FAITH AND REASON
Ben H. Swett
Date: 3 May 1998
To: John Page
From: Ben H. Swett
Subject: Faith and Reason
Here are my comments on excerpts of the email conversations you forwarded.
To clarify who said what, I have kept the sender's name with each statement.
>Lewis: We need the two poles of myth and logos.
What for? mythos + logos = mythology, which is: 1) all of the myths of a
people [Greek mythology], or 2) the science or study of myths. While I agree
that we need scientific study of myths to see if there is any truth in them,
I don't believe we need more myths. What we need is more truth.
>Lewis: Without myth, philosophy degenerates into meaningless
No, it doesn't. This is a very narrow concept of philosophy. Even as an
academic discipline, philosophy includes a lot more than myths and symbolic
>Trisno: I agree with you [Lewis].
I do not agree with Lewis or Trisno. They seem to be using the word "myth"
in some esoteric sense I haven't heard of. Webster: "mythical basically
applies to the highly imaginary explanation of natural or historical phenomena
by a people, and therefore connotes that what it qualifies is a product
of the imagination. Antonyms: real, true, factual."
>Trisno: But the problem, how is exactly the relations between
faith and reason? Can we say that faith is the presupposition for reason,
and reason is a light for the faith that we presupposed before?
These are good questions -- and a centuries-old debate -- but no simple
answer will suffice because there are several different meanings of "faith"
and "reason". A search of the Internet bookstore, Amazon.com,
shows several hundred books with "faith and reason" in the titles.
>Aliman: Faith is the foundation of reason -- reason is dead
in the water without it.
If "faith" is defined very broadly, so as to include even tentative
belief in something which has not yet been proved, then, yes, both inductive
and deductive reasoning require some degree of faith. But if one uses the
more common understanding of "faith" as unquestioning belief in
something unproved as though it were proved, then neither inductive nor
deductive reasoning requires faith.
>Aliman: I wouldn't say "reason is a light for the faith
that we presupposed before." Rather, faith makes reason possible, and
reason then turns around and sheds *some* light on faith, yes, but not much
light. Faith provides its own light. In my view faith is needed for reason,
but not the other way around.
Faith can be based on facts, in which case it is like a bridge being built
from one end: the farther it is extended out away from its foundation, the
shakier it becomes. Or faith can be placed in fictions, in which case it
is either amended as facts are acquired (open-eyed faith) or else maintained
by rationalization and denial of facts (blind faith).
>Aliman: Arguments for and against the existence of God are
nearly meaningless words piled atop of meaningless words. To claim you've
refuted the existence of God by refuting, e.g., the ontological argument,
I agree that such arguments are basically meaningless -- and futile. And
one of the main problems in arguments for and against the existence of God
is failure to adequately define the term "God".
>Aliman: Faith is at the basis of ANY belief.
Again, faith in what? Some believe because they have seen. Some believe
because they take someone else's word for it. Some cling to a belief despite
evidence to the contrary. Some change their faith after and because their
beliefs have changed -- so belief can be at the basis of faith.
>Aliman: Reason can help transcend the parochial limits of
particular expressions of faith, reason can help broaden our viewpoint,
but if there is no light of faith to begin with, we have precious little
viewpoint to broaden.
Inductive reasoning can transcend parochial limits, broaden perspective,
and build new knowledge, but deductive reasoning cannot. Therefore, it is
important to specify which mode of reason one is talking about.
>Aliman: For intensity of experience, what's important is
the COMBINATION of faith and reason.
Well, yes, but intensity of experience may be due to physical or emotional
pleasure or pain, with neither faith nor reason involved.
>Aliman: I think there is a dialectical relationship between
faith and reason. The more pure reason takes over, the less room for faith,
and vise versa.
This dialectic is observable where one's faith is submission to authority.
The more one lets someone else do his thinking for him, the less he does
his own thinking, and vice versa.
