Faith, reason, and orders of causality

Just as we explain the relation between creator and creature, the relation between reason and faith is best understood in terms of primary and secondary causality, which is clearest to us in the relation between agents and their instruments. The basic analogy is this:

what a mind can do by itself : what mind can do in connection with the primary agent :: reason : faith.

Here mind is a secondary cause or instrument. Every instrument is capable of doing things by itself, though this might be clearest in the more advanced sorts of instruments. Computers can update themselves, spell-check, play audio files, etc., that is, do all the things which, if they couldn’t do, they’d need repair. This need for repair is a useful line making off what any instrument can do for itself. We’d either fix or trash a hammer that was hissing one claw end or a lose handle, but not one that couldn’t swing itself or squarely hit a nail.

This relation is at the heart of many of the puzzling things said about faith and reason, like

1) The relation explain how we can be both made for faith (for everyone makes an instrument with an eye to its use by the primary agent) but also that it is not irrational to not have faith (since it is not a defect of an instrument to be unable to do what it can only do in connection with the agent).

2.) It explains how God’s actions can never be violent but will always be in line with our will. One cannot commit violence against a keyboard by typing with it.

3.) It explains how reason can have its own complete domain with its own integrity while at the same time being open to another one. There are no gaps in the universe just as there are no parts missing from a complete hammer. For all that, it can’t swing itself – but the swinging is not a feature on the same level as the claw end, handle, face, etc. A consideration of the historical-critical method would be to the point here.

4.) It transcends both fideism and rationalism. Rationalism say, in effect, we are irrational for not having faith. This is wrong, not only because it fails to give a reason for Christianity at all, but because it sees defects where there are none. Fideism insists that whatever is betond what the mind can do by itself must be beyond what the mind can do altogether. Applied to all secondary causes, this would mean we couldn’t write an essay on a computer.

5.) It explains the otherwise obscure claim in STA that grace always builds on nature. Of course it does – but not as a second story but the way any use of an instrument presupposes that the instrument is in good working order. This in turn opens up an avenuse to see the necessity of philosophy and science in theology.

If you play around with the analogy for a awhile it starts seeming that any failure to understand faith and reason traces back to some overlooking of the relation between primary and secondary causes.


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