Tag Archives: Reason

Christian thinking

There is no free thought, there are no free-thinkers.

The description “free thinking” is often used to praise those who are up-to-date, those who exalt reason as the hope for humanity. “Free thinkers” criticise others for having limits, but these critics simply do not understand their own boundaries.

Because everyone and every thinker has limits, boundaries they refuse to cross.

Here’s an example. Leonard Susskind wrote The Black Hole War about an amiable disagreement between physicists as they tried to figure out black holes. Susskind says this about Stephen Hawking:

Hawking’s logic was so clear … The reasoning was persuasive, but the conclusion was absurd. (p.212)

Susskind refused to accept the argument, even when he could not identify the precise problem. There was a limit to Susskind’s reasoning. His limit was right, and it turns out Hawking was wrong in this case. Without the limit, physics would be worse off, knowing less about black holes.

Limits to our thinking exist for everyone. So Christians should consider what our limits are – they’re much more important that black holes. Romans 3 is a great place to learn, because some opponents to the gospel argue themselves over the limit. They go too far, way too far, and into danger. They suggest God is a liar, or that he is unrighteous, or that he is not judge of the world.

What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar (Romans 3:3-4).

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? (Romans 3:5-6).

Is God a liar, or unrighteous? Will God not bother to judge? Paul says: Your conclusion is absurd. Never! Don’t go near that, do not even think it. The ‘human way’ of thinking is a sad perversion of real thought.

Christian thought will never conclude wrong or evil about God. If our thinking does conclude that God is ‘wrong’ in any way, it’s a guarantee that our thinking is way off.

Faith before reason

There is a simple way to see that faith comes before reason.

We universally hate being lied to.

That probably requires some explanation, I accept, but it captures all that I will say.

Firstly, though, why bother thinking about this? It’s because there’s a prominent line of thought that places an absolute divide between faith and reason. ‘My total authority is reason, I have no place for faith.’ It’s a claim that any faith is always irrational.

This is – oh, the irony! – a creedal position. It is propounded as an unchallengeable tenet that must be believed.

(I do not think this position is held widely, but it is held loudly. The faith-reason dichotomy has some devoted and insistent public defenders. Plenty of people who opt not to hold the Christian faith, however, know that 100% of people exercise faith.)

This post is not to argue that we all have faith before reason, but to illustrate it, So, again, this is the illustration: We universally hate being lied to.

A lie hurts, profoundly. To lie is to speak a word, and break it. The liar makes a promise: ‘I will do this’, ‘This is true’, etc. Every promise is – at the same time – an invitation to faith. ‘Trust me!’ And we do exercise faith: we trust, and our trust is betrayed.

Now, what has this to do with reason? It shows reason to be secondary.

Reason tells me that lies are everywhere and from all people. Men and women, young and old, every culture … we are liars. Could anyone disagree? If reason were primary, we should be able to stop lies affecting us. Logic would change us to expect lies and simply treat them with equanimity. ‘Oh, a lie – yes, that makes sense and has no personal effect on me.’

But instead, our strong faith continues. We believe that words should mean something. We trust that a promise will be kept. We rely on information from other people. We cannot shake our faith – faith is a bedrock reality of human life. And it’s a good bedrock!

Faith is not against reason. But faith is before reason.