A skeptic once sent me an email informing me that Christians could never genuinely value and utilize logic and critical thinking because their faith prohibits them from basing their beliefs on rational considerations. Thus, the skeptic concluded, logic and critical thinking are at odds with the Christian conception of faith (particularly believers’ acceptance of the Bible as a divine revelation.)
In my response I explained that for centuries Christianity’s greatest philosophers and theologians (for example, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventure) have argued that faith and reason are indeed compatible with each other. I also asked the skeptic to consider five points concerning the historic Christian faith’s relationship to reason and logic.
Historic Christianity’s View of Faith and Reason
1. The Bible Mandates Intellectual Virtues: Both the Old and New Testaments implore believers to value and practice such critical thinking principles as discernment, reflection, testing, analysis, discipline, and intellectual renewal (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Acts 17:11; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 14:9; Colossians 2:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:21).
2. Christian Logicians: Many of the advancements in the study of logic through the centuries have come from the work of Christian-oriented scholars. In his fine logic textbook, A Concise Introduction to Logic, contemporary logician Patrick Hurley lists ten “Eminent Logicians,” five of which have deep connections to historic Christianity. These Christian-oriented scholars are Peter Abelard, William of Ockham, Gottfried Leibniz, George Boole, and John Venn.
3. Christ the Logos: The New Testament (John 1:1) calls Jesus Christ the logos (Greek: “word” or “reason” or “logic”) from which the English word “logic” is derived. The consensus of Christian scholarship through the centuries is that logic (or reason) is God’s good gift to humankind. Because faith and reason come from the same divine source, they are compatible and complementary—not contradictory.
4. Rational Ground: Christians believe that human beings are capable of such cognitive practices as logic and critical thinking because their cognitive faculties and sensory organs were created (via the imago Dei: in God’s image, Genesis 1:26-27) by a perfectly rational God. In other words, a perfectly rational mind stands behind and grounds human cognitive functions.
5. Accounting for Human Rationality: How do atheists justify such enterprises as logic, mathematics, and induction when they assert that their brains and sensory organs were the accidental, chance product of an evolutionary mechanism that itself lacks reason, personhood, and purpose? Do naturalists have a reason to trust their reasoning when a nonrational source stands behind their evolved accidental cognitive faculties? It doesn’t seem rational to trust human thinking if its source was nonrational in nature.
On the other hand, according to the Christian worldview we do have cause to trust our reasoning processes because they were bestowed upon us by a rational God. As Christians, we also have an incentive to do so because exercising one’s cognitive abilities carefully and skillfully brings glory to the Creator (Matthew 22:37).
For more about the importance of logic and critical thinking, see my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test. For a great handbook in dealing with logical fallacies, see Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments by T. Edward Damer.