Ben H. Swett
(email dialogue)

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 symbolic logic.
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 logic.
>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,, 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, is nonsense.
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 balance.
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 spiritual.
>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 and faith.
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 true.
>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 of faith.
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.

>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?
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*



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