The Relationship Between Faith and Reason

Within this debate Christopher Hitchens suggests that all religions are poisonous because their adherents replace reason with the idea that faith is a virtue. Hitchens is suggesting that reason and faith are unable to coexist in one person; rather, anyone who displays faith is doing so without the aid of reasoning. I find this proposition ludicrous in every conceivable fashion. I only need to flip through my mental Rolodex of favorite authors for concrete examples of faith and reason flourishing in the same mind; Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, William Lane Craig … I could fill this page with examples that dispute Hitchens’ notion. In his arrogance, Hitchens dismisses every religious person who has every lived as incapable of exhibiting reason – it is a point he has made repeatedly and I believe is based on a faulty interpretation of what faith is.

I would suggest that the tension between faith and reason is not designed in a way that limits a person to having only one or the other; rather, a person may display a great deal of faith, a great deal of reason, both, or neither. While faith and reason are attributes that aren’t necessarily dependent upon each other, they do have the natural tendency to influence one another. In fact, they are so closely related that they are almost intertwined. Let’s take a moment to explore this concept.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines faith as “something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs.”  A person who displays a strong conviction in their religious beliefs inevitably base their faith in reason. Their reasoning may be illogical, faulty, or surprisingly concrete; however, it is reasoning just the same. For instance, if you ask me why I believe in God and my response is that I read about Him on the back of a cereal box, you may think that I’m displaying faulty reasoning skills – but it is reasoning just the same.  When asked the same question, a person with no reasoning skills would only be able to answer, “I don’t know why I believe in God … I just do.” While this person may be displaying a great deal of faith, they are displaying a lack of reasoning.

Anyone who is able to articulate a reason for their faith, regardless of what that reason is, is displaying reason and faith at the same time; thus, discrediting Hitchens’ point. What Hitchens is really saying is that anyone who engages their reasoning and comes to a conclusion other than the one he has reached is a buffoon.

This brings me to my next thought. It is quite possible for two intelligent people to engage their faith and reason with tremendously different results. In my case, faith told me that God was real and reason helped me deduce that Jesus Christ was the means by which He intended to offer me salvation. Another person may deduce that God is real and that living the middle way of the Buddhist is what He prefers us all to do. There is no doubt that one person is right and the other wrong, but only arrogance would suggest that one or the other was incapable of using logic. Both individuals may be bright and faithful people; they just reached different conclusions. This is where the virtues of debate, investigation, reason, and gut instincts interact with our faith. Thankfully, it is never too late to change one’s mind.

Coming to a belief in Christ can almost be considered a two-step process. In the first step, a person engages their faith to understand there is something bigger than themselves in the universe. Perhaps it is Buddha, pantheism, Wicca, Islam, or Christ. Whatever it is – it is there. Then there is the second step where a person engages their logical reasoning skills and determines that Christ is their Savior. Unlike Hitchens, I believe that most people who confess a belief in Christ have engaged both faith and reason.

When we fail to engage both attributes we get ourselves out of whack. Faith that is devoid of reason can be used to justify anything. When you display reason without faith you begin to believe that skepticism is a virtue and the end result is a Hitchens-like arrogance that serves to benefit no one.

My God wants me to engage the world and make disciples of Jesus Christ – I can’t do that if I have written everyone who disagrees with me off as being stupid. Thankfully, most people are capable of displaying both faith and reason is some measure. They may disagree with me, but I thank God that He is giving us all the chance to change our minds!

One thought on “The Relationship Between Faith and Reason

  1. Ty Johnston December 24, 2010 / 11:39 pm

    Thanks for this post, Clark. And Merry Christmas!

    I tend to be someone who leans towards reason more than faith. That being said, I think anyone who tries to look at the world ONLY from a point of view of reason and/or logic is being quite UNreasonable. Any fool should be able to look at the world within which we live and realize, “hey, there’s something else going on here.”

    Is that something else God? Or Christ? Or little yellow men from Mars hiding behind bigfoot? I don’t know. I don’t claim to know. I have my own ideas and beliefs, but I’m willing to continue studying.

    As for the hardcore atheists, they are as bad, and usually as annoying, as the TV evangelicals they seem to hate so much. None only do they want to believe whatever it is they believe, but they come down on anyone who doesn’t believe as they do.


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