What is Fideism?
Question: "What is Fideism?"
Answer: Fideism is the idea that religious faith and reason are incompatible with each other. It is the view that religious faith is separate from reason and cannot be reconciled with it. According to fideism, faith involves a degree of absolute certainty and personal commitment that goes beyond what can be rationally justified. Therefore, one cannot and should not seek evidence for religious belief.
A Christian who embraces the philosophy of fideism would say that the rational and scientific arguments for God are irrelevant because the essence of true Christianity is that people are saved by faith alone. Man’s rational abilities have been corrupted by sin and are untrustworthy, and the truths taught in Scripture must be believed even if they cannot be supported through logic or reason. In the simplest terms, it is the belief that if one could prove the existence of God, then faith would not be necessary or relevant.
Many of the earlier writings on fideism came about as a response to the increasing reliance on human reasoning that was made popular by rationalism. One of the early advocates of fideism was the Danish philosopher Soren Aaby Kierkegaard (1813-1855). He believed that because faith is characterized by absolute certainty and passionate personal commitment, it can never be supported by reason.
To substantiate his view of the relationship of faith and reason, Kierkegaard put forth three arguments, the first of which is the Approximation Argument. According to Kierkegaard, arguments can never prove things with absolute certainty because it is always possible that the evidence to support the argument has been misinterpreted, or that an error in reasoning has occurred. He believed that since faith requires absolute certainty, which cannot be attained through rational argument, then faith must always go beyond the evidence, and, therefore, it cannot be supported by reason.
His second argument was the Postponement Argument. This argument is based on his belief that there is always the possibility of new data or evidence that will invalidate previous conclusions. Therefore if we were to base our faith on rational scientific investigation, we would have to wait forever until all the data is in. In order to have the certainty that faith demands, one must choose to believe what cannot be acquired from scientific investigation.
His third argument was the Passion Argument. This argument emphasizes the personal commitment that in inherent in faith. He felt that since our evidence is imperfect at best, there is risk involved in believing any conclusion. He thought that the faith that goes against all known evidence is the most valuable because it is the riskiest faith of all. His view was that if we had conclusive evidence for God’s existence then belief in God would be unremarkable and uninteresting. In other words, if we could prove God’s existence through evidence or reason, then faith would be unnecessary.
Another well-known advocate of fideism was Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) a French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher. He considered the various proposed proofs for the existence of God as being irrelevant, and instead of focusing on them he invited skeptics to view faith in God as a cost-free choice that had the potential for reward. Instead of trying to argue for the existence of God, he instead emphasized that it might be of value to assume that God truly exists. His argument was basically presented as a win/win situation. If you believe in God and He does exist, you win, while, on the other hand, if you believe in God and He does not exist, you have lost nothing. This is best seen in what is known as Pascal’s Wager: “Either God is or he is not. If you wager he does exist and he doesn’t you haven’t lost anything. If he does exist you win everything. Therefore wager on God. From a standpoint of reason, faith in God is an even bet, but the existential dice are highly loaded in favor of having faith.”
Christian fideism has both strengths and weaknesses. One of its strengths is that it correctly acknowledges that rational and logical arguments cannot ultimately prove the existence of a transcendent God as revealed in Scripture. It also correctly acknowledges neither evidence nor reason is an adequate basis for faith in God. That is because faith is based on who God is and the surety of His promises and not in the evidence of His existence.
On the other hand, one of the shortcomings of Christian fideism is that a faith which is not both reasonable and logical will only be as strong as we feel at that given moment in time. The strength of our faith then rests upon our own strength and will likely wax and wane depending on our circumstances. However, faith that is founded on fact is both reasonable and logical and as such has many outside evidences to support it and strengthen it. Understanding the rational and logical foundations of our faith in Christ helps to lay a very solid foundation that will help us withstand life’s storms. While we cannot prove God’s existence scientifically, we certainly have ample evidence of His existence in creation alone (Psalm 19:1-3; Romans 1:18-32).
Recommended Resources: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland and Logos Bible Software.
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