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FAITH VERSUS REASON
One of the enduring myths of secularism is that science is based in reason and religion (or, for the purpose of this study, spirituality) is based on faith. And not a reasoned faith, it is maintained, but a blind faith that frequently flies in the face of scientific data and knowledge; a faith made necessary by the lack of evidence to support the belief it is supposedly attempting to maintain. In contrast, secularism is seen as a beacon of rationalism; its truth cutting through the darkness of ignorance and superstition like a lighthouse while religion wallows in the depths of blind faith, hopelessness, and intellectual lethargy.
This is, of course, complete nonsense. While there are many religions that teach things contrary to science and reason, the underlying assumption that faith itself is the enemy of reason is false. In fact, reason and, for that matter, science itself, could not exist without faith. The two are as inseparable as Siamese twins.
Consider that most great scientific discoveries and nearly every major invention initially began life as an idea or concept in a person's head. When Louie Pasteur first promulgated his theory that microscopic organisms called "germs" were responsible for disease (in opposition to the prevailing belief that disease was caused by poisons and toxins in the blood) his colleagues initially dismissed his hypothesis as nonsense. Yet he had "faith" in his theory and that served to push him towards trying to prove it despite almost universal opposition by many of the most learned and experienced scientists and medical professionals of his day. Yet Pasteur was eventually proven correct and almost single-handedly ushered in the age of modern medicine.
Further, Alexander Graham Bell had "faith" that the sound of the human voice could be sent through a mere wire and so invented the telephone. The Wright Brothers had "faith" they could build a heavier-than-air machine capable of carrying a man aloft despite the opinion of many pundits of the day that such was scientifically impossible. Even today a small band of dedicated astronomers listen intently on radio telescopes for signs of extraterrestrial life despite the lack of credible evidence that such life exists or has the means or motivation to communicate with us, which is nothing if not a tremendous leap of "faith" on their part.
In other words, all great ideas started out as faith and were later demonstrated to be fact by subsequent events or research. Additionally, once the governing principals behind the idea is fully understood, the logic or rationality of the original hypothesis quickly becomes self evident. The underlying physics that allowed the Wright's Flyer to become airborne, for example, are logical once they are fully understood. As such, which begins as faith in an idea, usually supported by some solid science, leads to rational, empirical fact. In this way, faith and fact operate as two sides of the same coin or, perhaps more precisely, the one is a byproduct of the other.
Of course, some discoveries are made by accident and many inventions are simply modifications to existing technologies that required little faith to envision, but for the most part science owes its existence to faith-especially in regards to its ability to find the answers to life's most complex questions. In essence, sciences greatest faith lies with itself, and it is this faith in science's ability to eventually solve every problem and understand every mystery that keeps the engines of knowledge well oiled. Without faith, all further research could well grind to a halt. I like to think of faith, then, as the cocoon that hatches a beautiful butterfly; once the butterfly (proof) emerges from its cocoon (hypothesis) it can discard the cocoon for it no longer requires it. However, what many seem to forget is that had it not been for the cocoon in the first place, there would never be a beautiful butterfly. What many rationalists have done, then, is simply pretend that the butterfly always existed apart form the cocoon that bred it, thereby assuming that all butterflies came into being without the benefit of "cocoons."
Religion and spirituality also operate on faith but it is a mistake to believe that they operate purely on faith. Bell's telephone and the Wright Brothers plane were based off sound scientific understandings in the same way that faith is generally based off sound spiritual principles. The problem is that whereas a scientific theory can be tested in a laboratory, spiritual theory is not so easily tested. It is perceived through innate, intuitive senses that no scientific instrument can measure and tested only in the laboratory of the day-to-day lives of men and women like ourselves.
A second point
to be considered is how does one define "logic?" Clearly it seems
the term itself is a highly subjective one, for what may be logical to one person
may appear completely irrational to another. A good example of this is seen
in the debate regarding the existence of God; whereas the committed atheist
maintains that, without proof, it is logical to conclude that there is no God,
so too does the theist, aware that there is much we have yet to learn about
the universe, suggest it is logical to be open to the prospect that there are
divine forces at work we cannot yet perceive without puny senses. Unlike mathematics
and some areas of clearly empirical science then, most logic is a matter of
opinion. For example, consider the following two statements and determine which
you consider the logical of the two.
Statement A: Considering the vastness of the universe, it seems inconceivable that there is not advanced life elsewhere among the stars. And, if such life is out there, it seems equally valid to imagine that there are civilizations among them, some less advanced and some far more advanced than our own and, further, that these advanced civilizations might well have discovered the means with which to travel among the stars with no more effort than it takes us to travel between cities. And, finally, it is not unreasonable to imagine such beings to be as curious about the universe as we are, and so just as we would send explorers to other planets it would be logical to assume they may well have sent probes or "missions" to our planet and may continue to do so today. As such, the idea that some UFOs may, in fact, be extraterrestrial vehicles, is not only reasonable but logical.
