Question 1: Are Faith and Reason Incompatible? (pt.2)

Part II: Getting Down to the Brass Tacks

As I mentioned in my last post, general conclusions that are arrived at via the inductive method of reasoning are neither certain nor true. There is no way for a consideration of individual instances of phenomena to serve as the foundation for universal propositions regarding those phenomena under consideration. It is, in other words, logically impossible to derive universal propositions about reality from our severly limited observations of reality. This is difficult for us to accept (myself included at times), but it is prerequisite to forming or answering any questions raised against the Christian faith. For if one has any doubts about the truth of Scripture, then one is more certain about something else and as such should be able to meet his own criterion of judgment. If one cannot do this, then his objection to the Word of God doesn’t seem to hold much weight.

Why is it that his objection doesn’t hold much weight? Simply put, because it is based upon a foundation that is, by his own standard, completely insufficient to prove itself true to him. Here is what I mean. Consider the person who says, “All true statements about reality can be proven by an appeal to empirical evidence.” Is this person’s standard a legitimate standard whereby he can question God’s truth? Well, no. In fact, it is completely irrational. You see, if all true statements about reality can be proven by an appeal to empirical evidence, that includes the statement given by our hypothetical objector to Christianity. And yet, as we’ve already shown, it is impossible for induction to ever reach certainty. In other words, the proposition “All true statements about reality can be proven by an appeal to empirical evidence” is a proposition that (a.)is assumed to be a true statement about reality, (b.)is included under the term “all,” but which (c.)cannot be proven by an appeal to empirical evidence. If it is true, then it is false. Therefore, it is absurd and, consequently, cannot serve as the foundation of even beginning to raise a single doubt against the Christian faith.

How can an individual question the veracity of the Christian system? By presupposing that his own ideas about reality are more certain than God’s. He must first place his own word above God’s. His own word, however, is based on two logical fallacies (i.e. the inductive fallacy called “hasty generalization,” see here for more information, and the fallacy of affirming the consequent, see here for more information). His own word is, to be blunt about things, irrational. And it is this word that he, for some reason, places above God’s. God’s Word, on the other hand, is by definition certain and true; for if God has spoken anything that is neither certain nor true, nor both, then He is not God. But if God is God, then He is eternal and all knowing; therefore, His Word cannot ever be subject to change or be found to be in error.

So the question of whether or not faith and reason are compatible is not what is really at stake here. Rather, the question is this: Whom do I believe? Do I believe my own irrational ideas about reality? Or do I trust the Word of the God who created all things, including my own finite mind? If I am looking for certainty and truth, I cannot look to my own ideas about reality, for they are intrinsically uncertain and not-true. I must look to the Word of God, who is Truth. Faith and reason are not opposed. Prior to pursuing questions about the Christian faith, the objector must believe that the products of man’s inductively (i.e. falsely) drawn general conclusions about reality are more certain than revelation given by the One for whom all things have been made.

“But,” our objector might retort, “isn’t it the case that man knows mathematical and logical truths quite apart from the Word of God?” And the answer is: No. But we need to explain the subtle equivocation involved in the objection just given by our hypothetical character. In the first place, man can and does know truth apart from the Bible. Man knows, for instance, the laws of logic and the laws of mathematics apart from reading the Bible. However, insofar as these propositions (for all logical and mathematical laws are reducible to propositions) are certain and true, they cannot be the product of the reasoning of finite creatures. Instead, they are propositions that necessarily find their origin in the mind of One who is not finite, who does not learn, who is, moreover, not subject to change – viz, God. They are the revealed truth of God. The Scriptures tell us that “what can be known about God is plain to [unbelievers], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”1 In other words, men have been given what theologians call “general revelation.” This revelation cannot save them, but it can and does condemn them. For by general revelation all men know that they are creatures who are responsible to God for the way in which they live their lives. Moreover, by general revelation all men know that they do not meet God’s perfect moral standard. Instead of turning to God in repentance, however, fallen men continue in their course away from the Lord who made them, hardening their hearts against the Truth of special revelation (i.e. Christianity) by suppressing their knowledge of the Truths of general revelation (i.e. laws of logic, laws of morality, laws of mathematics, etc).

So to (finally) answer the question of whether or not faith and reason are compatible, I have to say: “Yes, faith and reason are compatible.” More strongly, I assert that one cannot reason apart from first exercising faith in either (a.)God’s Word, or (b.)the word of some creature. I will assert further that it is rational to believe the Word of the Creator; and it is irrational to believe the word of man. And to go yet the next step, if one attempts to argue against the Christian faith at all, he can only do so on the basis of God’s Truth as given in general revelation. He must, in other words, try to use God’s own revelation (general) against God’s own revelation (special). And this only further indicts him as doubting the Lord who made him without evidence in favor of his doubting, but in absolute rebellion to the facts that no man can deny.

