faith: continued from fideism and faith and reason threads of

John P. McKiness (
Wed, 2 Sep 1998 20:48:56 -0500

I have postponed responding to the following posts of late June to think
about them and respond appropriately, and to wait for an period of relative
calm on the list. I apologize for the length of this post but I believe it
is preferably to write one message instead of three on this subject.

After rereading my past posts and the following three reactions, I think I
may have found part of the problem (another problem for me now though is
that it is taking me into researching a topic I have put off for several

The problem is what is faith? How are we to define it?

We all appear to struggle with the "faith / science (or reason)" dichotomy.
While I believe most of us who have taken part in these discussions agree on
what "science" is, I am not sure we agree on what "faith" means. So far I
have checked several works on the topic, including the New Testament (not
much on faith in the Old but lots of examples) and some confessional
statements of several denominations and I am seeing many definitional
problems in the term.

Faith may mean a number of things, including:

1. an intellectual agreement with doctrinal statements or allegiance to an
organization, a leader, or a community;
2. obedience to a higher authority;
3. or a deep assurance of (or conviction of) the trustworthiness of
something or someone based on past experience or a deep personal
knowledge of the thing or person;
4. "a belief that isn't based on evidence, the principle vice of any
religion," (R. Dawkins);
5. "a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him" (The Catechism of
the Catholic Church);
6. "God's work in us . . . a living, bold trust in God's grace. . . (M.
Luther, An Intro. to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans).
7. ". . . the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things
not seen." Heb. 11:1 (NAB);

I may have been guilty of mixing meanings in my past posts, if so I apologize.

At this point I am not really ready to formally define what I mean by the
term, I am not sure I know anymore myself, but I am interested in hearing
from others as to what they mean when they use the term.

For now I'll say that I believe true faith is God given, through His
Spirit's activity within us, because of His grace; that when properly based
on Christ, it leads us to salvation and life with Christ even here in this
reality; and that faith grows as we put it into practice. Good works and
obedience to God can only occur when true faith is present.

But we also have faith in our abilities whenever we practice our human
activities. The scientist, historian, theologian, welder, farmer, bus
driver, or whatever, all practice faith in their craft, in colleagues, and
in the nature of the cosmos. However, if we place our faith in our
abilities above our faith in God, the sin of humanism, we commit idolatry.
This includes when we are trying to reconcile our faith in God with our
faith in reason.

Faith contains the components of trust and belief but goes beyond them and
is part of our "personal knowledge." It may not be reasonable or provable
but it controls what we accept as reasonable and sets the standard for
proof. Which is the main reason why it is impossible to convince a YEC that
evolution is a scientific fact, or John Lennon that Christianity will last
longer than rock and roll, or R. Dawkins that religion has anything of
importance to say to modern man. Our faith is our final basis for decision
making and action, and it will be what our judgement in the end is based on.

In light of the above I will proceed to answer three previous responses to
my posts.

At 09:27 PM 6/27/98 -0500, Glenn R. Morton wrote:
>At 09:05 PM 6/27/98 -0500, John P. McKiness wrote:
>> I have stressed over and over again that human reasoning is not up to the
>>task of leading us to God.
>That may be true, but human reasoning is quite capable of leading us away
>from God especially when we have no answers for those among us who are
>curious about science. Many of my atheist freinds left Christianity
>because they don't believe it is true because the data falsifies what
>Christians teach about science and creation. For us to tell them simply to
>believe, leaves them no answers at all for their questions.
[snipped signature]


Yes, I agree human reason leads us away from Christ, however it never leads
to Him because it puts us in the position of self proclaimed power over God.
We are the ones who pick and accept the _a priori_ assumptions, we are the
ones who create the rules of logic (or corrupt God's gifts) and discussion,
we are the ones who judge the consistency of the argumentation, etc. What
else besides death should we expect as the results of our reasoning if we
start with the basic concept of Christianity concerning the sinfulness of
humankind. Considering where the first recorded philosophical discussion
(concerning eating fruit from a certain tree) led us, I am reluctant to put
much trust in human reason when dealing with issues of Christian faith.

I am sorry for your "atheist" friends, but I would suggest that the
"ultimate" of their original faith was something less than the "ultimate" of
God through Jesus Christ and that because of an improper understanding of
"the faith" they ran into problems. I also have friends who have "left" the
faith, but I do not blame anyone or anything besides them, they choose the
less then "ultimate" and now blame God. Consider the parable of the sower
(Luke 8: 4-15), what were your friends "soil conditions" when they made
their decisions? were they prepared? were they serious about Christ? Most
of my friends who have "fallen" away were doing their duty at best, and
nothing more than required, when they went the way of the world; the others,
I believe, became disillusioned when problems entered their lives and God
didn't answer prayer quick enough or to their satisfaction, or in three
cases they were told, by a Sunday school teacher (or preacher) as children
that they were of the nonelected.

