Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ten Ways Faith Opposes Reason

Thinkers since the Renaissance have rightly sensed the destructive conflict faith poses to man’s intellect, his freedom, and his advancement. There are a number of fundamental reasons for this, and I think it’s important to identify them in terms of reason's incompatibility with faith.

Faith (also mysticism) is essentially commitment to the imaginary without acknowledging the imaginary as unreal. As such, faith is a fundamental distinguishing feature of the religious view of the world, a view which makes the world in which we actually live take a backseat to an alleged realm that is accessible only by means of imagination.

In spite of faith’s elevating of imagination over facts, apologists for religious worldviews today, even in the West which enjoys historically unprecedented post-Enlightenment progress, still insist that their faith is compatible with reason. I can only suppose either that they simply do not understand the conflict between reason and faith, or that they want to downplay it in order to exonerate their own worldview’s complicity, witting or not, with trends that are working to erode that progress.

Having been both a Christian as well as an Objectivist, I have firsthand psychological experience as both an advocate for faith and an advocate for reason. This is not intended to mean that readers should take my word for it on these matters. Rather, I remind my readers of this to bring home the fact that I do not approach any of this as an outsider unfamiliar with how one side or the other treats the conflict between reason and faith.

Moreover, having learned the categorical distinctions between both the religious view of the world and rational philosophy, I have come to identify ten distinct fundamental points of conflict between reason and faith. I present them here as follows:

1. Incompatible metaphysical foundations:
Reason: The primacy of existence (cf. wishing doesn’t make it so; facts exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity). 
Faith: The primacy of consciousness (cf. wishing does make it so; facts are products of and conform to conscious activity, existence finds its source in consciousness, etc.).
2. Incompatible sources of knowledge:
Reason: Looking outward at the realm of facts, discovering and integrating facts according to an objective standard in conceptual form.  
Faith: Looking inward into the contents of one’s own consciousness, including emotions, preferences, wishing, imagination, fears, without any formal understanding of conceptual integration.
3. Incompatible conceptions of knowledge:
Reason: Knowledge consists of concepts abstracted ultimately from perceptual awareness (firsthand discovery of facts).  
Faith: Knowledge consists of beliefs (cf. “justified true belief”) based ultimately on “received” dogma (secondhand – in fact, further removed – stipulations apart from facts).
4. Incompatible methods of correction:
Reason: Rational methodology and logical validation. 
Faith: Approved interpretation of sacred storybook texts.
5. Incompatible implications for induction:
Reason: Application of the law of causality to entity classes (thus induction is possible). 
Faith: Whatever the ruling consciousness wills (thus induction is impossible).
6. Incompatible standards of knowledge:
Reason: Conscious activity conforms to reality. 
Faith: Reality conforms to conscious activity (e.g., imagination, belief, commands, wishing, etc.).
7. Incompatible content of knowledge:
Reason: Objective identification of facts discovered by looking outward
Faith: Subjective stipulations based on emotions apprehended by looking inward (cf. fear, guilt, doubt).
8. Incompatible roles of emotions:
Reason: Emotions as reactions to new knowledge relating to one’s values. 
Faith: Emotions as unquestionable cognitive primaries functioning as deliverances from the supernatural.
9. Incompatible noetic starting points:
Reason: Sense perception providing objective content to conceptually irreducible recognitions. 
Faith: Imagination conjuring subjective content sourced ultimately in irrational emotional commitments.
10. Incompatible background assumptions about the efficacy of man’s mind:
Reason: Man can discover, learn, know, think, validate, judge and choose. 
Faith: Man cannot discover, learn, know, think, validate, judge and choose.
Naturally I expect some of these will be met with controversy by both believers and non-believers. So I certainly welcome discussion.

Also, I think this topic is important because the conflict between reason and faith plays an enormous causal role in the state of the world today, affecting everything from Obamathon spending sprees to inner city crime, from totalitarian threats to individual liberty to full-scale international war. Of course, it also plays an enormous role in an individual’s psychological wellbeing which, cumulatively on the societal level, has profound implications for the overall health of a culture. And I know of no culture right now that is intellectually healthy, nor does any culture seem to be moving towards intellectual health. Quite the opposite in fact!

by Dawson Bethrick


Ydemoc said...


I have had absolutely no time to read your latest as i have been on the road, driving all around the country, part work, part visiting in-laws. It's been quite an adventure.. However, I'm looking forward to giving it a good read once I'm back from my trip.


Commander Chris said...

Stay safe in your travels.

Anonymous said...

Happy new year guys and gals!

