You may have seen a sign on CTA buses around Chicago, “Are you good without God? Millions are.” This message, along with “Don’t believe in God? Join the club.” and “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” adorn billboards in cities all over America. They are part of a the national campaign funded by United Coalition of Reason, “a national organization that works to raise the visibility of local groups in the community of reason.… by conducting campaigns which highlight the fact that nontheists live in every community across America.”
The CoR seems to imply the community of reason is comprised of those who share the belief that God does not exist. What about those who reside in the community of faith? Are we unwelcome strangers to the community of reason?
How do we explain the relationship between reason and faith? What happens when someone encounters a question they cannot answer? Does faith compromise the endeavor to find an answer through rules of logic and science? Is faith the blind leap to some mystical explanation that transcends the natural material world and bypasses reason?
According to Leslie Newbigin in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, “Reason is a faculty with which we seek to grasp the different elements in our experience in an ordered way so that, as we say, they make sense.” Newbigin tries to show the absurdity of separating reason and faith. Reason actually leads to faith by indicating what things are reliable objects of faith and trust.
Nontheists ridicule the superstitious beliefs of people 500 years ago, or the primitive beliefs of uneducated tribes in remote areas today. These beliefs usually opt for religious explanations to the unexplainable events in their lives. Storms, diseases, enemy victories, plagues and calamities were usually associated with a god who was angry because the people had violated one of his laws. According to critics blessed with five centuries of scientific discovery, these beliefs were void of reason.
On the contrary, they formulated their beliefs based on the traditions and knowledge base of their society. They may have drawn wrong conclusions, but those conclusions were reasonable for their social order.
In the late 19th century, bloodletting was the most common medical treatment for many diseases. Well-educated doctors believed what science told them about the practice. Reason led people to use this technique to heal very sick patients. A little more than 100 years later, we know that this practice was almost always more harmful to the patient than helpful. You never hear anyone criticizing 19th-century doctors as irrational, superstitious men. They may have had incorrect beliefs, but their beliefs were guided by reason.
Today, scientists are constructing theories based on the tradition and knowledge base of the 21st century in America. Many of these scientists believe these theories and work feverishly to prove them true. One must wonder how many of these beliefs will appear silly in the light of another 100 years of discovery.
Nontheists do not deny God’s existence because they are strictly a community of reason, while all who believe in God are a community of faith only. The conflict is not between reason and faith, but between the foundational assumptions that people use to arrive at their beliefs. (Believing that God does not exist is no less an exercise of faith than believing that He does exist.)
Many nontheists have adopted the belief that science alone offers the explanation for all of reality, that the natural world is all there is. Christians proceed from the belief that there are things in the world that cannot be explained by science alone, that a supernatural world exists. Those with integrity of reason would be testing their core beliefs to see if they coincide with the truth as we know it in our current tradition of knowledge and experiences.
Don’t ever let anyone suggest that faith in Christ is inferior to the reason of the nontheist. Followers of Christ employ every bit as much reason as do those who reject him. Perhaps it would be better to begin the discussion with assumptions. What things do people accept as true without the rigors of reasonable examination?
Reason and faith are not mutually exclusive. Both are at their best when they work together.