Faith and Reason

A nephew was recently visiting here in the Northwest, up from California. He is an atheist in a public junior high school with students who are mostly Catholics and Evangelical Christians. His skeptical and anti-religious views have not been warmly received by other students. So, he was asking me for some ammunition to take back to California for anticipated debates and discussions with Christian students next school year.

I didn’t want to overwhelm him with dozens of issues and arguments and a large stack of books, so I decided to focus in on just one topic, for now. Epistemology seemed like the most logical place to start, specifically the topic of faith vs. reason. There is no point in arguing about God, Jesus, the Bible, or creationism, if the people you are talking to have no interest in being rational, and care nothing about facts, logic, evidence, scholarship, and objectivity. A good first move is to talk about faith and reason, and about how beliefs should be evaluated.

A quick skim of some books on atheism produced a number of articles that dealt with the concept of faith and how it relates to reason. I found three brief discussions that were helpful:

“Does It Matter Whether Theism is Reasonable?” by Wallace Matson
(The Existence of God, 1965, Cornell University Press, p.242-244)
“God and Faith” by B.C. Johnson
(The Atheist Debater’s Handbook, 1981, Prometheus Books, p.95-97)
“God and Reason” by Michael Scriven
(Critiques of God, edited by Peter Angeles, 1976, Prometheus Books, p. 100-105)

Four longer discussions of this topic also appeared to be useful:

“Religion and Reason” by Richard Robinson
(Critiques of God, edited by Peter Angeles, 1976, Prometheus Books, p. 120-124)
“What’s Wrong with Believing on Faith?” by Douglas Krueger
(What is Atheism?, 1998, Prometheus Books, p.207-218)
“Reason Versus Faith” by George Smith
(ATHEISM: The Case Against God, 1979, Prometheus Books, p.95-124)
“The Establishment of Dogma” by John McTaggart
(Faith, edited by Terence Penelhum, 1989, Macmillan Publishing Company, p.155-165)

I plan to dig deeper into books and websites on Christian apologetics, to see what I can find from a Christian viewpoint on this topic, and to see whether the above skeptical discussions of faith and reason are adequate to deal with what Christian apologists have to say on this subject.

Does anyone have a recommendation for articles (internet or otherwise) on faith and reason?

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13748714839511722758 Roy Overmann

    How about: All religions make claims about external facts of the world. The only consistent, trustworthy, successful, and self-correcting method for discovering information about this external world is science. Faith is completely useless in this area. It may make one feel good, but has NO ability in gaining an understanding about the external world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    This has been almost the sole focus of Al Plantinga’s work over the past 30 years.

    See especially:

    Warranted Christian Belief
    “The ‘Onus Probandi’ of Theism”
    Naturalism vs. Evolution: A Religion/Science Conflict?

    [And Draper's excellent response]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03469718358131331499 Robert_B

    Greetings from Robert Bumbalough. I hope all are well. The link below directs to an essay describing a line of reasoning to counter Palntinga.

    Cutting Off One’s Head: The Theological Attack Against Cognition by Francois Tremblay

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03318079028063930265 Brent

    A lot of Christians are now reading a series of books by the journalist Lee Dtrobel.

    The Case for Christ
    The Case for Faith

    and others.

    He interview a lot of experts and writes in a popular style.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09010421115826273321 Rourke

    Re Bradley: “He is an atheist in a public junior high school with students who are mostly Catholics and Evangelical Christians. His skeptical and anti-religious views have not been warmly received by other students.” This is almost identical to my own experience (I’ve been to Catholic and Evangelical schools separately, and am currently at a Catholic school). While there are some people who don’t get on my case for it (such as my sophomore religion teacher, a former atheist and understanding of actual rationality) most people there do if I bring it up. I’ve been waiting for a list of books something like this, so I’m very glad you wrote your list here!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16826768452963498005 Jim Lippard

    Lee Strobel is not a good journalist, since his books only express an evangelical Christian viewpoint. See Jeff Lowder’s review of The Case for Christ.

    Lee Strobel is the new Josh McDowell. It’s good to be familiar with his arguments because they are popular, but he’s not a good source to rely on for the facts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10212971606135991995 Wes

    I looked over the article Robert B recommended, and it seems a rather confused piece of writing.

    [For instance, I lost count of the number of errors and misstatements in this paragraph:

    What therefore can we say about the possibility of rationality, given that N[aturalism]&E;[volution] is true? We would be justified in agreeing that rationality is not guaranteed by N&E.; Indeed, that is why epistemology exists in the first place: if rationality was guaranteed, we would not need standards of knowledge, we would gain knowledge instinctively. To a certain extent we do gain knowledge instinctively, but obviously not completely. But rationality is not out of our reach by virtue of N&E; being true, given that we have epistemology.]

