Faith and Reason

The following was published as the Letter from the Editor to The Dartmouth Apologia, Fall 2012.

Truth, the great 13th century philosopher Thomas Aquinas insisted, can only ever be one. Against the claims of his contemporary Siger of Brabant during the age of the rediscovery of Aristotle in the West, this humble saint was adamant: there can be no conflict between faith and reason. “Since therefore grace,” Aquinas wrote in what would become one of his most famous phrases, “does not destroy nature, but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity.” In this single sentence, Aquinas has articulated Apologia’s core claims about Christianity: with respect to what exists, grace does not destroy but perfects nature; with respect to what we can know, faith likewise does not destroy but perfects reason; and with respect to ethics and human freedom, caritas or love for God also does not destroy but perfects the freedom of the will. Faith does not inhibit the progress of science but rather guides our search for understanding and ensures that we will not rest content in anything but the fullness of truth. Without faith, reason is at best unknowingly near-sighted, at worst arrogantly blind; without reason, faith is at best innocently unarticulated, at worst patently nonsensical.

Eight centuries later, although the vocabulary has changed, we still grapple with the difficulty of the same relationship. Critics of Christianity often begin with an unconscious reformulation Siger of Brabant’s distinction between the truths of science and the truths of religion, until they realize they can just as easily claim there are no religious truths but only scientific truths. Discouraged, many modern people, especially college students, settle for relativism, trapped by the whirlwind of competing religious and scientific voices into resigning themselves to the fact that there just is no objective religious truth, or at least none that we can know. Nevertheless, there are voices, like Apologia, insisting that there are answers and we can know them; while we don’t have all the answers and certainly don’t think they are found easily, we refuse to give in and say there are no answers, especially to questions of morality, religion, and purpose. Across America’s college campuses, likeminded journals have begun to draw upon the rich intellectual tradition of Christianity to not only defend the Christian faith but also discover in it unique answers to perennial social and philosophic problems, problems that often seem unanswerable.

In the pages [of The Dartmouth Apologia, Fall 2012] that follow, you will encounter articles, book reviews, and an interview tackling just these difficulties. You will notice that as we explore both misconceptions about Christianity and its unique answers to questions like that of true friendship, we examine the writings of ancients and moderns, the secular and the religious. Indeed, it is with confidence that we dive into all pools of knowledge, just as confident as secular humanists that we can discover real truths about our world but humble enough to admit the world might be a more wondrous but but also more serious place than we could imagine without the light of faith. We invite you to explore some of Christianity’s unique (and often paradoxical) answers to humanity’s greatest questions.

 

Photo credit: tat from morguefile.com.

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