Dialogue

 

Reason/Faith

Richard H. Bube (Responds)

Dept. of Materials Science & Engineering 
Stanford University, Stanford CA 94305 

From PSCF 42 (December 1990): 253.

Attempts to deal critically with subjects like faith/reason" reveal the intricacies of penetrating the Word Maze." Most subjects like this require extended consideration, careful definition, and a good deal of patience before major headway in communication and understanding is achieved. It is probably inappropriate to regard a brief, popular column trying to deal with simple misconceptions of the subject, as adequate to bear the burden of extended philosophical analysis.

As an example, considering pure faith and pure reason to lie on the poles of a single axis with science and theology intermediate, is one way to emphasize their similarities in spite of their differences; it is one perspective intended to counter the claim that the two have nothing in common. It does not presume to claim that all of reality is completely described by this device, but rather that the reason/faith axis may be viewed as one particular cross-cut of the intricate schema of reality. Considering faith and reason to be apples and oranges is another way of describing some of the same characteristics; it focuses on their differences perhaps more than their similarities. The two descriptions should be seen as complementary, not necessarily competitive.

It is not clear whether Nelson approves of an attempt to demonstrate that the wall separating reason and faith is an illusion," or not. His statement that faith and reason describe two different things" appears to support a dichotomy between them.

Although it is true that faith provides the basis for rational inquiry, it is not true that reason enters only after faith has been established. A rational faith is developed as the results of a consideration of the evidence, and this is a process involving reason. Perhaps the outstanding lesson is that faith and reason are so intricately interwoven in human experience that the attempt to dissect them is a questionable one.

Nelson points to my contrast between the ideal of science and the ideal of Christian faith as an example of a failure to properly distinguish between Christian faith and theology. Again this may be part of the attempt to treat the issue popularly in the Word Maze column. But I think that implied in the column itself, as well as set forth in detail in my other treatments of the issue, I have emphasized that just as science is a human interpretation of the natural world, so theology is a human interpretation of the Bible and human experience. Therefore theology and faith are not the same thing, in agreement with Nelson. We agree completely that if science and theology are at loggerheads it can only mean that one or the other has made an illegitimate assumption."

Having tried to find some ground of difference between us, I must confess that what is more striking is the extent of agreement. I have been a staunch advocate for many years of the perspective in which scientific and theological descriptions are viewed as complementary.1 If my simplified model of two points at opposite ends of a continuum, introduced here to deal with a particular misconception, seems to contradict this, then the reader should be aware that such is not the intention. Nelson and I agree completely that everything we call `factual,' `truthful,' or `proven' has its foundation in an unproven belief." We agree completely that All `facts' are built upon presupposition; all life has a faith component." And we agree completely that inquiry is a full-orbed human activity and therefore must include aesthetics, intuition (scientific hunches) and passion," and this is stated explicitly in the Word Maze article.

Perhaps the way that I said things in this limited article may have raised problems, but the important thing for the reader to know is that I believe that Nelson and I really are in basic agreement. 

1990

 

1See, for example, R.H. Bube, The Relationship between Scientific and Theological Descriptions," Journal ASA 38, 154 (1986).