Are faith and reason incompatible?

Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]. Hebrews 11:1 (Amplified Bible)

Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]. Hebrews 11:1 (Amplified Bible)

“FAITH is a negation of reason,” writes British philosopher A. C. Grayling. His words sum up the feelings of countless writers, clergy and philosophers who over the centuries have claimed that faith and reason are incompatible.

Some religious beliefs do fly in the face of all reason. But consider this:

Many strongly held scientific beliefs have proved to be wrong.

            Does that mean that all scientific beliefs are wrong or are not based on reason? Why view religious beliefs any differently? In fact, the faith described in the Bible does not exist without knowledge but is, instead, solidly based on knowledge and sound reason. Arguably, true faith and reason are compatible.

Faith Firmly Based on Reason

           The Bible says, for example, that if your worship is to be “acceptable to God,” it must be “a sacred service with your power of reason.” In other words, you must worship God “in a way that is worthy of thinking beings.” (Romans 12:1) So the faith described in the Bible is not something blind and irrational, or a leap of faith, as some have called it. And it is not credulity. Rather, it is something you have thought through carefully—resulting in trust in God and his Word, which is firmly based on reason.

            Of course, if you are to reason properly, you need accurate information. Even the most powerful computer programs designed on solid principles of logic will come up with some very strange conclusions if they are fed inaccurate data. Likewise, the quality of your faith will depend greatly on what you hear or on how dependable the information you feed your mind proves to be. Appropriately, the Bible says that faith “comes by hearing.”—Romans 10:17.

            A fundamental requirement for faith is an accurate knowledge of truth. (1 Timothy 2:4) Only “the truth,” says the Bible, “will set you free,” free from misleading beliefs, whether they are scientific or religious. (John 8:32) The Bible warns you not to put faith in “ every word.” (Proverbs 14:15) Rather, it says that you should “test and prove all things”—or test out the things you hear before believing them. (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Why should you do research and test out your beliefs? Because faith based on falsehood is only a delusion. Some noble-minded people from the ancient city of Beroea set a fine example in acquiring proper faith. Even though these individuals really wanted to believe what Christian missionaries taught them, they made a point of carefully “examining the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so.”—Acts 17:11.

Building Faith in the Bible

             What, though, if you are unsure of the reliability of the Bible? How can you build your confidence in it as a source of accurate knowledge? Well, how do you build your confidence in people? Surely, it is by getting to know them—by watching how they behave over a period of time and seeing how their conduct turns out. Why not do the same with the Bible?

The Bible describes true faith as:

Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses]. (Hebrews 11:1)

            Clearly, far from being naive, a person with real faith has based his beliefs on a careful scrutiny of all available data. Reasoning on such information produces the conviction that even things that cannot be seen with the literal eye are, nonetheless, realities.

            What, though, if what you learn seems to contradict some of your deeply held beliefs? Should you just ignore it? Of course not. There may well be times when it is eminently reasonable to consider powerful evidence that appears to contradict what you believe. In the Bible, God promises to reward sincere individuals who search for truth by granting them knowledge, discernment, and thinking ability.—Please consider Proverbs 2:1-12.

            The kind of faith built on what the Bible teaches is compatible with reason. What kind of faith do you have? Many people have inherited their religious beliefs from clergy and or family and friends, and have never seriously examined them in the light of reason. Yet, it is not a sign of disrespect to examine what you believe so as to ‘prove to yourselves’ that your thinking is in harmony with God’s Word. (Romans 12:2) The Bible admonishes us to:

Dear friends, don’t believe all people who say that they have the Spirit. Instead, test them. See whether the spirit they have is from God, because there are many false prophets in the world. (1 John 4:1)

             If you do that, you will be in a position, even when your beliefs are challenged, to make a defense to “anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you”—1 Peter 3:15.