Disharmony between faith and reason?


Why do many in our culture see a disharmony between faith and reason?

There are several reasons why some people think that faith in the God of Jesus Christ is not supported by what we can know through human reason. The Catholic Catechism relates most of them to sin (n. 29). We should also be aware of some significant cultural factors intertwined with the results of human woundedness.

Northern European culture has been particularly influenced by two contrasting ways of separating faith and reason. Since the Reformation, in the 16th century, Protestantism has argued that faith in Christ does not need rational evidence. And since the Enlightenment, in the 18th century, many philosophers have argued that reason shows faith in a loving Creator to be irrational.

The former “fideism” comes from Martin Luther, who thought that the natural human ability to understand the world was fundamentally corrupted by sin. This set up a Protestant culture wherein we are encouraged to rely solely upon God’s revelation in the Bible. Faith was to be seen as a “leap in the dark”. Such a mindset was, of course, not interested in the advent of more accurate ways of understanding natural phenomena by the “new” experimental science of the 17th century. Even Catholic thinkers, who do believe in the need for a reasoned defence of faith, have in many cases followed the 17th-century philosopher René Descartes in regarding these new experimental results as irrelevant.

The Enlightenment “rationalism” was encouraged by this tendency on the part of many Christians to separate faith and reason. Its enthroning of a self-sufficient reason was a misinterpretation of human knowledge, especially concerning the facts and patterns revealed by modern science. The result was a growing atheism which Protestants, as well as many Catholics, failed to challenge effectively.

The Catholic Church believes in faith and reason. Although our minds are wounded by sin, we can still use our reason to show that God exists and that it is sensible to say yes to the gift of faith. We can show that faith is in harmony with this process, purifying it and in doing so taking us deeper into personal relationship with God. Faith, in fact, is a leap in the light.

There is only one Creator of the Universe. He knows it as “good” (see Genesis 1). And He has completed His work of creation by becoming Man in Jesus Christ. Not only has He bestowed upon us the light of reason, which is a reflection of his own divine reason, but He has infused in us the gift of faith in Him.

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