Fideism is the view that religious belief relies primarily on faith or special revelation, rather than rational inference or observation (see natural theology). The word fideism comes from fides, the Latin word for faith, and literally means faith-ism.
Throughout history, several philosophers and theologians have articulated the idea that faith is more important, or valid, or virtuous, than reason in theology. One can use different criteria for judging statements belonging to the sphere of religion than other areas. As a result, theology may include logical contradictions without apology.
According to some versions of fideism, reason is the antithesis of some faiths; according to others, faith is prior to or beyond reason, and therefore ought not to be influenced by it.
Religions have responded differently to fideism. Support of fideism is most commonly associated with four philosophers: Pascal, Kierkegaard, William James, and Wittgenstein. Others, like Socrates and St. Augustine spent their lives stressing the importance of thinking critically with no exceptions.
OverviewAlvin Plantinga defines "fideism" as "the exclusive or basic reliance upon faith alone, accompanied by a consequent disparagement of reason and utilized especially in the pursuit of philosophical or religious truth." The fideist therefore "urges reliance on faith rather than reason, in matters philosophical and religious," and therefore may go on to disparage the claims of reason. The fideist seeks truth, above all: and affirms that reason cannot achieve certain kinds of truth, which must instead be accepted only by faith. Plantinga's definition might be revised to say that what the fideist objects to is not so much "reason" per se — it seems excessive to call Blaise Pascal anti-rational — but evidentialism: the notion that no belief should be held unless it is supported by evidence.
The fideist notes that religions that are founded on revelation call their faithful to believe in a transcendent deity even if believers cannot fully understand the object of their faith. Some fideists also observe that human rational faculties are themselves untrustworthy, because the entire human nature has been corrupted by sin, and as such the conclusions reached by human reason are therefore untrustworthy: the truths affirmed by divine revelation must be believed even if they find no support in human reason. Fideism, of a sort which has been called naive fideism, is frequently found in response to anti-religious arguments; the fideist resolves to hold to what has been revealed as true in his faith, in the face of contrary lines of reasoning.
Specifically, fideism teaches that rational or scientific arguments for the existence of God are fallacious and irrelevant, and have nothing to do with the truth of Christian theology. Its argument in essence goes:
- Christian theology teaches that people are saved by faith in the Christian God (i.e. trust in the empirically unprovable).
- But, if the Christian God's existence can be proven, either empirically or logically, to that extent faith becomes unnecessary or irrelevant.
- Therefore, if Christian theology is true, no immediate proof of the Christian God's existence is possible.
Theories of truthThe doctrine of fideism is consistent with some, and radically contrary to other theories of truth:
Some forms of fideism outright reject the correspondence theory of truth, which has major philosophical implications. Some only claim a few religious details to be axiomatic.
Fideism in ChristianityFideism has a long history in Christianity. It can plausibly be argued as an interpretation of 1 Corinthians, wherein Paul says:
- For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe... For the foolishness of God is wiser than (the wisdom of) men. (1 Cor. 1:21, 25)
Paul's contrast of the folly of the Gospel with earthly wisdom may relate to a statement Jesus made in Luke 10:21:
- I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (ESV)
Tertullian - "I believe because it is absurd"The statement "Credo quia absurdum" ("I believe because it is absurd"), often attributed to Tertullian, is sometimes cited as an example of such a view in the Church Fathers, but this appears to be a misquotation from Tertullian's De Carne Christi (External Link: On the Flesh of Christ). What he actually says in DCC 5 is "... the Son of God died; it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd."
This, however, is not a statement of a fideist position; rather, it is rendered somewhat plausible by the context—that Tertullian was simply engaging in ironic overstatement. As a matter of fact, this work used an argument from Aristotle's rhetoric saying that if a man in whom you have trust tells you about a miraculous event he witnessed, you can allow yourself to consider that he may be saying the truth despite the fact that the event is very unlikely.
