Sunday, December 03, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 5: On the link between Faith, Reason and Reasonableness

Mr Dawkins' new book, The God Delusion, sadly, provides a target-rich environment for identifying examples of the motives, attitudes and thought-patterns of many in our day. So, it will be worth the while to pause and address a few of those points -- not only from his work but also from some of the gushing comments made about it by those of like ilk.

Today, we will first look at the link between faith and reason, bringing out the underlying major gap in understanding in the way he speaks in the following, as summarised by Mr Easterbrook:

Faith isn't merely wrong . . . religion is dangerous lunacy. The religious do not deserve respect, any more than respect should be extended to crazy people raving in the streets about the Trilateral Commission . . . belief in God is a delusion is not a private matter, Dawkins writes; the religious are well-organized and influence the world's governments, and essentially all of their influence is harmful.

Now, first notice carefully how faith and religion are equated, then dismissed as "lunacy" -- organised lunacy that exerts an influence on the states around the world that is almost wholly harmful. This opens up two major issues:

[1] is faith to be equated with religious faith?

. . . and, [2] is it correct and fair comment to claim that the influence of the religious is essentially and almost always harmful?

The first is central, for the underlying concept is that faith is the opposite of reason. But in fact it rests on a profound misunderstanding of the link between faith and reason in the heart of all worldviews and arguments, and leads to the inference that "Faith" is irrational, thus harmful.

Consequently, we must first correct this grossly unphilosophical error, as Dawkins' second claim is largely based on it:

. . . start with an abstract example [of a conclusion to an argument], say, claim A. Why should we accept it? Generally, because of B. But, why should we accept B? Thence, C, D, . . . etc. Thus, we face either an infinite regress of challenges, or else we stop at some point, say F -- our Faith-Point.
At F, we may face the challenge of circularity vs proper basicality: are we simply begging the question, thus inevitably irrational in the end?
In fact, no:
1] Reason embeds faith: We have seen above, that reason and belief -- indeed, faith -- are inextricably intertwined in our thought lives. In G K Chesterton's words, "It is idle to talk always of the alternatives reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith." [cited, Clarke, p. 123.] For, if we must inevitably take some things on trust, we cannot escape exerting faith; i.e. the question is not whether we have faith, but: in what or in whom should we repose our trust?
2] Some beliefs are properly basic: Though of course, our trust in certain things is provisional, we plainly have a perfect right to believe a great many things non-inferentially. (Indeed, this is the largest single bloc of our beliefs -- consider for a moment how many sense impressions you had today, and how many of them you for very good reason took as accurate without even an instant's hesitation.) And, as James pointed out, in contexts where alternatives are forced, momentous and live, we not only have a further right to make a passional decision as to which alternative to accept, but we cannot avoid choosing some option or other.
3] We may compare alternative Worldviews: Worldviews are clusters of core beliefs about important things concerning ourselves, the world and ultimate reality. Notoriously, they bristle with difficulties and unresolved challenges. But, if we compare faith-points F1, F2, F3 . . . Fn, relative to (1) factual adequacy, (2) coherence and (3) simplicty/ad hocness, we can make a rational choice of our faith-points. Thus, we are not reduced to vicious circularity.
4] We may recognise appropriate degrees of warrant: When we assess arguments, we can recognise that there is a gradation in degree of warrant that is possible for given classes of cases, as Simon Greenleaf has pointed out -- as have many others all the way back to Aristotle. So, where logical or mathematical demonstration is possible, we can insit on that. Where only moral evidence is possible, i.e. on matters of fact, we can respect that. When we come to basic beliefs, we can evaluate whether or not the belief is properly basic -- at least on a case by case basis -- by comparing the new belief with others that are already credibly deemed so. [For instance, Plantinga has argued that believing in God requires a similar process to that which leads us to believe in other minds.]
This approach can be properly termed, reasonable faith.

In short, when we look at the underlying logic of proof, we see that it invariably traces to first plausibles that are accepted as true without further proof, i.e. by faith. Faith and reasoning are not opposites, but are inextricably intertwined in the roots of ANY worldview-- including Dawkins' evolutionary materialism. So, faith and rationality are not opposites; the real issue is which faith-point we decide to take up, why -- and how we handle the difficulties associated with it, on their own terms and as compared with other alternative worldviews, on factual adequacy, coherence, and explanatory power.

Thence, we come to the second charge: organised influence which is held to be almost all harmful.

Obviously, theistic religions are indeed organised and have exerted a major shaping influence on the various civilisations across time and currently. Also, if one thinks that such theistic faith is the very opposite of reason and rationality, then obviously one is likely to deduce that the influence exerted thereby is "essentially all . . . harmful." But, we have already seen that that inference rests on a basic confusion about the relationship between faith and reasoning, and so is unsound and prejudicial.

It also distracts from the real root of the dangers that lurk in the best-intentioned of movements. So, let us heed Mr Dawkins' fellow Oxford professor, Alister McGrath, who pointedly noted in his critical review:

All ideals – divine, transcendent, human, or invented – are capable of being abused. That’s just the way human nature is. And knowing this, we need to work out what to do about it, rather than lashing out uncritically at religion.

