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Reason / Science / Religion

#1  Postby Will S » Jun 16, 2010 1:42 pm

[Following discussions in a couple of other threads, 'Non-theists - why should I not believe? ' and 'Redefining Faith', I have been motivated, for better or for worse, to write the following mini-essay. Need I add that comments and criticisms will be welcome?]

Very often in discussions between religious people and non-religious people, a religious person will say something along the following lines:

    Science is all very well. It is enormously powerful; it has solved lots of problems. But it has its limits; there are issues which scientific method cannot address, and problems which it cannot solve.
Of course, this statement is almost invariably followed by a 'therefore'. Sometimes it's a stupid and crude non sequitur, for example:

    Therefore, we must believe what's in the Bible.
Or sometimes it may sound more reasonable. Often it's along these lines:

    Therefore, we must recognise that there are other ways of finding out about reality, such as our intuitions or our emotions, and we should use these to supplement or even to correct what we learn from science.
The second of these caveats certainly sounds plausible. Surely, it's clear that in everyday life we find out a very great deal without using science? So science seems to be limited in the kind of way that the religious person claims. However, I suggest that this whole argument is misleading, and for one simple reason: it relies on a definition of science which is woolly and unsustainable.

For many or most people, the word 'science' suggests the use of elaborate equipment: telescopes, microscopes, mass spectrometers etc. It also may suggest elaborately designed experiments, and the use of advanced mathematical techniques: calculus, the analysis of variance etc.

But, of course, as good scientific text books are careful to point out, these things are not fundamental to science. The scientist may use elaborate equipment or elaborate mathematics, but, at bottom, scientific method is no more or less than 'applied common sense'. (Of course, some of the results of using 'applied common sense' may seem to violate other conclusions which we've reached using common sense – but that is a different issue.)

There is no hard-and-fast distinction between scientific method and applied common sense. In his thinking, the scientist doesn't say, 'Now I am abandoning common sense, and switching over to scientific method' – unless he means that he is now going to become more careful and more rigorous in drawing his conclusions. For, there's nothing else that's special about scientific method; it's simply part and parcel of the ways in which we investigate anything at all.

This is neatly illustrated by the fact that our perceptions of what counts as a scientific instrument change with time. We would scarcely regard a pair of binoculars or a pressure cooker as a scientific instrument, but a few centuries ago, they most certainly would have done so.

So, scientific method is a part (and not a very clear-cut part) of what we can more helpfully call 'rational method', that is, the whole business of making observations, either directly with our senses or via instruments, and deducing conclusions from them, using either simple or more elaborate logic or mathematics.

Accordingly, if the religious person is going to pursue the line set out above, what he really ought to be saying is, something like this:

    Reason is all very well. It is enormously powerful; it has solved lots of problems. But it has its limits; there are issues which reason cannot address, and problems which it cannot solve.
This is, clearly, more controversial, and more difficult to argue. Can it be argued at all?

I think we have to accept that there may well be issues which reason can't address, and problems which it cannot solve. (Perhaps we should say human reason, but this isn't very helpful, because it's not easy to see how we could ever comprehend super-human reason!) This conclusion seems obvious once we recognise that our brains evolved to deal with a particular set of problems relating to reproduction and survival. So it seems likely that there are problems which our brains simply can't cope with – for example, perhaps the problem of consciousness is one of them. (Indeed, what seems to me to be so surprising is not that human reason is limited, but that, considering its origin, it can achieve so much.)

But if human reason is limited in this way, can the religious person tell us how to overcome these limitations? As far as I can see, he can't – he's in the same boat as the rest of us.

He may tell us to rely on a sacred book, or on the pronouncements of a religious authority (himself, perhaps!), but, as soon as we ask why this particular sacred book, or this particular religious authority, if he responds at all, he has to use … (wait for it!) ... reason! For example, he has to argue that the Bible can be distinguished from all other books because of certain facts relating to the Bible's history, or that the intuitions of some particular religious authority are especially valuable because of facts relating to the person's life. In other words, competently or incompetently, he makes a direct appeal to reason. The only other thing he can do is dogmatically to repeat his assertions.

