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Is it wrong to try to reach God with reason instead of faith?

I really believe that logical reasoning is the way to get closer to God but since I was a kid my parents and relatives keep telling me that I can only get closer to God and be saved by my faith and I'm not really a faith person, I'm more a logical person.

I'm afraid I'm taking the wrong road, my mind keeps telling me I'm right thinking with reason but my parents and friends from church keep telling me I'm not going to be saved because of that.

I've started studying Deism and I really like it, not everything, but it makes sense to me.

Is there anyone that can make me understand more about Christianity and logical reasoning?

PS: Am I going through a spiritual war or something like it? I'm really confused and a bit scared about my decisions and thoughts.

Thanks in advance for any help.

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sorry for my poor English / –  Gerep Jan 11 '12 at 13:29
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Just this new years eve, I listened to a pastor that said that in the beginning he tried to reach God by reason. His conclusion was that you can find God and know some about him, but reason only takes you so long. At some point, you need to take a leap of faith and just try. Tell God that you want to give him a chance and try if all that the Bible says is true. God will most definitely accept the challenge. –  Shathur Jan 11 '12 at 13:48
    
@Shathur thanks for your words, specially about giving God a chance to show me the truth... =) –  Gerep Jan 11 '12 at 13:52
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Interesting question. It (Deism) certainly isn't a popular view in some Christian camps (since it disavows most doctrine). Others view it as but a stone's throw from naturalistic [H]umanism (which is non-theistic). FWIW, as I learned about science / math / reason, I strongly suspect I passed through Deism on my route from Catholic/Agnostic (youth) through to Humanist (current and final), so I can relate to your position. Great question. –  Marc Gravell Jan 11 '12 at 14:24
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When the Bible says "faith is [...] the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1) it makes a lot of people think it is only that--but you need faith for the outcome of reason and the outcome of observations as well. Even if you do reason and observe, it's still up to you to believe what you have learned is correct, just as much as it's up to you to believe or not believe what is told to you about God by others. –  Muke Tever Jan 12 '12 at 14:06
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7 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I'm focusing here on the aspect that you are finding it possible to relate to; namely Deism.

Deism is, in the conventional form, the "light the blue touch paper and retire" deity - i.e. that sets up the initial conditions, and then bows out. And this is where it gets interesting, since Deism traditionally breaks the link with all supernatural activity, and revealed theology (and becomes impersonal, rather than personal). This means firstly that you can't use the Bible as a source, since it is no longer Holy. It also means that if you do consider the Bible as a source, you are limited to things like the Jefferson Bible (or similar), meaning: no miracles, no divinity, no resurrection. As you say, this approach then defies neither the observed universe nor modern reason / science, and does not call for a "suspension of disbelief" over the supernatural, which many people find genuinely hard (or: impossible).

Deism admits the option of a God, but it could be argued that at that point it is very unclear whether you are talking to the same meaning of "God" (since the Christian tradition is based on the revealed Bible, and things like the resurrection, which is supernatural). Furthermore, it flat-out denies events like the resurrection, which many (not all) Christians would argue is a fundamental tenant of Christianity.

Each must find his own path; personally, if I had to place it in a group, I would have to conclude that Deism is un-Christian (but without malice; it isn't usually actively anti-Christian). It is open to interpretation as to whether it is part of the Abrahamic tradition, since that is also based on a very hands-on and supernatural God; but the possibility could not be entirely eliminated.

The Deism approach was not uncommon (especially around the enlightenment), but is much diminished now, based on a combination of scientific progress of the early universe (which migrates some with Deist thinking a step further, into naturalistic [H]umanism), and kickback from the mainstream Church (pulling some back to mainstream Christianity with a supernatural, personal God).

Only you can choose your path here. Personally, finding a lack of reason for divinity (inside of, or outside of, the universe), I took the step towards Humanism, and I am very happy with my decision. It is, ultimately, a personal thing - and the Christian angle here would be, instead, to pull you back into the warmth of the church.

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I saw in your profile that you were raised under Catholicism, so you believed that without Jesus in our lives everything is lost and we are condemned to eternal suffering and that doesn't bug you? Not been a Catholic or Protestant or whatever? The idea of living eternally on hell makes think with a lot of care about my spiritual life...I'd like to hear more from you =) –  Gerep Jan 11 '12 at 14:59
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@Gerep nonononono being raised a Catholic is different to beleiving it; if we ignore infant years (which frankly don't matter for religion, since you'll believe anything), then at best I was agnostic. I have now resolved that debate to my own satisfaction. If anything, I'm happy to say that my parents raised me to think for myself and make my own decisions - they didn't force me or pressure me to agree with their view, as long as I was happy with my reasoning. They did make their views available, however (which, as it happened, did not agree with eachother). –  Marc Gravell Jan 11 '12 at 15:02
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@Gerep in case I was too obtuse: no I don't think it makes sense to claim a position of Christian+Deism. I cannot advise beyond that. –  Marc Gravell Jan 11 '12 at 15:40
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Firstly, embrace whatever feels right to you, if a logical approach feels right, then most likely, it is right. Don't feel torn because others are telling you how to pursue answers. Regarding your question: There is a reason why it is called faith, since faith is how one becomes close to god -not logic. Using logic will only bring you farther away from god. God isn't logical, the concept is irrational and perplexing. Being logical is an extremely good quality, don't deny your gift, logical people are rational people.

