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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Faith and Reason
Religion and science express in the abstract and in the concrete the two opposite poles of human knowledge, between which there must always be discrepance, and has usually been discord. In all ages in which there has been any notable activity of intelligence there has been a controversy, more or less violent, between the claims of religious authority and the pretensions of human reason. The acrimony of the strife has been increased, and the importance of appeasing it has been augmented by every extension of the domain of precise, coherent, systematic reasoning. Every creed accepted by a cultivated and speculative community has been in turn assailed by a spirit of speculative scrutiny, whichhas gradually encroached upon the sacred domain, and has ultimately denied all validity to doctrines not established by the processes of ratiocination, or discovered and confirmed by direct observation and experiment. The primeval theology of the Hindoos, the capricious and graceful fantasies of the Greek mythology, the stern solemnity of the Roman Fasti, the arbitrary credulities of Islamism, have all experienced this phase of hostility, as well as Christianity, in the various periods and forms of its dissemination. But never has this war been more deadly in mode or iin. menace than in this current age, when the foundations, of revealed truth are undermined by insidious approaches, and when science erects its multitudinous batteries against all the ramparts of the Christian faith.
In other times, attempts, more or less unsuccessful, have been made to restore natural amity between, these embittered adversaries. The Euhemerism of the Greeks was an effort to explain the legendary superstitions of Greece so as to render them acceptable to the enlightened doubts of Hellenic philosophy. SEE, EUHEMERUS. A second and more elaborate plan forthe maintenance of the expiring reverence for the divinities of the pagan world was hazarded by the Neo-Platonists. (See NEO-PLATONISM). Both experiments signally failed. In a much later period, with wholly dissimilar weapons, and with much vaster interests at stake, the illustrious Leibnitz undertook to reconcile religion and reason in a treatise equally remarkable for the classical elegance of its style, and for the vigor and profundity of its argumentation. It was negative, in its character, and only offered a compromise. Such was also the complexion of the admirable work of bishop Butler on the Analogy of Natural and Revealed Religion. In consequence, these luminous essays only interpose as landmarks in the midst of the waves between the hardy skepticism of the beginning and the revolutionary atheism of the close of the 18th century. The war has become more determined, even though it may have gradually lost much of its earlier bitterness. Extremists on both sides now declare that there is an implacable antagonism between faith and science. Ministers of religion may be found denouncing the procedures and conclusions of science as "enmity with God," and as incompatible with revealed truth; as if the laws of the creation could be at variance with the declarations of the Creator. Adepts in scientific research, on the other hand, proclaim the deceptiveness and inanity of all religious doctrine as contradictory to the clearly ascertained processes of the universe; as if the phenomena of matter could controvert the constitution of the human mind, and the ineradicable instincts, appetencies, and requirements of the human heart.
Yet, even in this apparently hopeless state of discord, renewed endeavors have been made to bring the great adversaries into harmonious union. The most recent and the most notable of these is that of Herbert Spencer, which is plausible in its pretensions, but most delusive in its results. It is singularly insidious ii design and in execution. It betrays with a kiss, and deals a mortal stab while inquiring, "How is it with thee, my brother?" It recognises the universality, the indestructibility, the necessity of religious belief, admits the impossibility of ignoring or dispelling the attributes of a Supreme Being, and yet attenuates everything thus admitted till it sublimates these conceptions into a vaporous phenomenalism, a misty hallucination of the human mind under the perennial bypochondria of a morbid fantasy. No suspension of arms has been obtained, because each party hopes for a decisive victory. But the prolongation and exacerbation of this strife are most disastrous, not merely to the legitimate authority of religion, but to the equally legitimate demands of science. One portion of the Christian community is repelled from the prompt acceptance and the zealous encouragement of the discoveries of science by the apprehension that the bulwarks of revealed religion may be surrendered to an unsparinig foe, Another portion rejects the teachings of the Church and of the Christian creed from disgust at an unreasoning and unreasonable opposition to science. A third party, intermediate between the two, extends ashand to both; surrenders whatever rationalism questions, and professes to retain in a changed sense all that is essential in the dogmas of religion. Meanwhile, those of vicious inclinations find an excuse for the indulgence of their passions and the rejection of moral restraints in an intelligent repudiation or in a doubtful acknowledgment of religion; while the multitude, careless and stolid, pursues its private ambitions or pea sonal whims without regard to the obligations of this life, without concern for that great hereafter which occupies no place in its thoughts. The conciliation of faith and science thus becomes more urgent than in any former time, and its urgency is increased by the difficulty of accomplishing it in the midst of contentions between reciprocally repellant combatants, armed on the one side with the thunders of the Almighty, the promises of heaven, and the terrors of hell, and on the other with the dazzling panoply of modern investigation, and with weapons wreathed with the laurels of a century of scientific achievements.
