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Monday, September 17, 2012

How Faith and Reason can Coexist

It's not possible to develop a purely rational philosophy (nor is it possible to have a functional worldview based solely on faith).

I've blogged about Faith and Reason in the past. Recently I've been having a conversation with someone regarding those blogs and the viability of faith in the light of reason. His assertion is that faith is useless and reason is the only true basis for life.

This view is problematic for several reasons, not the least of which is the underlying presupposition that individual observation is a stable foundation. Descartes famously said, "Cogito ergo sum." From this (I think therefore I am) he sought to base an entire worldview. The problem is that thoughts are fickle, mutable things.

Take for example, the experiment in which subjects were fitted with glasses that flipped their vision. The special visors used mirrors to present the wearers with a world that was upside-down. After a few days their brains rotated the image. While wearing the visors the light entered their eyes flipped, but their brains changed the perceived image to make sense of it. When the visors were removed, they would look at the world in the same way we do, but see it flipped (their brains hadn't caught up with the change yet). After a few more days, things were back to normal.

Our brains decide whether what we're seeing works within its various schema. If a schema is violated, the brain may just decide to adjust the observation rather than the schema. Your brain thinks that things should be right-side-up so it will change what you observe to make it so.

Not even our senses can provide us a firm foundation for observation from which to reason. We must accept (on faith) that what we're observing bears some approximation to reality. Even if we make no other assumptions about the world or what we observe, we are forced to make the first assumption that our senses are trustworthy and our minds are giving us a valid representation of the world.

Luckily we weren't made to live solely from reason (or solely from faith). They compliment and amplify each other (even as they tear each other apart).

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