Sense of Life. Articles in English. The Rational Basis of Faith.
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The Rational Basis of Faith

We often hear it said that reason is opposed to faith. Non-believers often attribute the rejection of God to the use of rational thought. But in reality, to reject God means having to reject or ignore irrefutable facts; and such a position is in no way rational or reasonable.

I am an engineer by training. Scientific research and teaching are my bread and butter. My faith does not hinder me in my scientific work, although there are those who would doubt that faith and reason can be reconciled. Many people seem to see Christianity as a collection of irrational dogmas that are to be accepted without reflection, blindly, without resort to reason or common sense. I do not think that this is so, for in the Bible at least–the primary document of Christian belief–I have been unable to find any grounds for such a conviction. Quite the contrary. Holy Scripture is fraught with passages urging the reader to examine the facts, to analyze them with the aid of reason and then to draw the appropriate conclusions. Christianity does not promote blind faith. But is there another kind of faith–one that is not blind? Does the very notion of “faith” not contradict the notion of “reason”?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines faith as “an act or attitude of intellectual assent to the traditional doctrines of one’s religion.” The OED defines it as “reliance, trust; belief founded on authority,” where “belief” is understood as the “acceptance as true or existing of any fact, statement, etc.” Neither of these definitions contradicts St. Paul’s understanding of faith as the certainty of things that are unseen on the basis of evidence of visible things (cf. Rom 8:24-25; 2 Cor 5: 6-8; 1 Cor 15: 17-20; Heb 11: 1-2). St. Paul did not see faith as a rejection of reason, but rather as a completion or perfection of it.

By faith we embrace those things we cannot see or touch; for example, we all believe that Julius Caesar once existed even though none of us has seen him. But there are historical documents and archeological materials, which enable us to conclude that Julius Caesar was not a mythical figure. Similarly, we accept “on faith” a great number of facts put forward by scientists. Most of us will never be able verify for ourselves what water pressure is at a depth of 1000 m. or what air pressure is at an altitude of 5000 m, or what the speed of light is in a vacuum. But we read the reports of those who have made these calculations and we believe them, for we have no reason to reject their claims. The greater the authority enjoyed by a scientist, the stronger is our conviction (i.e. faith) in the truth of his findings.

Faith plays an important role in scientific work. Our ever-expanding knowledge of the world enables us to study phenomena without direct contact with them. We discover new laws of quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, etc.–laws we are unable to verify directly–yet we believe they are true, as we have reason for this. Scientific inquiry results in the collection of a sufficient number of facts, from which we can then draw suitable conclusions.

The faith of Christians also represents a certitude based on an analysis of facts. Indeed, the theory of evolution, which claims to be scientific, requires a great deal more credulity than the Christian faith. Promoted in Poland by the Soviet authorities–a totalitarian state–the theory of evolution became a dogma that no one was allowed to doubt. Yet even now, twenty years after the fall of Communism, we accept without thinking the claims of this theory, believing it to be true. We forget that the methods used to validate it are not at all scientific. True science studies reality and builds theories on the basis of its studies, whereas evolutionists do the very opposite. Even Charles Darwin, before his death, came to doubt his theory, since he was unable to find evidence for his scientific assertions. (This, however, does not prevent his successors, who to this day are unable to produce such evidence, from blindly believing in evolution.)

When we observe the world around us, we are struck by its stupendous complexity. Molecules are made up of specific atoms. Every atom has its place in their structure. The molecules combine to form cells, each of which has a particular function to fulfill. Special types of cells combine to create tissues, which also have a task to perform. The tissues combine to form specific organs, which in turn make up an organism. Each organism has its place within the species, and each of these species has its own allotted place in the biological system of our planet. It is a system that man all too readily destroys and, despite all his intelligence, is unable to repair. And yet there are those who believe that this system came about by accident, as a result of a blind process of evolution! Never mind the fact that every year sees the disappearance of some 50,000 species of plant and animal life, and yet, since Darwin’s day, not a single new species has been identified. Where is rational thought in all this?

If on Mars we were to find, say, a common knife, scientists would be able to draw conclusions not only about the existence of civilization on that planet, but also about the technological skill and intelligence of the artifact’s maker. But on Earth we have millions of living organisms, infinitely more complex than our modern computers, and yet there are people who obstinately believe that their Creator does not exist! Such a belief has less to substantiate it than acknowledging the existence of God–Creator of Heaven and Earth.

