Term Paper: Miracles: When Faith Contradicts Reason

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[. . .] He further argues that faith never contradicts the first form of truth and hence no doctrine of faith is self-conflicting. However, it may be impossible for human reason to exhaustively comprehend, and explain it. Leibniz acknowledges that reason has three fundamental functions: to prove, respond to objections, and comprehend (Swindal). He is of the opinion that, of the three functions, the second is the most prominent, in the reason vs. faith debate.

Blaise Pascal

Blaise concentrated on the manner in which rational agents should act, amidst the raging controversy between faith, and reason. In his opinion, "since the negative consequences of believing are few (diminution of the passions, some pious actions), but the gain of believing is infinite (eternal life)" (Swindal), rationality would call for agents to believe, rather that discredit, the doctrines of faith.

John Locke held the opinion that faith should be in line with human reason. In his argument, there are two revelations of faith: traditional and original. The aspects of the original can never contradict reason. The second, however, highly depends on reason. Human beliefs should, therefore, be guided by reason, intellect, and senses.

David Hume, on the other hand, was of the opinion that experience should be the only guide to human beliefs. Therefore, the doctrines of faith cannot only be argued "on the basis, either of natural theology or the evidence of miracles" (Swindal).

The 19th Century

In the nineteenth century, the reason vs. faith controversy continued to develop in a number of directions, as will be discussed in this section.

The Romantic View

The concept of fideism during this period is clearly brought out by Friedrich Schleiermacher. He is of the opinion that religion and science are completely distinct domains. The two are incompatible. Therefore, neither of them can be used to explain the other (Swindal).

The Socialists Thought

Karl Marx strongly criticized religion, and its beliefs. Marx completely disputed the Christian beliefs that human suffering was a form of God's divine punishment, for sin. In his view, human suffering is solely brought about by economic difficulties, and can be eliminated if people embrace communism (Kirk 145). He argues that technological advancement, coupled with specialization "will produce a qualitatively different kind of society" (Kirk 145). Religion, in his opinion, made people dormant, and was therefore, an obstacle to communism, and social development (Kirk 145).


Soren Kierkegaard developed an unequivocal perception of reason, and faith. In his view, risk is a component of faith. Therefore, the latter is never a matter of certainty. The idea of insecurity, brought about by the extent of risk in faith, is necessary in the formation of human beliefs. This forms the basis of the "famous concept of the leap of faith" (Kirk 78). Faith should, in his view, be guided by intellect.

The Pragmatic View

Pragmatic philosophers were of the opinion that religious beliefs need to be subjected to empirical tests (Swindal). As the author further points out, those beliefs that are proven to be in conflict with empirical knowledge should, then, be done away with.

The 20th Century

Charles Darwin's 'survival for the fittest' principle took center stage in the faith vs. reason controversy during this period. This was the century that "witnessed numerous attempts to reconcile religious beliefs with new strands of philosophical thinking and with new theories in science" (Swindal).

The Positivism of Logic

As Swindal points out, Antony Flew argued that the holders of religious beliefs are usually not in a position to state the various conditions that would push them to discard those beliefs. These faith beliefs can, hence, not be falsified. In his opinion, these faith elements are simply beyond rational experimentation.

Religious philosopher Basil Mitchell deemed it fit to respond to Flew's argument. Mitchell held the opinion that rational consideration could be one of the reasons why people would change their religious thoughts. However, "no one can give a general determination of exactly at what point a set of evidence ought to count decisively against a faith claim" (Swindal). Ludwig Wittgenstein and John Hick also criticized the thought of positivity of logic in religion. They contend that religious faith does not result from human reason, but rather, from an individual's life experiences.

Theology in Philosophy

Karl Berth and Karl Rahner held that doctrines of faith relate to divinity, and should be spared from rational tests and scrutiny. The two emphasized that it was only through understanding culture that people would get to understand the elements of Christian faith (Swindal).


Paul Tillich and Steven Cahn related Christian beliefs, and doctrines of faith, to individual experiences. They argued that most religious believers have little or no concern for rationality in what they choose to believe. Faith and reason are of completely different domains, and have no inter-dependence whatsoever.

Like I mentioned earlier on in this section, Charles Darwin's natural selection principle had massive impact on both religion, and philosophy. Richard Dawkins, for instance, uses this principle to explain his concept of incompatibility between faith and reason. In his view, religious believers will always believe that God created, and ruled over the world. Science, on the other hand does not believe in the thought that God simply created the world 'out of nothing'. Dawkins held that the two are completely incompatible.


The controversy between faith and reason has continued to develop, from the classical period through the twenty first century. It is evident that recent developments have seen theologians and philosophers contend that the two are relatively incompatible. My opinion is that faith and reason should both be used in their individual domains. This implies that questions "are resolved on the side of faith when the claim in question is, say, a religious or theological claim, but on the side of reason when the disputed claim is, for example, empirical or logical" (Swindal). The question of the rationality of miracles should, therefore, be resolved such that those who prioritize faith are left to believe, and those who prioritize reason are left to discard the belief altogether. This would ensure that neither faith nor reason invades into the domain of the other.


Dougherty, Jude P. "Wretched Aristotle." On Wings of Faith and Reason: The Christian Difference in culture and Science. Ed. Craig Steven Titus. Washington: CUA Press, 2008. 56-67. Print.

Gilman, James. Faith, Reason and Compassion: A Philosophy of the Christian Faith. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. Print.

Guisepi, Robert. An Analysis of the Grounds of, and Concepts Expressing

Fundamental Beliefs. World History Center. Web.

Hoitenga, Dewey J. Faith and Reason from Plato to Plantinga: An Introduction to Reformed Epistemology. Albany, NY: SUNY Pres, 1991. Print.

Kirk, Andrew J. The Future of Reason, Science and Faith: Following Modernity and Post-Modernity. Burlington: Ashgate, 2007. Print.

Madigan, Timothy J. "Paul Edwards: a Rationalist Critique of Kierkegaard's Theory of Truth." Kierkegaard's Influence on Philosophy; Tome III: Anglophone Philosophy. Ed. Jon Bartley Stewart. Burlington: Ashgate, 2012. 71-86. Print.

Nash, Ronald. Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith. Michigan: Zondervan, 1994. Print.

Perry, Marvin. Western Civilization: A Brief History. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.

Smith, Bruce, A. The Path of Reason: A Philosophy of Nonbelief. Mason, OH: Algora Publishing, 2008. Print.

Swindal, James. "The Encyclopedia of Philosophy -- Faith and Reason." Duquesne University Library. Duquesne University, 2001. Web. 28 April 2001


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