Faith and Reason and Faith in Reason by William Haloupek - Read Online
Faith and Reason and Faith in Reason
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Summary

Religious faith and reason are curious psychological phenomena. This book explores their philosophical aspects.

To me, doubt seems more reasonable than certainty. Open-mindedness seems more reasonable than fixed belief. Doubt and open-mindedness are often mistaken for confusion, though. Also, like certainty and faith, they can be taken to extremes.

Without the restrictions of faith, the mind has an amazing universe of ideas to explore, and no part of it is off limits. Just try to avoid getting stuck some place.

It seems that all our efforts to understand God and His ways have come to total zero. We don’t really know anything about God, and those who think they do are fooling themselves, and others. In the future, our knowledge may double many times, but it will still be zero. Count me in with the permanent Agnostics.

There are billions of believers in the world, and they believe all kinds of different things. Usually the same ideas that were drummed into their heads as children. All of them think that their little village is the one that got all the answers right. The fact that they won't change their beliefs is no indication that any of them are right. It only shows that they are not thinking for themselves.

A great deal of recent literature has been devoted to the religious instinct. One wonders why we evolved with an instinct that causes us to wear impractical clothing, refuse to eat certain foods, and devote a lot of energy to nonproductive activities. I hesitate to say that we are ready as a species to abandon the religious instinct. It gives us a sense of community. Along with this is a tendency toward charity, empathy and tolerance, toward those in our community. The other side of the coin is that the sense of community can turn into an us-and-them mentality, making us hostile, fearful, vicious and hateful toward "them." We have had many wars due to religious hatred. We also have great charities inspired by religious feelings.
We abandon religious superstition at our peril. “Man is something which must be overcome,” as Nietzsche said, but he must be overcome by man.

This book was not written for the Believers, whether Christian, Atheist, or any other kind. It won’t make any sense to them. It was written for the Skeptics, Seekers, Nonbelievers, Agnostics and Rationalists. You know who you are.

Published: William Haloupek on
ISBN: 9781301028696
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Chapter 1. Let’s be reasonable

"The only normal people are the ones you don't know very well."

Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937)

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in my life is that we all think very differently. This has come to be so important to me that I want to enshrine it with an important sounding title. I call it the First Principle.

First Principle:

Two reasonable, intelligent people can disagree, substantially and profoundly. The more fundamental the topic, the more substantial and profound the disagreement. What seems obvious to one is obviously false to the other.

This basic principle of human nature is the key to rational discourse. I have forgotten it many times, and need to keep reminding myself. It’s like musical taste. We can’t agree on what good music is. Even on issues which must have a right answer and a wrong answer, like whether God exists, or whether a politician has voted to raise taxes, we can’t agree.

It almost seems obvious. It hardly needs to be stated. Then again, we often behave as though we don’t understand it.

Disagreement is not an aberration; it’s the norm. Among seven billion human beings, I would be surprised to find any two who will agree on all fundamental issues. Usually, the things we agree on are not fundamental, but high-level issues, like which political candidate is best, or which religion is true. When we define these issues in terms of more fundamental concepts, we find our differences.

Instead of lamenting this fact, I try to celebrate it. That isn’t always easy! Our disagreements make life interesting, and at times, frustrating. I am often amazed at the outlandish ideas that people can have in their heads. I also take some joy in astounding others with the ideas that I have come up with. However, I don’t think it’s a matter of intelligence. Of course, some people are very intelligent; others less so. Some have ideas that make sense to me; others less so. I don’t find any correlation, positive or negative, between intelligence and belief in weird ideas, especially when fundamental concepts are involved.

Sometimes it takes great intelligence to dream up incredible things. An ignoramus could never have written Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Augustine’s On the Trinity. The belief that the entire Bible is literally true must require some ingenious mental gymnastics!

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

Saul Bellow (1915 – 2005)

This fresco, La Divina Comedia di Dante, appears in the dome of the church of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, was painted by Domenico di Michelino in 1465. It depicts Dante Alighieri holding a copy of The Divine Comedy. That’s Hell (Inferno) on the left, with all its tortured souls. Mount Purgatory (Purgatorio) is in the background, with Adam and Eve at the top. The city of Florence is on the right, and the celestial spheres are above. What a vivid imagination!

"A common myth most of us intuitively accept is that there is a negative correlation between intelligence and belief: as intelligence goes up belief in superstition or magic goes down. This, in fact, turns out not to be the case, especially as you move up the IQ spectrum….smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons."

Michael Shermer (1954 – ), The Believing Brain, 2011

The decision making process, including the decision to believe, takes place mainly in the subconscious part of the mind, which doesn’t seem to follow the rules of logic. Our conscious, rational minds usually just find rationalizations for the decisions we have made. Beliefs always come first; then reasons and explanations. We can, with effort, examine our beliefs and our decisions rationally, and somehow convince our subconscious minds to change. We can overcome our base instincts, and behave and believe more rationally. That includes ethics, by which I mean beliefs about how we should live and behave.