    Nothing against the blogger who wrote this, but I think it would be much better to stick to responses of professional philosophers.

    Here are a few:

    Adrian Bardon has a fairly recent (1/2007) article “Reliabilism, Proper Function, and Serendipitous Malfunction” that offers an interesting critique.

    Also see TSO’s very own Keith Parsons, “Some Contemporary Theistic Arguments” in Martin’s Companion to Atheism, and especially the new book by Tooley and Plantinga Knowledge of God.

    No matter how wrong Plantinga is (and he is very wrong), he’s really fucking smart and is an interesting epistemologist. I wouldn’t put much stock in the responses of a dismissive blogger with no background in epistemology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13036816926421936940 Edward T. Babinski

    There is a new book coming out soon that takes on Lee Strobel’s arguments and that I would recommend to anyone dealing with Evangelical apologists, it is Dr. Robert M. Price’s CROCK OF CHRIST (which I assume will be the book’s title). Also see Price’s earlier book, online, BEYOND BORN AGAIN. Both are excellent when dealing with apologists.

    I also suggest the Debunking Christianity blog run by ex-Christians.

    And exchristian.net

    Nothing like ex-ers for helping people recognize the diversity of ways in which one many be “converted.”

    Also, simply pointing out the diversity of Christian opinion is important. The best blog on that has yet to be written, and it would consist of a blog in which young-earthers are directed to old-earth websites, old-earthers directed to theistic evolutionist websites, and so forth. Or in the case of predestination vs. freewill, Calvinists directed to Arminian websites and Open Theism websites. Or in the case of mind-body dualism, Christian mind-body dualists directed to Christian mind-body monists. You can also direct inerrantist Christians to non-inerrantist Christians. You can direct Christians who believe in substitutionary metaphysics of the cross to other Christians who dispute such a view and who call it “child abuse.” You can direct evangelical Protestants to evangelical CATHOLIC sites and let them bang heads over the virgin Mary and the Eucharist and the magisterium. There’s even King James only folks you can direct to more “liberal” inerrantists who accept a variety of Scriptural versions. And you can direct Pentecostals to Christians who denounce speaking in tongues. Really, there’s no limit to the fun one can have by simply sheperding dogmatic doctrinaire Christians toward other dogmatic doctrinaire Christians, and hopefully in the end all Christians will gain in moderation as a result.

    Oh, and carry around a copy of my book, LEAVING THE FOLD: TESTIMONIES OF FORMER FUNDAMENTALISTS, which should spark up conversation right away.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16675591063438206496 Ilkka Pyysiäinen

    Taner,
    I saw this book today in the library and hope to read it soon and to be able to refute the claims made ;-)

    Keller, Timothy J., The reason for God: belief in an age of skepticism. New York: Dutton, 2008.
    Contents:
    The leap of doubt — There can’t be just one true religion — How could a good God allow suffering? — Christianity is a strait jacket — The church is responsible for so much injustice — How can a loving God send people to hell? — Science has disproved Christianity — You can’t take the Bible literally — Intermission — The reasons for faith — The clues of God — The knowledge of God — The problem of sin — Religion and the Gospel — The (true) story of the cross — The reality of the Resurrection — The dance of God — Epilogue: Where do we go from here?

    Inspired by this, I started to dig deeper and found these two:

    Religion and the challenges of science / edited by William Sweet and Richard Feist. Adershot, Hants, England Burlington, VT: Ashgate , 2007.

    Collins, Francis S. The language of God: a scientist presents evidence for belief. London: Pocket Books, 2007.

    I would be amazed to find some really new arguments, though.

    Also this may be of interest: Ted Peters, Robert John Russell, & Michael Welker (Eds.). 2002. Resurrection: Theological and scientific assessments. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

    This one is among the most liberal defenses of the Christian religion: they accept all of science and then try to put God "behind" everything. But what would that mean? God cannot be "behind" the Big Bang, for example, because in the very beginning (Planck's epoch and immeadiately after that) there was no order whatsoever, as you know. If God is related to order, then God came into existence some hundreds of thousands of years after the Big Bang and will cease to exist in the very end.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16675591063438206496 Ilkka Pyysiäinen

    Oops, sorry, Bradley, when I replied to your message, I thought for some reason that is was sent by Taner Edis. I hope don’t mind.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15712687960643444659 Mastigando cinzas