The unavoidable conclusion is that, when we are trying to find out the truth about things, reason trumps everything, and nothing can trump reason.

It seems to me that, these days, only a very few people ever claim that the truth of religion can be established by reason, and these are mostly on the evangelical fringe. However, at one time the view was fairly widespread. For example, in Victorian times, a prize was offered for the best essay on 'the best way of proving Christianity to the Hindus'. Note the word prove; it's not easy to imagine even the Templeton Foundation funding such a competition today!

Indeed, you can see this approach largely preserved in the work of Christian apologists of the previous generation, who tended to argue that anybody who approached the subject with an open mind would probably end up a theist and a Christian. For better or for worse, they relied on reason. For example, C S Lewis wrote: ' I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it.' Also, he puts these words into the mouth of a senior devil advising a junior devil on how to bring a man to perdition: 'The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth'.

Can you imagine many present day apologists putting it as clearly and baldly as that? Today, they seem to say, routinely, that 'reason can take you only so far …' They imply that, beyond reason, there's a … something – only we're never told exactly what it is.

So, in conclusion, and to put it a bit brutally, I suggest that a great deal of religious polemic is devoted to using reason in an opportunistic, even deceitful, now-you-see-it-now-you-don't, kind of way. Time and again, I find myself wanting to say to religious people, in the grim words which the Bible attributes to Festus: 'Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go!'
'To a thinking person, a paradox is what the smell of burning rubber is to an electrical engineer' - Sir Peter Medawar (adapted)
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#2  Postby katja z » Jun 16, 2010 2:40 pm

Well done Will S! :clap:

I do have two minor suggestions (for now :tongue: ):

1)
Of course, some of the results of using 'applied common sense' may seem to violate other conclusions which we've reached using common sense – but that is a different issue.

This could be confusing to some. I know you can't deal with this in any depth here, but I think a simple clarification would be useful - something on the lines of "when you look at the steps that lead to such a confusing result, every one of them makes perfect (common) sense, it's only that the issue is too complicated for our us to digest it well in one big chunk".

2) When you refer to Christian apologists, it might be a good idea to label them more precisely (it could well be that tactics are different in different denominations - this wouldn't surprise me since the theology varies quite a lot in some respects :ask:).

:cheers:
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#3  Postby I.C.37 » Jun 16, 2010 2:52 pm

You're right about how lots of people view science, as it requiring complicated methodology and equipment. One of my favorite points to make is that everyone does science: when buying tomatoes!

You gather data about the tomato: its color, shape, if it has visible defects, its place of provenience, etc. Then you run experiments on it! You pick it up, you squeeze it "just so", to check if its squishy, maybe even shake it a bit, to see if its contents make noise. Then, based on all the data obtained either through direct observation or experimentation, and your past experience with tomatoes, you draw a scientific conclusion about the tomato! Common sense, really, just as you put it.

Or you could simply pick any tomato whatsoever, tell yourself it's good and ripe and merrily go on your way. That, I point out, is the theistic way of buying tomatoes. :D
"When it comes to bullshit, big-time, major league bullshit, you have to stand in awe - in awe! - of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion."
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#4  Postby Sophie T » Jun 16, 2010 3:48 pm

Will S wrote:
But, of course, as good scientific text books are careful to point out, these things are not fundamental to science. The scientist may use elaborate equipment or elaborate mathematics, but, at bottom, scientific method is no more or less than 'applied common sense'. (Of course, some of the results of using 'applied common sense' may seem to violate other conclusions which we've reached using common sense – but that is a different issue.)

There is no hard-and-fast distinction between scientific method and applied common sense. In his thinking, the scientist doesn't say, 'Now I am abandoning common sense, and switching over to scientific method' – unless he means that he is now going to become more careful and more rigorous in drawing his conclusions. For, there's nothing else that's special about scientific method; it's simply part and parcel of the ways in which we investigate anything at all.
'


Very nicely done, Will! Not being much a science buff myself, I have little to contribute in the way of objective criticism. However, I have recently been reading a book called The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief, by James Spiegel.

