Reason vs. religion

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Beryl Baptist Church, Vilonia, Arkansas - quoting Martin Luther

Although reason can coexist with religion to some degree, they are each fundamentally different ways of looking at the world and essentially hostile to each other.

The basic problem seems to be that religion posits the source of ultimate truth to be either revelation (divine messaging from God or other metaphysical sources) or scripture (works of text held to be sacred or inerrant), either of which may override rational analysis.

What Rationality Says About Religion

Rational analysis of religious belief leads to the following conclusions:

  • Belief in scripture requires blind trust in the scripture's veracity (since historical scientific evidence often disagrees, sometimes quite sharply, with scriptural accounts), typically combined with blind trust in a religious authority interpreting it. Most scripture is sufficiently ambiguous as to be interpretable in widely differing ways, meaning that the interpreter is free to choose what message s/he wishes to use its authority to reinforce. All scripture-based religious argument is therefore argument from authority, which (within the realm of reason) is considered a logical fallacy.
  • "Revelation" is, by definition, not rational -- since it relies on information whose source cannot be verified, and on reasoning that is never explained. Coming to a conclusion with no explicit evidence or reason can be rational, but not when the conclusion is clearly at odds with the conclusion drawn by an analysis whose origins and reasoning are known (and therefore subject to rational criticism, if there is any to be had).

What Religion Says About Rationality

The Bible actually instructs its followers not to trust their own thinking if it goes against what God says (Proverbs 3:5). Martin Luther extended this line of thought by adding:

Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

Whosoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason.

Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.

(all quotes found in The God Delusion, page 190)

Agreeing to Disagree: Magesteria

Recognizing this direct conflict (implicitly if not explicitly), defenders of religious thought therefore came up with the idea of "separate magesteria", which is the idea that religious thinking is simply inaccessible to reason whilst still being somehow "true" because religion and reason are somehow in different realms of thought ("magesteria"). What remains unclear is:

  • How it is that these defenders know what they know about religion if they can't use reason to figure it out
  • Why we should trust them to be right and for rational analysis to be wrong
  • Why we would want to protect religion from being rationally analyzed
  • Why we should take any one set of religious ideas more seriously than any other, since there is no evidence for any of them, and (consequently) how to resolve real-world conflicts between different religious beliefs

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