Faith before reason?

July 7, 2007 at 12:44 pm Leave a comment

In response to a recent post of mine, both Charles and Stephen suggested that perhaps the exercise of faith must precede the ability to reason. A basic level of belief and trust are necessary, they said, before we can begin to reason.

So this made me start wondering: What is the role of evidence (or reason) in faith? Can you actually have a healthy, legitimate faith prior to reason, or do the two need to go hand in hand?

Consider the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Here is my question: How can one be assured and convicted of “things not seen” without evidence and without one’s reasoning powers being at work?

I am assured that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, but only because I’ve seen it happen many times before. And I am convicted that my mom will return home tonight as promised because she has always done so in the past. My faith and trust are based on evidence, on past experience, and on testimony that has been proven reliable. In other words, my faith is thoroughly rational and reasonable.

Holding handsBut would my faith be legitimate if I had no such history or evidence to work from? Hardly. People who believe whatever they’re told without critical and reasoned evaluation are justly called gullible and foolish.

(Even Abraham, who “believed in the Lord, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” [Gen. 15:6], had a relationship and a history with God that extended many years before the statement in question was made. This was no blind trust on Abraham’s part.)

So, in answer to Stephen’s and Charles’ suggestions, I am inclined to think that faith does not truly precede reason. The two grow up simultaneously, locked hand in hand, with each supporting and making possible the other. I’m certainly open to further suggestions on the topic, but in the meantime, I continue to be hesitant about the idea that either faith or reason can or should be put before the other.


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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

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