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Reasoning can take you a long way. Just look at this community. Being a part of the StackExchange network, a good percentage of the members (including myself) come from a highly technical, scientific background, and would likely revolt at the thought of rationality being incompatible with Christian faith.

The problem is that reasoning is only a process. It's a tool, and like any useful tool, it's susceptible to the golden hammer fallacy, particularly when one fails to realize that the reasoning process does not (and provably can not) provide any foundation to start reasoning from.

Reasoning is the process of taking information and drawing useful conclusions from it through the application of rational rules. As such, it can only ever be as good as the information you start with. For an illustrative demonstration of the significance of this fact, take a look at late medieval science sometime. Stuff like phlogiston theory (an explanation of how fire works in the absence of atomic theory and an understanding of oxygen) or retrograde motion (an explanation for peculiarities observed in the orbits of our neighbors in the solar system, based on a geocentric model instead of a heliocentric one.)

The people who studied this stuff did a lot of very interesting experiments, which were valid according to the scientific method, to try to figure out how things really work. But because they began with incorrect assumptions, they reached bad conclusions. Reasoning was useless in these cases; what was needed was better data. (And indeed, when better data became available, scientists were able to reason out more accurate theories pretty quickly, and the old ones became obsolete.)

This is where faith comes in. God has given us everything we need to have a reason to believe that he exists, but he stops short of providing absolute and universal proof because that would interfere with the development of our faith, and salvation comes only through faith. (The reason why it's only through faith that we can be saved is a matter for another question, and not everyone agrees on the details, but the fact that it's necessary is nearly universally accepted as Christian doctrine AFAIK.) So your parents and friends are right, to a point. You can't find God through reason alone. But when you have achieved a foundation of faith, it's certainly possible to use reason to strengthen your faith, or to figure out how to deal with problems in our lives when no obvious, explicit solution is given in the scriptures.

God has revealed his existence, his plan for us, and the rules that we need to live by in order to find happiness in this life and salvation after this life, through his prophets and apostles. This information has been recorded in the scriptures, to preserve it for later generations, like us. If we can exercise our faith enough to accept this, it gives us a solid foundation to start reasoning from when it comes to many important aspects of our lives. For example, we're told that Paul made a habit of using the scriptures which the Jews had already accepted to reason with them and help them find faith in Christ, (Acts 17: 1-3, see also Acts 18,) and that the resurrected Lord did the same with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. (Luke 24: 13-25)

So no, there's nothing wrong with using reason to increase your faith. But it cannot establish your faith, and it should not be the only thing you allow to guide you. There are times when we reach the limits of what we know, and reason becomes useless. In those cases, it's necessary to simply let God's word serve as a lamp unto our feet, lighting our path one step at a time, and walk by faith, not by sight. Having both principles available to you will make you stronger than having to rely on only one or the other, particularly if you can learn when the appropriate time to apply each of them is.

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+1 - Well said. –  Narnian Jan 11 '12 at 16:03
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Note that faith also suffers from the limitation that it needs correct data to be correct, but in the case of faith you simply choose to ignore that problem. –  psr Jan 11 '12 at 19:04
    
@psr: Who simply chooses to ignore that problem? Please don't fall into the trap of assuming all faith to be "blind faith." –  Mason Wheeler Jan 11 '12 at 19:25
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@MasonWheeler - If you think there is even the possibility of faith having to be based on data then you just backed of your whole post about how reason has that as a limitation but faith does not. Are you saying you believe that reason can not prove faith but can disprove it? Thus it does need correct data to be correct, thus it is not blind faith? –  psr Jan 11 '12 at 19:34
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Well reasoned answer. –  Seek forgiveness Mar 15 '13 at 6:59
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Reasoning can be a pathway to faith, but is not a requirement. If reasoning involves logical arguments, AND if you start with the appropriate premises, you can arrive at faith. If you do not accept the right premises, reasoning can drive you away from faith. Of course, many faithful come to faith without relying on reason at all. Abraham, for instance, comes to faith in God through the use of reason.

