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Chickens, Eggs, Faith, and Theological Understanding July 5, 2009

Posted by stewsutton in Theology, Wisdom.

The classic phrase: Which came first; the chicken or the egg? is often used to present a paradox in the order of events.  For many that consider the universe and all that it contains to be a grand cosmic accident, the chicken and egg paradox is truly perplexing.  But there is something else here that can also be compared.  It seems to go against the norms of the 21st century modern society.

In order to improve your understanding, you first need faith.

Now most modern scientists will tell you that they need some evidence to go on before they head down a specific path.  They want some proof.  In matters of religion, the often-used statement is “I want proof before I head down that path of thought…”  That it turns out becomes a stumbling block for those that seek understanding through heading down a specific path because that very path will not be revealed without faith that the path exists.

credo ut intelligam

I believe in order to understand

The phrase credo ut intelligam was first put forth by Augustine, then popularized by Anselm of Canterbury in 1033-1109 AD.  Augustine’s full statement was “I don’t understand so that I might believe, but I believe so that I might understand.”  This idea gives emphasis to the priority and necessity of belief in the Cristian’s intellectual pursuits.  One cannot truly and fully understand spiritual matters unless he or she first believes them to be true.

fides quaerens intellectum

“Faith seeking understanding”

This Latin phrase was coined by Anselm of Canterbury .  This is one of the earliest definitions of theology.  It starts with the assumption that we are believers and as such, we are seeking to understand our beliefs better.

So theology is for everyone.  We all have beliefs.  Even those that profess no beliefs have the belief that nothing matters.  Everyone needs to be a theologian.  In reality everyone is a theologian – of one sort or another.  Charls Ryrie said that “There is nothing wrong with being an amateur theologian or a professional theologian, but there is everything wrong with being an ignorant or sloppy theologian.”

So first have faith, then (secondly) you can seek deeper understanding upon the path that is shown to you.



1. Steve - August 8, 2009

I’ve heard people say about their belief in God (or the lack thereof), “I don’t want to believe, I want to know!” This is a fine-sounding argument, but it lacks intellectual honesty as I will show below.

Let’s define a god as a transcendent being. For now, let this mean any god, not the one true God. Now a transcendent being is one who transcends what we are. A transcendent being is a being who, almost by definition of transcendence, is one who we can’t wrap our mind around. Or, if we could fully comprehend such a being, it might reasonably be argued that this being is not transcendent. Seen in this light, it’s quite reasonable to conclude that a relationship with a transcendent being—if we were to have such a relationship—must be on the basis of faith, for if we could fully comprehend such a being, they would not be transcendent.

I assert that what is logically true of our strawman transcendent being is also logically true of the God of Jews and Christians—the God of the Bible. That is, if we are to have a relationship with Him, it must be a relationship based at least in part on faith, by reason of His transcendence. To say that you’d rather “know” than “believe” is really to say that you assume there is no such thing as a transcendent being. The know/believe issue sounds very intellectually rigorous. But in fact, it merely conceals a biased assumption. Intellectual honesty would demand that such a person admit their position for what it is: simply an assumption that there is or can be no transcendent being.

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