Friday, July 06, 2007

Faith & Reason

An interesting observation by Fr John Richard Neuhaus. His argument, in a nutshell, is that "Christian faith is informed by and vulnerable to a universal reason." He writes:

Is it possible that the claims of the Christians or of the atheists could be falsified? [Stanley] Fish answers: “As it is usually posed, the question imagines disconfirming evidence coming from outside the faith, be it science or religion. But a system of assumptions and protocols (and that is what a faith is) will recognize only evidence internal to its basic presuppositions. Asking that religious faith consider itself falsified by empirical evidence is as foolish as asking that natural selection tremble before the assertion of deity and design. Falsification, if it occurs, always occurs from the inside.” The difference between Dawkins and Saint Paul, says Fish, is that they are each enmeshed in different “structures” of reason and faith that “speak to different needs and different purposes.”

Not quite. In fact, not at all. The reasons that Christians give for their faith are not an inside job, so to speak. See, for instance, 1 Corinthians 15: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” That is a “structure of reason” shared with Dawkins et al., and indeed with all reasonable people.

Christians can imagine the hypothetical possibility that the remains of the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth will be found buried in the Holy Land and scientifically identified beyond reasonable doubt, with foundation-shaking consequences for Christian faith. That is because Christian faith is informed by and vulnerable to a universal reason that Fish refuses to acknowledge. (Impressive statements of the convincing case for the physical resurrection of Jesus are Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus—God and Man and, more recently, N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.)

This is a claim that many Orthodox Christians unwisely reject out of hand. I say unwisely not because I think faith arise simply and without qualification from human reason, but because the lack of appreciation for the reasonable
character of the Gospel lends itself to a sectarian view of faith that says (in effect) the Gospel is only for "us," whoever "us" might be. While reason alone cannot validate the Gospel, when Orthodox Christians reject that
reason can know, at least in part, the Gospel we deny those outside the Church any understanding of Christ's message. After all we are told by the Apostle Peter:

And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3.13-17)

I think we hold this unappreciative view of human reason less from a respect for revelation (indeed we can only hold it if we reject revelation) and more from an unwillingness to subject ourselves to criticism. If my faith is divorced from universal reason, or can only be understood from "the inside," then I can (and will) easily dismiss critics who simply "don't get it."

More importantly though, if faith and reason are divorced--if faith owes nothing to reason, and reason to faith--then the evangelistic work of the Church comes to a halt. The outside will remain outside failing some miracle of grace quite separate from the Church's preaching. But if this is really the case, why preach? And for that matter, why even hold to the notion that salvation is synergisitic? If there is no active role for human reason, why do we we say that there is a role for the human body?

"That which is not assumed," St Ireneaus argues, "is not saved." If there is no role for reason, then a key element of the human person is not redeemed.

Anyway, to read more of Fr. Neuhaus essay: FIRST THINGS: Stanley Fish’s Take on Richard Dawkins & Co.-with Unhappy Consequences for Reason.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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