-h.

1Rom 1:19-20

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7 thoughts on “Question 1: Are Faith and Reason Incompatible? (pt.2)

  1. Elaine says:

    Hello Hiram:
    Good points you’ve raised here! I love reading the Bible, the Book of Psalms being my favorite.
    In fact, the Bible is the ONLY book I find that when I read from it over and over, I still learn something new from it.
    May God continue to bless you and yours;
    Sincerely,
    Elaine

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  2. Ben says:

    Hiram,

    I’m glad you realize that we as human beings are fallible, but I don’t see how appealing to God gets around that fallibility. If God exists and the Bible is his Word, then we may (fallibly) suppose we ought to trust the Bible (as we fallibly interpret it). But this is only true if God exists and the Bible is his Word. But in determining whether God exists, and whether the Bible is his Word, we still have to rely on our own fallible reasoning. There is no escaping our fallibility in that respect, that I can see.

    –Ben

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  3. Ben says:

    In posting that last message I see that you have moderation enabled for comments. However I would rather not participate in a discussion as long as moderation is enabled, so this will be my last comment until that is changed.

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  4. hiram says:

    Ben, thanks for stopping by :) I have changed the comments policy, so you should be able to comment freely now.
    Regarding your response:

    “I’m glad you realize that we as human beings are fallible, but I don’t see how appealing to God gets around that fallibility. If God exists and the Bible is his Word, then we may (fallibly) suppose we ought to trust the Bible (as we fallibly interpret it). But this is only true if God exists and the Bible is his Word. But in determining whether God exists, and whether the Bible is his Word, we still have to rely on our own fallible reasoning. There is no escaping our fallibility in that respect, that I can see.”

    In the first place, I regard the proposition “God exists” as a tautology, as any subject of predication necessarily exists. In the second place, therefore, I regard the proposition “God does not exist” as self-referentially absurd. I understand that the word existence can be used, and often is used, in many ways. The problem is that I don’t know what you mean when you say “if God exists.” Therefore, in the third place: I need a clarification of what you mean by the word exists.

    Inductive reasoning is inherently and inescapably fallacious. You cannot “prove” the proposition “God exists” by an appeal to evidence, just as you cannot prove the proposition “All men are mortal” by an appeal to evidence. So we cannot determine whether or not God exists by appealing to our own fallible reasoning, if by fallible reasoning you mean our inductive reasoning. More to the point, we do not determine whether or not God exists, we determine whether or not we will believe the proposition “God exists” (by which I assume you mean something like “God is not an imaginary construction of some sort but an actual Being”).

    Can it be the case that my fallible reasoning has led me to believe in the God of the Bible? No, since I didn’t examine “all the evidence” (as that is logically impossible for a number of reasons).

    God has granted me faith to believe that He is an actual Being who has revealed Himself in Scripture.

    Whom do you trust?

    -h.

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  5. Ben says:

    Hiram,

    Thanks for opening comments.

    By “exists” I mean that there is a real and external object corresponding to our idea.

    It seems to me that you take “God exists” to assert something like, “the idea of God exists.” Since we need the idea of God to talk about the God, then to suggest (even just by hypothesis) that God exists more or less implies that the idea of God exists.

    This view is problematic, though. When I interpret the sentence “God exists,” I do not envision merely the idea of God existing, but rather an object (God) which is external to our ideas exists.

    Do you also take “unicorns exist” to be a tautology? Presumably not. Hopefully you recognize that by the term “unicorns” we do not merely mean the idea of unicorns, but bona fide physical beings which we call unicorns.

    As for induction, I wouldn’t say that it is “fallacious.” I think you mean to say that induction is not deductively valid. That much is certainly true. However the term “fallacious” implies some kind of mistake or inappropriateness at work, which is not what’s going on here. I don’t think you deny that we ought to use induction, though, do you? You just recognize that it’s not guaranteed to hold up. But we wouldn’t say that it is a fallacy to suppose the sun will rise tomorrow based on the inductive evidence. In fact it would be ludicrous to suspend our judgment as to whether or not the sun will rise. To ignore such strong inductive evidence would be considered downright irrational.

    Anyway, God provides no solution to the problem of induction.

    Finally, it appears that, instead of determining whether or not God exists and the Bible is his Word, you just take it all for granted, by assumption. Is that satisfying, though? Speaking for myself, I could’t just make such huge assumptions without having some serious doubts.

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  6. hiram says:

    “By “exists” I mean that there is a real and external object corresponding to our idea.”

