Faith and Reason (bibliography)

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 24, 2010 in Resources

faith and reason

Ambiguous words cause both parties in the atheism vs. theism debate to talk past each other, and this leads to the frustration that the other side “just doesn’t get it.”

‘Faith’ and ‘reason’ are two such ambiguous words. They can mean many things. When the atheist praises reason, does he mean to say that we are only reasonable to believe things for which we can provide strong arguments and evidence? Surely not. Most atheists I know think they are reasonable to believe the Standard Model of particle physics, but they cannot give any arguments or evidence for it.

And when the believer praises faith, does he mean to endorse ‘blind faith’, such that people are reasonable to believe whatever they want, even if there are no reasons at all supporting those beliefs? Surely not. When I ask believers why they believe, they can always give me a long list of reasons.

So what do these terms mean? And once we have precise definitions, is it true that the battle of theism vs. atheism turns out to be a battle of faith vs. reason?

I don’t have the answers, but I’d like to develop a bibliography of different perspectives on faith and reason given in the scholarly literature. Please suggest your own additions.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Molly May 24, 2010 at 6:10 am

Like I said before your site got fucked up, I think you should do a post/podcast on Kant’s critical philosophy and/or philosophy of religion. I’m no believer, but if I was I would be a believer in the Kantian sense.

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Molly May 24, 2010 at 6:13 am

I don’t know any good secondary lit on Kant, but the online Stanford encyclopedia has a good entry on his critique of metaphysics.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-metaphysics/

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lukeprog May 24, 2010 at 8:04 am

Molly,

One day. I’d like to understand Kant better myself first!

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Landon Hedrick May 24, 2010 at 8:17 am

Luke,

Good luck with Kant. There is some pretty good secondary literature out there to help you understand his work. Just don’t dive head first into “The Critique of Pure Reason.”

I recently read George Smith’s “Atheism: The Case Against God” and it had an entire section of the book devoted to Faith vs. Reason. The book is by no means part of the scholarly literature, but I thought I’d mention it nonetheless. He has some good points, but it’s nothing to write home about.

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noen May 24, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Actually, I don’t think the conflict between atheism and theism is over faith vs reason. It’s more like a schismatic dispute between two priestly classes. The secular fundamentalists and the religious ones. It’s all about power, dominance and control over intellectual territory. It has nothing to do with reason because neither side can offer final proof for their respective claims and everything to do with faith because both are true believers in their own ideologies.

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noen May 24, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Ah yes, George Smith is an excellent example of the dogmatic atheist. woof woof!

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TaiChi May 24, 2010 at 4:14 pm

“It has nothing to do with reason because neither side can offer final proof for their respective claims” ~ noen

Obviously, agnosticism has nothing to do with reason because it can’t offer final proof for its claims either.

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Lorkas May 24, 2010 at 4:20 pm

It has nothing to do with reason because neither side can offer final proof for their respective claims and everything to do with faith because both are true believers in their own ideologies.

Good luck giving a final proof for anything in the real world. There’s no such thing as a “final proof” outside of mathematics.

However, the fact that a “proof” can’t be made for anything aside from math doesn’t mean that everything but math “has nothing to do with reason”. Giving reasons for beliefs is quite different from giving proofs for beliefs.

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lukeprog May 24, 2010 at 6:40 pm

noen,

Would you call yourself a postmodernist?

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Scott May 24, 2010 at 10:50 pm

If you want to learn about Kant, read Copleston’s History of Philosophy, Vol. 6 (http://tinyurl.com/27odkzk). Copleston often explains a philosopher’s positions better than the original philosopher.

From Kant’s original works, at least read the chapter “Transcendental Aesthetic” from CoPR. It’s the most interesting part, where he argues that space & time are a priori concepts built into the mind (I’m not completely sure how he gets there, but what bits I do understand are fascinating).

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noen May 24, 2010 at 11:21 pm

lukeprog
“Would you call yourself a postmodernist?”

No, but then no one does. Post-modernism was an 80′s thing, post-structuralism sort of a 90′s thing. Today, most folks in critical theory find themselves in orbit around Zizek.

