Thursday, September 26, 2019

Reason vs. Faith

Or philosophy vs. theology.

"Philosophy and Martyrdom Tertullian and Justin Martyr," by Jean-Luc Marion (video).  I was offered this video via email.  In it, Marion presents the case that the distinction of reason vs. faith or philosophy vs. theology is an improper distinction.  The earliest Christian apologists argued philosophically, just as their non-Christian counterparts did.

This distinction is very much questionable.  Until the twelfth century, no Christian thinker has ever called what he is doing “theology.”

The word theology began to be imposed only the time of Abelard and Aquinas.  Why?  The word “philosophy” had begun to be used to distinguish from what we now call theology.  This can be tied to the rediscovery of Aristotle, among other reasons.

Marion looks at the intellectual strategy of Christians during the first centuries, in the time until Constantine.  Although Paul, in Romans and 1 Corinthians, offers that there is a distinction of what appears right to God vs. what appears right to man, this was not the strategy used by Christians in these early centuries when arguing regarding Christianity.  For this Marion looks to Justin Martyr in the mid-second century (who wrote in Greek) and Tertullian at the end of the second century (in Latin).

These early Christians used rational arguments in defense of Christians and Christianity.  This accords with Paul’s actions in Acts 17, when engaging with Epicureans and Stoics.  Marion cites a portion of 1 Peter 3:15, “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” but he then offers a better translation from the Greek: be ready for the apology (i.e. the argumentation) to anyone asking you for the logos (the reason) for the hope that is in you.  Christians are called to respond with rationality and reason.

What a Christian is supposed to do is to argue in favor of the logos.

Logos is translated into many words, among these “reason,” and “word.”  In the beginning was the logos – Jesus Christ.  It is fundamental to Christianity that Christians argue (offer apology) via the written and spoken word, based on reason.

Marion offers: a Christian, when under threat of persecution, is not to scream and yell, but to meekly offer: please let us discuss and be rational.  He comes to his first example, Justin Martyr.  He was born in Palestine; he was not a Jew, but a Greek and a Christian.  He made his living teaching philosophy, first in Nablus, Palestine, then in Rome.

Justin offered to argue with the emperor, Marcus Aurelius – described by Marion as “a bad philosopher who wrote in bad Greek and who slaughtered Christians.  He is not a good guy for me!”  Justin argued: you claim to be a philosopher; I am a professional philosopher.  Let us discuss in a serious way why you put to trial the Christians.

Right off the bat, he boxed Marcus in – flattering him as a philosopher king, in the tradition of Plato.  Further, it was clear that proper philosophy must be pious (moral, ethical) and be aimed at justice.  A crucial question even today: should philosophy be ethical or not?  What does it mean to have an ethical philosophy?  On what basis do we determine ethics?

So, Justin proceeded: we, the Christians, are sent to trial because we are said to be atheists.  But even before Christians, you accused someone to death for the crime of atheism: Socrates.  It was said that he has corrupted the youth – as you say about us – and because he was not paying his respect by sacrificing to the god of the city, as you also accuse us.

Plato, speaking for Socrates, offered: it is this accusation that has condemned many good men in the past and will also condemn many other good men in the future.  In other words, Christians are the new Socrates.  (This reference to Plato was apparently not made by Justin, but would have been known to Marcus.)  But we tell the truth; we are rational, you are not. 

You are in the process of committing the same blunder: when you condemn Christians, you are again condemning Socrates.  When you condemn Christians without good reasons – and you do not have good reasons – you condemn yourself.  So, we (the Christians) are the real heirs of Socrates: we tell the truth, we are more rational.  We are the keepers of rationality; you are not rational.

Robert Wilken comments on Justin, in his book The Christians as the Romans Saw Them; Justin is replying to the idea that Christianity was being viewed as a superstition, when he wrote:

“We cultivate piety, justice, philanthropy, faith and hope.”  This passage could have been written by the Roman moralist and philosopher Seneca.  From the side of philosophy, “religion never departs, nor piety, nor justice, nor any of the whole company of virtues which cling together in close united fellowship.”