Dawson, quick question: why do you think that no professional philosopher has criticized the onto-illogical argument for being a non-sequitur trying to jump from what someone can imagine to be the case to thinking that therefore such is the case?

It's so easily and obviously so that I truly don't understand why they won;t say that? Are professional philosophers such ass-holes that they cannot see the obvious?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi All,

Sorry for the delay in my responding…. Been busy!


Thanks for the chime-in. As always, wonderful to hear from you. I hope you have a safe return. We’ll need to reconnect one of these days.


I completely sympathize with your question. It seems so obvious to me that the ontological argument essentially reifies something completely imaginary as its primary mechanism for proof, but I have to remind myself that I’m working from a philosophy which explicitly distinguishes between conscious activity and its objects from its very foundations. I have found, to my dismay, that this is quite unique in the history of philosophy.

Granted, there may be the occasional philosopher here and there who recognizes this fatal weakness, but I don’t know of any (outside of Objectivism anyway), and if there were any, their voices have most likely been squelched out of hearing distance by a veritable stampede of protests. In fact, many opposing treatments of the ontological argument that I have examined, while often making good minor points here and there, often make equally fatal concessions (e.g., granting the assumptions of analytic philosophy that have been used to prop it up).

There is in academia an entrenched symbiotic incestuousness that has only served to encourage the support of terrible ideas, especially in the philosophy departments, but in everything else that those departments have influenced (from political science to education, from you name it in the humanities to an ever-increasing encroachment into the hard sciences). This is a direct result of the involvement of government financing of education.

This has become most obvious in the “scientific community’s” endorsement of “climate change.” (The notion of a “scientific community” has only served to bureaucratize science.) Governments use money that they fleece by means of force from the private citizenry to issue grants for a huge number of “studies,” and it seems to be that those labs which produce the results that the government wanted all along get more grants for more studies (someone ought to do a study on that!). Here we see a clear case in which governments use the scientists to scare the tax-generating populations into handing over more of their wealth to the government while the “scientific community” use the government to keep their urns flush with an endless supply of “funding.”

On my commute home from work yesterday there was a wannabe hippy (long scraggly beard and completely unkempt appearance) moving about the train with a clipboard asking for signatures on his petition to “raise the Oregon minimum wage.” I see this a lot. In other words, use the monopoly on force held by the government to compel employers to pay workers more, regardless of whether or not they deserve it. Many arguments I’ve seen in defense of this is the rising costs of groceries: “workers deserve more so that they can support their families.” They ignore the fact that the grocery stores and the entire supply chain will be affected by such laws. But I digress…

The fellow got into a brief conversation with the rider next to me. At one point the rider asked the hippy what he was doing in life. Going to PSU (Portland State Uni.). “What are you studying?” the rider asked. “Environmental studies. I’m focusing on policy.” I can’t help but read this as: focusing on how to use the force of the state against the private citizen.

I know, I must be some kind of extremist wacko Kool-Aid-drinker…

Our culture is dying of many cancers. It makes me sick to my stomach.

Okay, apologies for getting so far off-track in answering your question, Photo, but hopefully you get the essence of my point. It needs to be discussed more!


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hey Dawson,

Thanks for the answer. Even your digressions were illuminating.

I think I was mostly venting. I do understand that philosophy departments are filled with idiots. I asked once a professional philosopher, who has a blog, why they took Plantinga's bullshit about naturalism and evolution so seriously. After all, it's obviously bullshit. His answer was something on the lines that, even though it was wrong, it was not easy to figure out why it was wrong (crap!). It was very easy for me!

Anyway, again just venting some more, flabbergasted by such stupidity.

Ydemoc said...


Thanks for the reply and, yes, I made it back safe and sound. My wife and I along with our dog drove from California to New York City (Tarrytown, actually) in a relatively short period of time.

We left on a Saturday at 10:30 in the morning Pacific Time and arrived at our destination early Tuesday morning (around 2 a.m. Eastern Time). And that was with a stopover in Illinois!

After a few days there, we then drove to south Texas, where we stayed for a few days. After that, we headed back to California, with a stopover in Phoenix.

It was quite a trip. I fill you in about it sometime soon in an email.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

My, I must say that's some impressive driving. Sounds like some kind of endurance test. Were you out for some kind of record? Reminds me of Cannonball Run! Only one stopover between California and New York? Ouch! I don't think I could do that.

Yes, drop me a line once you've decompressed. I'd love to hear the details.

Okay, it's Monday. Gotta get the week started.


samonedo said...