    The intellectual struggle between Faith and Reason may help some Christians to come out of the “Faith Rut”, but I have a devastating [objective] argument that shuts down the attempts of all Faith debaters.
    One of them had the audacity to tell me that I could not understand Faith with Reason. I replied that I could not shut down my reason faculty without destroying my brain to understand Faith! He was telling me to shut down my brain and use HIS instead. The ugliest ROBBERY in the universe. Which meant I had to call upon my reason faculty to replace my brain with his. If I did that I would have no more brain to UNDERSTAND Faith. Oh, how he ran away, the idiot!
    You see, we build our concept of Faith using only 5% of our REASON POWER.
    I told this guy [a Russellite, JW] that Faith would not survive Reason if we could use 6% of intellectual discernment. He disagreed and left; he had only 2% of brain power to defend his violent religion and his cruel deity.
    Julio. Johannesburg.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13408778388253342202 skeptic griggsy

    At bottom, even the most fervent defender of natural theology resorts to faith, the we just say so of credulity. Faith merely begs the question of its object in order to obiviate the duty to provide evidence. Science is acquired knowledge as Sydney Hooks puts it, while faith begs the question of being knowledge. And the Wager relies on faith so that the difference in the two probabilities rests with no god ! I find that theists ever beg questions.
    Platinga resorts to the Ockham-breaking Satan to save the Ockham-ignostic-breaking God!
    Theists are ever so shallow even while profuse.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13408778388253342202 skeptic griggsy

    At bottom, even the most fervent defender of natural theology resorts to faith, the we just say so of credulity. Faith merely begs the question of its object in order to obiviate the duty to provide evidence. Science is acquired knowledge as Sydney Hooks puts it, while faith begs the question of being knowledge. And the Wager relies on faith so that the difference in the two probabilities rests with no god ! I find that theists ever beg questions.
    Platinga resorts to the Ockham-breaking Satan to save the Ockham-ignostic-breaking God!
    Theists are ever so shallow even while profuse.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Thank you all for the comments and reading suggestions. There are many different views to consider on the faith vs reason topic. Here are just a few:

    AQUINAS/Catholics – Reason can prove God’s existence and support the inspiration of the Bible (via evidence of miracles), but some theological beliefs (e.g. Trinity) are based on faith; they are accepted on the authority of the Bible.

    PASCAL – One sort of rationality has to do with chosing among alternative actions based on the likely benefits and harms that would result. Chosing to believe in God and to be a Christian can be shown to be rational in the sense of being likely to result in the best outcome (as compared to other alternatives, sush as being an atheist or agnostic).

    KANT – Reason can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. However, it is reasonable to believe in God, because God is a presupposition of the moral point of view.

    CALVIN/Evangelicals – Reasoning must ultimately rest on assumptions that are not themselves derived from reason. We believers have something better than reason; we have experiences of the presence and activity of God. So we know God exists directly, without the neeed for inference or interpretation.

    WILLIAM JAMES – Reason cannot determine whether or not God exists, and in such cases where reason is not able to decide an issue, it is appropriate to allow subjective and non-rational considerations to influence what we believe. Belief in God might work for some people, to help them to face life with hope and courage. If so, such people may reasonably believe in God, even though reason does not establish that God exists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15712687960643444659 Mastigando cinzas

    I do not like Calvin’s theology (The Intitutiones, or whatever in Latin).
    He is a theologian FOSSIL and very dangerous with his theological misdemeanours. His faith led him to burn a friend at the stake for the small excuse that he didn’t believe in three gods [the Trinity]. Servetus was a “Unitarian”, or an Arian, or modernly a Russellite, or a JW.
    When a religion kills to uphold God’s holiness, that religion is CRIMINAL!
    The “EXPERIENCE” of the presence and activity of God [as he said] in him converted him into a diabolical dictator and autocratic ruler in Geneva and surroundings. Who is “WE” he is talking about? All the fanatical Christians of his herd, plagued with the same psychosis of loving their nice holy god and going out to kill those who disagree!
    Religion has the criminal poison in its essence; it is only for it to have enough numbers to enter the social forum and then the political platform, to then become the Official Faith and have access to lethal weapon to go out and evangelise the disgruntled!!
    Calvin was mad. Luckily he died young, with asthma…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13408778388253342202 skeptic griggsy

    Platinga’s shield of faith ever prohibits him to fathom others’ analysis that his argumentation is ever so specious.
    Tremblay, while an able apologist for atheism, is such a dunce when it comes to politics and economics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13408778388253342202 skeptic griggsy

    wes , in “C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion” John Beversluis refutes this grave fallacy of Platinga.


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