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Faith and Reason

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~

Recently, on Pathos.com, I came across an interesting essay by Andrew Kaethler, an Assistant Professor at Catholic Pacific College. The title of the essay is “Faith Undergirds All Reason.” He argues that without faith, reason can’t really get off the ground.

As Kaethler explains, the great French philosopher René Descartes wanted to discover what he could know with absolute certainty. He concluded that the only thing he could know for sure was that he was a thinking thing; i.e., “I think therefore I am.” He reasoned that he couldn’t know anything else actually existed for certain because he couldn’t prove he was not simply (as Kaethler put it), “a brain floating in a vat which is manipulated by an evil demon to see images that falsely appear as the external world.” Thus, Descartes concluded that the only way out was a leap of faith. He conjectured therefore, and Kaethler agrees, that god is good and would not deceive him; the external world is real because god is trustworthy.

Now that is a very, very large leap. I agree that we cannot be absolutely certain that what we perceive as reality is the way things really are, but, instead of a leap of faith, I suggest we should weigh probabilities. This is how we actually get through our day-to-day lives successfully, and this is how science has created the modern world. As John Loftus has observed, “Faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.”

We know that aspirin can cure headaches because it has been tested exhaustively with consistent, convincing results. We know that exercise builds muscle mass because we have witnessed it in ourselves and/or others. We know that water can quench a thirst because we have seen it happen throughout our lives. And we know god exists … how? Ah, here we run into a quagmire of specious, unprovable claims.

According to Christian theory, the first thing to ever exist, god, is the most complex entity to ever exist. And how did it become so complex? Well, apparently, somehow, it just always was that way. Kaethler writes, “For Thomas Aquinas the fundamental 'thing', the first cause, that all thought must be based on is God. For a secular materialist, everything begins with the big bang (cause unknown).” Now why didn’t he add that “cause unknown” after the word “god,” too? Because he took a leap of faith. There is a considerable store of accumulated, measured evidence for the big bang, including the cosmic microwave background radiation, the expansion of the universe, etc. , that goes well beyond faith. And the evidence for god? Nothing but ancient texts by unknown authors.

According to Christians, god is invisible, immaterial, colorless, odorless, and lacking in any quality or quantity which can be detected or measured. What could be more convenient? Thus, a total reliance on faith is required for god belief.

Kaethler’s argument, in trying to discredit reason, is similar to that used by modern theologians to attempt to discredit science. Science doesn’t have all the answers, is sometimes wrong, and will never give us the ultimate why’s, therefore science is no better than faith – or so they say. But science is based on evidence and probabilities, has continuous reality checks, and it works, while faith depends solely on authority, on assumed revelations.

Kaethler’s argument is really nothing more than a red herring, a diversion from the really important questions. Why do Christians believe there is a god? Because the Bible says there’s a god. So the really important question is can we depend on the Bible to accurately reflect reality? The Bible authors knew they couldn’t prove the existence of a god so they didn’t try, they simply assumed he/she/it existed. Given that the Bible also assumes the existence of witches, wizards, ghosts, giants, unicorns, dragons, and 900 year-old men, is it probable that it accurately reflects reality? Given that the Bible contains irrefutable contradictions like two conflicting creation stories in Genesis, and two wildly different genealogies for Jesus in Matthew and Luke, is it probable that it accurately reflects reality? In fact, it is not merely improbable, it is clearly impossible that it reflects reality.

Then there is the other Christian fundamental question of whether the resurrection actually happened. Is it probable? Are there photos, film, or eyewitness testimony from known, unbiased and reliable witnesses? Is there any evidence still existing today that can be examined? There is not. Is it probable then that the resurrection stories were based on misunderstanding, exaggeration, hallucination, illusion, delusion, mistranslation, failed memory, or just plain lies? Well, since all of these are known to commonly occur in human communication, they are all vastly more probable than a man being dead for several days and then standing up and walking away. Of all the choices available, Christians have chosen to believe the absolute least likely. Now that’s faith; unreasonable faith.

Kaethler concludes his essay thus; “Is faith irrational? On the contrary, faith is the first step in all rational discourse. Christian faith extends this by finding a secure footing in God who, as Logos, is the ground of reason.” Only a theologian could find “a secure footing” in something that cannot even be demonstrated to exist!

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