Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dazed and Confused: David Marshall's Irrational Take on Faith and Reason


The word faith has always been a word in popular culture that has been defined as a “belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence,” the complete opposite of reason. In Richard Dawkins' classic book, The Selfish Gene, he writes, “[Faith is] blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence.” [1] David Marshall disagrees with this and insists that faith and reason are inseparable and he has written an essay titled Faith and Reason defending this view. The document can currently be found on his website here.

What follows is the entirety of David Marshall's document, provided in blockquotes, with my responses to his argument following immediately after.

As a side note, for those interested I've also written other responses to some of Marshall's writings, including his 2007 book The Truth Behind the New Atheism. [2]

With that said, let's begin! David Marshall starts with the following,

Faith is often assumed to be an irrational act, a “leap” into the unknown over an empty chasm where evidence ought to lie. This assumption is deeply ingrained in Western thinking, and even language. The “Age of Faith” is contrasted with the “Age of Reason,” as if “faith” and “reason” were utterly disparate ways of looking at the world. “I don’t know this, but it’s true anyway” is how one skeptical scientist defined faith to me.

Faith is not “assumed” to be anything. This is simply a factual distinction between faith and reason which Marshall is for some reason unable to grasp, and I will detail these reasons later on. As for this unnamed scientist Marshall has quoted it appears as if Marshall is attempting to imply that those who disagree with him are unable to justify the standard definition of faith, which is belief without evidence. This anonymous person may not have given Marshall any reasons for their views about faith (assuming he quoted the individual's entire statement) but others have and in much detail. [3]

The difference between “science” and “religion” is supposed by many to parallel this alleged disconnect between faith and reason. Biologist Sheldon Gottlieb, in rebuking mathematician David Berlinski for doubting Darwinian theory, claimed (rather irrelevantly, since Berlinski showed little interest in religion), “In the world of the supernatural, anything goes, and the only limitation is the extent of one’s imagination. No evidence is required to substantiate any claims.” (Commentary, September 1996) Similarly, in her history of American freethinkers, Susan Jacoby remarked, “"The scientific method itself, with its demand to 'Prove it,' discourages the leaps of faith in the unverifiable that are the essence of any religion." But anyone who pays attention can find dozens of such quotes: that faith conflicts with reason, is the quintessence of conventional wisdom.

In my view, this understanding of the relationship between faith and reason is deeply mistaken. Faith is not some peculiar, mystical path to belief in things probably unreal. In fact, faith is simply one of two faculties (along with its kissing cousin, reason) by which we know all that we know. Without faith, in the Christian sense, it is not only impossible to please God, it is impossible to walk down the street, say “Good morning!” to your wife, fill in a map of the United States with the names of states, or say, “I believe in common descent and the brotherhood of primates.”

The purpose of this paper is primarily to show that the view of faith and reason I argue for is in continuity with the greater Christian tradition. Following a two page definition of faith and explanation of its relationship to reason, and a bit about the context in which this question arose, the bulk of the article will give quotes from about thirty key Christian thinkers, from the 2nd Century philosopher Justin Martyr to the 21st Century scientist Steven Barr, on faith and reason. In some cases, I will add comments to clarify remarks, or put them into context.

After writing the initial paper, I e-mailed it to a number of Christian thinkers whom I respect. So far four have kindly responded: Gary Habermas, historian and one of the world’s leading authorities on evidence for the resurrection, Ward Gasque, theologian and New Testament scholar, Ralph Winter, founder of the US Center for World Missions, and Jason Pratt, philosopher and novelist.

I will note and respond to some of their comments, also those of two atheists (a scientist and a historian) who have dialogued with me on this subject, in the course of the discussion.

I very much disagree with Marshall's claim that David Berlinski shows “little interest in religion.” He is a member of the infamous Discovery Institute, a group that seeks to “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.” So to say he seems disinterested in religion is ludicrous. Regarding his use of the word “faith,” I very much disagree with his views and I firmly believe he is playing semantic games and takes those he quotes out of context in order to bolster his very weak case. I will attempt to demonstrate this below.

Marshall begins with his definition of faith. He writes,

My Definition of “Faith,” and How the Subject Came Up

Five years ago, I defined Christian faith in my book, Jesus and the Religions of Man, showed how it relates to reason, and discussed briefly how people of other religions use or do not use evidence to support faith. I argue that faith and reason are like two chopsticks, with which the human mind feeds itself on the truth. Faith must be tested by reason. But reason relies on four levels of faith for all the facts that it holds dear: faith in the mind, the senses, other people, and (the question at issue between theists and atheists) God.

By faith I mean “believing something to be the case based on rational evidence, and then acting on that belief.”

Reason can only act on data that comes to the mind through one or more of four channels of faith: in the mind, the senses, other people (or sentient biological beings), or God (or other divine beings).

An atheist with an interest in the history of science told me she believed that the sun would rise tomorrow based not on faith, but on “an amassed preponderance of past physical evidence.”

But how does one know what happened in the past? I asked in response. Even to simply say, “The sun rose this morning,” you have to trust your mind (both its rationality and memory), your senses (especially visual and tactual), and perhaps in other people (who affirm that despite the morning fog, the sun shines in the fields of heaven above) to believe something so simple as that the sun came up. I added that to act on that belief, say by taking your camera out in the predawn to take pictures of the sunrise, “is an act of great faith.”

Another atheist and scientist responded: “I think the nuance you put on the term ‘faith’ is incorrect. You are talking about something other than faith; something other than religious faith, at least.”. To support his point, he reminded me of “doubting Thomas.” “Thomas is gently rebuked, in fact, for requiring some kind of proof.” “Most of the Christian apologetics that I have read reminds me of my faeries at the bottom of my garden. You will either believe in my faeries by faith, or you won’t, and if you don’t, there is very little point in arguing over whether they are wearing pink or purple sneakers.”

My friend continued:

“If you elect to believe it, you do so on faith alone. And by faith I mean the actual, biblical kind of faith, where you get rebuked if you ask for proof other than circular logic . . . AND you get rewarded for checking your brain at the door (Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe.)”

Since my take on faith provoked such astonishment among unbelievers, I checked with some favorite Christian thinkers – thirty philosophers, scientists, and historians (and one Church Council) – to see what they had to say about the relationship between faith and reason.

My primary purpose in gathering these quotations was to show that while I think my explanation adds something to the discussion, in general the understanding of faith and reason I describe is not a personal eccentricity. In fact, the Christian tradition assumes more often than not that faith ought to be backed up by evidence. But beyond the general argument, I found the historical ebb and flow of Christian thought on this subject, to the extent I have traced it so far, fascinating reading.

Christian respondents asked why I did not begin with the language and teachings of the New Testament. Dr. Habermas suggested, “You might want to add (perhaps even beginning or ending with) a comprehensive definition from the NT, which would discuss the noun pistis; its sense of reliance, surrender, commitment, etc, since this is so different from our English sense of the word, as well as some thoughts on NT apologetic methodology, drawn from a host of references.” Dr. Winter made a similar suggestion: “Since the Greek NT closely associates pistis with pistuo and pistos, 244, 246, 66 times occurring, respectively, it would no doubt be helpful to explore their meaning. Our English translations do not always translate these words faith, believe, and faithful . . . It seems to me more valuable to try to understand the three Greek words and what they meant, whether or not our translated terms mean this or that.”

To offer a complete or authoritative explanation of the Christian meaning of “faith,” and its relationship with reason, no doubt that is the course I should take. I certainly agree that Christianity cannot be understood or defined apart from the Christian Scriptures.

Nevertheless, I confine myself to later tradition in this paper for four reasons: (1) The paper was originally written to show that my own take on faith and reason is not out of line with the Christian tradition in general. For that purpose, my ideas seemed best compared with the understanding other non-canonical Christian writers had come to. (2) The paper was initially written as a response to skeptics, and I preferred not to argue with them about the meaning of Scripture. (3) Sometimes it is interesting to look at an interesting object (such as a waterfall or volcano) through other peoples’ eyes. (4) I was curious how this teaching would be developed by Christian thinkers of various spiritual traditions, professional disciplines, and ethnicities, through the ages.

Marshall's argument that relying on your senses is a form of faith doesn't make much sense. I would agree that we must trust our own minds to a degree, but even here faith doesn't play as strong a role as Marshall believes. Marshall also neglects to see the other side of the coin. If we cannot trust our own senses to give us an accurate picture of the world then how in the world can a theist use his "fallible" mind and senses to argue for design in the world (as Marshall in fact argues)? I could just as easily accuse Marshall of the same error.

In addition, through our every day experiences we can see how our senses give us reliable information about our every day world on a consistent basis (assuming you're not taking any substance that might alter your perceptions) and our senses are surely accurate enough to allow us to successfully navigate the world. This should make it obvious that they must be at least mostly correct or else people might end up believing a piece of wood feels like wool or falling off cliffs on a constant basis, or any number of examples that would be proof of the unreliability of our senses. The fact that wood feels like wood and wool like wool, and people do not very often fall off cliffs, experience shows us that our senses can be trusted.

On the other hand, it is true that our senses aren't perfect, but we have the scientific method to help double check what we are experiencing is accurate. Science has shown us that we cannot always trust our senses with such examples as our mistaken belief that the earth is rotated by the sun and ghost sightings. However, through the scientific method we are able to check the accuracy of what we are experiencing with it's methodology that has proven to be reliable with centuries of repeatable experiments and observations. And as it just so happens, this is the crux of the issue. Theists tout design as a reason for belief despite the fact that the evidence tells us it's all in their heads. Science has corrected the faulty belief in seeing design in the world. Now, if only they would pay attention to these scientific findings.

But regardless of all this philosophical nonsense, the fact is that our minds are all that we have in determining the truth of things and they are in most instances highly reliable. Having said that, the scientific method is one of the most useful forms of gathering evidence and determining, as close to reality as possible, an accurate picture of the world and how that world functions. This is not a form of faith. These are rational propositions based upon observations about the world.

To conclude, there are only three ways by which man has been said to gain knowledge about himself and the world in which he (and she) lives. They are: empiricism, prophesy (or revelation), and philosophy (or logic). The last two have been proven to be either entirely unreliable (as with revelation) or occasionally faulty (as with philosophy). The only method that has been the most reliable is empiricism because it has given us the most successful results. If there is a method that has the success rate of empiricism no one has yet to come forward with facts that demonstrate otherwise.

The following section is where Marshall begins his list of quotations by these scientists and theologians who he claims support his belief about faith, which is that “the Christian tradition assumes more often than not that faith ought to be backed up by evidence.” I will examine each one to see if they do in fact support this view.

Marshall continues,

Key Christian thinkers on Faith and Reason

The following is a list of quotes by about thirty Christian thinkers on the relationship between faith and reason, beginning with Justin Martyr, and ending with Stephen Barr. While this list is admittedly spotty, these quotes represent a variety of traditions – Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, philosophers, theologians, scientists, reformers, and perhaps the greatest Christian missionary after St. Paul.

I have put the most telling portions of the quotes that agree that faith requires evidential support in red (bold for explicit, light for implicit); those that disagree in light or dark green, quotes that develop a definition of faith in ways that suggest my four-level explanation of faith in orange, and important quotes that are either neutral, indirectly attributed, or part of a challenge by non-Christian thinkers, in bold black.

[I have left out Marshall's emphases to make it easier to copy.]

Justin Martyr:“Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions.” (The First Apology)

Justin goes on to give evidence to support his faith, implicitly asserting that faith should be backed by evidence.

I have addressed Marshall's claims about Justin Martyr elsewhere so I will simply copy my response. In order to put the following in context, where Justin is quoted he is discussing the alleged crimes that Christians are being accused of and is demanding that evidence be given proving their guilt. In my response to Marshall I wrote, “This is crazy. As I said before, Marshall finds a passage speaking of an ‘investigation’ and he jumps all over it like a bitch in heat. What Justin is talking about is an investigation into the alleged crimes of Christians, not evidence for their beliefs! […] Marshall has just proven true what Sam Harris has written. He said, 'Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.' Exactly. Did Justin give any evidence for his religious beliefs? No. Did he give reasons for other beliefs aside from his religious ones? Yes. That’s the point. It’s not that Christians never rely on evidence in their lives, but that when it comes to their faith they fail to rationally investigate their reasons for belief. Marshall has just proven Harris’ point without even meaning to.”

Clement of Alexandria: Philosophy is “a kind of preparatory training to those who attain to faith through demonstration.” (The Stromata)

Clement of Alexandria is here quoted from the fifth chapter of The Stromata and he is discussing his belief that philosophy is a useful method of defending god's revelations to mankind. Clement of Alexandria wrote, “We merely therefore assert here, that philosophy is characterized by investigation into truth and the nature of things (this is the truth of which the Lord Himself said, "I am the truth"; that, again, the preparatory training for rest in Christ exercises the mind, rouses the intelligence, and begets an inquiring shrewdness, by means of the true philosophy, which the initiated possess, having found it, or rather received it, from the truth itself.” [4] This is not arguing for a reason-based approach. He is arguing that Christians should “investigate” god's word in order to better understand it.

“Some, who think themselves naturally gifted, do not wish to touch either philosophy or logic; nay more, they do not wish to learn natural science. They demand bare faith alone, as if they wished, without bestowing any care on the vine, straightway to gather clusters from the first . . . “

Clement of Alexandria is being quoted from Chapter 9 in The Stromata and here he appears to be explaining how one must have “human knowledge” “for the understanding of the scriptures “ (quoting the title of Chapter 9). This helps to place what he is saying in context. Once again, he is not expressing a reason-based view here. He is continuing to present and defend his belief that man should use philosophy to better understand god's word and is chastising those who believe differently.

