Smith puts forward an astonishing statement:

Explicit atheism is the consequence of a commitment to rationality — the conviction that man’s mind is fully competent to know the facts of reality, and that no aspect of the universe is closed to rational scrutiny.

Atheism is merely a corollary, a specific application, of one’s commitment to reason. (98)

If reason is declared fully capable of understanding all facts, if no aspect of existence is decreed “off-limits” to man’s mind, the need for faith is eliminated. (107)

I see. It looks like there is a God after all, and it is Smith!

How Smith justifies his “conviction” that “man’s” (i.e., his own) mind is all-powerful is unclear. It seems more like an article of faith, and a crazy one, too.

Even if “man” were omniscient, “explicit atheism” would still not follow. Perhaps such a mighty reason as Smith’s could with great ease unequivocally prove the existence of God.

Smith never condescends to define the term “faith” for us. It is clear that he doesn’t know what he is even talking about: “How do we distinguish an article of faith from a whim or a coin flip?” he asks. (122) Let me fill the gap. Let X tell p to Y. If as a result Y believes p, and p is true, then Y knows p by faith on the strength of X’s authority. St. Thomas defends the rationality or what Smith calls “epistemological credentials” of faith:

  1. Because our intelligence is imperfect.

    If we were able by ourselves to know perfectly all things, visible and invisible, it would be foolish for us to believe what we do not see. But our knowledge is so imperfect that no philosopher has ever been able to discover perfectly the nature of a single fly.

  2. Because our knowledge is limited.

    Another reason why faith is not foolish concerns expertise. If an expert were to make a statement in his own particular branch of knowledge, an uneducated person would be a fool if he contradicted the expert for no other reason than that he could not understand what the expert had said.

    Now, without a doubt, the intelligence of an angel surpasses that of the greatest philosopher far more than the intelligence of the philosopher surpasses that of an ignoramus.

    Therefore, a philosopher is a fool to disbelieve what an angel says, and a much greater fool if he disbelieves what God says.

  3. Because life in this world would be altogether impossible if one were only to believe what one sees.

    How can one live without believing others? How is a man to believe that so-and-so is his father? Man has to believe others in matters that he cannot know perfectly by himself.

  4. Because God’s miracles prove the truth of the things which faith teaches.

    Thus if a king sends a letter to which he has attached his seal, no one will dare say this letter was not written by the king’s orders. Now, it is plain that whatever the saints have believed and handed down to us concerning the Christian Faith is confirmed by God’s seal, which is to be seen in those works which no mere creature is able to do, namely, the miracles by which Christ confirmed the doctrine of the Apostles and of other saints. (Aquinas Catechism, 1.I.A.5)

If faith is useful to Jones in things he, Jones, cannot or would not personally investigate, then how much more to man as such in things that are intrinsically beyond his ken!

The reply to the obvious follow-up question, “By what means is an article of faith to be believed with certainty?” is this: the Holy Spirit testifies inwardly by bestowing grace as a witness to the veracity of God in revealing any given p.

The most Smith gives us is the silly “Faith is belief without, or in spite of, reason.” (98) Now suppose it has been demonstrated by reason that God exists. Then faith is essentially trust in the truthfulness of God’s, whose nature and existence we have established, revelation and, concomitantly, trust in the process of transmission of this revelation through the generations. So, faith is an argument from authority, which is the weakest kind of argument, but when the authority is God’s, it becomes the strongest argument. Similarly with the ex cathedra pronouncements of the Pope who, Catholics believe, is infallible on matters of faith and morals due to a special grace of God.

Smith is quite conscious of this take on faith. In fact, he presents a cogent articulation of it, remarkably managing to miss its significance:

Catholic theologians are well aware [that faith presupposes natural knowledge], and they generally maintain that the existence of God must be demonstrated through reason before their notion of faith becomes applicable.

These “proofs” from natural theology… are the “preambles of faith” or the “motives of credibility.”

Furthermore, once the existence of God has been established, it is necessary that a given proposition can be shown to be an actual revelation from God. “To assent to a truth on faith,” writes one Catholic, “one must be certain that God has revealed this truth.”

This requires a “rule of faith,” a means to distinguish genuine revelation, and this is the function of the Catholic Church: “… the Church determines and defines what is contained in the deposit of faith and in tradition.” (172)

Smith is not interested in this theory, because, according to it, faith sits atop reason and therefore cannot “prove theism.” (172) What, I’d like to ask him, is it better to fight straw men?

Further, our author argues, if revelation has come from God, then it must be true. What place, then, is there for faith? Who wouldn’t believe something that God tells him? Therefore, revelation enters the domain of reason rather then faith, and faith is made superfluous. But that’s a confusion. Such a faith would be rational (and hence not “without, or in spite of, reason”), but still retain its essence as faith which is belief in a (divine) revelation of something that unaided reason cannot on its own discover.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *