Reason and Faith

Reason and faith

The title of this article is in fact taken straight from a book Reason and Faith by Roger Forster and Paul Marston; obviously this is a book I am recommending. First, though, some discussion.

Sometimes it can be a little surprising to me when I hear of people coming to faith through the application of reason since this is by no means the path I followed; the subject of ‘apologetics’ is treated with some scorn by evangelist TL Osborn; we are inclined to say that faith is of the heart, of the spirit, not of the mind . . . and then we come across people who find God by a process of reasoning and discussion of issues and through sound apologetics. Hugh Ross is one such discussed on this site, and his ministry is devoted to careful argument. In his books Richard Wurmbrand describes an artist couple, who began to reason that since they created art, they must themselves by created and since their art relied on the opposable thumb they decided to worship the God who made the thumb, and this sufficed until they heard a fuller account of this God by contact with Bible believers (as Paul says, “If perhaps they might seek after him. . .”). Here was a very nice piece of reasoning by the well known Indian preacher of the early 1900s, Sundar Singh, reasoning which turned him away from Indian religion and was a way station on the road to faith in Christ; the setting is a discussion with a Sadhu –

I [Sundar] do not see how this increase of knowledge will be able to do much, for it looks as if further knowledge will result in my needs and difficulties being still more clearly seen by me, and how will these new needs be met?

The Sadhu replied: “Not with imperfect, finite knowledge, but with perfect and final knowledge will your needs be met; for when you get perfect knowledge you will realize that this need, or want, is only an illusion, and that you yourself are Brahma (God) or a part of Him, and when you realize this, then what more will you need?” I persisted, “Excuse me, but I cannot believe this, for if I am a part of Brahma or am myself Brahma, then I should be incapable of having any more Maya (illusion). But if Maya is possible in Brahma then Brahma is no longer Brahma, for he has been subordinated to Maya. Hence Maya is stronger than Brahma himself, and Maya will then not be Maya (illusion) but will be a reality that has overcome Brahma, and we shall have to think of Brahma himself as Maya, and this is blasphemy. . . .  you are throwing me into a whirlpool. I shall be most thankful to you if from your experience and knowledge you can help me to know Him so that I may satisfy my spiritual hunger and thirst in Him. But please remember that I do not want to be absorbed in Him, but I do want to obtain salvation in Him.’

This is a clear sightedness of a high order!

Another useful story I refer to elsewhere is that of Charles Colson. His primary response to the Good News was emotional, a substantial experience of surrender and a flood of feeling. He then describes in Born Again how he then spent a little time apart to explore what this meant intellectually, an exploration undertaken with the help of CS Lewis and Mere Christianity (while I don’t understand the fascination there seems to be with Lewis and his works, I do think this is a good book – a record of a series of radio talks to the average but thinking man in post-war Britain). This was a vital step to Colson.

As we have said elsewhere on this site, it is good that someone does the intellectual spade work; of course we need our thinking to be properly undergirded. And of course, in most cases the reason is engaged first, through preaching or reading, this being the means by which the Logos (the reason) gains entry to our hearts; and of course, in the Hebrew conception it is not possible to make the distinction between mind and heart that we tend to adopt. There must, then, surely be appropriate material to engage with people whose orientation is distinctly intellectual.

Having thus, apparently, concluded that good works on reason and faith are important I have to report that a visit to a Christian bookstore is unfortunately likely to find books in this area that are very disappointing. I have bought a number of books that promised to explore some aspect of philosophy or science in relation to faith, only to find them confused and confusing, woolly and muddled. It is not part of my purpose to say which books these are but to point to reliable sources, of which there are no doubt many. The Forster and Marston book is excellent.

As stated above, Roger Forster is a thoroughly reliable pastor/thinker/communicator, and it turns out in this book that Paul Marston is an expert in the area of the history of geology. The fundamental push of the book is to explore the faith/science relationship; the sub-title is Do modern science and Christian faith really conflict. It might be noted that it is a 1989 book and so there are ideas that are subsequent to it that might need exploring, but I can’t see that there is much change except to the names of those who propose particular ideas and the details of their arguments.

The tone of the book is very calm, very reasonable, so it is enjoyable. There is a nice look at philosophers’ search for meaning in life – and how in some cases their search leads to despair and then to faith. There is a look at religion in general, and then a series of chapters on the evidence around the person of Jesus, from archaeology to a look at the resurrection; because the discussions are undertaken so reasonably, they are both a very good introduction to these topics without becoming too weighty  and typically make good points I haven’t seen elsewhere; the notes give some nice bibliographical pointers; the discussions often make the most sensible and quotable statements about whatever the subject is, for example some statements about the study of history. We then move on to the issue of man as spiritual. What does this mean? Do miracles take place? In line with this there is a discussion of ‘mind’ and determinism. I have found Roger Penrose interesting in this area, though too long-winded for me; here we have all I feel I need. (Satinover The Quantum Mind is also a wonderful book in this area.) The second half of the book deals with Genesis, the history of science and supposed clashes with faith, creation/evolution . . . The site associated with Hugh Ross is also recommended on these issues, but the Reasons to Believe organization really has more to say about the science and is comparatively sketchy on the history of science; Forster and Marston is the best brief resource I know on the history of science and religion. In particular the discussion of the history of geology is the most detailed area of the book, it having been the subject of Marston’s PhD. I found the last chapter of great interest, “God, chance and design”: the discussion of chance was particularly valuable.

Conclusion: I would suggest this is a text book discussion of the issues.

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