Our churches also share some of the blame for insufficient disciplining of
their members and cheapening God's grace. Why is it that the typical
christian can watch stupid sitcoms, splatter movies, and sports for hours
but complains about an hour church service with a 15 minute message?
Priorities in the church are screwed up and it doesn't have anything to do
with science methodology or facts. No wonder our children are looking for
something better and real. We would do much better by our kids if we would
admit that we do not understand how God created and teach more about the
dynamics of faith and our position before God.

As a Lutheran, following Luther example, I can comfortably admit that I do
not know how everything fits together, but I trust God when He says that He
created me and everything else and that He caused a flood when there is no
geological evidence for it. Faith in God must come first and Christ is the
measure of everything, including reason. In this case faith is beyond
reason and probability, Christ is the judge of all things human and man is
not to be the judge of the rationality of God.

Please read carefully, the following is based on my reading of your posts of
the past, I admit (and I hope) that I may be wrong.

I would suggest reading Paul Tillich's _Dynamics of Faith_ to come to a
better understanding faith. I would also suggest that you, my friend, look
deep to find your "ultimate." From my perspective it is your reasoning
ability and desire to reconciling christian faith statements and science (I
was there once myself). Things of man are not reconcilable with the things
of God. Only the stripped down basic human is reconcilable with God and
then only through Christ.

The reason I keep coming back at you with my comments is because I believe
you are only going to get yourself in a faith crises again when you realize
how empty you "scientific" model is as science. It also is a faith
statement not based in fact but in something else. You hide all evidence of
the flood under the Mediterranean Sea, there is no scientific evidence that
that is where it occurred even though there is evidence that catastrophic
flooding occurred there. You have it during a time period when there is no
scientific evidence of "humans" or anything else capable of building a canoe
let alone an ark. You demand that we treat Genesis as history (as a modern
would define the term) and yet you ignore the fact that by your definition
of the flood, the waters cannot recede in one century let alone one year
(yet that is what the Genesis account, your history book, says). And I am
supposed to accept your model as creditable science and biblical
scholarship. Sorry I can't, the dichotomy sticks, you haven't bridged the
gap, but you are appealing to a god of the gaps yourself and you express a
faith in your reasoning and you idea as your ultimate. :-(

Also under the subject of Re: fideism

George Murphy wrote on Sun, 28 Jun 1998 12:07:04 -0400:

>John P. McKiness wrote:

>> Fideism in my dictionary (_The American Heritage dic tion ary_, Third Ed.,
> >1993) is: "Reliance on faith alone rather than scientific reasoning or
>> philosophy in questions of religion." I see no problem with that, that
> >appears to be what Christian faith is all about.

>We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. In order to
>understand the implications of that, we make use of linguistic studies,
>history, science, philosophy, &c. If it were all a matter f faith
>alone, faith by itself would enable us to know Hebrew and the geography
>of Palestine. It doesn't. The task of Christian theology is _fides
>quarens intellectum_, faith in search of understanding.
[snipped signature]


Yes I agree with you that we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ
alone (I believe this is what you meant above). And I also understand the
need (I would say the human need) to go farther in our studies to humanly
understand Scripture. However we also need to recognize here that Christian
theology, religion, logic, science, etc. are human creations which attempt
to understand the mysteries; God may have created us with the special
ability to reason but we have corrupted it. It is the Spirit which brings
true understanding and knowing Hebrew and Palestinian geography are not
necessary for salvation, faith in Christ is.

God may and does enter into our studies when asked and via His Spirit does
use our traditions and current knowledge with Scripture to reveal Himself
and our position before Him but I also see no evidence that God is
interested in giving us anything other than what is required at the moment,
in fact (I believe) the evidence suggests that he may hinder us in our
understanding and even confuse us and thereby contain our damage as much as
possible while allowing us freedom to be and to rebel.

I do not deny that human reason (science, theology, etc.) are powerfully and
are necessary for living in this world, especially since God gave us the
ability and the command to use our abilities to help those in need and also
to "manage" part of His creation. What I do reject though is that we can
reason our way to faith. Our Christian faith is God given and it must be
the core of our being. We can do science as Christians even though we
cannot expect it to confirm our faith, we can praise God for the
approximation of creation our science reveals and use that knowledge in
praise to Him and for the good of our neighbors.

But faith can also be falsely placed on non-ultimate things instead of on
the ultimate (which is God) and therefore when misplaced it can lead us
astray. This, I believe, is the real problem between faith and science: we
try to make them equal, but they are never equal. Science may be a person's
"ultimate" as may nature, nation, wealth, security, etc, but then it takes
the place of God.

Faith therefore is not comparable to science, only the ultimate of a
person's faith can be compared to science or a person's faith in science as
an ultimate can be compared to another's faith in some other ultimate: God,
the environment, Wall Street, the easter bunny, whatever. It is the
Spirit's job to lead us to recognize the true ultimate from nonultimates,
and we as Christians have the duty to point out the difference to each other
and to nonChristians. True Faith can only grow and be nourished in the City
of God; human knowledge can only lead to death.

I have no use for natural theology, for even though God's creation contains
the evidence of His handiwork and we are all accountable (as in Romans 1:
19&20), our corrupted state prevents us from seeing it. But I do recognize
the internal need that we all have for "the other", or "the ultimate" which
can be fill with God or partially filled by other things.