>Aliman: Consider a framework of greater complexity and harmony
combining to make greater intensity: the balance of intensity will *increase*
as one gets closer to the middle where the complexity is: Intensity of enjoyment
comes in with the complexity and equivocity of the combination of faith
and reason. The move toward either end, toward a simpler and univocal viewpoint,
engenders less intensity. Both ends of the spectrum are narrow viewpoints
with little complexity, little harmony, and thus little intensity.
Absolute belief and absolute disbelief are both fixed opinions (certitude).
They are rather comfortable positions, because the range between them is
degrees of uncertainty, and many people find uncertainty uncomfortable.
The midpoint of this range is total uncertainty: "don't know, not testable."
Some people find it exciting -- stimulating. Many find it terrifying.
>Aliman: Why was the 17th century genius for science so intense?
Because they had faith. Why was the Age of Reason so intense? They had faith.
Faith in what? The millennium of stultification that we call the dark ages
(roughly AD 400-1400) was characterized by faith in authority (religious
and secular). The rebirth of science was the result of a shift of faith,
from ancient authorities to empirical evidence, and thus from faith in myths
to faith in reality. For example, all modern science owes a debt of gratitude
to the shift of faith in Galileo when he saw that cannonballs don't do what
Aristotle's physics said they do.
Likewise, Kepler threw out his oval-orbit theory of the motion of the planet
Mars (and several years of his own hard work) in respect for the evidence
provided by Tycho's octants that Mars was not precisely where his theory
predicted it would be. What Kepler did illustrates the watershed between
superstition and science. Superstition discards or rationalizes evidence
in order to maintain a theory. Science modifies or discards a theory if
the evidence is against it.
Like the faith of a little child, the faith of a scientist may be described
as humility in regard to present knowledge and confidence in the possibility
of further learning. The intensity of scientific experience comes from the
endless challenge and accomplishment and delight in discovery.
>Aliman: Today, however, reason carries little power (cf.
"post-modernism"). There aren't many great thinkers in our midst
(present company excluded, of course) because of the post-modern lack of
faith. We've let those French influence us too much. I wonder if we're suffering
through a totally unique period in history, an epoch of little or no faith?
Post-modernism is another shift of faith, this time from faith in authority
*and* faith in reality, to faith in one's own feelings. It is exemplified
by those who say "We create our own reality." There is some truth
in what they say -- we can to some degree create our own inner feelings
and thus our subjective reality -- but to the degree they actually practice
this rather quaint philosophy, their survival is unlikely, because objective
reality is terribly unforgiving of self-deception and wishful thinking.
>Aliman: There seems to be no exit around here anywhere ...
hey, how the devil did we get IN here in the first place?... I'm starting
to feel nauseous ...
Interesting. While reading through this discussion I also felt nauseous.
Apparently it was my reaction to a lethal philosophy. But there is an exit:
a forward-looking faith in reality, with an ever-expanding definition of
reality (objective *and* subjective, material *and* spiritual, for openers).
>Aliman: The way out, the door that Sartre couldn't see because
he didn't have the eyes to see, is reason combined with faith, both in proper
Yes, reason and faith, properly balanced. Sartre and Camus remind me of
the great Wambi-Wambi bird -- it flew in ever-decreasing concentric spirals,
eventually flying up its own bodangi and thus evading all pursuit.
>Aliman: "Faith is believin' things nobody in his right
mind oughta believe!" Archie Bunker, "All In The Family"
Yes. This is all too often true. Archie was looking at a situation created
by the churchmen who require acceptance of irrational assertions as tests
of blind faith in church authority: "If they will believe (or pretend
to believe) this, they will believe (or pretend to believe) anything we
tell them." The doctrine of Transubstantiation is a case in point.
>John Page: I see faith and reason in the same light as spirituality
and science. They aren't opposites.
Faith and/or reason are can be applied in any subject area, material or
>John Page: I think faith (believing and acting on something
you can't prove) is a starting or foundational assumption you make about
why you're here, or maybe, why here is, which then propels what you do here.
