Faith and rationality

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Faith and rationality are two modes of belief that exist in varying degrees of conflict or compatibility. Rationality is belief based on reason or evidence. Faith is belief in inspiration, revelation, or authority. The word faith generally refers to a belief that is held with lack of, in spite of or against reason and evidence.

Although the words faith and belief are sometimes erroneously conflated and used as synonyms, faith properly refers to a particular type (or subset) of belief, as defined above.

Broadly speaking, there are two categories of views regarding the relationship between faith and rationality:

The Catholic Church also has taught that faith and reason can and must work together (see Fides et Ratio)


Relationship between faith and reason

From at least the days of the Greek Philosophers, the relationship between faith and reason has been hotly debated. Plato argued that knowledge is simply memory of the eternal. Aristotle set down rules by which knowledge could be discovered by reason.

Rationalists point out that many people hold irrational beliefs, for many reasons. There may be evolutionary causes for irrational beliefs — irrational beliefs may increase our ability to survive and reproduce. Or, according to Pascal's Wager, it may be to our advantage to have faith, because faith may promise infinite rewards, while the rewards of reason are seen by some as finite.

Believers in faith — for example those who believe salvation is possible through faith alone — frequently suggest that everyone holds beliefs arrived at by faith, not reason. The belief that the universe is a sensible place and that our minds allow us to arrive at correct conclusions about it, is a belief we hold through faith. Rationalists contend that this is arrived at because they have observed the world being consistent and sensible, not because they have faith that it is.

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