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A Reasonable Faith

August 2010
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Faith and reason are not complimentary. The increase of one decreases the other. The further one advances his or her faith, the more reason becomes dispensable. The further one advances in reason, the more faith becomes dispensable.

Yet these two categories, as I have presented them, are grossly general. Not all judgments we call faith judgments are equivalent. Nor are all judgments of reason equivalent. We must not confuse words with their referents. We must define as best we can, given the needs of the present context; or, as a listener or a reader, we must take the words into context. If, for example, a young man tells me that it took all of his faith to ask a girl to dance, I oughtn’t assume his employment of the word to entail matters of theology. Nor should I assume that all uses of the word reason are rational. The imam who, with perfect logical consistency, puts a fatwa out on the head of some literary figure, such as Salman Rushdie or Mahfouz, is not my ideal model of a rational man.

Let us begin with faith. There are two basic categories of faith. The first is the judgment to believe without evidence; the second is believe because of evidence. The second kind of faith is that faith which would lead a man or woman to step aboard an airplane and take a flight. The first could lead a man or a woman to fly that plane into a building.

Let us call the theological variety of faith theological faith; let us call the evidence based faith empirical faith. These are utterly different. And you may have noticed that I have made a shift in my language. Initially I spoke of faith and reason, but now I speak of theological faith and empirical faith. I have substituted empirical faith for reason.

I have substituted empirical faith for reason because reason alone is insufficient. Very reasonable claims may seem true and even common sensical yet be false. Take for instance the old pre-galilean claim that, heavy objects fall faster than light ones. It was perfectly reasonable to accept this claim. It in no way contradicted what we then knew about the universe. But Galileo did something radical. He tested that perfectly reasonable proposition, and it turned out to be false.

One could not say that the old proposition, that heavy objects fall faster than light ones, is a matter of faith. It was too ordinary a proposition even to doubt. Yet it was false. Without the knowledge that heavy and light objects fall at the same rate, the empirical faith of stepping aboard an airplane and taking flight would not even be a possible kind of empirical faith. Empirical faith is built upon a doubt so profound that it will question even the most ordinary of propositions.

Reason alone is not enough, for both theological faith and empirical faith share in their use of reason. Both kinds of faith employ inferential logic. They both begin with a set of propositions, and then take a leap of faith. The difference between the two kinds of faith is in how they get to that initial set of propositions.

Theologians are by no means stupid people. Some are in fact brilliant. They are masters of reason. The most brilliant among the theologians know, moreover, the importance of the empirical method. They know what it can and cannot be used for. They understand just how profound their kind of leap of faith is. Yet they are a minority in their camp. And even among theologians, there is a growing movement which might be best described paradoxically as atheistic theology. But that is besides the point, and a point upon which I need to do more research.

Sharing, as theological and empirical faith do, the inferential mode of reason to arrive at their conclusions, we must be utterly clear on the profound difference. The empirical faith has earned certain rights in the social arena which theological faith has not. The empirical faith, which is the model of science, has underneath it mountains of evidence and an ability to demonstrate what it claims. Therefore, upon this foundation, empirical faith has rightly the authority to found law and social policy.

Theological faith, on the other hand, has only mountains of tradition and text to support its reasonable claims. But none of these properly or sufficiently refer to anything outside of the texts or traditions. They therefore have no right to legislation or the making of social policy. Their propositions should in no way extend beyond the adult members who have formally consented to live with that leap of faith, unless their propositions are make an appeal to empirical faith and are demonstrated in accord to the scientific and non-provincial standard of knowledge.

Every man and woman has a right to make their own leap of faith. But no man or woman has a right to force a theological faith upon anyone else, including their own children, who cannot as a rule yet judge for themselves.  It is unethical to place such shackles upon our youth and our society. The consequences of theological faith are wide, subtle and profound. 

The following article will serve as an overt, negative, and not so sublte consequence of what I have argued.


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