“We must lop, dig, bind, and perform the other operations. The pruning-knife, I should think, and the pick-axe, and the other agricultural implements, are necessary for the culture of the vine, so that it may produce eatable fruit. And as in husbandry, so also in medicine . . . So also here, I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that, from geometry, and music, and grammar, and philosophy itself, culling what is useful, he guards the faith against assault.”

This quote is from the same chapter and is located soon after the above quote cited by Marshall. Once again, this is not an example of expressing a reason-based view. He's continuing with his argument about how man needs tools (philosophy) in order to understand god's word. He is not critically examining the bible, but is simply taking the bible as truth as his starting point and is attempting to rationalize this and defend it.

“Since, therefore, truth is one (for falsehood has ten thousand by-paths); just as the Bacchantes tore asunder the limbs of Pentheus, so the sects both of barbarian and Hellenic philosophy have done with truth, and each vaults as the whole truth the portion which has fallen to its lot. But all, in my opinion, are illuminated by the dawn of Light.”

(Clement then inventories the moral and scientific discoveries made by various civilizations and philosophers.)

The final quote was pulled from the 13th Chapter of The Stromata, titled, “All Sects Of Philosophy Contain a Germ Of Truth.” Here is the entirety of the chapter so as to provide context:

Since, therefore, truth is one (for falsehood has ten thousand by-paths); just as the Bacchantes tore asunder the limbs of Pentheus, so the sects both of barbarian and Hellenic philosophy have done with truth, and each vaunts as the whole truth the portion which has fallen to its lot. But all, in my opinion, are illuminated by the dawn of Light. Let all, therefore, both Greeks and barbarians, who have aspired after the truth, -- both those who possess not a little, and those who have any portion, -- produce whatever they have of the word of truth.

Eternity, for instance, presents in an instant the future and the present, also the past of time. But truth, much more powerful than limitless duration, can collect its proper germs, though they have fallen on foreign soil. For we shall find that very many of the dogmas that are held by such sects as have not become utterly senseless, and are not cut out from the order of nature (by cutting off Christ, as the women of the fable dismembered the man), though appearing unlike one another, correspond in their origin and with the truth as a whole. For they coincide in one, either as a part, or a species, or a genus. For instance, though the highest note is different from the lowest note, yet both compose one harmony. And in numbers an even number differs from an odd number; but both suit in arithmetic; as also is the case with figure, the circle, and the triangle, and the square, and whatever figures differ from one another. Also, in the whole universe, all the parts, though differing one from another, preserve their relation to the whole. So, then, the barbarian and Hellenic philosophy has torn off a fragment of eternal truth not from the mythology of Dionysus, but from the theology of the ever-living Word. And He who brings again together the separate fragments, and makes them one, will without peril, be assured, contemplate the perfect Word, the truth. Therefore it is written in Ecclesiastes: "And I added wisdom above all who were before me in Jerusalem; and my heart saw many things; and besides, I knew wisdom and knowledge, parables and understanding. And this also is the choice of the spirit, because in abundance of wisdom is abundance of knowledge." He who is conversant with all kinds of wisdom, will be pre-eminently a gnostic.

Now it is written, "Abundance of the knowledge of wisdom will give life to him who is of it." And again, what is said is confirmed more clearly by this saying, "All things are in the sight of those who understand" -- all things, both Hellenic and barbarian; but the one or the other is not all. "They are right to those who wish to receive understanding. Choose instruction, and not silver, and knowledge above tested gold," and prefer also sense to pure gold; "for wisdom is better than precious stones, and no precious thing is worth it." [5]

Clement appears to be arguing that all forms of philosophy contain at least a small portion of what he calls “Truth,” or god's word. Once again, as with the other quotations, he is not arguing for a rational investigation into whether or not god's word is even true. He is simply stating how he believes all forms of philosophy contain parts of god's word.

Marshall continues,

Origin, arguing Contra Celsus: “He next proceeds to recommend, that in adopting opinions we should follow reason and a rational guide, since he who assents to opinions without following this course is very liable to be deceived. And he compares inconsiderate believers to Metragytae, and soothsayers, and Mithrae, and Sabbadians, and to anything else that one may fall in with, and to the phantoms of Hecate, or any other demon or demons. For as amongst such persons are frequently to be found wicked men, who, taking advantage of the ignorance of those who are easily deceived, lead them away whither they will, so also, he says, is the case among Christians. And he asserts that certain persons who do not wish either to give or receive a reason for their belief, keep repeating, ‘Do not examine, but believe!’ and ‘Your faith will save you!’”

Origin replies that most people cannot (or will not) devote themselves so exclusively to the pursuit of truth as to prove faith by philosophy. (In those days, of course, most ordinary people were day-laborers, and illiterate.) Should ordinary people enjoy none of the benefits of truth, especially “amelioration of conduct” and the cure of souls, just because they are unable to establish it rationally?

“We admit that we teach those men to believe without reasons, who are unable to abandon all other employments ,and give themselves to an examination of arguments; and our opponents, although they do not acknowledge it, yet practically do the same.

But implicitly, Origin seems to admit that for those who have the time, reason (and evidence) must be employed in proving Christian faith. And of course he does employ both; that is the whole point of the book. He admits that historical proof is intrinsically difficult: “the endeavor to show, with regard to almost any history, however true, that it actually occurred, and to produce an intelligent conception regarding it, is one of the most difficult undertakings that can be attempted, and is in some instances an impossibility.” (Giving the Trojan war as an example: “How should we prove that such was the case, especially under the weight of the fiction attached, I know not . . . ‘”

However, Origin finds several lines of evidence and argument (including archeology, miracles, history both secular and Christian, and especially prophecy) do support the historical truths of the Gospel.

I cover this line of reasoning regarding Origin in the same place I discussed Justin Martyr so I will again copy my reply from there. However, when I debated Marshall about Origin previously he did not mention the following quote of Origin but he does in this document: “We admit that we teach those men to believe without reasons, who are unable to abandon all other employments ,and give themselves to an examination of arguments; and our opponents, although they do not acknowledge it, yet practically do the same.”

Marshall takes this quote and correctly interprets what Origin meant, that even though most Christians failed to investigate their beliefs, if they could it would be a good thing. I find Marshall's attempt at defending this reasoning to be absurd and I said as much in my previous reply to him where I wrote, “What [Origin] was saying is that if it were possible to research your beliefs it would be a good method, but most don’t have the time so we must rely on the testimony of others. How is this an admission of favoring rational investigation? It’s not. It’s the lazy way out.” [6]

I still agree with my earlier assessment. Origin may pay lip service to investigating your beliefs, but he is like other Christians of his time who simply took what someone said at face value and believed it, and he in turn advocated this view. Origin then goes on to defend this irrational view by arguing that it's OK that Christians do this because others do it too. This is not any form of rational investigation into the beliefs of Christianity. It is the opposite!

Marshall continues with his quotes,

Irenaeus of Lyon: “Creation itself reveals him that created it; and the work made is suggestive of him that made it; and the world manifests him that arranged it.” (Barr, 13)

First allow me to quote this passage from Irenaeus' Against Heresies,

That God is the Creator of the world is accepted even by those very persons who in many ways speak against Him, and yet acknowledge Him, styling Him the Creator, and an angel, not to mention that all the Scriptures call out [to the same effect], and the Lord teaches us of this Father who is in heaven, and no other, as I shall show in the sequel of this work. For the present, however, that proof which is derived from those who allege doctrines opposite to ours, is of itself sufficient,-all men, in fact, consenting to this truth: the ancients on their part preserving with special care, from the tradition of the first-formed man, this persuasion, while they celebrate the praises of one God, the Maker of heaven and earth; others, again, after them, being reminded of this fact by the prophets of God, while the very heathen learned it from creation itself. For even creation reveals Him who formed it, and the very work made suggests Him who made it, and the world manifests Him who ordered it. The Universal Church, moreover, through the whole world, has received this tradition from the apostles. [7]

Later Irenaeus wrote,

If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigation, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries. And there is no cause for wonder if this is the case with us as respects things spiritual and heavenly, and such as require to be made known to us by revelation, since many even of those things which lie at our very feet (I mean such as belong to this world, which we handle, and see, and are in close contact with) transcend out knowledge, so that even these we must leave to God. For it is fitting that He should excel all [in knowledge]. For how stands the case, for instance, if we endeavour to explain the cause of the rising of the Nile? We may say a great deal, plausible or otherwise, on the subject; but what is true, sure, and incontrovertible regarding it, belongs only to God. Then, again, the dwelling-place of birds-of those, I mean, which come to us in spring, but fly away again on the approach of autumn-though it is a matter connected with this world, escapes our knowledge. What explanation, again, can we give of the flow and ebb of the ocean, although every one admits there must be a certain cause [for these phenomena]? Or what can we say as to the nature of those things which lie beyond it? What, moreover, can we say as to the formation of rain, lightning, thunder, gatherings of clouds, vapours, the bursting forth of winds, and such like things; of tell as to the storehouses of snow, hail, and other like things? [What do we know respecting] the conditions requisite for the preparation of clouds, or what is the real nature of the vapours in the sky? What as to the reason why the moon waxes and wanes, or what as to the cause of the difference of nature among various waters, metals, stones, and such like things? On all these points we may indeed say a great deal while we search into their causes, but God alone who made them can declare the truth regarding them. (emphasis mine) [8]

It appears that Irenaeus of Lyon's view is similar to other early Christians in that he had absolute faith (as in uncritical acceptance) in the bible and it's teachings and he believed, much like Martin Luther, that “human reason and divine revelation are different dimensions of reality.” Irenaeus accepted as truth that “[h]uman nature in its entirety is assumed by the Word of God.” [9] [10]

Yes, Irenaeus cites creation as a reason to believe that it was god who created the world. However, this is again not an example of evidence-based thinking, or of logical reasoning. The reason Irenaeus accepted creation (as do many other Christians today) as proof of god is because the bible itself tells the believer that god created the world. This is just another example of a Christian believing their bible purely on faith and accepting what it says without a critical state of mind.

Basil of Caesarea: “We . . . must first, if the glory of the good is to abide with us indelible for all time, be instructed by these outside means (i.e., reasoning), and then we shall understand the sacred and mystical teachings.” (Jarislov Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture, 27)

After looking up this quote in Pelikan's book it's clear that Basil is once again referring to the same issue as the other Christians I've looked at. They are not critically examining their religious beliefs or the bible. They are simply using reason and philosophy to help them better understand it and defend it against so-called heretics. After this quote Pelkin goes on to quote Gregory of Nyssa which will aid in explaining what is being discussed, and it isn't rational inquiry. He writes, “Gregory of Nyssa agreed with that sequence [proposed by Basil] when he said, in reaction to Macrina's method of theologizing, that it was proper to propound a doctrine 'for those trained only in the technical methods of proof,' by means of a 'mere demonstration, sufficient to convince' within the limits of reason alone, and only then, because 'the teachings of the Holy Scripture' were 'more trustworthy than any of these artificial conclusions,' to inquire whether everything that had been proved by reason could also be harmonized with those scriptural teachings.” (emphasis mine) [11]

Pelkin then goes on to write about other methods of reasoning about the scriptures: “For even in the case of a doctrine that was 'true already at first sight, as well as credible on the basis of Scripture,' it was not desirable 'to leave this part of the subject without philosophical examination,' because 'the weakness of the human understanding' could be 'strengthened still more by intelligible rational arguments [logismois].'” (emphasis mine) [12]

To further clarify the context in which Basil is writing Pelkin goes on to make it absolutely clear when he writes, “As the polemic against Eunomius illustrated, this coordinate use of revelation and reason was also intended, within the circle of orthodox Christian theological discourse, as a weapon against heretical doctrine. Here it acted as 'our reason, under the guidance of Scripture.'” (emphasis mine) [13]

Like the other Christians I've examined here, Basil's view is in line with the belief that scripture formed the basis of their views and the only function of reason was to better understand and defend scripture.

Gregory of Nazianzus: “Faith is what gives fullness to our reasoning.” Pelikan: “Both ‘faith in search of understanding’ and ‘understanding in search of faith’ had a part in such a method. For even the case of a doctrine that was ‘true already at first sight, as well as credible on the basis of Scripture,’ it was not desirable ‘to leave this part of the subject without philosophical examination,’ because ‘the weakness of the human understanding’ could be ‘strengthened still more by any intelligible rational arguments.” (Pelikan, 27-8)

I find Marshall's use of this quote curious, especially since taken in context it doesn't imply what he thinks it does. This very passage contradicts his belief that early Christians relied on reason for their beliefs because in their view philosophy was useful for the defense of their belief in the inerrancy of scripture. They did not apply an investigative attitude regarding the scriptures.

It appears to me that Marshall is simply cherry-picking any sentence that contain the words “reason,” “understanding,” “arguments,” or “demonstration,” without properly understanding the context in which they're writing.

Gregory of Nyssa: “Gregory of Nyssa agreed with that sequence when he said, in reaction to Macrina’s method of theologizing, that is was proper first to propound a doctrine ‘for those trained only in the technical methods of proof’ by means of a ‘mere demonstration, sufficient to convince’ within the limits of reason alone, and only then, because ‘the teachings of the Holy Scripture’ were ‘more trustworthy than any of these artificial conclusions,’ to inquire whether everything that had been proved by reason could also be harmonized with scriptural teachings.” (Pelikan, 27)

I already quoted this text from Pelikan's book above and explained the context. This is not referring to investigating the scriptures, but accepting them at face value and defending that point of view with philosophical rationalizations.

