On the Conflict Between Faith and Reason

Is there a conflict between faith and reason? It might interest you to learn there’s a similar debate in the photography world. The argument is roughly that a real photographer doesn’t need to alter their images very much. The more edits one makes, the less they are a photographer. The conflict between faith and reason can be put in similar terms. The more reason and evidence one has, the less room there is for faith. And since we need faith to please God (Heb 11:6), we ought to avoid reason.

Notice what’s going on in both arguments. The first argument only works if photographer is defined as “someone that doesn’t edit much”. Similarly, the second argument is only good if faith is defined as “believing without reason or evidence”. Both arguments rise or fall on these definitions. So the question is, what is the correct definition of faith? Is faith believing without reason or evidence – believing “what you know ain’t true”?

Biblical Faith

As Greg Koukl points out, if this definition were correct, then faith increases as knowledge decreases. And so, giving a fact-based defense of Christianity would be misguided. It would produce the opposite of faith. However, Peter commands believers in 1 Peter 3:15 to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason of the hope that is in you”. Moreover, Paul, author of 2/3 of the books in the New Testament, gave similar commands in 2 Cor 10:5, 2 Tim 4:2, Phil 1:16, and Eph 5:11. So it turns out this definition is scripturally absurd, it leads to contradiction.

If that weren’t enough, notice what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”1 Corinthians 15:17, 19 NIV

Here Paul says that if all we have is hope, then we are to literally be pitied the most among men. What an incredible statement! According to Paul, we need more than hopes and dreams for our faith to be worth anything.

You might be wondering at this point, well if this definition has so many biblical issues, what is the correct definition of faith? Alvin Plantinga (Christian philosopher) gives a biblical definition of faith in his book Warranted Christian Belief. There he says that faith is knowledge of the Gospel produced in us by the work of the Holy Spirit [1]. What’s important is that this knowledge can be produced in a number of situations. The Holy Spirit could produce knowledge of the gospel in a person upon reading their bible or upon hearing a reasoned defense of Christianity. Knowledge of the Gospel could be produced in all sorts of ways. Given this definition, there doesn’t appear to be any conflict between faith and reason.

Concluding Thoughts

In summary, the alleged conflict between faith and reason depends on an unbiblical definition of faith. Once faith is properly understood, this surface-level conflict all but vanishes.


[1] For a closer look at faith, see this post.

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