Last summer I read a pretty large portion of the book The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I stopped reading it part way through not because I disliked it or disagreed with it, but because it was hateful. I know a few atheists and they quite honestly are not nearly as hateful or rude as most of the authors and speakers out there who claim atheism. Most of the major atheists out there tend to insult believers and tend to insult their intelligence. They claim that faith in God is just a delusion not rooted in rational arguments or evidence. This attitude is mainly fueled by a misunderstanding of what faith is and of the type of arguments that are used to argue for the existence of God.
Why do I believe in God? Why am I a Catholic? The answer to both of these questions begins with the fact that I have faith. But what is faith? Hebrews 11:1 states, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” The dictionary defines faith as “confidence or trust in a person or thing.” However, it also defines faith as, “belief that is not based in proof.” This is where I disagree. Often times those of us who genuinely have faith don’t seem to understand what it really is. We tend to use that second dictionary definition. Have you ever been told by someone when asking a question about something the Church teaches, “Well we can’t fully explain that, you just have to have faith”? I’m guessing if you have gone through enough years of religious education you have heard that at some point. Well that sadly is the answer given by a well-meaning poorly educated catechist.
So then, what is Faith?
“Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature.” (CCC 150)
To spell this out a little more clearly let us first talk about what Faith is not. Faith is not a feeling or emotion. True faith is an act of the will. Faith is also not something based only on experience. While experiences can deepen our faith or give us a different perspective on life, they do not offer support for or against the faith. If faith is any of those things then it is a faith divorced from reason.
The human person is composed of body and soul. The two powers of the human soul are the intellect and will. In the intellect dwells our power to reason. We then use our reason to cause the will to act. Reason is what allows us to prove, discover, and understand the world around us. Reason, when used properly, leads us to discover truth. However it cannot work alone. As stated above, reason or science does not have all the answers. Reason can only take us so far. Reason takes us to the threshold and it is faith that makes us step over the threshold. In faith the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace. Reason is the natural power, while faith is the supernatural power.
You see there are certain things that are revealed by God but are not understandable, discoverable, or provable by reason. These are truths that have a certain level of rational explanation but could not be discovered by reason alone (for example the Trinity). We cannot prove these particular truths empirically; however we can answer all the arguments and against them. Then there are those things revealed by God & understandable, discoverable, or provable by reason. These are things like the moral law and the existence of God. Keep in mind that the proof for these things is not scientific or empirical. It is a philosophical proof. This means that we prove that belief in them is rational and logical. Then there are things not revealed by God but known only by human reason, for example the quadratic formula or a theorem in Geometry. True faith picks up where reason leaves off. It is not something we make up to simply explain something we don’t have an answer to. Rather it is the answer to the things science cannot answer. Bl. John Paul II said it best in his encyclical, Fides et Ratio, “Faith and reason are like two wings in which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”