The re-establishment of fraternal union between two so widely alienated disputants must be an arduous and always a somewhat doubtful task. "Quis concordabit tantam contrarietatem?" A mere truce will answer no good purpose. It would simply convert a running sore into a purulent condition of the whole system. The conciliation, to be efficient, must rest on an essential harmony of principles, oa a recognised dis-similarity of aims and applications. Even then the agreement may be liable to occasional rupture from reciprocal jealousies; but room must be allowed for partial dissent, as in these high questions no more can be expected than an unsteady conquiesceaca — discordia concars. Whether even this agreement is attainable must be uncertain till it has been attained; it may be reserved for that blessed expansion of our discernment when we shall no longer "see as through a glass darkly." But, in the mean time, there is a high obligation resting upon those who would repudiate neither the sanctifying influences of a holy life, nor the illumination of secular learning, to seek out the grounds of reconciliation, and to renew the marriage of the liberal arts weith theology. This seems to be the appropriate duty and the peculiar aspiration of the present age, and the imperfect or delusive efforts made in this direction indicate the latent consciousness that it is so. The instinctive ntsus, often grievously misdirected, always precedes the solution of the great enigmas of humanity. Before any reasonable hope, however, of a satisfactory result can be entertained, it is necessary so ascertain the conditions of the problem, and to discover among the obvious and multitudinous discrepances whether there is any essential identity between the opposing forces. If there is, there may be a prospect of final accordance; if there is not, the antipathies are ineradicable and immedicable.
The conditions under which the question presents; itself are thus, the determination of the nature of the contending parties; the detection of any agreement ins their intrinsic character; and the discernment of the causes of their opposition and diverse procedure. It becomes expedient, therefore, to ascertain the peculiar character and functions of faith and science respectively. This cannot be accomplished by any mode of mere logical division and definition, because faith resides in our spiritual susceptibilities, and is incapable of verbal circumscription; and because scienee admits of no immutable boundaries, but "grows forever and forever." But the character of each may be sufficiently described to permit the contradistinction of the two to exhibit their contrasts, and to disclose any haamony that may exist between them.
Science is precise, definite, systematic knowledge, attained and co- ordinated by the application of human reasoning to admitted facts or observed phenomena. The conclusions of science are reached and are connected together by the discovery of the general principles which regulate the occurrence of the phenomena and reveal the conditions of their occurrence. These principles are established by the employment of thea two processes of deduction and induction; and science is the determination by the arts of reasoning of suchl knowledge as is apprehensible by the logical faculties of the human mind. The conclusions attained are more or less firmly believed according to the sufficiency or insufficiency of the reasoning; but, when firmlyestablished, are believed on the strength of the evidence, and cannot be doubted except by rememberingthe finite power and comprehension, and consequent. fallibility of the reasoning mind itself. This limitation, though properly may inevitably overlooked in the constitution and acceptance of scientific truth, cannot be safely disregarded in the estimation of the validity and certainty of scientific procedure.
Faith is something more than rational belief — something more firm and assured than scientific or philosophic conviction. Convtioin is produced by the strength of the arguments adduced by the influence of the demonstration or other evidence of the understanding. Faith goes far beyond this, both in the assurance conveyed, and in the disproportion between. the testimony and what is accepted on that testimony.