Under the subject of faith+reason

Paul Arveson wrote on Mon, 29 Jun 1998 16:49:09 -0400:

>I appreciate all the responses on this subject. John, a general dictionary
>is inadequate to bring out the distinction between technical terms. That's
>why I referred you to 'Classical Apologetics', a theological book.
>'Fideism' is not the same thing as 'Christian faith'. 'Fideism' is more
>like 'faith in faith', i.e. faith separated and excluded from any rational
>arguments. Fideism rejects any arguments in its defense, because that would
>give credence to reason, rather than faith alone, and reason is corrupt and


Maybe the problem is that you have set the standard in terms of definitions
and you decide how you are going to label someone in order to seek out their
heresy. Please for once throw out you preconceived idea of what I am saying
and read carefully what I am actually saying.

The definition I gave _is_ the general definition which I have found not
only in a general college dictionary but also in all the technical
discussions I have found of it. There are variations and degrees of
"fideism," if your theological book (which is not available to me in Iowa
City nor can I afford to buy a book I am not interested in) does not have
the general definition, it _is_ defective. By the general definition I gave
earlier I accept your label, by your definition I do not.

>It is hard to be a consistent fideist. In fact, John, all of your responses
>in defense of your position are rational arguments, not merely repetitions of
>your faith claims.

By your definition that is true but by the general definition that is not
necessarily true. We can recognize the source of our rational arguments and
acknowledge their deficiencies without throwing out communication and
seeking of human truth (which we need in order to function as humans and
Christians in this cosmos where God has not revealed everything).

>George points out that it is probably impossible to separate Biblical faith
>from human culture. God could have revealed Himself in another way, but He
>chose to give us the Bible -- a book embedded in history and human
>languages. Peter quotes Scriptures that link faith and reason. Jonathan
>is sympathetic with all the positions stated.

It may be impossible to separate Biblical faith from human culture but I do
not see that in George's post above. Christian faith to me may be different
from "Biblical faith" in that in Biblical faith, faith may be misplaced in
the Bible instead of in God. Christ is the ultimate of Christian faith to
me not the Bible. The Bible is the testimony of Christ (The Word of God
made flesh), it is an instrument to guide us by the Spirit's activity to
faith but it itself is not _the_ (or _an_) object of my faith even though it
is a tool I trust .

As I read Peter's first post on the subject, he misused Scripture and did
not link faith and reason by my understanding of Scripture, hence my
responses to his post. When I read part of his second reply I realized that
my response was lost on him as communication between us is not possible, he
has another agenda and no interest in learning what my position is. I hope
my response here is not lost to you also.

>This ancient debate is a classic example of a 2-dimensional logical constuct
>which I call a diameme or dialogic; there are many others that cause chronic
>problems in philosophy, theology, etc. I updated the one on faith and reason;
>I would appreciate your comments on it. You can see it at

>Regards to all,

[snipped signature]

Maybe the reason for the "chronic problems in philosophy . . ." (and
theology and every other human endeavor) should point out the fallibility
of placing one's faith in the things of man and also in believing in the
possibility of reconciling the things of humans with the things of God (the
essence of the dichotomy).

To all,

The problem as I see it is that by continually placing faith in our reason
we continually try to reconcile our "Christian faith statements" with "human
reason statements" (aka science, theology, logic, a less than God god,
etc.). In doing this we are continually on the run finding new gaps to
slide God into, to busy playing word games with Scripture, to willing to
throw out God because science doesn't provide reasonable evidence to back
Scripture. A living faith is not destroyed by discovering that Christ is
beyond human reason or that a sovereign God will not stop the suffering or
death of a loved one. Remember evolution or geology was not what lead C.
Darwin to renounce his faith (here used as agreement with doctrinal
statements, I am not sure he had any other type of Christian faith) but it
was the death of a daughter and his god was too petty to be worth anything
to him (in one of his letters,).

The dichotomy continues, the gap between God and man can only be bridged by
Christ. I have faith that God created me and everything else, that He
caused a flood to occur which destroyed all but Noah and his family and the
creatures on the ark with him, that He brought about a history that lead to
my salvation in Christ. There is no evidence for any of these things except
Scripture and the Spirit within me, I cannot understand why but I must
finally leave the whys to God. I can continue doing science and expect that
science and human wisdom arrives at reasonable approximations of reality in
order that we may better understand creation's past history and better
manage creation to provide for the needs of all, and to better appreciate
our God and each other.

I can praise God for the ability to observe His creation and I can thank Him
for giving me the ability to see His handiwork in it through faith; but I
cannot scientifically come to Him, I can only illogically come to Him (the
"hidden God") in the faith in Christ He provides. A Christian's faith in
science must never replace his/her faith in God which is what I see
happening in all attempts to reconcile Christian faith and science. The
person who demands scientific evidence or fact to prove Scripture, places
human reason above and in judgement of God, there is only one possible outcome.

This will be my last words on the subject, I must get on to other things in
my life including a dissertation. So I leave the last word you all.