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How are Reason and Faith Compatible?

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Dear Michael,
It is an honor to discuss these profound matters with you again. I couldn’t hope for a wiser or more generous interlocutor.
I would like to take up your invitation to locate the “exact areas of disagreement” between believers and unbelievers. While we could proceed at a fairly general level–debating, for example, whether the prevalence of a belief is a marker of its truth–I propose starting from the concrete. Nonbelievers find themselves surrounded every day not just by abstract statements about, say, the compatibility of reason and faith, but also by quite specific claims about God’s attributes and effects in the world. I would appreciate learning how you would counsel a nonbeliever to approach such claims, since they are part of religious faith no less than metaphysics.
Perhaps, Michael, you share with me a certain despair at the gullibility of seemingly educated Westerners towards New Age quackery.


One homeopathic cure for illness prescribes pinning onto one’s lapel a piece of paper with the name of a homeopathic chemical written on it. There is simply no excuse in my opinion for anyone who has had the benefit of even a mediocre education to entertain such a claim. It is a betrayal of the loving, hard-fought victories of science not to ask the most basic questions of causality when confronted with homeopathy, astrology, crystal therapy, or any other such “alternative” theory of the world.
Last year, Pope Benedict the XVI canonized an 18th century friar, Antonio de Santa Ana Galvao, as Brazil’s first saint. Nuns in Brazil dispense pills containing little scrolls with prayers to Fra. Galvao wrapped up inside. In canonizing Fra. Galvao, the Church declared that ingesting those pills had helped cure a young girl of kidney disease and had allowed a woman who had had a series of miscarriages to carry a child through the first two trimesters of pregnancy after doctors declared her incapable of doing so.
I assume–perhaps incorrectly–that these two cases do not “merely” involve God intervening directly to help these two individuals. Rather, as I interpret the canonization–again, forgive me if I misunderstand–the Fra. Galvao pills were somehow instrumental in the outcomes–otherwise why bother to make or take them?
Now I am not for an instant suggesting that homeopathy and earthly manifestations of the divine belong in the same category. But for someone standing outside a religion, such claims as the efficacy, however sporadic and limited, of the Fra. Galvao pills present a rather formidable barrier to entry, I have to tell you, Michael. Should a neutral observer, in your view, assess the claims of homeopathy and of God’s workings in the world differently, or should our standards of proof be the same? How do you evaluate empirical claims from other religions–say, the assertion that America was peopled by lost tribes of Israel? Do you cut such a claim slack because it is religious or do you test it against what you already know about archeology and expect that it clear the same scientific hurdles as you would a secular revolution in our understanding of Bronze Age history?
I ask these questions, Michael, out of a sincere desire to discover where our two approaches to knowledge about the world diverge and to understand how reason and faith are compatible.



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posted November 11, 2008 at 9:33 pm


In due respect, you do not seem to understand what homeopathic medicine is. Your example of it is totally inaccurate. You may know someone who pins something to him or herself, but THAT is not homeopathy. Officially (and legally), homeopathic medicines are “over-the-counter drugs” (the FDA recognizes them as “drugs,” but because they are so safe, you don’t need a doctor’s prescription for them).
And for the record, there is historical evidence of the use and/or advocacy for homeopathy from 11 U.S. President and dozens of other world leaders (ranging from Gandhi to Tony Blair), 7 different popes (from the 19th and the 20th century), Charles Darwin (!), J.D. Rockefeller, and many of the literary greats of the past 200 years (in other words, many of the smartest people in western culture). For details about this and more, explore the book, “The Homeopathic Revolution.”



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dilbertblue62

posted November 11, 2008 at 9:43 pm


Just a point of clarification re homeopathy. The FDA recognizes that some homeopathic remedies are safe however DO NOT certify them as efficacious.



