Thursday, December 29

The inadequacy of reason, and why are we trying to prove that God exists?

All throughout the history of academia Christian thinkers have attempted to rationalize their religion with rational arguments. Christian philosophers and theologians try to prove the existence of God with the cosmological argument, teleological argument, and so forth; and also try and defend their beliefs by answering the problem of evil and whatever other logical difficulties atheists can conjure up. Even on a non-academic level ordinary Christians believe that the existence of God, divinity of Jesus, the trinity, and all the other dogma can be (and has been) proved by reason. This is shown by how non-believers are often seen as "irrational" or "blind to the truth" or "in denial". Despite everybody on this planet thinking their way is right and everybody else is wrong, I am going to claim that the fundamental principle that drives philosophy, theology, religion, and secular belief systems is this: belief precedes reason.

Or more specifically, our beliefs are formulated before any intellectual activity takes place. In that reason is mostly used to justify in our own minds something that is already there. This occurs regularly in secular philosophy, where if one man states his own position and another man completely trashes this position using fancy logical arguments and reason, the man will most likely not abandon his belief (if it is not a trivial one) but try and make his own arguments for why his position is rational stronger. In religion this principle is even more apparent. A person raised in Christianity will start doubting his beliefs once he reaches an intellectually independent age, and so often he will flee to the embrace of philosophy and theology in an attempt to put his doubting mind at ease. Adults get threatened when someone asserts that their beliefs are false, and only after that will they investigate the epistemic status of some major belief of theirs (like the existence of God). They aren’t searching for the truth, just justifying something that has already been formed.

For no man has been converted to Christianity by way of reason. For example it is impossible that a man would believe in the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, and the “roman’s road” solely because of the rational arguments for it. It is simply not done; belief precedes reason and is formed from other qualities. This does not mean that Christians have to make an “intellectual leap of faith” to believe in God. Belief never comes to us from a choice (whether a rational or irrational choice), we can not choose to have faith in what we consider an irrational proposition, and we can’t choose not to believe in what we consider a rational proposition. Faith was never meant to mean bending our beliefs against our intellectual or emotional will.

Beliefs are generally formed through subjective lived experience, and religious beliefs are formed through religious experience. It is our existential experience in this world that gives us “passional tendencies” (to borrow a phrase from William James) towards certain truths, and these passions and convictions will determine what intellectual beliefs we will hold to. I don’t consider it a bad thing that humans form beliefs by passions and convictions derived from experience. As the existentialists so thoroughly communicated, a life guided by pure reason is the one that is inauthentically human.

This fact of belief formation contains one specific danger, that of other people controlling our passional tendencies. Since a very tiny minority of humanity is intelligent enough to know the rational status of all beliefs held by mankind, it is very easy to believe something not only irrational but not given to us from direct experience but other peoples experience. The phenomena of cults, pyramid schemes, and cloud insurance tell us how the persuasive power of a fellow human being can have devastating results on our belief system. If a preacher gives a fiery sermon that moves us emotionally to the point where we believe that he is right on everything, or an author writes so beautifully about his experiences that we follow his own convictions on certain propositions, we give our belief formation in the hands of other people. I guess what I am trying to say is that although passion should and is a major contributor for our beliefs, our head is needed to determine whether these passions were attained legitimately (from our own self) or from someone else’s powerful rhetoric. In the sense of Christianity we must be sure that the ideals we believe in are actually our own, otherwise they will be impossible to strive for. If someone does not understand why altruism affirms the self, but believes it nevertheless because it is preached to him, he will not put his belief into practice (which is seen everywhere today with our stagnated Christendom). It is vitally important that we all find “the idea we can live or die for”, and a “truth that is true for me” (both phrases stolen from Kierkegaard).

