Are Reason and Religion Compatible? November 1, 2010

Are Reason and Religion Compatible?

Speaking of the Rally to Restore Sanity, the Washington Post On Faith blog asked panelists: Are “reason” and “sanity” the opposite of religious belief?

An excerpt of my post is below:

Not completely. There are religious people in just about every field imaginable — including academia and science. It’s possible to be sane — ridiculously smart, even — and still believe in fairy tales. Just ask Francis Collins.

Religious belief does not require abandoning all reason. It does, however, require gross distortion of reality — a bending of the truth. Smart people are better able to rationalize their religious beliefs in ways that sound somewhat plausible.

“Sure, the Bible isn’t literally true, but there must be something out there.”

“Of course I accept evolution, but surely God guides the process.”

“I don’t hate gay people. I love them. I just don’t want them to have the same rights as me.”

You can find the entire piece here. Comment there to show your support!

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  • ihedenius

    Reason should be destroyed in all Christians. -Luther

    Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has. -Luther

    Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and … know nothing but the word of God.” – Luther

    Martin Luther’s not a fan

  • Claudia

    Sorry Hemant, I’m simply incapable of registering on that damn site, and FSM knows I’ve tried, so I’m commenting here.

    Are “reason” and “sanity” the opposite of religious belief?

    Well, yes and no. Certainly religious beliefs aren’t reasonable, though they vary in their level of irrationality (deist is not the same thing as young Earth creationist). I think calling them “insane” is hyperbole, and in the spirit of the rally I’ll avoid it ;). However it is possible to be a reasonable person and be religious. All that’s needed is a little cognitive dissonace, which we humans are quite good at. You simply refuse to apply the same standard to your religious beliefs that you do to all your other beliefs.

    I think it’s quite acceptable to call someone “reasonable” when 90%+ of their beliefs are purely reasonable and the remaining 10% don’t involve things that seriously compromise their view of the world. Francis Collins irritates me when he tries to arrange ill-concieved marriages between science and religion, but I’ve never seen any evidence of his religious beliefs leaking out into his scientific knowledge. He is a reasonable man with a blind spot.

    [edit]: An example of the non-reasonable can be found on the WaPo comments thread. Truthers are a great reminder that you don’t have to be religious to be batshit insane.

  • I posted a comment there (JeffP3). Unfortunately, the comment thread for your article over at the Post seems somewhat hijacked by spam. I guess there is a concerted effort by certain religious people to disrupt discussion. God forbid anybody actually discuss and critique religion.

  • jose

    Yes religion and reason are incompatible. If you ask Francis Collins, he’ll tell you that he doesn’t use religion to do science, and he doesn’t use science when he doing, well, whatever he does that has something to do with his religion. They are never together, just like oil and water. If reason and science were compatible, we could mix them up and use them both indistinctively. That’s what Ussher used to do when he came up with his chronology. In his time, science and religion were united. He was one of many scientists using the bible as a source of information, trying to figure out stuff about the world. Now we know it just doesn’t work.

    It’s because they are incompatible that religious scientists have to keep them in separate rooms in their brains. The moment you introduce one another, they eat each other like spiders. It doesn’t sound very compatible to me!

  • Jonas

    Zachary of Boston Atheists posted a link regarding Military Chaplains views of DADT. — As you might guess — we need DADT, can’t have the Gays serve openly. —

    Zach summed it up well: Conflict between serving God and Country. (God being Anti-Gay, and all)
    As Zach said: Thou Shalt Not Kill : Optional Commandmant.

  • I’m having trouble finding any articles on this subject by any other panelists, could someone link to them please?

  • I would suggest that reason and religion are only compatible in people when there is a generous amount of mental compartmentalization going on. This is why religious people can be entirely reasonable in much of their lives including their work life.

    Religion and reason only function in the same brain when they are kept apart.

  • it depends on what part of “religion” one is discussing. “religion” is more than just belief. it’s also (scientifically provable things like) “community” and “economic opportunity” and “political power.” and the ever popular “peace and sex in this relationship with a believer i love too much to force the issue.” there are very sound, if not always ethical, reasons to profess, or even hold belief, reasons that are higher priorities for that individual than maintaining pure reason or intellectual self honesty. there’s also the reasonable argument that belief is widespread and a skeptical mind will remain open to the idea that there may be a reason for that, even if science has yet to fully explain it. and that for artists, experimenting with belief, even temporarily, can have artistic value.

    selling out intellectual purity for Big Money? yeah, i’ve thought about it.

  • Alan E.

    Is Woodstock in the comments Mabus?

  • fastthumbs

    I do not know of any organized religion (including Buddhism which has a general doctrine of no creator God, but is chocked full of woo and supernatural) with all it’s tenants being fully compatible with modern scientific theories on the nature of self, humanity and the universe.

    Any suggestions?

  • JoeBuddha

    Well, the “woo” in Buddhism is usually optional. At least in my version of it. The Buddha was more interested in the subjective experience of reality than in what composed “external” reality itself. Of course that’s my take on it, your mileage may vary.

  • I cannot log in to the Washington Post site. To address the question though I would say that religion and reasons are not incompatible, they just don’t belong together. Religion appeals to the emotional parts of our minds, it fulfills a need that some people have. Reason may fill in the blanks and provide support for this emotional need or it may work against it. It all rather depends on the individual.

    I do not think that it is fair to say that religious people are deluded or stupid. Certainly some are but then the same could be said about any group. Rather they are simply addressing an emotional need like a desire for company or a role model. Actually I believe that religion provides for several emotional needs so it is obviously a bit more complicated than I’ve suggested.

  • Faith and reason are opposites, almost by definition – if you would change your status based on compelling evidence you are using reason, if you would not, you are using faith.

    That said, it is absurd to assume that anyone could possibly use only faith or reason in every aspect of their lives. Even the biggest faith-head uses reason for the vast majority of decisions in their lives, while even the most rational person will at some point use the intellectual short-cut of faith.

  • cat

    Religion does require the abandoment of reason, at least in so far as the topics covered by the religion goes. Sure, a person can be rational in other things and still be irrational in this area, just as a anti-racist black person can be a homophobe or a white gay person can be a racist, not being an irrational person or bigot in one area does not exclude it in others.

  • Ha. Finally got a comment on the Washington Post site.

  • Faith is a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition in spite of evidence that the belief is incorrect. Faith is clearly NOT a belief in an unknown or unrealized proposition that is SUPPORTED by the evidence, because if that belief was supported by the evidence, it ipso facto does NOT REQUIRE Faith. Reason and Faith are fundamentally incompatible.

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