“Above all, I am anxious to grant no credence whatsoever to the special mythology of ‘the Enlightenment.’  Nothing strikes me as more tiresomely vapid than the notion that there is some sort of inherent opposition–or impermeable partition–between faith and reason, or that the modern period is marked by its unique devotion to the latter.  One can believe that faith is mere credulous assent to unfounded premises, while reason consists in a pure obedience to empirical fact, only if one is largely ignorant of both.  It should be enough, perhaps, to point to the long Christian philosophical tradition, with all its variety, creativity, and sophistication, and to the long and honorable tradition of Christianity’s critical examination and reexamination of its own historical, spiritual, and metaphysical claims.  But more important in some ways, it seems to me, is to stress how great an element of faith is present in the operations of even the most disinterested rationality.  All reasoning presumes premises or intuitions or ultimate convictions that cannot be proved by any foundations or facts more basic than themselves, and hence there are irreducible convictions present wherever one attempts to apply logic to experience.  One always operates within boundaries established by one’s first principles, and asks only the questions that those principles permit.  A Christian and a confirmed materialist may both believe that there really is a rationally ordered world out there that is susceptible of empirical analysis; but why they should believe this to be the case is determined by their distinctive visions of the world, by their personal experiences of reality, and by patterns of intellectual allegiance that are, properly speaking, primordial to their thinking, and that lead toward radically different ultimate conclusions (though the more proximate conclusions reached through their research may be identical).  What distinguishes modernity from the age of Christendom is not that the former is more devoted to rationality than was the latter but that its rationality serves different primary commitments (some of which-‘blood and soil,’ the ‘master race,’ the ‘socialist Utopia’-produce prodigies of evil precisely to the degree that they are ‘rationally’ pursued).  We may, obviously, as modern men and women, find certain of the fundamental convictions that our ancestors harbored curious and irrational; but this is not because we are somehow more advanced in our thinking that they were, even if we are aware of a greater number of scientific facts.  We have simply adopted different conventions of thought and absorbed different prejudices, and so we interpret our experiences according to another set of basic beliefs–beliefs that may, for all we know, blind us to entire dimensions of reality…

There is, after all, nothing inherently reasonable in the conviction that all of reality is simply an accidental confluence of physical causes, without any transcendent source or end.  Materialism is not a fact of experience or a deduction of logic; it is a metaphysical prejudice, nothing more, and one that is arguably more irrational than almost any other.  In general, the unalterably convinced materialist is a kind of childishly complacent fundamentalist, so fervently, unreflectively, and rapturously committed to the materialist vision of reality that if he or she should encounter any problem–logical or experiential–that might call its premises into question, or even merely encounter a limit beyond which those premises lose their explanatory power, he or she is simply unable to recognize it.  Richard Dawkins is a perfect example; he does not hesitate, for instance, to claim that ‘natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence.’  But this is a silly assertion and merely reveals that Dawkins does not understand the words he is using.  The question of existence does not concern how it is that the present arrangement of the world came about, from causes already internal to the world, but how it is that anything (including any causes) can exist at all.  This question Darwin and Wallace never addressed, nor were ever so hopelessly confused as to think they had.  It is a question that no theoretical or experimental science could ever answer, for it is qualitatively different from the kind of questions that the physical sciences are competent to address.  Even if theoretical physics should one day discover the most basic laws upon which the fabric of space and time is woven, or evolutionary biology the most elementary phylogenic forms of terrestrial life, or palaeontology an utterly seamless genealogy of every species, still we shall not have thereby drawn one inch nearer to a solution of the mystery of existence.  No matter how fundamental or simple the level reached by the scientist–protoplasm, amino acids, molecules, subatomic particles, quantum events, unified physical laws, a primordial singularity, mere logical possibilities–existence is something else altogether.  Even the simplest of things, and even the most basic of principles, must first of all be, and nothing within the universe of contingent things (nor even the universe itself, even if it were somehow ‘eternal’) can be intelligibly conceived of as the source or explanation of its own being…

Reason leads different minds to disparate and even contradictory conclusions.  One can, I imagine, consider the nature of reality with genuine probity and conclude that the material order is all that is.  One can also, however, and with perhaps better logic, conclude that materialism is a grossly incoherent superstition; that the strict materialist is something of a benighted and pitiable savage, blinded by an irrational commitment to a logically impossible position; and that every ‘primitive’ who looks at the world about him and wonders what god made it is a profounder thinker than the convinced atheist who would dismiss such a question as infantile.  One might even conclude, in fact, that one of the real differences between what convention calls the Age of Faith and the Age of Reason is actually the difference between a cogent intellectual and moral culture, capable of considering the mystery of being with some degree of rigor, and a confined and vapid dogmatism without genuine logical foundation.  Reason is a fickle thing.”

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, pp. 101-04

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