Philosophy must be ethical, and is not separate from religion.  Justin Martyr goes further, presenting his conversion to Christianity as a conversion to philosophy.  Having examined the Stoics, Peripatetics, Platonists, etc., it was only when he met a man who introduced him to the Hebrew prophets that he found “this philosophy [Christianity] alone to be sure and profitable.”

Returning to Marion: Tertullian made similar arguments, but also advances his arguments into legal procedure.  He was a philosopher and a jurist.  Christians are the followers of the law, yet are being condemned just for being Christian – and for nothing else: as if to say “it is not legal that people like you be.” 

The modern equivalent is the idea of crimes against humanity: where people are prosecuted just for what they are, not what they do.  You know, where men are judged by the color of their skin, but not by the content of their character.  And where men are condemned simply for being…men.

But I digress.  Continuing with Tertullian: all that was necessary was for a Christian to admit he was a Christian; thereafter, he was sentenced to death.  Or, looked at the other way: you torture criminals to make them admit guilt; you torture Christians to make them deny guilt – the guilt of being Christian.

Wilken also comments on Tertullian, who argued that Christianity was a collegium, an association not devoted to political maneuvering or clandestine activities, but devoted to moral principles and training toward living a life of virtue.  Tertullian writes:

We are an association (corpus) bound together by our religious profession, by the unity of our way of life and the bond of our common hope… We meet together as an assembly and as a society… We pray for the emperors… We gather together to read our sacred writing… With the holy words we nourish our faith… After the gathering is over the Christians go out as though they had come from a “school of virtue.”

No one suffers harm from these gatherings, he concludes.  In his apology, he uses many technical and legal terms – reflecting his profession.  It was language that would be familiar to anyone in the Greco-Roman world – Christian or not.

Marion concludes: most arguments in the public square are not rational.  They are not arguments in search of truth.  They represent ideological points of view.  Truth need not be represented by either side, and often truth will not be accepted by either side.

It is quite possible that a rational position can be under attack from both sides.

Which returns us to the earlier questions: should philosophy be ethical or not?  What does it mean to have an ethical philosophy?  One can ask, on what basis is this to be determined?  Which brings us back to a standard, a foundation, a basis for objective law.  Which is relevant for anyone concerned with moving toward liberty.


As God is the author of reason and faith, philosophy and theology, why would any Christian agree to live with such distinctions?  It seems reasonable to suggest that one reason Christianity has lost its way (and has lost many in the West) is precisely because Christian leaders have accepted and even emphasized this difference.  “Oh, you just have to believe by faith; don’t ask questions.”  This is too often heard.

It is interesting that non-Christian intellectuals are making this connection once again.  I am thinking of Jordan Peterson and John Vervaeke.  It is also interesting that this has led to an increase in interest in Christianity – although I think neither of these two have ever intended to increase church attendance.

It is the case: God moves in mysterious ways….


  1. The statement "... you just have to believe by faith; don't ... question" has always seemed a cop-out for me. It is used by clergy when, after having studied for decades, are confronted with a question that still eludes them. The irresistible force and the immovable object - can God make a rock that he can't lift and so forth.

    Many people say that God can do anything. To those people, I have a question: Can God do evil? If He did evil, would he not cease to be God?

    Many people say that God controls everything. Another question: if God controls everything, why is there evil in the world? If God causes evil, would He be God?

    My [heretical] answers to these questions are simple: God can NOT do everything, God does NOT control everything. God maintains the attributes of godliness - at no time does he do anything against those attributes. Therefore, God ever choosing good, God ever being constant, He is the epitome of trustworthiness and reliability.

    God has superior intelligence and knowledge and therefore he sees what will happen but He leaves us with the ability to choose. It is due to ourselves choosing evil that there is evil in the world.

    God gave us the ability to choose. Since we can choose one or the other, evil or good, does that make the ability to choose evil? If there was no ability to choose, we would not be actors but be things to be acted upon, like a brick. Obviously, God did not create us to be bricks but to be actors and therefore, we have a greater roll to play in the overall scheme of things.

    Since God, who is the embodiment of good, gave us the ability to choose, logically that which takes away this ability would tend to be evil. This idea may be one of the vehicles which we can use to move toward an objective means to judge law and move towards a more libertarian society.

