Posted: May 26, 2011 6:43 am
by Between3&20character
Will S wrote: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.

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

Except better reason.

Will S wrote: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'.

There's nothing like a man's most deep motive in the world to thoroughly screw up what was already screwed up thinking. Ayn Rand and Karl Marx both.

Will S wrote: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!'

That's where they're going. But, be careful yourself. I wager that if sentience has as its ultimate ancestor non-sentience, then either no one can ever know anything about anything for what it really is, or anyone can (think that they can) become all-powerful over all the cosmos.