"Seeing is believing," but he who "walks by faith'' "walks not by sight." We believe in the results of science; we have faith in the truths of revelation. We believe that the earth is round; we have faith in the existence of God, and in the immortality of the soul. Conviction questions and scrutinizes; faith confides, and does not cavil. The belief which is founded uponreasoning ponders the arguments propounded, the evidence presented; faith is itself "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." This distinction may not be acceptable to persons of loose habits of thought, who employ words without disculminating their delicate shades of meaning; but itseems to be required by more than one passage of thee New Testament, and is fully sustained by the most acute, profound, and sagacious of the achoolmen, Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologia, 2 a, qu. 2, art. 10; qu. my, art. 1). It is of the essence of faith to transcend the logical evidence, to accept more than is contained in any logical premises, and to hold the tenet thus retained with a more earnest tenacity than any deaconstration or generalization can produce. Not that faith is independent of evidence or testimony; but the cogency of such proof is not intrinsic or indisputable in itself, but is derived from its acceptance, and from the submissive adherence of the recipient. It is "the Spirit of truth" which "will guide you into all truth." This exposition may seem applicable only to religious faith, or to faith in supernatural truth; but It is with faith of this kind that the controversy on the part of science is maintained. It is therefore in this domain that the essence of faith is to be specially considered. Nevertheless, a little reflection and examination will show that all faith possesses the same general characteristics. The faith which we repose in another similarly transcends, and usually precedes the evidence: the faith which we hold in regard to the regular order of nature is manifested without thought of the arguanents by which that order is proved; the faith which we entertain in the necessity and generally beneficent action of government is wholly irrespective of our opinions in relation to its particular measures. (See FAITH).
Thus widely contrasted, then, are the characteristics of faith and science. The, former is out of all proportion to the proof addressed to the reasoning faculties; the other is strictly limited by the proof. The one is an adhesion of our whole spiritual nature, undoubting, and unvisited by any anxious concern; the other is simply the acquiescence of the understanding, which may be dispelled by further discoveries. The one may be resisted, the other cannot be denied; the one is of voluntary acceptance, the other of compulsory belief. 'The being' of God may be denied; the validity of a demonstration of Euclid cannot be gainsaid, ithe terms and the logical process are apprehended.
But, though these things be thus disparate in their ordinary and in their ultimate manifestations, they are identical in their foundations and in their point of departure. It has been stated already that scientific reasoning proceeds by way of deduction or of induction. Deduction, however, proceeds from premises which are either established by induction, or are received without demonstration; and induction requires general principles, not reached by induction, to render induction possible. First principles admit of neither definition nor proof. The conception of order, the admission of the uniformity of natural laws, are not inductions. Supposing, however, that those things which are confirmed by science, and receive their expansion and development from science, are reached by scientific reasoning, still the conceptions of mind, matter, and similar primordial phenomena with which science deals are intuitive, and are accepted by an unreasoning, though rational faith. They are only perplexed and weakened by argumentation on the subject. The contrasted conceptions of mind and matter are universally recognised as contrasted, even bs those who deny the reality of matter, and represent it as a mere image or phantasm of the mind; and by those who deny the distinct character of mind, and profess to regard it as nothing more than a modification or efflorescence of matter. The distinction is admitted, although the distinctness of essence or of substance be denied. So pressing is the intuitive consciousness of the contrast that recent votaries of science, who would cashier the whole realm of faith, are compelled by an unavowed and unsuspected instinct to disembody and to evaporate, as well as despiritualize, the whole universe which they pretend to explain by ascribing a purely apparent existence to facts and to the evolution of facts — a merely phenomenal validity to demonstrated changes and the laws of change. They make shadows chase shadows in a spectral world for the entertainment of shadowy observers. In this manner they convert the material and the intelligible universe into an impalpable phantasmagoria: they render it a reflection upon the clouds, a giant of the Brocken, an intricate dance of fantastic unrealities. But the ghosts which they evoke from the dissipated forms of being are as intractable and as hostile as the spirits and bodies which they have attempted to annihilate. Faith, the same in kind, though greater in degree, is required for the admission of such idols of mind and matter, and nothing is gained for their own purposes by embracing the cloud instead of the goddess.