    1. "Evil does not exist; once you have crossed the threshold, all is good. Once in another world, you must hold your tongue." —Franz Kafka

    2. If I close my ears and eyes to the suffering of others, I too can say that all is good.

    3. Woody,

      I agree almost 100% with everything you just said. I think a subtle distinction I would make is that God can do everything, including evil, but He, unlike us, makes the right decision every single time.

      We have free will, no question, and God intended us to have it, so that His purposes could be fulfilled, but what of angels? One thing that has always confused me is that angels are often described as not having free will, and yet Satan was an angel, and he chose to rebel along with a third of the other angels who followed him. What could this possibly be other than an exercise of free will?

      Perhaps the difference between angels and man is that we have an avenue of forgiveness for making the wrong decisions, whereas angels, held to a higher standard, do not. Jesus did not die for their sins, only ours.

      Maybe this discussion of mine is getting off point and for that I apologize Bionic, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on this Woody.

  2. Reason vs Faith. Faith used to be defined as belief without evidence and was seen as a sacred virtue. In the modern age, evidence is seen as very important - the heart of science - so faith is being redefined as merely a "strong belief". Thus, those who are convinced of some scientific theory are accused of "taking it on faith" - which hints at a lack of evidence, since the old meaning lingers on - while the same people will argue that their religion is based in reason. "My religion is science - your science is faith. So there!"

    As usual, such silly word gaming is at the heart of most debates.

    What is really at stake is ethics. Religion is the cover-story for an ethical message. "These aren't my rules - they are GOD'S rules." This is necessary to sell bad rules. "Without my religion, there would be no morality!" Nonsense.

    Ayn Rand had it right. Altruism is a bad rule and that is what religion sells. It needs to be challenged.

    1. John, what do you mean by the word "rule" when you use it in the following?

      "Altruism is a bad rule and that is what religion sells."

      Given how you define the word (however that is) in what way do you think "religion" (a much broader term than even you seem to recognize) "sells" it? What sanction does religion apply regarding this rule?

      Your answers, if you are willing to give them in a spirit of discussion, could provide for a fruitful conversation.

      As to your faith in (pure) reason (call it the spirit of the Enlightenment), that hasn't really worked out so well. And to the extent such faith demonstrated any success in the span of history, it hasn't been long-lived.


    2. My use of the term "rule" refers to prescribed conduct, such as a moral rule - a normative standard.

      Religion "sells" (promotes) self sacrifice as a virtue - a moral rule. What sanctions? Disapproval of selfishness and of pride - praise for self-sacrificial service to others. The Judeo-Christian tradition begins with the old testament stories of sacrifice (of children by parents, no less!) as a show of proper obedient worship for the invisible god and culminates with the new testament story of the father allowing the sacrifice of his innocent son to pay for the sins of the guilty, thus turning justice upside down. The ugly symbol of Christianity - a nailed up human body - is an enshrinement of self-sacrifice, the story being that Jesus chose to die for "our" sins - thus turning time upside down as well. The word "Islam", I am told, means "submit".

      I do not have faith in reason - that being a contradiction in terms. As for reason's success, that is apparent throughout history.

    3. In 1793, the French Revolutionaries turned the Cathedral of Notre Dame into the Temple of Reason. In 1917, Bolsheviks launched their program of Scientific Socialism. In both cases, the atrocities ensued.

      Freedom has civilizational foundations. So I don't have faith in reason, either. The historical data confound that faith.

      I do agree that reason has enjoyed *political* success throughout history. That's what scares me.

    4. John, so I understand your meaning: you are bothered by “a normative standard” that comes with no physical sanction, only “disapproval.” Is this correct? If so, why does it bother you that others wish to hold to such a normative standard while not requiring that you also live by such a standard? Is their “approval” of your selfishness so important to you? Does their “disapproval” of your selfishness cause you unending pain? You have not indicated a physical sanction, so where is your concern?

