Tuesday, 5 December 2006

DOES REASON MATTER?

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.

15 comments:

billstickers said...

Wouldn't have been a bad blog if you hadn't mixed faith with religion. If you could learn to keep those two things apart (would that all people could), you'd be further along the road to the truth.

I do like, however, the picture you paint of a world divided into two distinct camps: those having faith (the religious and the non-religious) and those having no faith but being possessed of a magnificient reason.

I'd like to meet someone from the latter group. Perhaps, we could make him our leader and sort out this unreasonable world.

BTW, for someone who does not believe you do go on. IS that also based in fear? Is having fear, where no imminent threat exists reasonable?

anticant said...

"Where no imminent threat exists"! Can you possibly be serious? Haven't you noticed that so far this century nearly all the active conflicts in the world are being conducted or spurred on by various religiously motivated or faith-based groups? Unless the claws of these demonic - and I use the word deliberately - people are rigorously clipped, we are all going to be in the soup before long - if we are not already. But who is going to bell the cat?

billstickers said...

"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."

Can you outline how the "scientific method" was utilized in coming up with the Theory of Evolution? Doesn't it all amount to a big guess? Given that it's a theory, isn't the education authority necessarily employing a great deal of faith by a) teaching it at all, and b) teaching it exclusively?

If humans are so reasonable, and reason is one of the human's survival tools, and evolution weeds out weaklings, surely by now the "God" theory would have disappeared, instead of having stood up for many milenia - and going strong?

BTW, who said people of faith don't believe in the power of the human mind to both create and adapt to hostile environments and new needs and desires?

"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."

1. Can assumptions be dubbed true or false?

2. What do you base your assumptions on? What you believe to be correct, right? What you consider are "facts", based on the "facts" you've already accepted, right?

Everything you think you know could be false. Why are you trying to foist your wobbly castle of assumptions onto me?

anticant said...

"Why are you trying to foist your wobbly castle of assumptions onto me?" Ooh missus, I thought it was the other way round. Do tell me, mr stickers, what is written on those posters of yours?

And please read a biography of Darwin, if you haven't already, and absorb all the detail of the painstaking observational research he carried out for years before formulating his theory.

More than the scribes of the Bible did, I reckon.

billstickers said...

"Haven't you noticed that so far this century nearly all the active conflicts in the world are being conducted or spurred on by various religiously motivated or faith-based groups?"

No, I haven't noticed that. What I've noticed is that wars are begun and run by the representatives of the powerful people in the world, or governments as they are known.

If governments indirectly, and powerful people directly, use the ignorance of the mob (be it through religious or patriotic calls to arms, or media bedazzlement) what has that to do with the person of faith.

I can only speak for Christian faith (again, not to be confused with "christian religion"). I believe in Christ. I believe in His teachings in the New Testament of the Bible. If you can show me where it says there that a person should cause or take part in a war, or be a party to any other kind of strife or earthly power struggle, I'll be forced to agree with you that it could be a causal factor in wars, etc.

However, if you can't, then you'll have to admit that Christians can't possibly be responsible for any of that and still be Christians.

If I start a war and call people to arms in your name, does that make it your fault, or the fault of those who believe you to be a source of peace? If, being a bad example of a driver, I cause mayhem, death and destruction in your High Street, does that mean that driving is evil? If I leave school stating that 2 + 2 = 5, will you automatically blame the textbook and its author? Even when you know that textbook states to the contrary?

It's important that you get this straight. Religion and spiritual faith are not the same thing. A religion is a human club, normally strongly political, involving human rules, rites and rituals that its members purportedly believe by following will save them from eternal damnation, but who are really interested more in power now. Of course, the scope for human rule-making and rule-bending is almost limitless.

So, if it doesn't correspond with what's laid down in the NT, it isn't Christian (or, more accurately put, they're the christians and those who follow the teachings have no collective title - "Yes, we are all individuals", Life of Brian). Religious zealots might as well says that Noddy told them to attack, in, say, Noddy Goes to the Circus. If they did, I'm sure, after a quick read of that tome, you'd decry the claimant as a liar, a cheat and, perhaps, a nutter.

Do you get that, finally?

billstickers said...

No, I've never tried to foist my assumptions on anyone. As you'll notice if you take a minute, my arguments are always against people citing Jesus Christ's teachings as a source of strife.

