Faith and Reason in the Quest For Knowledge

Faith and Reason

by Jayaram V

Summary: Faith and Reason. Which of them are superior? Rationalists keep telling us that we should solely rely upon reason and discard faith. But faith is a natural faculty of the mind just as reason is. If it is useless, Nature would not have endowed us with it. Faith gives us the incredible power to persevere. In this essay, the author suggests that both faith and reason are important and serve an important purpose in our lives.


The human mind is a marvel in itself. It gives us a unique ability to think intelligently, solve problems and survive against odds. Although it has some limitations, it is responsible for self-awareness and our ability to explore truths and speculate upon the nature of life and the universe. Because of that, one can formulate and conceptualize complex ideas, ideals, concepts and theories and discern things to know their distinct qualities and relative value.

Your mind has many similarities with the universe. Just as the universe, it is an open-ended system with an infinite capacity to be flexible and work in any direction or in whichever way you desire. It contains in itself infinite probabilities and possibilities, with which you can foresee problems, estimate possibilities and find opportunities to improve yourself or your chances of success.

Your mind also has the capacity to comprehend the intricate functioning and the vast dimensions of the universe itself. Further, you can safely rely upon your mental faculties to estimate possible outcomes, likely solutions, and future scenarios. Since your mind is also endowed with intelligence and logical and creative thinking, it is very likely that whatever you think or envision in it, can potentially happen in some dimension or space and time of the universe. It does not have to happen immediately, but potentially it can in some future ages. For example, in the ancient world of the Mahabharata times, people imagined and thought of space travel, incredible flying machines and weapons of mass destruction. Today, they are a part of our reality.

Human mind has such plasticity and potential mainly because of its three important powers or abilities namely faith, reason and imagination. They play an important role in our perception, cognition and intelligence. Imagination is an adjunct to both faith and reason and greatly enhances the mind's ability to envision solutions and possibilities.

As far as the other two are concerned, some people believe that reason is superior and we should not rely upon faith at all. They not only confuse irrational beliefs with faith that can reasonably be justified with inference and circumstantial evidence but also refuse to acknowledge the limitations of reason. The truth is, both have a significance in our survival and success. Otherwise, Nature would not have endowed us with both faculties.

Faith is a superior faculty, just as reason is. Both have not developed as much in any other living creature. It is faith which helps people trust their own intelligence, experience and problem solving skills, especially when they have to deal with ambiguous and unfamiliar situations which they have not faced before. It is faith which helps us weather adverse conditions, when life becomes difficult and emotions overwhelm reason.

We should not therefore talk of discarding one at the expense of others. We need to find ways to use both in our search for existential truths and solutions to deal with our problems. In this essay we examine their importance of faith and reason, how they are not opposed to each other and how they can be complementary and contribute to our knowledge, wisdom and survival.

Reason

Reason is the power or the ability to think logically, analyze situations, establish causes and effects, solve problems, make decisions, validate truths, draw conclusions and distinguish things and situations according to the established criteria. Whether you are aware or not, and whether you consciously or unconsciously use it or not, you use reason most of the time to analyze situations, solve your problems or make judgments.

Reason is useful in our pursuit of knowledge and in ascertaining truths. Some truths are self-evident, but some require study and analysis. We may use it instinctively, habitually or intentionally as a part of our perception and cognition. Although we think that we are rational people, we may not use reason at all in many situations, and when we use it, we may make mistakes due to erroneous thinking or faulty judgment.

Intelligent awareness arises from the proper use of reason, which gives you the ability to know things, identify causes and solutions and distinguish the polarities of life such as good and bad or what is appropriate or inappropriate. Reliance upon reason is a sign of mental maturity. Irrational thinking is a sign of ignorance and the lack of maturity.

Our rationality is also subject to numerous limitations, which result in confusion, delusion or muddled thinking. One of the main reasons for it is the lack of emotional maturity or intelligence. Emotions interfere with our thinking and our ability to deal rationally with problems and situations. Under their sway we may err in our judgment or make hasty decisions. Because of the way our brains are built, we usually respond to difficult situations with emotions before we collect our thoughts and think rationally. Therefore, to make right decisions, you must have control over your emotions and stay calm. For that, you may practice the following.

