Adam D. Hincks, S.J. has an outstanding article that is on the front cover of this week’s issue of America Magazine. Fr. Hincks is an astrophysicist at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. The article is a thoughtful and compelling read on the symbiotic relationship between faith and reason. I highly recommend reading the full article here, but set forth below is a teaser:
“She would have to leave her intellect behind, my friend assumed, if she followed up on a profound experience of God that had led her to Mass. Eventually she decided to enroll in the catechumenate in order to become a member of the Catholic Church. Taking this step, she explained to me, would require her to check her brain at the classroom door, but she felt her newfound religion was so important to her that she was willing to sacrifice reason for faith.
Happily, my friend soon discovered that the Catholic faith in fact encourages the use of reason. But her story reminds us that we live in a culture that tends to segregate knowledge, faith and belief. On the one hand, knowledge is seen as scientific, objective and part of a common fund. On the other, faith and belief (which are not usually distinguished) are considered unscientific, subjective and private. At best, the two categories are allowed to coexist if kept at arms’ length from each other; at worst, they are treated as mutually opposed, whether by strident atheists or religious fundamentalists.
Such attitudes toward knowledge and belief do not comport with the Catholic tradition. Nor do they accurately reflect the way our minds actually work. St. Augustine was correct when he wrote, “To believe is nothing other than to think with assent…. Believers are also thinkers: in believing, they think and in thinking, they believe.” Perhaps surprisingly, the clearest evidence for this claim can be found in the world of scientific research.
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If faith perfects reason, then it certainly does not destroy reason. Rather, authentic faith is the guarantor of the validity of human reason, which, on its own, has no way of proving its own trustworthiness. One cannot, for instance, justify the scientific method using the scientific method, but must appeal to something more fundamental. And since our reason is limited, it will never find within itself its own justification. The only way we can be assured that the human sciences tell us true information about the world is if we accept that they are part of a larger, rational order. “It is the one and the same God,” Pope John Paul II continues, “who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend, and who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The contemporary urge to separate knowledge from belief not only fails to grasp their interdependence; it overlooks the essentially collaborative nature of human inquiry. By cordoning reason off from faith, it also threatens to strike at the very root of rationality itself. For human inquiry was never meant to be a purely human collaboration, but a collaboration with the mind of God. If we expel God from the intellectual life, we may find that reason itself soon withers.