Before and after the rise of Christianity, philosophers depended largely on developing axioms and using them to draw conclusions about the world. Before Christianity, the axioms were typically based on what was apparent to human reason. After Christianity became widespread, thinkers had to contend with a new source of knowledge- one based on faith rather than on what appeared self-evident to the human mind.
Early Christians justified their dependence on faith in different ways. Some embraced fideism and favored faith even without or over reason. Others engaged and melded their new traditions with older ones. Thomas Aquinas describes and responds to several challenges of Christianity. Aquinas asserts that the study of God as revealed in Christianity, which he calls Sacred Doctrine, is a science which begins with divine revelations as axioms and uses human reason to build a meaningful body of information concerning who God is and how humans should behave.
Aquinas goes on to answer that challenge that, if philosophy based on Christianity is a science, it is a lesser science because it is less certain of its conclusions, having accepted them on faith. Aquinas responds to this argument in two parts. First, he argues that God’s revelation is more certain then what seems self-evident to humans because God, unlike humans, is omniscient. The only reason it seems less certain is because fully comprehending God’s level of certainty is beyond human abilities.
Aquinas’s second response is that Sacred Doctrine deals with more important subject matter then other sciences and is therefore more important. All other sciences, he argues, indirectly seek the same goal, eternal blessedness, that sacred doctrine seeks directly. It is worth nothing that, in Aquinas’s response, he does not respond to the challenges by rejecting philosophical tradition. Indeed, much of his response draws upon the style and ideas of Aristotle. Aquinas instead embraces the paradigm of forming well-reasoned ideas from indemonstrable axioms as he seeks primarily to support the validity of Christianity’s axioms.
Christianity and philosophical tradition found themselves freshly and mutually challenged during the scientific revolution. Human reason was rapidly leading to new discovers and conclusions about the natural world. Some of these new conclusions contradicted the views and teachings of Christianity. These conflicts led some to conclude that science and religion were not completely compatible. Descartes, a scientist during this time, set out to show that the two subjects were not only compatible,...