Statement B: Considering the vast distances between star systems, the idea that these distances could be traversed with impunity by some theoretical "super advanced" civilization somewhere, assuming any such a civilization even exists, is not only highly speculative but thoroughly illogical. Einstein's theory of relatively clearly demonstrates that the speeds necessary to make space travel feasible are impossible for any physical object to achieve and, besides, if any civilization did manage to achieve such a capability, it's illogical to assume they would find our backwards planet of any particular interest to them, especially when there are so many other more important and impressive things to explore in the universe. Therefore, it is logical to assume that UFO reports are likely the result of mistaken identity, mass hysteria, or outright hoaxes perpetrated by and upon a superstitious and bored society.
Which of these two statements are logical? Actually, both are. Each makes their point and, on the surface at least, both make sense. Both statements also contain a great deal of faith as well: statement A in that advanced civilizations do exist, that they have found a way to circumvent relativity, and that they are both desirous and capable of visiting us here on Earth, none of which have any scientific validation at this time. Statement B, however, makes its own faith statements. It has faith that we currently understand enough about the physical laws that govern our universe that the assumption that faster than light travel is and will always be impossible is a sound one (a claim not even Einstein himself was foolish enough to make), just as it is faith that maintains that such advanced civilizations probably don't exist and that they would have no interest in studying us even if they did. Each is an assumptions based on faith that the obstacles to space travel are too immense for anyone to overcome.
Human nature being what it is then, all opinions are ultimately faith based statements that are later reinforced with "evidence" and logic. Except in the most definitive cases of mathematics or investigative science, one always assumes a particular position to be true and then sets about finding the evidence to support that position. As such, atheists assume the premise that such a thing as "God" is inherently illogical and insupportable and then find argumentsor refute those of their opponentsto support their premise. And, of course, theists do exactly the same thing, but work from the position that the idea that the physical universe could exist without some divine consciousness behind it to be illogical and insupportable, and then go on to find support for their understanding of reality. Even within religion and science this goes on, with various scientific "camps"often antagonistic and contemptuous of each otherforming around some new and controversial theory just as frequently hostile religious sects form around various spiritual or religious practices and beliefs. Both sides have their "heroes of the faith" they rally around, and each side considers the other hopelessly blind and stubbornly ignorant.
So that takes us back to our original problem: how do we decide what to believe? Is it better to remain undecided and wait for the "jury to come in" and then accept things by consensus, or is it better to go with one's own intuition? Or, for that matter, is it simply better to assume there is nothing beyond our five senses and "rational" mind to conceive of and call it a day? Which position we take is governed not by the "facts""facts" which can be and frequently are construed in ways that best fit one's initial premisebut by opinion. Further, data is sometimes wrong or later discoveries demonstrate an earlier "fact" to have been erroneous all along. Logic on the other hand, being based largely on personal preference, cannot be trusted to show us the truth either. As such, we must assume the quest for truth to remain an unachievable goal, for it seems we have no final empirical guarantee that anything we see or imagine to be true is, in fact, not just a reflection of our own prejudices, assumptions, and desires.
Or is it? Consider for a moment that the belief in God-however one chooses to define that "entity"-is an almost universal trait among humans that has emerged from very different cultures that had no interaction between them, yet all seem to point to some central "being" (or a pantheon of them) as being responsible for the physical world. While some of these gods have been vicious and brutal and a few even a little silly, the idea that homo sapiens would embrace such a concept in the first place is counter intuitive. The theory that the belief in god is merely a reflection of cultural conditioning (and atheism isn't?) goes only so far, for the belief in a creator must appeal to people on some deep level in order for the culture to adopt the concept in the first place. The old hypothesis that humanity invented god for their protection or to ensure their own immortality also fails to account for the prevalence of gods throughout history that have been more intrusive than protective. It seems to me that if I was to invent a god, this being would be more like me and not put any silly restrictions upon my having a good time, nor would he (or she) invent such a nasty place like hell as a punishment for misbehavior. I would hardly waste my time inventing a god I was frightened of, nor do I imagine having much luck convincing others that such a god exists.
Unfortunately, this argument suggests that since we would only invent "nice" Gods and yet we often perceive God as often cruel and judgmental, that the "real" God we are collectively perceiving as an objective reality must be frightening. However, I believe this is because that inner "glimpse" of the divine each culture has experienced has been distorted by superstition, fear, and the need for control. In other words, while human beings instinctively sense the Divine Consciousness we call "God," they are not, for the most part, sufficiently spiritually evolved to experience that entity as love but perceive the Divine fearfully and then create religions in an effort to appease that which they have come to fear. Obviously, if everyone experienced God as love, religion would be unnecessary. As it is, however, until we grow beyond our basic fears and learn to refine our intuitive spiritual sensitivity until we begin to perceive God as love, we will need religion which, despite its many flaws and imperfections, remains one of the only paths available to the Divine for many people.
So what does all
this have to do with our original examination of faith versus reason? Only that
since neither is capable of providing us with the answer individually, we must
depend on both of them collectively, for both will point one towards the truth
if pursued with equal vigor. It is faith and reason together that point us towards
the Divine Consciousness, for both are intuitive within us. In essence, we go
within for answers because we have faith there is something there that can provide
answers and then we use our rational senses to make sense of those answers.
It is a perfect marriage of logic and intuition that leads to enlightenment,
which is why both are a blessing.
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