obey him?
At this point the Christian turns to Scripture. The skeptic says, “We haven’t even gotten to 500 words yet, and you’re already using circular logic.” It’s at this point I say, “Your logic is circular unless there is an authoritative point of origin for all ideas.”
Paul wrote in Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse”
The very nature of God is revealed in the cosmos. We see God’s power and divinity in the expanse of the sky as well as in the precision of microbiology.
Think about what Paul is saying. You can know that God exists. You don’t have to take the existence of God on faith. In fact, every single one of us has no excuse for denying the rationality and reasonableness of the existence of God.
Engage your senses. Use your mental faculties. What’s more reasonable, that all physical matter comes from nothing and nothing made it, or that all physical matter comes nothing and a being outside of physicality made it? Which one actually requires a healthy amount of faith? To say that something came from nothing is an assault on reason and logic. The person who believes that something came from nothing is the one rejecting intellectual honesty.
There are many philosophical proofs for the existence of God. For some examples, Thomas Aquinas had “five proofs” for God’s existence.
1. If you try to follow the chain reaction of events that leads creation to this moment, there must be an “unmoved mover” who initiated movement. Creation duplicates itself, but it could not have made itself.
2. The cosmos operates by cause and effect, which we can witness. What was the initial cause?
3. If one person or object dies or is destroyed, the rest of the world does not die or get destroyed along with it. Therefore, it is possible that everything could stop existing, yet it doesn’t. God must continue to hold creation with purpose.
4. Humans make judgments on truth and beauty. Therefore, there is a standard outside of ourselves that has been imposed on us in the essence of who we are.
5. The world has a clear design to it. This is true because inanimate objects have no intellect yet behave a certain way. Rain does not turn to snow because it wants to. Magnets do not attract metals because they made a choice. There is a great designer to the cosmos that has set rules for operation in place.
And because we can know that God exists, we can and must take reason and faith as siblings that mutually inform the other. Proofs for the existence of God do not lead anyone to salvation, but that’s not Paul’s point in Romans 1. His point is actually that we have rejected reason and logic, and that is why we turn from God and make a law for ourselves.
But thank God that not only has he given us proof of his existence, but in his Son and his substitutionary death for us, he has also given us evidence of his mercy and justice.