Because religions, including Christianity, are full of seemingly illogical mysteries, staying faithful requires some level of suspension of the laws of nature and acceptance of the laws of God. We just do not have reasonable answers to a vast array of things. Science theorizes some answers, religious faith provides others, and many questions remain.

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Can you cite some verses? –  styfle Jan 14 '12 at 10:52
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Historically, there have been four sources of Theology:

  • Scripture
  • Tradition
  • Reason
  • Experience

Each of these is a tool that we can use to answer questions about God, and each has its pros and cons. The best theology draws from all of these sources.

A good resource for understanding the pros and cons of reason as a source of theology is the "Theology Unplugged" podcast.

As a quick summary, the biggest problem with reason (by itself) is that the assumptions on which it is based often change over time. To take it out of the theolgical realm, we "know" that the earth revolves around the sun, but less than 800 years ago, we also "knew" that the sun revolved around the earth.

Because we have limited knowledge, sometimes we must accept God's revelation in order to have reasonable assumptioms from which to make deductions.

Note: This doesn't say we shouldn't use the reason and minds God gave us! Just understand that reason by itself is not a silver bullet.

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"the biggest problem with reason" I think you mid-spelt "strength" there. –  Marc Gravell Jan 11 '12 at 16:50
    
The assumptions made by religions change over time as well. People just think of it as having an unchanging truth and human understanding of it as changing. Which can just as well be said of truth revealed by reason, or of any belief at all. I've never bought this argument. –  psr Jan 11 '12 at 18:58
    
Even if the interpretation of the Scripture changes, though, the actual words remain the same. Much like, say, the US Constitution may be interpreted differently, the actual words remain constant, and provide a bulwark against radical change. –  Affable Geek Jan 11 '12 at 19:38
    
@MarcGravell First off :) Second, trying to remain neutral w/regards to whether the ability to change is good or bad. Remember that historically the whole point of God was that he was unchangeable. That we moderns love and appreciate change as a prerequisite of progress is fairly new. –  Affable Geek Jan 11 '12 at 19:40
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@Affable I meant it purely in the context of reason in the context of the strides in scientific knowledge, which I consider a positive thing to us all. Thus adaptability may be a strength to reason (in the context of a growing science), and stability may be a strength to (say) tradition. It was not to say that change is a boon to everything; my application was only to your third bullet. –  Marc Gravell Jan 11 '12 at 19:50
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Historically there have been two schools of thought about human reason. One says that Adam was gifted with wisdom and understanding to be able to deduce the truth, but at the Fall these powers were lost to him. In such a case human reason cannot be relied upon. The other says that reason is a natural gift, and that Man therefore has all the reasoning necessary to make correct deductions about God.

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Isaiah 1:18 (ESV)

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

The Christian God is a God of order, and He is the author and sustainer of all of creation, which, I believe, explains the transcendental requisites for a universe that supports reason. He also created man in His image, which, I believe, accounts for man's rational ability and desires. God is a God of reason.

That being said, not all things are going to be reasonable to us, or even evident enough to enter into the realm of "reasonableness," so I'm not sure that it's quite fair to pit faith against reason (my first paragraph was sort of intented to illustrate this: my reason for holding to a high esteem of "reason" is based on my faith). God requires his people to trust Him in faith, but He also presents them with a well-structured creation, a mind built for rationality, and an offer to "reason together."

Personally, I don't like that Christians have gotten a reputation (though, much of it is probably fairly earned from a real tendency) for shying away from purusuits of reason in the name of faith.

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I believe in God and that everything is His creation, that's what I say to everybody that question me about this. He is the logic, the reason, the thought, everything. And it leads me to another situation. If He is everything, how is it possible to exist so many different beliefs, for instance, Buddhism, they have the same certainty that us, Christians have about spirituality and God but we believe in two things totally different... that bugs me –  Gerep Jan 11 '12 at 14:52
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@Gerep that is part of what I was trying to say in the line about whether indeed Deism is discussing the Abrahamic God. Additionally, if you are looking at things from a Deism+reason view, you can't really look to scripture (such as Isaiah here) for answers, since that text is no longer held sacred (as "revealed wisdom"). It could also be argued that the multiple beliefs simply show a human predisposition towards religiosity - which is not the same thing as saying that it proves religion. –  Marc Gravell Jan 11 '12 at 15:00
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@MarcGravell totally true, the thing is that I was raised Protestant and a few years back, I started questioning things and trying to find some answers to my spiritual curiosity but Christian religions tend to make you stop thinking for yourself and that what is driving me crazy because I have fear "installed" by the church in my head and heart –  Gerep Jan 11 '12 at 15:05
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