Faith and Reason in "Some Answered Questions"

By Ramin Vasli

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #89
Center for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
June 28 – July 1, 2009
(see list of papers from #89)

Next presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #97
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 3–6, 2010
(see list of papers from #97)


    The relation of faith and reason has been and still is one of the most complex problems in theology and philosophy. Generally the problem has centered about religious faith and knowledge, but because all knowledge falls short of apodictic certainty there is a kind of faith inherent in all knowledge. In what is to follow, my main attention is regarding religious faith.

    In the history of Christian thought the relation of faith and reason has been marked by such fluctuating patterns as equivalency, supplementation, independence, and opposition, the latter sometimes carried to the point of contradiction. With some reservation it can be said that the relation for Justin Martyr was that of equivalency. He came upon the Christian faith by the way of philosophy and his high regard for the philosophic discipline was never abandoned. After his conversion to Christianity he wrote: "Philosophy is, in fact, the greatest possession and most honorable before God, to whom it leads us and alone commends us; and these are truly holy men who have bestowed attention on philosophy."

    The final authority for Justin was the Divine Logos fully realized in Christ, but prior to this manifestation all men were partakers of the logos. Socrates, Heraclitus, and others thought to be atheists would more correctly be designated as Christians. Christianity for Justin was the supreme and the one true philosophy. A greater degree of the equivalence of faith and reason is to be found in the thought of John Scotus Erigena and Hegel, for the latter religion in its highest stage becomes one with philosophy.

    Tertullian and Kierkegaard are representatives of those who hold that faith and reason are independent of each other or in opposition or conflict, the degree of conflict varying from contraries to contradictories. Tertullian in his assault upon philosophy asked, "What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? For Kierkegaard philosophy or reason is scandalized in the event of the Incarnation where the "crucifixion of reason" takes place. Reason can never give an account of the eternal, time— transcendent and space—transcendent Being coming into history at a certain place and time. The Incarnation is the paradox of paradoxes, the clearest expression of the contradiction of faith and reason.

    Another main view of the relation of faith and reason has been that of supplementation. For St. Thomas there was no contradiction between faith and reason; faith transcends reason without contradicting it; reason needs to be supplemented by faith.

    During the Enlightenment the opposite was true. Faith was subordinated to reason and needed to be supplemented by reason thus making reason the supreme arbiter of truth. For this reason, Kant says, "I had to remove knowledge [from any claim to deal with God, freedom, and immortality], in order to make room for faith."

    This paper intends to deals with reason and faith by focusing on Abrahamic religions in which faith and reason are often posited as opposites, as if they had nothing to do with each other and every person had to choose between them. By focusing on "Some Answered Questions," I will attempt to discuss and argue that there is no conflict between reason and faith, and both should agree and not to be opposed to each other.

    Indeed, the truth of reason and faith can be attained in the light of unification of them.

    This paper is divided into three sections. First and second sections deal with reason and faith before and after renaissance respectively. Third section will present the Bahá'í perspective in general and "Some Answered Questions" in particular.

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