Are Reason and Faith Compatible?
Both the atheist and the theist face a similar danger. The atheist will base all of his ability to acquire and know truth on reason and will attempt to eliminate faith altogether. He looks at faith as a primitive thing and a copout for non-thinking Christians who need a crutch when the rubber meets the road.
The theist will often place a great emphasis on faith to the point of nearly eliminating reason all together. Hebrews 11:6 is often used to emphasize the importance of faith, “But without faith it is impossible to please him”. But, did not the prophet of old call for a response to reason? Isa. 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord”. As a Christian, I find reason and faith compatible not only because the Bible sets forth both reason and faith as a viable means of acquiring knowledge but also because my Christian worldview finds no conflict between reason and faith.
The atheist will often criticize the theist for readily abandoning reason in favor of faith. I can understand why the theist is vulnerable to this criticism. In the early years of this republic great men like George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Patrick Henry and even a short term deist, Ben Franklin, were very strongly influenced by the prevalence of Christianity when they laid the cornerstone for our liberty. Most were men of faith but they were also men of reason and logic. They were strongly influence by a biblical worldview of man (depraved in his nature) and government (instituted by God to bring social order).
American Christians will often throw barbs at their non-believing critics by declaring that our country was stolen away from us. We often hear it phrased like this: “We came here to establish a country based on biblical truths. Because we were here first we demand the right to order the policy and direction of our government.” One hundred and fifty years after the time of our founding fathers many American Christian leaders chose to hide away in their ‘faith’ monasteries and find contentment with an “our four and no more” attitude. We ceded the intellectual high ground to the skeptics and atheists. It’s not that we couldn’t hold our own in the world of reason, we simply found it much easier to thump a Bible and slide into a philosophical sloth. When we withdrew from the world of reason and logic the likes of Dewey, Neitzshe, Darwin and Marx were quick to fill the void.
The truth of God is contained in the scripture. The problem is that the ability of man to understand scripture is limited. That limitation was established by God himself. Does that mean he gave us a great hunger for knowledge and then made it impossible for us to acquire a full knowledge of all things? Yes, exactly. He limits our ability to acquire knowledge through reason because faith is such a vital part of his plan for our own salvation and eternal destiny. There would be no need for faith if we could ‘reason’ our way to God. Both faith and reason are vital parts to our understanding of God and his plan of salvation.
Jesus didn’t say to the woman who anointed his feet with oil, “By your ability to reason you have been saved”. Instead, he said, “By faith are you saved.” Faith trumps reason but doesn’t denigrate it.