Atheists commonly assert that there is a profound dichotomy between faith and reason. This is exemplified by atheist evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne’s book Faith vs. Fact. He implies that we can have faith in the truth of something or we can have factual knowledge of the truth but we cannot have both. Faith and fact are, in his view, mutually exclusive. But that is not true.
Faith in God provides an indispensable foundation for the power of human reason. In the perspective proposed by medieval philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), we must accept radical skepticism about the veracity of our perceptions and our concepts.
One may ask: How do we know that what we perceive or what we believe corresponds to reality? The answer is that we can’t know, in the sense that we can’t use our perceptive or intellectual abilities to prove the validity of our perceptions or concepts. To do so would be to reason in a circle. If our perceptions and our concepts are not reliable, then how could we use them to validate their reliability?
That’s Radical Enough
The skepticism Thomas requires is radical indeed. For example, even Descartes’s assertion, “I think therefore I am,” is not something we can prove without faith. The problem lies in the “therefore.” We must tacitly assume the validity of logic — specifically the logic of non-contradiction — to link “I think” to “I am.”
If we do not have faith in logic, then it would be possible to think but not to exist. Of course we find this possibility absurd, but it is only absurd because of our profound faith in the validity of logic — in this case, the validity of the logical principle of non-contradiction. That is the principle inherent in the belief that thinking presupposes the existence of the thinker. If logic were not reliable, there would be no logical connection between thinking and existence. Thinkers could think without existing.
So we are left with radical skepticism — theists and atheists alike. We can conclusively prove nothing about our knowledge of the world. It might all be a delusion and we have no certain way to be sure that it is not.
But of course sane people believe that — at least to some extent — we have access to truth. But this access is always a matter of faith — the validity of reason cannot be validated by reason itself. The process of this faith differs between those who believe in an omniscient and omnibenevolent God and those who do not.
I will speak here from the Christian perspective as it is the one with which I am the most familiar.
Read the rest at Mind Matters News, published by Discovery Institute’s Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.