The most naïve “scientific” proof of atheism put forward by the Soviet Union was that Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had not seen any God in space. Those who do not experience God’s presence in their lives follow the same kind of reasoning: “since God does not act in my life, he cannot exist.” This is not rational thinking; for, by the same rationale, one would have say that since I cannot show my grandfather to anyone, therefore he is a figment of my imagination. But in this case I can engage my reason and analyze the facts: 1) my grandfather’s grave exists; 2) there are documents–a birth and death certificate–attesting to the end-points of his life; 3) there are people still living who knew and worked with him; 4) there are those who could not have existed without him. Of course, a skeptic could easily cast doubt on this by saying that grave is empty (or that someone else lies buried there), that the documents are false, that the witnesses are mistaken, etc. etc. But you only need to remember that the grounds for holding such a skeptical thesis are much flimsier than believing that my grandfather was a real person.

In considering the question of God’s existence, we need to weigh similar facts: 1) that His works exist; 2) that there are documents attesting to His existence; 3) that He has witnesses. By observing the world around us with its stunning variety of plant and animal life, by perusing the powerful body of documents (the Bible), and by considering the influence of Christians on the history of the world, we ought to be able to draw the reasonable conclusion: namely, that God lives and acts in the world. We can hold such a conviction despite the fact that we cannot see God or that Gagarin did not see Him. It is a conviction substantiated by the facts.

In order to be able to determine whether or not an ancient body of writings like the Bible represents the Word of God, the modern reader must go through two stages of reasoning. He must ask himself: 1) What must have occurred in the life of the authors for them to have set down this, and not some other, text; 2) How reliable are these texts as they stand available to us today and to what extent do they concern me personally? Of the many occurrences and events we might consider, let us consider the one that caused a veritable revolution in the minds of simple fishermen and Jewish scholars alike–the resurrection of Jesus.

The eyewitness accounts of the witnesses indicate that these people were totally unprepared for such an event, but that, given the fact, they had to reassess their existing views. Their thinking was quite rational. “First, people do not rise from the dead. Second, Jesus’ death was a fact–we saw him die. Third, we saw Jesus alive for forty days after Easter Sunday. Fourth, the tomb remains empty to this day. What to conclude? Since we saw and talked with Him, Jesus must have risen from the dead. Since He rose from the dead, He must have been an exceptional person. Since He said He would rise from the dead, and did as He said, He is not one to speak idly. Since He said He would come again to judge the living and the dead, we can expect that this will come to be.” It was precisely this kind of reasoning that brought about a revolution in the mind and life of Saint John, when he relates in that marvelously pregnant phrase that, “He saw and he believed” (Jn 20: 8). Moreover, John felt responsible that others who would not have seen the Risen Lord with their own eyes should place faith in his personal witness and form the same conviction on this basis (cf. Jn 19: 35; 20: 31). To my mind, John’s logic was as impeccable as that of Albert Einstein, who wrought a revolution in the way we look at the world of inanimate matter. The only difference is in the result. Einstein’s theory led to the building of weapons of mass destruction, while the book written by Saint John has for two millennia been assuring countless masses of believers of the existence of a future life.

And here the modern reader of the Holy Scriptures must pass to another stage of reasoning. He must consider the reliability of the Biblical texts as they stand available today. The process needs to include the following facts: 1) The Bible texts have been sufficiently well preserved that to all intents and purposes they are as they were when first set down; 2) the lack of proof that they were written by anyone else than those who participated in the events; 3) There are no grounds to assert that the Biblical texts suffered changes distorting the original sense; 4) There are good grounds to think that the authors believed what they wrote; 5) The testimonies of the various books of the Bible as set down by various authors raised in various cultures in various epochs harmonize with one another; 6) The Bible does not make fantastic claims about the world, nor does it contain mythical tales without connection to a specific socio-historical reality.

The conclusion I draw from this is clear: namely, that the words of Holy Scripture apply to me just as much as they applied to John, Peter, Paul, or Luke. Not seldom I have encountered attempts to undermine these six points that support my belief. I have had to return to the fundamentals and verify my convictions anew. Since 1989, when I first reached for the Holy Scriptures, all my inquiries have led only to the strengthening of my faith–a faith that arises out of rational thought and leads me by way of daily prayer and the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist into a personal relationship with the Risen Christ.

Mirosław Rucki

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The article was published with the permission from "Love One Another!"

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