For myself I am most in agreement with John Searle for the analytic side of things but I think the continental philosophers have something important to add. Though it’s very difficult to cut through their nonsense and find it. There is a humanness that seems lost when there is too heavy an emphasis placed on linguistic analysis and too much rigor that is lost in the wild and woolly concepts on the other side.

Politically I am Left of center. I’d like to see a good deal more socialism in the US but not too much. I think that is one reason I am in such strong disagreement with many New Atheists. A lot of them seem to be extreme right-wing nutjobs like George Smith, mentioned above.

I would still point to Prof. Robert Sapolsky’s YouTube video on faith. I think he gets it exactly right. Faith is the willingness to act in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Guess what? It works. It works because we can never know enough to predict the future. Maybe for planets we can but not for people.

People who limit themselves to acting only within the limits of reason will find that those who act from faith will defeat them. The latter will make the wild leap that reason cannot justify. Surely you know this from your own experience? Anyone who is the least bit creative knows that the truly new comes from beyond all rational thought.

But… if you wish to be a dead machine who am I to stop you? You will have your reward.

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Atheist.pig May 25, 2010 at 5:13 am

I think that is one reason I am in such strong disagreement with many New Atheists. A lot of them seem to be extreme right-wing nutjobs like George Smith, mentioned above.

George Smith was influenced by Ayn Rand, a disgusting individual who essentially advocated social Darwinism. If your going to use the label “New Atheist” for people like George Smith then the label is meaningless outside of views on religion.

Compare this view with another “New Atheist”, here’s a quote from Dawkins in The Selfish Gene:
“I think that most of us believe the welfare state is highly desirable…The welfare state is perhaps the greatest altruistic system the animal kingdom has ever known.”

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Atheist.pig May 25, 2010 at 5:59 am

Faith is the willingness to act in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Guess what? It works.

You idiot. Where does this work?

When the faith-based community won’t allow vaccines against deadly diseases and viruses that are killing millions of people because of their faith.

Or how about when Jehovah’s Witnesses let their child die when a pint of blood will save them because of their faith.
Or how about the catholic church preaching condom use is a sin when millions of uneducated people die and spread HIV needlessly because of their faith.

And how about the barbaric faith-based practices of executing homosexuals and adulterers because of their faith.

Or the faith-based community teaching creationist nonsense to millions of kids because of their faith.

This list is endless, so maybe if we all had faith and willingness to act in the face of all evidence to the contrary our world would be a better place.

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lukeprog May 25, 2010 at 6:11 am

Faith does not work.

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Landon Hedrick May 25, 2010 at 7:38 am

Atheist pig,

Yes, Smith was influenced by Ayn Rand, but her political views do not find their way into “Atheism: The Case Against God.” She is quoted some, but not on that issue. As far as that book goes, it looks to me like it influenced Sam Harris a bit.

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Dianelos Georgoudis May 25, 2010 at 8:29 am

A very good and recent book is Eric Reitan’s ”
Is God A Delusion: A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers”. In it he concedes that one valid meaning of “faith” is just how atheists understand the concept, namely as “belief without sufficient reason”, and then describes the place of faith in religion, and, most surprisingly, explains why faith in this sense can be an admirable virtue.

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Zeb May 25, 2010 at 10:03 am

noen, I find the content of your posts intriguing, challenging, and refreshing (when they are not gratuitously insulting people). Do you recommend any books that deal with religion along the same lines you do?

I pretty much posted this same comment before the virus wipe, and recommended the great podcast Entitled Opinions with Robert Harrison of Stanford University. If I were to imagine a drunk Robert Harrison commenting here, you would be it. I mean that as a compliment.

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lukeprog May 25, 2010 at 10:49 am

Dianelos,

Check out my interview with Eric Reitan for my ‘Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot’ podcast.

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Atheist.pig May 25, 2010 at 10:59 am

Yes, Smith was influenced by Ayn Rand, but her political views do not find their way into “Atheism: The Case Against God.”

That was the point I was making Landon, describing yourself as an atheist says nothing about your political views. The “New Atheists” seem to have gotten a reputation as being right-wing for some bizarre reason.

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Lorkas May 26, 2010 at 5:38 am

I was under the impression that atheists were all communist pigs.

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