Tertullian: “Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense and understanding . . . to know nothing but the Word of God.”

“Reason is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason – nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason.” (Stark, For the Glory of God, 148, from On Repentance 1)

(Habermas suggested tentatively that in the larger context of his views, Tertullian may not have been a fideist. Pratt said that another Tertullian quote like the first had been thrown at him by a Christian as an excuse for not following the evidence, and noted that Tertullian had become a heretic, in any case. I leave this case for further study.)

Strangely, David Marshall admits to the confusion about Tertullian's views but let's look at the quote he has provided. Does it support rational inquiry? Does it make any reference to looking at evidence for one's beliefs? No. In the first chapter of On Repentance, where Marshall's quote has been lifted from, Tertullian writes, “Repentance, men understand, so far as nature is able, to be an emotion of the mind arising from disgust at some previously cherished worse sentiment: that kind of men I mean which even we ourselves were in days gone by----blind, without the Lord's light. From the reason of repentance, however, they are just as far as they are from the Author of reason Himself. Reason, in fact, is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason----nothing which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason. All, therefore, who are ignorant of God, must necessarily be ignorant also of a thing which is His, because no treasure-house at all is accessible to strangers.” (emphasis in original) [14]

After looking at the quote in context has Tertullian noted any methodological principle with which he defends his beliefs? No. As with the other Christians I've looked at he appears to believe that “reason” is synonymous with god's word (ie. accepting the bible at face value) and in this passage he is arguing against those who neglect to repent before god.

In another book, titled A Treatise on the Soul, he wrote the following:

For by whom has truth ever been discovered without God? By whom has God ever been found without Christ? By whom has Christ ever been explored without the Holy Spirit? By whom has the Holy Spirit ever been attained without the mysterious gift of faith? [15]

In his work The Prescriptions Against the Heretics Tertullian writes,

From philosophy come those fables and endless genealogies and fruitless questions, those “words that creep like as doth a canker.” To hold us back from such things the Apostle testifies expressly in his letter to the Colossians that we should beware of philosophy: “Take heed lest any man circumvent you through philosophy or vain deceit, after the tradition of men,” against the providence of the Holy Spirit (1 Tim. 1:4; 2 Tim. 2:17; Col. 2:8). He had been at Athens where he had come to grips with the human wisdom which attacks and perverts truth, being itself divided up into its own swarm of heresies by the variety of its mutually antagonistic sects. What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic? Our principles come from the Porch [Stoa] of Solomon (John 10:23; Acts 5:12), who had himself taught that the Lord is to be sought in simplicity of heart. I have no use for a Stoic or a Platonic or a dialectic Christianity. After Jesus Christ we have no need of speculation, after the Gospel no need of research. When we come to believe, we have no desire to believe anything else; for we begin by believing that there is nothing else which we have to believe... [16]

In the above passages it's clear Tertullian believes that the only “truth” comes from god and there is no reason to bother with anything else.

Marshall continues,

Augustine: “Heaven forbid that God should hate in us that by which he made us superior to the animals! Heaven forbid that we should believe in such a way as not to accept or seek reasons, since we could not even believe if we did not possess rational souls.”

“In certain matters pertaining to the doctrine of salvation that we cannot yet grasp by reason – though one day we shall be able to do so – faith must precede reason and purify the heart and make it fit to receive and endure the great light of reason . . . for faith to precede reason in certain matters of great moment that cannot yet be grasped, surely the very small portion of reason that persuades us of this must precede faith.” (Stark, 148)

In Concerning Faith in Things Not Seen, Augustine points out that much of our knowledge is in fact based on realities that are not visible to the senses, but are well attested by evidence. He adds, “But they are much deceived, who think that we believe in Christ without any proofs concerning Christ,” and gives a number of pieces of evidence for Christian faith.

(Note: The testimony of St. Augustine is particularly important, since he was probably the most influential Christian thinker outside of the Bible. Here Augustine assumes that faith and reason are complementary, rather than opposed to one another. He also assumes that in most matters, ordinary human reasoning must be used to learn the truth of things. In some matters “relating to salvation” reason is too weak or uninformed to “grasp” the truth, and therefore we rely on faith in revelation. But this step itself is founded on reason. And, of course, Augustine himself wrote thousands of pages apologetics that argued from common knowledge to the truth of Christianity.)

Habermas commented: “On both Augustine & Anselm, you might want to add/treat their famous statements, ‘I believe in order to understand.’ This has relevance both to their views on faith & reason, but also on their methodology, if belief in some sense precedes reason/understanding.”

It does seem that “I believe in order to understand” is a key phrase for understanding Augustine’s views, both from my reading of Augustine himself, and from Augustinian scholars. Perhaps this should be interpreted in terms of experimental knowledge: “Bite the apple to learn its taste.” In any case, this view does seem to support the mutually affirming relationship between faith and reason that I argue for.

Kenneth Samples summarizes Augustine’s thoughts on faith and reason, and his use of this phrase,as follows:

“In his Sermon (43.7, 9) Augustine asserted: Crede, ut intelligas (‘Believe in order that you may understand’). For Augustine, faith (‘trust in a reliable source’) is an indispensable element in knowledge. One must believe in something in order to know anything. Knowledge begins with faith and faith provides a foundation for knowledge. Faith is itself indirect knowledge (like testimony or authority). While faith comes first in time, knowledge comes first in importance. Faith and reason do not conflict, but instead complement one another. Augustine believed that while reason does not cause faith, reason everywhere supports faith. Augustine also argued that Christians should seek to use their reason to understand doctrines (the Trinity, Incarnation, etc.) that are given via divine revelation (thus ‘faith seeking understanding’). Augustine’s writings about the role of faith influenced Credo, ut intelligam (‘I believe in order that I might understand’) by St. Anselm (a.d. 1033-1109).

In any case, the phrase seems to imply a kind of feedback loop between faith and reason like that I am defending. Reason depends on faith, and then faith also depends on reason. In the abstract, this may sound like circular reasoning. (Of which Pratt seemed to wryly accuse me at this point, in fact, and others have accused Augustine.)

But life can be like that. You know your mind works, because it works. If it didn’t work, you would never know. Because it does work, to some extent, you can learn more about the mind, logic, and reality, reinforcing and enriching the faith you began with.

When it comes to knowledge, we have to start somewhere. Augustine’s point may be that if we start with faith in God, or reason to it and then start, we will continue to experience a feedback loop of further evidences and richer faith that both depends on that evidence, and discovers more evidence. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Augustine's views seem to be a bit more nuanced than some other Christians but he did subordinate reason to faith and believed that “ultimate authority rests with revelation.” [17] This is not an example of a rational or investigative mind set.

Marshall has just put his finger on the crux of the issue. His plea (which Augustine accepted) that “we have to start somewhere” and that “faith in God” is a good starting point for rational inquiry into a particular subject is absolutely not a logical position to start from. If one begins with accepting one's conclusion prior to searching for evidence then that person will be sabotaging their search for truth since they will only look for confirming evidence and discount anything that contradicts their conclusion (as Marshall himself has so aptly demonstrated on a continuous basis). This is without doubt an irrational stance to take and is not an example of critical thinking and embarking on an unbiased search for evidence. Augustine, as all the other Christians, relied on “the ministerial use of reason, in which reason submits and serves the Gospel.” [18]

Thus far, Marshall has failed to find any Christians who rely on the “magisterial use of reason, in which reason judges the Gospel,” which most Christians – even today - reject, such as William Lane Craig. [19]

Thomas Aquinas: “It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God, besides the philosophical sciences investigated by human reason. First, because man is directed to God as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason . . . But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation.” (Summa Theologica) (At first glance this may seem to support the “faith is not based on evidence” camp. But note: there is no suggestion here that evidence does not support faith in God, or should not support faith, or that these “certain truths” are illogical or against reason . . . only that they are beyond the discovery of unaided “human” reason. This suggests a supplemental source of knowledge, which I call the fourth level of faith, and show how it is continuous with lower levels. Aquinas goes on, it seems to me, to suggest something like that in the next passage:)

“We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of science. There are some which proceed from principles known by the natural light of the intellect, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of optics proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles made known by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed.”

And how does one establish the authority of the “higher science” in this case? Aquinas quickly explains:

“The principles of any science are either in themselves self-evident, or reducible to the knowledge of a higher science; and such, as we have said, are the principles of sacred doctrine . . . Individual facts are not treated in sacred doctrine because it is concerned with them principally; they are rather introduced as examples to be followed in our lives (as in the moral sciences), as well as to establish the authority of those men through whom the divine revelation, on which this sacred scripture or doctrine is based, has come down to us.” (emphasis in original)

So Aquinas assumes that the authority of the authors of Scripture (which he seems to be referring to) should be established, and established by facts.

A page or two later, Aquinas affirms my interpretation of the first passage:

“It may well happen that what is in itself the more certain may seem to us the less certain because of the weakness of our intellect, which is dazzled by the clearest objects of nature; as the owl is dazzled by the light of the sun. Hence the fact that some happen to doubt about the articles of faith is not due to the uncertain nature of the truths, but to the weakness of the human intellect . . . “

Again, bear the hierarchical explanation of faith I gave in mind in reading the passage that follows:

“This science can draw upon the philosophical sciences, not as though it stood in need of them, but only in order to make its teaching clearer. For it accepts its principles, not from the other sciences, but immediately from God, by revelation. Therefore it does not draw upon the other sciences as upon its superiors, but uses them as its inferiors and handmaidens: even so the master sciences make use of subordinate sciences, as political sciences of military science. That it thus uses them is not due to its own defect or insufficiency, but to the defect of our intellect, which is more easily led by what is known through natural reason (from which proceed the other sciences), to that which is above reason, such as are the teachings of this science.”

Aquinas essentially agrees with my skeptical friends that large swaths of Christian doctrine must be accepted on “faith.” (Though I can also interpret that view to some extent in my own terms.):
But he does not include the existence of God in that category:

“The existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles; for faith presupposes natural knowledge, even as grace presupposes nature and perfection the perfectible.”

“From effects not proportioned to the cause no perfect knowledge of that cause can be obtained. Yet from every effect the existence of the cause can be clearly demonstrated, and so we can demonstrate the existence of God from His effects; though from them we cannot know God perfectly as He is in His essence.”

Following that, Aquinas gives his famous five “proofs” for the existence God, about which philosophers continue to argue.

Oddly enough, Aquinas actually confirms Dawkins' definition of faith from his book The Selfish Gene, quoted in the Introduction. And even more amazingly Marshall admits this! However, with this fact staring him in the face he seeks to rationalize it away by arguing, “At first glance this may seem to support the 'faith is not based on evidence' camp. But note: there is no suggestion here that evidence does not support faith in God, or should not support faith, or that these 'certain truths' are illogical or against reason . . . only that they are beyond the discovery of unaided 'human' reason.”

I believe I can begin by simply copying and pasting most of my earlier remarks because Marshall continues to mistake one use of reason for the other. These Christians are clearly relying on the “ministerial use of reason,” rather than the “magisterial use of reason,” where one uses their abilities of critical thinking to scrutinize and question their beliefs, and not seek to simply confirm them. One must start with facts about the world and then test those facts to ensure they are reliable.

The smoking gun, which proves this is how Aquinas views faith, is nicely summed up with one of the very passages Marshall oddly cites for his proof: “Individual facts are not treated in sacred doctrine because it is concerned with them principally; they are rather introduced as examples to be followed in our lives, as well as to establish the authority of those men through whom the divine revelation, on which this sacred scripture or doctrine is based, has come down to us.” (emphasis mine)

Another quote, this time from Aquinas’ Compendium of Theology, alludes to the same viewpoint about faith: “Faith is a certain foretaste of that knowledge which is to make us happy in the life to come. The Apostle says, in Hebrews 11:1, that faith is 'the substance of things to be hoped for,' as though implying that faith is already, in some preliminary way, inaugurating in us the things that are to be hoped for, that is, future beatitude.” [20]

Marshall continues with his discussion of Aquinas,

Historian Donald Treadgold comments: “Aquinas’ great achievement was to expound the relation between faith and reason in such a way that those who regarded Aristotle as authoritative in philosophy could wholeheartedly remain Christian . . . to build strong intellectual foundations for Christianity and to vindicate the use of reason . . . “ (A History of Christianity, 110)

Treadgold goes on to say, however, that John Scotus and William of Occam stretch Aquinas’ bifurcation between faith and reason to the point of “divorce.”

Pratt added:

“That’s true enough. Not coincidentally, Occam became a deist, abandoning orthodoxy – I’m not sure whether this happened before or after accepting a faith/reason disparity, but I’m sure it was connected with it. (And I still see it happening today.)”

After citing Aquinas' own statements I don't believe it matters much what a historian has to say. We have Aquinas' own words that demonstrate that he did not utilize reason in a reasonable way.

John Calvin: reason distinguished man from “true brutes,” and was that “by which man judges between good and evil.”

Chapter in Institutes of the Christian Religion: “Rational proofs to establish the belief of the Scripture.”

The first quote I found is a misquote. Calvin did not write “true brutes.” What he actually wrote was, “brute beasts.” However, because I'm not sure which passage Marshall meant to cite I am not sure what he is referring to, as there are several instances of this phrase in Institutes of the Christian Religion.

