Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reason or Faith? Choose only one.

In my biography I describe myself as an "unwilling athiest". I actually didn't want to be an athiest - I quite like the idea of there being a supreme power looking out for me and a nice comfy heaven to move into after my death.

However, when I reached my twenties (and after a fairly religious upbringing) I began to question everything I had been taught, and without even realising it, I moved towards selecting Reason as my core philosophy. To be specific, I realised I was an "empiricist".

Empiricism and Idealism
Reason and Faith are my terms for the two great divisions of philosophy, correctly known as Empiricism and Idealism. To quote Wikipedia: "Empiricism... asserts that sensory impressions are the only available starting points for reasoning and attempting to attain truth. Idealism claims that there is a "higher" reality, from which certain people can directly arrive at truth without needing to rely only upon the senses, and that this higher reality is therefore the primary source of truth."

So empiricism (reason) starts with evidence. Idealism (faith) starts with "innate knowledge". And all of the numerous schools of philosophy end up taking one side or the other in this debate.

Now not ALL philosophical idealists are religious. Some of them (notably Plato) regarded themselves as the source of this "innate knowledge". However for the most part, anyone who belongs to a religion has chosen to accept the "innate knowledge" of someone else.

So as I am biased in favour of "reason", I therefore people who choose "reason" are rational, sensible humans beings and people who choose "faith" are misguided fools who believe in imaginary friends, right?

Wrong! (Well kind of).

You see, choosing "reason" requires a level of faith of its own - a faith in things which cannot be proven, and cannot be tested. These things (known as axioms) are:

1 - That a set of invariant laws govern the universe
2 - That in the absence of certain evidence, the simplest explanation is best.

(Future blogs will explore both of these points at length, so leave disputes until then.)

Now most "Rationalists" get uneasy at this point, because I am suddenly "diminishing" their belief system to be on a par with those "misguided fools who believe in a supernatural force".

Sorry, but that's just how it has to be.

All rationalists place their faith in these unprovable axioms. All religious adherents (Theists) place their faith in an unprovable super-being.

Rationalists see clear evidence supporting their belief system every day. Unfortunately for them, many Theists see evidence which is just as clear proving that their God is at work.

So we are at an impasse, and ultimately it is an impasse that neither side can win. We are arguing about the rules of the game, except one is playing chess and the other Scrabble.

I started at Faith and ended up at Reason, as I realised that you can't have both. My next blog will start to explore the (huge) topic of why Reason cannot abide Faith, and vice versa.

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