Miracles When Faith Contradicts Reason Term Paper

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  • Subject: Mythology - Religion
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #69316728

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Miracles: When Faith Contradicts Reason

Theologians, and philosophers alike, have traditionally sought to bring out the relationship between reason and faith. This they have done in an attempt to clarify the link between the two terms or points-of-view -- an undertaking that involves the determination of how agents are supposed to respond to assertions drawn from either perspective, within the context of rationality. A number of scholars are of the belief that reason and faith cannot yield conflicting outcomes, if each one is understood, and used in the right circumstances. Others hold the contrary opinion; conflicts between the two will always arise. The issue, in this regard, has always been 'which one, between the two, should prevail when a conflict arises?' Some advocate for the prioritizing of reason, and others, faith. Others, however, in appreciation of the different contexts within which the two are applicable, hold the view that, reason should be used in empirical situations, whereas faith should be applied in cases of theological or religious claims. It is also important to note that in the past, the debate concerning miracles has attracted massive interest from theologians, and philosophers. Are miracles an example of cases where faith contradicts reason?

An in-depth assessment of this would call for an examination into the sequence of views seeking to establish the relationship between reason and faith, dating back to the Classical school of thought, "through the medieval Christian theologians, the rise of science proper in the early modern period, and the reformulation of the issue as one of 'science vs. religion'" (Swindal). The interaction between the two is explained using the four models discussed below.

The Conflict Model: This model acknowledges the similarities in the domains of faith, and reason. In cases where they appear to be in conflict, then the rivalry is genuine -- and theologians can respond to it from a 'faith' perspective, and philosophers, from a 'reason' point-of-view (Swindal).

The Model of Incompatibility: This model assumes that the domains of faith and reason are significantly different, and compartmentalization is enabled. There exists no genuine rivalry between faith and reason, since they aim at divine and empirical sources of truth, respectively (Swindal).

Weak Compatibility: This model acknowledges the pay-off between faith and reason, but each maintains its individual features. In Swindal's words, "the substance of faith can be seen to involve miracles; that of reason to involve the scientific method of hypothesis- testing."

Strong Compatibility: The assumption here is that the two are partly connected. Reason is, deductively, or inductively, used to explain different elements of faith. Reason and faith, therefore, supplement each other (Swindal).

The Greek (Classical) School of Thought

The Athens school of thought mainly sought to understand the universe, and the aspect of life. The philosophers in this case made use of religious elements as a guide to the people's way of life (Guisepi). The philosophers in this period did not, however, show much interest in the subject of faith, and were more concerned with 'squeezing out' the metaphysical aspects of historical religious thinking.

Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (Plato's student), all argued that intellect formed the basis of religious assertions. Since there were "no telescopes, no microscopes (not even a magnifying glass), no laboratory equipment" (Guisepi), the three emphasized the need for people to reason, and think for themselves, in trying to understand the universe and the life therein. The concept of logic in religious historical thinking was put forward by Aristotle (Guisepi).

Epicureans and Stoics

Rationality and order of the earth formed the basis of the Stoics thought. In their view, God created humans because he found it necessary to do so; He, therefore, inherently operates within the world, and continues to guide His creation. On the other hand, Epicureans hold the opinion that there exists no relation between the gods and humans (Swindal).


He held the view that life originated "from a single ineffable power that he identified with the radical simplicity of The One" (Swindal). The One here is viewed as a supernatural being, and creator of all beings.


Unlike the Greek school of thought, Christianity revolved around the view that reason, and faith, are compatible, to a large extent.

Saint Paul

Saint Paul's writings in the scriptures portray a range of ideas on the relationship between reason, and faith. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy points out that Paul alludes to the fact that there exists one Supreme God, sole creator of the earth, and all that is in it (Swindal). God's presence, and existence, is evident, judging from the order with which He created the universe. As Swindal further points out, the aspect of strong compatibility is evident when Paul "argues that, in fact, anyone can attain the truth of God's existence merely from using his or her reason to reflect on the natural world." This point-of-view largely employs the model of strong compatibility.

Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria

There are a number of renowned apologists. This text will, however, only concern itself with the contributions of Tertullian, Justin the Martyr, and Clement of Alexandria. Tertullian held the view that Christianity is both offensive and incompatible with reason. In his opinion, faith contradicts reason, so much that "when we believe, we desire to believe nothing further" (Swindal). Contrary to Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Justin the Martyr - a Greek convert, made use of the available tools of intellect to rationally understand, and develop foundations to defend faith (Dougherty 57).

Saint Augustine

In Augustine's thoughts, believing is an element of intellect brought about, first by faith, then by reason. While acknowledging the interdependence between the two, Augustine holds the view that "faith is nevertheless prior to reason, with the latter playing the role of faith's handmaiden, assisting it in the search for truth, explaining and comprehending beliefs apprehended by faith" (Gilman 6). Therefore, science and logic are useful in interpreting the unclear elements of Christian scriptures, and scriptures need to be re-interpreted, if they contradict proper empirical knowledge.

The Medieval Regime

Philosophers during the medieval regime mostly sought to refute the Aristotle teachings of man and nature. Christians felt that these teachings jeopardized faith, given that Aristotle disputed the Christian theory of creation, and the concept of death and eternal life (Perry 164).

Saint Anselm

Saint Anlsem's thoughts on faith and reason were borrowed widely from Augustine. He argues that humans should seek "not to understand, in order to believe, but to believe in order to understand" (Swindal). Reason should not be used to judge faith; rather, it should help discover, and interpret its meaning. If the two are in conflict, then faith prevails over reason.

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saint Aquinas made use of both reason, and faith to interpret issues concerning the universe, God's nature, and his relationship with mankind. Aquinas worked to harmonize Aristotle teachings with Christian beliefs, through his book Summa Theologica (Perry 164). He held the view that the two do not compete, and hence cannot contradict each other, since there is an agreement between proper reasoning and faith (Perry 164). Humans "must allow faith to guide reason; they must not permit reason to oppose or undermine faith" (Perry 164). Aquinas emphasized the relevance of human rationality, intellect, and senses. These, however, have to uphold the value of faith. Therefore, "in non-theological questions about specific things in nature - those questions not affecting salvation - people should trust only reason and experience" (Perry 164).

The Enlightenment and Renaissance Regime

This, unlike the previous periods, saw the rift between religious, and scientific authorities widen. In this period, "the tension between faith and reason now became set squarely for the first time, in the conflict between science and religion" (Swindal). Renaissance focused on the scripture, as a guide to human beliefs.


Erasmus emphasized the value of moral thinking, human intellect, and reason. He, as Swindal points out, identified three laws: faith, nature, and works, and argued that works and nature can make use of reason and religion. However, "Christian justification still comes ultimately only from the grace that can reveal, and gives a person the ability to follow the law of faith" (Swindal).

Non-Catholic (Protestant) Reformation

John Calvin and Martin Luther focused on their predecessors' thoughts that portrayed reason as being able to illuminate, and explain faith. Luther agreed with Aquinas' argument that science requires faith. As Willis points out, Luther agreed "that science could be rendered incomplete without the insights provided by faith and its theological commentary" (102). He further argues that faith is able to interpret phenomena, even when science and reason are silenced due to inadequacy of empirical facts and data (Wills 102). Martin Luther alluded to the "need for a faith that would speak to issues that existed beyond the reach of scientific inquiry" (Wills 102). On the other hand, Calvin is of the view that faith and reason are incompatible - because faith is divine; it is impossible for humans to understand it.

Gottfried Leibniz

French theologian Gottfried Leibniz, in…

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