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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Fideism and Isaiah 55: 8-9

Sometimes I run into people who make the charge that it is inappropriate to try to use logic to evaluate what God does. This charge usually stems from the idea that it is inappropriate to use our logic to evaluate and/or make sense of the ways of God because our logic, like the rest of our nature, has fallen. One of the usual proof-texts for this way of thinking is found in Isaiah 55:8-9:

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts."

This type of thinking has been generally labled fideism. Fideism, according to CARM Theological Dictionary, is the "position that religious doctrines rest not on reason, but only on faith." The New Advent Encyclopedia defines fideism as "A philosophical term meaning a system of philosophy or an attitude of mind, which, denying the power of unaided human reason to reach certitude, affirms that the fundamental act of human knowledge consists in an act of faith, and the supreme criterion of certitude is authority." In other words, this view holds that matters of faith should be taken strictly on faith and reason does not enter into determining truth.

There are two objections to this line of thinking. The first is based on the Bible itself and the second is based upon the consequences of this idea.

First, with respect to the Bible, two counters are possible which, working together, destroy this idea. The first is the fact that Isaiah 1 seems to roll back the idea thtat we cannot use reason to approach God. Isaiah 1:18-20 says:

"Come now, and let us reason together,"
Says the LORD,

"Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.
If you consent and obey,
You will eat the best of the land;
But if you refuse and rebel,
You will be devoured by the sword."
Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Emphasis added.)

In this verse, the Lord, through Isaiah, clearly calls on us to reason with Him. The verses then continue to make an argument, i.e., use reason, in the logical form of modus ponens, that is, "if - then." The verse begins with the proposition that our sins are like scarlet but they can be as white as snow. How? If you obey, then you will eat of the fat of the land. However, If you rebel, then you will be devoured. Thus, God is reasoning with us in the classical form of modus ponens.

Second, the context of Isaiah 55:8-9 demonstrates that those verses do not stand for the proposition that we cannot understand the ways of God. Why not? Because Isaiah 55:7 sets the context as to whom God is speaking the words being relied upon. When God says "My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," who is He addressing? Look at Isaiah 55:7:

Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Whose thoughts are not God's thoughts? The unrighteous man's thoughts. Whose ways are not God's ways? The wicked man's ways. That is the ways and thoughts Isaiah 55:8-9 are addressing.

The logical error comes in the form of realizing that a person has to use logic to defend their belief that Isaiah 55:8 (or any other Bible verse they may point out) says that it is inappropriate to try to use logic to evaluate what God does. How so? Because someone who holds this view must also use modus ponens to make that argument. In effect, they are saying: If we have fallen, then we have also fallen in our intellect. If our intellect has fallen, then we should't use logic to evaluate what God does. But they are using reason (not faith) to argue as a religious doctrine that religious doctrines rest not on reason, but only on faith. This is erroneous thinking.

I am not saying that we have not fallen in our intellect, too. I am saying, however, that we have not fallen so far as a fideist would have you believe. We are capable of understanding some things about God, and God calls on us to use reason in looking at Him and His ways. But just because our flawed reason may lead us at times to the wrong conclusion, that is no reason to abandon the entire project. The old addage "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" seems especially applicable here.

2 comments:

BK,

How much have you studied presuppositional apologetics (Van Til, Gordon Clark, Greg Bahnsen, John Frame, Francis Schaeffer etc)?

Just curious...

Dawn Treader,

I have read a lot of Schaeffer, but I have not read any of the others. Thus, I guess I haven't studied much presuppositional apologetics. Does it show?

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