Compatibility or lack of between faith and reason

Topics: Philosophy, Pope John Paul II, Meaning of life Pages: 9 (2845 words) Published: January 16, 2014
Our search for the meaning of life, happiness and joy, truth and wisdom, how we should behave, the culture we live in, can be and indeed is influenced by our choosing, accepting or rejecting of both or either philosophy and faith. Pope John Paul II compares the two subjects, depicting them as wings, which the human spirit uses to surge towards the light of truth. In contrast, others argue the two sciences are incompatible. Bertrand Russell says, “between theology and science there is a No Man's Land, exposed to attack from both sides; this No Man's Land is called philosophy”, (Clark, p.51). Science for Russell is the truth whilst theology is merely belief. This essay using the encyclical Fides et Ratio (FR) will explore the compatibility or lack of between faith and reason. Has reason moved in such a direction that it cannot dialogue with faith? Or has it lost its vocation? Regarding faith, does it have anything to offer reason? If philosophy is not opposed to the Christian life, then can one come to belief though understanding?

An underlying question may be posited, is reason really against faith, or are there problems within reason itself, (its direction, application etc.)? John Paul II presents the case for the latter. The search for truth is common to all mankind in all cultures in any time period. The church has the dual task of holding the truth, and helping all people journey to discover it (FR 2). The pontiff (FR 5) says the church thus places great value on reason's purpose to attain fundamental truths. Moreover, she sees it as an “indispensable help” for understanding faith and communicating the gospel. Thus it is important to consider the issues which the Holy Father sees within the philosophy world that cause philosophers to reject or dismiss theology.

Philosophical pride is an obstacle (FR 4). The scriptures record pride being the sin of the angel Lucifer, and later that of the first man Adam. It follows that pride then will affect the search for truth. The pope acknowledges that reason has produced “modes of thought” giving us systematic bodies of knowledge. This is indeed good. However, he points to the temptation for one to identify with one single stream, using it exclusively to see all of reality whilst failing to acknowledge it is an imperfect system. Moreover, he states that many then rate the system itself over the importance of “philosophical enquiry”, when it should be the other way around. Many modern systems have been created by atheists, (e.g. David Hume). If philosophical enquiry isn't prioritized, then theology will never even be considered fairly.

John-Terry (1994) illustrates that philosophy (e.g. ethics) can touch a person's heart and will. This affects their conscience. If they were to affirm a position, it may require a change in other aspects of their life, which because of pride, sin, fallen human nature or stubbornness, they may be unwilling to do. Thus they reject the truth because of reasons of weakness. Biographer Ronald Clark writes of Russell's inexorable desire for romantic ecstasy and sexual relief, (Clark, p.128). Perhaps Russell's position on sexual ethics affected his openness to faith.

Another issue the Holy Father presents is the object of philosophy and the fundamentals, which should be foundational for all. The encyclical outlines the traditional understanding of philosophy as “asking questions to life's meaning and sketching an answer to it” (FR 3). He gives the reference points that all should be able to use, principles of non contradiction, finality, causality, the idea of man being free and intelligent with the ability to know “God, truth and goodness” (FR 4). Once formulated, philosophical schools can use these principles he states. Yet many modern philosophers reject this. John-Terry (p.24) gives the example of Wittgenstein, a linguistic philosopher, who argues that philosophy should be concerned with “the clarification of thought and language”....

Bibliography: Magisterial Documents
John Paul II (1998): Faith and Reason, Catholic Truth Society
John-Terry, Chris (1994) For the love of wisdom. New York: Abba House
O 'Donnell, Robert A
Adler, Mortimer J. (1997) Ten philosophical Mistakes. 1st Ed., New York: Collier Books
Adler, Mortimer J
De Marco, Donald & Wiker, Benjamin. (2004) Architects of the Culture of Death. 1st Ed. San Francesco: Ignatius Press
Stern, Karl
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