I only claim that they are not, unless you include the internal strife that goes hand in hand with an attempt to follow them.

If you write that religion is responsible for much of the evil in the world, I still won't agree. Evil comes out of the individual human heart. Religion is just an excise to make practical use of it.

In any event, we're both evil. Who is it we're judging here?

billstickers said...

Again, I don't care if they teach evolution or Creationism or neither in schools. It's not important. What's important is that children aren't led to believe that it IS important.

Besides, when I went to school, Pluto was a planet. God knows what Pluto is. We don't need to know.

anticant said...

No, I don't "get that finally", you dear old didactic eel. Of course I agree with you that the vast majority of religionists do not actually follow those parts of their Holy Books that they find inconvenient - but it is what they believe motivates their actions that is the crux, and I presume you won't dispute that Islamic jihadists and born-again Rapturists believe their wishes and violent behaviour are in accordance with their faith. Whether of not they are mistaken is beside the point; the fact is that they do what they do in the name of their faith, and if they did not believe as they do, they might just possibly behave differently and more peaceably.

"Wars are begun and run by the representatives of the powerful people in the world, or governments as they are known." Wasn't 9/11 perpetrated by persons of faith? All private enterprise, too, unless you believe one of the various conspiracy theories.

There have been plenty of Christian apologists for just wars - including Popes - down the ages. Christ himself is reported by Matthew as saying "I come not to send peace, but a sword".

And yes, please, teacher, I do understand that religion and spiritual faith are not the same thing. What do you take me for? An ignoramus?

billstickers said...

"Do tell me, mr stickers, what is written on those posters of yours?"

That's Mr Ickers, and I don't have posters. It's just bills, bills, bills.

If you want posters, you're looking for Escher on Ickers.

http://www.mcescher.nl/Shopmain/Foto/Posters/ge15.jpg

billstickers said...

I don't know if 911 was perpetrated by men of faith. Just as you don't. You've been told that. You believe it. I doubt it. The 19 Islamic highjackers thing IS a conspiracy theory as far as I know. Or is the telly your "bible"?

You don't seem to know that religion and spiritual faith are different things. I don't take you for an ignoramuus. I take you for someone who is angry with God and who would try to attack those who believe in Him by lumping them in with those who SAY they believe in Him and using the behaviour of the latter to "prove" His non-existence and that the former represent an imminent threat to secular life.

Please, keep religion and spiritual faith apart in your future writings. There's enough confusion on the subject already.

"Whether of not they are mistaken is beside the point; the fact is that they do what they do in the name of their faith, and if they did not believe as they do, they might just possibly behave differently and more peaceably."

No, they do what they do in the name of nothing. They have no spiritual mandate to do what they do, they just do it. They act through the same kind of human motive, based on a non-spiritual belief, as does any other human group, including religions. A Communist goes to war based on a belief. That Communism is the correct political system and should be spread around the world is a belief, not a fact.

So those people you mentioned do what they do based on what comes out of their own evil human hearts.

What you've stated is that people are evil. I agree.

billstickers said...

That link is:

http://www.mcescher.nl/Shopmain/Foto/Posters/ge15.jpg

billstickers said...

I don't know why it's doing that. You have to tack jpg onto the end of that link

So that'll end in: ge15, a dot, followed by a j, a p and a g.

http://www.mcescher.nl/Shopmain/Foto/Posters/ge15.jpg

anticant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I think Billstickers is being deliberately obtuse- either that or incredibly stupid. Does he really believe that the 9/11 terrorists did what they did for a human motive based on non spiritual belief? In spite of the fact that Bin Laden and his followers continually talk of jihad (holy war) and martyrdom? You have evidence from terrorists' own admission that their terrorism is carried out in the name of religion. Why do you choose to ignore that evidence? The jihadists are not alone of course- Bush invaded Iraq because he was told to by God. Funny how they all have God on their side isn't it?

anticant said...

And they don't even KNOW he exists! My take on this is that if God does exist, and humans do these sorts of things in his name, then he's a very nasty piece of work. If he doesn't exist, they are all bonkers. I would like to believe that a benign god does exist, and that he will deal with all these crazy, hate-filled "followers" of his with something sharper than just a rap over the knuckles. But that will be too late to save the rest of us from their malignant attentions.