Faith Seeks Understanding

Updated Jun 20, 2011
Faith Seeks Understanding

This article originally appeared at the Washington Post's On Faith page. Click here to read the continuing conversation.

Some atheists and agnostics are coming to Washington and urging America to be more reasonable. I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from commending reason to our government leaders, but we are unlucky in our messengers.

For these "new" atheists to preach sweet reason is like listening to Elmer Gantry teach chastity: the idea is sound, the delivery is inspiring, but the messenger undercuts the message. The problem isn't that he thinks he is right, but his unjustified certainty in his conclusions combined with his hypocritical behavior.

One blessing of the Internet is the ability to read the message boards of some of these self-appointed evangelists of reason. There we find the same insider jargon, hatred, tribalism, irrationality, and in-fighting that mars every human endeavor. There is precious little intellectual charity even with each other. The only thing on which they agree is their hatred of Christianity and surety that they are reason's remnant: logic's chosen people.

The problem is not atheism, but delusions of grandeur. Reasonable people don't think they are the only reasonable people.


Reason, like a hammer, can be used to build a great many philosophical structures. A man does the best he can with reason and then he sees how it works out. If it seems to work, he can advocate for others to try what he has found, reasonably, but he is always open to being wrong.

Part of the fun of being reasonable is wondering about being wrong!

Of course, the tools of reason can be misused by the ideologue: the man who knows things about which the rest of us wonder. The ideologue always see his opponents as knaves, ill-informed, or crazy . . . or all three. Such a person is so certain of his beliefs that he can never credit his opponents with a good argument.

Not everybody who says in his heart "there is no God" is a fool, but everybody who says in his heart "we have a corner on reason" is a fool: including Christians. All God's children should be reasonable, including His children who deny they are His children.

Reason is the best process people have found to reach the truth and it has many prospective tools to give it data. These tools might include: personal experience, logic, math, the scientific methods, divine revelation, and skepticism.

The goal is to get enough data to form a best idea, a working hypothesis, about reality. This hypothesis becomes the receptacle for our hopes and in Christian language is called faith. Faith comes at the end of a reasonable search for the truth, but it does not end the search. It is a provisional understanding of our experiences and data.

Faith goes on seeking further understanding.

We want to know, because we are driven by love of the truth.

Christians have had an experience of a Being so intensely good, true, and beautiful that it drives us to know Him. We know we may be fooled and that our experience may be false, but still we must know. Love demands it!

Such faith is open to revision, clarification, and even refutation. In a sense, faith for the Christian is what the hypothesis is to the scientist. Christian doctrines are to the Christian what the laws of the cosmos are to the scientist.

We can proclaim our ideas, even boldly. The problem with the atheists coming to Washington isn't that they argue for their ideas or think they are right, but their constant and cussed refusal to listen or learn from anyone else.

As a Christian, I think you should be a Christian too. Christianity explains why things are as they are and what can be done about it.  Christianity has been the basis for the development of much that is good in Western civilization.

Most of all it brings me to Jesus and there is nothing more good, true, or beautiful in all my experience than seeing Jesus.

Unless I am wrong.

Love of truth always demands I wonder and wondering leads me to friends who disagree with me. Some have taught me things so profound and precious that my debt to them is incalculable. They have given me great gifts of teaching, knowledge, and virtue. These gifts proves bold advocacy provokes dialog. Dialog enriches our lives if we will admit that part of faith is room for wonder.

Because of our numbers, Christians have the greatest responsibility to live up to our teachings. If Christians pursue a faith seeking understanding, Americans would not have more religion in politics, but we would have more reason in our religious politicians.

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily, where this article originally appeared. 


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