Saturday, 8 December 2007

Does reason matter?

From time to time, I shall reproduce posts which have appeared previously in Anticant's Arena and Anticant's Burrow because I believe that they still have topical relevance.

Because of the fascinating dialogue currently taking place with Ibrahim Lawson, headmaster of a UK Islamic school, on Stephen Law's blog, I have decided to reprint this which first appeared in the Burrow a year ago.

Reason, we believe – it’s a matter of faith, of course – is what distinguishes the human species from all others. Or, rather, articulate reason: it’s quite clear from observation that some animals possess and use intelligence, and work things out for themselves by a process if reasoning, but they cannot exchange thoughts with us about it or anything else in a meaningful way, as adult human beings can do.

For centuries there has been an ongoing battle between reason and faith. Religious faith, being grounded in the supernatural – itself a speculative concept – claims human reason as its handmaiden, and always seeks to trump it in any argument. One sometimes feels, in arguing with religious people, that they are convinced they know all the answers: they know them right or they know them wrong, but they KNOW them. Their faith is invincible, so why bother to argue? Does it really matter whether the Earth is flat or globular, or whether prayer actually works? Yes it does; because if people base their actions on false assumptions, awkward consequences are bound to follow - not only for the perpetrators, but also for many others who don’t share their beliefs.

Logical reasoning, which is the basis of scientific method, proceeds by testing the probability of various hypotheses against the available evidence to obtain the best ‘fit’. Reasonable people are prepared to abandon even a cherished hypothesis if this is overtaken by a more convincing one. The upholders of faith are not; they know what they know because they BELIEVE it, sometimes against all the evidence. Evidence is not important to them; only faith is. The faith of many believers is grounded in a Holy Book which they are convinced was written by, or at any rate dictated by, a God. The trouble is, there are many Holy Books to choose from, and how do you know which is the “right” one? Jews have the Torah; Christians have the Bible; Muslims have the Koran; Mormons have the Book of Mormon; Christian Scientists have Mrs Eddy’s outpourings, and Scientologists have the works of L Ron Hubbard. A rich smorgasbord of faith! But according to each, theirs is the only true Word of God and the others are all fakes. A good beginning for harmonious inter-faith relations!

The irony of it is that, while denigrating reason, the religious use ingenious displays of it to bolster their irrational creeds. Their persistent casuistry is quite remarkable. The Pope, for instance, loses no opportunity to denounce the insolent hubris of the Enlightenment, an intellectual project which forms the foundation-stone of Western democracy and technological progress.

And of course, religious people are the first to avail themselves of the wondrous creations of modern science such as the internet, the jet airliner, and life-saving medical drugs. With few exceptions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do not refuse to benefit from the very thought-process which they are constantly denouncing as impious. But where would we be, I wonder, if religion had succeeded in stifling independent scientific thought? Still convinced that the earth is flat and the centre of the universe? [There was, and maybe still is, a Flat Earth Society presided over, I believe - ah, there we go again…- by a Mr Huttle-Glank.] Still travelling by foot, or on horse, camel or mule? [“That person who invented the wheel, impious they were, knew better than God, they did; good thing we put a stop to that by crucifying them. If God had meant us to travel on wheels, He would have built them into the human frame.”] Still relying on witch-doctors and herbal remedies to treat cancer, tuberculosis and malaria? Still burning harmless old women as witches?

Which reminds me, apropos of nothing, of the tale about the hell-fire preacher haranguing his subdued audience about the dismal prospects awaiting them in the nether regions. “And there will be weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth” he yelled. A little old lady in the front row quaveringly piped up: ”But I haven’t got any teeth.” “Make no mistake, Madam”, the preacher retorted, “TEETH WILL BE PROVIDED!”

Creationism is now the religionists’ favourite wheeze for attacking scientific method. It is a hypothesis based entirely upon faith, not evidence, but they want it to be taught in schools as a possible alternative to evolution – a hypothesis with a great deal of evidence to support it which has stood up for 150 years. I have no objection to Creationism being taught in schools, but not as “science”. It should be taught, if at all, as part of religious studies, or to illustrate the crucial differences between faith-based and scientific thinking.

The more religionists succeed in their attack on reason and its proper use, the more the world will descend into a chaotic, strife-ridden mess. It’s time to call a halt to the revolt against reason.


anticant said...

And if Muslim children are taught, as Ibrahim Lawson teaches them, that the 'truth' of Islam is not to be questioned they will never learn to use their critical faculties.

Even if it is the case, as Lawson asserts and I deny, that children are incapable of adult-type critical reasoning until well into their 'teens, when they reach that age they are most unlikely to exercise their reasoning powers on religious topics if by then they have been thoroughly indoctrinated with the 'truth' of Islam, and their Islamic teachers certainly wont encourage them to question it.

This kind of 'education' is child abuse. The Jesuits said "give us a child until he is seven, and he is ours for life".

The prospect of ever increasing numbers of British Muslim children being brainwashed into uncritical zombies by unscrupulous zealots is highly alarming. But it is useless to expect that our multiculti-obsessed government will do anything to stop it.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Moral reason matters more than any other - it is that which distinguishes us from other animals.

The use, misuse and abuse of our critical faculty of moral reasoning applies to us all - not just aparticular brand of religion.

Merkin said...

Well said, Anti.

Jose said...

I think everything is enclosed by three words : Lack of humility.

zola a social thing said...

Again an argument that Karl Marx made in the 1840s.
You would agree with him.
Interesting that.

BTW : I get fed up with these damned word verification "systems".
Also I cannot read them very well.

anticant said...

Religion should concern itself with how people behave - not what they believe.

Dear Zola, welcome to the Arena. Do keep dropping in. I agree the word verification is tedious, but it does keep spammers at bay.

zola a social thing said...

Hello Antimeoldman : The words and the deeds indeed.
The theory and the praxis becoming.
Behaviour and belief?
That is not an Enlightimuggiment deal was it?
Reason, was Hegel.
That was the correct spirit for the times.
Reason was an ideal and a spirit.
Karl Markisarkki tries to turn that around to allow real living folk to have a say in these matters of words and deeds.
The political economy itself will soon become a voter for Blairites and Brown arses and.....
Anticant : you remain but a spirit of Hegel and romantic ideals.

anticant said...

Meself, I've always thought Hegel was rather an airy-fairy minded old twit.

Anonymous said...

QED ;)

Emmett said...

krakisdottir sends this on:

Mathematically the earth IS flat under some conditions. Just as for example all water on earth is treatable as a sheet of 1 molar thickness that runs in a flat surface in all directions. Of course if you have flat water then the earth has to curve around it, while if oxygen is treated as flat the earth and water BOTH have to "orbit" the oxyplane.

pela68 said...

Does matter reason? And if- does it make any sense?