Faith and Reason

by pjamesbeardsley

A friend posted on my facebook page that what I write reminds him of the Benjamin Franklin quote, “The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason.”  My response: I try to see through both, and don’t find them to be contradictory.

The reason why is the crowning mathematical and philosophical achievement of the 20th century, Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem.  There are many facets to it and implications of it, and for the layman (or anyone not well versed in academic papers about symbolic logic), I recommend the book Godel’s Proof.  It’s outstanding.  One implication is this: in any logically consistent system, there are three kinds of truth.  There are axioms (things assumed to be true), things provable from the axioms (necessary logical implications), and things that are true that are not provable from the axioms (possible truths that are true).  None is any less true than any other, but all of the things that are true in a logically consistent system fit into one of the three, and reality is a logically consistent system.

If the the Bible is to be believed, it makes it clear that the beliefs that constitute faith are not provable, but nonetheless true.  Faith is evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1).  There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end leads to death (Proverbs 14:12).  If the beliefs that constitute faith were provable, faith would be evidence of things obviously seen.  There would be no way that appears right to man, but in the end leads to death.

So clearly, if the Bible is true, it falls into the third category: things that are true that are not provable.

To see strictly by reason, in the terminology of Franklin’s day, was to be thoroughly agnostic about all things that were not provable.  Even after Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, some people still adhere to this ideology.

Which is silly on at least two fronts.  For one, a result of Godel’s Proof is that axioms cannot be proven.  The best you can hope for is to display that your axioms are consistent with one another.  You can’t prove them to be true, let alone consistent with this complex, massive, space-time governed thing we call reality.  Without the axioms, you have nothing to generate necessary logical implications from.  Without axioms and necessary logical implications, you have nothing with which to compare possible truths.  To be governed strictly by proof is to be a total epistemological skeptic.

Nobody is an epistemological skeptic, aside from possibly acknowledging it in the academic sense.  You breathe.  You eat food.  You drink water.  You do these things because on some level, you choose to live your life in accordance with the notion that these things are beneficial or prudent.

Another reason that notion is silly is because it’s limiting.  Even if (and we’re playing pretend here) you had a set of axioms that you knew, without a doubt, were true and governed all reality, and even if you knew you had the complete set of those axioms, reality is massive and complex.  There’s an entire third set of truth out there. In a massive, complex system such as reality, it’s far greater than your axioms or the things proven by them.  Just one, trivial, unprovable truth, when combined with the hypothetical axioms or things proven by them, would lead to a vast set of true things all its own.

So can I prove the Bible is true? No (by its own admission in the verses above), but non-believers have spent thousands of years trying to prove it untrue and all have failed.  One wrote an excellent book about his attempt, Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict; he ended up converting in the process.

But unless we completely distrust our senses, we know this: the Bible exists.  It was written over a span of roughly 1500 years, by roughly 40 different authors, on 3 different continents, in 3 different languages.  It is consistent with itself and all verifiable history.   That’s remarkable in and of itself.  It contains hundreds of prophesies that have either been fulfilled or that the Bible states would be fulfilled in the Second Coming of Christ.  Many of its authors were so convinced of the truth of what they wrote that they preferred martyrdom to recanting their testimony.

Which leaves you with a question: is there more evidence that this possible truth is true or not?  And either way, what are you going to choose to believe?

It’s not shutting the eye of reason.  It’s using both eyes.