      Meanwhile pure reason – which has given us technological progress, no doubt – absent “faith” (again, a false, yet disastrous, division) has unleashed the most horrendous ideologies known to man. The few thousand victims of inquisitions and witch burnings stood against hundreds of millions of dead – at the hands of their own government, no less. Beginning with the French Revolution and continuing through to the current century: communism, fascism, socialism, revolution, empire. But all “reasonable” without an external standard to which one can appeal.

      You can deny the idea of having faith in reason all you want; it doesn’t change the fact that you have faith in reason. You, like Steven Pinker, ignore all of the disasters of pure reason and only look at the successes. You have faith that these disasters will be overcome; you have faith that pure reason is sufficient to free man from chains; you have faith that pure reason will produce a society that will not apply physical sanction to non-aggressive acts.

      Where is your proof? Because it most certainly is not “apparent throughout history.” Meanwhile, you criticize those who hold to “a normative standard” that only comes with “disapproval” – no gulag, no guillotine, no prison camps, no incarceration for non-aggressive acts – all of which are evident since the advent of pure reason. Yet you challenge this “normative standard” in favor of pure reason. Again, where is your proof?

      As to my proof, it is here:

    5. Religion, as an institution, no longer has the role of enforcer. That role has been taken over by government, which does enforce altruism and self-sacrifice. I am "bothered" by bad ideas because government then enforces them, even though religion may not.

      Your contention that all those evil governments through history were manifestations of "pure reason" convinces me that you do not have a clear definition of reason. Perhaps you are one of those who believes that the "normative" cannot be derived from the factual - that an ought cannot be derived from an is and that therefore religious faith is a necessary precondition to moral position. I don't agree. Further, the moral code promoted by religion is in error in my opinion and I suspect that it is said to require religious faith because it cannot be defended in reason.

      Insisting that I have faith is psychobabble. I note that you are spending a lot of rhetoric telling me all about my own thoughts and beliefs and even claiming that you know more about my mental content than I do.

      Where is YOUR proof that you read minds better than they read themselves?

    6. "Perhaps you are one of those who believes that the "normative" cannot be derived from the factual - that an ought cannot be derived from an is and that therefore religious faith is a necessary precondition to moral position. I don't agree."

      Well then, we will not agree. But it doesn't take a Christian or even a religious person to come to the conclusion that I have come to.

      So it seems your argument is not with religion, but with man's reason - at least the reason of those non-religious men who do not believe one can derive an ought from an is. There are many of these.

    7. I would argue that if you cannot derive an ought from an is, then you cannot derive an ought at all. You seem to use the term "reason" to mean any thinking at all. It is not reasonable to claim that one cannot derive an ought from an is. One merely needs a goal. And I wonder what is "man's reason". Is there some other which you are aware of?

    8. "I would argue that if you cannot derive an ought from an is, then you cannot derive an ought at all."

      You have already said this, only now in a slightly different way. I have already allowed that we will have to disagree, so I am satisfied to leave it at this.

      "One merely needs a goal."

      This opens up an entirely different can of worms, one far more complex than your use of the word "merely" implies.

    9. I had not already said that. Setting a goal is neither an intellectual can of worms nor a complexity. It is axiomatic to all thought and to all voluntary human action.

    10. I would say that you can derive an ought from an is logically, but the real question is will a logically derived 'ought' or moral code hold any sway on the minds of men? Will that which can be derived logically be all that's required to achieve and sustain liberty?

      Probably not.

      Will the common man be convinced by Hans Hoppe's argument that by the very nature of the human pursuit of truth and discourse itself we can justify self ownership, peacefully acquired private property, and non-aggression as universal social norms?

      Probably not.

      Hoppe admits this himself and this is why he has undertaken to define the libertarian grand historical narrative. It is not abstract theory that sways the minds of men, but narratives, stories, and especially Gospels.

      But the Gospels aren't just for the common non-intellectual man. The Gospels also act as a profound check to the excesses of the intelligent man's reason, which as Bionic has shown, can be quite horrendous and downright Satanic absent any notion of an Authority above mankind.

    11. Mankind is surrounded both physically and philosophically by authority and the world is a mess as a result.

      Authority = parasite. Reason is the application of logic to facts. How can that be practiced to excess? Are we to season the truth with lies and moderate logic with nonsense in order to avoid an excess of reason?

