Monday, 18 December 2006

Faith versus Reason: A logical trap?

In my post last Saturday I mentioned my concern over "faith-based reasoning" and here I want to expand on this by comparison to evidence-based reasoning. The important point to note is that they are both forms of reasoning. I use these terms to avoid confusion over reason versus faith. This is because accepting the terms of the discussion as "reason versus faith" is accepting a framework that was primarily created by religion (mostly catholics originally) roughly around the time of Scholastics (the most boring era of philosophy, ever!) and this framework is very misleading. Often in order to answer a question, one has to revisit the framing of the question, as the wrong version may lead to no answer at all, whereas the right version can lead to meaningful outcomes. This what I am looking at doing here.

We are familiar with equivocation of the term faith. It has historically been synonymous with trust and confidence, but it's religious use today puts it into a separate category, where it means belief without, or in spite of, evidence. So when arguing against a religious faith position and they respond along the lines of "but you have faith in science" is equivocation - using a different meaning of the word as it if were the same word - since one might have some trust and confidence but specifically not faith, as defined above, in science, such trust being based on at least some evidence and is not unconditional.

Looking up "reason" in Chambers
noun 1 a justification or motive for an action, belief, etc. 2 an underlying explanation or cause. 3 the power of the mind to think, form opinions and judgements, reach logical conclusions, etc. 4 sanity; sound mind • lose your reason. verb (reasoned, reasoning) intrans to use one's mind to form opinions and judgements, reach logical conclusions, deduce, etc. by reason of something because of it; as a consequence of it. for reasons best known to oneself for reasons which do not seem obvious or sensible to others. it stands to reason it is obvious or logical. listen to reason to be persuaded to act in a reasonable or sensible way. within reason in moderation; within the limits of what is sensible or possible.
shows that reason and reasoning have a number of very related meanings but they are not the same. To expand on a few for our purposes here:
  1. "a justification or motive for an action, belief, etc." here we are looking at the assumptions and whether they are sound or not - assumptions based on evidence or otherwise.
  2. "an underlying explanation or cause." was this expected, say ,by our knowledge of nature or did god do it?
  3. "the power of the mind to think, form opinions and judgements, reach logical conclusions, etc." and including having faith! It is difficult to see how one could have faith at all without this meaning of reason in the first place!
  4. "verb (reasoned, reasoning) intrans to use one's mind to form opinions and judgements, reach logical conclusions, deduce, etc." whether the logical deductions are based on evidence or faith, they are still deductions, where we can look at how valid these arguments are, regardless of the soundness of the assumptions.
Armed with this expanded notion of reason we can now revisit our original point. I would argue that churches have long used equivocation over the word reason when we talk about "reason versus faith" (where here there is no equivocation on faith, as defined above). The solution is to remove this confusing and biased framework and instead talk "faith-based reasoning versus evidence-based reasoning". (Here faith-based reasoning is more or less synonymous with non-evidence-based reasoning). This should make the contrast clear and also focus the debate on the real issue at hand: that we are debating two different forms of reasoning and that we are using reasoning to do this! But there is no equivocation here, since we are using what is common to both forms of reasoning - logic - to discuss this topic - the type of assumptions that are acceptable.

On the other hand to discuss "reasoning versus faith" takes away our ability to use reason to criticise faith as, if we accept the terms of that debate, it is either question begging to use reason to show how reason is better than faith or you end up with equivocation all over the place! That is why I called this framework both confusing (equivocation) and biased (it creates a question begging scenario). Lets not get in this logical trap!


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