Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Papal Controversy: Faith and Reason

I wrote most of this last week, but didn't get a chance to post it.

With all the controversy, how many people do you think have actually read the offending text? So that you can be one, here it is:

Pope's controversial German speech on reason and religion

The irony has undoubtedly been observed before that some Muslims would protest a statement that Islam is evil by murdering innocents. Almost as if they're trying to prove the charge true.

This weekend I viewed Islam: Empire of Faith, a feature very positive on Islam produced by PBS. According to this documentary, Islam calls for a totalizing unity of life, which would seem to be consistent with the claim I've previously heard that Islam leaves no room for reason—that faith subsumes reason. Certainly Islam has had much more reasonable periods in its history, but was this a true manifestation of Islam? It is clear the Muslim commentators on Aristotle seem to have been good philosophers to the extent that they ignored their faith; perhaps the same is true of their peaceful relations with non-Muslims. I'd really appreciate seeing a full discussion of the issues.

The main thrust of the Pope's talk is not the (alleged) fideism of Islam, but the manifest division of faith and reason in modern Western culture and how this opens the way for violence as arbiter. The Pope traces this division to the gradual dehellenization of Christian thought.

He recounts how the Christian Faith was born from an encounter of Judaism with Greek thought (for example, the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures), which allowed formulation of belief in Christ as Logos, Divine Reason. By severing itself from the Hellenic spring of its existence, Christianity has become not only untrue to itself, but has retreated to the subjective world and abandoned the objective world of reason to the amorality and ultimate meaninglessness of modern empiricism.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity.

A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

I will return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self.

But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science", so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical.

In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

Faith needs a vital connection to reason. Without it, man loses direction in his life, and the assertion of individual power becomes the sole rule of conduct.


Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

09 28 06

Faith needs a vital connection to reason. Without it, man loses direction in his life, and the assertion of individual power becomes the sole rule of conduct.

Now I totally agree with that. How strange that people cannot seem to reconcile both ideas. That is why I tend to think of a creator for the universe, yet study any types of underlying geometry and mechanisms because I am curious about the how. It bothers me that some would say that the view is oxymoronic...

Lawrence Gage said...

You're exactly right. As I said in the previous post:

"The champions of chance argue that teleology is an intellectual opiate and kills the quest for the acatual mechanism of change.... Teleology compliments other modes of explanation."

And aside from the Divine purpose of nature complimenting the mechanisms that realize that purpose, there's also the fact that God operates through secondary causes. To say that gravity draws a rock to the ground doesn't eliminate God's creation of gravity. Creation has a (finite) share in God's own reason, and we can discover these reasons.


John said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lawrence Gage said...


I'm sorry, but your post consisting exclusively of links was too much like an advertisement and I had to delete it. You're welcome to share your ideas here, as long as you write something here.