Anyhow, to get back to the main topic at hand, so much effort is made to rationalize things like the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus, but it is all beside the point. These logical arguments convince the people that want to be convinced, and don’t convince people who don’t want to be convinced; it has no practical impact. It also does not, in the end, help stave off Christian doubt. To doubt some proposition means the proposition is not true for yourself, there is no conviction or experience linked behind the belief (either in the first place or we lost that conviction). Rational proofs do not make these truths intimate to us like they should be, since such questions can never be solved entirely by reason. Doubtless beliefs can only come through life and spiritual experience, and people who leave Christianity do not do so because they have discovered the irrationality of religious belief, but because they have lost that experience and conviction that led them to religion in the first place.

There is a gaping inadequacy in reason. I have studied philosophy of religion, and I see it is as a stalemate: Atheists cannot prove that God does not exist, and Christians cannot prove that he does exist. And yet everyone who is worth listening to has an opinion on God’s existence one way or the other, the only completely unbias and rational judges of philosophical issues are coincidentally the ones who have no opinion. Belief precedes reason, and our beliefs are formed through existential experience, not intellectual reasoning.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I mean if there are many meaning the same
Being specific is just a game"

Lyrics to the song If There Is Something as recorded by Roxy Music

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Brilliant post. I am now going to read up on Kierkegaard as the whole idea of existential christianity is fascinating.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Isaac Cherian said...

After reading your post i asked myself what is the role of reason with regard to beliefs.

I think reason is one of the faculty of mind which has helped human species to adapt effectively in his physical world. In this context we can ask whether we can use reason to adapt in our social and spiritual world.

I think reason is useful in both the above mentioned areas i.e. spiritual and social.It is useful first, "in defending our beleifs" and second "in checking one's beliefs with physical reality".


The auther suppose there are two way where we can defend our beliefs --or truths wich we hold on-- one is by stating that, "i believe that there is God because i have experienced him through my variouse experiences or with a single experience . This can be called Experienced Truth. The person may not change his belief wich is based on his experience until he have a contrary experience or loose its power.

Another way to defend the belief is through providing reasonable explanations.

You may ask what is the necessity for defending one's belief with reason then.

Reason have an hegemoney over Experiencial truth in our world --the reason for this is our negative past experiences while we depended on experiencial truth to live example during dark age.

"IF WE WANT TO SHARE OUR BELIEF", a belief which one thinks will benefit another person then i think reason can a be useful to a certail limit. If someone is not using reason they i think you would be denying an important faculty of our mind.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Luthsem said...

Luther called reason "the Devil's whore".
On things below however he felt reason was a good tool but when it came to matters above(things in heaven and concerning God)reason ends up speculating and creating a god in our own image)
Faith or trust in God's promises alone is the truth that the church stands or falls on.
This is one of the reasons a lot of Lutherans loved Kierkegaard. His idea of risk and total trust outside oneself and the belief in a gracious, loving God instead of a cruel tyrant.
Kierkegaard was a true prophet against the corrupt Lutheran state church as Bonhoeffer was to the German state church.

6:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very interesting

12:23 PM  
Blogger John W. Loftus said...

Belief precedes reason, and our beliefs are formed through existential experience, not intellectual reasoning.

I agree! That's why I reject all religions.

Go to my blog and click here. Scroll down to the posts about the "Outsider Test" which I have developed which Richard Carrier has said that "the logic of it is insurmountable."

Read them and see for yourself.

Then go to exbeliever's posts and read the one about "From an atheist's perspective."

10:40 AM  
Blogger Charles Rathmann said...

Very cool post. I am currently engaged in an online debate on the existence of God, and it seems to me that if we disregard inward experience, we might as well discard external experience as well. Independent of what we see, hear and feel in a tactile sense, how can we prove that the outward world exists?

Relying entirely on reason, we enter a solipsistic morass from which there is no return. At some point, it is our irrational belief in the outward world truly exists that results in things like mortgages. After all, if the outward universe beyond my own consciousness does not exist, I am definitely paying too much for property taxes!

But as we invest in spiritual real estate, commit more and more to God, the Kingdom of Heaven comes into focus just as clearly as does our stock portfolio and other wordly assets.

In the Light of Christ,
~ Charles Rathmann

5:02 AM  
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