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Mike BRR

posted November 12, 2008 at 10:18 am


Irony of the week:
Roman Catholic Church officials are sending messages to U.S. president-elect Barack Obama, saying they will oppose any changes in U.S. policies on embryonic stem cell research.
Or is it satire?
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gQfkHda1Z_bXF11Oa_xYsvjzYFEgD94CSU900



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LAURA MUSHKAT

posted November 12, 2008 at 4:47 pm


normal every day things do not require a religon. they do require the knowledge of right and wrong.
if you choose to believe in a Supreme Being, many Gods and Goddesses, or non at all has nothing to do with being a good person.
Those who need religon to be a good person because they need to be told to be are just those who were brought up by lazy parrents. The kind that needs to have you scared in order to do things correctly and not hurt others.
As for believeing how the world came into being, what happens after death,etc. that is really no concern of anyone else so what is the big deal???????
hugs
Laura



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Rivkah_73

posted November 12, 2008 at 6:33 pm


While I have not read Michael Novak’s book – I admittedly am a bit perplexed as to how homeopathic remedies became the battle ground for whether or not reason and faith are related. It seems to be off-target from the core question.
“Reasonable” people of faith would state that our faith provides a perspective through which we can understand our reason and experience. Trying to grasp truth through solely reason and experience is like sitting on a two-legged stool – it’s a bit wobbly. Likewise, those who grab hold of the bible (or Koran or Vedas, etc) and say that is their only source for truth are sitting on a one-legged stool. But, if we add a third leg, divine revelation, you get a much sturdier, “three-legged” understanding of truth. Yes, there are some things that reason and experience can reveal to us. But we would also say there are some things that can only be revealed through “divine” revelation. Christians believe they find that revelation in scripture – a collection of people’s “experiences” of God that are conveyed through poetry, narrative, prophecy, song, etc.
The problem is somewhere along the line, during the enlightenment, it was decided that “reason” and “religion” were at odds with one another. This is because people began approaching the bible in ways it should have never been approached. If you want to learn about how tadpoles become frogs – you won’t find that in the bible. That doesn’t mean the bible doesn’t care about frogs, simply that what the bible is revealing is not concerned with the life-cycle of the frog, because our reason and experience can tell us that. It’s like trying to use Genesis 1 as a “how to guide” for creation. That was not its intent. Its intent was to tell us something about this “creator God” through a poetic expression of God’s orderliness and desire for relationship with his creation.
Rather, scripture is more interested in revealing the nature and heart of God (and which Christians believe was revealed even more fully in the person of Jesus Christ). Our reason and experience can tell us about God’s laws – we run into those all the time on a daily basis. In fact, this was Darwin’s problem. He observed God’s law at work and concluded: everything dies. Death is a real, observable truth. But, is it all there is? The bible says no, God has something to say about that. God has something to say about death that our reason and experience will never be able to tell us because it lies beyond our reason and experience. One must first experience death in order to discover what lies beyond – and unfortunately, most don’t return to tell us what they’ve experienced. Thus, it must be revealed to us in some other way.
So we have certain truths, like 2+2=4. This is true. However, 2+2=4 is only one form of truth. Science, data, figures, etc. all give us a type of truth. However, parabolic truth, ethical truths, philosophical truths, etc. are not things we discover in the science lab. The bible however is very interested in engaging these truths.
Now we’ll grant you – there are some things in scripture that seem to fly in the face of reason. For example, how God displays his power through the cross seems, as Paul calls it, “foolishness” according to human reason. Our experience of “power” is that it is attained primarily through tyranny and oppression, not sacrifice and humility. However, the strange “reality” is that people do tend to respond more positively to “rulers” who employ self-sacrifice and humility than those who rule through tyranny and oppression.
But at the end of the day, reason and faith are ultimately striving for the same thing: trying to better understand the world around us. Thus, in order to understand this world, we must employ methods that include, but are not restricted to, reason. To do otherwise is both too narrow a view of science and too narrow a view of God.



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nnmns

posted November 15, 2008 at 2:13 pm


Rivhah, to accept your argument requires one to accept the utterly doubtful hypothesis that the Bible has anything to tell us that some other mixture of history and fantasy and poetry would not have. But to a person not brought up to believe in the Bible (and there are a lot of us around the world) there’s no reason to accept that particular “holy” book out of the various ones available.
In particular there’s no (zero) proof of any of the miracles described in the Bible. And fantastic claims require extreme proof, not an extreme lack of proof. So your Bible holds no revelation of any sort for me except maybe about those who wrote and edited it.



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DuckPhup

posted November 16, 2008 at 7:28 am


Some years ago, I found it useful to keep matters appertaining to ‘metaphysics’ in their proper perspective by coining my own personal definition…
Metaphysics: The blind leading the stupid into the unknown, on a quest for the unfathomable.