"Our conscious moral feelings are rationalization processes that allow us to justify our automatic emotional responses.... Since so much of our moral emotional processes are unconscious, religion can make our lives easier by assigning for us conscious reasons for feelings that arise seemingly out of nowhere and with no conscious processing."

J. Anderson Thomson, Jr., and Clare Aukofer, Why We Believe in God(s), Ch. 7, 2011

I try to keep exposing myself to opinions with which I disagree. How else can I be sure that I disagree? If I only read or listen to opinions with which I already agree, I tend to get tunnel vision, a.k.a. the echo chamber effect. The opposing point of view begins to seem so absurd that I can’t imagine how anyone in their right mind could believe it. They must be stupid, thoughtless, poorly informed or dishonest. At best, I might give them the benefit of a doubt, and decide that they are simple folk, who just need things explained to them. But then I remember the First Principle.

You might be thinking that I’m leading you down the path: people of faith are unreasonable because they can’t give sensible reasons for their beliefs. Wrong! Actually, it’s more complicated than that.

Chapter 2. Semantics

I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously.

Of course you don't – till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'

But glory doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument,' Alice objected.

When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.

The question is, said Alice, whether you can make words mean so many different things.

The question is, said Humpty Dumpty, which is to be master – that's all.

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) (1832 – 1898), Through the Looking Glass

"Definitions are the guardians of rationality, the first line of defense against the chaos of mental disintegration."

Ayn Rand

I try to use words according to their commonly accepted definitions. Words that are often misused require some explanation. Clarity is of utmost importance. Even if I don’t have any profound insights or erudite analyses, at least I will be clear.

Since I’ve used the phrase, let me try to explain what I mean by a reasonable, intelligent person. Intelligence is hard to define precisely, but it generally means the ability to solve problems, remember things, communicate ideas and think abstractly. An intelligent person is able to say things that make sense, even when matters become complicated.

Intelligence is, of course, a multifaceted characteristic. It is a collection of related attributes. There are probably as many ways to be intelligent as there are people. Aggregate measurements like IQ are one-dimensional simplifications of a multi-dimensional object, like the norm of a vector.

Reasonableness is more difficult. Who can give a reasonable description of reasonableness? What I mean by a reasonable person is not just someone who agrees with me. A reasonable person ought to be able to give sensible reasons why they think and act as they do. If I ask someone why they eat pizza at every meal, and they tell me it’s because it’s their favorite food, or because it’s healthy, or because it’s cheap, those are sensible reasons. I may not agree with them, but they make some sense. If they tell me that they eat pizza because flowers bloom in the spring, that’s not a sensible reason.

So the bar is set pretty low for minimal reasonableness. Most people can give more thoughtful reasons for their ideas and behavior. Some people seem more reasonable than others. One might argue that pizza is the perfect food, if the right ingredients are used. One might go on to present an entire nutritional theory of pizza, showing that a great deal of thought has been devoted to the subject.

Now, what is thoughtful? What is sensible? What is a reason? It’s not possible to define every word in terms of other words, without some circularity.

Words don’t have absolute meanings, which can only be understood after years of contemplation. Words are conventions. I’ve stopped using the word liberal, in political discussions, because it means totally different things to different people. It has become useless for communication. If a word means friendly to you, and a brown shoe to me, how can we use it to understand each other? At best, we are talking about completely different things. Yet people will argue endlessly about the true meanings of words.

Suppose you have a concept in your mind, and you’re trying to find the right word for it. You have heard others use a word, say spirituality, for a similar concept. You use this word because it seems to be the best fit. But it is the concept, not the word, which has meaning. It is a mistake to think in terms of the true meaning of the word.

We each have the world of ideas broken up into concepts, but your concepts may not match up with mine in a one-to-one fashion. If they did, we might seek to assign a word to each concept. Since they don’t, we have to be careful with words. It’s best to use words for which there seem to be good agreement, and use them to describe more complex concepts, rather than searching for the right word for each concept.

"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the – if he – if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not – that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement."

William Jefferson Clinton (1946 – )

When you consider the impossibility of analyzing every word of a statement, defining each term in terms of other terms, it is amazing that we are able to communicate at all. Yet we can, it seems. I can warn you about the danger of driving too fast, and if you take my advice, you show it in your behavior, by slowing down. You understand what I mean.

Communication is, the biologists tell us, behavior by one individual that alters the probability of behavior of another. In that sense, of course we can communicate. But can we transmit and receive true meaning? I hope you see what I mean!

Is it even possible to communicate religious ideas? Or is each person’s religion like Wittgenstein’s beetle in a box? If you tell me that you are a Catholic, and I say I’m an Agnostic, do we understand each other? Can we understand each other, with more discussion?

I think that it is possible to communicate religious ideas, but it’s not as easy as communication about more mundane matters, and we shouldn’t be