In short, the shrill rhetoric of finger-pointing is a mere distraction. But that still leaves intact the implicit third issue: has religion, especially Judaeo-Christian theism, contributed significantly to the betterment of mankind?

Let us start with the roots of and rise of modern science, as that is a major value of contemporary Western Culture. While of course there are roots in the classical world and contributions from all sorts of cultures across the ages, we need to note with Dan Peterson:

Sometimes the most obvious facts are the easiest to overlook. Here is one that ought to be stunningly obvious: science as an organized, sustained enterprise arose only once in the history of Earth. Where was that? Although other civilizations have contributed technical achievements or isolated innovations, the invention of science as a cumulative, rigorous, systematic, and ongoing investigation into the laws of nature occurred only in Europe; that is, in the civilization then known as Christendom. Science arose and flourished in a civilization that, at the time, was profoundly and nearly exclusively Christian in its mental outlook.

There are deep reasons for that, and they are inherent in the Judeo-Christian view of the world which, principally in its Christian manifestation, formed the European mind. As Stark observes, the Christian view depicted God as "a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as his personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension." That was not true of belief systems elsewhere . . . . WHEN THE DISCOVERIES of science exploded in number and importance in the 1500s and 1600s, the connection with Christian belief was again profound. Many of the trailblazing scientists of that period when science came into full bloom were devout Christian believers, and declared that their work was inspired by a desire to explore God's creation and discover its glories . . . . Down through the 19th century, many of the leading figures in science were thoroughgoing Christians. A partial list includes Babbage, Dalton, Faraday, Herschel, Joule, Lyell, Maxwell, Mendel, and Thompson (Lord Kelvin). A survey of the most eminent British scientists near the end of the 19th century found that nearly all were members of the established church or affiliated with some other church.

In short, scientists who were committed Christians include men often considered to be fathers of the fields of astronomy, atomic theory, calculus, chemistry, computers, electricity, genetics, geology, mathematics, and physics. In the late 1990s, a survey found that about 40 percent of American scientists believe in a personal God and an afterlife -- a percentage that is basically unchanged since the early 20th century. A listing of eminent 20th-century scientists who were religious believers would be far too voluminous to include here -- so let's not bring coals to Newcastle, but simply note that the list would be large indeed, including Nobel Prize winners.

Far from being inimical to science, then, the Judeo-Christian worldview is the only belief system that actually produced it. Scientists who (in Boyle's words) viewed nature as "the immutable workmanship of the omniscient Architect" were the pathfinders who originated the scientific enterprise. The assertion that intelligent design is automatically "not science" because it may support the concept of a creator is a statement of materialist philosophy, not of any intrinsic requirement of science itself.

Why is it, then, that a practising scientist like Dawkins who comments regularly on the interaction of faith and reason, in a scientific context, seems unaware of the relevant facts and their significance? Why did his editors and publishers let such a blatant goof pass in their fact-checking? [Does not such an unfair, factually ill-founded attack and blunder not then expose that we are looking at widespread misconceptions and hostility among the educated elites of Western culture in our day, and among those influenced by the media and educational megaphones that they control?]

Secondly, we can raise the issue of the major Judaeo-Christian [and especially the Protestant] contribution to the rise of modern liberty -- another major value of Western Civilisation. The evidence is (again) voluminous, and (again) often overlooked today among the elites and in the media and education systems they dominate. Indeed, as the just linked also documents, there is a tendency to push Bible-believing Christians into the same boat with Al Qaeda terrorists and the like as inherent, irreconcilable and dangerous enemies of liberty. This is similar to the sort of claims that have recently been made by Mr Boyne, as was recently responded to here in this blog.

But in fact, the evidence is there. Excerpting and summarising the first linked on this sub-topic:

. . . we need to first go back to the reformation era and trace the pattern of liberation struggles that flowed out of putting the Bible in the hands of the ordinary man, at the cost of martyrs' blood -- e.g. Tyndale was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English, as late as 1536. So, let us now turn to the first major Reformation work on liberation struggles, the 1579 anonymous book, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, by Junius Brutus [i.e. Phillipe Duplessis-Mornay, a Huguenot French soldier and Diplomat, et al], the subsequent and derivative 1581 Dutch Declaration of Independence, and the stream of further thought and state documents that flowed from that well-spring, including most notably Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex, John Locke's 2nd Treatise of Civil Government, and the US founding documents, especially the 1776 American Declaration of Independence . . . . So, while plainly there are many streams of thought and movements across history that have contributed to the rise of such self-government by free peoples as we enjoy today, we must now trace the stream of key biblically rooted ideas and that of the historic liberation struggles that flowed from those ideas, materially and massively contributing to the US DOI of 1776 and the resulting new framework of government, and thus modern democracy.

Time and space are too short to summarise the many other major positive contributions of the Judaeo-Christian tradition to the upliftment of mankind, especially in education, in hospitals, in reformation of law, and much, much more. These are so abundant and so easily accessed, that the sort of remarks by Mr Dawkins above can only be explained as willful ignorance and frankly – but ever so sadly -- bigotry.

That is sad indeed, but we must seek to understand our times, and how people are thinking and speaking, and how that is influencing others. Then, we can correct those who are open, and work to build a better future -- and a better eternity for those who will but listen to and heed the good news in the Gospel. END

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