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Faith and Reason
People tend to consider Faith and Reason to be opposites, but they actually seem inseparable:
Ask a scientist how he makes a decision, and he might say “I look at all the evidence, I test my hypothesis, and then based on the results I make my decision.” But before any of that is possible, he has to believe without evidence that the universe is comprehensible in the first place — that his efforts to understand it using science, won’t be for naught.
Ask a reasoning person how he makes a decision, and he might say “I subject all the factors to logical analysis.” But before that’s possible, he has to believe without evidence that being logical will be worth the trouble. He could just as easily say “There’s no point in going through all the trouble of using reason, because there’s no guarantee the end result will be worth it.”
Reason requires faith because life requires us to make decisions with limited information.
Reasoning people have faith that reason is worth it, and scientists have faith that the universe is comprehensible.
“But there is plenty of evidence — scientists have the evidence of previous scientists’ success, and reasoning people have the evidence of previous reasoning peoples’ success.”
Yes — But in practice, it seems like each person, in each situation, must decide “it will be worth it” anew for themselves, as though they were the first.
It’s easy to believe intellectually that science or reasoning works — you’ve seen others do it. But to be so confident it will work for you that you become willing to set aside all your personal preferences and trust the process? That’s an emotional matter — a matter of faith.
Why does it matter that people believe in science and reasoning, but don’t practice them?
Culturally, we’ve decided the end results of science and reason are useful, so the opposite might not be spoken in public very much — but it’s privately decided all the time.
Honesty seems to be an objective condition — people don’t have the capacity for intellectual honesty just because they say they do.
Whether someone professes to adhere to reason has no bearing on whether they actually trust that the effort and pain of subjecting their beliefs to logic and reason, will be worth it. They can’t know before they make the effort and get the result, whether it will be worth it, so only sufficient faith in reason can enable them to use reason.
Without faith in reason, the name of reason is taken in vain, and made disreputable by people who don’t bear its fruits.
Interestingly, this principle resembles the “faith vs works” debate in Christianity — you can only be saved by faith in Christ, but among those who have faith, it seems like only those who prove their faith through works will be saved:
“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
The epistemology version might be:
“Not everyone who calls themself a rationalist is rational, but he who truly obeys the principles of rationality.”
Faith is the quality that makes the rationalist rational, and gives reason its reasonableness.
Without faith, “reason” is just a fashionable thing to associate with — and this fashionableness is stolen from people who have actually earned the association.
For a more serious treatment of this topic, see William James’ essay The Will to Believe. (read online free at the link)