The second quote is simply the title to Chapter 8 of Calvin's book Institutes of the Christian Religion! Marshall provides no context as to the “proofs” he allegedly provides. After reading that chapter in Calvin's book he provides not a single example of anything that would constitute a “rational proof.” Calvin appeals to the “divine” nature of the scriptures that, when read, will “so penetrate your heart, and impress itself so strongly on your mind, that, compared with its energetic influence, the beauties of rhetoricians and philosophers will almost disappear; so that it is easy to perceive something divine in the sacred Scriptures, which far surpasses the highest attainments and ornaments of human industry.” He continues to appeal to the “diction of some of the prophets,” which he considers “neat and elegant, and even splendid.” He argues that the scriptures “exceeds in antiquity all other books.” He continues to argue that miracles and prophesy are evidences of the truthfulness of the bible, but he doesn't mention a single thing about checking the reliability of those writings. John Calvin is like every other Christian thus far who takes the bible at face value and never scrutinizes it. [21]

Matteo Ricci: “Of all things which mark off all men as being different from animals, none is greater than the intellect. The intellect can distinguish between right and wrong and between that which is true and that which is false, and it is difficult to deceive it with anything which lacks rationality. The stupidity of animals is such that although they possess perception and are capable of motion in much the same way as men, they are incapable of understanding the principles of causality. For this reason their minds are merely concerned with drinking and eating, with mating at appropriate times, and with begetting their own kind.

“Man, then transcends all other creatures since he is endowed with a spiritual soul within, and the ability to observe the principles of things without. By examining the outcome of things he is able to know their origins, and by observing their existence he can know that by which they exist. Thus, without leaving this world of toil, he can devote himself to the cultivation of the Way and prepare himself for an eternity of peace and joy following his death.

“That which is brought to light by the intellect cannot forcibly be made to comply with that which is untrue. Everything which reason shows to be true I must acknowledge as true, and everything which reason shows to be false I must acknowledge as false. Reason stands in relation to a man as the sun to the world, shedding its light everywhere. To abandon principles affirmed by the intellect and to comply with the opinions of others is like shutting out the light of the sun and searching for an object with a lantern.

“Now you, Sir, desire to learn the principles of the teachings of the Lord of Heaven. I shall therefore state them plainly for you, and my explanations will be based solely on reason. Should you find any proposition unacceptable I hope you will dispute it and not deceive me in any way. Because we are discussing the universal principles of the Lord of Heaven I cannot permit personal modesty to stand in the way of truth.” (Ricci, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven)

I was unable to locate this source to read the full context, but it appears that Ricci is in the first paragraph arguing that man was endowed with an intellect that animals don't have (which isn't exactly true, since many animals have been shown to be highly intelligent). He then argues that he will provide reasons for his beliefs but doesn't provide any (at least in this quote). I am hard pressed to see how this is an example of a Christian favoring reason. Simply stating you utilize reason to come to your beliefs is not very convincing. Evidence must be cited and actual reasons given so someone can examine them.

Rene Descartes, writing to “the Dean and Doctors” of the University of Paris: “I have always thought that two questions – that of God and that of the soul – are chief among those that ought to be demonstrated by the aid of philosophy rather than of theology. For although it suffices for believers like ourselves to believe by faith that the soul does not die with the body and that God exists, certainly no unbeliever seems capable of being persuaded of any religion or even any moral virtue, unless these two are first proven to him by natural reason.” (Notes that to believe in God because of Scripture, and in Scriptures because of God, would seem like arguing in a circle.)

Descartes points out (to members of one of the most influential Christian organizations in history, the faculty of the University of Paris) that this is the normal Christian position:

“And truly I have noticed that you, along with all other theologians, affirm not only that the existence of God can be proven by natural reason, but also that one may infer from the Holy Scriptures that the knowledge of him is much easier than the manifold knowledge that we have of created things.” (Refers to Romans 1.)

Descartes proceeds to begin with utter skepticism, and try to prove his own existence, then that of God, from reason alone.

While I would agree that Descartes was one of the very first Christians who extolled the virtues of reason by investigating their beliefs, Marshall's own quote shows that even he continued to believe things without evidence because he believed that the existence of god and the continuing existence of the soul after death had to be accepted “by faith.” However, his admission about investigating one's beliefs isn't very impressive since Descartes lived during a time when science and rationalism were beginning to take hold, moving away from the “blind faith” views of earlier Christians, also called the Scientific Revolution, which lead to the period called the Enlightenment. He clearly did not derive such views from Christianity as I've demonstrated.

John Locke: “We are capable of knowing certainly that there is a God. – Though God has given us no innate ideas of himself; though he has stamped no original characters on our minds, wherein we may read his being; yet having furnished us with those faculties our minds are endowed with, he hath not left himself without witness: since we have sense, perception, and reason, and cannot want a clear proof of him, as long as we carry ourselves about us. Nor can we justly complain of our ignorance in this great point; since he has so plentifully provided us with the means to discover and know him; so far as is necessary to the end of our being, and the great concernment of our happiness. But, though this be the most obvious truth that reason discovers, and though its evidence be (if I mistake not) equal to mathematical certainty: yet it requires thought and attention; and the mind must apply itself to a regular deduction of it from some part of our intuitive knowledge, or else we shall be as uncertain and ignorant of this as of other propositions, which are in themselves capable of clear demonstration. To show, therefore, that we are capable of knowing, i.e., being certain that there is a God, and how we may come by this certainty, I think we need go no further than ourselves, and that undoubted knowledge we have of our own existence.”

As for other Christian teachings, Locke, the great peace-maker, proposes to solve the problem of how faith and reason should get along:

“I think we may come to lay down the measures and boundaries between faith and reason: the want thereof may possibly have been the cause, if not of great disorders, yet at least of great disputes, and perhaps mistakes in the world”

“ . . . I find every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly: and where if fails them, they cry out, It is matter of faith, and above reason. And I do not see how they can argue with any one, or ever convince a gainsayer who makes use of the same plea, without setting down strict boundaries between faith and reason . . . (emphasis mine in bold and italics)

It appears to me that Marshall has badly misread Locke. He is not trying to “solve the problem of how faith and reasons should get along!” He is arguing that one must ensure that there are “strict boundaries” between faith and reason, the complete opposite of what Marshall argues, since he believes that “faith and reason are like two chopsticks.” Note the quote I placed in bold. That should make it more than clear. Locke is arguing against those who claim that they make use of reason but when that reason fails them they resort to faith. He then argues how this is not rational, and that this doesn't solve anything.

“Reason, therefore . . . I take to be the discovery of the certainty or probability of such propositions or truths, which the mind arrives at by deduction made from such ideas, which it has got by the use of its natural faculties; viz, by sensation or reflection.

“Faith, on the other side, is the assent to any proposition, not thus made out by the deductions of reason, but upon the credit of the proposer, as coming from God, in some extraordinary way of communication. This way of discovering truths to men we call revelation.”

“First, then, I say, that no man inspired by God can by any revelation communicate to others any new simple ideas which they had not before from sensation or reflection . . ..

“In all things of this kind there is little need or use of revelation, God having furnished us with natural and surer means to arrive at the knowledge of them. For whatsoever truth we come to the clear discovery of, from the knowledge and contemplation of our own ideas, will always be certainer to us that those which are conveyed to us by traditional revelation . . . “

“Even original Revelation cannot be admitted against the clear Evidence of Reason . . . But yet nothing, I think, can, under that title, shake or overrule plain knowledge, or rationally prevail with any man to admit it for true, in a direct contradiction to the clear evidence of his own understanding. For, since no evidence of our faculties, by which we receive such revelations, can exceed, if equal, the certainty of our intuitive knowledge, we can never receive for a truth anything that is directly contrary to our clear and distinct knowledge . . . therefore no proposition can be received for divine revelation, or obtain the assent due to all such, if it be contradictory to our clear intuitive knowledge. Because this would be to subvert the principles and foundations of all knowledge . . . In propositions therefore contrary to the clear perception of the agreement or disagreement of any of our ideas, it will be vain to urge them as matters of faith. They cannot move our assent under that or any other title whatsoever. For faith can never convince us of anything that contradicts our knowledge . . . ”

(There is here some implied agreement with the idea that higher levels of faith (such as in human testimony) is necessarily weaker than lower levels (in the senses, “physical testimony.” I take this to be an over-generalization, for reasons I have given. But other than that, I think Locke’s ideas are fairly accurate.)

“In all things, therefore, where we have clear evidence from our ideas, and those principles of knowledge I have mentioned, reason is the proper judge; and revelation, though it may, in consenting with it, confirm its dictates, yet cannot in such cases invalidate its decrees . . . faith . . . can have no authority against the plain and clear dictates of reason.

“Things above Reason are, when revealed, the proper matter of faith. But, Thirdly, there being many things wherein we have very imperfect notions, or none at all; and other things, of whose past, present, or future existence, by the natural use of our faculties, we can have no knowledge at all; these, as being beyond the discovery of our natural faculties, and above reason, are, when revealed, the proper matter of faith. Thus, that part of the angels rebelled against God, and thereby lost their first happy state: and that the dead shall live again: these and the like, being beyond the discovery of reason, are purely matters of faith, with which reason has directly nothing to do . . .”

“Because the mind not being certain of the truth that it does not evidently know, but only yielding to the probability that appears in it, is bound to give up its assent to such a testimony which, it is satisfied, comes from one who cannot err, and will not deceive. But yet, it still belongs to reason to judge of the truth of its being a revelation, and of the significance of the words wherein it is delivered. Indeed, if anything shall be thought revelation which is contrary to the plain principles of reason, and the evident knowledge the mind has of its own clear and distinct ideas; there reason must be hearkened to, as to a matter within its province.”

(In sum, while Locke’s definitions of faith and reason are in my opinion incomplete, and I have argued against his assumption that what I call lower levels of faith will always be more reliable than what I call the fourth level of faith, Locke agrees that faith in God is established by reason and evidence, our central question. He argues that faith should never be given against reason. And positively, he claims that the sources and meaning of a revelation must be established by what he calls reason.)

Once again Marshall had to cite a Christian who lived during the Enlightenment. These views of using reason and evidence to come to conclusions did not come from Christian doctrine, but from moving away from orthodoxy. In my opinion, I'd say this fact entirely refutes Marshall's case since he argues that Christians throughout history have held reason in high regard and have used that reason to investigate their beliefs. This is clearly not true as the above quotes of past Christians have shown.

Blaine Pascal: “Thought constitutes the greatness of man. Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed . . . All our dignity consists, then, in thought. . . . Let us endeavor, then, to think well.”

394 “All the principles of skeptics, stoics, atheists, etc. are true. But their conclusions are false, because the opposite principles are also true.”

Section 12 Proofs of Jesus Christ (emphasizes miracles and prophecies)

Once again, Pascal lived during the Scientific Revolution and his ideas about reason and faith are clearly different than earlier Christians. Marshall fails to cite a single quote that provides any evidence of Pascal's rational reasons for his beliefs (miracles and prophecies definitely do not count). However, Pascal didn't always make use of reason. He believed that “[i]if we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural.” While his views are definitely an improvement over earlier Christians, who didn't rely on reason to investigate their beliefs at all, he doesn't appear to embrace reason as much as Marshall makes it appear. [22]

William Law: “Unreasonable and absurd ways of life . . . are truly an offense to God.” (J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with all your Mind, 41)

David Marshall utilized this quote in his 2007 book The Truth Behind the New Atheism and I'm just as confused now as I was the first time I read this quote. This has nothing to do with seeking reasons for your beliefs but living a way that isn't considered an “offense” to god. I looked up J.P Moreland's book and he also failed to provide the context for this quote so I looked it up myself. What a shocker. Law wasn't discussing anything that had to do with seeking reasons for your beliefs. The full quote is: “Unreasonable and absurd ways of life, whether in labour or diversion, whether they consume our time or our money, are like unreasonable and absurd prayers, and are as truly an offence to God.” [23] Either Marshall failed to look up the full quote before he decided to cite it in defense of his faith and reason argument, or Marshall doesn't understand what Law is talking about (I'm betting on the former).