Blaise Pascal and fideismA more sophisticated form of fideism is assumed by Pascal's Wager. Blaise Pascal invites the atheist considering faith to see faith in God as a cost-free choice that carries a potential reward. He does not attempt to argue that God indeed exists, only that it might be valuable to assume that it is true. In his Pensées, Pascal writes:
- Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give reasons for their beliefs, since they profess belief in a religion which they cannot explain? They declare, when they expound it to the world, that it is foolishness, stultitiam; and then you complain because they do not prove it! If they proved it, they would not keep their word; it is through their lack of proofs that they show they are not lacking in sense. (Pensées, no, 233).
Pascal moreover contests the various proposed proofs of the existence of God as irrelevant. Even if the proofs were valid, the beings they propose to demonstrate are not congruent with the deity worshiped by historical faiths, and can easily lead to deism instead of revealed religion: "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — not the god of the philosophers!"
Hamann and fideism
Considered to be the father of modern irrationalism, Johann Georg Hamann promoted a view that elevated faith alone was the only guide to human conduct. Using the work of David Hume he argued that everything people do is ultimately based on faith. Without faith (for it can never be proven) in the existence of an external world, human affairs could not continue; therefore, he argued, all reasoning comes from this faith: it is fundamental to the human condition. Thus all attempts to base belief in God using Reason are in vain. He virulently attacks systems like Spinozism that try to confine what he feels is the infinite majesty of God into a finite human creation. There is only one path to God, that of a childlike faith not Reason.
Kierkegaard - "Truth is Subjectivity"A fideist position of this general sort — that God's existence cannot be certainly known, and that the decision to accept faith is neither founded on, nor needs, rational justification — may be found in the writings of Søren Kierkegaard and his followers in Christian existentialism. Many of Kierkegaard's works, including Fear and Trembling, are under pseudonyms; they may represent the work of fictional authors whose views correspond to hypothetical positions, not necessarily those held by Kierkegaard himself.
In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard focused on Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac. The New Testament apostles repeatedly argued that Abraham's act was an admirable display of faith. To the eyes of a non-believer, however, it must necessarily have appeared to be an unjustifiable attempted murder, perhaps the fruit of an insane delusion. Kierkegaard used this example to focus attention on the problem of faith in general. He ultimately affirmed that to believe in the incarnation of Christ, in God made flesh, was to believe in the "absolute paradox", since it implies that an eternal, perfect being would become a simple human. Reason cannot possibly comprehend such a phenomenon; therefore, one can only believe in it by taking a "leap of faith".
Wittgenstein and FideismAccording to the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, religion is a self-contained—and primarily expressive—enterprise, governed by its own internal logic or “grammar.” This view—commonly called Wittgensteinian Fideism—states: (1) that religion is logically cut off from other aspects of life; (2) that religious discourse is essentially self-referential and does not allow us to talk about reality; (3) that religious beliefs can be understood only by religious believers; and (4) that religion cannot be criticized.http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fideism/#2.2
Fideism and presuppositional apologeticsPresuppositional apologetics is a Christian system of apologetics associated mainly with Calvinist Protestantism; it attempts to distinguish itself from fideism, although some may find the differentiation elusive. It holds that all human thought must begin with the proposition that the revelation contained in the Bible is axiomatic, rather transcendentally necessary, else one would not be able to make sense of any human experience (see also epistemic foundationalism). To a non-believer who rejects the notion that the truth about God, the world and themselves can be found within the Bible, Christian theology literally has nothing to say; however, some presuppositional apologists believe that such a condition is impossible, claiming that all people actually believe in God, whether they admit or deny it.
This sort of reasoning is similar to the thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who taught that language was like a game, in that different sorts of discourse must be judged under their own proper set of rules and not those of other types, though they may have significant overlap due to the cognitive inconsistencies in the users of disparate language games. It also has similarities with Thomas Kuhn's paradigmatic analysis (not to be confused with paradigmatic analysis in semantic theory or music theory). According to the presuppositional apologist, the determination of the truth of religious statements cannot be directly determined by resorting to the rules governing logical or scientific statements, only indirectly, by transcendental argument, where the truth of the statements are seen as the necessary condition of the truth of those very rules (and all other proof and reasoning). Immanuel Kant, P. F. Strawson, Moltke Gram, T. E. Wilkerson, A. C. Grayling, Michael Dummett, and Jaakko Hintikka, among others, have discussed transcendental forms of thought in recent philosophical literature. Presuppositional apologetics could be seen as being more closely allied with foundationalism than fideism, though it has sometimes been critical of both.
