You are here

More on faith and reason

A blogger offers comments on my talk on Reason and the Future of Conservatism, concluding that the talk opposes faith to reason and comes out on the side of faith.

I don’t think that’s quite right. Faith and reason are like substance and form: they’re different but they can’t get on without each other. You won’t be able to make use of reason unless you take a lot on faith, while a belief that you can’t understand in an orderly way isn’t much of a belief.

With that in mind, the current idea of reason, which tries to make everything altogether rigorous, just doesn’t work. Among other things, it says that everything is whatever it happens to be—which means whatever it can be observed and measured to be—and that’s that.

But that can’t be so. Things can also be about other things. If they couldn’t we couldn’t talk about anything. Our thoughts and words are things too, and they can evidently be about something! Meaning and reference cannot be observed and measured, but knowledge rests on faith that our words and thoughts do somehow connect to reality.

And then there’s the old subjectivism issue: things and actions can be objectively good or bad, and that’s not observable or measurable. If they couldn’t then “irrational,” which is an evaluative term, would be an empty term of abuse.

Another problem with current understandings of reason is that they are overly analytical. They look for elementary properties of elementary particles, while human life mostly involves dealing with enduring functional patterns in complex systems. Our knowledge of the latter is more like recognizing essences than noting measurements, and current views of reason can’t make much of essences. (Hence “gay marriage” as an issue, which the blogger seems to view as one in which reason and traditional views oppose each other.)

In all this the point is not that reason should be rejected, but that current views of it need to be expanded. As to God, it seems to me we can’t make sense of our situation without Him. The world must be reasonable for us to know it rationally, and it must have an intrinsic connection to purpose for some purposes to be intrinsically good and others bad. How do we talk about such features of the world without religious categories?