The author of this book wrote some things that seem to be related to what you are writing about in your essay. Here's an excerpt to show you what I mean:

The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief
by James Spiegel
Chapter 4 (The Obstinacy of Atheism)

Although Muller was using a figure of speech, there is a sense in which people with such contrasting worldviews do dwell in different worlds. Their radically different perspectives make it seem so anyway. Perfect objectivity is impossible, at least for mere mortals. Yet some persist in claiming that science gives us an objective, unfiltered view of the world. Apparently these benighted folks have never read Thomas Kuhn, whose now classic book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions should have put to rest once and for all the naive notion that scientists are somehow immune to the influence of their own beliefs and values as they do their research and their theory formulation. But then again, most of us are fed an idealistic image of science and scientists, from the earliest years of grade school, which can be very difficult to shake. We are conditioned to think of scientists (the best of them anyway) as unbiased, dispassionate, purely logical, Spocklike automatons who simply report the facts and devise general theories, without any ulterior motives or besetting influences to interfere with their work. None of us explicitly affirm such a starry-eyed view, but the impression that scientists are somehow more objective, more dispassionate, and more rational than the general population or even other scholars is still very strong in the West.


Spiegel then rattles on talking about scientific paradigms and how these are created or "dreamed up" by human beings and how different paradigms have their own "unique standards" for what counts as scientific proof. He uses the "duck-rabbit" illustration where someone looks at a black and white drawing and one person sees a rabbit while the other person sees a duck. He points out that it's possible to see both but not to see both at the same time. Spiegel then goes on to talk at length about the ideas of Thomas Kuhn who basically says that different scientific paradigms influence our perception. Thus, it is impossible to objectively observe and/or interpret our environments. He writes that scientists bring "biases, desires, and passionate committments" to their work and he claims that these things influence the scientist to such a degree that purely rational, logical, and objective scientific work is not possible and all that remains are our subjective desires. Anyway, this is probably a poorly worded summary of what Spiegel writes about in his book, but his claims in this chapter seem to be very much connected to what you are writing about, and I thought that telling you about them may be helpful! I, personally, find his claims to be laughable in that they basically undermine all of science, but I think it's interesting to see that a theist is actually proposing such things in a book published by Moody Publishers.

Anyway--I like your essay! I would like to see more of such essays from you. :thumbup:
It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#5  Postby HughMcB » Jun 16, 2010 3:54 pm

Kudos Will S, I very much enjoyed that. :grin:
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#6  Postby Jakov » Jun 17, 2010 1:13 am

Very good essay. :)

I have noticed during my time of studying physics that certain theories actually seem to become part of my common sense and intuition.
For example when students are first introduced to Newton's laws, they are often shown an experiment where you place a buggy on an air rail which greatly reduces the friction. When you give the buggy a little push, and have rubber bands at each end to act as reflectors, the buggy can continue in motion for a very long time. When I first saw it many years ago it destroyed my common sense notion that when you push that buggy it would stop eventually, almost as though rest was the 'natural state' of any body. But now it seem equally common sensual to me that without friction, a body in motion will continue forever.

If you as a scientist have common sense on your side it helps massively. One example would be studying the common states of matter, solids, liquids and gases. Humans have a lot of contact with those and it helped us build good theories with them very early in our scientific enlightenment. However plasma physics is much harder because we never come across plasma and it hasn't been built into our common sense. There's nothing intrinsicly special about plasma, its just another state of matter which happens to almost never exist on earth.
PS. a flame is plasma, can you use your common sense to 'feel' how a flame will behave? Its much harder then trying to guess how water or rocks behave.


It can't be denied that the conclusions of science often go against what people subjectively feel is common sense. Sometimes creationists have offered this as a retort against evolution so I've had to bring up the discoveries of special relativity, the heliocentric solar system, super-fluidity of helium, atomic theory saying that everything we see is mostly empty space and light giving you a recoil when it hits you to show that common sense isn't a good guide to how the universe works.

