Some of the best conversations I have ever had have been shared over a pint in one of Grand Rapids’ many pubs. Recently I had the occasion to share one again and it was no exception. I was speaking with a German friend of mine who is also a philosopher and the topic turned away from graduate school plans and pleasantries to theology, a place I was not expecting to go. I must admit I was a bit reluctant to speak on the topic as this particular person is a highly accomplished philosopher, friend, mentor to myself for several years, and an atheist. I was reminded of several things during the conversation, one of them being a healthy reminder that one will not lose a friendship over one conversation even if both sides are diametrically opposed. The other was another healthy reminder that, in philosophy, we are not out to “get” the other person but rather are honing each others’ skills and beliefs by forcing thought-out positions. I must admit that I was given a good working over and that it is difficult to disagree with this person, but at the end of our Octoberfest drafts (straight from Germany mind you) there was increased understanding on both sides and, I hope, a good challenge to established thought on both sides.
One of his concerns was the relationship between faith and reason. Am I, in professing Theism, simply holding a faith in opposition to reason? Of course, with such a question there are inevitable distinctions (as there should be!). My response was to ask what is faith and what is reason, and why are they distinct. It seemed to me, and also afterward as I reflected on our conversation, that I do not want faith and reason to be as separate as many make it. I do not wish to attempt a discursus on that subject here. What was more interesting I think was the question of when should one rely on faith or reason, and when should one give up faith in response to reason (or, presumably, vice-versa). My explanation was something along the lines of the following. Even in matters strictly philosophical or scientific there is a place for faith that is every bit as prominent as that in matters religious. One must hold onto a belief, believed to be true or at least valid, until sufficient evidence (and there are various kinds of evidence, I do not mean simply and naively empirical evidence) gives reason to change ones’ mind. It seems to me that there is near universal agreement on this. Nevertheless, there seems to be a problem with some Atheists as to why the religious tend to hold onto religious beliefs as a matter of faith. Is it not obvious? At the risk of a tu quoque, they do as well. A religious belief held on the grounds of faith is a belief that one has good reason to hold yet not so overwhelmingly that it is a matter of apriori knowledge (or something along those lines). YET, it would be irrational to give up the belief, and hence also the faith, without sufficient reason to do so. I will not give up my belief that 2+2=4 without a great deal of evidence, both empirical and logical. Well, it is the same with faith and religion. Now, my friend seemed to assume that having doubts about one’s faith is a sufficient reason but I wonder about that. I doubt many things but I do not thereby give up my belief. And it is certainly a simple matter to entertain doubts yet nevertheless retain beliefs and hence a faith as well. I doubt that I will ever know all there is to know about the moon, but I don’t stop believing that the moon exists (although, granted, this is a slight dis-analogy since I can see the moon). Perhaps black-holes are a better example. The point, regardless, is this: it would be irrational for a religious person to give up their faith simply because they have doubts. A doubt in itself is not an answer; it is not proscriptive, it is simply and merely descriptive of one’s mental emotional state. So why do we judge our beliefs on the basis of our mental emotional states? Really, such a thing would seem absurd. Sure, it would be nice to find something of which I have little or no doubts, but try finding something of substance and import where such is the case and I will be highly surprised. So, faith and reason are not opposed but rather hang together. As Augustine (and others before him) said: I believe so that I might understand. The Atheist is no different and it is no knock against the theist if he holds beliefs and faith despite the fact that he/she does not know all the details and hence has the opportunity to doubt. If there is any rationality in the cosmos, and I am loath to say that there is not, then it is rational to act religiously.
What is the point of all this? Two-fold: first, to say that there are several spectacular beers at the Hopcat, and second that I cannot defend the Christian faith strictly on philosophical grounds. To do so would be to commit an injustice against both philosophy and faith. I have a tendency to try to see everything in terms of logical connections; but not all matters fall into neat logical connections (although, as I pointed out to my friend, much of theology in fact does). So, good brews and healthy reminders.