REASON & FAITH: Authority of Knowledge

Fr Stephen Lim

By Fr Stephen Lim


That usual session among university students on reason and faith was rudely disrupted by the sudden influx of zealous students. As sudden as it happened, it swiftly settled jaggedly into two opposing camps; the dominant secularists and hardy theists. It was very telling in how this disruption dissipated in sheer power play. The leader just showed to clear the fence, therefore, no fence sitting. Without introduction, consultation, discussion, negotiation and democracy, he just threw all those present prior to the disruption into either of the opposing camps. Both camps armed with user-friendly quotations from renounced Scientists like Isaac Newton, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, John Lennox, John Plantinga, Roger Penrose, Christopher Hitchens and the rest as back up to their claims.

High drama, emotion and passion packed skirmishes among youth is expected. Uncouth questionable presumptuous attitude and behaviour is intolerable, but public display of militant contempt in total disregard for basic human courtesy is just all too revolting.


The explosive environment was fuelled by self-assured secularists, without qualm, bull dozing over all on the premise that science had squashed faith and finally, buried God. They assumed supremacy of science on all the obvious technological advancements as scientific proof that faith is just the opium of the people who had failed. The equally defiant militant theists presumed and more, behaved that they alone have God-based faith. As God-based truth, faith is thus superior to science; no need to talk and much less to explain to science. As both battle for supremacy without any exception, thus all are non-negotiable. This is just unimaginable; a debate between two absolute non-negotiable enemies. There will be no debate but total war. Unaware of such intense ongoing feud and grudge, they just showed up to battle it out. Their brazen public display of contempt and extremism had turned the session into an eye opener. 

All puffed up for action, a plain polemic that faith is neither reasonable nor explainable, is all it takes to start the war. The theists hoisted fideism, theism, dogmatism and the rest as evidence of the absolute supremacy of faith. Adding fuel to flame, all sorts and kinds of popular religious beliefs, ancient, medieval and New Age theology being lumped together as proof for the supremacy of faith. 

Hyping up the debacle, a psychology lecturer demanded a total halt to mislead students with blind faith. But who can fight with that? Instead it got him to get down to specifics. Apparently, fed up having to journey with depressed students disillusioned with faith and religion in his routine, he is determined to eliminate both faith and religion. There was empathy for him in his dire circumstance, but still no scientific evidence that faith is delusional. It got uglier when pointing out that still his claim lacked scientific evidence. His blunt reaction was very revealing; just impossible for Professor Stephen Hawkins be wrong that “Religion is a fairy tale story for those afraid of the dark” (Grand Design). But this is never a challenge for the credential, expertise and competence of Professor Hawkins. Instead, in our explosive context, it was crucial to determine whether or not his famous quotation is indeed a scientific statement that religion is a fairy tale. 


The outburst of the lecturer unearthed the root problem; though not a scientific statement per se, yet authoritative statement as scientific proof that religion is a fairy tale. Questionable and even, dubious assumption being taken at its face value without proof is disaster in waiting. Furthermore, the battle ought to be on misconstruing a belief statement of Hawkins as a scientific proof. Strange but true that this obvious misinterpretation was just too contradictory to be missed. Tragically, both sides deliberately ignore this elephant in the room. Transfixed, instead, in their pointless battle for supremacy at all cost. Unwittingly, both had thrown rationality and basic human courtesy under the bus rendering the session into a fiery explosive, thus, blinding all.

High on contemptuous certitude and veracity, polemics and apologetics alike, instead of shedding light, both became part of the messy quandary. It speaks volumes of their veiled contempt, insolence and the rest of their array of negative human affectivity. On top of it all, our current techno-cyber culture being science inclined and thus, biased had turned the table on faith. All taken at face value as evidence and proof. Feeling being disadvantaged, the theists abdicated reason to plunge head on into the mindless fight. All is hot air, steam, fume and passion on questionable assumptions and presumptions but very thin rationality on both sides. Both having thrown reason, faith and all rationality under the bus, what is there to expect except endless comedic tragedy?


Reason and faith, whichever way we take, pulsate with live nerves, experience, belief and lifestyle as authority on knowledge and belief. The mindless battle is just logical consequence of breaching this reason-faith authority.

Reason is rational though scientifically inclined in method of observing organising evidence, analysis, and decision making. Faith, on the other hand, though bearing all the hall mark of experience, evidence and decision making based yet it includes the non-rational. The former is an act of the intellect in embracing truth and principle. The latter as a voluntary act of the will, like trusting in my parents and God. Faith as confidence and conviction, being evidence based and also an act of the will, like reason always seeks understanding and intelligibility. Both reason and faith shared the common quest for justifiable knowledge and truth to free humanity from every form of ignorance, supervision, fear and hatred. Both reason and faith unequivocally demand solely and only justifiable knowledge and truth.

Reason and faith, though convergent yet complementary pair of authority on knowledge. Any and every attempt to jockey for one to dominate or pontificate over the other simply opens up the flood gate to bottomless dichotomy, conflict and annihilation of both. Faith as confidence, in principle and reality, cannot annihilate reason since both imperatively demand justifiable evidence. Such convergent-opposite pair in nature and reality is just ubiquitous and irrefutable. The ubiquitous gender: male-female distinction, for instance, is an undeniable pair of opposites yet the feminine does not annihilate its masculine opposite. Otherwise, our entire human race would have been extinct. Likewise, complementary reason-faith opposite pair of authority on knowledge and belief.


The take away from this battle ground is to recognise the elephant in the room—ancient fossilised bad blood that polarised reason from faith. Getting to the bottom of this ‘male Fide’ is vital for reason and faith as credible twin authority. It is also crucial to debunk solipsism, fideism, theism, secularism, atheism, all half-truth and fallacy, otherwise all disruption, distraction and devastation persist.

Finally, only and solely honest pursuit of justifiable knowledge can berth reason and faith as authority on knowledge and belief.


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