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My grandparents, the dawnbreakers

My grandparents, Charles and Bertie Schwartz, published their book Faith Through Reason in 1947, which had a small amount of influence among Jewish and Christian intellectual circles in the United States, especially the Northeast.  The book carried the weight that it did primarily for two reasons, namely, the personal prominence of my grandparents among the professional and religious scenes in New York City, and its extremely cogent, clear, and forthright style.

Hearing about the book my whole life was one of the factors that led to my own strong interest in the question of faith and reason.  Moreover, my grandparents’ views went on to deeply influence the views of their children and grandchildren, and will probably (and hopefully) continue to inform future generations.  Pesach discussions have often turned to the text, during which the subtlety of the title — faith through reason — is emphasized.

What did my grandparents mean precisely?  In the foreword they write, “faith need not be arrived at blindly” and “the test of reason may be applied to both, that religious beliefs may be adopted and that faith may be reached through the intellect”.  The prima facie meaning of this passage would be as my family and undoubtedly my grandparents themselves took it to mean: faith can be established by reason.

However, as I currently see it, to make faith reasonable is to make it something other than faith.  Reason, or at least the cognitive logical variety that my grandparents talked about, is useful to prepare one’s intellectual terrain for the dawning of faith, and more, to resolve doctrinal problems within a particular faith tradition.  However, faith itself is ultimately either a different order of reason, or indeed, concerns something trans-reasonable.

But I’ll return to this issue in a moment, because it eventually has ramifications not only for the philosophy of religion, but of science, as well.  Now, re-reading my grandparents’ book with the hindsights of age and several years of academic training, the following passage from their book leaps out at me:

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