The Devil may be in the details of the definitions I am using: reason is "the mental powers concerned with forming conclusions, judgments, or inferences"; faith is "a belief that is not based on proof." Reason proceeds on the basis of skepticism, critical inquiry, and logic; faith works on the basis of credulity, a priori premises, and confessions. In short, the two processes of thought are by definition two completely opposite ways of apprehending reality. For example, reason says that a person who is dead and not in some kind of deep coma, remains dead; s/he does not return to a living state. Faith, on the other hand, argues: true; in general a person who is dead does not come back to a living state, but there is one exception. God "raised" Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. Behind this particular Christian response lies the a priori premise of an unseen divine being, and the confession that Jesus was raised from the dead, both of which are evident only to a believer. Reason, on the other hand, demands that some rational proof be offered to justify this exception to the way of all flesh.
Faith pleads an open universe where God has elbow room to make things deviate from the observed usual. But reason, willing even to accept the idea of an open universe where things may deviate from the usual, still demands proof that the deviation from the usual is based on natural cause and effect rather than by the manipulation of an invisible divine hand outside the natural order of things.
At bottom, reason and faith are fundamentally two contradictory ways of viewing reality, but up to a point they can co-exist and in some cases even cooperatively in the same mind. Where they part ways is in the deference given to the primary confessions of a given faith. These a priori premises of the faith are non-negotiable, i.e., without them, by definition, there is no faith. To join a given Faith one must give assent to its confessions, and if one changes one's mind after joining, then one can be taken before some official body of the organization on heresy charges (and, yes, such trials do take place with some regularity), and if convicted of heresy one either recants or is put out of the community.
Apart from the primary confessions it is possible for a member of a given faith to practice a rational 21st century existence as long as one does not make the mistake of thinking there is a 1:1 correlation between what one believes is so and what is actually so. Should one make that mistake, alibis will be required to accommodate the difference between belief and actuality. For example, Faith asserts "this is my Fathers' world," i.e., God controls it, and can be expected to act in the best interest of the created order. Yet we also experience in the world pain, disease, natural disasters, and tragedy. How can that be reconciled with a benevolent God controlling the universe? When one comes to the point of recognizing that a disconnection exists between "good" God and dangerous creation, the disconnect must be bridged to enable one to hold on to both concepts at the same time.
One of the many alibis explaining away this phenomenon is as follows: The world was originally created as a benign place. We, however, now live in a fallen creation because of Adam's willful sin. The creation will, however, in the end be redeemed (Romans 8:18-23), but such a belief does not solve the problem of God's failure to render benevolent care to the creation and its creatures in the here and now. Here is another: Whatever bad happens to people is for their benefit. The word "bad" used in this connection is really a misnomer; for the tragedies that come upon humans can be explained as part of God's refining process through which human beings grow and improve. So the "bad" is really a "good." Such a solution to the problem, however, turns God into a stern disciplinarian who shapes his creatures through pain and suffering—a far cry from a kind and caring "Father" (compare Luke 11:11-12).
When the alibis can no longer bridge the gap between benevolent deity and dangerous world, a fundamentally different way of viewing reality is required, and a gap appears in the confessional wall sheltering the faithful from the insistent voice of reason. We surrender items of personal religious belief with great difficulty, yet reason persistently continues its nagging and prodding.
How do you see it?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University