Entering the ancient discussion about the tension between faith and reason is not an easy task. Of course, when engaging in tensions it is always important to define terms. For the sake of consistency I will refer to Oxford’s online dictionary for both the definition of faith, as well as reason. Faith is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” Reason is “a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.” These are the definitions that will be used throughout this paper. From the above definitions, the conclusion that is logically deduced is that reason precedes faith.
The common conception seems to be that faith can be unreasonable. Therefore, faith cannot precede reason. It is important to make a distinction between the concept of “unreasonable,” and the concept of “without reason.” Unreasonable means “not guided by or based on good sense.” Considering a previous definition, “without reason” would be without an explanation or justification. Whereas “unreasonable” implies explanations or justifications, however, the quality of these reasons will be poor.
If one holds to the above definition for reason, then one will be inclined to agree that reason must precede faith. Allow an illustration. Laura is sitting on a chair. Micah asks Laura if she believes that the chair will support her. Laura exclaims, “Of course it will!” “But how do you really know?” asks Micah. “Every chair I have sat in has supported my weight and I have no reason to believe this time will be any different.” Laura states. It is obvious that Laura’s faith in the chair was preceded by either conscious or subconscious reason. Further evidence is found in further reason. The original philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, both believed that religious faith was found in the reflections of that which is reasoned. These philosophers should always be consulted when formulating a philosophical opinion. Both of these men are the foundation for all serious philosophy has succeeded them. From these men it can at minimum be deduced that faith is not a prerequisite to reason.
Neglecting to mention Thomas Aquinas would be criminal. He is a philosophical theologian who discussed this issue in quite a bit of length. Aquinas believed that even though faith could obtain truth that was beyond reason, one could still achieve incomplete truths using reason devoid of faith. Though this is more towards a companionable view of faith and reason, there is still an implication of having to start with reason.
Aquinas also believed that one’s faith could assist one’s reason. However, this faith could not be conceived outside of an explanation (reason), therefore, reason preceding faith is what assists reason. In other words, faith understood as complete confidence helps reason inasmuch as reason eventually assists itself.
A forerunner to Aquinas was a fellow by the name Peter Lombard. He taught that the unbeliever could know truth through the gift of reason, even...