ProtestantismMartin Luther taught that faith and reason were antithetical, and that man must reject reason and accept faith. He wrote, "All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false." and "Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has."
Reformed Protestants have understood Luther as not outright denouncing reason, but rather as saying (what is commonly said among Reformed theologians) we "reason by faith." We do not base our faith upon reason, but rather our reason is to be upon faith. Robert L. Reymond, a more prominent Reformed theologian today claims: "Biblical faith is not a leap in the dark; it is not fideism."
Benjamin B. Warfield says, "We cannot be said to believe or to trust in a thing or person of which we have no knowledge; 'implicit faith' in this sense is an absurdity." Reformed Protestants hold that biblical faith is based upon the revelation of divine knowledge. Faith devoid of knowledge is "believing the lie" that "leads to condemnation" (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Biblical faith wants nothing to do with a mindless Christianity. Compared to other religions, Christianity is "preeminently the reasoning religion" -- the Bible commands people to know what they must believe in.
Fideism in IslamWhile the centrality of issues of faith and its role in salvation make fideism of this sort an important issue for Christianity, it can exist in other revealed religions as well. In Islam, the theologian Al-Ghazali strikes a position similar to Tertullian's fideism in his Tahafut al-falasafa, the "Incoherence of the Philosophers." Where the claims of reason come into conflict with revelation, reason must yield to revelation. This position drew a rejoinder from Averroes, whose position was more influential in Thomist and other medieval Christian thinking than it was in the Islamic world itself. Ghazali's position of the absolute authority and finality of divine revelation is in fact the standard position of orthodox Muslim exegesis.
Theologies opposed to fideism
Fideism rejected by the Roman Catholic ChurchSome theologies strongly reject fideism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, representing Roman Catholicism's great regard for Thomism, the teachings of St Thomas Aquinas, affirms that it is a doctrine of Roman Catholicism that God's existence can indeed be demonstrated by reason. Aquinas's rationalism has deep roots in Western Christianity; it goes back to St Anselm of Canterbury's observation that the role of reason was to explain faith more fully: fides quaerens intellectum, "faith seeking understanding," is his formula.
The official position of Roman Catholicism is that while the existence of the one God can in fact be demonstrated by reason, men can nevertheless be deluded by their sinful natures to deny the claims of reason that demonstrate God's existence. The Anti-Modernist oath promulgated by Pope Pius X required Roman Catholics to affirm that:
- ... God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (cf. Rom. 1:20), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated...
Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that:
- Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator; yet there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty. For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self-surrender and abnegation. The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful. — Catechism of the Catholic Church, ss. 37.
Pope John Paul II's encyclical Fides et Ratio also affirms that God's existence is in fact demonstrable by reason, and that attempts to reason otherwise are the results of sin. In the encyclical, John Paul II warned against "a resurgence of fideism, which fails to recognize the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief in God."
Fideist currents in Roman Catholic thoughtHistorically, there have been a number of fideist strains within the Roman Catholic orbit. Catholic traditionalism, exemplified in the nineteenth century by Joseph de Maistre, emphasized faith in tradition as the means of divine revelation. The claims of reason are multiple, and various people have argued rationally for several contradictory things: in this environment, the safest course is to hold true to the faith that has been preserved through tradition, and to resolve to accept what the Church has historically taught. In his essay Du pape ("On the Pope"), de Maistre argued that it was historically inevitable that all of the Protestant churches would eventually seek reunification and refuge in the Roman Catholic Church: science was the greater threat, it threatened all religious faith, and "no religion can resist science, except one."