Hello everybody

Dawson, do you think it is reasonable to expect change still in our lifetime?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Luiz,

Interesting question. How I might answer it depends in part on what specifically you mean by “change”. There’s change every day, so in that sense, it would be unreasonable not to expect change in our lifetime. But I’m supposing you mean fundamental change for the positive on a cultural or cross-cultural scale.

Also, how long are we talking here? I will turn 50 this year. I don’t know how many years I have left, but if there’s positive change, I hope to see it!

It’s very easy to be pessimistic, especially when there seems to be no closing the floodgates of bad news all over the world. More often than not, it seems that there’s little cause for expecting a better world when we consider the trends that seem virtually unstoppable.

We must all remember that bad ideas have a lot of champions, and bad ideas are very popular in corrupt, primitive and irrational cultures. So I think we can all safely say that negative change, change for the worse, is what we can reasonably expect if good ideas do not have stronger influence not only in the west, but also elsewhere in the world. So good ideas need champions, too.

Some bad ideas are so embarrassingly bad, it’s hard to fathom that they would be considered acceptable to anyone. But so often they are enthusiastically promoted.

Consider for example the decision of Portland Community College to promote what it is calling “Whiteness History Month,” which characterizes “whiteness” as “a socially and politically constructed behavior,” specifically (according to “Critical White Studies”):

<< a broad social construction that embraces white culture, history, ideology, racialization, expressions and economic experiences, epistemology, and emotions and behaviors, and nonetheless reaps material, political, economic, and structural benefits for those socially deemed white >>

(Sources given here).

So there’s such a thing as “white… epistemology” as well as “white emotions,” “white behaviors,” even “white history” and “white economic experiences,” and the “broad social construction” which “embraces” these “reaps material, political, economic, and structural benefits for those socially deemed white”? Sounds very skin-tone-conscious to me, and it ignores a lot of facts relevant to the achievement of wealth and cultural progress, such as the causal effects of ideas put into action. The power of ideas is certainly not due to skin color!

What does it mean to say that a person is “socially deemed white”? This is just the usual appeal to groupthink.

Is Oprah Winfrey not “socially deemed white” even though she has reaped “material, political, economic and structural benefits” the likes of which most people (including the vast majority of “white people”) will never achieve? What about Michael Jackson? He seemed to have an aversion to “blackness.”


Bahnsen Burner said...

What exactly is “white epistemology” anyway? I’m sure that the collectivists who get behind such obviously racially charged notions have their definitions for this, but clearly they’re conceding that “white epistemology” is involved in “reaping” all kinds of “benefits,” which apparently we’re supposed to think is somehow bad or unjust. I happen to think that benefits are a good thing! But I guess that’s probably because I’m white. Tsk tsk, shame on me!

It just goes to show that, according to the collectivists, the moral always requires self-sacrifice.

This kind of self-denigrating narrative rippling throughout western culture, in all its guises, is a form of cancer that is killing the West. This is precisely the opposite of what should be happening. Instead of the West destroying itself from within through institutionalized shaming (cf. hating the good for being good), the rest of the world should be learning from and emulating our model, along with it reason, individual rights, rational self-interest, capitalism, progress, civilization, and everything that these virtues have fostered, from the invention of the wheel and the light bulb, to the steam engine to the jumbo jet, from the development of the scientific method to the Declaration of Independence. The vilification of “whiteness” is simply a collaborative effort to repudiate all of these.

We are seeing, in increasingly rapid development, the culmination of what Rand called the Age of Envy. Bad ideas are being promoted by our elected officials and enforced by the agencies and programs they have erected at our expense.

If “whiteness” is so evil, and it benefits only those “socially deemed white,” why are so many people of every cultural background and skin color willing to risk life and limb to come to the West, where “whiteness” is presumably so predominant? It seems that many people around the world see the achievements of the West and think to themselves, “I want some of that!” I know I would if I came from any of those places!

I wish there were more that I could do than simply posting my writings on an internet blog to help influence a positive future, and maybe there is. But at least I am taking this opportunity in my life, unprecedented in previous generations (for all of humanity in fact) to, in my own small way, champion good ideas. Reason is defensible, but it has few committed defenders. Reason is the antidote to the world’s problems, but so much of the world seems resistant to learning this. So that is what I have chosen to do: to offer my voice in defense of reason. If I don’t do what I know needs to be done, then I have only myself to blame for defaulting instead of acting on a priceless opportunity.

This, Luiz, is the discussion that needs to be taking place everywhere in the world today. So thank you for raising the question you do!


Ydemoc said...


What an outstanding, inspiring reply!