Faith and Reason are not Contradictory

Often people think of Reason as being self-contradictory. I’ve seen it often with atheists who define faith as believe something in spite of reason. I’ve talked with Mormons (Latter-Day Saints) who are convinced that if we start having reason for our faith then we no longer have faith, so finding evidence for what we believe is against God. I’ve even talked with countless Christians who believe that faith is believing something despite evidence and that it wouldn’t be faith if we had evidence of it. They think reason and faith can’t coexist and we can’t have evidence or reasons for our faith.

Leslie Stephen illustrates this view well in saying “the division of faith and reason is a half-measure, till it is admitted that faith has to do with fiction and reason with fact”

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what faith and reason are, and especially a misunderstanding of how faith is defined Biblically (perhaps I’ll write on that next). In my current seminary classes my professor, Dr. Richard Howe defines faith and reason in the following ways:

Reason: is believing something on the basis of demonstration
Faith: is believing something on the basis of authority

I think this best explains what Christians mean, or should mean, when they say they have faith. We believe God created the heavens and the earth based upon the authority of God himself or the authors of the books that told us so. The atheist objects that such a notion is absurd, but is this so odd?

When we think of our belief in the most accepted but complicated issues of science do we believe those things based on reason or faith? Surely most of us must admit that those intricate areas of knowledge are not something we know because they have been demonstrated to us and we understand them personally but because we know there is a reliable authority we can trust on the issue. That being understood we believe those things on faith not on reason.

Furthermore, this means that our faith in something can be based upon reason. I trust the scientists views on areas which they are experts because reason tells me someone who got a PhD in an area knows more than I do about it. I trust doctors that vaccines work not because it’s been demonstrated to me but because reason dictates to me that they are a reliable authority and I have faith in that authority.

In the end our Christian faith then is no different than this. I believe what is written in scripture because of the authority of the one who inspired it. It isn’t in contradiction to reason in fact it is arguably in connection to it.

2 comments

  1. As a Latter-day Saint, I’m not sure why a member of my church would suggest that reason and faith are contradictory. The Book of Mormon explicitly states that reason and faith are coupled together:

    “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” (Alma 32:27)

    Thus you are correct in saying that experimentation (reason) and faith work hand in hand. In fact, reason strengthens our faith. In many ways building faith is like following the scientific method. For example, if a person is uncertain if the commandment to pay tithing is from God, the only way to find out is through experimentation (paying tithing). Jesus Himself recognized this, which is why He said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17) There is certainly nothing wrong with obeying just “because God said so” – that may be necessary at times, as it was with Abraham when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac – but it should not form the foundation of our faith.

    In other words, Jesus is saying, “Don’t do it just because I said so. Try it out for yourself.”

    As a final thought on finding evidence, here is this verse from the Book of Mormon: “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (Alma 30:44)

    Thank you for this article! It was very well written. It gave me new thoughts on the compatibility between faith and reason.

    1. I wish I could remember the passage, but several times I met with missionaries they referenced passages in which someone was told that they must take things on faith and if they asked for evidence they lacked faith or something along those lines. It was in the BOM but I can’t remember where it was. Moroni? I don’t know.

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