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Fides et Ratio

Encyclical letter by Pope St. John Paul II

John Paul II begins this landmark 1998 encyclical by comparing faith (fides) and reason (ratio) to “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” The pope laments both irrational faith and atheistic reason and the radical separation between theology and philosophy. Describing it is “an innate property of human reason to ask why things are as they are,” the pontiff points to a few such fundamental questions: “Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life?” (FR 3, 1).

These questions can be explored through both theology and philosophy, and the pope stressed the way in which faith and reason support one another by offering the other “a purifying critique and a stimulus to pursue the search for deeper understanding” (FR 100). This is rooted in the doctrine, taught by the First Vatican Council, that truth can never contradict truth and that both faith and reason come from a God who cannot deny himself.

Of particular relevance for our age is the pontiff’s rebuttal to scientism, which “refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences,” relegating “religious, theological, ethical and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy” (FR 88). Such a view, popular amongst New Atheists today, leads to an “impoverishment of human thought” by ultimately rejecting both theology and philosophy. This opens the door to horrors done in the name of science, by rejecting the philosophical and moral foundations of ethics, resulting in the view that “if something is technically possible it is therefore morally admissible.”

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