Faith and reason

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St. Thomas Aquinas took the position that faith and reason are compatible.

Faith and Reason have each been considered to be sources of justification for religious belief. It has been a matter of much interest to philosophers and theologians how the two are related. Some hold that there can be no conflict between the two, while others maintain that faith and reason can be in genuine conflict, even contradiction when considering certain propositions or methodologies. The historical development of thought on the interrelation of religious faith and reason begins with Classical Greek conceptions of mind and religious mythology, continues through the medieval Christian theologians, the rise of modern science in the early post-Renaissance period, and the philosophical reformulation of the issue as one of ‘science versus religion’ in the twentieth and twenty-first century.

In his work Faith and Reason, Dick Sztanyo, M.A writes:

There are two extremes that must be avoided, whether in a study and presentation of Christian apologetics or in a Christian’s daily life: (1) the use of reason alone; and (2) the use of revelation alone. In practical terms, this is not a situation of “either/or” but “both/and.” The proper relationship should be that of reason and revelation. Though many religionists posit some sort of separation between faith and reason, I argue that such is not the case. Faith and reason are to be distinguished, but never separated. To illustrate this, consider the relationship of the mind and body. The body is not the mind, nor is the mind the body. Yet they are inseparably joined in this present mode of existence. Therefore, the mind and the body can be, and ought to be, distinguished, but not separated. In a similar way, faith and reason are distinct, but not separate. Both are essential to Christianity, though each must function within its proper sphere. Faith is primarily an act of both the intellect and the will, whereas reason is essentially an act of the intellect.

The word family of pistis and pisteuo in Scripture is related to the term peitho. These three words are used 244, 248, and 55 times, respectively, in the Bible. The verb pisteuo primarily has reference to the act of faith, while the noun form more clearly depicts what faith means. Liddell and Scott define the noun as follows: “a means of persuasion, an argument, proof” (1869, pp. 1272-1273). Peitho, in the active voice, means “to be fully persuaded, believe, trust: of things, to be believed” (1869, p. 1220). At the very least, the terms imply a prior understanding (i.e., knowledge) of what is to be believed or trusted. In other words, faith is based upon a foundation of knowledge. Moreover, faith can lead to a greater expression of knowledge.

Faith is used in Scripture in a general way to refer to those things both supernaturally and naturally revealed by God (cf. Hebrews 11:1,3,6, Psalm 19:1-14, Romans 1:18-22, and 10:9-17). Scripture records at least seven different ways in which the term “faith” is used, five of which (the first five in my listing) play an indispensable role in man’s salvation. First, faith is used to designate “belief ” (John l2:42; Hebrews 11:6). Second, faith sometimes means “trust” (John 14:1; Romans 4:17-20; Luke 7). Third, faith often refers to “obedience” (Numbers 20:12; John 3:36, ASV; Hebrews 10:39; Romans 1:5,8; 16:25-26). Fourth, faith frequently refers to steadfastness, loyalty, or “faithfulness” (Habakkuk 2:4; Galatians 3:9; Hebrews 10: 23,38; Revelation 2:10). Fifth, the word is used objectively to refer to the content of faith, hence, “the faith” (Romans 10:9; Jude 3; Galatians 1:11,23). Sixth, at times faith is used of strong personal conviction (Romans 14:2,23). Seventh, faith also is used on occasion to speak of a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:8-9; Matthew 17:20, 1 Corinthians 13:2). While faith sometimes is contrasted with sight (2 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:1; cf. John 20:29 for an exception), doubt (James 1:6; cf. also Matthew 14:3 and 21:21), and deeds of the law (Romans 3:28; Galatians 3:2-5), it never is contrasted with knowledge so as to imply a separation....

Furthermore, there are numerous passages in which faith and knowledge materially pertain to the same object at the same time and under the same aspect (see 1 Timothy 4:3, 2 Timothy 1:12, John 4:42, 6:69, 17:8, 1 John 4:6,16, and 5:13). Moreover, the apostles used a variety of types of evidence to lead men to a commitment to Christ. For instance, in Acts 2:14-40, Peter used eyewitness testimony (see John 4:39), the miracles of Christ (see John 20:30-31), and predictive prophecy (see Isaiah 41:21ff.). Indirect credible testimony is also a predominant line of evidence leading to faith (see Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:3, 2.36, 9:22, and 13:38). Thus, faith often is portrayed biblically as knowledge based upon testimony.[1]

St. Paul, St. Peter, and Jesus

Perhaps the earliest Christian expression of the reasonableness of faith is found in the persuasive arguments of Saint Paul's Letters in the New Testament, and after him in the exposition of the message of Jesus Christ in The Gospels by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Indeed, the entire preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by Christianity for almost two millenia has taken the form recommended by Saint Peter (1 Peter 3:15): your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.[2]
This is the role of Christian apologetics. The intuitive perception of faith as reasonable was expressed by Jesus:
My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.[3]

He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.[4]

If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.[5]

Early Christian Apologists

A.D. 130-200 Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus ( "See not only with thine eyes, but with thine intellect also..."