Another refuge of fideist thinking within the Roman Catholic Church is the concept of "signs of contradiction". According to this belief, the holiness of certain people and institutions is confirmed by the fact that other people contest their claims: this opposition is held to be worthy of comparison to the opposition met by Jesus Christ himself. The fact that the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin is widely disbelieved, for example, is thought to confirm its authenticity under this belief; the same has been claimed for the doctrine of the real presence of the Eucharist, or the spiritual merits of the Opus Dei organization and its discipline.
The Christological argumentLikewise, a tradition of argument found among some Protestants and Catholics alike argues that respect for Jesus as a teacher and a wise man is logically contradictory if one does not accept him as God as well, also known as the 'Lord, Liar, or Lunatic' argument: either He was insane, or a charlatan, or he was in fact the Messiah and Son of God. Cf. Christological argument. This argument was popularised by the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity (p. 52).
Critics of this argument assert that it presents a false trichotomy. Jesus may well have important things to teach and have wisdom to give even if he is wrong, ironic, misunderstood, or misquoted about his own relation to God. One need not be right about everything to be right about something. In this line of thinking, the teaching can be true independently of the conduct of the teacher. However, proponents of this argument deny that it is a false trichotomy by appealing to personhood, claiming that Christ as a person could not have died for teachings he knew to be false. Furthermore, he would not have made ridiculous claims of his own divinity alongside otherwise sound teachings if these claims (cf. Mark 14:61-62) were not true. He would not have died for all these things if he had not himself truly believed them, as the argument goes. But if he was so sincerely self-deceived on such a grand level, then he would be among the most lunatic, unworthy of the label of "Rabbi."
Another argument against the 'Lord, Liar, or Lunatic' argument is that fideism simply applies to those who never met Jesus (i.e. all of His subsequent followers). We have no proof of His actions, only accounts of them (in the same way we only have accounts of God's actions from the Old Testament). As such, followers must take what God has shown them (the bringing of his son, Jesus, into our mortal sphere) as enough to inspire them to believe, even if they feel they have no personal proof for themselves. The Christian counter-argument is that there is a great weight of evidence to support the historical authenticity of the Gospels. The point of fideism is to pull followers away from asking God to prove his existence (which would be laying the burden of proof on God). This is based on the faith that God knows best, regardless of the evidence which God could provide.
As sinFideism has received criticism not just from atheists, but also from theologians who argue that fideism is not a proper way to worship God. According to this position, if one does not attempt to understand what one believes, one is not really believing. “Blind faith” is not true faith. Notable articulations of this position include:
As dangerousFideism can be responded to with an appeal to morality. Another criticism of fideism is that it is often the foundation of destructive or disruptive belief systems (e.g. Under fideism, cults and violent religious extremism are legitimate. Individuals who unquestioningly obey irrational personal beliefs can be dangerous. .
As relativismRelativism is the position where two opposing positions are both true. The existence of other religions puts a fundamental question to fideists -- if faith is the only way to know the truth of God, how are we to know which God to have faith in? Fideism alone is not considered an adequate guide to distinguish true or morally valuable revelations from false ones. An apparent consequence of fideism is that all religious thinking becomes equal. The major monotheistic religions become on par with obscure fringe religions, as neither can be advocated or disputed.
A case for reasonThese critics note that people successfully use reason in their daily lives to solve problems and that reason has led to progressive increase of knowledge in the sphere of science. This gives credibility to reason and argumentative thinking as a proper method for seeking truth. On the other hand, according to these critics, there is no evidence that a religious faith that rejects reason would also serve us while seeking truth. In situations in which our reason is not sufficient to find the truth (for example, when trying to answer a difficult mathematical question) fideism also fails.
In cultureDouglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, uses his Babel fish to demonstrate a rationalist/fideist paradox:
- "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies
faith, and without faith I am nothing."
- "But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that You exist, and so therefore, by Your own arguments, You don't. Q.E.D."
- "Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
- "Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
- "But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that You exist, and so therefore, by Your own arguments, You don't. Q.E.D."
- "Fideism" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- "Fideism" in The Catholic Encyclopedia
- href="http://www.infidelguy.com/members/Mike_Young/Fideism.htm">http://www.infidelguy.com/members/Mike_Young/Fideism.htm A critique of Fideism
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