Faith vs. Reason, Part 1: The Nature of Belief



triumph-of-saint-thomas-fullI have wrestled with the relationship between Faith and Reason ever since my senior year in high school when I was reconverted to conservative, evangelical Christianity (it is possible that I was just extra-converted, a dilemma I am happy to now leave to the theologians). Over the last seventeen years, the battle to hold faith and reason together made for a painful journey over a number of terrains – geographical, institutional, psychological, political, and intellectual. The intellectual journey is for the most part complete, now that I have finally found some genuine cognitive rest. I am not the first to land on the resting place I have found, but I do believe my struggle has produced some ways of looking at the relationship between faith and reason that just may allow a small contribution to this subject’s evolution.

 

I wish to guide you, the reader, to this same resting place – once we are there, you can decide for yourself if it is a place you can inhabit for good. But there are some less than pleasant waters to tread on the way. In order to begin wading into this deep and murky swamp, I will turn first to what philosophy proper might be able to say about the relationship between faith and reason, or more precisely, about the alleged tension between them. In particular, I will address four philosophical topics: Metaphor, Narrative, Knowledge, and Belief.  I will argue that each reveals the unlikelihood of locating a distinction between faith and reason given a strictly philosophical armchair methodology. If an important distinction cannot be found, then neither can a philosophical tension.

 

The skeptic is usually a good place to begin a dialectic, and so we should tune our ears to the voice of the unbeliever:  Faith calls us to dispense with verifiable facts and empirical investigation so that we may cling to the mythological stories, fables, parables, and metaphors that boast to connect us with the otherwise mysterious, eternal unknown.  Faith thereby remains an epistemological stance that demands the flouting of our most basic intellectual duties. This is not a faith in harmony with reason. This is a faith at war with reason.

 

Fair enough. But is this worry at all grounded in sound philosophical enquiry? Can philosophical inquiry lead us to these conclusions?  Can philosophical enquiry at least help justify these conclusions?

 

The first part of this Faith vs. Reason series is my attempt to demonstrate my answers to these questions, and my answers are no and no and no. This worry is not at all grounded in sound philosophical enquiry; philosophical inquiry will not lead us to these conclusions; and philosophical enquiry does not offer justification to these conclusions. In sum, it is impossible to locate a tension between faith and reason with the tools of armchair philosophy.

 

In this entry I begin to address the subject of Belief.

 

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Knowledge of fact itself is a bit more complicated than traditional discussions in theology and Plantingian philosophy suggest. I doubt that propositional knowledge – if we must even reference such a technical concept – is a matter of just believing a proposition that ends up being true in the right sort of way – justification, warrant, or whatever. Eric Schwitzgebel, for instance, suggests that knowing that is a capacity whereas belief is a tendency (‘Acting Contrary to Our Professed Beliefs’).  But for simplicity, I will here assume that there is a sufficiently tight relationship between propositional knowledge and believing propositions. Considering the current cultural landscape, this seems an innocent move to make: (more…)

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Academic Tenure and The Contrarian



obama-thumbMy previous entry, a catalog of excerpts from Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian (2005),  has provoked some interesting discussion - some from within the walls of the Kirk (although, I particularly enjoyed the discussion with James Leroy Wilson).   The discussion was largely spawned from the fact that I published these excerpts. Moving forward, then, I will focus on the content of just one excerpt in what follows:

 

. . . One is sometimes asked “by what right” one presumes to offer judgment.  Quo warranto? is a very old and very justified question.  But the right and warrant of an individual critic does not need to be demonstrated in the same way as that of a holder of power.  It is in most ways its own justification.  That is why so many irritating dissidents have been described by their enemies as “self-appointed” . . . I am happy in the ranks of the self-employed.  If I am stupid or on poor form, nobody suffers but me.  To the question, Who do you think you are? I can return the calm response: Who wants to know?

 

This is one pregnant paragraph.  The Quo warranto? question is the launching pad for the Moral Argument, and the “self-appointed” description reminds me of one of the more defining moments of the Wood’s early development.  But my reason for focusing on this paragraph is Hitchens’ use of the word ‘self-employed’.  I will get to this, as well as the topic of academic tenure. But for the moment, I feel compelled to wander a bit off my chosen path.  My imagination is now at the mercy of the phrase “self-appointed” – still priming my episodic memory as I write.

 

Oh, yes, the early days. Sweet reminiscence. The creepy, nasty, bitter self-appointed pooh bear. What it was like to be me back then. I recall in particular that time when, still a member in good standing in Wilson’s church, I decided to start a blog, and before long, provide a link to some primary documents posted to the internet by a man Wilson was then publicly attacking. Needless to say, these primary, historical documents did not make Wilson look all that spirit filled. I will refer to the man Wilson was attacking as the ‘X-elder’, since he used to be an elder in the Kirk (replaced by Jones in the early 90s) and his picture now hangs in Wilson’s War Room, marked with a big fat X.

 

After providing a link to the evidence, I went further and dared to ask a question about the evidence. In response to this, Doug Jones and Douglas Wilson crawled into the comment section of my blog and began pelting me with questions of a slightly different kind. Just now counting, it looks like they had thrown at least 41 of these questions at me by the time I had a chance to begin answering the very first one (yes, forty one, as in four sets of ten and then add one).  Here is a pertinent sampling:

 

What are your qualifications to be making the assertions you are making? Are you a witness? Are you an investigator? Are you an investigator who has assembled all the facts? If you answer our questions, giving the basis for your affirmation of the truthfulness of the answers, this should establish your competence or lack of it in this matter. In short, on what basis have you been making your claims? And if you investigated these allegations [sic], could you tell us how many statements you received from anonymous sources? . . .we are asking about your qualifications to put yourself forward the way you have. . . we are asking you to demonstrate that you have the capacity and standing to prove them. . . . Michael . . . Our questions concern your standing and competence . . . And why should we believe that you are credentialed to be among the special three?

 

Wilson had failed to link to the evidence himself (until forced) and he never honestly described the nature of the evidence this X-elder had presented. And so, my curiosity, which had already been building for months, finally expressed itself by a preliminary inquiry into the evidence Wilson himself had been indirectly referencing. This alone was enough for my pastor and another elder (both friends and past formal instructors) to begin a campaign of harassment. Seven of the forty-one questions they blasted my humble little layman’s blog with pertained to my qualifications, my investigative license, competence, capacity, standing, and credentials.  In sum, they were claiming – with a commendable weight of vocabulary –  that I was wrongly self-appointed. Who did I think I was? I do not deny it. I was self-appointed – self-appointed as a free-thinking free-born American citizen presuming the right to ask a question. (more…)

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