bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 9

Here are some key points from the first section (Relation of Faith to Reason) of Geisler’s article “Faith and Reason” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p. 239; hereafter: BECA):

  • The contents of faith “are above reason.” and so must be revealed to humans by God.
  • Faith “involves will (freedom) and reason doesn’t coerce the will”.
  • Some theological truths “have been proved demonstratively” and can be based on reason, such as the existence of God.

If we take the second point in a straightforward manner, then there appears to be no conflict between faith and reason, at least in terms of the requirement that the assent of faith be a free choice.  If reason doesn’t compel a person to give assent to any theological claim or doctrine (or against any such claim or doctrine), then reason doesn’t preclude a person from freely choosing to give assent to any theological claim or doctrine.
The question I’m not clear how to answer is this:  Can a demonstrative proof compel a person to assent to the conclusion of the proof?  always? sometimes? never?  What is Aquinas’ view on this question?  I’m not sure.
The second section of the article is about Three Uses of Reason:  1. Reason can be used to prove the “preambles of faith”, such as the existence of God.  2. Reason can be used to explain or clarify a theological concept or doctrine.  3. Reason can be used to defend a theological belief by refuting an objection or an argument against that belief. (BECA, p.239).
Although the “preambles of faith” can be “proved demonstratively”(Summa Theologica, 1a.3.2), “such arguments are not available for the second kind of divine truth…” (Gentiles, 1.9, quoted in BECA, p.239).  An example of the second kind of divine truth would be the doctrine of the Trinity.  Aquinas believed that reason alone was insufficient to discover or to prove the doctrine of the Trinity, and that humans can possess this truth only because God has revealed this to us.
The passage quoted from Gentiles 1.9 also includes the following comments about divine revelation:
The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture–an authority divinely confirmed by miracles.  For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God has revealed it.  Nevertheless, there are certainly likely [probable] arguments that should be brought forth in order to make divine truth known.
Apparently when Aquinas speaks of “divine truth” here, he is speaking of the second kind of divine truth (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity) and not the first kind of divine truth (e.g.  the existence of God), for the first kind of divine truth can be “proved demonstratively” and based on reason alone.
When Aquinas speaks of using “likely [probable] arguments” to support the second kind of divine truth I think he means showing the divine authority of the scriptures (or of Jesus or of the apostles) by making an appeal to the occurence of miracles that allegedly confirm the messages or teachings from those sources.  The authority of the scriptures or revelation is also supported by the belief that God is completely truthful:
…it was necessary for divine truth to be delivered by way of faith, being told to them as it were, by God Himself Who cannot lie…(Summa Theologica, 2a2ae.1, 5.4).
So, Aquinas suggests the basic apologetic argument for the authority of scripture:  Miracles confirm that a book or a messenger are bringing a message that truly comes from God, and God is completely truthful, so we can have complete confidence in the truth and accuracy of books or messengers that have been confirmed by miracles.
Apparently, Aquinas does not see this as a demonstrative proof, but rather as a “likely [probable]” argument. Nevertheless, it is still an argument, a bit of reasoning.  Thus, it seems to me that even the second kind of “divine truth”, such as the doctine of the Trinity, ultimately rests on reason, in that it rests on an argument, a bit of reasoning, about the alleged divine inspiration of the scriptures.  The appeal to confirming miracles requires empirical evidence and the evaluation of that evidence, and the important premise that God is completely truthful, is, presumably, based on a “demonstrative” proof about God being a perfectly good person.
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 8