  1. By being in the present
  2. By establishing eye contact and paying attention, or being mindful
  3. By taking your decision according to your observation and experience rather than beliefs
  4. By cultivating knowledge
  5. By disputing your irrational thoughts
  6. By overcoming cognitive errors and mental filters such as prejudices and assumptions

Faith

Rationalists rely upon reason as the sole criteria to know the world and the objective reality since they believe that logic is inherent in the structures and systems of the universe, which can be discovered through systemic and rational analysis. According to them, logic is embedded in the structures and phenomena of existence. However, reason has its own limitations. Everything that happens in our lives can rationally be explained, nor can we always establish the relationship between causes and effects with equal certainty.

It is true that mathematical equations, geometrical patterns, physical, chemical and biological laws are at work in the formation, functioning and continuation of the world and the universe. However, we cannot totally rely upon reason or religion to know everything or understand everything. Although our minds have a great potential, reason cannot fathom all the mysteries of the universe or comprehend its immensity.

Reason does not adequately satisfy our curiosity about many mysteries or phenomena. It may help us solve problems, know certain natural methods and mechanisms, learn from observation, explain how things may work or how they may originate, or what causes the evolution and transformation of the world and its numerous aspects. However, it cannot explain the why of many things.

For example, you may rationally explain and establish how the earth might have come into existence, but you cannot explain why it came into existence or why life originated on earth or why we have only nine planets instead of ten or fifteen. It cannot explain why you were born or what purpose you will serve in the world. There are many such mysteries which reason is inadequate to explain or satisfy our curiosity.

Further as state before, we are prone to several cognitive errors and logical fallacies, which influence our thinking and understanding as we fail to perceive things with the required clarity, purity and objectivity. Hence, there is no certainty that by being merely rational or logical we will avoid making mistakes or always arrive at truth, nor can we assume that reason has all the answers, and it is superior to faith or other means of knowing.

Therefore, in addition to reason, we also need to rely upon faith or certain beliefs to make sense of the world and find answers to the truths of our existence which cannot be discerned with the senses, the intellect or reason. Faith is the belief, trust or confidence that something is right or true even if we do not have adequate proof. It may arise from the authority of scriptures, expert opinion, the knowledge and experience of others, or your own experience, knowledge and intuition. Your faith may also represent a belief system or a worldview such as a religion, philosophy or dogma.

You need faith to believe in yourself and your abilities, to believe in God or a higher power, to be good and do good, to establish goals and pursue them, to persevere in your actions when circumstances are unfavorable, to form relationships with people and trust them, to believe in the triumph of good over evil, to have hope and faith in the humanity, to deal with your suffering, and to stand for the principles and values in which you believe.

Faith is also needed to deal with ambiguous situations when you cannot rationally make decisions or know their possible outcomes. Since future is always unpredictable, you need faith to deal with the anxiety and uncertainty it causes and to pursue the paths that you choose to progress in life.

Faith is not a substitute for reason. You cannot solely depend upon it. The same can be said about reason also. Both have limitations. Faith is an adjunct to reason. Faith may help us deal with the complexity of life and the numerous problems we face, which cannot rationally be explained. However, it is difficult to sustain faith if there is an overwhelming proof to the contrary.

For example, at one time people believed in sorcery and magic. Now, due to advances in science we know that a lot of it is sheer trickery or superstition. Same is the case with regard to certain beliefs that are traditionally associated with mental illness or infertility. It is therefore important to keep an open mind when it comes to your beliefs. You must be willing to weigh evidence and form conclusions when facts present themselves, rather than engaging in irrational thinking or blind faith.

Conclusion

Faith and reason serve different purposes in our quest for truth. We do not have to depend exclusively upon reason only. Within the realm of the objective reality, we may depend upon reason, but when it comes to transcendental truths and abstract ideas, which reason can neither establish nor repudiate, we can rely upon faith.

We cannot always rationalize our actions. For example, we may not always be able to say why we like or dislike certain things or why we choose certain people for friendship or relationship. There may be causes of such decisions, but the same causes may not always prompt us to engage in similar decisions. Sometimes we have to trust our hearts and go by your convictions, or what experience may suggest, even if it is contrary to popular opinion or rational thought.

We can be rational, but at the same time we can also believe in ourselves, in our actions and decisions or in the goals we chose or the relationships we establish. It is by using both of them as paddles, and the mind as the boat, we can navigate our way in the ocean of life.

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