A.D. 150-160 Justin Martyr—The First Apology of Justin ( " order that we may follow those things which please Him, choosing them by means of the rational faculties He has Himself endowed us with, He both persuades and leads us to faith."

A.D. 175-180 Athenagoras of Athens—A Plea for the Christians by Athenagoras of Athens: Philosopher and Christian ( "...we are able to demonstrate what we apprehend and justly believe, namely that there is one God, with proofs and reasons accordant with truth..."

A.D. 175-185 Irenaeus of Lyons ( —"It does not follow because men are endowed with greater and less degrees of intelligence, that they should therefore change the subject-matter [of the faith] itself, and should conceive of some other God besides Him who is the Framer, Maker, and Preserver of this universe, (as if He were not sufficient for them), or of another Christ, or another Only-begotten. But the fact referred to simply implies this, that one may [more accurately than another] bring out the meaning of those things which have been spoken in parables, and accommodate them to the general scheme of the faith; and explain [with special clearness] the operation and dispensation of God connected with human salvation..." —Against Heresies, Book I

A.D. 180-185 Theophilus of Antioch, Theophilus to Autolycus, Book I, Book II, Book III ( —"Most excellent is His wisdom. By His wisdom God founded the earth; and by knowledge He prepared the heavens; and by understanding were the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the clouds poured out their dews. If thou perceivest these things, O man, living chastely, and holily, and righteously, thou canst see God. But before all let faith and the fear of God have rule in thy heart, and then shalt thou understand these things." —Theophilus of Antioch to Autolycus, Book I

A.D. 180-230 Hippolytus of Rome ( —"As it was your desire, my beloved brother Theophilus, to be thoroughly informed on those topics which I put summarily before you, I have thought it right to set these matters of inquiry clearly forth to your view, drawing largely from the Holy Scriptures themselves as from a holy fountain, in order that you may not only have the pleasure of hearing them on the testimony of men, but may also be able, by surveying them in the light of (divine) authority, to glorify God in all. For this will be as a sure supply furnished you by us for your journey in this present life, so that by ready argument applying things ill understood and apprehended by most, you may sow them in the ground of your heart, as in a rich and clean soil. By these, too, you will be able to silence those who oppose and gainsay the word of salvation." —Treatise on Christ and Antichrist.

A.D. 182-202 Clement of Alexandria ( —..."set thyself earnestly to find Christ. 'For I am,' He says, 'the door,' which we who desire to understand God must discover, that He may throw heaven's gates wide open to. us. For the gates of the Word being intellectual, are opened by the key of faith. No one knows God but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal Him. And I know well that He who has opened the door hitherto shut, will afterwards reveal what is within; and will show what we could not have known before, had we not entered in by Christ, through whom alone God is beheld." —Exhortation to the Heathen

A.D. 197-220 Tertullian ( —"ONE proof of that ignorance of yours, which condemns whilst it excuses your injustice, is at once apparent in the fact, that all who once shared in your ignorance and hatred (of the Christian religion), as soon as they have come to know it, leave off their hatred when they cease to be ignorant; nay more, they actually themselves become what they had hated, and take to hating what they had once been." —Ad nations

Anselm of Canterbury was the originator of the ontological argument
A.D. 203-250 Origen (earlychristianwritings) —"For I do not know in what rank to place him who has need of arguments written in books in answer to the charges of Celsus against the Christians, in order to prevent him from being shaken in his faith, and confirm him in it. But nevertheless, since in the multitude of those who are considered believers some such persons might be found as would have their faith shaken and overthrown by the writings of Celsus, but who might be preserved by a reply to them of such a nature as to refute his statements and to exhibit the truth, we have deemed it right to yield to your injunction, and to furnish an answer to the treatise which you sent us, but which I do not think that any one, although only a short way advanced in philosophy, will allow to be a "True Discourse," as Celsus has entitled it." —Origen. Contra Celsus, Book I

