Faith and Reason

Key Question

What's the appropriate ground for religious belief?

Some Alternatives

  1. Philosophical Argumentation
  2. Revealed Truth: Testimony of Prophets, Sacred Texts, etc.

Some Complications

What is "Faith"? Seems like this word is used (today) precisely when you are believing something without any particular evidential grounding.

Didn't Socrates claim to know nothing? The discussion in the Phaedo about, e.g. the rewards of the soul, is not straightforwardly an assertion.

I do not mean to affirm that the description I have given of the soul and her mansions is exactly true... A man of sense ought hardly to say that. But I do say that insofar as the soul is shown to be immortal, he may venture to think, not improperly or unworthily, that something of the kind is true.

Anyway, not on the table for today's thinkers


Getting Started

What's his view?

What are his reasons?

Basic Tertuillian Concern

There will be no end, so long as I meet everywhere with "Seek and ye Shall Find," and I shall wish I had never begun to seek, if I never grasp what Christ taught, what should be sought, what must be believed.

Claim seems to be that philosophical investigation

  1. Is always inconclusive. ("it reconsiders every point to make sure it never finishes a discussion")
  2. Is unreliable. (leads to Heresy)

And that these characteristics make it unfit to ground religious belief

Weak Tertuillian Thesis

We should not try to ground religious belief in philosophical reasoning

Strong Tertuillian Thesis

We should not engage in philosophical reasoning

Argument for the strong thesis:

When we come to believe, we have no desire to believe anything else; for we begin by believing that there is nothing else we have to believe.


What's his view?

What are his reasons?

Joint Causation

Philosophy, being the search for truth, contributes to the comprehension of truth; not being the cause of comprehension, but a cause along with other things

Key point: philosophy has a role to play, even though it is neither necessary (not a "sine qua non") nor sufficient (only a joint-cause) for religious knowledge.

Puzzle about Religious Belief

Almost all of us, without training in arts and sciences, and the Hellenic philosophy, and some even without learning at all... have through faith received the word concerning God, trained by self-operating wisdom.

Whatever the appropriate grounds are for religious belief, they must be pretty easy to come by. Otherwise, much religious belief is ungrounded.


What's his view?

What are his reasons?


There is no point in trying to return to the level of "taqlid" once it has been left, since a condition of being at that level is that one should not know one is there; when a man comes to know that, the glass of his native beliefs is broken. This is a breakage which cannot be mended, a breakage not to be repaired by patching or by assembling of fragments. The glass must be melted once again in the furnace for a new start, and out of it another fresh vessel formed

Analysis and Critique

To refute a system before understanding it and becoming acquainted with its depths is to act blindly.

A systematic examination of the scope and limits of philosophical knowledge is required.

  • Mathematics, Logic: The main worry is that they lead to a too-great esteem for Greek practitioners, and their other (non-mathematico-logical) beliefs.
  • Natural Sciences: OK, but creates the false impression that the natural world operates "on its own". This impression is misleading---see my book.
  • Metaphysics: dangerous and unfounded: "they are unable to satisfy the conditions of proof they lay down in logic, and consequently differ much from one another here"
  • Ethics: A mix of rubbish and stolen truth. Particularly dangerous, since we might be tempted to treat it as a unified whole, and either adopt rubbish or reject truth.


  • Censorship. The public can't be trusted to sort through this stuff.

  • Nevertheless, truth is truth, and a good argument is a good argument. Don't make the messenger the criterion of the truth.

Comparison with Tertullian/Clement

Similarities? Differences?


What's his view?

What are his reasons?


Revealed texts are difficult. Everybody admits that some of it is allegorical or mistranslated.

whenever the conclusion of a demonstration is in conflict with the apparent meaning of Scripture, that apparent meaning admits of allegorical interpretation.

Master Argument:

  1. Even an established interpretation is uncertain unless we can be sure that it was handed down correctly, nothing was concealed, and no opinion has gone unconsidered
  2. But these conditions are never met.

Therefore, even established interpretations are not certain.

Rational argumentation is always needed to support an interpretation, and argumentation can always challenge an interpretation.