By Jim Pemberton
In the last article we discussed faith based on reason from the teaching of Augustine. It follows as to ask what the relation is between faith and reason. For this we will jump ahead in time from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas.
As it is, I’m not generally a Thomist. That is, I don’t generally follow the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. However, he brought up a concept that is helpful for us to think about in answering our question.
Thomas’ predecessor, Anselm, took Augustine’s teaching on faith and reason and proposed that all Christian doctrine could be derived reasonably from the natural world. That is to say that the natural world is given by God to us as a “natural revelation”. Thomas agreed, but only in part. He disagreed that all Christian doctrine was natural theology, but acknowledged that some Christian doctrine could be derived from natural revelation. All theology was covered instead by “special revelation”, that is, the Bible. So you can think of two circles: One is all theology and the other is all reason from the natural world. These two circles overlap and the area where they overlap is called “natural theology”.
Now this is important because it helps us understand the relationship between reason and faith. That is, faith has an object (God) and how we know the object of our faith requires some kind of reason. What we know about the object of our faith comes from both natural revelation by way of reason and special revelation by way of prophets moved by the Spirit of God in the writing of the Bible. Both of these avenues of information agree with each other, but one is authoritative and the other is not. That is to say that one must be in the position to inform us how to apprehend the other.
If we start from a position of ignorance and have only the tool of reason, then we must use reason to investigate the veracity of the claims of the Bible. Many great books have been written discussing how incredibly likely that the bible must be true. I won’t go into that material here, but it is widely available. So we will assume that the evidence shows with incredible certainty that the Bible is true in both its historical claims as well as its theological claims.
It might be argued that there is no way to validate theological claims. The nature of evidence of the veracity of the Bible is not only physical, but also spiritual. That is that it can be demonstrated that the writings of the prophets were validated by the fulfillment of many specific prophecies. It was not simply the claims that were validated, but the prophets themselves. The claims rest on the validation of the prophets. So in this way there is incredible evidence that the theological claims they made are true. This is as scientific an investigation as any natural science.
But we know that people who hold science in a high view of authority would dismiss the claims of the Bible as not being reasonable on the basis of scientific discovery. Since the Bible is verified with abundant evidence, this is an inconsistent view. In fact, it tacitly points out the limitation inherent in natural reason that makes science less authoritative than special revelation.
So in the next two articles, I will investigate natural reason by deriving deductive logic and spelling out how the scientific method flows from deductive logic. In so doing, I will be able to convey to you the limitations of reason.