Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Beyond Reason to Faith

     Gayle and I live close to nature and we hike in the mountains daily with Dakota, our dog.  When I walk alone I have a lot of time for contemplation.  I’ve always wrestled with ontology, which is a big word that applies to the nature of existence.  My Christian faith provides answers, but I like to think beyond that to get a sense of the general context.  Walking in the woods and everything I know in this regard always leads me to teleology, another big word that refers to the evidence of design in nature.  Design without a Designer makes no sense to me.

            I’m sure we’ve all thought about these things at some time or another, but we always come to a point where questions remain unanswered.  Our minds are limited.  And science is limited in its scope.  Science is not the only path to truth.  Truth does not exist within our virtual world.  To make matters worse, science can also be influenced by a prevailing philosophy.  Take man-made global warming or Darwin’s theory and the so-called “consensus” of science. 

            The geocentric view prior to Copernicus was based on scientific consensus that the earth was the center of our solar system.  Copernicus changed that with the heliocentric view that the sun was the center of our solar system.  He paid a heavy price for going against the science of the day, but this proves that scientific consensus can be wrong.  Even the word “consensus” has no place in science, since science is always evolving and should always be challenged.

            So “What’s it all about, Alfie?”  Philosophers have struggled with that question for centuries.  Even this old fool-on-the-hill has wrestled with existential questions for which there are no answers.  But what is an “existential question?”

            An existential question would be “What is the meaning of life?  “What happens when we die?” “What is the purpose of it all?” An existential crisis relates to the stripping away of identities or meaning leaving us with our basic essence as a human being and questions of reality. 

            I’m not sure I fully grasp the concept and its variety of applications, but here is my understanding of existentialism as a philosophy. 

            Existentialism emphasizes the isolation of the individual in a hostile and indifferent universe.  The individual is a self determining agent in an unexplainable existence with full responsible for the consequence of his decisions.  Man creates his own nature through his freedom of choice.  In a pure interpretation of this philosophy there is no inherent purpose in life, but this does not normally extend all the way to nihilism.

            Perhaps the only existentialist thinker I can relate to is Soren Kierkegaard.  I quote him frequently in my posts.  A variety of philosophers have put a variety of spins on existentialism, but Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche may have kicked it off, with Karl Japers and Jean-Paul Sartre and others adding additional flavors.

            I like Kierkegaard, because he is considered a Christian Existentialist who puts the emphasis on faith to fill the gaps.  The term “Christian Existentialist” seems counter intuitive, but to Kierkegaard, the choice of faith is critical.  It’s through faith that Kierkegaard chooses Christianity.

            The entire Christian perspective, from creation to the resurrection of Jesus, is difficult to fathom through reason.  Much seems illogical. Conversely, to think that our existence happened by chance is also unreasonable – at least to me.  This is what Kierkegaard would say is where faith obviates the absurdity.  He implies that we can’t believe in these things by virtue of reason.  This is where faith comes in and Christianity is all about faith.

            If we choose faith, which is the foundations of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason.  You’ve heard the phrase, “the leap of faith.”  This idea had its origin with Kierkegaard, but he actually stated it as a “leap to faith.”

            So when you get into ontology, the origin of life, the existence of God, the virgin birth of Jesus and his purpose, as well as other things that seem difficult, if not impossible, to understand logically, you are forced to go beyond reason.  There is too much that is beyond the reach of science and human understanding.  It is at this point that you are required to take that leap to faith.   

            The point of all this is that we can never find answers through reason to the “existential” questions that plague us. Maybe the universe is not as empty as an existentialist believes it to be, but regardless, there are enough limits to our intellectual understanding to require faith to take us beyond reason.  And I believe that ultimate truth is beyond reason.  Thus faith.


  1. I'm a simple man and not as well read as you. I do know however that you have done your research on all the philosophies you mention.
    I have processed many of the questions and struggle with doubt on occasion. Before I unravel I pause and ponder the resurrection. No other philosophy or religion has a risen Savior on which to hang a shingle. A thought that I reach is a prayer which is briefly "Lord I believe, HELP Thou my Unbelief.
    Keep it up bro
    West Coast BC Salmon son

    1. The prayer you referenced addresses questions we all have. That's where Kierkegaard's "leap to faith" comes in, but doubt is common to any thinking person. Doubt is a motivator and not necessarily a bad thing. It can lead to truth.

  2. Excellent blog post, Baggar, on a difficult topic(s). I especially like that you noticed the "of/to" nuance in Soren Kierkegaard's most famous statement. Indeed, he DID talk about a "giant leap TO faith, not a "giant leap OF faith." This distinction IS a difference. In taking the giant leap TO faith, you are, in a sense, going at it blind, trusting that you'll arrive there. In a giant leap OF faith, you are (thinking you are using) faith to make the leap to reason (or God). I agree with old Soren: it is a giant leap TO faith. We use our senses to conclude from the ontological and teleological evidence that we need to take THE LEAP (where you point out you run out of human understanding). And what is so fabulous is that once you've leaped out into the darkness of the chasm, you do find some reality of the God who is there (to quote the late Francis Schaeffer). Keep writin, bro....

    1. Thanks, Rog.

      You're right. The difference between what is commonly stated as "leap of faith" is incorrect. Kierkegaard's statement, "leap to faith" is profoundly different.

      Your summation of the article is excellent.

  3. Well you've done it again! Raised a topic with no answer. Howsomever, let me at least say the while I understand the existentialism of Kierkegaard's I have found it impossible to move 'to' anything beyond the basics. My inability is most likely my inherent distrust of anything formally religious. But while i'm not prone to leap, if I was I think I would have to say a leap to something as fundamental as say Christian Science would make more sense to me. When I was much younger and more flexible i did try that leap along with every other sect, like Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal and Christian Science. While all had some satisfying elements none gave me the ability to embrace a "caring' being. I believe there is a creator but so far I see little evidence on a daily basis that there is 'caring' creator. However, as you well know I don't often let these feelings out to play because they usually bring storms of protesters out as well.

    But thanks Ralph, it did make me rethink the question for a few nanoseconds today.

    1. Malcolm -
      Even if I only got you to think for "a few nanoseconds" that can't be all bad. No protest here. I guess Kierkegaard would say that, from his existential perspective, the choices are ours to make. No matter what we believe, it does involve faith. I have faith that this response will be published, but I may be wrong.

      I know we have a different take on this stuff.

      Looking forward to your visit in July.

  4. Thank you, Ralph & Roger, for your thoughtful points on Faith.

    1. It's an interesting subject. Glad you enjoyed it.