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Faith, Reason, & Subjectivity

In my article, "Thinking Rationally: A Biblical Perspective," I highlight the dangers of over-emphasizing reason (rationalism), as well as de-emphasizing it (subjectivism). Reason is neither our sole means of acquiring knowledge, nor is it to be mitigated or rejected altogether. Indeed, Biblical faith permits no room for rationalism or subjectivism.

But are faith and reason compatible? More particularly, does belief in the Bible demand the repudiation of reason, as both rationalists and subjectivists contend?

First, faith and reason are certainly distinct. Both rationalists and subjectivists are correct in this premise.

From the Biblical vantage-point, faith, like reason, exists in the "unseen" or mental/spiritual realm (cf. Heb. 11.1).

Unlike reason, however, faith places its trust in the word of God — that is, what God says is right and true (cf. Rom. 10.17; Ps. 33.4). Reason provides no such insight. It may lead us incontrovertibly to the existence of a Creator (see below), but, where the will of the Creator is concerned, reason is decidedly limited.

To state it differently: reason impels me to say: there is, indubitably, a God in heaven; but reason cannot impel me to say: that same God wants me to (for example) kill people; or, that same God wants me to be baptized. Only faith in God's revealed word is capable of furnishing us with that type of information (cf. Romans 16.25-26).

The distinction between faith and reason is a theme frequently repeated in Scripture. In Isaiah, God declares: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts..." (55.8). That is to say, the determinations of God are not embedded in human DNA. Man's native intellect contains no record as to the nature of God's plans for our race.

In fact, the ways of God are "higher" than the thoughts of man (v. 9). In this sense, God's will for humanity is a "mystery...hidden from ages and from generations" (Eph. 1.9; 3.3-4, 9; 6.19; Col. 1.26). No man, by unaided native reason, is capable of knowing the "mind of the Lord" (1 Cor. 2.16). As it is written:

"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2.9).

Hence, if God has not told man his will, then man cannot know it. Neither reason nor science contain the will of God for humanity. Thus, without supernatural assistance, man is left completely in the dark on that front.

However, God has revealed his will to us through the words of prophets (cf. 1 Cor. 2.10-13; 2 Peter 1.19-21; 3.1-2, 14-16; 2 Timothy 3.16-17; Gal. 1.12; Eph. 3.1f), confirming the divine origin of that sacred will through various "infallible proofs" (Acts 1.3; cf. Lk. 1.1-4; Mk. 16.20).

Hence, what reason cannot do (i.e., tell me what God wants), faith (through the confirmed word of God) must supply. This, then, is the principle distinction between faith and reason.

Second, while faith may be independent of reason, faith does not conflict with reason.

Many believe that faith is not verifiable (and is therefore irrational). Nothing could be farther from the truth. After Paul's conversion to Christianity, he commenced with the task of convincing his fellow Jews of the veracity of his faith. In discharging this task,

"Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 9.22).

Paul's method of proving the messiahship of Jesus involved an examination of the Old Testament prophecies, compared with the life of the Lord himself. These pieces of historical evidence verify the proposition: Jesus is the Christ (cf. Acts 17.2-3).

What's more, we are reminded of the fact that Jesus was a man "attested by miracles, wonders, and signs" (Acts 2.22). The word, attested, has to do with that which is exhibited or shown forth. Vine says it is used "in the sense of proving by demonstration" (36, emp. added).

In other words, Jesus' nature and mission were proven by God through the supernatural deeds which he performed (which no man can do except by the power of God, cf. Jn. 3.2). Hence, faith is certainly verifiable. Indeed, true faith leaves absolutely no room for doubting or uncertainty (cf. Lk. 1.4; Mt. 14.31; 1 Tim. 2.8; Acts 10.20; 11.12; James 1.6).

The existence of God is also an incontrovertible proposition. Using the third law of logic—the law of excluded middle—and three fundamental laws of nature, we must reason as follows:

(1) Either matter is eternal or it had a beginning.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, matter is not eternal. As agnostic scientist, Robert Jastrow, said:

"modern science denies an eternal existence to the Universe, either in the past or in the future" (15).

Lincoln Barnett, in his book, The Universe and Dr. Einstein, made the following observation:

"If the universe is running down and nature's processes are proceeding in just one direction [entropy], the inescapable inference is that everything had a beginning; somehow and sometime the cosmic processes were started, the stellar fires ignited, and the whole vast pageant of the universe brought into being" (102-103).

Therefore, matter had a beginning.

(2) If matter had a beginning, either it created itself, or it was created by a cause transcendent to itself (non-matter).

According to the first law of thermodynamics, matter cannot create itself before its own existence. Therefore, matter was created by a cause transcendent to itself (non-matter).

