Faith Is a Matter of Fact (but Don’t Tell an Atheist)

Just cruise any religious or atheist website or print source, and you’ll see how many atheists and theists think that religion is a matter of faith. And, most of the time, that is because they believe the existence of God is a matter of faith.

But the existence of God is not a matter of faith. It is a matter of fact. The existence of God must be a factual matter. Either God is or God isn’t. Either he exists or he doesn’t. But, in our modern world, we often miss the point of this straightforward question by thinking the existence of God is only a matter of faith, a matter of belief. It isn’t.

If it turns out God doesn’t exist, it isn’t that our faith was wrong. Our facts were wrong. Our beliefs, no matter how sincere or pure, must correspond to reality. So, if we are wrong about God’s existence, then our faith is wrong too. But our faith is wrong as a result, not as a cause. Our faith is wrong because we got the facts wrong.

For most of us, faith is our response to the facts. For others, faith may come first. But, regardless of the initial sequence, facts and evidence prove our faith, affirm our faith, explain and elaborate our faith. And reason tells us that reasoned proofs and scientific evidence make our faith understandable, justified and true.

So whether your personal faith began with an intuitive leap, a spiritual encounter or with a rational investigation, sooner or later, your faith must follow facts, the evidence and reasoning that prove it. When we know we must have sound reasons for our faith, then we know that reason is the way our faith is understood, deepened, clarified and matured.

St. Bonaventure acknowledged this when he said, “Reason is the natural image of the Creator.” Here, he says reason is not merely a tool to find God. Reason is a glimpse of God himself, an artifact of his nature, a natural encounter with God, a routine and natural epiphany of sorts.

Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Reason in man is rather like God in the world.” Reason is a direct manifestation of God’s character, an actual spiritual event manifest through thought, just as God’s character may be seen in the beauty and complexity of nature and just as he may be encountered sacramentally, spiritually or scripturally.

But let’s take a closer look. Does God really exist? Asking this basic question comes from necessity as much as curiosity, most of the time. For it is natural to look around us and wonder where everything came from. Similarly, it is eerily compelling to look inside ourselves or at our fellow human beings and wonder what we really are.

We wonder how all that we are can be merely the product of cosmic accidents. We wonder how all that we are, think and feel can be simply the by-product of neural events. That is why even the most skeptical among us ask this profound question. That is why we want the facts, the actual answers, the truth about this question and others related to God, his existence, his nature and his plan. 

So what are the facts that prove the existence of God? Surprisingly, to modern minds and dispositions, there are many. In fact, the evidence is all around us — and even in us. And, on a rather basic level, the answer is in the question.

The fact that we see the existence of God as a factual question with a factual answer is evidence in and of itself. Reason’s demand for factual and logical support is a rational and practical fact. The fact that we need facts to substantiate our faith is factual evidence that must be explained.

And without an appeal to an intangible reality such as God, reason and its demands for evidence and rational proof are reduced to mere sensations. Leaving God out of the cosmos reduces reason to an effect caused by neural activity, which we experience as thinking and reasoning, but which is no more real than a mirage, an illusion or a hallucination.

If reason is indeed real, it must be truly real, actually and factually real. Now, it does not have to be physically real to be truly real. Reason is a mental, intangible reality, the product and substance of a mind. But it still must be real. And, if reason is real, it requires an explanation. 

But reason can’t be explained in a physical sense as only a neural experience, for that leaves us with only the sensation of reason. And it can’t be explained as only an individual, personal human experience, for the rules of reason are universal, a common experience of humanity over time and space. And the rules and demands of reason are intangible, evidence of a universal rational order that guides and evaluates all human thinking.

In light of this intangible, rational order, we are compelled to explain reason’s very existence and its order, its content, its rules, its principles and its power, whether we want to or not. And that cannot be done by appealing just to biology, chemistry and physics alone. Inevitably, it leads us to an intangible order, an immaterial structure. And that leads to some Being, some mind responsible for the existence and substance of the intangible order and the certainty of reason.

But if reason and reasoning are the result of evolutionary accident or the product of neural activity alone, then reason is merely an adaptive convention. If this is true, then science is really and totally eliminated as anything true or knowable, too, for science itself arises from and rests upon the certainty and solidity of reason and its many principles and demands.

By casting aside such views and meeting reason as we use and experience it, we find reason, its very existence and nature are indisputable facts. And the indisputable facts of reason’s actual and factual existence and the very nature of reason’s order and power show us something about the existence of God and even his nature.

Because reason is certain and indisputable, we must ask: From where did this reason and rationality come? Reason is an effect because it cannot create itself. So what caused reason to exist? What caused reason’s order to exist? What made reason true?

You see, the demand for evidence is a bit of actual evidence. The demand for evidence is true, and this demand requires a source, a Maker. The demand for evidence is evidence for the existence of God and even evidence of God’s nature. And our demand for a reasoned and reasonable proof of God’s existence is evidence for God’s existence.

Cogito ergo Deus est” is a quote attributed to St. Augustine that summarizes this crucial point about reason as a proof of God’s existence and his nature. Translated, it says, “I think, therefore God is.” For some, this may be compelling, even conclusive, evidence of God’s existence and nature. Startling though it may be to think about reason in this way, it is a relentless reality compelling all the other evidential demands for fact, evidence and proof.

Yet, at the least, the very existence of reason and its order and power are challenging evidence, so challenging they may stimulate the merely curious to look more deeply into other forms of evidence, other facts and other rational proofs of the reality and certainty of our faith. 

For faith, as it always has, rests certainly and securely on a vast body of proven and provable facts. Such an array of factual and rational evidence is the firm factual foundation that is both a body of evidence and an opportunity for a spiritual encounter with God, the God who invites each of us to love him with all of our mind, heart and strength — to love him with every facet and feature of our being.

Francis X. Cronin is a writer, educator and administrator at Aquinas College and Overbrook School in Nashville, Tennessee.