In the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999; hereafter: BECA), Geisler has written a fairly long and detailed article on “Faith and Reason”, and the entire article is basically an exposition of the views of Aquinas about faith and the relationship between faith and reason.
There are nine bolded subheadings in Geisler’s article on “Faith and Reason”:
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
2. Three Uses of Reason
3. Divine Authority
4. Reason in Support of Faith
5. Distinguishing Faith and Reason
6. Perfected by Love, Produced by Grace
7. The Limitations of Reason
8. Things Above Reason
9. Summary
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
In part 7 of this series, I started to examine this section of Geisler’s article.  I will now continue that effort.
Here is another interesting passage from that section:
Faith and reason are parallel.  One does not cause the other because “faith involves will (freedom) and reason doesn’t coerce the will” [quoted from On Truth 14.A1.6, by Aquinas]…. A person is free to dissent, even though there may be convincing reasons to believe. (BECA, p.239)
Previously, Geisler stated that “Faith is consent without inquiry in that faith’s assent is not caused by investigation.” (BECA, p.239)
Geisler’s conclusion that “Faith is consent without inquiry” does NOT follow from the premise that “faith’s assent is not caused by investigation.”  Such assent is not caused by investigation because the assent of faith is supposed to be a choice someone makes freely, and faith’s assent is supposed to be made by a free choice because faith is a virtue.  If the assent to a claim was caused or compelled, then the assent would have no merit.
Free will and causation appear to be logically incompatible, at least that is how Aquinas and many Christian thinkers have viewed these two ideas.  But a free choice does NOT imply that the choice is completely uninformed by reasons and evidence.  Reasons and evidence in some cases will point clearly to one particular conclusion and away from other alternative conclusions.  In such cases, reasonable people will be strongly influenced by those reasons and that evidence.  If Aquinas wishes to deny that reason can compel belief, that is one thing, but it would be absurd to deny that reason can have significant influence over a person’s beliefs.  In some cases reason obviously has a very powerful influence over whether a person believes a particular claim or not.
Given these qualifications, the consent of faith may, in some cases be powerfully influenced by reason, even if one wishes to deny that reason can CAUSE a person to assent to a particular claim.  As Geisler says, “A person is free to dissent, even though there may be convincing reasons to believe.”  So, if Aquinas’s Five Ways to prove the existence of God amounted to “convincing reasons to believe” in God, one would still be “free to dissent” and thus if one assented to the claim “God exists” on the basis of those “convincing reasons to believe” that could still count as “faith” and be a belief that was freely chosen (i.e. not CAUSED or compelled by reason).   Therefore, Geisler’s conclusion that “Faith is consent without inquiry” appears to be a misunderstanding of Aquinas’ view of the relationship of faith and reason.
Geisler notes that reason can at least guide us to belief in the existence of God:
However, some Christian truths are attainable by human reason, for example, that God exists and is one.  “Such truths about God have been proved demonstratively by the philosophers, guided by the light of the natural reason” [quoted from Summa Theologica 1a.3.2, by Aquinas] (BECA, p.239) 
So, in the case of the claim “God exists”, Aquinas thinks that reason can deliver the content of that theological claim as well as providing convincing reasons to assent to that claim, though Aquinas would deny that reason can compell belief in the existence of God.
If Aquinas believes that reason is incapable of compelling a person to assent to a belief, even when reason has the strong force of a demonstrative proof, then there appears to be no threat to faith from reason, at least not on this account.  The assent of faith, according to Aquinas must be a matter of free choice, so that faith can be a virtue.  OK, but if reason can never compel belief, then even when reason exerts powerful influence over a person’s choice to believe a particular claim, that belief remains a matter of free choice, and thus it remains a candidate for being the assent of faith.
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Faith? – Part 7

I’m going to take a detour and temporarily set Mr. Swinburne’s characterization of the Thomist view of faith aside.  But I will continue to examine the Thomist view of faith, specifically as presented by Dr. Norman Geisler.
As Jeff Lowder has recently shown, Dr. Geisler’s case for Christianity is a failure.  IMHO Jeff won that match with a K.O. of Geisler in the very first round:
 Let’s suppose, but only for the sake of argument, that the following evidence favors theism over atheism, i.e., is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that atheism is true: the beginning of the universe, the design of the universe, the design of life, and the existence of the moral law. Even so, it still doesn’t follow that, all things considered, God’s existence is more likely than not. For example, it may be the case—and I think is the case—that there is other evidence which favors atheism over theism. But, if true, that entails that G&T’s [Geisler and Turek] case violates the Total Evidence Requirement and so G&T’s case accordingly fails to show that Christianity is probably true. 
Geisler’s case for Christianity was decimated by Jeff in just one paragraph-BOOM; that is the awesome power of logic.
Although Dr. Geisler’s case for Christianity fails, I appreciate his thinking about the resurrection of Jesus, especially what I have called Geisler’s Principle:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.        
(When Skeptics Ask, by Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, p.120)
Based on this principle, one can also decimate William Craig’s case for the resurrection in just one paragraph, since Dr. Craig has never made a serious attempt to show that Jesus really did die on the cross.  So, despite the shortcomings of his Christian apologetics,  Dr. Geisler has some worthwhile things to say.   I am now going to turn to an article by Geisler on “Faith and Reason”, in order to become more familiar with the details of the Thomist view of faith.
Geisler is clearly a fan of Aquinas, even more than Swinburne is a fan.  In the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999; hereafter: BECA), Geisler has written a fairly long and detailed article on “Faith and Reason”, and the entire article is basically an exposition of the views of Aquinas about faith and the relationship between faith and reason.  Here is how Geisler characterizes the place of Aquinas in the history of thinking about faith and reason:
 Augustine made the first serious attempt to relate the two [faith and reason], but the most comprehensive treatment came at the end of the medieval period when Christian intellectualism flowered in the work of Thomas Aquinas.            (BECA, p. 239)
I see no criticisms, objections, or reservations expressed by Geisler about the views of Aquinas concerning the relationship of faith and reason, and given that Geisler has devoted the entire article on “Faith and Reason” to laying out the views of Aquinas, it seems clear that Geisler agrees with the view of faith and reason put forward by Aquinas, or at least he sees the view of Aquinas as the best of available comprehensive treatments of this topic.
There are nine bolded subheadings in Geisler’s article on “Faith and Reason”:
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
2. Three Uses of Reason
3. Divine Authority
4. Reason in Support of Faith
5. Distinguishing Faith and Reason
6. Perfected by Love, Produced by Grace
7. The Limitations of Reason
8. Things Above Reason
9. Summary
I might skip over some of these sections, but several look interesting and significant.  The first section looks significant, so I’ll start there.
 
