Comment response: Reason and Faith.

This is a special post in response to a comment under the post – Video: Christopher Hitchens on his book – God is Not Great. The original comment is below, exactly how it was written:

“Since you are a believer in REASON, then you know absolutely NOTHING about a believer in FAITH. Therefore, since you are totally ignorant concerning Faith how is it possible that a person with simple COMMON SENSE would trust anything you have to say? Furthermore, since you’ve never met God and do not have a RELATIONSHIP with him then what you may say about him is a complete FABRICATION!I for one could not convince you OTHERWISE, for A MAN CONVINCED AGAINST HIS WILL IS OF THE SAME OPINION STILL! As for me my faith is my STRONGHOLD and my FOUNDATION and as I have learned over the years by TRIAL AND ERROR, just because you do not believe in GOD, it won’t change a thing and your soul’s DESTINATION will remain the same. By the way, the world is full of all kinds of RELIGION, and GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR OF CONFUSION either!”
– Sandie

Hello Sandie,

You’re obviously passionate about your faith. You’re capitalisation of particular words gives this away (IT’S LIKE SHOUTING!). Let’s relax it a little and have a reasonable discussion, if we can…

So, let us begin. A ‘believer in reason’ is an odd statement. It’s a bit like saying ‘a believer in thinking clearly’. Perhaps you meant someone who believes that reason is necessary for truth. You then say ‘a believer in faith’ which I take it to mean someone who believes that faith is necessary for truth. This is how I’ve interpreted what you have written. In fact, it took me a couple of reads to understand what you wrote – it’s not very clear and comes across as a rant rather than anything thoughtful.

You seem to divide people into two camps – those who apply reason and those who follow faith. You accuse me (I think you mean me, unless you’re accusing Christopher Hitchens) of being ‘totally ignorant’ concerning faith. It does not follow that someone who applies the principles of reason cannot know anything about someone who has faith. The position of someone with faith is simple to understand – these people have a belief in something without supporting evidence, or in the face of contradictory evidence. Faith is to believe without a valid reason, or to believe in the face of reason. However, I’m guessing that you believe faith is a gift from God, and by this, you think that those who do not believe in God cannot have the ‘gift of faith’.

Your rhetorical question – ‘how could anyone with simple common sense trust what I, or anyone else who applies the methodology of reason, might say? (paraphrased)’ strikes me as bizarre. Further, it seems to me that the position you are taking is purely fideistic. Fideism meaning that the reliance on reason will not achieve knowledge about the divine or God – only the reliance on faith could achieve this. I also suppose that you think reason is limited as it relies purely on evidence – a position known as evidentialism. It seems apparent to me that you believe faith to be the only path to ‘true’ knowledge, which is a position supported by Christian theology, if not all theology.

You then ask why would anyone with ‘simple common sense’ – meaning good judgement – trust the voice of reason. By this, you are implying that people should only trust those who profess faith. Again, this is a very odd thing to say, and with this there are many problems. For example, how do you know that the beliefs you hold are the correct set of beliefs to have? Is it by your own standards or a standard set by some source of authority? If it is the former, then the problem here is that your own prejudice is unavoidable – you only seek to trust those who confirm your own beliefs. If it’s the latter, then for all you know, you may be being misled by the prejudice of others. If it’s none of these, then perhaps you have settled on a set of beliefs that gives you the most comfort, but this is no reason for supposing the matter to be ‘true’.

Anyway, what have you got against reason? Is it because reason challenges your faith? It very probably is. Trusting people – trusting their testimony, and trusting authority – this does require faith, but why rely on just the word of what someone or some book says? You should evaluate what it is being said to you, and for this, you need to be able to reason – that is, you need to be able to think clearly. You need to be able to identify prejudice, be able to spot faulty claims and to know when someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

If you are closed to reasoning, closed to thinking clearly about what you know and what people say to you, then you are dogmatic. You think that what you know is simply just right and everyone else who doesn’t share your view is wrong. Think about it – how do you know you are right and how do you know the people you trust are right? Faith alone, I’m afraid, is not the answer.

You then say that you ‘learned over the years by trial and error’ – just think about what you are doing here. If you reason – think clearly before you make decisions, then you will probably make fewer errors and there will be less need for trial runs. If you are going to cross a busy road, you stop before you cross and evaluate the situation– this is akin to reasoning. If, however, you rely on trial and error to cross the road, and rely blindly on your faith to get you to the other side, then you’re very unlikely to make it across. This is the same with anything that requires you to make important decisions. You don’t just go for it and hope for the best, you have to think about what you are doing and act on your best judgement. The problem here is that you need to know how to weigh up the propositions and the possible consequences before you act. This is part of what reasoning is about.

Then you say ‘no one can convince you otherwise’. Again, I don’t think you understand what it is to reason. I am open to changing my mind if the argument and/or evidence put before me is convincing. Those with faith, however, take it to be that the position they hold is the right way and any other opinion is wrong. But what makes one person with faith correct over someone else with faith in an opposing position? Nothing, is the answer, because all a person with faith does is to take what it is they hold to be true as true.

Next, you say something about not believing in God so my soul’s ‘destination will remain the same’. You assume that I think I have a soul – but it depends on what you mean by ‘soul’. I interpret soul to mean mind, or consciousness. I don’t accept that the ‘soul’ is some kind of spirit that exists beyond the natural world. And when I die, my mind, or my soul, will die with me. So, what you are saying here has no impact on my position.

Then you say ‘the world is full of all kinds of religion’. Well, at least you’re right on something! I can’t argue with that, though I do know it’s very difficult to define what a religion is, but that’s another matter.

Finally, you say ‘God is not the author of confusion either’. Hmm, on one level I would agree – a non-existent entity could not create confusion. However, on another level, the many claimed attributes of what a God would have could cause confusion as there doesn’t seem to be a universal agreement of what these should be. In fact, if God is supposed to be infinite in every way then to apply attributes to God would be to limit his (sex being one of them) nature and therefore he could not be infinite. If, however, we were to allow God, for the sake of argument, then there are many more problems to deal with such as his desires, what the claimed prophets have said, claims made in holy texts and so on. So, I won’t go into all of this, as hopefully by now there’s plenty to for you to mull over already.