Cotton Mather: “Ignorance is the Mother not of Devotion but of Heresy.” (J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with all your Mind, 22)

I was unable to look up Moreland's source for this quote but I found it in a book titled The Puritan Family. After looking at the context it has nothing to do with seeking reasons for your beliefs. It refers to avoiding ignorance of the bible! The paragraph reads,

The Puritans sought knowledge, therefore, not simply as a polite accomplishment, nor as a means of advancing material welfare, but because salvation was impossible without it. They retained throughout the seventeenth centuries a sublime confidence that man's chief enemy was ignorance, especially ignorance of the Scriptures. By keeping the world in ignorance, they thought, the Roman Church had stifled true religion. When the people finally recovered knowledge of the Scriptures, the light of the gospel broke out in the Reformation, and as long as the people had this knowledge, the light would continue to shine. The Puritans rested their whole system upon the belief that, “Every Grace enters into the Soul through the Understanding.” Upon this premise it followed naturally that “The Devotion of Ignorance, is but a Bastard sort of Devotion,” or that “Ignorance is the Mother (not of Devotion but) of HERESY.” In order to be saved, men had to understand the doctrines of Christianity, and since children were born without understanding, they had to be taught. (emphasis in original) [24]

While I was unable to find the exact source used by Moreland I looked up this quote in every book I could find and it is quoted in the same context when quoted in full. I even found a Christian author, Richard L. Mayhue, who wrote the following about this quote, “[Mather] specifically had in mind ignorance of Scripture, not of general education.” [25]

Marshall continues,

John Wesley: “A rational assent to the truth of the Bible is one ingredient in the Christian faith.” (Reason for the Hope Within, 136)

Marshall's source, Reason for the Hope Within, cites another book titled The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience as a Model of Evangelical Theology, by Donald A.D. Thorsen. This book in turn cited a letter from Wesley to a John Smith from 1745. Luckily I could find this letter online. First, here is the passage cited by Marshall in full: “‘Faith (instead of being a rational assent and moral virtue, for the attainment of which men ought to yield the utmost attention and industry) is altogether supernatural and the immediate gift of God.’ I believe (1) that a rational assent to the truth of the Bible is one ingredient of Christian faith; (2) that Christian faith is a moral virtue in that sense wherein hope and charity are; (3) that men ought to yield the utmost attention and industry for the attainment of it; and yet (4) that this, as every Christian grace, is properly supernatural, is an immediate gift of God, which He commonly gives in the use of such means as He hath ordained.” [26]

This passage says nothing of the evidence for Wesley's views. He is simply saying that he believes reason is a gift from god, however he does not express how he uses that reason. Does he use it like Christians of the past who simply took the bible at face value and used their reason to defend it? Or did he take an actual, skeptical look at his beliefs? I think a few other passages from this letter will shed light on the matter. Wesley wrote, “I conceive, therefore, this whole demand, common as it is, of proving our doctrine by miracles, proceeds from a double mistake: (1) A supposition that what we preach is not provable from Scripture; for if it be, what need we farther witnesses ‘To the law and to the testimony!' (2) An imagination that a doctrine not provable by Scripture might nevertheless be proved by miracles. I believe not. I receive the written Word as the whole and sole rule of my faith.” [27]

Here Wesley looks to be admitting that he accepts the bible as god's word and this is the only authority he believes is entirely reliable and credible. This sounds much like most of the Christians looked at thus far.

Another passage, which shows that Wesley followed the biblical meaning of faith, which is entirely consistent with Richard Dawkins' definition in the Introduction, is the following. Wesley wrote, “The term ‘faith’ I likewise use in the scriptural sense, meaning thereby ‘the evidence of things not seen.’ And that it is scriptural appears to me a sufficient defense of any way of speaking whatever. For, however the propriety of those expressions may vary which occur in the writings of men, I cannot but think those which are found in the Book of God will be equally proper in all ages. But let us look back, as you desire, to the age of the Apostles. And if it appear that the state of religion now is, according to your own representation of it, the same in substance as it was then, it will follow that the same expressions are just as proper now as they were in the apostolic age.” [28]

It should be clear the way in which Wesley used the word “reason.” He used it in the same way as Aquinas, Augustine, and Tertullian, among others.

Marshall continues,

Johannes Kepler: “God is supremely rational, and the human being is also rational, being created in the image and likeness of God. Hence religion, which is the expression of the deep relationship between God and humankind, cannot be but rational.” (What if the Bible had never been Written, 105)

Here is another individual who was clearly influenced by the Scientific Revolution. [29] Even though Kepler was highly influenced by the Scientific Revolution he appeared to have been very vested in making sure his scientific theories lined up with his theology. Nancy Frankenberry writes,

Kepler was almost driven mad, he reported, trying to calculate the orbit of Mars according to circular motion. For centuries the circle had been a symbol of heavenly perfection. When he finally broke with a perfect circle and realized that the orbit of Mars was an ellipse – leading to a whole new model of planetary orbits – it was a discovery propelled as much my faith as by empirical evidence. For if an ellipse could be thought of as a combination of a circle that symbolizes spiritual perfection and a straight line that represents the material realm, Kepler reasoned, he could regard the elliptical orbit as only slightly veering from the ideal circularity – a necessary concession to the material dimension of the planets. […] He never quite abandoned the neat, nested cosmos whose secret harmony, his faith insisted, was somehow locked within the shapes and periods of planetary motions.

Like Galileo, Kepler believed that the “book of Scripture” and the “book of Nature” were both so important that no conflict could be allowed between them. [30]

This was the time when Christians began to rely more on their scientific observations about the world, rather than allowing their scriptures to fully dictate their beliefs (which was obviously inspired by the Scientific Revolution). It appears that, although Kepler relied on observation as much as his religious beliefs, he broke from the earlier Christian tradition that saw the scriptures as infallible. Though, it seems that even this was very difficult since it bothered him greatly.

Something I find ironic is the way that Kepler bent scripture to conform to his scientific observations. It seems to me that he set a trend in the way of compartmentalizing his religious beliefs and his scientific observations that is still in use by Christians today. If the data does not match what the bible says they reinterpret their bible so it is in line with reality, which is the complete opposite of what early Christians did.

First Vatican Council (1870): Condemned the idea that inner experience was enough, affirmed that the existence of God could be known with certainty without faith or divine revelation “by the light of human reason.” “In order that our submission of faith be nevertheless in harmony with reason, God willed that exterior proofs of his revelation . . should be joined to the interior helps of the Holy Spirit.” (Barr, 12)

The document Barr cites wasn't in English so I had to find an English translation. Here is the first sentence in context:

[Referring to supernatural revelation] The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, may be certainly known by the natural light of human reason by means of created things - "for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made"; but that it pleased His wisdom and bounty to reveal Himself, and the eternal decrees of His will to mankind by another and supernatural way, as the Apostle says: "God, having spoken on divers occasions and in many ways in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by His Son.” [31]

As can be seen this passage is not talking about the usefulness of reason in general (the document refutes this claim as I will show soon). It is referring to the Christian belief that reason can determine god's existence through “creation.” Where could a Christian get an idea like that from? The bible! This isn't referring to utilizing rational inquiry, but relying purely on what the bible says about how god supposedly created the world.

Here is the second sentence in context:

Man being wholly dependent upon God, as upon his Creator and Lord, and created reason being absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to God, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will. And the Catholic Church teaches that this faith, which is the beginning of man's salvation, is a supernatural virtue, whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because the intrinsic truth of the things is plainly perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, who reveals them, and who can neither be deceived nor deceive. For faith, as the Apostle testifies, is “the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things that appear not.”

Nevertheless, in order that the obedience of our faith might be in harmony with reason, God willed that to the interior help of the Holy Spirit there should be joined exterior proofs of His revelation, to wit, divine facts, and especially miracles and prophesies, which, as they manifestly display the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are most certain proofs of His divine revelation adapted to the intelligence of all men. Wherefore, both Moses and the prophets, and most especially Christ our Lord Himself, showed forth many and most evident miracles and prophesies, and of the Apostles we read: “But they, going forth, preached everywhere, the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.” And again it is written. “We have the more firm prophetical word, whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light shining in a dark place.”

But though the assent of faith is by no means a blind action of the mind, still no man can assent to the Gospel teaching, as is necessary to obtain salvation, without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all men sweetness in assenting to and believing in the truth. Wherefore faith itself, even when it does not work by charity, is in itself a gift of God, and the act of faith is a work appertaining to salvation, by which man yields voluntary obedience to God Himself, by assenting to and co-operating with His grace, which he is able to resist. Further, all those things are to believed with divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and which t he Church, either by a solemn judgment or by her ordinary and universal teaching (magisterium), proposes for belief as having been divinely revealed. (emphasis mine in bold) [32]

It looks a lot different once it's placed in context, doesn't it? Marshall's source simply cited all of the sections of text that were favorable to his case and ignored the context, which gives a completely opposite view than Marshall (and his source) intended. Clearly, the Vatican did not change its views from what Christians had been preaching for centuries prior.

Francis Schaeffer (evangelical theologian, philosopher, enormously influential founder of L’abri community in Switzerland), famously blamed the idea that faith need not be rationally supported on Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard: “When he put forth the concept of a leap of faith, he became in a real way the father of all existential thought, both secular and theological.” (The God Who is There, 22)

Schaeffer insisted, on the contrary, that Christians should make it clear that “we would be the first ones to step out of the queu” if it should be shown that God is, in fact, NOT there.

First of all, Marshall doesn't come anywhere close to providing enough context to determine Schaeffer's views and I was unable to track down this source. However, even if he advocated scrutinizing his Christian beliefs in some way Schaeffer was a Christian who lived during the 1900's and, as I've said a few times already, he was probably like many modern Christians who were influenced by Enlightenment and rationalist principles who attempted to give a rational basis for his beliefs (no matter how factually or logically flawed). Once again, Marshall had to go to the modern age to find a Christian who embraced these rationalist principles (or at least he pretended to), assuming Marshall interpreted his statement accurately, which is a tall order considering the major blunders he's made thus far.

C. S. Lewis The most influential modern Christian thinker certainly agreed that faith is based on evidence. He said so explicitly in various books (Mere Christianity and Screwtape Letters), in essays, and implicitly by writing several books and articles giving evidences for the Christian faith.

“Have we now got to a position from which we can talk about Faith without being misunderstood? For in general we are shy of speaking plain about Faith as a virtue. It looks so like praising an intention to believe what you want to believe in the face of evidence to the contrary: the American in the old story defined Faith as ‘the power of believing what we know to be untrue.’ Now I define Faith as the power of continuing to believe what we once honestly thought to be true until cogent reasons for honestly changing our minds are brought before us.” (Lewis goes on to point out that most loss of faith is due to non-rational causes, such as a change of environment.) (Religion: Reality or Substitute, from The Seeing Eye, p. 56)

“Belief, in (the Christian) sense, seems to me to be assent to a proposition which we think so overwhelmingly probable that there is a psychological exclusion of doubt, though not a logical exclusion of dispute.” (Obstinacy of Belief)

Lewis went on to describe the kind of continuity between this “fourth level of faith” (as I call it) and the lower three levels:

“The scientist himself . . . has beliefs about his wife and friends which he holds, not indeed without evidence, but with more certitude than the evidence, if weighed in the laboratory manner, would justify. Most of my generation had a belief in the reality of the external world and of other people – if you prefer it, a disbelief in solipsism – far in excess of our strongest arguments. It may be true, as they now say, that the whole thing arose from category mistakes and was a pseudo-problem; but then we didn’t know that in the twenties. Yet we managed to disbelieve in solipsism all the same.”

Pratt rightly saw a subsequent paragraph as also pertinent:

"There is, of course, no question so far of belief without evidence. We must beware of confusion between the way in which a Christian first assents to certain propositions, and the way in which he afterwards adheres to them. These must be carefully distinguished. Of the second it is true, in a sense, to say that Christians do recommend a certain discounting of apparent contrary evidence, and I will later attempt to explain why. But so far as I know it is not expected that a man should assent to those propositions in the first place without evidence or in the teeth of the evidence. At any rate, if anyone expects that, I certainly do not. And in fact, the man who accepts Christianity always thinks he had good evidence; whether, like Dante, [physical and metaphysical argumentation], or historical evidence, or the evidence of religious experience, or authority, or all these together. For of course authority, however we may value it in this or that particular instance, is a kind of evidence."

Pratt also pointed out this passage in Mere Christianity:

"I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. But supposing a man's reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when... all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. [...] I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes."

While Lewis' theology is different from that of earlier Christians, he does appear to argue for faith-based belief when he writes, “We must beware of confusion between the way in which a Christian first assents to certain propositions, and the way in which he afterwards adheres to them. These must be carefully distinguished. Of the second it is true, in a sense, to say that Christians do recommend a certain discounting of apparent contrary evidence, and I will later attempt to explain why.” (emphasis mine) While he does go on to argue that he doesn't accept his beliefs without evidence he fails to provide any evidence for his beliefs because “[i]t is not the purpose of this essay to weigh the evidence, of whatever kind, on which Christians base their belief.” [33] However, just prior to this sentence he writes, “And in fact, the man who accepts Christianity always thinks he had good evidence, […] or historical evidence, or the evidence of religious experience, or authority, or all these together.” [34]

While Lewis does provide a few shallow justifications for his beliefs he fails to go into any detail. These are not the most reliable means to support one's views about an issue since the bible (Lewis' appeal to “history”) and authority have their own serious issues. The bible has been proven to be historically unreliable and unless you check your authority's claims that can lead you astray as well. There is little evidence to suggest early Christians – or even many modern Christians - do anything remotely like this. While Lewis pays lip service to evidence his methods (and those of other Christians) leave much to be desired.

Moving on...

James Sire (editor and author, IV Press): In campus seminar, Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at all, asks, “Why do people believe what they believe?” Sorts reasons into sociological, psychological, religious (authority), and philosophical. Leads students to conclude (according to Geisler and Turek, 53) that the only legitimate form of proof is “philosophical,” by which is meant “finding truth through logic, evidence, and science.”

Marshall cites Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek's book I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist for this quote by Sire. It appears that Marshall may not have looked at Sire's original work, such as his book Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All? and only quoted Sire second-hand. The “evidence” Sire cites in his book are the usual Christian apologetic tripe that is trotted out again and again. Examples he claims are reasons to believe in Christianity include:

1. Jesus himself: his character of wisdom and compassion, the method and content of his teaching, his resurrection.

2. The historical reliability of the Gospels.

3. The internal consistency and coherence of the Christian worldview and its power to provide the best explanation of the tough issues of life.

4. The testimony of individual Christians and of countless Christian communities that, down through the ages, exhibit transforming power of God in and among his faithful believers. [35]

Like most Christians, Sire's “reasons” contain holes large enough to fly several jumbo jets through them. While Marshall was able to cite another modern Christian who supposedly values reason, when one rationally looks at his reasons to believe they are all fatally flawed (I won't bother to get into detail precisely why since I will address this issue at the end of this piece).

