Let’s Talk About Faith, Baby

Let's Talk About Faith, Baby

Katherine DeVries

This past Tuesday, Assistant Professor of Philosophy David Dudrick spoke at a brown bag on the topic “Can Faith Survive Reflection?” The brown bag was hosted by the Colgate Christian Fellowship, which resulted in a mixed crowd of both religious and philosophically minded students.

Dudrick’s thesis revolved around a debate that has been going on since the time of philosophers like Aquinas and Erasmus. He discussed the topic of the compatibility of Faith and Reason as seen through his own eyes, as well as those of Marx, Nietzche, Freud and the Christian world.

Dudrick began by saying that he wanted his lecture to be a conversation. As the lecture progressed, it became clear that he meant this statement literally — he included the audience in the debate — as well as metaphorically, as his discussion brought together the two seemingly contradictory schools of philosophy and religion.

Before beginning his lecture, Dudrick threw out the disclaimer that he was far from an expert on Nietzche or Christianity. This comically-phrased, modest opening helped set the mood for what was to be a very involved and personal lecture.

Essentially, Dudrick divided his lecture into three main points. He started by saying that, for most people, the obvious answer to the question of whether faith can withstand reasonable introspection is “no”. He then qualified this point of view by telling why people rationally come to this conclusion, how Marx, Freud and Nietzche feel on the issue and how Christians usually respond to such philosophical statements.

Dudrick ended up spending most of his time explaining that the reason why many people believe that faith cannot survive close scrutiny is that they think legitimate beliefs have to be based on solid evidence. Dudrick played with this idea, however, and asked the question: when does the need for evidence end? If all beliefs are based on evidence, then one must need evidence for that evidence, and further evidence for that and so on. Thus, there must be an ultimate, self-explanatory something that is a belief based on belief itself, as opposed to an endless chain of evidence.

Dudrick also discussed how people like Nietzche and Freud make excuses for religion, saying that it is a defense mechanism or a means of fulfilling the human desire to cause suffering.

While interesting points like these made the lecture relevant and intriguing, Dudrick failed to ever directly answer the question at hand. He explained both sides of the debate and pointed out where two different processes of thought could diverge on an issue, but he never really came to a conclusion, or said whether or not there is a place where Christians and philosophers — and reason and faith — can find common ground.

Dudrick ended his lecture early to field questions from the audience. One question regarding the nature of a religious person’s reasoning as being innately circular fueled a heated debate. The separation between reason and belief and whether it is at all possible for a religious person to think critically about that belief was called into question. The debate itself was merely a glimpse of the kind of discussion that commonly occurs between atheists, agnostics and religious believers today.

Another student prompted Dudrick to discuss belief’s use of reason, to which he responded by saying that belief need not be contradictory to reason if it is derived from something other than reason.

Overall, Dudrick’s discussion brought up several interesting ideas that forced the audience members to ponder and defend their own beliefs.