Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Is Belief In God A Matter of Faith or Reason

The question of faith versus reason as a basis for belief in God is a controversy in philosophy that seemingly has little hope of attaining consensus any time soon. However, that does not mean that there is no solution, nor does it mean that the solution is not clear. Like everything else in philosophical discussions, it comes down to presuppositions and worldviews. The answer to this question is driven by the philosopher’s basic commitments.

Space does not permit me to define and treat each of the five subjects in the question above. However, I think it is best to narrow the scope of this subject, focusing it on biblical faith in the God that actually exists within Christian theism. This helps us center the question on belief in the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture. Hence, my answer to the question above is a very specific answer. After all, it is impossible to provide an answer to this question unless we understand something about the God that is the subject of our question.

The question of belief is an epistemological question. Therefore, in order to speak to that question, we must speak to the kind of knowledge we are talking about when we talk about human knowledge of, or, belief in God. Reformed theology within Christian theism distinguishes between the cognitio insita, which is the knowledge of God implanted in every human and the cognitio acquisita, which is acquired knowledge of God.

Concerning our cognition insita, Scripture speaks to us with amazing clarity:         
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”[1]

There is no indication that Paul believed that man’s belief or knowledge of God was based on human reason. There is no reason for us to suppose that men arrive at the knowledge of God’s existence, or at belief that God is, by way of rational argumentation. Nothing like this is implied in Scripture either by way of didactic literature or in the narrative. According to Christian theism, the knowledge of God is present within humanity from the beginning. Belief that God exists is present from the very start of the reasoning process itself. It is not as if reason is antecedent to God in the human mind. In other words, men do not arrive at their ability to reason and sometime after that come to their knowledge that God is. Actually, it is quit the opposite. God is the necessary precondition of all human prediction. The truth is that the knowledge of God is so impressed upon the mind of man that no reasoning process exists that could deny knowledge of God in any rationally compelling way. This is precisely Paul’s meaning when he says that men are without a defense for their claim that the God of Christian theism does not exist. Such a bold claim is rationally indefensible.

            Concerning the incognitio acquisita, the unbelieving mind is unwilling and incapable of acquiring true knowledge of God. Paul informs us that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. The reasoning process of the unregenerate man is such that he will always pervert and twist the truth of God he has. The noetic effect of sin on human rationality is a direct product of the curse of God. For this reason, man’s belief in God is either based on faith or on the inescapable knowledge of God give through natural revelation. Man, being created in the image of God inescapably and unavoidably knows God. However, the sinful nature of the human mind always interprets knowledge of God in a rebellious and autonomous fashion. Man, created in God’s image seeks to return the favor and re-create God into man’s image. Rather than man seeking to be like God, we seek to make God like man.

We see then that belief in God for the unbeliever and the believer alike does not come through human reason even though belief in God is not at all unreasonable. Rather, belief in God for the unbeliever is based on the image of God within the human person and is therefore included in natural revelation. This belief or knowledge of God is inescapable. On the other hand, the Christian belief in God comes as a direct result of the work of the Holy Spirit through special revelation. It follows then that all belief in God is the result of divine revelation. If man is to know God, and surely he does, it is because God has disclosed Himself to man in a way that is undeniable and inescapable.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 1:18–21.


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