Thursday, January 14, 2010

An outline on faith and reason

Faith and Reason

Should Religion be Rational?

Hume’s “fideism”

In his famous essay on miracles, after presented a famous argument against rational belief in the miraculous, wrote:

"... the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.“

In other words, you real Christians have nothing to worry about with my argument. You believe on faith, not on reason anyway, so no big deal. It’s just phony Christians who pretend that their religious beliefs are rational.

Hume was certainly not a Christian, but he maybe said this to keep Christians from getting too mad at him.

Paul, Tertullian, Pascal

Paul: “See that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit.” Col. 2:8

Tertullian: What has Athens (the home of philosophy) to do with Jerusalem (the place where Christianity was founded)? Implied answer: nothing.

Pascal: “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.”

Jimmy Swaggart: Man can’t use his mind to know the truth. If he uses his mind, he just comes up with something stupid like the theory of evolution.

C. S. Lewis on Rational Religion

He wants a child’s heart but a grown-up’s head. . . . The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not. . . . It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a second-rate brain. He has room for people with little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have. . . . God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. (Mere Christianity pp. 77-78).

Lewis of Faith

I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in...Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. . . . That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith. (Mere Christianity, p. 140).

Three Views on Faith and Reason

View I: Strong Rationalism:

View II: Fideism

View III: Critical Rationalism

Strong Rationalism

Definition: In order for a religious view to be properly and rationally accepted it must be possible to prove that the position is true.

Definition of “prove” in this context means “show that a belief is true in a way that should be convincing to every reasonable person.”

W. K. Clifford: It is wrong, always and everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything for insufficient evidence.

Why such a high standard?

Our beliefs have moral consequences. If a shipowner succumbs to wishful thinking and allows a ship to sail that isn’t seaworthy, the ship goes down and many people die.

If you don’t have time to submit your beliefs to scrutiny, you don’t have time to believe.

God and the Burden of Proof

One way of posing this question is trying to determine of one side or the other in the debate about religion has the burden of proof.

Suppose we can’t figure out, one way or another, whether or not God exists. What belief should we adopt? Should we have faith and become believers, should we just stay agnostics, or should we believe that God does not exist. Many people have said that the burden of proof lies with the person who holds the affirmative position, in this case, the belief that God exists. In the absence of proof one way or the other, the only rational position is atheism, the claim that God does not exist.

McInerney and Parsons on the Burden of Proof

This is McInerney’s essay

And this is Parsons’ reply

Does Theism Pass the Strong Rationalist’s test?

Clifford, pretty clearly, thought it did not. Neither did Bertrand Russell, who, when asked what he would say to God if God were to ask him why he did not believe, said “ I would tell God “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence.”

John Locke (1632-1704) and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) thought that theism passes the test. As does contemporary philosopher Richard Swinburne.

Difficulties for strong rationalism

The Nature of Faith. Doesn’t faith involve some element of risk, a “stepping out beyond” what one is initially comfortable with?

Are there any arguments in support of any religious world-view that satisfy this requirement?

Not Everyone Is Convinced

That isn’t automatically a problem. Perhaps the evidence is out there, but some people are blinded by wishful thinking, or by the love of sin, and culpably fail to recognize the truth.

We would expect a gradual move toward consensus with respect to arguments. What we find is that as discussion proceeds on these arguments, there is a greater tendency to admit that these arguments need not persuade everyone.

Concerning Worldviews

It might be argued that religious world-views are based on pure faith, but a world-view based on science, sometimes known as scientific naturalism (the world-view preferred by most atheists) stands on firm rational foundation.

“But science as a total worldview—the idea that science can tell us everything there is to know about what reality consists of, enjoys no such overwhelming support. This worldview, (often termed scientific naturalism) is just one theory amongst others and is no more capable of being “proved to all reasonable people” than are religious belief systems. To claim that the strong support enjoyed by, say, the periodic table of the elements transfers to scientific naturalism as a worldview is highly confused if not deliberately misleading.

So can we select a world-view based on Strong Rationalist Criteria

The textbook authors think this will not be possible.


unkle e said...

Just got back from holidays and saw this, and appreciated it. I have been thinking a lot along these lines (probably to little effect, but them's the breaks!), and have concluded that the various arguments for and against God seem to more or less cancel each other out. Some people like me think they show God's existence is much more probable than not, but others think exactly the opposite.

Granted this uncertainty, you'd expect most people's conclusions to be circumspect. But instead many people are very polarised -many believers and disbelievers are quite strong, even rabid in their (dis)belief.

It suggests to me that none of us use rationalism alone, but all of us use a lot more. For a believer, that "extra" may be faith, or belief in revelation or authority or personal experience. But what is the "extra" for a disbeliever?

Pei Ling said...

Dear Dr Reppert, just saw your article on Christianity Today 7 years ago at as I am researching for my own dissertation on the Chronicles of Narnia and I must say it has been a lovely read (your sentiments on Lewis) although I do not have access to the full article. Glad to meet a kindred spirit and keep up the good work!

-Pei Ling
An undergraduate from Malaysia

Gregory said...

unkle e said:

It suggests to me that none of us use rationalism alone, but all of us use a lot more. For a believer, that "extra" may be faith, or belief in revelation or authority or personal experience. But what is the "extra" for a disbeliever?

I would reply that the "extra" for the disbeliever would be reason, itself. After all, you don't proceed to "prove" first principles, since those are the things, by which, you use to prove anything. Since, in order to prove "reason", you must already be using it, therefore the problem of circularity is inevitable. Yet, no atheist/skeptic is perturbed by the reality of the unverifiable, and/or unfalsifiable, nature of reason. So, why then do they insist on placing theists under such a heavy "burden of proof" that they [skeptics], themselves, are unwilling and unable to lift?

Even more peculiar, though, is the skeptic's waffling on epistemology, in general. Often, the skeptic wants to take a strong empiricist approach to knowledge as a seemingly easy means of defeating belief in God via fundamentally eliminating the possibility of "knowing" God. Meaning, that since God is not the kind of thing that can be directly observed by the "senses", therefore He cannot be known at all. Yet, this conundrum is no less true of the principles of "logic" and "ethics" than of God, Himself. To borrow from Locke, "reason" and "ethics" are neither primary, nor secondary, qualities. In other words, they neither inhere in material objects qua the qualities of those objects, nor are they impressions that objects have imprinted upon a "tabula rasa" qua the subjective qualities the mind experiences of those objects (i.e. impressions like blue or red, bitter or sweet, loud or soft, heavy or light, etc.,). In fact, "reason" defies every and all such ascriptions which are commonly associated with "objects of the senses".

And it is to that very problematic issue of "reason" (i.e. from the standpoint of pure empiricism), and the realization of what the preconditions of empirical experience must be, from which Kant had awoke from his "dogmatic slumber" (i.e. by realizing the inadequacy of pure empiricism).