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Faith vs Reason

January 24, 2011

In preparation for tonight’s theology lecture I’ve been thinking about the relationship between faith and reason in theology, or at least what I’ve seen of it so far.

I think there are two processes going on. The first involves an assumption that rational discourse is being undertaken, even though the foundation for for this discourse is often nothing more than a faith statement. This faith position cannot be modified in the subsequent discussion, so we instantly rule out an actual rational discourse – such discourse requires that we are prepared, from the outset, to change our opinion if the argument leads us to.

The second process is to have two systems of discourse operating in parallel. There are things that we can talk about in a rational way, but at the same time there is a set of beliefs or topics that we can suspend rational discourse when discussing and operate within a framework of opinion and reinterpretation to fit our preconceptions. This seems to be common in theology. The style of argument wouldn’t be used for the vast majority of life – it doesn’t work as a method for arriving at a new opinion that someone else can agree with after starting with a different view. It doesn’t let us persuade. It operates in a world where the conclusion is essentially assumed, so only operates within the thought community that it is used in.

Which is confusing. I’m sure that most theologians would say that they are seeking after a truth in a very realist sense. But if we allow for a faith position to underpin our discourse, how are we to avoid the perils of relativism? What is it that makes my position a truth seeking endeavour and yours a misguided attempt, groping for a truth it will never find? What then justifies the common position of religious people that we should respect all “people of faith”?

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