Faith and reason belong together

Faith is not wishy-washy, a vague feeling, a private opinion, writes Philip Egan, Bishop of Portsmouth.

Faith is a gfift from God, illuminating our hearts and minds, and as with two people in love, faith enables us to recognise, understand and know things others cannot.

As Catholics, we reject both religious fundamentalism (living in a literalistmanner by a book or set of rules) and its opposite, liberalism (picking and choosing what I think is true).

We also reject the idea that human reason and science can be absolutely autonomous or value-free. We believe that faith and reason go together. They are two forms of knowing and essentially there is no conflict between them since each in their own way is needed. Indeed, in every form and activity of human knowing, reason and belief are blended together in varying degrees and manners, from pure maths to systematic theology, from using a computer to loving your spouse.

All our knowing is social; it involves elements of faith, trust and belief. Think of education and how we have to trust our parents and teachers. Or think of daily life and how we have to rely on what experts such as doctors and lawyers advise us. We believe others and trust them, at least until they show themselves to be unreliable or misleading, and our trust blends in with, and assists our own judgments and decisions.

Something I find distressing nowadays is the widespread yet mistaken belief that science gives us the truth, the facts, or at least the most certain knowledge available, whilst faith-knowledge is mere conjecture, personal opinion or in some cases an ideology leading to fanaticism.

The media and in particular the BBC reinforce this myth by constantly giving air-time to scientists who dabble in amateur philosophy and shift too easily from science, on which they are well-qualified to speak, into matters of philosophy, theology and the meaning and purpose of life, in which they may have little competence. The result is that even many of our Catholic children, once they reach 12 or 13, wrongly believe that science and religion are inalienably opposed and that they have to choose one over the other. Yet the briefest glance at our Catholic Tradition with its thousands of brilliant scientists - letus leave aside for now the complex politics of the notorious Galileo case - reassures us that this is a nonsense.

I hope that the study of Lumen Fidei will once and for all knock on the head such false perceptions about faith and reason and enable us, as people of Christian faith, not only to take fresh heart but also to offer others in our society a much-needed corrective. We cannot allow 'scientism' (the mistaken belief that the only secure knowledge is that derived from experimental data) to dominate the air-waves and thus to distort human endeavours by 'privatising' religion and driving it out of the public domain. We need reason/science and religion/spirituality to be in a public conversation, to be in dialogue with each other, so that both can collaborate for human betterment. The social consequences of scientism will be disastrous.

Scientism raises the belief that the only secure knowledge is that derived from experimental data)to dominate the air-waves and thus to distort human endeavours by 'privatising' religion and driving it out of the public domain... 


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