Friday, June 25, 2010

On Reason and Religious Belief

Well, Maimonides, whom I mentioned in the prior post, thus far seems content to guide the perplexed by such devices as noting that, based on his translation of the Hebrew, statements appearing in the Old Testament to the effect that various individuals saw God don't really mean that they saw him as a corporeal being.  God, after all, is not a corporeal being, and so cannot be seen.  Therefore, such statements mean that they discerned him in whatever fashion a non-corporeal being may be discerned.  I hope his Guide gets better, but will reluctantly put it aside for a time.

Yesterday while driving I heard courtesy of Book Radio (no, the pictures are not in your head, no matter what they say) one of Chesterton's Father Brown stories.  I've enjoyed reading some of them, but this particular one served only to remind me of his unsatisfyingly breezy, dismissive way of handling criticism of religion.  Father Brown's ministry, apparently, has exposed him to all the artifices of thieves and so he catches a notorious one in the story in question; such was its rather dubious point.  What caught my attention, though, was the good Father's statement that he knew someone pretending to be a priest was not one because he (the fake priest) spoke badly of reason and that is not good theology according to Father Brown.

I'm not sure I agree.  Ultimately reason, I think, is not good theology; instead, it shows us theology is not good (yes, I'm imitating Chesterton's relentlessly playful style).  Certainly reason may be employed in theology as it may be employed in any form of argument, but I know of no basis on which reason demonstrates the existence of God, let alone the God of Christianity.  I think Chesterton himself said as much, in fact.

Assuming this to be the case, what does that tell us about belief in God?  Reason is very useful in assisting us in various ways, in learning about things, in solving problems, in noting error and avoiding error.  It would seem that at the least it can be maintained that reason is not useful in ascertaining the existence of a God.  More specifically, the existence of God is not something amenable to reason; it can't be demonstrated or verified in the way things amenable to reason can be.  I think it's foolish to maintain it can be, even if one accepts such arguments as those of Aristotle.  Even if we assume that reason tells us there was a First Mover, what reason do we have to believe that First Mover is God as most believe God to be?

The religious should abandon any claim that reason establishes the existence of God, I think, together with the claim that religion has a rational basis.  The quest to provide a basis for religious belief of the same kind as that which supports scientific conclusions, or even those of logic, is foolish.  As well try to do so with our appreciation of poetry, or music, or beauty, or any feeling of transcendence.  Our feelings regarding such things are arational, as it were.  The existence of such feelings can be verified, but the bases for them can't--unless it can be established that we have them because we are "hardwired" to have them, which I think is the same as to say we've evolved in such a fashion as to experience them in certain circumstances.

If that's the case, however, we have them because it is our nature to have them.  If it's our nature to have them, though, why deny them, or why claim that they are improper or misguided?

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