Saturday, March 13, 2010

Faith and Reason, cont'd.

So in my further discussions with The Philosobiker, I am trying to clarify the rift I perceive between religion and reason.

When you begin to identify with rationality, you begin to attack the metaphysics of your religious institutions. So how do you keep the benefits of these institutions once the supporting metaphysics is gone? You need replacement religious institutions with less metaphysical baggage. That is what having "someplace to go" means.

Part of the challenge is that some dedicated rationalists refuse to consider that a religious institution can be anything except laden with unnecessary and unsupportable metaphysics. Similarly, dedicated traditionalists refuse to consider that such an institution can have any moral core or any meaning.

There are plenty of people who are both rational and religious. I believe that many of these people maintain this by keeping domains of thought separated as I have discussed before. The brilliant neurosurgeon who is also a young-earth creationist, as an imagined example. They simply refuse to apply reason to their faith. Or they might just refuse to rationalize their practice, i.e. they know it is unreasonable to think that God is listening, but they pray anyway. Or perhaps they have carefully examined every piece of their faith and have careful and rational reasons for all of it - they know they are praying for personal and social reasons, etc., and yet they are stuck in an institution that will not allow them to express this openly.

Or, much more commonly, they say to hell with it and leave religion entirely.

For instance, why is it so rare for women to be ordained? Why is homosexuality an issue? These are not things that we can put off on a vocal minority. These are mainstream features of organized religion in the US. Were a substantial portion of our religious institutions actually rational, we would not be discussing those kinds of issues. The churches that had openly lesbian ministers would be common.

Does this make sense? The assertion is not "No religious people are rational and no rational people are religious." It is that the majority of our religious institutions and practices do not support rationality and are not supported by rationality. The exceptions to this prove the rule.


  1. Philosobiker? Is that you, Terry? Here is my facebook response, for what it is worth:

    My folks gave me a DVD about a year ago titled "A Case for Faith" by Lee Strobel. Usually I can shake off their attempts to wrest me from the clutches of the abyss, but there is something about this video that continues to affect me.

    He introduces his topic, which, in short, is the relationship between doubt and belief in the Christian faith, by relating the story of Charles Templeton. Templeton was a very promising evangelist who started his career alongside Billy Graham. Not long into his ministry, he became overwhelmed with doubt and not only left the ministry but turned his back on his faith. He died some 50 years later never having found meaning in religion or spirituality again.

    Two questions haunted him, "How can Christianity be the only true path to God. " and "How can an all-powerful and loving God allow suffering." One could say that his rational thinking mind led him to abandon his faith. John, I hope you will agree that this is an example of what we would call the steel ceiling. As rational thought is aggressively awakened, the underlying assumptions of many religions are often challenged to a degree that cannot be countered rationally.

    But this movie goes to great lengths, in interviews with many renowned and highly educated theologians, to rationally address these questions. The logic and historical examples are nothing short of brilliant. Some of them even have British accents! Terry, here I have to agree with you that rational thinking is a very important aspect of religion.

    The reason I think I find this video so moving is that these people are not able to see that their really (really) brilliant logic is built upon several assumptions that cannot be rationally defended. As I watch, I see their arguments melt into a story nearly as magical and childish as the one about Santa Claus. I feel great compassion for them.

    It reminds me of a Far Side comic where a scientist has written two sides of an enormously complex equation, stretching from floor to ceiling, and the two sides are connected by the phrase, "then a miracle happens."

    It is not that I think there is anything wrong with making an assumption that cannot be rationally defended. Quite to the contrary, I think they are essential. The problem comes when an underlying assumption, whatever it is, goes so completely unrecognized and unexamined as such.

  2. So Daniel, when you "see their arguments melt", whose arguments and which arguments?


Please keep it civil, folks.