A recent column of mine on “Faith and Reason” in a regional newspaper received a great deal of interesting feedback. In it, I claimed that faith is belief without evidence and reason belongs to a different domain of human inquiry. Some readers took exception and claimed that one can come to faith by reason, citing as evidence, the existence of Christian Apologetics, which present a reasoned basis for the Christian faith.
First, I’m delighted to have the feedback. Secondly, I agree. Some levels of faith are supported by reason, for instance, faith in a religious belief system. But I wasn’t writing about that level of faith. I was writing about a deeper level of faith – faith in the unknowable
Author, C.S. Lewis, offered some clarification when he held that “faith is merely the virtue by which we hold to our reasoned ideas, despite moods to the contrary.”
As I proposed in my last book, our reason and logic are incomplete as evidenced by our failure to answer the most serious question of faith and religion: how can an all-loving God allow the existence of evil in a world He created?
American poet and writer, Archibald MacLeish, gave us a clearer view of the failure of this logic. In his poetic drama, J.B., circus vendor, Mr. Nickles, puts a fine point on the issue: “If God is God, he is not good. If God is good, he is not God.” In other words, if the one we call God is truly in charge, his tolerance of unmerited suffering proves that he could not possibly be in charge of such a topsy-turvy sadism.” On this point, reason fails and all that’s left is faith.
This is the faith that either develops or doesn’t after we’ve exhausted all the reasoning , deconstructed all the texts, and reached the irreducible contradictions contained in all closed systems of belief. It’s the last foothold on the edge of the precipice of absolute aporia.
Here’s the core issue: Religious apologetics exist to justify most major religions of the world too. Each one proves its own axioms. But none can claim it proves the truth without restricting itself to its own axioms.
Religious apologetics reside in systems of logic, whether they be Christian, Hindu, Islamic or Judaic. Logical arguments, by their very nature, hold their own axioms to be true, but cannot prove them without engaging with another system of logic. This might be why we have so many different religions and so many different sects within each.
In other words, closed systems of logic are capable of reaching their own conclusions with confidence but not necessarily proving the truth regardless of the topic (See Kurt Godel’s incompleteness theories). I am a Christian by birth and enculturation and an agnostic by discernment. I believe the existence and/or nature of a supreme being or creator is unknowable. So I am left with one question: Do I have faith in that unknowable? And there is no way I can come to that faith through limited human reason and logic, either mine of that of the ancients.
We live in a thin film of life, on an insignificant planet, located in a rural neighborhood of a minor galaxy, in a universe of 100 billion galaxies that contain 100 billion stars each and we have determined that we know the nature and mind of its creator. I think it more accurate to say that we’ve projected our image onto that putative creator of the universe. And to me that is the height of human arrogance.
This universe is full of marvels and mysteries. We can continue to explore them by asking questions and when we get to what we can’t seem to explain, we have choices. We can claim its God’s handiwork and discovery ends there. Or we can continue our journey of discovery without the answers to every question. The first confirms faith in our beliefs. The second confirms faith in the unknown.
The latter is focus of my faith.