October 2010 Archives
The topics of faith and reason are often surrounded by much debate and disagreement. Whether one chooses to look to the Catholic Church's strong opposition of Galileo's heliocentric universe or to the lack of God in the Big Bang Theory it becomes clear that faith and reason have not always coexisted peacefully. In his Summa Contra Gentiles Aquinas makes several arguments for the existence of harmony between faith and reason. In the seventh chapter of this document, titled "That the truth of reason is not in opposition to the truth of the Christian faith," He refers to the first principle, of non-contradiction, and the first condition, the ability of the mind to know truth, to help support his position.
In regard to the first principle, Aquinas makes both explicit and implicit use of it in this section. In one instance he states, "Now contrary opinions cannot be together in the same subject" (334). Here he explicitly states the first principle and continues to build his argument upon it. The principle becomes vital in concluding a logical progression of thought relating to nature and the beliefs and opinions God made innate in His creation. After accepting that truths cannot contradict one another it is only logical to assume that the truths God reveals to His people will not contradict the truths that can be obtained through nature. God is the author of nature and that which He reveals, so, being products of the same creator, it would be illogical for the two to contradict each other. Aquinas reiterates this point by explaining the impossibility of contradiction between that which human experience has deemed true and that which God has revealed (333). Certain things have been proven to human nature so thoroughly that they cannot be false. On the other hand it is entirely incorrect to deem anything from God as untrue. Therefore it is beyond the bounds of reason for the two to oppose each other. Aquinas also acknowledges the tendency of contrary arguments to hinder the advancement of truth. He notes that it is impossible to attribute the hindering of knowledge to God so, therefore, no contradiction must exist (334). In this short section Aquinas weaves the first principle around, over, and through all of his arguments.
Even with all of the evidence and support Aquinas provides none of it would be significant without acceptance of the first condition. If the mind were not capable of knowing truth it would not only be irrelevant to find contradiction amongst truths, it would be impossible to explore their relation at all. By setting out to explain the relationship between faith and reason Aquinas is fully leaning on the belief that truth can be known by humans. It is within this condition, however, that Aquinas goes on to discuss the relation of faith and reason.
Earlier in the Summa contra Gentiles Aquinas notes,
Just as a man would show himself to be a most insane fool if he declared the assertions of a philosopher to be false because he was unable to understand them, so, and much more, a man would be exceedingly foolish, were he to suspect of false hood the things revealed by God. (330)
In this instance Aquinas is almost using the first condition in reverse. Instead of ending the condition with the ability to understand truth he furthers it by suggesting that something is not untrue simply because one does not yet understand it. He revisits this point in chapter seven by connecting it to the relation of faith and reason. Though the truths of the Christian faith often exceed the capabilities of human reason it is incorrect to count them as false (333).
He continues by saying, "Nor is it lawful to deem false that which is held by faith, since it is so evidently confirmed by God" (333). Here he is arguing that the process by which one comes to know the truths they are capable of knowing is not entirely relevant. He is not, however, saying it is irrelevant. Though he probably would not go as far as postmodernists in distrusting truth it seems as though Aquinas would test the sources and methods he used to obtain information to ensure their validity. He is instead stating that truths which come from faith are just as valid as those contrived by human reason.
In this chapter, and in the rest of the Summa contra Gentiles, Aquinas strives to validate the relationship between faith and reason. By basing his arguments on two of the self evident truths he is able to unravel criticism and arrive at logical conclusions about the affinity of reason and faith.