Reasons to Believe

The Life of the Mind, Part 3 (of 3)

A skeptic recently contended that Christians could never genuinely value and utilize logic and critical thinking because their faith prohibits them from basing their beliefs on rational considerations. Therefore, logic and critical thinking are at odds with the Christian conception of faith (particularly the believer’s acceptance of the Bible as a divine revelation). What follows is part of my response to that skeptic’s bold claim.

For centuries, Christianity’s greatest philosophers and theologians have argued that faith and reason are indeed compatible with each other (e.g., Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Bonaventure). These same world-class thinkers have argued that it is actually atheism and skepticism that cannot be rationally justified. I respectfully challenge you to read some of the writings of Christianity’s greatest scholars on this topic before you declare that the historic Christian faith is incompatible with reason and logic.

I also respectfully ask you to consider the following five points about the Christian faith and its relationship to reason:

  1. Important intellectual virtues such as discernment, reflection, testing, and intellectual renewal are biblical mandates (Acts 17:11; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 14:9; Colossians 2:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:21).
  2. Christian logicians have been responsible for many of the advancements in the study of logic (e.g., Peter Abelard [1079-1142], William of Ockham [1285-1349], and Gottfried Leibniz [1646-1716]). Isn’t it interesting that William of Ockham never considered his logical razor to be inconsistent with his Christian faith?

  3. The New Testament calls Jesus Christ the “Logos” (Gk. “word,” or “reason,” or “logic,” John 1:1) and Christian scholars through the centuries have argued that the laws of logic are God’s good gifts to mankind. Therefore, the consensus of Christian history sees no conflict between faith and logic (they are compatible and complementary, not contradictory).

  4. Christians believe that human beings are capable of such cognitive practices as logic and critical thinking because their cognitive faculties and sensory organs were created by a perfectly rational God (imago Dei: Genesis 1:26-27). In other words, a rational mind stands behind and grounds human cognitive functions. The effect (human rationality) has a sufficient cause (a perfectly rational mind).

  5. How do atheists rationally justify such enterprises as logic, mathematics, and induction when they assert that their brains and sensory organs are the accidental, chance product of a mechanism (evolution) that itself lacks reason, personhood, and purpose? In other words, do naturalists have a reason to trust their reasoning when a nonrational source stands behind their evolved cognitive faculties? Did logic and reason come from a source that lacked these faculties?

Some churches today may unfortunately reflect an unhealthy anti-intellectualism, but historic Christianity overall has viewed reason as one of God’s special gifts to humankind.

For more on how Christians can develop healthy habits of the mind, see Kenneth Samples’ new book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007).

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Subjects: Learning

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.