Can Faith Be Intelligent?

No, it can’t. Actually, it  can only be dumb, only naïve, only irrational. If it were rational and intelligent it wouldn’t be faith, after all. By definition.

This conclusion is being voiced by a growing number of skeptical voices worldwide. In our polarized, fragmented societies, lines are drawing sharp, and sharper if you talk about faith. Here in Italy, where both widespread secularism and institutional religion coexist still, sometimes in sync, sometimes in paradox, both afraid of the other, one hears this line of thought often. An atheist with which I debated this month at the university, for example, said during the debate: “When I believe, I don’t function rationally, with arguments.”[1]

This understanding of all faith as unthinking, blind faith is not a local phenomenon, however. “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world,” defended  Richard Dawkins, an English professor. “The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.”[2] A prominent Italian atheist, Piergiorgio Odifreddi, showed a similar antithetical definition of faith and thought when he claimed, in a recent article, that “no one can be, at the same time, a great philosopher and a great theologian… to say that someone is a terrible theologian is in fact to give him honor: more or less like saying that he is a terrible muddlehead, or a terrible barker.”[3]

So then, does faith think? Is faith the a-thinking, persistent belief in things contrary to the evidence? Actually, true faith is the opposite: the lucid trust in what has showed itself to be evident. It is the trust that accompanies thought, the personal assent of a person operating fully rationally. As C. S. Lewis has put it,

“… a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants to or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad… And if he thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, what would be merely stupid.”[4]

There are of course people, believers and unbelievers, who contrast faith and thought, and who defend that we have to stop thinking to have faith. They may be credulous, but this is not the Christian understanding of faith: faith in the Jesus who, when encountering Thomas, did not blaster him for unbelief in the resurrection, but who showed him the evidence: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.” And in the face of the evidence, Thomas responded lucidly, not as someone closed to where evidence may lead him, if it involves faith, but as a fully thinking person: “My Lord and my God!”[5]

Complexity is hard. When doubt arrives to the believer, it is easier to brush it aside, and to believe blindly. Equally, when evidence for God presents itself to the unbeliever, it is also easier to brush it aside, and to believe blindly that faith cannot possibly be true. But integrity asks us to believe thoughtfully, and to think openly. If we consider faith dumb by definition, not only will our eyes close to the evidence for it,  but close also to the very rational inquiry we hoped to defend, and we may find ourselves as the ones blinded by a dumb kind of faith after all.

René Breuel


[1] Footage of this debate is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcGsVaOe9Is.

[2] Richard Dawkins, as quoted in the website of The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, http://richarddawkins.net/quotes?utf8=%E2%9C%93&search%5Bauthor_eq%5D=Richard+Dawkins

[4] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 138.

[5] John 20:27-28.

About these ads

3 responses to “Can Faith Be Intelligent?

  1. Yeah.. I think we all have faith in something – it’s what we do with it, how we back it up – and how we allow it to affect our lives..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s