Faith and Reason Irreconcilable Faith and Reason Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Faith and Reason Irreconcilable

Irreconcilable Faith and Reason

The challenge of reconciling reason to faith has been one that has dominated philosophy since thinking and oration became known as philosophy. The challenge is to address the idea that the thinking person can fundamentally believe that reason rules all production of truth and fact in combination with the fact that faith is not a sentiment of reason, i.e. one must simply believe that something (in the case of philosophy usually God) exists to define and defend faith. The challenge has been met by everyone from Augustine of Hippo during the medieval period of Western Philosophy to Friedrich Nietzsche, in modern times.[footnoteRef:1] This work will look at the varied arguments of the medieval philosophers in their attempt to reconcile faith with reason in an attempt to persuade the reader that no such reconciliation can be made, the concluding thesis being that regardless of the amount of thought and reason one puts into it faith cannot be reconciled with reason as reason dictates that one can see, touch, hear and conclude that something is as it is and faith dictates that one must begin with a universal, i.e. acceptance of that which one cannot see, touch, hear or reason into existence. Therefore this argument will be centered on the idea that reason and faith i.e. religion cannot coexist in a line of thought, regardless of the fact that they clearly coexist in the individual mind. [1: William T. Jones, 1969. A History of Western Philosophy: The Medieval Mind Volume II. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace & World. pgs. 196-197.]

The convention of the period demanded that individual philosophers who were ultimately the singular educators of the day demonstrate faith. They as a group were held to a standard, regardless of their official monastic positions, that demanded that God be a part not only of teaching but their philosophy. To do otherwise would risk not only position but death in some cases. The position of being an educator, with the primary and singular educational institution supported by the church, and its benefactors created a situation that demanded reconciliation of faith with reason, or at least the outward presentation of such. Challenging the existence of God was not only not acceptable those who did so at the least lost favor, lost their livelihoods, were banished from their homes and centers of education and at the very worst were put to death for heresy. The position of a philosopher was therefore a precarious one, hence the focus and favor for developing universals that accepted the standard bearer of the existence of god and warranted the reconciliation of faith to reason.[footnoteRef:2] The more empirical one began to be, with regard to faith and the existence of God the more likely one would be challenged and to some degree silenced. This is true of challenges that involved resurrections of classical philosophy, especially that of the Greeks and Romans in pre-Christian and early Christian periods as well as a whole host of other ideas.[footnoteRef:3] According to Wippel the challenges associated with this precarious position were universal and long lasting as the Bishop Stephen Tempier pronounces in Paris on March 1277 after denouncing a group of Arts faculty for testing the boundaries of the faith question through their teachings: [2: Edward Grant. God and Reason in the Middle Ages. Port Chester, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2001. p 100.] [3: Ibid. p. 100]

So as not to appear to be asserting what they thus insinuate, however, they conceal their answers in such a way that, while wishing to avoid Scylla, they fall into Charybdis. For they say that these things are true according to philosophy but not according to the Catholic Faith, as if there were two contrary truths, and as if the truth of Sacred Scripture is opposed to the truth in the sayings of the accursed pagans, of whom it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise.' (I Corinthians 1:19).[footnoteRef:4] [4: John F. Wippel, Mediaeval Reactions to the Encounter Between Faith and Reason. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1995. pgs. 1-2]

The philosophers of the day, not unlike Socrates, were given a fundamentally foundational challenge, to utilize the ideas of the past, as well as to reconcile faith to reason and failing to do so, i.e. contending that faith and reason cannot be reconciled as universals could result in challenges to ones very life depending almost entirely on how well connected, protected, favored and financed one was by both laity and church alike. Having said this it then must be made clear that the struggle the Medieval philosophers had to reconcile faith and reason was in part the struggle of a lifetime, and one that produced a forgone conclusion, reconcile the two or die trying.

Saint Augustine is probably the most well-known and well-studied of those who were given the task of reconciling faith and reason. In so doing Augustine demonstrates an evolution of thinking that became an enduring and foundational measure of the reconciliation. Augustine developed arguments on the existence of God that demanded faith not only as an aspect of scriptural knowledge, the reasoned attempt to reconcile empirical thought with the existence of God but that one must also base his or her belief on eternal truths i.e. universals that we as Christians must know and understand.[footnoteRef:5] St. Augustine's reconciliation of reason and faith is based on the idea that there is the empirical realm and there is a realm that is beyond this time and space and that God exists in that second realm that is not privy to us, until such time as we are perfected in his eyes, we must not only know and love God fully to see him there is great doubt that either is fully possible when we are of the physical. [5: Ibid. p. 3]

"For we walk by faith, not by sight." Now faith will totter if the authority of Scripture begin to shake. And then, if faith totter, love itself will grow cold. For if a man has fallen from faith, he must necessarily also fall from love? For he cannot love what he does not believe to exist. But if he both believes and loves, then through good works, and through diligent attention to the precepts of morality, he comes to hope also that he shall attain the object of his love. And so these are the three things to which all knowledge and all prophecy are subservient: faith, hope, love.[footnoteRef:6] [6: Augustine. n.d. On Christian Doctrine. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 26, 2012).]

Augustine also begins the enduring argument of thought that science in a physical world accepts the existence of things we cannot perceive and therefore it is not outside of reason to support that there are things of faith that we cannot yet perceive and to some extent we simply must just believe, i.e. have faith that they exist.[footnoteRef:7] The challenge of a modern thinker to this reconciliatory language and thought is that there are things in science and nature which cannot be seen simply because we do not yet have the tools to perceive them. There are countless examples in the history of the natural sciences that build upon this idea, from the relatively large, like the differentiated cells of the blood to the smallest matter now perceivable like a light photon. For a long time people knew there were things that existed which we could not see, they could scientifically predict their paths and the like but it was not until much later that these things began to be seen by people, with modern tools. This argument therefore does not support the existence of God and therefore once again leaves an irreconcilable state, that of reason and faith. Though Augustine stressed that one could achieve perfection, not likely in this realm but in another, and therefore see God through love and good works these are not "tools" that can be interjected into the science of reason. [7: Henry Chadwick. Augustine: A Very Short Introduction. Cambridge, GBR: Oxford University Press, 2001. p 43.]

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) bases his argument for the existence of god on the idea of a universal, i.e. that God exists not as a product of reason but because he defies reason, you cannot see, touch, hear or conclude that God exists one simply must believe based on the very fact that God cannot be conceived of that he exists. The argument is clearly an argument a priori rather than one based on the empirical. God exists simply because he defies conception and therefore we cannot deny his existence, we cannot conceive of his non-existence.[footnoteRef:8] Again the ontological argument falls out of favor when one asserts that reason and faith must coexist. Regardless of the propriety of such statements the reconciliation could only truly be a personal one. [8: Jones. pgs. 203-206.]

Peter Abelard served the important role of…

Sources Used in Document:


Augustine. n.d. On Christian Doctrine. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 26, 2012).

Chadwick, Henry. Augustine: A Very Short Introduction. Cambridge, GBR: Oxford University Press, 2001. p 43.

Cornwell, John (Editor); McGhee, Michael (Editor). Philosophers and God: At the Frontiers of Faith and Reason. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2009. p 46.

Grant, Edward. God and Reason in the Middle Ages. Port Chester, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Cite This Term Paper:

"Faith And Reason Irreconcilable Faith And Reason" (2012, April 26) Retrieved March 24, 2018, from

"Faith And Reason Irreconcilable Faith And Reason" 26 April 2012. Web.24 March. 2018. <>

"Faith And Reason Irreconcilable Faith And Reason", 26 April 2012, Accessed.24 March. 2018,