The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Faith and Reason

One of the most common traps people fall into is leading their spiritual journey by either too much faith or scientific reason. Both faith and reason by themselves are a dead end in a spiritual journey. Only an interplay of the two works:

Faith Only

Some people have such a strong adherence to their faith that they will denounce what science has suggested or even declared outright. They may believe the world was created in 6 days approximately 4,000 years B.C.E, even though scientific evidence does not support that. They may go to painstaking lengths to explain away (albeit unconvincingly) the numerous contradictions in the Bible.

Their faith has led them to such a rigidity--they are so locked into the God of their imagination they refuse to experience the God that is. They also refuse to entertain the risk and the danger of real faith, which is about stepping out into the unknown--not with blindness but with real trust and eyes (and heart) wide open.

Reason Only

Many who approach from a scientific standpoint refuse to affirm anything that they can't taste, touch, feel and prove. When it comes to God, that leaves them very little.

As Dermot Lane writes, "The mystery of God is not some kind of theorem to be proved; it is rather, an experience to be lived" (13). Trying to "prove" God is an impossible situation--you have to first step out with faith before the proof comes (9). That is outrageous to the modern mind, where we feel entitled to proof before taking the first step. The problem is that once you have proof, the experience of faith becomes an impossibility--one something is proven, there is no need for faith anymore, it is simply a verifiable fact. But I wouldn't recommend stepping out for no reason whatsoever--we have to have some tugging, some experience of God, some burning in our hearts that draws us near to ignite our faith, as Lane writes. So reason and faith are not opposites, they can and must work together at all times.

If there is anything I have learned from studying Theology, it is that no one person can ever pretend to know everything. You can't prove it all, verify each detail or ever hope to study everything. It would take a lifetime to know every historical fact about religion or peruse every theory of every theological concept out there. On top of that, much of history has been forgotten and new ideas haven't been developed, yet. At some point, you have to decide to either be part of a faith community or not, and that may involve ascending to certain beliefs and traditions that you are not going to independently verify yourself.

The Middle Road

Both of these extremes are exercises in fear--a fear well deserved. One group is afraid of a world where the truths of their faith are flat out wrong. The other group is afraid of the power of religious institutions--they are also perhaps afraid that God may have power, as well. Both are terrifying to the core, and I have personally experienced each of them quite strongly. However, Jesus us reminds us not to lead with fear.

The wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas still ring true today: We need both faith and reason.


  1. I know people from both of these persuasions. I feel I'm pretty middle of the road these days. I can't pretend to know everything and I admit that perhaps there are things that I just dont understand. Which varies greatly from both of the extereme perspectives you describe.

    I've taken to calling people of any extreme a fundamentalist. For this reason, I've labeled some people as fundamentalist atheists because, even in the absence of the facts they admit they do not have, they will go to all lengths to find ways to disprove God in preference for science even to the extent of having faith in science being the ultimate answer for everything. (At which point, I always say science = God, there is no separation when you argue that far back.)

    Anyway, what I mean is, some atheists will try to argue science in such extremes of unproven fact that sound just as ridiculous as the fundmentalist Christian's refusal to accept that the world was not created in exactly 6 days in 4000 BC

  2. Yeah, I totally agree. In the post below this, I expose a person who claimed that the early bible did not mention the resurrection of Jesus. Well, it turns out that is completely false, but this person (who is probably an atheist) did not let the facts get in the way of the point they wanted to make.

  3. What I cant figure out is why some of these fundamentalist atheists go to great lengths to try to disprove God to people who have any spiritual leanings. I guess it's the same gene that makes fundamentalist Christians thrust their view of God on you... Still, I always have to ask myself, "Why are you trying to disprove my hope?"

  4. I don't know. Most of the atheists I have met are angry people deep down, or they are very detached from their emotions, which probably comes from anger and hurt somewhere... just my opinion, take it for what its worth. They are so happy to tear down the religion they hate they aren't thinking about who they might hurt. I'm not saying it applies to all altheists, but it is a trend I've seen.

    I worry about that myself. My views are not atheistic, but if someone has traditional Christian views, then the issues I bring up could really challege that whole faith system--and I don't want to put anybody through that, if I don't have to. You CAN have religious faith even if some traditional views are debunked, but a lot of people don't know how.

    If someone was taught that taking the Bible literally is the foundation of faith and you challege that foundation, it might take people a long time to figure out another way to connect to their faith. I do think some of this debunking is necessary when you consider the damage that some fundamentalists do in the name of religion, but I would hate to be responsible for taking away someone's faith.

  5. Alot of atheists are people who have been damaged (ie, bad experience) by religion, which puts them on a mission to destroy it and take down all those who believe. Not all of them, though. I've found some nice, happy atheists in my church. Though, I suppose, if you are seeking out a church to attend, you aren't an angry atheist anymore. The atheists in my church are more open-minded, in general.

    I see your point on the question you grapple with toppling a fundamentalist Christian's view of the universe. However, I think there's a difference: you are trying to show that you can have your faith and your science, that life isnt about one thing or the other, black and white, but rather shades of gray.

    I think some fundamentalist Christians are afraid that if you challenge one part of their faith, and disprove its truth, then the whole thing can crumble beneath them. They fear that. But I think, from the things you write, that you are showing that because we know one thing (ie, the earth is older than 4000 years), it does mot erase the possibilities or other tangible meanings of the things described in the Bible. Perhaps, as you've said before, God just gave it to us like we could understand it at that time.

    Fundamentalist atheists are obsessed with black and white, too. People who are not afraid of the shades of gray are willing to examine things more thoroughly and, I think, in the end, arrive at even more interesting answers... and more questions, of course. But the mystery of God is just as exciting as the knowledge of him.

  6. But the mystery of God is just as exciting as the knowledge of him.

    I'll have to give you an Amen for that!

    Normally I wouldn't care about fundamentalists and their beliefs. The problem comes in when they attack people like homosexuals and women and when they won't take global warming seriously because they think that God will take care of everything. That is a real problem and they need to be called out on that.

  7. The librarian has a podcast to recommend!

    It's a Cal Tech commencement speech about the power of narrative. The speaker argues that scientists need to become better storytellers in order to counter Creationism, which he clearly considers to be a dangerous worldview. Better storytellers to non-scientific audiences, that is. None of this "it was observed that..." stuff.

  8. OK, looks like the link didn't take. I'll shrink it:

  9. I like to think that God created the world through evolution.

  10. I like to think that God created the world through evolution.

    Yes, I agree. The way we think about God has to mesh with how science has described the world to us.

  11. I can't understand why the religious fundamentalists cant see the beauty in that! Isnt that masterful artistry--not to just create man from nothingnesss, but start the dominoes that start the process for creative evolution. Maybe he likes to see what kind of interesting combinations walk out of the muck each time (ie, on different plants, for surely we aren't the only being in this universe).

  12. There are people living on plants?! Holy daisies, batman! Sounds scray, but maybe not... maybe they feel "rooted."

    I wonder what would happen if they wanted to "leave" . . . ?