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Austin Cline

Christianity vs. Reason

By July 11, 2012

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It seems pretty common for Christians to insist that Christianity is not opposed to "reason." Some will even go so far as to argue that proper "reasoning" requires Christianity to be true. If it were the case, though, that Christianity and reason were so compatible then we should see defenses or endorsements of reasoning in Christian scripture.

I Said No!
I Said No!
Photo: Constance Bannister/Getty

Instead, we're far more likely to see criticisms of reason and attacks on the use of reason. These don't just appear in scripture, but throughout Christian apologetics, preaching, and arguments.

Why shouldn't the rest of us treat this as evidence that there is, at the very lest, an inherent tension between Christianity and reason -- if not some sort of outright conflict?

Valerie Tarico writes:

Religion has an immune system made up of promises, threats and behavioral scripts that keep belief from crumbling under pressure from outside information. In Bible-believing Christianity, that immune reaction includes disparagement of rationality: "Thinking themselves wise they became fools" (Romans 1:22) or "The fool has said in his heart there is no God" (Psalms 14:1).

The Bible is full of threats against the faithless, from the story of Noah's flood to the tortures promised in Revelation. Rules for believers prohibit emotional attachments to outsiders: "Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness and what communion hath light with darkness" (2 Cor 6:14).

When the religion's immune system is working, it can seem like nothing gets through. A motivated believer will fend off any amount of linear reasoning or evidence. Backed into a corner he or she will simply insist, "I just know." I picture some of my own family members surrounded by a polished wall of smooth steel--impervious, with no foot or handhold.

It's one thing to be skeptical of how well human reason can arrive at truth of some question -- after all, humans are fallible and thus so is human reason. That's why science relies so heavily upon humans reasoning together and it's why science has been so successful. Peer review is based on the insight that humans working alone make lots of mistakes.

It's another thing, though, to dismiss reason entirely. After all, skepticism of how successful reason will be must itself derive from reason. Dismissing reason entirely and trying to replace it with something else -- like faith, as in the above -- is much more radical. It's also far less justified because there isn't any evidence that rejecting reason will actually produce good, reliable results.

If Christians want to be perceived as reasonable, they have to reject elements of their religion which are dismissive of reason. How many have done this, though?

July 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm
(1) cag says:

If Christians want to be perceived as reasonable, they have to reject elements of their religion which are dismissive of reason.

July 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm
(2) Dean J. Smith says:

And faith seems to impair reason. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard someone say something remarkably stupid that shows they didn’t spend five seconds thinking about it (‘what good is half a wing?’ comes to mind) and I KNOW they’re not really stupid; they just don’t apply their intelligence to some things.

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