A Powerful Defense of Reason … or Maybe Not

In wrestling with the issues of faith and reason and how they should be used within society, I asked for input from an experienced pastor.  Here’s his reply.  I’ll let you evaluate it yourself.

I want you to know that I do not shun controversy.  On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be.  You have asked me how I feel about reason.  All right, here is how I feel about this important matter.

If, when you say reason, you mean the arrogance that rejects faith, that would have us discard what we know to be true more deeply than sterile logic can express; if you mean the heartless drive to dethrone the innocent widow or precious child from their cherished beliefs; if you mean the pernicious force that shakes the faith of the honest Christian man or woman in almighty God, what Martin Luther called “the devil’s bride” and “the greatest enemy of faith,” what the greatest minds in Christianity have made a slave to faith, then certainly I am against it.

But if, when you say reason, you mean the tool that gave us medicine, the fruits of which are antibiotics, anesthesia, vaccines, and the distant memory of scourges like smallpox and plague; if you mean the technology that teaches us of our glorious universe and that landed men on the moon and brought us the vibrant world we live in today; if you mean the rejection of ancient superstition in favor of scientific explanations; if by reason you mean our ability to analyze and dismantle foreign religions and reveal their legendary origin, and to reject beliefs that are merely pleasing rather than correct; if you mean God’s greatest gift, the gift for which we must stand in judgment for using wisely, the very tool that gets us safely through each day, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand.  I will not retreat from it.  I will not compromise.*

Rev. Phineas P. Stopgauge

Photo credit: Wikimedia

*Alert readers will recognize this as an homage to the 1952 “If by whiskey” speech by Mississippi State Representative Noah “Soggy” Sweat, Jr.  (No kidding—that was really his name.)

Faith Shows the Emperor has No Clothes

The emperor parades around in public wearing his new (invisible) clothesSuppose a religion worshipped a god that didn’t exist.  How could it endure?  Wouldn’t it be immediately exposed as a fraud?

Not if it turned thinking on its head and argued that not reason but faith* is actually the proper way to look at the world, or at least the religious part of it.  Fellow believers would encourage this faith-trumps-reason worldview.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain and just have faith!

Defending an invisible God and celebrating faith is exactly what Christians would do if their religion were manmade.  Faith is always the last resort.  If there were convincing evidence, Christians would be celebrating that, not faith.

Augustine said, “Do not understand so you may believe; instead believe so you may understand.”  But why?  You don’t do that in any other area of life.  You don’t pick a belief system first and then select facts to support it; it’s the other way around.  You follow the facts where they lead.

Faith is permission to believe without good reason.  Believing something because it is reasonable and rational requires no faith at all.  If you don’t have enough evidence to cross an intellectual gulf to the belief on the other side, and if only faith will get you there, then don’t cross that gulf.

It’s a bizarre world where faith not only trumps reason but is celebrated since we use reason all the time to get through life.  Only by using reason and following the evidence—that is, rejecting beliefs built on faith—did we build the technology-filled world we live in today.

In fact, faith is the worst decision-making and analytical tool possible.  You don’t use faith to cross a busy street, or learn French, or treat malaria.  It provides no method for distinguishing between true and false propositions.  Faith doesn’t provide a reliable answer but simply encourages an end to questioning.  It’s even worse than guessing, because with a guess, you’re at least open to revisiting a decision in the face of new evidence.  Not so with faith.

No one relies on faith unless their god weren’t just invisible but was actually nonexistent.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

*By faith, I mean belief without sufficient evidence.  Christians might respond that their definition of faith is identical to that for trust: belief in accord with sufficient evidence.  In my experience, however, Christians use each of these definitions for faith, switching them as necessary.  If they only stuck to the idea that faith and trust were identical, that might clear up a lot of problems.

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