Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Does reason matter?

Over at Jose's, the religious ramblings rumble on. anticant has withdrawn from the debate as his views are apparently too shallow for Jose's taste. 1loneranger suggests that we leave wine and wafers out of it if we can't be rational and civil.

The difficulty is that religion is an irrational subject. Reason is adhered to by theists as long as they find it a useful weapon, but blithely abandoned as soon as they can't think of rational reasons for their beliefs. A while ago in the burrow, I posted an item which I called "Does reason matter?" As I think it does, I am re-posting it here in the hope that it will provoke some interesting discussion [as it did last time]:

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 of 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.


Richard W. Symonds said...

"The Heart has its reasons of which Reason knows nothing"

Emmett said...

AH, Me, were it only so.

/IF/ Reason, sweet Reason reasonable alone, was indeed the /true/ greater and objective, all-deciding, broader, deeper and all-embracing container of the phenomenal World; if 'twere Reason that /a priori/ had absorbed and described and, above all, /decided/ all that is, was and ever shall be; why, children, then (and ONLY then!) might we have seen victory in al-'Iraq.

FOR Then, /immediately/, Reason's Children, with their pornographic digital cameras and festive abu-'Ghraib bdsm-manacles, and on just landing in the country four years ago, should (and on the instant!) have been surrounded by the glad, festive & orgiastic, rutting, 'arab crowds, all doffing their duds and flinging away 'holy books', all to join in the general and indiscriminate -- Fucking of the West.

[Sorry, chaps, 'tis just /another/ chisel in the box (ours quite dull by now!) -- 'Timing IS everything', as The Cat said whilst peeing in the geranium-pot whilst the Farm Lady's back was turned -- ES]


B Wook 'abd al-'Abru

The Barefoot Bum said...

Well, I think Emmett has come out strongly against reason. (wink)

See: The True Believers and Scientific Creationism: World View, not Science.

anticant said...

"It is my firm conviction that man has nothing to gain, emotionally or otherwise, by adhering to a falsehood, regardless of how comfortable or sacred that falsehood may appear. Anyone who claims, on the one hand, that he is concerned with human welfare, and who demands, on the other hand, that man must suspend or renounce the use of his reason, is contradicting himself. There can be no knowledge of what is good for man apart from knowledge of reality and human nature - and there is no manner in which this knowledge can be acquired except through reason. To advocate irrationality is to advocate that which is destructive to human life."

- GEORGE H. SMITH: "Atheism: The Case Against God".

Emmett said...

SORRY, Chaps, one is not "against" reason; nor any more than as against oh, say, random affect mistaken for "deep feeling" and so on. Whereas a whipsaw and a draw-knife /are/ jolly tools my old Grandpa showed me how to use here in southern Minnesota, on the North Coast of Iowa, more than fifty years since. But, one would no more try to make a chronometre with these tools than would attempt to adjust ones computer with a sledge and a splitting-wedge (although /'tis/ effing bloody /tempting/, sometimes....

Grandpa Wook

anticant said...

In a recent post on 'Atheistic Fundamentalism', THE BAREFOOT BUM says:

"What separates dogmatism and fundamentalism from ordinary conviction as to the truth is not the confidence with which the belief is held, but the rational justification for that belief...

"When one is talking about ordinary matters of prosaic truth, there is not much room for ambiguity or difference of opinion. The Earth really is round. Rocks really do fall from the sky. Humans and chimpanzees really do share a common ancestor. Human beings really are making the Earth get warmer. HIV really does cause AIDS and can be passed through semen. These statements are true. If you disagree with any of these statements, you're wrong.

"Without actually looking at the rational basis for one's belief, any person convinced of some ordinary, prosaic truth will look just as "dogmatic" or "fundamentalist" as any Bible-thumper—because he too believes in the truth of what the Bible says.

"That's what true means: That there's a right answer, and all the other answers are wrong...

"Of course atheists look like they're dogmatic; just as—if you consider evolution mere opinion—evolutionary biologists seem dogmatic; just as—if you consider global warming mere opinion—Al Gore seems dogmatic; just as—if you consider medicine mere opinion—Physicians seem dogmatic about pushing condoms.

"The bottom line is that atheists seem dogmatic and fundamentalist because we really are convinced that atheism is true. What separates us from the dogmatic and fundamentalist religious is that we actually do have the philosophical and empirical arguments to back up our positions; All the religious have is epistemic nihilism..."

Good thinking!