Desire to merge tenets of faith, reason cannot be fulfilled


Waxing Philosophical


While making my way through the Involvement Fair, which took place on Labor Day, one table caught my attention. At this structure stood a woman holding a white marker board that posed two questions, “Does science ‘know’ everything?” and “Can faith be rational?” Passing by a few times to gather reconnaissance and to see how other students interacted, the time came to make my approach. After a brief exchange on the value of a properly worded sentence, I made my tallies — a vote for each — and was on my way to ponder the questions at length.

So, can faith be rational? Immediately, a solid “no” begs to be displayed, but perhaps there is more to the claim. Obviously the words “faith” and “rational” can nearly be considered antonyms to each other, but what about faith in the sense of religious order? So long as faith — religious order — has structured reasoning, then one may assert that it is rational. But successful reasoning does not mean that a statement or set of beliefs is entirely true. It should be noted also that the organization responsible for the marker board and series of questions turned out to be a club of apologetic Christians called Ratio Christi.

After posing the question of faith and rationality, one ought to view Christianity in the light of reason. Can Christianity be rational? Simply put, yes. Rephrase the question: Can the claims of rational Christianity be true? One could say that it has about as much truth in reasoning as any other religion. There are some essential questions that defy the laws of physics and therefore negate the rational (or observable) universe we live in. For example, can men physically transcend walls of stone after death? No, they cannot. Can men turn water into wine? Yes, but not by means of a miracle. The elements mentioned in the latter are key tenets in Christianity, but they are not reasonable unless one has faith in such actions and beings. Miracles, by definition, are unique because they defy the laws to which all material things are bound. So, if faith is rational, it can only be within the bounds of the paradigm it creates.

There seems to be a desire, or rather a need, to create a religion that is entirely explainable and factual. Unfortunately, it appears that no such union of truth-based reason and faith can be aligned. Faith is inherent in most religious instances because miraculous events almost never happen — hence the name. Applying the principles of logic and reasoning to claims most extraordinary is brave to say the least, but more importantly, a possible threat to the continued existence of core doctrine. Take as an example, the claim that Mary was a virgin. Parthenogenesis, while not impossible, is also gravely improbable. The faith one would need to believe in such claims is entirely without sufficient evidence, thereby making the reasoning less than desirable or practical. Faith, in my opinion, should remain in the shadows of the miraculous and improbable.

Science, on the other hand, is a method of deduction and reasoning used to make predictions about the world. Can science know everything? It would depend on what one needs to “know.” The scientific discipline allows one to observe and calculate a probability. Should the universe be material, with all material observable in some sense, then yes, science can provide the means to understand everything. I think that science, as opposed to a more rational faith, still provides better reasoning to understand our position in the scheme of things. In the 20th century philosopher Miguel de Unamuno's book, “The Tragic Sense of Life,” he writes, “True science teaches, above all, to doubt and be ignorant.” Christianity, like the mustard seed in Jesus’s parable of the same name (written down by the anonymous author who is falsely credited to be Matthew), started off small — pace Jesus, the mustard seed is not the smallest seed — and grew into a massive kingdom where birds nest in its branches. But like any seed, Christianity appears to come from the same bag as most other seeds and like any good gardener will claim, some seeds just happen to be stronger than the others.

Whatever reason one finds in faith, it is imperative that one questions any and all claims for such a truth tree to be true. Ultimately, I feel that one will find in most rational structures of faith, stories invented by men, for men, in a context that we cannot quite explain and therefore apply modern concepts to ancient problems. As Unamuno writes, “To believe in God is to yearn for his existence and, furthermore, it is to act as if he did exist.”

Jonathan Finnerty is a School of Arts Sciences junior majoring in classics and philosophy. His column, "Waxing Philosophical," runs on alternate Friday's. 


Jonathan Finnerty

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