About Faith and Reason
Posted by Jerry on June 11, 2005
“An error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error.” — Atlas Shrugged, Rand.
[My discussion with Sasco D’Agostino]
Me: Well, you have made two different statements concerning our efforts at understanding God. First you said, “one can rightly NEVER say ANYTHING of God…”
Then you say, “we can never FULLY get at the essence of Him, we can merely come to a continually greater awareness of Him.”
THe two statements have very different implications. Initially, I used your first statement as a premise and logically built my argument. By the first statment, one can NEVER say ANYTHING rightly of God. In other words, one ALWAYS does say WRONG things about God…(OR, whenever one makes an effort to say ANYTHING about God one is ALWAYS WRONG). This is the implication of your first statement.
The second statement now allows more room for discussion. It says that one can say SOME things rightly about God, but NOT everything TOTALLY. I fully and clearly understand this view and subscribe to this perception assuming the existence of a real God. Thus, as a scientist would try to understand physical experiences in increments, I try to understand (as much as is possible to my weak and finite brain) the concept of God in little increments of logic and rationality.
THe reason I use logic and rationality as my method of investigation rather than acceptance based on faith is because I believe (similar to what Aquinas believed) that any concept of God SHOULD BY DEFINITION include the attributes of a perfectly Intelligent, perfectly Rational, and perfectly Logical Being. THus, a potential Being possessing such infinitely beautiful logic, infinitely profound intelligence, should atleast in some tiny and small way be perceivable to us by our serious attempts at being rational and logical to understand that Being (or come closer to an understanding of It).
Contrary to popular neo-didactic thinking that Rationality and Faith do not necessarily contradict but are complementary, I believe that right from the most basic premise, rationality and faith enter into major conflicts. The essential core of the concept “Reason” and the concept “Faith” enter into a contradiction. According to the Principal of Non-Contradiction, A is A. A and non-A cannot remain without conflict. In other words, Reason (A), which is a faculty of knowledge based on evidence, demonstration, axioms, and logic cannot in any way complement Faith (Non-A), which rests on an acceptance of ideas without any need for demonstration, logic, proofs, or axioms. Reason (A) and Faith (non-A) MUST by necessary logic exist in a contradiction with each other.
Another way to explain this is to look at how we gain knowledge through science. The basic and fundamental first principal of the Rational (or scientific) method is to assume a hypothesis and work towards disproving or falsifying that. One can never begin a hypothesis of negation and then prove its veracity, i.e. prove something is not true by showing that it has no evidence of being true. As a concrete example, I cannot assume that God does not exist and say there is no proof of God’s existence and therefore He does not exist. This is wrong.
I have to begin with a positive hypothesis and then disprove or falsify it. Thus, I begin by saying, Assume God exists. Therefore, going by what the definition of such an entity is that does exists… He should be this.. He should be that… He should whatever…
Based on the first principal of positive hypothesis, you build a coherent, logical, rational argument derived from self-evident truths, axioms, or verifiable evidence. If all of your arguments lead you to a hypothesis contrary to the one you started out with, then you must discard the initial hypothesis and revert to the null hypothesis. Thus, a logical analysis of the concept of God leads me to major contradictions and therefore I must reject the hypothesis that God exists and accept the null hypothesis, or I must reject my essential definition of God. In other words, the burden of proof then rests upon the believer to resolve contradictions and prove the non-contradictory existence of God.
Now, faith. Faith is the exact opposite of the rational method I just described. The method of faith begins as such: Believe that God exists. Then express wonder at the assumed fact that God exists. Then admire the assumed fact that God exists. And wonder why non-believers can’t grasp this assumed fact.
Faith starts out with the hypothesis that needs to be proven and assumes it is already true! The first principle according to a faith-based attempt at rationality is this: assume the conclusion and then provide rationalizations for assuming the conclusion.
Aquinas, among other doctors, in their effort to reconcile faith with reason and put on a facade of intelligibility upon mysticism, propagated this false epistemological method. The method works as such: Faith — God exists and He has created this Universe (That is the assumption of the faithful). Then “rational proof”: This Universe appears to be so well designed and orderly, surely there is an intelligent God that made all of this. Therefore, God must exist because the universe that we just assumed is so orderly and that we just assumed was made by God is the proof that God made the Universe and therefore must exist!