The Idea Of Reason

Terence Penelhum

The relationship between philosophy and religious faith has never been an easy one. Philosophers deem it to be peculiarly their business to assess the rationality of others' activities and attitudes. In modern times, most of them have considered the rationality of faith to be at least problematic, and many have judged that it does not meet the standards of rationality they have applied to it.

There have always been those on the side of faith who have thought this presumptuous. Some of them have thought this because they consider faith has no obligation to be rational (a view known as fideism). Others have thought it because they consider the criteria of rationality philosophers have applied to faith are the wrong ones. In our day this latter opinion has been gaining influence among Christian philosophers, because of a change in the self-understanding of philosophy. Many philosophers, Christians or not, have come to abandon a perception of their role that has dominated modern philosophical thought since Descartes. It has been called a foundationalist conception of philosophy; and some contemporary Christian philosophers argue that if this conception of philosophy is abandoned, the rationality of faith ceases to be problematic, and the defender of faith does not have to adopt a fideist stance in apologetics.

The purpose of this chapter is to explain this view, and the philosophical history behind it; and to assess its strengths and weaknesses.

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