Here is a bold statement: faith is the foundation on which all reasoning proceeds. Though it is a bold statement, indeed, I believe it is true (pun intended). Let me explain why.
First of all, though, I have to admit that didn’t come up with the statement. Tim Keller did, but it aligns with what I have come to believe is true. That is that we all have faith, even materialists who say they have no faith.
I have written about it from time to time, including Reflections on Confidence in Faith and Atheism, Darwin’s Faith: The Religion of the New Atheism, and Are Reason & Faith in God Contradictory Terms?, to cite just a few examples. So this isn’t a new thought for me, but I like the way Keller approaches the topic.
Keller asks us to consider the Enlightenment premise: the only things we can really be sure of are things that are scientifically proven. This is a popular modern sentiment on faith, science and the nature of truth and reality. We have increasingly come to trust science and what science can tell us, and we have grown to distrust faith. But is that a sensible position?
Keller submits that we should think critically about that very statement – the only things we can really be sure of are things that are scientifically proven – and apply the statement to itself. How do we prove that the only things we can really be sure of are things that are scientifically proven? Can we scientifically prove it?
Keller points out that the statement, itself, cannot be scientifically proven. It’s actually not a scientific statement, but a philosophical one, and it’s also a brute assertion. We assume it to be true and proceed from there. If we don’t stop to question it, we don’t see the flaw.
This exercise exposes the limitations we have as finite beings. We don’t have the means to test our most fundamental premises – the brute assertions that lay a foundation for all of our reasoning. We aren’t omniscient. We can’t truly know whether we are starting in the right place, and where we start with our assumptions dictates where we end up.
If you don’t believe that anything in this world proceeds from a supernatural cause, that is fine, but that statement is a belief. It cannot be scientifically proven, though it informs all of your reasoning. In that science, a trust and reliance on science alone starts with faith – faith that science is the only arbiter if truth and reality.
Keller says our commitment to those brute assertions is faith. People who claim to have no faith don’t like to hear that, but it’s true. There is no such thing as a finite being that doesn’t take its most basic assertions on faith. If you adopt that position as your view of reality, all of your reasoning proceeds from it. That fundamental view of reality, however, must be taken on faith. It cannot be proven.
In this way, Keller says, “Reasoning proceeds from faith.” We begin our reasoning from the fundamental premises that we assume. Welcome to the club!