Faith and reason: A fool’s venture?

Faith and reason

A lot of you may be familiar with the hit series The Big Bang Theory. It is a witty, scientifically charged comedy that has attracted millions of viewers (myself included I might add). Putting its fame aside, this series exemplifies a common belief in secular society that faith is necessarily dissociated from reason. It does so none better than with Mary Cooper (Laurie Metcalfe), who plays the mother of Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons). Her character is that of a Christian mother who sometimes makes bigoted, racist and foolish remarks, all the while linking those remarks to her Christian values.

Mary Cooper: I tried to read your paper, but it was very hard for me to understand.

Sheldon: Oh, it’s quite straightforward, actually. It describes a new model of the universe that conceptualizes it as the surface of an n-dimensional superfluid.

Mary Cooper: Interesting. You can believe that, but God filling an ark with animals two-by-two is nonsense.

Sheldon: What did they feed the lions, Mother?

Mary Cooper: The floating bodies of drowned sinners, of course. [1]

Setting aside the comedic nature of this passage, this is the kind of remarks that are usually associated with Christian beliefs by the producers of the show. (I might talk about the book of Genesis in a future post)This is a far cry from the historical Christian belief that the articles of faith are never dissociated from reason. They are very often misunderstood.

This is the very foundation of my blog. I want to navigate the articles of faith to find the deep seating beauty that resides in them and, with reasoned dialogue, maybe have some misunderstandings clarified.

Faith and reason

Let’s start with a headline: “Faith and science…there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason”[2]. This might surprise some, but this is straight from the mouth of the Church.  But why is this? God has revealed mysteries and has given us the articles of faith but he is also the one that has provided us with our human reason. Given that God is Truth, (one of the divine attributes) Truth cannot contradict Truth by its very nature.

Why do we experience a widespread belief that faith is unreasonable? If I had to make an observation, I would say that the mainstream way of finding truth, that is, the scientific method responds to our need of satisfying the senses since it can show physically or empirically that something is true. The human experience has been gradually drifting from the philosophical to the empirical that whatever is not seen, touched or heard seems so unreal to us. It is no wonder that philosophy is now a dying science and why faith seems so unreasonable. An apparent contradiction between faith and reason is always due to some mistake in the use of reason. Be it a misunderstanding of terms, assumption of false premises or some logical error. (See Mary and Sheldon Cooper’s dialogue above) St-Thomas Aquinas writes about this in his Summa Contra Gentiles I, 7.

It is important not to make the claim that all Christian doctrines can be proved by reason, only that arguments against them can be disproved.[3]

Stay tuned for more blog posts where we will apply this historical Christian notion to concrete examples.

[1] The Big Bang Theory – The Maternal Combustion (2015)

[2] The Catechism of The Catholic Church – CCC 159

[3] Kreeft, Peter and Tacelli, Ronald, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics (Ignatius Press, 2009), 43.