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Kevin

posted November 19, 2008 at 9:02 pm


To nnmns, prepare yourself. You are a part of prophecy right now. It is written that Jesus Christ said Himself, “and if I be lifted up I shall draw all men unto me” -John 12:32. Nnmns, do you think you are except from this prophecy simply because you will deny that Jesus Christ is God, that you set your mind up against His? The fool in his heart says, there is no God. -Proverbs 14:1.



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nnmns

posted November 20, 2008 at 2:07 am


Kevin you waste our time quoting from an old book with no validity. And I don’t “deny that Jesus Christ is God”; to do that I’d have to think there is a god, one like yours in fact. And I don’t think there is any god, let alone one like yours.
You are standing on a crumbling sand castle barking up the wrong tree.



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Kevin

posted November 20, 2008 at 7:42 pm


You actually implicate yourself here, but I can’t tell you about it. You’re right, I am standing on a crumbling sand castle. I’ve been knocking on your door, so it is yours. My only parting advice is that you should respect the Bible because it is made valid by the amount of testimony for it. And that is only one part of it’s validity. You seem to be impressed that a lot of scientists are evolutionists, based on another post of yours. If this makes your argument valid, then why are you not fair to realize that the Bible is made valid through testimony? Also, you may mean 66 “old” books written over 1400 years, which have influenced world civilizations and society more than any other source, that is, other than God Himself.____P.S. It is not logical for the universe to have always existed because it is not self defining or dinstinct. God, in concept, would be, and Is the only way to completely define ourselves and our world. For example, a fish is a fish because it swims in water. Water is clear because it cleanses. A bird is a bird because it flys. The sky is the sky because it testifies to God’s Glory. – Evolution and all athiesm is redundant in this effect. Example



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Kevin

posted November 20, 2008 at 7:45 pm


Here is the whole P.S… my post was cut off again.
P.S. It is not logical for the universe to have always existed because it is not self defining or dinstinct. God, in concept, would be, and Is the only way to completely define ourselves and our world. For example, a fish is a fish because it swims in water. Water is clear because it cleanses. A bird is a bird because it flys. The sky is the sky because it testifies to God’s Glory. – Evolution and all athiesm is redundant in this effect. Example; A fish is a fish because it has scales, fins, gills, etc; or a bird is a bird because it has wings, light bones, feathers, etc.



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nnmns

posted November 20, 2008 at 10:26 pm


“If this makes your argument valid, then why are you not fair to realize that the Bible is made valid through testimony?”
Scientists worry a lot about what is true and change their minds based on facts. Religious people pride themselves on their faith, believing in something without justification. Which is better at testifying about how the world works? No brainer; the one who respects facts, not received beliefs.
” a fish is a fish because it swims in water. Water is clear because it cleanses. A bird is a bird because it flys.”
So whales are fishes? Tadpoles are fishes? Sand (which is often used to cleanse things) is clear? A mosquito is a bird?
“It is not logical for the universe to have always existed because it is not self defining or dinstinct. God, in concept, would be, and Is the only way to completely define ourselves and our world.”
You’ve read way too much pseudo-philosophy. To begin to justify that claim you’d need to say what you mean by “self defining and distinct” and to explain why anything needs to be that. But I’m afraid of the knots you’ll wrap yourself in if you try to do that, given your problems with fish and water and birds.



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Sam

posted August 25, 2009 at 2:40 am


Kevin, Bertrand Russell demolished your argument that the universe is not self defining in a paragraph. If everything must be defined by something else, then there are an infinite number of those “something else”s because each thing must be defined by something else, thus it goes on for infinite. If something can exist that is self justifying, it may as well be the universe as God, and thus your argument has no validity. You assume that God is self defining, but God, in reality, simply makes the problem more complicated by taking it to a higher level.
On top of this, your “argument” begs the question of why something has to be self defining to be the first cause? (and by self defining, I assume you mean being justification for personal existence) Even so, what makes you think that God is self defining? How is he his own justification for existence? God exists because he says he does?
Your argument is basically the “first cause argument”, which states that something had to come first, because everything has a cause. It is a little different, but not enough to change the argument against it.
The religious do not have the upper hand in this debate. The atheist community has shot down every single argument for the existence of God. If you think you can overcome the likes of Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins, you are welcome to try, but it will do you no good.



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