International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Rationality and Religion: Does Faith Need Reason?

by Roger Trigg

Introductory Essay by V. V. Raman

Can one be religious without being rational? Perhaps many people are, but this book argues that the rational component is indispensable in the religious enterprise. The book’s goal is not to convince the religionist, but to show the theoretician the importance of rationality for religion.

Roger Trigg points out that multiculturalism has led to the banning of religion in the public in open societies; politicians can’t embrace religion publicly. The idea that “we can have a sanitized form of reason for the public world while still making rational judgments within the cocoons of our private lives” is a kind of schizophrenia which is untenable. “If we want to claim truth for our beliefs, they must be able to pass scrutiny on the public stage” [27]. 

As to religion being only a social construct, Trigg refers to the “perpetual tug between those who wish to understand human behavior and those who want to explain it” [30]. He discusses the explanations for religion, the anatomy of religion, and scholarship as cultural construction. While reason should be respected, the claim of scientism that only the scientific worldview is viable is problematic. This causes misunderstandings between religion and science. We are warned against the “easy assumption that religion is inevitably purely human in origin” [47].

Trigg takes up the problem of whether different religions can all be true. “How can one be a pluralist rejoicing in diversity, while holding an allegiance to the insights of one religion?” [53]. Here Trigg might have benefited by reference to the Vedic doctrine of polyodosism (multiple paths to spiritual fulfillment).

In a chapter on whether science and religion are equally rational, the author writes that it is inappropriate to conclude that “because science cannot answer a question, there is no answer” [72]. He offers interesting comments on the “God of the gaps”, methodology and metaphysics, science and theism, and critical realism. Trigg states that “the world which science investigates is the same one which, according to theologians, is created and sustained by God” [89].

Reflecting on whether religion can rest on historical claims, he examines the issues of proof, evidence and faith, the notion of Gospel Truth, and the scope of historical reasoning. As to religious epistemology, Trigg affirms that “the test of faith is whether it is rooted in reality” [132].  Speaking of religious forms of life, Trigg points out that the “division between the world of facts and the lived world of human life… can serve to delineate two different areas, one for science and the other for religion” [140]. As to whether theism needs dualism, Trigg opines that “a dualist notion of the self, and a strong view of rationality, needs theism to prove an overarching rationale for the apparent division of reality” [173]. To the question if faith needs reason, Trigg answers that we are obliged to examine the rational basis of faith.

Finally, Trigg questions the notion of a transcendent God. A totally transcendent God, he concludes, would be “remarkably similar to no God at all” [197]. So God must be perceived as immanent and our understanding of Him depends both on some form of revelation and on our rational capacities. He concludes that ”without an ability to reason, we could never even prepare ourselves for the possibility of a God who is revealed” [214].