Reasonable Doubts Blog

Philosophy and Faith Together Again

Posted in Defining faith by Cheryl Berman on the August 8th, 2010

There is little more satisfying in life than watching two of your greatest loves meet:  Brown mustard on a barbecued hot dog.  Salted butter on a steaming cob of corn. Or even the first meeting between your parents and your husband-to-be.  I think this is one reason I was so disappointed when my two loves – philosophy and faith- seemed to part so irrevocably with the various discussions and critiques surrounding the proofs for existence of God. Let’s face it.  The medieval rationalists had it easy on this front.  They believed these proofs worked technically so for them philosophy spoke volumes about religion and faith.  But when the proofs were shot down and the metaphysics was shown to be beyond our logical minds, philosophy and faith seemed to part ways.  Religion was thought to be based solely on a blind faith. What more could philosophy possible have to say?

A recent article in the New York Times by Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame rejects this view of the relationship between philosophy and faith. Gutting offers philosophy a second chance at faith by using ideas from philosophers like Hume, Wittgenstein and Platinga.  The three philosophers claim that everyday life is based on “basic beliefs” that we have no good arguments for.  For example we can’t prove that the past is often a good guide to the future, our memories are reliable, or that other people have a conscious inner life.  These are beliefs that we have adopted based on our life experiences.  They can’t really be proven technically. Faith can be viewed as one of these types of beliefs.  We have all experienced the deep beauty of nature, moral obligation, a sense of love and being loved, and through these life experiences we can  speak about a belief in an all good and powerful Being who cares for us.

Gary Gutting admits that this type of belief is far from the specifics of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, but his point remains.  Philosophy and religion do not abide on separate islands.  They can still speak to and of each other, and they should.

While there are flaws to his theory I still think Gutting’s point is valid.   Philosophy and religion should not disengage.  There are branches of philosophy like existentialism that can uncover vast treasures of religious ideology (as has been demonstrated by Rav Soloveitchik and others) exposing new elements of the phenomenon of faith. Even the outdated medieval philosophers have something to offer religious thinkers today and they should not be discounted. I admit that not all of philosophy is amenable to religion, but where would we be without Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Buber’s I and Thou, or Rav Soloveitchik’s Lonely Man of Faith?

Faith is one of those of those mysterious human qualities that begs to be explored in order to be deepened. And as people who either experience faith or search to rediscover a lost faith we need to understand it. Philosophy is one of our best tools with which we can do so.

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