How can we sometimes bring up science going against common sense but later say science is an extension of common sense. It sounds superficially unconvincing.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#7  Postby Will S » Jun 17, 2010 7:39 am

Sophie T wrote:The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief
by James Spiegel
Chapter 4 (The Obstinacy of Atheism)

Although Muller was using a figure of speech, there is a sense in which people with such contrasting worldviews do dwell in different worlds. Their radically different perspectives make it seem so anyway. Perfect objectivity is impossible, at least for mere mortals. Yet some persist in claiming that science gives us an objective, unfiltered view of the world. Apparently these benighted folks have never read Thomas Kuhn, whose now classic book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions should have put to rest once and for all the naive notion that scientists are somehow immune to the influence of their own beliefs and values as they do their research and their theory formulation. But then again, most of us are fed an idealistic image of science and scientists, from the earliest years of grade school, which can be very difficult to shake. We are conditioned to think of scientists (the best of them anyway) as unbiased, dispassionate, purely logical, Spocklike automatons who simply report the facts and devise general theories, without any ulterior motives or besetting influences to interfere with their work. None of us explicitly affirm such a starry-eyed view, but the impression that scientists are somehow more objective, more dispassionate, and more rational than the general population or even other scholars is still very strong in the West.


Spiegel then rattles on talking about scientific paradigms and how these are created or "dreamed up" by human beings and how different paradigms have their own "unique standards" for what counts as scientific proof. He uses the "duck-rabbit" illustration where someone looks at a black and white drawing and one person sees a rabbit while the other person sees a duck. He points out that it's possible to see both but not to see both at the same time. Spiegel then goes on to talk at length about the ideas of Thomas Kuhn who basically says that different scientific paradigms influence our perception. Thus, it is impossible to objectively observe and/or interpret our environments. He writes that scientists bring "biases, desires, and passionate committments" to their work and he claims that these things influence the scientist to such a degree that purely rational, logical, and objective scientific work is not possible and all that remains are our subjective desires. Anyway, this is probably a poorly worded summary of what Spiegel writes about in his book, but his claims in this chapter seem to be very much connected to what you are writing about, and I thought that telling you about them may be helpful! I, personally, find his claims to be laughable in that they basically undermine all of science, but I think it's interesting to see that a theist is actually proposing such things in a book published by Moody Publishers.

I don't think anybody denies that scientists are influenced by the prevailing intellectual climate when constructing their theories; a famous example would be Malthus's influence on Darwin. I'm sure that these social factors have a big influence on what is discovered, and in what order. However, the scientist's theory is always subject to the acid test of observation and experiment, and to say that 'all that remains are our subjective desires' seems to be a wild exaggeration. Somebody pointed out (it may have been Dawkins) that if these relativists are right, then if the passengers in a plane stop believing in the laws of aerodynamics, then the plane will presumably fall out of the sky! :(

Anyway, if the argument applies to science, then, presumably, it applies with equal or greater force to any kind of rational investigation, and we're all condemned to deep and permanent agnosticism about everything. If the argument wrecks science, then it also wrecks history, theology, biblical studies ... :(
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#8  Postby Will S » Jun 17, 2010 7:47 am

Thanks to all for the generous and interesting comments on the OP.

But, as far as I can see (and please correct me if I'm wrong) not one of you is a theist or a religious sympathiser. Which leaves me preaching to the converted - not that I can do anything about it.

Seriously, I'd welcome a critique of the OP from the religious point of view. Is there any chance that one will be forthcoming?
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#9  Postby katja z » Jun 17, 2010 8:03 am

Give it some time. Alternatively, you could try posting the essay to some religious sites and invite people to come over for discussion. :cheers:
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#10  Postby Will S » Jun 17, 2010 8:08 am

katja z wrote:I do have two minor suggestions (for now :tongue: ):

1)
Of course, some of the results of using 'applied common sense' may seem to violate other conclusions which we've reached using common sense – but that is a different issue.

This could be confusing to some. I know you can't deal with this in any depth here, but I think a simple clarification would be useful - something on the lines of "when you look at the steps that lead to such a confusing result, every one of them makes perfect (common) sense, it's only that the issue is too complicated for our us to digest it well in one big chunk".