1. Relation of Faith to Reason
There is just one subheading within this section: “Reason Cannot Produce Faith.”  If that is the Thomist view, then the idea of a “purely rational faith” that I described in the previous post, would seem NOT to fit with the Thomist view of ‘faith in God’.  The comments in this section make faith seem unavoidably  irrational:
Faith is consent without inquiry in that faith’s assent is not caused by investigation.  Rather, it is produced by God.  Commenting on Ephesians 2:8-9, Aquinas contended that “free will is inadequate for the act of faith since the contents of faith are above reason. …That a man should believe, therefore, cannot occur from himself unless God gives it” (Aquinas, Ephesians, 96; unless noted, all citations in this article are from works by Thomas Aquinas). Faith is a gift of God, and no one can believe without it. (BECA, p.239)
Geisler knows more about Aquinas than I do, so I’m inclined to accept his interpretation of Aquinas, at least provisionally.  However, the quote of Aquinas here does not say anything about “inquiry” or “investigation”, so Geisler is reading something between the lines here that is less than obvious, at least to me.
I’m not sure what Aquinas means by the statement that “free will is inadequate for the act of faith since the contents of faith are above reason.”  But my guess would be that he means that we cannot simply choose to believe in the doctrines of Christianity that are beyond discovery by human reason, because such doctrines must FIRST be revealed by God to human beings (at some point in history).  If a particular true idea is undiscoverable by means of human “inquiry” or “investigation”, then that implies that human beings will never discover that true idea, at least not on their own.  The trinity is a doctrine that Aquinas believes to be true, and to be beyond the power of human beings to discover by means of reason (or Geisler would say: by means of human “inquiry” or “investigation”).
On the other hand, there is a sense in which the doctrine of the trinity IS discovered by means of human inquiry and investigation, even if Aquinas’ views about the necessity of divine revelation are correct.  If I am to believe that the doctrine of the trinity is true on the basis of the fact that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the trinity, I have to first determine whether the Bible is worthy of my trust concerning theological claims, and to determine that question, I need to determine whether there is a God and whether the Bible was inspired by God, and whether the Bible’s original contents have been preserved from corruption over the centuries.  All three of these issues require human inquiry and investigation; these issues require the use of human REASON.  Aquinas pointed to miracles as evidence that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  But if we need evidence to determine whether the Bible is inspired by God, then we need REASON to determine whether the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
Also, it clearly will not do to appeal to the authority of the Bible in order to determine whether the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  For if the Bible is NOT inspired by God, then it has no significant authority concerning theological questions (such as “Did God inspire the Bible?”).  Appealing to the divine authority of the Bible in order to support the divine authority of the Bible is reasoning in a circle, so such an appeal has no force.
If Aquinas has in mind examples like the doctrine of the trinity being beyond the power of human investigation and inquiry, then it still seems to me that ‘faith in God’ can be purely rational and that ‘faith in God’ can be produced by REASON (on Aquinas’s view).  Belief in the trinity is based on acceptance of the authority of the Bible rather than based on a philosophical argument/proof about the details of this doctrine.  But there is still reasoning required to arrive at the conclusion that the Bible is a good and trustworthy source of theological information.
We must first determine that God exists (or at least, following Swinburne, that it is probable that God exists).  Then we must determine that the Bible was inspired by God (or at least, that it is probable that the Bible was inspired by God).  Then we must determine that the text of the Bible has been well-preserved over the centuries that have passed since it was first written down (or at least, that it is probable that the text of the Bible has been well-preserved).  All of this seems in keeping with the views of Aquinas, and all of this is a matter of REASON, of human inquiry and investigation into the existence of God, and into the inspiration of the Bible.
So, even if the trinity is a true doctrine and that no human being could ever discover the truth of the doctrine of the trinity by means of REASON without the help of divine revelation, it would still be the case that one’s acceptance of divine revelation (for example accepting the doctrine of the trinity on the basis of the authority of the Bible) would be based upon REASON, a human investigation or inquiry into questions about the existence of God and the alleged inspiration of the Bible.