Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Religious Rationality Part II

A redated post.

In response to Mr. Aspray, I would hope that he gets the chance to read the second chapter of my book, "Assessing Apologetic Arguments." There I distinguish three positions with respect to the relation between faith and reason, fideism, which denies that religious beliefs are open to rational assessment, strong rationalism, which says that in order for it to be rational to believe something in religion we should have a proof that at least ought to be acceptable to every reasonable person, and critical rationalism, which says that although we should have good reasons for our beliefs, we should not expect that the proof we expect will, or even should, be acceptable to every rational person. I endorse the third option, but not the second, in spite of spending the remainder of the book providing reasons for preferring theism to naturalism. (In passing, it looks as if Richard Carrier is a strong rationalist who keeps taking me to task for failing to successfully shoulder the strong rationalist's burden, something I explicitly indicate probably cannot be done. And then I have seen commentators who think maybe I claim to little for my arguments).

I believe strongly in reason; I just don't believe that there is a neutral, emotion-free perspective from which to reason. I expect people will reason from where they are intellectually, not from some Cartesian/Archimedean point of absolute zero.

A lot of people like to read Lewis's apologetics more rationalistically than it really is, and then say that since he met a real philosopher in Anscombe, he gave up the business of making religion rational. That's a bunch on nonsense, a crock of manure eight feet high. Lewis emphasized both reason and the emotions throughout his career, and did an excellent job of avoiding the Star Trek fallacy, the fallacy of assuming that when emotion is present, reason is not, and when reason is present emotion is not. Notice, for example, the Professor's rational argument for believing Lucy in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Who would care at all about reason if we didn't have a passion for the truth?


Darek Barefoot said...

I think Victor's points are well taken. But let me add that the challenge to those of us who ply rational arguments for theism in general and the Christian faith in particular is not simply to show that our own belief is justified, but that the believers past and present have been justified in their belief even though the vast majority have limited ability to argue rationally on its behalf. And for the purpose of this discussion I'm only including those we would classify as believers of conviction who live their faith. Further, it is impossible to divorce our own faith from the Bible, yet the Bible itself does dwell much on rational grounds for belief per se; the fact of God's existence and the status of Jesus as God's Son are by and large taken for granted in the Scriptures, or are referred to Scriptural authority without further recourse to formal evidence and argument. Paul said to the Corinthians that rather than speak to them with words of human wisdom, he chose to know only Christ crucified. The gospel is foolishness in terms of human wisdom, Paul claims. He as much as says that God "set up" the philosophically wise of the world to be confounded by the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18-2:5). His teaching on this point is in agreement with that of Jesus himself, who according to Luke's Gospel thanked his Father for concealing the message of salvation from the "wise and intelligent" and revealing it to "babes" (10:21).

Does that leave us with fideism--"Just believe!" Not quite. Nor does it invalidate our efforts to "bring every thought into captivity to Christ" through rational argument (2 Cor. 10:4-5). But it does show the indispensibility of a heart response to the gospel that senses its truth in advance of open-and-shut formal arguments. Perhaps even in science we have something similar. No one blames Einstein for believing relativity to be true (wanting it to be true?) before all the physical evidence was in place to justify that belief. The analogy is imperfect but useful. For Einstein, relativity was too strangely beautiful not to be true. It's hard to get away from the well-worn phrase "ring of truth" when we talk about faith. At the very least, a person must believe that the gospel has enough of a "ring of truth" to be worth investigating or arguing about or simply thinking about before he can come to believe it.

An agnostic friend once told me that her studies in philosophy infected her with an abiding uncertainty because the arguments on the all the big issues are hopelessly inconclusive. I think she exaggerates, but even if she were correct we would not have cause to abandon our spiritual sense of the fitness of some explanations over others. Anyone who delves into philosophy and thinks that it offers airtight arguments for materialist atheism either has not been paying attention or is more at the mercy of his emotional distaste for the idea of God than he cares to admit. And anyone who reads up on modern scientific theory will find that next to the mysteriousness of relativistic space-time, quantum mechanics and string theory, the notion of a creative universal Intelligence is hardly out of place. So when someone claims to have been persuaded and then disuaded by nothing more than a series of arguments, I wonder if they are honestly acknowledging the complexity of their own motives and the depth of the issues involved.

Kurt Kawohl said...

Truthfulness and rationality in religions are truths that can be substantiated by science or those that can not be proven to be wrong. Logic dictates that spiritual interaction is only possible between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man; claims of supernatural acts performed by physical or spiritual beings in the physical universe are not rational.
The unfortunate circumstance that many will never become un-yoked from the traditions of their forefathers, perpetuating a chaotic state is applicable to many monotheistic religions that have become the culmination of their own dogma and politics. This is the 21st Century yet many of our religious beliefs are still back in the Stone Age. We have outgrown beliefs in various Gods, now it is time to outgrow belief in a dictatorial God who controls, condemns and physically or spiritually punishes those who do not do his bidding. The true “God” is a Spiritual Unity that exists in a spiritual realm and never has and never will interfere with anything on earth or in the universe. God is interested in and is involved in humanity, but does not interfere in any way in our physical lives. God guides the development of the universe and everything thereon like a Master Planner. Our relationship and interaction of our spirit with the Spirit of God is for our, not God's benefit. ALL roads that lead to God will bring the soul to its destination. God is a God for ALL & too large to fit into any one religion.

In order to intelligently appreciate something there has to be complete truth. Only when the truth behind the concept is known can one accurately judge the concept. Spirituality is an interaction of man’s spirit with the Spirit of God. This interaction was often expanded upon by followers who added their own interpretations and gradually the original message was skewed to meet the agenda of the newly formed religion. Most religions today are composed of so much added on garbage to a point where they are the culmination of their own politics and have lost the original meaning of spirituality.

One does not have to be an intellectual to see that the complexities, histories, and practices of religions have always been used to indoctrinate and keep new members from questioning the composition of the God that religions have created for the masses. This God was created to intimidate and brain-wash the gullible. True spirituality and a true God is self-sufficient and requires nothing from mankind.

This is the 21st Century and many religions still promote the existence of a vindictive, dominant, domineering, judicial God who will cast nonbelievers into a everlasting fiery pit. The Taliban movement brainwashed the illiterate and will eventually be annihilated; the Christian movement claims salvation that was invented by the Catholic Church which, in order to bypass the 1st Commandment, created the Trinity, made Jesus into God and claimed that salvation can only be achieved via the Catholic Church. If the medieval practices and the medieval beliefs of Christianity, Judaism and Islam that are based on superstitions were eliminated, then we could start building a rational and logical belief system that is based on truth and an understanding of spirituality. This is the value of truthfulness and rationality.

Joe McCarron said...

I would like anyone reading to consider this:
Assuming en arguendo that we don't have positive evidence for Gods existance or non existance then whether belief in the proposition on its own really isn't really what determines whether we are rational or irrational. It is the other beliefs that we have along with that belief and whether they are consistant(with whatever belief we have) that determines whether we are rational.

If when holding the belief, that you have no evidence for or against, you are contradicting other beliefs you hold then you are irrational. If you aren't and if indeed you are perhaps holding the belief you do about God because it is consistant with other beliefs you hold then you may still be rational despite no positive evidence for or against the belief in God. In other words as long as your philosophy does not run into contadiction it is rational.

I'm curious what any bloggers may think of this.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Have you read William Abraham's description of "soft rationalism" in his old Philosophy of Religion introduction? I wonder if you think it is similar to your critical rationalism.