(3) If matter was created by a cause transcendent to itself, there must be a non-material creator.

According to the law of biogenesis, all things that have a beginning come from preexisting life (cause and effect). Since matter was created by a cause transcendent to itself (as per #2), there must be a non-material creator.

Reason and science substantiate the proposition: there is a supernatural creator!

Certainly, there are many other arguments that yield the same conclusion (e.g., teleology, morality, consciousness, language, etc...). Belief in the existence of God is thoroughly rational and in harmony with scientific observation, as the Bible also argues.

For instance, Paul affirmed:

"For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse" (Rm. 1.20).

God has never been "seen" with the physical eye (Jn. 1.18), for, as previously demonstrated, he is devoid of material substance (cf. Jn. 4.24; Lk. 24.39). Yet, not only are we able to "clearly see" God, we are able to discern something about God through "the things that are made." The words, clearly seen, and, being understood, have to do with mental perception, insight, and reflection (Thayer, see noeo, 426-427).

Hence, even if we set aside Biblical revelation and simply ruminate over what the empirical world implies, we can still, with supreme certainty, come to know that God is glorious (Ps. 19.1), handy (Ps. 19.1), intelligent (Ps. 139.13-16), interested in mankind (Ps. 8.3-9), and communicable (Ps. 19.2-4), etc.

Accordingly, through rational thinking and empirical observation, the existence of God is a fait accompli, indisputably corroborated by the evidence of the universe itself.

Conversely, those who deny his existence, must also deny both reason and science. Since God's existence is so "clearly seen" through the preponderance of evidence (cf. Rm. 1.20; Acts 14.17), Paul suggests that those who reject God are "futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rm. 1.21-22). Atheists are not rational!

The psalmist wrote: "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God" (14.1). The word suggests one who is devoid of sense. The Atheist must deny the foundational laws of logic and science to uphold his conviction. Indeed, no atheist can confirm their atheism on the basis of reason and science. Instead, they must suspect and hope that there is no God. Renowned science-fiction author and atheist, Isaac Asimov, highlighted this point in his own life:

Emotionally I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time” (6-10, emp. added).

There is no fact back of his proposition; only wishful thinking! To the contrary, the strength of the evidence for God's reality, to the discerning mind, is impregnable.

"If the word, God, were written upon every blowing leaf, embossed on every passing cloud, engraved on every granite rock, the inductive evidence of God in the world would be no stronger than it is" (E.A. Maness, 12).
"The vast mysteries of the universe should only confirm our belief in the certainty of its Creator. I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advance of science" (Werner von Braun, see Thomas).

In short, faith and reason must work hand in hand — reason, to prove God's existence, and assist in interpreting the revealed word of God; faith, to comprehend the revealed word of God and fix it concretely in our lives (cf. Heb. 11.1f).

Thus, we might say: failure to believe in God is principally a violation of reason; failure to believe God is principally a violation of faith.

Third, there is a sense in which faith (Biblical truth) is subjective — that is, that faith accommodates a subjective element.

To be of practical value, we, personally, must be able both to understand and apply it. Hence, our Lord promised freedom only to those who "know the truth" (Jn. 8.32).

Wisdom is predicated upon the fact that we, personally, have come to "understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5.17).

The fact that there will be a personal judgment is indicative of the subjectivity of faith (cf. 2 Cor. 5.10).

Unfortunately, too many regard the objective truths of the Bible as irrelevant to them — too abstract or archaic — and do not recognize that it must be applied to them personally in order to have any practical value. A faith which is purely academic is weak at best, dead at worst (cf. Jms. 2.14-26).

Faith, reason, and subjectivity are each mutually compatible. Reason gives us God's reality; faith gives us God's will; and subjectivity gives us God's friendliness. Each work hand in hand to bring us ever closer to the awesome majesty and eternal goodness of the creator of the universe.

Asimov, Isaac.  “Interview with Isaac Asimov on Science and the Bible.”  Paul Kurtz, interviewer, Free Inquiry, Spring, 1982.

Bales, J.D. and Woolsey Teller.  The Existence of God: A Debate.  Shreveport, LA: Lambert Book House, Inc., 1976.

Barnett, Lincoln.  The Universe and Dr. Einstein.  New York, NY: Amereon Ltd., 1950.

Jastrow, Robert.  Until the Sun Dies.  New York, NY: Warner Books, 1977.

Maness, E.A.  The Evidence of God In An Expanding Universe.  G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1958.

Thayer, J.H.  Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.  New York: American Book Company, 1889.

Thomas, Cal.  "Gone Bananas."  World.  September 7, 2002.

Vine, W.E.  Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985.

Warren, Thomas B. and Anthony Flew.  The Warren-Flew Debate On the Existence of God.  Jonesboro, AR: National Christian Press, 1977.


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