Marshall continues,

Geisler and Turek: “Sire’s Socratic approach helps students realize at least three things. First, any teaching – religious or otherwise – is worth trusting only if it points to the truth. Apathy about truth can be dangerous. In fact, believing error can have deadly consequences, both temporally, and – if any one of a number of religious teachings are true – eternally as well.”

Finally, in order to find truth, one must be ready to give up those subjective preferences in favor of objective facts. And facts are best discovered through logic, evidence, and science.” (54)

Marshall's use of these quotes made me laugh. The haphazard way in which it seems Marshall gathered these quotes I find to be funny. It seems to me that many of the quotes he uses come from the same section of the same book like the quotes from Sire and Geisler and Turek. The quote by the authors of I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist come a few pages after their discussion of Sire's work. It seems as if Marshall is just reading these books and going down the pages quote-mining the passages he believes support his case (and as I demonstrated earlier, often without taking into account the context).

I find it ironic that Geisler and Turek write of relying on “objective facts” since all Christian apologists ignore countless facts and contradictions in order to hold onto their beliefs.

Finally, I'll just repeat what I've said the last few times. These two Christians' theology is vastly different than those of the early Christians.

J. P. Moreland (popular evangelical philosopher) “Biblically, faith is a power or skill to act in accordance with the nature of the kingdom of God, a trust in what we have reason to believe is true. Understood in this way, we see that faith is built on reason. We should have good reasons for thinking that Christianity is true before we dedicate ourselves completely to it.”

Moreland adds this amusing story, by which he makes the point that evidence had best not be construed in a positivist fashion, as limited only to what is called “physical evidence” tested in the “scientific manner:”

“I arrived at the party on time and was at the hors d’oeuvres table when Tom’s boss arrived. Tom brought him over and introduced us to each other. When I extended my hand . . . he started attacking my Christian beliefs without a moment’s hesitation.’

“’I used to think that religion and philosophy were important, but I now recognize that they are just superstition,’ he asserted. ‘Science is the only area where we have knowledge. If you can quantify something or test it in the lab, then you can know it. Otherwise, it’s just one person’s opinion against another’s. To me, the sole value of religion is that believing it helps some people who need that sort of thing, but religious beliefs are neither true nor rational because they are not scientifically testable.’”

“I let him go on for what seemed like the longest ten minutes of my life. In the most gracious way I could muster, I finally got a chance to respond. ‘I have a few questions for you, Mr. Smith. I am puzzled as to how I should understand what you have asserted for the last ten minutes. You have not said one single sentence from science and nothing you have asserted is the least bit scientifically testable or quantifiable. In fact, you have spent all of your time making philosophical assertions about science and religion. Now, I get the distinct impression that you want me to take your ten-minute monologue as something that is both true and rational. But how can this be, given your scientism, because you do not believe that philosophical assertions are either true or rational? On the other hand, if you don’t think your own assertions are either true or rational, why have you been boring us with emotive expressions of autobiography for the last ten minutes? After all, some of the finger foods are getting cold.” (149)

I believe Moreland's quote undermines Marshall's faith and reason argument. Moreland wrote, “Biblically, faith is a power or skill to act in accordance with the nature of the kingdom of God, a trust in what we have reason to believe is true. Understood in this way, we see that faith is built on reason. We should have good reasons for thinking that Christianity is true before we dedicate ourselves completely to it.” (emphasis mine)

In my opinion, the first sentence is pure gobbledygook. This makes no rational sense, and he sounds much like early Christians who viewed god as being synonymous with reason. However, this is a far cry from investigating one's beliefs. However, Moreland does (as many modern Christians) give lip service to believing only for rational reasons but his reasons are no doubt the same as Sire's illogical reasons.

As for Moreland's story, I would actually agree with his assessment. However, it is possible to empirically test the claims of religion. One example would be a prayer study. If we had a group of amputees and they prayed for their limbs to grow back and if at least one limb spontaneously began to grow this would be very good evidence for the existence of a god.

John Eccles: “Science and religion are very much alike . . . Both are imaginative and creative aspects of the human mind. The appearance of conflict is a result of ignorance.” (Christianity on Trial, 84)

This quote isn't even referring to any rational reasons for belief, only the author's opinions about science and religion being “imaginative and creative aspects of the human mind.” His claim that there isn't any conflict between religion and science is empirically testable and has failed on too many occasions to count. One example: the account of Genesis and the scientific knowledge we've gained about the actual formation of the universe are vastly different. [36]

Pope John Paul II “It would be useful to quote and analyze the entire (Declaration on Human Freedom). Instead, perhaps quoting a few phrases will do: ‘And all human beings,’ we read, are bound to seek for the truth, especially in regard to God and his church, and as they know it they are bound to adhere to it and pay homage to it . . . ”

“The text continues: ‘Motivated by their dignity, all human beings, inasmuch as they are individuals endowed with reason and free will . . . are bound by both their nature and by moral duty to search for the truth, above all religious truth. And once they come to know it they are bound to adhere to it and to arrange their entire lives according to the demands of such truth. . . The way in which the truth is sought, however, must be in keeping with man’s dignity and his social nature – that is, by seeking freely, with the help of instruction or education, through communication and dialogue . . . ’”

“Man cannot be forced to accept the truth. He can only be drawn to the truth by his own nature . . . “

“This has always been the teaching of the Church. But even before that, it was the teaching that Christ himself exemplified by His actions . . .

“The Council merely reconfirms what has always been the Church’s conviction. The position of Saint Thomas (Aquinas) is, in fact, well known: he is so consistent in his respect for conscious that he maintains that it is wrong for one to make an act of faith in Christ if in one’s conscious one is convinced, however absurdly, that it is wrong to carry out such an act.” Cf Summa Theologiae 1-2, 19.5)” (Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Faith)

After the first series of four quotes, which are taken from a single block of text, Paul writes that what he is referring to is not reasons for belief, but “human freedom.” He writes,

As these passages [the first four Marshall cited] show, the Council treats human freedom very seriously and appeals to the inner imperative of the conscience in order to demonstrate that the answer, given by man to God and to His word through faith, is closely connected with his personal dignity. Man cannot be forced to accept the truth. He can be drawn toward the truth only by his own nature, that is, by his own freedom, which commits him to search sincerely for truth, and when he finds it, to adhere to it both in his conviction and in his behavior. (emphasis mine in bold) [37]

Like Christians of the past Paul is referring to god's word as the “truth” and is not referring to an investigation into that truth but having the freedom to accept the teachings of Christianity as god's word. He is essentially saying, “Here is the truth. You can accept it or not. You have the freedom to choose.”

Another error of Marshall's is that the title of the book is Crossing the Threshold of Hope, not Faith.

Paul goes on to write after the above paragraph just quoted,

This has always been the teaching of the Church. But even before that, it was the teaching that Christ Himself exemplified by His actions. It is from this perspective that the second part of the Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom should be reread. [38]

Finally we get to Paul's quoting of Aquinas which is Marshall's final quote. What Paul wrote in context is, continuing directly from the above discussion about conscience,

It is an answer that echoes the teachings of the Fathers and the theological tradition from Saint Thomas Aquinas to John Henry Newman. The Council merely reaffirms what has always been the Church's conviction. The position of Saint Thomas is, in fact, well known: He is so consistent in his respect for conscience that he maintains that it is wrong for one to make an act of faith in Christ if in one's conscience one is convinced, however absurdly, that it is wrong to carry out such an act. [39]

And what exactly is he referring to when he says “conscience?” Paul writes,

The conscience, as the Council teaches, “is man's sanctuary and most secret core, where he finds himself alone with God, whose voice resounds within him... In loyalty to conscience Christians unite with others in order to search for the truth and to resolve, according to this truth, the many moral problems which arise in the life of individuals as well as in the life of society. Therefore, the more a good conscience prevails the more people and social groups move away from blind willfulness and endeavor to conform to the objective norms of moral behavior. Nonetheless, it often happens that conscience errs through invisible ignorance, without, for this reason, losing its dignity. But this cannot be said of the man who does very little to search for truth and good, or when through the habit of sin conscience itself becomes almost blind” (Gaudium et Spes 16).

It is difficult not to be struck by the profound internal consistency of the Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom. (emphasis in original) [40]

It should be as clear as day. What Paul was referring to was not a concern for the truth, or encouraging an honest pursuit of the truth. He was discussing the church's stance on religious freedom! Marshall really took John Paul II out of contest here. In addition, this chapter where Paul is quoted it is clear he is also discussing morality. The belief that it is immoral to force religious beliefs on someone (which has been repeatedly violated throughout history). The chapter's first paragraph hints at the subject matter under discussion when Paul writes,

Today, many who have been formed – or deformed – by a sort of pragmatism and a utilitarianism, seem to ask: “When all is said and done, what is the use of believing? Does faith offer something more? Isn't it possible to live an honest upright life without bothering to take the Gospel seriously?” [41]

Several pages later Paul writes,

Christ did everything in order to convince us of the importance of this response. Man is called upon to give this response with inner freedom so that it will radiate that veritatis splendor so essential to human dignity. Christ committed the Church to act in the same way. This is why its history is so full of protests against all those who attempted to force faith, “making conversions by the sword.” [42]

I think this is all that needs to be said. David Marshall took Paul horribly out of context. Marshall continues with his next series of quotations:

Richard Swinburne (Oxford U, one of leading Christian philosophers in the world today): “’Ordinary language’ philosophy however had no sympathy for anything that went beyond ordinary language. But it taught one clarity of statement and thoroughness of argument. I valued Oxford philosophy greatly for its cultivation of those virtues. But there seemed to me no good reason for believing the dogmas that lay behind the practice. In particular there seemed no good reason for believing the verification principle, but even if one did assume it, so long as you do not interpret ‘verified’ as ‘conclusively verified’ but as ‘confirmed or supported by evidence or argument,’ then why shouldn’t great metaphysical theories, including Christian theism, be verifiable and so meaningful?”

“So I disliked Oxford philosophy for its dogmas, but I liked it for its tools of clarity and rigor; and it seemed to me that someone could use its tools to make Christian theology again intellectually respectable.”

“But once I had seen what makes scientific theories meaningful and justified, I saw that any metaphysical theory, such as the Christian theological system, is just a superscientific theory. Scientific theories each seek to explain a certain limited class of data: Kepler’s laws sought to explain the motion of the planets; natural selection seeks to explain the fossil record and various present features of animals and plants. But some scientific theories are on a higher level than others and seek to explain the operation of the lower-level theories and the existence in the first place of the objects with which they deal. Newton’s laws explained why Kepler’s laws operated; chemistry has sought to explain why primitive animals and plants existed in the first place. A metaphysical theory is a highest-level-of-all theory. It seeks to explain why there is a universe at all . . . “

“Such a theory is meaningful if it can be stated in ordinary words, stretched a bit in meaning perhaps. And it is justified if it is a simple theory and leads you to expect the observable phenomena when you would not otherwise expect them. Once I had seen this, my program was there – to use the criteria of modern natural science, analyzed with the careful rigor of modern philosophy, to show the meaningfulness and justification of Christian theology.”

(Points out that Aquinas did the same thing.) “The Summa doesn’t start from faith or religious experience or the Bible; it starts from the observable world . . . While I realized that the details were not always satisfactory, it seemed to me that the approach of the Summa was 100 percent right. I came to see that the irrationalist spirit of modern theology was a modern phenomena, a head-in-the-sand defensive mechanism. In general, I believe, it is the spirit of St. Thomas rather than the spirit of Kierkegaard that has been the more prevalent over two millennia of Christian theology.” (Philosophers Who Believe)

First, I'd like to address Swinburne's statement about Aquinas. Earlier Marshall admitted that “Aquinas essentially agrees with my skeptical friends that large swaths of Christian doctrine must be accepted on 'faith.'” Marshall just contradicted himself.

Second, Marshall quotes Swinburne from the book Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading Thinkers. In it Swinburne discusses how he came to believe:

As far back as my memory stretches, I recall having through in Christian terms; and from early years I recall having prayed. Since neither of my parents was Christian, any human contribution to this process must be attributed to my early schooling. [43]

He then goes onto discuss how he came to study the philosophy of science and admits how, at least in the United Kingdom, the churches disregarded reason! Swinburne writes,

Preachers preached pious sermons that simply failed to connect with modern science, ethics and philosophy; they expounded biblical texts and preached attitudes. And the answer to such questions – Why should one believe the Bible? Does it not presuppose an out-of-date science? Are not moral truth mere matters of opinion? Why should one suppose that there is a God at all? - was that religion was a matter of “faith.” But the preachers had nothing to say about why one should take a leap of faith, and why one should take it in this direction rather than that (that is, in favor of this religion rather than of that rival worldview). The church's lazy indifference to modern knowledge appalled me […] In due course I came to realize that behind this “lazy indifference,” as I saw it, lay a theological attitude. T here were theological “justifications” of why reason had no part to play in establishing the foundations of the Christian theological system. [44]

Swinburne goes on to argue how he believes,

[W]e have available two different kinds of explanation. One is scientific explanation, whereby we explain a phenomenon E in terms of some prior state of affairs F (the cause) in accordance with some regularity or natural law L that describes the behavior of objects involved in F and E. […] The other way that we use all the time and see as a proper way of explaining phenomenon is that I call personal explanation. We often explain some phenomenon E as brought about by a person P in order to achieve some purpose or goal G. […] The kind of explanation involved here is a different way of explaining things from the scientific. Scientific explanation involves laws of nature and previous states of affairs. Personal explanation involves persons and purposes. [45]

Swinburne is clearly trying to imply that god is some kind of scientific hypothesis but this isn't the case. Proposing some supernatural being is not a scientific hypothesis due to its lack of a clear mechanism for exactly how or why this god tweaks this or that. A true scientific hypothesis actually explains these things. A god does not. In addition, it appears to me that he is arguing in a circle and is attempting to give a “personal” explanation to some phenomenon that we currently have no scientific answer to, which is commonly called a “god of the gaps” argument. This is very fallacious reasoning.