Yes - fair comment. It seems to apply in particular to a lot of physics.
katja z wrote:2) When you refer to Christian apologists, it might be a good idea to label them more precisely (it could well be that tactics are different in different denominations - this wouldn't surprise me since the theology varies quite a lot in some respects :ask:).

It would certainly be quite an undertaking to do a detailed survey of present day Christian apologists! What I'm really saying is that, being an moderately old bloke, I've seen, or I think I've seen, a huge change in my lifetime.

When I was a young lad, the prevailing line which Christian apologists took was that Christianity is totally reasonable, and that if an unprejudiced person looks at the evidence and the arguments, he's likely to conclude that Christianity is true. Conversely, if he doesn't reach this conclusion, either he's a bit of a silly-billy, or else he has some dark, private reason for pretending to be sceptical. (Perhaps that line was already beginning to give a bit, certainly among the 'professionals', but it was still the line which was usually presented to the laity - and particularly to the young.)

It seems to me that that line of polemic has now pretty much disappeared, and has been replaced by ... what? To me, it just looks like vagueness and obfuscation.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#11  Postby katja z » Jun 17, 2010 8:23 am

Will S wrote:
It would certainly be quite an undertaking to do a detailed survey of present day Christian apologists!

Oh my IPU, I wasn't asking you to do that! I know you've better things to do with your time, including staring at the ceiling ;)

I simply meant that you could mention the general orientation of the ones you have in mind - are they Catholic, Anglican, Calvinist, whatever. Except if you've read a bit (or a lot) of each and can be sure that what you're saying more or less applies to all Christian denominations? I should add that I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to Christian apologetics, so this was just a general observation.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#12  Postby pnerd » Jun 17, 2010 10:15 am

Thanks a lot for the nice post, Will S.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#13  Postby Will S » Jun 18, 2010 7:48 am

katja z wrote:
Will S wrote:
It would certainly be quite an undertaking to do a detailed survey of present day Christian apologists!

Oh my IPU, I wasn't asking you to do that! I know you've better things to do with your time, including staring at the ceiling ;)

I simply meant that you could mention the general orientation of the ones you have in mind - are they Catholic, Anglican, Calvinist, whatever. Except if you've read a bit (or a lot) of each and can be sure that what you're saying more or less applies to all Christian denominations? I should add that I'm a complete ignoramus when it comes to Christian apologetics, so this was just a general observation.

It's hard to be sure, but my impression is that, in general, most individual Christians and most Christian denominations have moved away from the idea that Christianity is something which can be proved.

That is, when we use the 'prove' in the same way that we do when we say that relativity or evolution can be proved, and we mean that there's very strong evidence which is almost certain to convince anybody who approaches it with intelligence and an open mind. But (and I have to recall that I do have qualifications in statistics!) I admit that I can't produce a couple of opinion surveys, done recently and 50 years ago respectively, to support this (which is not to say that such surveys don't exist).

Sorry if I risk boring the assembled company with reminiscences about 'when I were a lad', but I think it's relevant to say that, in those days, Christian denominations spent a lot of time and effort arguing with each other, and trying to convert people from one denomination to another - something which they do far less now. Obviously, you can't engage in this kind of argument, unless you think that there are facts and arguments which support your own position against that of your opponents.

Of course, the Christian denominations themselves will tell you that the warfare has died down because they have learnt better, and are more charitable these days. Personally, I think that one reason is that they have all, to some extent, lost confidence in the ammunition that they were using on each other; they've lost confidence in the idea that you can use reason to establish the truth in religious matters.
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#14  Postby katja z » Jun 18, 2010 8:10 am

Thanks Will :thumbup: Oh, and personally, I find your reminiscences are anything but boring - it's always interesting to observe how ideas and agendas change over time, all the more so when dealing with ones that have to do with supposedly eternal truths :mrgreen:
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#15  Postby CookieJon » Jun 18, 2010 8:10 am

Will S wrote:But, as far as I can see (and please correct me if I'm wrong) not one of you is a theist or a religious sympathiser. Which leaves me preaching to the converted - not that I can do anything about it.


