Historical Introduction to Philosophy/Faith and Reason

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What are Faith and Reason? Faith is the belief in the truth of something that does not require any evidence and may not be provable by any empirical or rational means. Reason is the faculty of the mind through which we can logically come to rational conclusions.


Faith and reason are both sources of authority upon which beliefs can rest. Reason fundamentally is understood as the principles used for inquiring subjects from a methodological standpoint, whether it be moral, intellectual, or religious. Once demonstrated, a proposition or claim is ordinarily understood to be justified or authoritative.

Faith can be described as a stance or position that a particular claim is (at least presently) not capable of demonstration by invoking reason. As such, it is believed to involve a belief system that implies, or makes, either an implicit or explicit commitment on the part of the believer. This basis for a person's faith usually is understood to come from the authority of revelation or personal conviction. This revelation is either through some kind of direct infusion, or indirectly, such as the testimony of another source, or individual.

The basic impulse or incentive for this problem of faith and reason seems to come from the fact that the the applied revelation or revelations on which most religions are based are interpreted in very sacred pronouncements steeped in canonical writings, or in an established oral tradition, and backed by a "divine" authority. These writings, stemming from oral traditions are often presented, narrative, parable, and sometimes discourse. This, for some reason, has given them in turn, some measure of immunity from reasonable or rational critique and evaluation.

The Classical Period[edit]

During the Classical Period, Greek Religions, as opposed to Judaism, primarily speculated not only on the human world but also on their surrounding cosmos.

Both Plato and Aristotle expressed a principle of existence in which intellectual organization in religious thinking could metaphysically function to halt the regression of explanation. Plato expressed this in his explanation of the Forms; in particular, the Form of the Good. The Form of the Good is where all things gain their intelligibility. In turn, Aristotle rejected Plato's ideas of the Forms, expressing that Good was not able to account for various good things, instead, Aristotle appealed to the "unmoving" mover, or one who invoked motion, as an unchangeable cosmic entity.

Both of the early Greek philosophers developed different versions of theology by showing how religious beliefs can emerge from rational, or reasonable reflections. An early form of religious apologetics that demonstrate the existence of the gods can be found in Plato's Laws, while in Aristotle's Physics, arguments were given to demonstrate the existence of an unmoved mover as a timeless self-thinker from the evidence of the existence of motion in the world.

Other schools of thought, such as the Stoics and the Epicureans, derived some of their theology from the world of physics and cosmology, but differed in their views of the relationship between faith and reason. The Stoics for instance, held a cosmological view with an eternal cycle, where necessity governs this cyclic process, and is identified with Divine reason (logos), with this, God maintains order in the universe, but without an explicit purpose. We as humans are only microcosms - our souls being only emanations of the soul of the universe. The Epicureans on the other hand were very steeped in skepticism; they took a materialistic point of view, and were very anti-dogmatic. They saw no relationship between the evils in the human life and a divine guidance from the universe, and at death all human perceptions would cease.

By this time in history we began to move into the rise of Christianity (an emergence from Judaism), and although the early Christians held on to a great amount of compatibility between faith and reason, their beliefs and practices were quite different from what the Greeks and Jews had practiced for many years. Early Christian philosophers, beginning with the Christian Apologists, began to express the less important role that reason should and could play in the religious world. Tertullian began to express the ideas that had been laid down by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians proclaiming that religious faith is both "against and and above reason". He goes on to claim in his De Praescriptione Haereticorum, "when we believe, we desire to believe nothing further". He goes on to claim that Greek philosophy is unnecessary to defend the faith, and began to try to show in a rational (reasoned) way what is found in faith.

Though St. Augustine felt strongly about the efforts and ideas of the Platonists, including their ideas about the causes of things and methods of obtaining knowledge, and also on the cause of the organized universe, he will go on to state that although one does not have to be a Christian to have a conception of God, one will only be able to grasp this type of knowledge by being Christian without having to revert back to philosophy. This pattern of a beginning of the separation from equality of reason to faith continued, and St. Anselm would go on to state that one must "love God to have knowledge of him". However, reason became more important with St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas believed that one could conclude that God exists using reason alone. Reason is necessary to decide which authority ought to be believed. Like Augustine, he believed that reason alone was incomplete. Faith comes after reason and then faith allows reason to grow. Faith enables a believer to understand further truths that could not be discovered through reason alone. Reason may enable all humans to know science, but only faith informs us of the ultimate end, goal, purpose, and plan for science.

Nietzsche on Religion[edit]

Nietzsche is famous for the quote "God is dead". There has naturally been some misinterpretation of this quote. Nietzsche did not mean that there was once a real, embodied God who had died. Nietzsche probably did not care if there was a God or not. What Nietzsche did mean was that the God of yesteryear was no longer relevant. With the advent of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment we no longer needed God or religion to explain to us how to behave or why/how natural phenomena (such as floods) occur. This God was dead.

Science (and Occam's Razor) replaced religion as the authority when it came to questions of astronomy, geology, biology, and meteorology; it even gave us new disciplines such as physics, chemistry, and advanced mathematics. Nietzsche's view on morals did not include God or religion either. Nietzsche felt that man's foremost duty was to overcome himself. As explained in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche realized that man is still only part animal and part something more. By overcoming our inner "animal" mankind would become more than just human, something Nietzsche called the Übermensch or Over-man. He also believe that the Judeo-Christian morality was a slave-morality. Its fundamental flaw was emphasis on good intentions rather than on good results. By favoring the weak it bred more weakness.

In addition to this Nietzsche was certainly anti-religion. Nietzsche was a man who believed that man had a responsibility to live a full life. Religion was (is) antithetical to such an idea by creating sin which makes us ashamed of our natural desires, faith that makes us stupid and blind, pity rewarding weakness, and the after-life removed any reason for one to appreciate and enjoy the life they had (even those trying times). Because of this, Nietzsche felt that religion, and in particular Christianity, was evil.


Though we have only scratched the surface here with the relationship between faith and reason, I hope that this brief overview will encourage you to research the topic further, and expand your knowledge on the subject.

Now for your assignment(s);

Some things to ponder and write about;

Are Faith and Reason mutually exclusive?

Theology and Philosophy, are they only autonomous exercises?

OR, is there a unifying factor, something that could unite; Philosophy, Theology, Faith, and Reason.

For your final, consider the development of the ideas of faith and reason, compare and contrast the ideas from the early Greek philosophers to the Christian philosophers through Aquinas.

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