“Reason is the enemy of faith.” Atheists love that phrase. Unfortunately they’re not the only ones who use it. Some churches actually teach that reason is opposed to belief in God. I’ve heard about it mostly from people who grew up in those churches. “Just believe,” they’ve been told. “We don’t ask questions around here.” Most of the people I’ve met who had that experience in church are no longer interested in Jesus Christ.
It’s a strange stance for a church to take. The pastor who says, “Reason is the enemy of faith,” has got to expect someone to ask him why he thinks so. If he explains his reasoning he’s contradicting himself right there.
He’s got the same problem if he answers in terms of some Bible passage, say, Col. 2:8. It says, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Does that say we should avoid all logic and reasoning? Should we even avoid all philosophy? Or should we just avoid empty, deceitful reasoning? These are all valid questions to ask such a pastor. In order to answer, he’s going to have to explain his reasons for opposing reasoning.
History and Reasons Behind It
Still, this anti-reason attitude prevails in some churches — not many, but enough to do some real damage. Of course there’s history behind it. One place to begin would be in the mid-1800s, when David Strauss, Ludwig Feuerbach and others set out to explain the Bible without God. They had a huge influence for decades. Meanwhile Charles Darwin built a purely natural theory to explain the origin of the species. Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper wrote influential books on Christianity’s historic warfare against science.
It was a powerful anti-Christian one-two-three punch, or so it seemed to many at the time. And rather than raising up scholarship to combat it, many Protestants pulled back in retreat. They were convinced the Bible was trustworthy, even if all reason stood against it — as it seemed to be doing. They kept believing the Bible; they began distrusting reason, science and all kinds of scholarship.
It was a serious strategic error, and we’re still paying the price. Atheists have capitalized on it, claiming reason as their own special territory. Faith, they’ll often say, is “believing without evidence,” or “believing what you know isn’t true.” It’s “believing without thinking.” Funny thing: I’ve asked them for evidence that Christians actually view their own faith that way, and what I get from is mostly memes like this one. Not much substance there; not much real evidence.
History and Reason Against It
Meanwhile Tim McGrew and David Marshall have written an entire chapter simply listing quotes down the centuries, showing that Christians have always considered faith and reason to hand in hand. You’ll find it in True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism, which I co-edited. (The title gives you a hint of what my co-authors and I think of atheists being the party of “reason.”)
But this isn’t just ancient history: Reason has made a strong comeback in Christian circles over the past several decades. German criticism from the 1800s has lost all credibility. Darwin has come under fire, not only from Christians but even from within mainstream science. White and Draper’s “conflict thesis” has been debunked. It still gets taught in classrooms, but no historian of science believes it anymore.
Faith is trusting in what or Whom we know to be true.
Christianity has made a strong comeback in academic disciplines including history and philosophy. Atheist philosopher Quentin Smith wrote a famous paper complaining that about a third of philosophy professors are now believers in God. That paper used to be easy to find online, but the (atheistic) journal that published it seems to have taken it down. There’s another funny thing for you.
Faith isn’t believing what we know isn’t true; it isn’t believing without thinking. It’s trusting in what or Whom we know to be true. Churches shouldn’t be running away from reason but toward it. For God is the God of all truth; and reason isn’t the enemy of faith, it supports it, just as it always has.