Faith Undermines Reason

On March 20, two men made very different remarks about the relationship between faith and reason.

For Father Jonathan Morris, “[H]uman reason [is] the great cultural meeting point for people of every race and creed. … [Pope] Benedict sees rationality as the only suitable launching pad of all true faith…”

Yet, if it is reason that makes possible mutual understanding, what does faith contribute? Historically, while faith has brought together many people within various regions, as in the Egyptian Nile or the Christian Roman Empire, faith has also inspired the oppression and slaughter of internal dissenters, bloody wars between people of different faiths, and external conquest in the service of faith.

Every person has the capacity to reason, and reality is the final arbiter of what is reasonable. Reason means invoking arguments and evidence to establish what is true in reality. Faith, on the other hand, depends on alleged divine revelation and/or some authority. Men of reason may resolve conflicts by reference to a common standard — reality — while men of faith have no such “meeting point.”

In an article titled “The Easter Masquerade,” Keith Lockitch notes the irony of the dating of Easter, accomplished through precise scientific means, and the subsequent persecution of men of science by the church. Lockitch notes the “long history of the hostility of faith towards reason — which continues to this day.” He continues:

Violent clashes between the two are not only possible but unavoidable, and the notion that religion can coexist on friendly terms with science and reason is false. …

Religion’s alleged harmony with science is a fraudulent masquerade, extending only insofar as religious dogmas are not called into question. True defenders of science must be committed to reason as an absolute principle — following facts wherever they lead and bowing to no authorities but logic and reality. And they must understand that the servile obedience demanded by faith is wholly incompatible with science — and with the rational thinking on which all human progress and prosperity depends.

The relationship of faith to reason is wholly a parasitical one. Faith cannot survive without some practice of reason, else the faithful would soon die out, yet reason succeeds to the extent that it is freed from faith.

3 thoughts on “Faith Undermines Reason”

  1. Other than the Galileo incident and a couple other things, I’m not convinced that religion has been all that hostile to science. (And from what little I’ve read, I the Galileo affair is a bit more complicated than commonly described.)

    I read an author who pointed out that most of the major branches of science were founded by religious believers. And Newton was big into alchemy and bible prophecy. Einstein was a Kantian. Some of the most important scientists of the 19th century such as Kelvin, Maxwell and Faraday were believers. With the decline of reilgion, most scientists today probably aren’t. So if atheists, Kantians, Christians, alchemists and other people can do good science, then all this is just a tempest in a tea pot.

    Copernicus was a priest and dedicated his book to the pope and had an introduction written by a Lutheran theologian. He studied in Italy under platonist mathmeticians. Maybe a little bit of “eclecticism” is good for science.

  2. While Christian apologists rationalize the church’s persecution of Galileo, they rarely mention the church’s murder of Giordano Bruno.

    The argument, “various scientists were religious; therefore, faith inspires science,” is a bad one. Science succeeded, not when faith was the overwhelming social force, but only after Aristotle returned to cultural influence. People can do and believe many wrong things and still produce good work in other areas. People can be great compartmentalizers. The fact remains that religious scientists succeeded to the extent that they were not religious in their methodology.

  3. There is a rhetorical question that Ayn Rand once asked en route to some other point, but which I see as encapsulating the simple and inescapable proof that reason does not need faith.

    That question was:

    “Is it rational to use reason?”

    Think about it. At every juncture where one faces the choice of being rational or not, that choice is made either rationally — or not.

    Now, what makes *that* choice? And on and on. Eventually you have to stop — either reason or unreason is the *ultimate* principle by which you choose.

    Now — if it *is* rational to use reason, when is it ever irrational to use reason?

    Never. Contrary to Kant, there is *never* a point where it would be “irrational” to use reason. In other words, for the truly rational man, there is never a reason to abandon reason.

    Now take the alternative: faith/unreason/arbitrary-made-up BS (synonnyms all). You can do whatever you want when you are being irrational — including things that happen to be rational. You can take *anything* on faith, including any aspect of science or reasoned thinking you want.

    Where reason only leads to reason, faith can lead to anything. A man of faith can cross that line all he wants. This remains true even for the man of faith who follows the rational line 99.9% of the time.

    THIS is why science and other products of reason have come to us historically through men of faith. To the extent that they *were* men of faith, their role in bringing us the ideas of Aristotle is that of a thief who pilfers priceless works of art just before the museum is destroyed. Hundreds of years later, the heirs of the thieves present us with what would otherwise have been lost.

    We can credit the thieves for their role in preserving these treasures, but the fact remains that they did not create them, and never could.

    There is also the fact that reality tends to select for those who acknowledge it, so compartmentalizers who are willing to pay reason its due when it suits them, will reap the benefits thereof — a definite competitive advantage over followers of more consistently irrational creeds.

    The basic premise underlying ALL arguments in favor of “coexistence” between reason and faith is the premise that it can sometimes NOT be rational to use reason — a plain contradiction. You cannot get to faith without willfully denying reason.

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