I was going to help you and play Devil's advocate, but... I'm struggling! :lol:

How about this...

He may tell us to rely on a sacred book, or on the pronouncements of a religious authority (himself, perhaps!), but, as soon as we ask why this particular sacred book, or this particular religious authority, if he responds at all, he has to use … (wait for it!) ... reason!
...
The unavoidable conclusion is that, when we are trying to find out the truth about things, reason trumps everything, and nothing can trump reason.


So? Your proposed argument from the theists' point of view about reason was not that it doesn't work at all, just that it "has its limits". It doesn't follow that "reason trumps everything" if you've only used the limited ability of reason to reason that reason itself is limited, or to reason the best method of overcoming its limitations.


I'm neither well read on this topic, nor a philosopher, so please be gentle. ;-)
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#16  Postby Sophie T » Jun 18, 2010 8:20 am

Will S wrote:
It's hard to be sure, but my impression is that, in general, most individual Christians and most Christian denominations have moved away from the idea that Christianity is something which can be proved.


Will, I'm not sure what most theologians are doing these days, but the apologist I've been reading lately (the one I mentioned in the previous post) is claiming in his book that atheists are deluded because they don't see what is so obvious to most people. He actually claims that atheists have a broken "God-sensor" and view the word through what he calls "paradigm induced blindness" that causes them to willfully reject God. Yet, he's a Calvinist who believes that even our wills are determined by God! He implies (or states outright, I'll have to look back and see) that failure to believe in God is cognitive flaw--a disability like blindness or being deaf, etc., and he says that if one engages in "right living," one can improve one's cognition, which may improve one's ability to "see" God. And again--he's a Calvinist! He says that atheists don't reject God because of lack of evidence but because of immorality and broken God sensors. So--if this is become a prevalent attitude among apologists (and I don't know whether it is or not), then perhaps they don't feel the need to construct rational arguments? I just don't get it. There's something about this approach that strikes me as unbelievably deceptive and almost malicious.

Will S wrote:
Of course, the Christian denominations themselves will tell you that the warfare has died down because they have learnt better, and are more charitable these days. Personally, I think that one reason is that they have all, to some extent, lost confidence in the ammunition that they were using on each other; they've lost confidence in the idea that you can use reason to establish the truth in religious matters.


I wonder if another reason for Christian denominations to spend less time attacking one another is because they are now beginning to face what they perceive as a new "enemy" -- vocal atheists. So rather than fight one another, they join forces to fight us?
It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
~ Excerpt from William Ernest Henley's Invictus
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#17  Postby Sophie T » Jun 18, 2010 8:26 am

CookieJon wrote:
So? Your proposed argument from the theists' point of view about reason was not that it doesn't work at all, just that it "has its limits". It doesn't follow that "reason trumps everything" if you've only used the limited ability of reason to reason that reason itself is limited, or to reason the best method of overcoming its limitations.


I'm neither well read on this topic, nor a philosopher, so please be gentle. ;-)


That's very good! :thumbup: You do a good job of playing Devil's Advocate. I actually read something along these lines from the lips of a Christian apologist just this evening. I'll have to see if I can find it a little later.

Actually, I've been reading so much apologetic stuff lately that I could also play the part of a Christian theist if it would help these discussions. But it would be so painful! Where are the real Christian theists? Don't they want to convert us? Or are we just too "cognitively broken" and "morally depraved" to "see" the "truth." :lol:

This one guy I've been reading actually wrote in his book that he believes evangelicals should stop using birth control like the Catholics, if nothing else to increase numbers! I was like . . . exCUSE me?! This is what it seems to be coming to, though. If they can't win converts through reason, I guess they'll just have to create converts through . . . well--other means.
It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
~ Excerpt from William Ernest Henley's Invictus
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#18  Postby Will S » Jun 18, 2010 8:59 am

CookieJon wrote:
Will S wrote:He may tell us to rely on a sacred book, or on the pronouncements of a religious authority (himself, perhaps!), but, as soon as we ask why this particular sacred book, or this particular religious authority, if he responds at all, he has to use … (wait for it!) ... reason!
...
The unavoidable conclusion is that, when we are trying to find out the truth about things, reason trumps everything, and nothing can trump reason.