A.D. 354–430 Augustine of Hippo In Evangelium Ioannis Tractus Centum Viginti Quatuor —"Ergo noli quaerere intellegere ut credas, sed crede ut intelligam"–"Therefore I do not seek to understand to believe, but I believe, to understand." —Tractus 29:6. More commonly the phrase attributed to St. Augustine is "Credo ut Intelligam": "I believe in order to understand".[6]

A.D. 1033–1109 Anselm of Canterbury —"Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam"—"I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand." This saying is often associated with Anselm's other famous phrase "fides quaerens intellectum"—"faith seeking understanding"[6]

Pope John Paul II

John Paul II
Pope John Paul II wrote Fides et Ratio Faith and Reason an Encyclical Letter to the bishops of the whole Catholic Church on the relationship between faith and reason (dated 14 September, 1998). He asserts that what is distinctive in the biblical text is the conviction that there is a profound and indissoluble unity between the knowledge of reason and the knowledge of faith, and therefore, reason and faith cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of men and women to know themselves, the world and God in an appropriate way; thus there is no reason for competition of any kind between reason and faith: each contains the other, and each has its own scope for action.

Richard Swinburne

Faith and Reason is the title of an extensive book-length treatment by philosopher Richard Swinburne, published 8 December 2005.[7] Faith and Reason is the third volume in Richard Swinburne’s trilogy on the philosophy of religion.

In The Coherence of Theism he examines the claims of theism and comes to provisional conclusions that theism is not demonstrably incoherent, and that a more feasible but indirect way of arguing for the coherence of theism is to provide grounds for thinking that theism is most probably true.

Then in The Existence of God Swinburne examines the arguments for and against the existence of God and concludes that the preponderance of evidence indicates that God actually exists.

Finally, in Faith and Reason Swinburne is concerned with the relevance of such judgments of probability to the reasonableness of religious faith, the relevance of the carefully reasoned conclusion of the believer to the belief that “God exists”.

Faith and reason: Conservative Protestant view, Ligonier Ministries

R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries.
  • Faith and Reason, by Keith Mathison ( - Ligonier Ministries.
    Keith Mathison argues that the vast majority of Christians throughout history have not rejected the right use of reason, stemming from their attempt to be faithful to the teaching of Scripture, which provides reasons to believe. He points out that John wrote his entire Gospel to provide reasons to believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:30–31); that John, Peter, and Paul appeal to evidence for the claims they make (1 Cor. 15:5–6; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1–4); the fact that all human beings believe certain things based on the testimony of others; and that Christians believe what they believe based on the testimony of the Apostles. He maintains that such faith is a gift, but it is not divorced from reason.
  • Faith and Reason, Resource by John Piper. Topic: Life of the Mind, Ligonier National Conference - Orlando, Florida (
    John Piper's theme in this paper is faith and reason, beginning with reflections on reason and then on faith and then on the relationship between the two in the awakening of saving faith. He argues that even though our natural minds are depraved and darkened and foolish, nevertheless, the New Testament demands that we use them in coming to faith, and leading people to faith, and in the process of Christian growth and obedience. There is no way to awaken faith or strengthen faith that evades right thinking. John Piper passionately maintains that what should burden Christians on this issue is not only how to commend and defend Christianity to intellectuals, but how to proclaim it among a thousand unreached peoples around the world, many of whom are illiterate, who cannot wait for generations of education.
Unless men may come to a reasonable, solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the gospel, by the internal evidences of it . . . by a sight of its glory; it is impossible that those who are illiterate, and unacquainted with history, should have any thorough and effectual conviction of it at all. They may without this, see a great deal of probability of it; it may be reasonable for them to give much credit to what learned men and historians tell them. . . . But to have a conviction, so clear, and evident, and assuring, as to be sufficient to induce them, with boldness to sell all, confidently and fearlessly to run the venture of the loss of all things, and of enduring the most exquisite and long continued torments, and to trample the world under foot, and count all things but dung for Christ, the evidence they can have from history [alone], cannot be sufficient. —Jonathan Edwards

See also


  1. Faith and Reason by Dick Sztanyo
  2. 1 Peter 3:15
  3. John 7:16
  4. John 8:47
  5. John 10:37-38
  6. 6.0 6.1 Credo ut Intelligam - Wikipedia
  7. At the time this Conservapedia article was written, Swinburne's Faith and Reason was priced at over $200.00, and at $129.00 Barnes & Noble.

External links

Faith and reason - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (

Early Christian Apologetics (

Faith vs. Reason, Dr. Jason Lisle (

Faith and Reason, by Dick Sztanyo ( pdf

Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Relationship Between Faith and Reason (

Kant: Critique of Pure Reason (Summary) -