He goes on to cite the standard arguments for god: the cosmological argument and argument from design. As I noted earlier, each of these arguments have been dealt a death blow. It's only theists who cling to them out of some psychological need to justify their beliefs, which is again the complete opposite of what early Christians did. Once again, here is another Christian who is simply trying to rationalize his beliefs with horrible reasoning, but he did not adopt this view from Christian doctrine.

In sum, it seems to me that Swinburne was indoctrinated at one of the British religious schools and he later sought to justify this belief with science and philosophy.

Mortimer Adler (Jewish philosopher who became a Christian after many decades of prominent work publishing classic books of thought, Encyclopedia Brittanica [sic], etc.): Describes the argument he ultimately found the most persuasive for God’s existence. But then adds: “I therefore concluded by saying that the soundest rational argument for God’s existence could carry us only to the edge of the chasm that separated the philosophical affirmation of God’s existence from the religious belief in God. What is usually called a ‘leap of faith’ is needed to carry anyone across the chasm. But the leap of faith is usually misunderstood as being a progress from having insufficient reasons for affirming God’s existence to a state of greater certitude in that affirmation. That is not the case. The leap of faith consists in going from the conclusion of a merely philosophical theology to a religious belief in a God that has revealed himself as a loving, just and merciful Creator of the cosmos, a God to be loved, worshiped and prayed to.”

(In other words, consciously following Pascal, Adler affirmed that reason supports Christian faith. Faith, however, transcends reason in the sense that it requires a step into relationship with God that carries other meaning, risks, and rewards than the purely cognitive recognition that the evidence suggests that God is.)

Here is another Christian Marshall is citing who speaks of reasons for belief but they either fail to give those reasons or Marshall neglected to copy that section of the quote. Revelation is not a form of evidence since there is no evidence of any actual supernatural revelations in history, only hallucinations or people attempting to fool others, like the founder of Mormonism Joseph Smith.

John Polkinghorne (physicist, Anglican theologian, winner of Templeton Prize), argues that the cognitive processes involved in Christian faith and scientific discovery are similar: “The ability of understanding to outrun explanation is intimately connected with the religious concept of faith. This is not a polite expression for unsubstantiated assertion, but it points to an ability to grasp things in totality, the occurrence of an insight which is satisfying to the point of being self-authenticating, without dependence of detailed analysis. Involved is a leap of the mind – not into the dark, but into the light. The attainment of understanding in this way does not remove the obligation to seek subsequent explanation, to the degree that it is attainable, but the insight brings with it a tacit assurance that such explanation should be there for the eventual finding. Such experiences are quite common among scientists. Paul Dirac tell us how one of his foundational ideas about quantum theory came to him ‘in a flash’ when he was out for a Sunday walk. He was too cautious to be sure immediately that it was right, and the fact that the libraries were closed prevented his checking it right away. Nevertheless, ‘confidence gradually grew in the course of the night,’ and Monday morning showed that his idea was indeed sound. The mathematician Henri Poincare was more certain of his insight. An important idea came to him ‘At the moment I put my foot on the step (of a bus) . . . I did not verify the idea . . . but I felt a perfect certainty . . . “

Christian belief is nothing like science, especially the story about Paul Dirac. His theory was confirmed with evidence, while Christians have been ignoring the evidence against their beliefs for years.

“Recognition of the limitations of ratiocination is not indulgence in anti-intellectualism, but rather the avowal that knowledge has a broader base than that afforded by atomized argument alone.” (The Faith of a Physicist, 38)

In other words, sensible people leave room for a variety of forms of reason. (As in my four-stage analysis.)

“In common with many others, I have wished to revalue the classical ‘proofs’ of God’s existence as suggestive insights rather than logically coercive demonstrations. They are part of those consilient ‘converging lines of probable reasoning’ which constitute a case for theism.” (41)

“Expressivist views of religion are very popular today, but I cannot renege on the commitment to the cognitive quest with which I began this chapter, for the way things are is the only reliable basis for the way we should respond to them.” (41)

“I think science and theology can make common cause in opposing decline into a merely intellectual utilitarianism and in insisting on the pursuit of the difficult but essential task of seeking to understand what is.” (50)

Polkinghorne then reprises Lewis’ (and my) argument about differing modes of argument:

“Lewis Wolpert asks the question, ‘Why should religious experience be treated as different from any other experience and not subject to scientific inquiry in the normal way?’ The answer is that all experience is to be subject to rational inquiry, and part of that necessary rationality is to conform one’s investigation to the nature of the entity being investigated. I very much doubt whether Professor Wolpert subjects his enjoyment of music or his encounter with persons ‘to scientific inquiry in the normal way,’ if that phrase is to be interpreted in some flat, universal catch-all, reductionist way.”

“Religion does not demand that all answers are agreed before the discussion begins. All that it asks for is a respect for its particular modes of experience and an openness to the insights they bestow.” (193)

There is not a word about what reasons Polkinghorne gives for his beliefs, nor has he confirmed Marshall's thesis. As I said above, yes to a degree we must trust our minds, but faith hardly plays any role at all since we constantly get feedback from the real world about what our senses and our minds are telling us. There would be a lot of serious problems were our minds and senses not giving us the real scoop about the real world.

While reading the second chapter in Polkinghorne's The Faith of a Physicist: Reflections of a Bottom-Up Thinker I find this telling passage:

God is known because he has chosen to make himself known, through gracious disclosure. This revelatory action does not take the form of a mysterious conveyance of incontestable propositional knowledge; rather, it is mediated through events and people which have the character of a particular transparency to the divine presence and to intimations of a lasting hope. Ronald Thiemann has suggested that the doctrine of revelation 'can be given self-consistent formulation of it is organized around the notion of “narrated promise.” I would wish to emphasize historical anchorage by replacing that phrase with 'enacted promise.' A bottom-up thinker does not wish simply to tell a story, but to point to occurrence. [46]

Another irrational appeal to revelation as a reason to believe in Christianity. This doesn't sound much like a “bottom-up” thinker to me. It sounds like a case of someone accepting irrational premises from the start, and failing to examine all of the serious issues with revelation. Two serious issues are the following: how can one tell that an alleged revelation is actually from god, and not simply a thought in someone's head? How can we tell one revelation from another when one “revelation” has a mother chop her infant's arms off [47] while another leads to a transforming experience? Obviously, with another set of unjustified assumptions a Christian would simply argue that the mother was just insane and god would never tell someone to do something like this. But how would the Christian know this wasn't god telling her to do this? The fact is, they don't! God orders many massacres in the bible (one of many is Deuteronomy 7:1-2) so why wouldn't he in this day and age?

Second, nearly all religions claim some form of communication with their particular god, and if this is so, how can we determine which is the correct revelation? It's not possible. Further, if Christians claim this is evidence for their beliefs then how do they account for revelations to leaders and members of other religions? They are unable to. Once again, it all comes back down to faith, or “blind belief.”

The final individual Marshall quotes is the following:

Stephen Barr (physicist): “To a religious person, however, a dogma is not something that is embraced from mere hidebound habit or feeling or wishful thinking, rather it is understood to be a true proposition for which there is the best of all possible evidence, namely that its truth has been revealed by God.”

As with the last example, appealing to something as unlikely as revelation is not a reason-based approach for the reasons I've already covered.

Marshall continues with quotes from Barr,

“The believer in religious dogmas accepts that there are two ways that a thing may be known to be true: either empirically, through observation, experience, and the ‘natural light of reason,’ or through divine revelation. Accepting the one does not mean rejecting the other. In fact, in our everyday life we recognize that our knowledge does have a double source: there is what we have learned for ourselves and what we have learned from the information of others, whether teachers, friends, books, or common knowledge. Indeed, a little reflection shows that what we have actually derived from our own direct observation of the world without relying upon the word of others is but a very tiny part of everything that we do know. For a person to accept as knowledge only what he had discovered and proved for himself from direct personal experience would put his knowledge at the level of the Stone Age.”

“Taking something on authority, then, is not in itself irrational. On the contrary, it would be irrational never to do so. The question is when we should take something on authority, and on what kind of authority, and how far we should trust it. In the case of religious dogma, the authority is said to be from God, who, it is claimed, has revealed certain truths – primarily truths about himself—to human beings. Such a claim is not in itself contrary to reason, for it is certainly hypothetically possible that there is a God and that he has revealed himself to man.”

“On the other hand, reason would require that before accepting religious dogmas we must have some sufficient rational grounds for believing that there is in fact a God, and that he has indeed revealed himself to man, and that this revelation truly is to be found where it is claimed to be found. And, indeed, these requirements of reason have always been admitted by the monotheistic creeds of Judaism and Christianity.” (Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, 11-12)

Once again, an appeal to revelation is not a rational reason for belief in something. While learning from others is common, in this day and age of mass communication untruths do not live long, however, there are still those who continue to believe untruths despite their being debunked (like those who adhere to Christianity).

The True Role of Reason in Modern Theology

After researching all of these past and modern Christian thinkers I've come to the conclusion that Christians merely pay lip service to “reason” and “evidence.” When you look past their empty rhetoric about their reasons for their beliefs what you inevitably find is the same faith-based approach that early Christians displayed. It seems to me as if Christians during and after the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment said to each other, “We better follow suit and come up with some reasons for our beliefs, other than our faith, or else we might lose future converts because they might see us as backward and primitive due to our constant appeals to revelation and the scriptures without any facts to support our beliefs.”

Well, the jig is up and the emperor has no clothes. Skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers of all stripes have been poking holes in the reasons for Christian belief for centuries. Despite the immense hammering Christian apologetics has received from some very knowledgeable and talented atheists, such as Baron d’Holbach, Robert Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, Michael Martin, Richard Carrier, and John W. Loftus, Christians refuse to utilize that “god given” reason and refuse to acknowledge the irreparable damage non-believers have done to their so-called “rational” reasons for Christianity. Therefore, in reality, the new breed of Christian (post-Scientific Revolution/Enlightenment) is in many respects the same as the Christian of the past. The main source for their belief is faith because they have no rational reasons for those beliefs. All they have is - pure and exposed - faith. A faith that convinces even the most intelligent man to continue to believe despite the enormous intellectual hurdles they must continually jump through just to continue believing.

Faith is “blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence”

David Marshall never properly defines what he means by faith in any meaningful way. He seems to be conflating the two words, reason and faith. However, faith is the complete opposite of reason. It is the odd human desire to hold onto ideas or beliefs that contradict all known facts. It is “blind trust” in someone or something. This is the basis of all religions. A person either has good reasons to believe something or they do not. Christians and other theists may give lip service to reason and evidence but they are utilizing anything but reason since they must ignore mountains of data that contradict their beliefs. This is the only way religion can survive, and as we've seen throughout this piece Christians have drastically changed their tune over time regarding how they defend their beliefs. Early Christians made no bones about not believing for any particular reason, as Origin wrote centuries ago, “We admit that we teach those men to believe without reasons […].” However, today modern Christians recite a litany of bad excuses for their unjustifiable beliefs. Richard Dawkins' definition of faith surely describes these poor rationalizations by modern Christians.


I had two goals in mind while writing this piece. First, I wanted to research each of the quotes David Marshall used in his attempt to support his thesis that his version of faith represents a “continuity with the greater Christian tradition.” I've completely demolished this argument by quoting several early Christians' own words which contradict Marshall's claim. The period of time when Christians did begin to utilize reason to come up with so-called rational justifications was during and after the Scientific Revolution, when empiricism began to take hold.

Second, I wanted to show that even when Christians claim they have reasons for their beliefs (like many modern Christians) these reasons are nothing more than an intellectual smokescreen. They are nothing more than weak attempts to prop up the faith of Christians. These reasons have been proven false over and over again by science and history. [48]

In the end, all Christians have is faith.