Believing and acting on something you can't prove is the basis for almost
everything we do, because none of our knowledge is complete or perfect.
For example, we drive a car over the crest of a hill in (literally) blind
faith that the same road continues down the other side of that hill.
>John Page: I think action is the difference between myth
Hmm. No ... because people do act on their faith in myths.
>John Page: Webster's tells me that reason is, in this context,
thinking in a logical manner, or drawing a conclusion from facts or premises.
Induction reasons from specific facts to general conclusions. Deduction
reasons from general premises to specific conclusions.
>John Page: It seems to me faith is often, maybe always,
the starting point of reason, that a statement of faith is indeed a premise.
A statement of faith is used as a premise (axiom) in deductive reasoning.
>John Page: The opposites of faith are myth, where there
is no action, and ignorance, where there is no belief.
The way I see it, the opposite of faith is disbelief. Myth is fiction presented
as fact and intended to convey values. Ignorance is merely not knowing.
Superstition is false knowing -- a faith or belief in that which is not
>John Page: The opposite of reason is irrationality, drawing
conclusions not based on the premises stated.
Yes. There are (if I remember correctly) thirteen formal logical fallacies
in deduction. Induction hasn't been as systematically studied and cannot
be as thoroughly defined as deduction, but modern efforts toward artificial
intelligence are beginning to move in that direction.
>John Page: Much of our faith involves what we believe about
spirit. In old days, people had faith that they would go to Jesus when they
died, if they did good works, or believed they were saved, or killed commies,
or whatever. Couldn't prove it, but their behavior showed they believed.
Quite reasonably, I must add.
Patterns of behavior are evidence of beliefs, but not evidence as to whether
those beliefs are true (valid). When the pagans saw how Christians faced
death, they said to themselves and each other, "These people must really
believe." And so the evidence was stronger than the testimony ("actions
speak louder than words").
>John Page: Well, we've now had studies of near death experiences
which seem to offer proof.
Yes, NDE reports do provide modern testimony concerning survival of physical
death, which heretofore could only be accepted on faith in far more remote
reports. This is like adding more pylons to support a bridge.
>John Page: Scientific study of new evidence pushes back
the boundaries between what we can prove and what we cannot. In fact, I
see science more and more reinforcing what until now have been statements
Science can, and to some degree has, separated faith based on fact from
faith based on fiction. Jesus said, "You will learn the truth, and
the truth will set you free." Free of what? Ignorance and superstition.
The truth is a two-edged sword: it cuts both ways, supporting faith based
on facts and destroying faith based on fictions.
>John Page: Consider the studies of the shroud...
I also want to believe the Shroud of Turin is genuine, and much of the study
and analysis does point in that direction. However, the carbon 14 tests
dated it in the middle ages. So, unless and until some error is found in
those tests, I am withholding my judgment.
>John Page: Does faith become knowledge of fact? I say, all
the time and increasingly so. Maybe we can say that the scientific method
is the reasonable translation of faith into fact.
It sounds to me like an illustration of what I described as the faith of
a scientist, especially the forward-looking confidence in the possibility
of endless learning. *smile*
>John Page: I personally believe that proofs can be found, that there
is a reasonable explanation for all things, that there is a general theory
that will encompass all the evidence, including what we hear from archaeologists,
astronomers and astrologers, physicists and psychics, chemists and alchemists,
scientists and spiritualists. I grant that that general theory will essentially
be the resume of our Father. I believe that the more we know about the Father,
the more holy we will want to be and the more we will accept and claim our
own place in creation, in this life and beyond.
>John Page: My own life's work is to clarify statements of faith, to
rationally consider evidence that will convert faith believed to fact known,
to collaborate with others similarly inclined, and eventually, to state
that general theory of all things. I simply do not accept that some things
CANNOT be known.
>John Page: How's that for a statement of faith?
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