So? Your proposed argument from the theists' point of view about reason was not that it doesn't work at all, just that it "has its limits". It doesn't follow that "reason trumps everything" if you've only used the limited ability of reason to reason that reason itself is limited, or to reason the best method of overcoming its limitations.

I can't see any problem at all with the statement '(human) reason has, or may have, its limits'.

(Aside: I come at this from biology. The seat of reason appears to be the brain. The brain is an organ, and like any other organ, it has evolved to perform particular functions. So the surprise is, not that there are things which it can't do, but that there are so many things which it can do - things which seem to have no connection with human reproduction and survival e.g it can do calculus, or play chess.)

The issue is: where do we go from here? Have we any other way of getting information, which by-passes reason? As far as I can see, we haven't, and I'd argue that, if religious people think there is, then it's down to them to convince us. N.B. if they try to convince us, what will they use .... presumably, reason!!

So when I say 'Reason trumps everything', I not so much saying how wonderful, glorious, reliable reason is; rather I'm saying that it's all we've got.
'To a thinking person, a paradox is what the smell of burning rubber is to an electrical engineer' - Sir Peter Medawar (adapted)
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#19  Postby katja z » Jun 18, 2010 9:13 am

[theist mode]All we've got? You're forgetting the word of god, Will, the word of god! :ahrr: [/theist mode]
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Re: Reason / Science / Religion

#20  Postby Will S » Jun 18, 2010 9:21 am

Sophie T wrote:
Will S wrote:
It's hard to be sure, but my impression is that, in general, most individual Christians and most Christian denominations have moved away from the idea that Christianity is something which can be proved.


Will, I'm not sure what most theologians are doing these days, but the apologist I've been reading lately (the one I mentioned in the previous post) is claiming in his book that atheists are deluded because they don't see what is so obvious to most people. He actually claims that atheists have a broken "God-sensor" and view the word through what he calls "paradigm induced blindness" that causes them to willfully reject God. Yet, he's a Calvinist who believes that even our wills are determined by God! He implies (or states outright, I'll have to look back and see) that failure to believe in God is cognitive flaw--a disability like blindness or being deaf, etc., and he says that if one engages in "right living," one can improve one's cognition, which may improve one's ability to "see" God. And again--he's a Calvinist! He says that atheists don't reject God because of lack of evidence but because of immorality and broken God sensors. So--if this is become a prevalent attitude among apologists (and I don't know whether it is or not), then perhaps they don't feel the need to construct rational arguments? I just don't get it. There's something about this approach that strikes me as unbelievably deceptive and almost malicious.

Yes, quite apart from the great paradox at the centre of Calvinism, which you point out, it's ... argumentum ad hominem, par excellence, in excelsis. (Now behold the awful effects of an old-fashioned British education. :( )

Sophie T wrote:
Will S wrote:Of course, the Christian denominations themselves will tell you that the warfare has died down because they have learnt better, and are more charitable these days. Personally, I think that one reason is that they have all, to some extent, lost confidence in the ammunition that they were using on each other; they've lost confidence in the idea that you can use reason to establish the truth in religious matters.


I wonder if another reason for Christian denominations to spend less time attacking one another is because they are now beginning to face what they perceive as a new "enemy" -- vocal atheists. So rather than fight one another, they join forces to fight us?

I agree that's increasingly a factor: a 'backs to the wall' attitude. Note the rise of the inclusive term 'people of faith', that is, everybody except the bloody atheists. It sounds so much better than 'religious people', doesn't it? :dopey: Just as 'faith schools' sounds so much better than 'religious schools' or 'denominational schools'. :dopey:

Did you know that our beloved Prince Charles has announced that when/if he becomes King (and ex officio Supreme Governor of the Church of England), he doesn't want to be titled 'Defender of the Faith' (see current British coins)? Instead he wants to be 'Defender of the Faiths' (plural).

If he means it seriously, then the reaction of the Church of England will be ... interesting! :angel:
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