1. The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, Oxford University Press, 2006; 198

2. My other rebuttals of David Marshall's work can be found at the following:

David Marshall's 144 Instances of Ignorance, Stupidity, Hypocrisy, and Lack of Comprehension in Critiquing The God Delusion

David Marshall Responds to My Review of His Book....Sort Of

3. Debunking Christianity: “Explaining Faith So That Even David Marshall Can Understand,” by Johnathan Pearse. Originally posted April 12, 2012 - accessed 7-30-12

4. The Stromata, Book 1, Chapter 5 - accessed 8-2-12

5. Ibid., Book 1, Chapter 13

6. Arizona Atheist: “David Marshall Responds to My Review of His Book....Sort Of.” Originally posted July 28, 2011

7. Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 9 - accessed 8-11-12

8. Ibid., Chapter 28

9. Denis R. Janz. Whore or Handmaid? Luther and Aquinas on the Function of Reason in Theology. The Devil's Whore: Reason and Philosophy in the Lutheran Tradition. Edited by Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth. Fortress Press. 2011. 47-50

10. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, Second Edition, Volume 1, Edited by Everett Ferguson, Routledge, 1999; 588

11. Christianity and Classical Culture: The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism, by Jaroslav Pelikan, Yale University Press, 1993; 27-28

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. On Repentance, by Quintus Tertullian - accessed 8-2-12

15. A Treatise on the Soul, by Tertullian - accessed 8-2-12

16. A Journey Through Christian Theology: With Texts from the First to the Twenty-First Century, by William P. Anderson, Fortress Press, 2010; 31

17. God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, Edited by David C. Lindberg & Ronald L. Numbers, University of California Press, 1986; 28

18. Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2012; 40

19. Ibid.; 40

20. On Faith and Reason, Edited by Stephen F. Brown, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1999; 1

21. Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin, Translated by John Allen, Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1921, Sixth American Edition; 244

22. Pensees, by Blaise Pascal, Penguin Books, 1995; 54

23. Prose Quotations: From Socrates to Macaulay, by Samuel Austin Allibone, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1909; 430

24. The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England, by Edmund S. Morgan, Harper & Row, 1966; 89-90

25. Mayhue, Richard L. Cultivating a Biblical Mindset. Think Biblically!: Recovering a Christian Worldview, Edited by John MacArthur. Crossway Books, 2003; 336

26. John Wesley: To ‘John Smith,' September 28, 1745 - accessed 8-7-12; Eleventh Paragraph.

27. Ibid.; Fifth Paragraph.

28. Ibid.; Seventh Paragraph.

29. The Faith of Scientists: In Their Own Words, by Nancy K. Frankenberry, Princeton University Press, 2008; 34-35

30. Ibid.; 37-38

31. The Decrees of the Vatican Council, 1st 1869-1870), by Vincent Joseph McNabb, BiblioLife, LLC; 19-20

32. Ibid.; 22-23

33. The World's Last Night: And Other Essays, by C.S. Lewis, Harvest, 1987; 17

34. Ibid.; 17

35. Why Should Anyone Believe Anything at All?, by James Sire, InterVarsity Press, 1994; 95

36. Babinski, Edward T. The Cosmology of the Bible. The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. Edited by John W. Loftus. Prometheus Books, 2010. 122

37. Crossing the Threshold of Hope, by Pope John Paul II, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1994; 190

38. Ibid.; 190

39. Ibid.; 190-191

40. Ibid.; 191-192

41. Ibid.; 188

42. Ibid.; 192

43. Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading Thinkers, Edited by Kelly James Clark, InterVarsity Press, 1993; 179

44. Ibid.; 180-181

45. Ibid.; 189

46. The Faith of a Physicist: Reflections of a Bottom-Up Thinker, by J. C. Polkinghorne, Fortress Press, 1996; 33

47. Wikipedia: Dena Schlosser - accessed 8-10-12

48. Excellent resources for these reasons include:

a. Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2012

b. The Case Against Christianity, by Michael Martin, Temple University Press, 1991

c. The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave, Edited by Robert M. Price & Jeffery Jay Lowder, Prometheus Books, 2005

d. The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed For Us, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2011

e. The End of Biblical Studies, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2007

f. The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, Edited by John Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2010

g. The End of Christianity, Edited by John Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2011

h. God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2012

i. Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith, by Richard Carrier, Philosophy Press, 2011

j. Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, by Kenneth Miller, Harper Perennial, 2007 - I do not agree with Miller's view that religion and science are compatible, but I do highly recommend this book because of the excellent arguments against Intelligent Design.

k. The Bible Unearthed: Archeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, by Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman, The Free Press, 2001


  1. You state":In addition, through our every day experiences we can see how our senses give us reliable information about our every day world on a consistent basis (assuming you're not taking any substance that might alter your perceptions) and our senses are surely accurate enough to allow us to successfully navigate the world. This should make it obvious that they must be at least mostly correct or else people might end up believing a piece of wood feels like wool or falling off cliffs on a constant basis, or any number of examples that would be proof of the unreliability of our senses. The fact that wood feels like wood and wool like wool, and people do not very often fall off cliffs, experience shows us that our senses can be trusted. "

    It might seem that our senses are generally reliable but the problem is that this cannot be proven. So, no matter how reliable our senses may seem this does not alleviate the faith that must be attributed to our presuppositions we place in the reliability of our senses. You continue:

    " it is true that our senses aren't perfect, but we have the scientific method to help double check what we are experiencing is accurate."

    This is incorrect. The scientific method can never validate our senses. This is because the reliability of our senses must first be presupposed for science to function. Thus, to attempt to prove the reliability of our senses through science would be circular reasoning. This means that no matter how reliable we might think our senses are, nevertheless, this can never be proven. Therefore, we can only have faith that such things are reliable.

    Lets take it a step further and discuss how reason fits into this scenario. Reason is based on the reliability of our cognitive faculties. But, once again, can these cognitive faculties be proven valid by science? No, because (just as I mentioned above) science must presuppose the reliability of our cognitive faculties in order to function. Thus, to embark on proving our cognitive faculties would be circular reasoning. So, ironically, reason is not in opposition to faith but is actually grounded in faith.

  2. Hi Mr./ Ms. Anonymous,

    Thanks for the comment. I believe you're in error. Allow me to explain why.

    You wrote,

    ”It might seem that our senses are generally reliable but the problem is that this cannot be proven. So, no matter how reliable our senses may seem this does not alleviate the faith that must be attributed to our presuppositions we place in the reliability of our senses.”

    How can this not be proven? How many times have you walked into a wall? I'm sure you could count the number of times on one hand. This is proof that your sense of sight and perception (regarding distance) are accurate 99% of the time. I'm sorry but you failed to directly address my argument on this point and you are simply restating the original argument, not taking into account my counter-argument.

    You wrote,

    ”This is incorrect. The scientific method can never validate our senses. This is because the reliability of our senses must first be presupposed for science to function. Thus, to attempt to prove the reliability of our senses through science would be circular reasoning. This means that no matter how reliable we might think our senses are, nevertheless, this can never be proven. Therefore, we can only have faith that such things are reliable.”

    Once again you're restating the original argument without first dealing with my counter-argument. As I noted, repeated, continuous results are more likely than not to be highly accurate depictions of reality. Is the earth round? Dozens of facts point to this reality. I don't see how arguing that we can't trust our eyes refutes this truth. Once again, how often do a person's eyes deceive them? Its depends. Some people believe they see ghosts, but as I noted, the scientific method has aided us in exposing this error in our senses. You seemed to miss my point on that issue.

    You wrote,

    ”Lets take it a step further and discuss how reason fits into this scenario. Reason is based on the reliability of our cognitive faculties. But, once again, can these cognitive faculties be proven valid by science? No, because (just as I mentioned above) science must presuppose the reliability of our cognitive faculties in order to function. Thus, to embark on proving our cognitive faculties would be circular reasoning. So, ironically, reason is not in opposition to faith but is actually grounded in faith.”

    You've failed to give any evidence for your claim that relying on our senses is an act of faith, while I've demonstrated that through experience we can trust our senses most of the time. Even when our senses deceive us on those rare occasions we can use the scientific method to double check what we are experiencing is accurate.

    Much like the author of the above document you are failing to properly define the word faith and you're conflating the words faith and reason. I have used my reasoning ability to provide an answer as to why we trust that our senses are giving us an accurate picture of the world (explained above). Faith is defined as a belief “that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” On the other hand, we do have “material evidence” and “logical proof” to believe in the reliability of our senses, as I just explained. Therefore, relying on our senses isn't a form of faith. However, relying on such things as acts of revelation, that have no “material evidence” for them, or “logical proof” for their reliability, is an act of faith. Hopefully that clears up my position.

  3. You state:"How can this not be proven?"

    With all due respect, I explained how above. The reliability of our senses is something that only empiricism can validate. However, for empiricism to function validly the reliability of our senses must be presupposed. Once again, to attempt to prove the reliability of our senses by empiricism would be circular reasoning. You cannot "refute" this by simply saying "how many times have you walked into a wall?". Your using your senses to prove your senses which is exactly what is in question here. I'll even put it in a logical syllogism for you so in order to refute the argument all you have to is refute a premise:

    (1) The reliability of our senses (which are empirical) can only be validated empirically
    (2) For empiricism to function our senses must be reliable
    (3) Thus, to prove the reliability of our senses presupposes the conclusion it seeks to validate, which is circular reasoning

    You then state:"This is proof that your sense of sight and perception (regarding distance) are accurate 99% of the time."

    This is incorrect. This is only proof that our sense of sight and perception SEEM to be accurate. Again, our senses are what is in question here, so you cannot validate them by referring to the questionable senses. This is circular reasoning. This is also the same with regards to reason. You cannot prove that our reasoning abilities are valid by applying to reason because this is exactly what is being questioned. Now, dont get me wrong, I'm not arguing that our senses are unreliable. I happen to agree with you that they are reliable. However, what I'm trying to demonstrate to you is that this cannot be proven and thus be taken as a presupposition which of course requires faith. You then state:

    "continuous results are more likely than not to be highly accurate depictions of reality. Is the earth round? Dozens of facts point to this reality."

    You have not escaped your circular reasoning. You're effectively saying,"Our senses are reliable because them seem to be reliable". Once again, you cannot prove the reliability of our senses by appealing to the senses which are in question. The rest of that comment commits the same fallacious reasoning. You continue:

    "I've demonstrated that through experience we can trust our senses most of the time."

    No, you've assumed such but have not demonstrated it. The reliability of our senses can only ever be a philosophical presupposition. You cannot prove it scientifically (see the above syllogism).

  4. "Even when our senses deceive us on those rare occasions we can use the scientific method to double check what we are experiencing is accurate."

    You're correct. But this is not proof. The fact that science runs parallel to our senses is because the scientific method is founded on the presuppositions of the reliability of our senses. Again, if you want to refute my position then please deal with the logical syllogism otherwise it seems you haven't refuted anything. You continue:

    "Much like the author of the above document you are failing to properly define the word faith and you're conflating the words faith and reason."

    Wrong. It is you who has defined faith as "a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence." This might be your narrow definition but it is not a definition most Christians would agree with. In fact, even though I'm not particularly fond of Marshall I find myself agreeing with his definition. But even on your definition of faith my argument still stands. Once again, reason (which is based on our cognitive faculties) must be presupposed in order for the scientific method to function. So, you cannot prove the reliability of our cognitive faculties on empirical grounds because it's circular reasoning. So, since reason does not rest on "logical proof or material evidence" then it rests on faith (by your own definition). Should you try to wiggle out of this by appealing to reason to prove reason (circular reasoning) I'll put it in another logical syllogism:

    (1) The reliability of our cognitive faculties (which are empirical) can only be validated empirically
    (2) For empiricism to function our cognitive faculties must be reliable
    (3) Thus, to prove the reliability of our cognitive faculties presupposes the conclusion it seeks to validate, which is circular reasoning

    You continue:

    "On the other hand, we do have “material evidence” and “logical proof” to believe in the reliability of our senses, as I just explained."

    Wrong again. You have appealed to your senses to prove your senses which is circular reasoning and therefore fallacious reasoning. Again, to refute the argument you cannot appeal to the thing that is in question. All the best!

  5. Hello there again, Mr./Ms. Anonymous,

    Our senses are all we have to learn about the world so your argument is pretty much moot. If no one had any sense of touch, smell, vision, or hearing, we wouldn’t know anything about the world. This is simply a fact. While we are using our senses to see and perform experiments, once again, through experience we know our senses to be reliable because we get the same data on a near constant basis. There is no way around this. You can use philosophical nonsense all you want. It doesn't change the fact that our senses are all we have to learn about the world. Therefore, we need to focus our concentration on figuring out whether or not these senses can be trusted, and yes they are, which you concede.

    Once this has been established, we need to define what we mean by faith and reason and not conflate the two as you and Marshall have done. Faith is defined as “a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” This has always been the way faith has been defined, even by early Christians, as I went to great lengths to show in the above essay. For example John Wesley wrote, “The term ‘faith’ I likewise use in the scriptural sense, meaning thereby ‘the evidence of things not seen.’” In fact, Marshall doesn't even really give any real definitions for faith and reason, which is why I'm confused as to your agreement with his “definition” (what definition?). He simply conflates and confuses the two, which is simply a rhetorical device to pull off philosophical nonsense the likes of which you're attempting. Faith is relied upon when either there is no evidence to examine or when the evidence contradicts your beliefs but you continue to believe anyway. Reason is the process by which we evaluate facts and data to come to a conclusion that is as close to reality as we can get, given the data we have.

    Given my accurate definition of faith, relying on our senses is not a form of faith whatsoever, since we have logical and material evidence of their being reliable.

    You wrote,

    ”With all due respect, I explained how above. The reliability of our senses is something that only empiricism can validate.” Now you contradict yourself. In your earlier reply you said, ”This is incorrect. The scientific method can never validate our senses.” Ummm... which is it?

    In sum, it appears that you actually concede my argument since you admit that our senses are reliable (even Marshall doesn't go that far!). Why is this so? Obviously, because they give you consistent data and through every day experience your senses have been proven highly reliable. This is not faith, it is experience. While I agree that subjective experience isn't always the best form of evidence for something, but because our sense data is so personal, it must do when discussing topics like this. Therefore, because we have our sense data relaying nearly consistent, reliable data to us about the outside world (if not things would get rather crazy) this is evidence that our senses can be relied upon and is a form of empiricism. This isn't a form of faith. Because you concede that our senses can be trusted you therefore concede that our experience is a form of evidence, or else you wouldn’t have said this.

    I'm sorry but it's clear you're the one who is wrong. Thanks for the little discussion though.


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