      Man's reason? Again, is there some other reason such that we must designate "man's" reason as a special (inferior?) type of reason?

      If we can see flaws in reason, what are they? I have run across no examples. Some people maintain that some great evils are the result of "reason" but they fail to show the reasonableness of such evils. It is an empty charge.

      Where you write probably not, I would write probably. Most of the evil of the world is the result of religion and government - faith and force.

    12. >Ayn Rand had it right. Altruism is a bad rule

      Reciprocal, in-group focused alturism is one of the most advantageous benefits a group can offer. Such a group will always outcompete unbound, atomised individualists.

      This can easily be observed in the real world, with many minority groups handily outcompeting Legacy Americans in the economic sphere.

    13. "Authority = parasite"

      If this is an equation you truly believe, then I don't see why any of us should take you seriously unless you have some sort of oddly specific definition of authority, which is likely given that you must have an oddly specific definition of reason (i.e. reason is only that which leads to conclusions you personally deem reasonable). How do you define authority? To me authority is fundamentally a social ranking, not a necessarily a political one. Why should I care if you think something is reasonable if I 'believed' your equation above and deemed all authority as parasitic?

      You're telling us that reason is all we need, but in doing so, you hold yourself out as an authority, which you're telling us is unequivocally parasitical. It's self-defeating.

      "If we can see flaws in reason, what are they"

      The flaws in reason are the same and no less than the flaws inherent to that being which practices it: man. I believe we are purpose built truth seekers (among many other things), but none of us are perfect, and we often err in this task, either due to limitations of access to information, intelligence or of character (believing in and supporting the lies of the powerful and corrupt is often more profitable than challenging them with the truth).

      These flaws have produced, in an atmosphere hostile to Christianity (the only religion I regard as true), mass murder on a scale unimaginable in the much maligned Christian Middle Ages. Robespierre had his reasons; Hitler had his reasons; Stalin had his reasons; Mao had his reasons; Minh had his reasons; Castro had his reasons; and on and on. These were all children of the Enlightenment.

      Why are their reasons any less reasonable than yours? On what grounds? By whose authority? And why should we listen to you?

    14. Texas Libertarian, "authority" has two meanings: expert and ruler. You are mixing the two in your reply. An expert is not a parasite. Rulers are.

      Reason has several meanings also. It can mean the application of logic to facts, but it can also simply mean any motivation. You are mixing those meanings as well. Mass murderers are failing to apply logic to facts. Logic is the non-contradictory use of language. The thinking of mass murderers is quite contradictory. They fail at logic and at facts...don't you think? Or do you find their thinking reasonable?

    15. John,

      Authority, according to Merriam-Webster, means "power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior". It also means "person in command".

      Neither of these definitions necessarily mean ruler or head of state. In the fire protection world, we often have to appeal to the AHJ or 'Authority Having Jurisdiction' of a particular job site in order to approve design and construction of a fire suppression or alarm system. The AHJ can be a state official, such as a fire marshal, but it can also be an agent of an insurance company, or the owner of the site in question.

      Just curious, but are you against all hierarchy, or just those that are founded on aggression? Are you a libertarian or an anarchist? Or neither?

      "Mass murderers are failing to apply logic to facts"

      Not if mass murder is simply their preferred means of acquiring and keeping power. They committed mass murder and they attained or maintained power, in many cases for their entire lives. Sounds perfectly 'reasonable' to me, given their preferred ends and their lack of morality and faith in a higher power. How is that not the application of logic to facts?

      People like Stefan Molyneux are profound thinkers, but so long as their message is not directed toward a restoration of Christendom (with the libertarian Christian understanding of the state as a fundamentally Satanic institution), they will not convince anyone except highly exceptional thinkers like you.

      It will be an enlightened little club that will have no measurable impact on the wider world. The Bolsheviks were a similar club, but the difference was that they had no principle against aggression and thus were free to employ it with great vigor to achieve their vision.

      Hoppe, though I believe he is agnostic, I consider one of the vanguards of this restoration of Christendom, because he, perhaps more than anyone else, recognizes the importance of a unifying culture and a polycentric political order.

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