The true doctrine with respect to the foundations of scientific procedure is laid down by Aristotle in the close of the Posterior Analytics. "It is evident," says he, "that, as demonstration is not the beginning of demonstration, so neither is science the first principle of science." Nearly six centuries later, Proclus similarly declares in his Theological Institutes that "intuition is the principle and first cause of knowledge." After the lapse of more than twelve hundred years, the Sage of Verulam reasserted the same position in a somewhat different form in The Fable of Cupid, and again in the Novum Organon (1 Aph. 66). Thus the founder of science, the most extreme of Transcendentalists, and the restorer of inductive philosophy, concur in recognising that science is not self-sustaining, but is dependent upon principles beyond the sphere of science. Their declarations, too, are no isolated testimonies, but are merely echoes of the convictions of philosophers of the most divergent schools (Plato, Timceus, ch. i; Aristotle, Met. 3:4; 10:5, 6; Theophrastus, Met. 5; Alex. Aphrodisiensis, Schol. in Aristot. ed. Brandis, pages 525, 527, 592, 605, 653; Asclepiades, Ibid. page 599; Ammonius, Ibid. page 519; Des Cartes, Med. 2; Spinoza, De la Reforme de l'Entendement, Euvrres, 2:281, ed. Saisset.; Leibnitz, Opera, 1, page 144, 161, ed. Dutens). A remarkable testimony to the same effect was recently (August 1868) given by Prof. Tyndall in his introductory address before the Mathematical Section of the British Association.
It is not simply a metaphysical axiom, but an obvious truism, that there can be neither definition nor demonstration of first principles of those fundamental and primary facts upon which not merely all knowledge, but all possibility of knowledge depends. Life is consciousness, not a conclusion of the reason. Personal identity admits neither proof nor denial. Mind escapes from the formulas of scientific knowledge; matter cannot be seized or established by them. The theory of Boscovich may be invalid, but it cannot be disproved. Thus the very foundations of scientific knowledge rest upon faith, and upon faith only upon faith in primitive facts — faith in the testimony of the senses — faith in our intellectual apprehensions. Accordingly, the faith which is supposed to make unreasonable demands in requiring the acceptance of theological truths is equally, though not in an equal degree, required for scientific speculation. Science cannot commence its speculations without humbly receiving dogmas communicated and held by faith; it cannot advance a single step without implicit acquiescence in their truth, and without their necessary, though latent support. On all sides we are encompassed by mystery. Religion and science thus spring from a common root. They address themselves in the first instance to a common characteristic of the intelligence. In both, faith must precede knowledge; and in either, the celebrated maxim of St. Augustine finds its application: "Credo, utintelligam." They are twin sisters, sustained by a common life, nourished by a common sustenance, illumined by the radiance proceeding from a common fountain of light. Both require τὸ θε ' ιον ψυχῆς ὄμμα τὰ θεῖα προλάμβανον; and both may turn to the Father of Lights and exclaim, "Angelorum esca nutrivisti populum tuum, et paratum panem de caelo praestitisti illis sine labore, omne delectamentum in se habentem et omnis saporis suavitatem."
But, though religion and science are intimately united in the cradle by participation in faith and in the works of faith, their development follows along widely divergent lines. Religion proceeds on its sacred mission accompanied, supported, and guided by faith throughout the whole journey, and calls in the aid of reason only to remove the obstacles and impediments occasioned by the weakness or scepticism of the finite intelligence. Science, like the prodigal son, leaves his father's house to wander in strange lands and among strange scenes, and too often forgets the annocence, the purity, and the heavenly illumination of his paternal home. But still the first lessons of faith — "the vision splendid" of his youth attend his course, return to his memory, recall his origin, and silently reclaim him to his early home.
"Perchance he may return with others there,
When he has purged his guilt."
Science thus reposes on faith, upon principles of the same generic character as those which furnish the substance of religion; but it requires them only as premises which are soon left out and forgotten in its strictly ratiocinative development. It is willingly oblivious of the fact that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy." Religion receives these and the like principles of faith as its commencement, beginning, and end. Science commences where religion leaves off, but it is ushered into its career by faith.
These brief and undeveloped views may perhaps indicate the means of securing a valid conciliation of faith and reason, of religion and science, and of establishing the limits of their respective spheres, and the characteristics of their respective procedures. Interpreted as they have been here explained, their contrasts and functions remain distinctly marked, but they cease to be antagonistic, and have neither reason nbr excuse for enmity. — Compare Shedd, History of Doctrines, 1:154 sq.; Chlebus, Stud. u. Krit: 1846, page 905 sq.; Edinburgh Review, October 1849. art. 1; Westcott, Study of the Gospels, page 393; M'Cosh, Intuitions of the Mind, book 2, chapter 1, and part 3, book 2, chapter 5; Miles, Philosophical Theology (Charleston, 1850, 8vo). (G.F.H.)
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Faith and Reason'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/f/faith-and-reason.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.