    Is this object physical?

    “It seems to me that you take “God exists” to assert something like, “the idea of God exists.”

    I should have been clearer about what I am saying. “Existence” is not a predicate; therefore, it cannot be denied of a given logical subject (e.g. God, unicorns, the flying spaghetti monster, la chupacabra, etc).

    “Since we need the idea of God to talk about the God, then to suggest (even just by hypothesis) that God exists more or less implies that the idea of God exists.”

    No, I’m not making the Ontological Argument. I am just saying that existence is not a predicate.

    “This view is problematic, though.”

    It’s not my view, per se ;)

    “When I interpret the sentence “God exists,” I do not envision merely the idea of God existing, but rather an object (God) which is external to our ideas exists.”

    I understand. What would qualify as a “real and external object” for you? A physical being? A mind?

    “Do you also take “unicorns exist” to be a tautology? Presumably not. Hopefully you recognize that by the term “unicorns” we do not merely mean the idea of unicorns, but bona fide physical beings which we call unicorns.”

    I do. If one doesn’t mean merely the idea of unicorns, then to what is one referring when he says “Unicorns are not real and external objects”?

    “As for induction, I wouldn’t say that it is “fallacious.”

    It is. Inductive reasoning is inherently and inescapably fallacious.

    “I think you mean to say that induction is not deductively valid.”

    I mean induction is fallacious. lol
    “That much is certainly true. However the term “fallacious” implies some kind of mistake or inappropriateness at work, which is not what’s going on here.”

    Yes, you’re spot on. Inductive arguments all commit the fallacy of hasty generalization.

    “I don’t think you deny that we ought to use induction, though, do you?”

    Whether we should use it or not is a different question than whether or not it is inherently and inescapably fallacious.

    I do deny that induction should be used in the pursuit of truth, as induction cannot provide us with truth.

    “You just recognize that it’s not guaranteed to hold up.”

    No. It is fallacious.

    “But we wouldn’t say that it is a fallacy to suppose the sun will rise tomorrow based on the inductive evidence.”

    It is a fallacy.

    “In fact it would be ludicrous to suspend our judgment as to whether or not the sun will rise.”

    This is a different question altogether, Ben.

    “To ignore such strong inductive evidence would be considered downright irrational.”

    Who says that I ignore “inductive evidence”? I am taking a serious look at what is called “evidence.” And the problem still “exists”: All inductive reasoning is inherently fallacious.

    “Anyway, God provides no solution to the problem of induction.”

    I think missed your supporting premises for this conclusion ;)

    My aim was not provide a solution to the problem of induction, which is that it is fallacious. My aim was, rather, to underscore the fact that we canot know anything apart from revelation. Either one trusts his own fallacious thinking, the fallacious thinking of another human, or the Word of God.

    “Finally, it appears that, instead of determining whether or not God exists and the Bible is his Word, you just take it all for granted, by assumption.”

    That’s sort of correct. I know thait God is a real and external object because He has told me so in Scripture, and I believe Him.

    This is not irrational, nor is it without justification.

    “Is that satisfying, though?”

    What does personal satisfaction have to do with anything?

    “Speaking for myself, I could’t just make such huge assumptions without having some serious doubts.”

    Doubt is parasitic, Mr. Wallis. In other words, you must first make huge assumptions about reality, and without any rational reason to do so trust that your fallaciously arrived at conclusions are somehow certain and true, and only then can you go on to try to assert that Christianity itself makes huge assumptions.

    -h.

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  7. Steve says:

    Interesting discussion. But might I suggest a more direct approach to the title question ‘Are Faith and Reason Incompatible?’ I agree that inductive reasoning can never result in certain knowledge of truth. (I’m a little uneasy with your language as it suggests that induction cannot lead to truth. It can but you can never be certain that it has.) Specific observations can only refute preconceived notions (or models if you’re a social scientist like myself) or, continually failing to do so, lead the observer to increase marginally her or his confidence in that notion or model.

    Deduction on the other hand can lead to certain knowledge of truth if one begins with correct premises. But how can one know that any particular premise is ‘correct’? As you imply, our continued observation that ‘nature operates in a routine, uniform, and orderly fashion’ does not guarantee that it has always done so, currently does so at all times, or will continue to do so for all time. So to use this as a premise for the deductive argument that, for example, the miracles of Christ could not have occurred must be founded upon a position of faith – faith that this premise, were it possible to test, would prove ‘true’. And so this is not so particularly different than the Theist who takes on faith the existence of a sentient, omnipotent God. (For the believer, two additional faith-based premises are required but that is beyond the point of the post.)

    God Bless.

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