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HomeSpiritual GrowthFaith Meets Reason: A Millennia-Old Dialogue 

Faith Meets Reason: A Millennia-Old Dialogue 

From Aquinas to Zacharias, tracing the complementary paths of belief and knowledge

Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Both are necessary for a complete understanding of the world.
 — C.S. Lewis (1918–1963) Gleaned from the Surprising Imagination.

 How Faith and Reason Work Together

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) argued that faith and reason are like two sides of the same coin, each crucial for fully understanding the world. On one side of the coin, reason provides insights into the natural world; on the other, faith grants access to supernatural truths. He distinguished between truths ascertained through reason, and higher-level truths revealed only through divine revelation (Ligonier Ministries, 2017). His thoughts on this topic resonate deeply with me, underscoring the rich complexity and inherent simplicity of my pursuit of knowledge

Aquinas’ philosophy aligns with the scriptural invitation in Isaiah 1:18“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” This verse encourages believers to engage intellectually with God, integrating faith and rational thought.

 Romans 1:20 supports this dialogue: “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.” This scripture suggests that the natural world provides evidence of God’s existence and attributes through reason. It leads to a profound intersection of the observable and the transcendent, challenging us to consider the broader implications of our belief systems.

Aquinas considered sacred doctrine a science, fulfilling the rationality conditions Aristotle developed in “Posterior Analytics.” He defined faith as “A habit of the mind whereby eternal life is begun in human beings, making the intellect assent to what is not apparent.” This definition underscores that faith involves an intellectual assent to divine truths. It reminds us that faith is not blind but a thoughtful, reasoned response to the Divine.

Dorothy L. Sayers: Echoes of Aquinas’ Blend of Faith and Reason

Like Thomas Aquinas, the English writer and theologian Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957) believed that faith and reason should work together in a balanced way. In her book, “Begin Here: A Statement of Faith,” Sayers argued that adhering to Christian principles and believing in an eternal, absolute truth is crucial. Her stance strikes a chord with those of us who navigate the modern challenges of faith; it grounds our fleeting experiences in the eternal. 

She cautioned that without anchoring in divine truth, people might treat temporary, worldly things as if they were the most significant aspects of life. This perspective is echoed in Colossians 3:1–3“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Similar to Aquinas, Sayers viewed faith and reason not as enemies but as complementary forces. Her view was that reason can help us better understand God’s word and the world, which aligns with Aquinas’ idea that faith and reason lead to the same truth. In her book ‘The Mind of the Maker,’ Sayers also explored how human creativity mirrors divine creation, connecting to Aquinas’ understanding of God as the ultimate source of truth, reason, and creativity. This mirroring suggests a divine blueprint in our creative endeavors, a notion that continually inspires my work and understanding.

Modern Philosophical Contributions

Modern thinkers such as C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton actively support the dialogue between faith and reason. In ‘Mere Christianity’, Lewis describes faith as ‘the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, despite your changing moods.’ Similarly, in ‘Orthodoxy’ (1908), Chesterton vividly portrays the challenges of logical thinking: ‘The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.’ These insights emphasize the expansive nature of faith, which goes beyond the limits of pure logic. They urge us to value the balance between intuitive and analytical thinking in our spiritual and intellectual pursuits. 

Alvin Plantinga further advances this discussion in philosophical theology, positing that belief in God is “properly basic” and fundamental to our cognitive processes. He argues that this type of belief is rational and can be justified without inferential evidence, similar to our beliefs in the external world or other minds. Proverbs 1:7 parallels Plantinga’s view: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This scripture suggests that a foundational reverence for God underpins true knowledge and rational thought.

William Lane Craig (1949–) offers another perspective with his defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. This argument posits that everything that begins to exist has a cause, and since the universe began to exist, it must also have a cause, pointing to an uncaused, personal Creator. This argument utilizes reason to support faith, aligning with Aquinas’ methodology of using reason to reach conclusions about faith.

In the same vein, Ravi Zacharias, in his book “Can Man Live Without God?” (1994), articulates the critical role of divine truth in human existence. He discusses how the absence of this truth can lead to a moral and existential emptiness that affirms Aquinas’ and Sayers’ discussions on the indispensability of integrating faith with rational thought.

In closing, may we reflect on Psalm 19:1 — The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Author’s note

The above exploration engages in a narrative dialogue that spans centuries of thought on faith and reason. While it is not historically accurate to suggest that Aquinas interacted with these later philosophers and theologians, this approach creates a meaningful dialogue that highlights the evolution and enduring nature of these discussions.

References

Further study

  • Wade Center. (2019, May 13). C.S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers: A Feisty Friendship [Video]. YouTube.

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AuthorMarie Grace | BCWorldview.org 

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