I’m happy both that faith is reasonable and that it is not the result of reasoning; that it is both not contrary to human thought and that it calls for more than can be attained by thought. Arguments help, but faith usually exists without them, and it always calls for something more than they can provide.
There is an element of truth in the atheist critique that faith is belief without evidence. True, the sense of “evidence” is usually either undeveloped or so overly restricted as to be of no value (omitting testimonials, personal experience, historical argument, etc.). But there is still an element in the faith that we cannot simply set out in front of ourselves, and which does not follow from rational evidence making a conclusion. So faith must in some sense demand assent beyond what can be given in a rational, evidential case. What then?
There is one sense in which the advance of knowledge demands going beyond what can be given by the data or the evidence. Every hypothesis, guess, tinkering, working model or definition, idealization, counter-factual etc. anticipates data and commits us to taking up something as true for the sake of confirming it as true. But it’s not just that we anticipate data, we appear to be rationally flouting rules of reason. We seek to prove the antecedent by confirming the consequent. This is not a rational way of proceeding, so far as it violates a basic rule of formal logic, but it is nevertheless rational.
We can go further: it’s hard to see how we would ever get anywhere in reasoning if there was nothing more to it than following all the canons of formal logical reasoning in a mechanical or algorithmic way. How would we proceed before eliminating all possible logical options, look past irrelevant data, recognize and dismiss outlier cases, see patterns in messy data, hit on just the right test for some fact or the right metaphor to explain it etc.? There is a visionary power that lies behind reasoning, supports it, and clears the way for it. The visionary power can’t chop logic or explain itself, but it is most of all what counts as genius – more to the point, it is what makes the evidential case possible. Being prior to the evidential case, it can never be reduced to it. If anything, the evidential case is reduced to the visionary power.
Nothing of what we’ve said so far favors the faith over the denial of it: reasoning always rests on an act of vision (or the corruption of this act of vision) irrespective of what conclusion one reaches. But this does serve as a critique of the claim that belief follows an evidential case, as though a belief is only reasonable if it is the conclusion of some rational proof. The logical critique of such a claim is easy: if this were absolutely true, we couldn’t believe what we used to prove anything. Ontologically, however, we must go much further – reasoning depends on our relationship to a noetic field which does not play by evidential or scientific rules, and so the attempt to place science and evidence at the rational basis of belief would itself destroy the very possibility of science or rational evidence. Nevertheless, this noetic field cannot be explained in sub-rational terms – or at least the cost of doing so is to deny that either science or evidence is rational. Any one can see that there is a foundation of reasoning, but we are continually prone to account for it in non- rational terms: instinct, sub-conscious, sentiments, assumptions, or even “faith”. All of these capture something about the noetic field that supports reason, but they all overlook what is most crucial to it: it sees truth, even if not infallibly.
Faith is not known by our natural powers of penetration into this noetic field, but it appears that the light of faith works within it. To put it in modern terms: faith anticipates the evidence in such a way as to place one in a research program and clinical trial throughout life.