Saturday, December 04, 2010

Faith vs. reason. Does it have to be in conflict?


For the next few blogs, I want to explore something that has a great deal of interest to me. It's about science, logic and what makes something a fact. (I understand that for some people, facts do not exist and it's all relative. They believe this until they fall off a cliff and the fact of gravity makes itself felt). What I want to explore is how science, logic, reasoning and facts play into our current culture wars (and they are wars although fortunately for now wars of words and ideas). This will be about education in particular and how these cultural ideas are impacting it.

You could look at this as all about education in our public schools; but it's not. I care a lot about public education in the United States. I, my children and now my grandchildren have all benefited greatly from a time of valuing quality education for all citizens as a strong value of our culture. Where I do think some of that is threatened, this is about more than public schools.

No education should end with walking out of school. The real point of education is to teach us how to educate ourselves, how to make our entire lifetime about education. It should inspire us to always want to learn, to be open to new ideas and information. That's what it should do.

It can do this by helping us discern facts from fantasy, teaching us tools of logic, and giving us a basic understanding of the physical world in which we live which involves communication skills, history, science and mathematics. No matter how far we went in school, school should be only the beginning of this learning.

Some don't live their lives this way. They operate on emotional whims. They ignore what has happened and think they can just take a flyer on what they wish would happen. Anything that pushes them to think deeply is a threat. Even more damaging some think there is a big daddy in the sky who will overrule any mistakes they make and keep things humming along.

There is another bunch who think their religion will teach them all they need to know. Oh they go on learning but it's what they are told to learn and they don't question its truth.

There has always been this division in how humans see the world where some look for a religious answer and some a scientific one. I don't know that there has to be a war between these two views; but sometimes there does end up one. If someone puts faith and reason on opposite ends of the scale, with faith overbalancing reason, they aren't much interested in learning facts which they will dismiss as not true anyway or a test of their faith. What they want is a faith based society and it will be their faith. The idea that man should think for himself, well that is dangerous.

It might seem with the Christmas season straight ahead, this is an odd time to explore such weighty subjects. Isn't this the time for pretty songs and spending a lot of money? Well I disagree with that and think it's the perfect time. What is more important to discuss as we are a approaching a season about conspicuous consumption, where a certain religious mindset believes it has been set aside to celebrate the birth and life of a god-man, who was not remotely about conspicuous consumption-- in fact the exact opposite? Is there any logic in that?

So the next week or two or three will be anything but light. It will be about something I think is important in our country today. I'd like to say it's not partisan, but it does seem, when I hear a Republican defend extending the top bracket's tax cuts for people who don't need that money for basic needs (remember they'd be getting the cuts under income earned up to $250,000) while Republicans fight any extension of unemployment benefits for people who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads, that it is a partisan and cultural divide and I don't mind at all pointing that out as I go along.

I am not thrilled with Democrats on this either while they try to tell me that they can't do a thing about the tax cuts or hikes because they can't overturn a filibuster. They conveniently ignore something called reconciliation which is how we got these unbudgeted tax cuts anyway.

IF this kind of thinking is upsetting to you, or if it disturbs you to work through such things as human origins, global climate changes, religious values, you might want to come back and see me again after Christmas.

The photo at the top is the Calapooia River east of where I live, flowing out of the Cascade Mountains. I had never seen it this high in the hills and it's rather amazing how it changes its personality as it flows toward the Willamette River where it will become part of many rivers.

Downstream The Calapooia is flat, sluggish and seemingly without all the power I saw in the foothills where it's really moving. Even different fish tend to live in these waters depending on its flow. It's how cultures can be, starting out with power and energy and ending up losing all of that. I believe a wise approach to education is one way to avoid that in any culture. It is the basis of making wise choices when it comes time to vote. I am going to make my case over the next few weeks.

I will start though with what some other, greater minds have said on the topics, and that comes next.

14 comments:

HMBabb said...

I'm looking forward to this. I took the opportunity to take a class on "The Nature of Knowledge and Belief" in college and feel that I really got a lot from it that I use to this day.

Paul said...

Rain you should see the Chattooga River on the South Carolina-Georgia border made famous in "Deliverance".

Parapluie said...

It amazes me how easily concrete fact and logical thinking can be swept aside by fake logical mechanisms of otherwise intelligent people.

Kay Dennison said...

I'm really looking forward to this series. I think logic and reason are important are two things that are essential. Then again, sometimes those things don't work (and they seem to have left the halls of Congress) and you have to go with blind faith, your gut, or whatever God you accept, if any.)

And I love your river photos!!!

mandt said...

It's important to keep in mind that logic within a closed system is perfect philosophy and that what is real is not necessarily true.

wally said...

I'm looking forward to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

And logic and reason will take you only so far!

Rain said...

For an example of the illogic of our government (and the people who support the right wing in particular), one need look no further than the current 'negotiations' over unemployment benefits and upping the tax brackets over $250,000 by 3% or less impacting only the top 2% of earners and Frank Rich again nails it.

On the side of the left and illogic would be refusal to use reconciliation and follow in the path of the Republicans who passed those tax cuts the first time without a budget for them and through reconciliation. It could be done again as the Democrats in the Senate do have over 50% but they also evidently have a lack of cojones. Yes, I am mad at them too, but I wonder if Obama suddenly found his courage if he'd deliver some to them also. Here's the thing-- if he continues as he is, hoping he'll win reelection this way, he's wrong. He'll never get the vote of the right wing, no matter what he does, and at this rate, he'll be lucky to get it from many Democrats.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Last month in Corvallis we had a debate between a theologian and a professor discussing if Atheists had "faith". The assertion being that non-believers had faith that there was no god.

Rarely does a divide between believers and non-believers ever result in such a slam-dunk for Atheists. The theologian brought into question how one can really "know" anything, even resorting at one point that we couldn't prove that the world was created 5 minutes ago, or infinite possible time periods ago, and the memories of the past are merely "planted" in our brains.

Ah, but just like your wonderful analogy about falling off a cliff, we can prove that the universe was created at a specific time: 13.7b billion years ago, in fact.

The argument by the theologian lumped "faith" and "trust" together as the same thing. They are not - faith is based on nothing, whereas trust is built over time with experience and knowledge.

The frustration of stepping down from the contemplation of this philosophy into the mud of politics in this country is sobering. The issues that drive political discourse, mostly based on the ability to make money at it's core, is so superficial in the grand scope of human life. Posturing and egos and being "right", protecting self-interest, take precedence over seeing how benefiting one's neighbor benefits us all. Such little tiny minds! It is so sad.

mandt said...

Dear Rain, I keep re-reading this post, once again delighted at the depth with which you ask and examine the difficult questions. I look forward to the series.

Rain said...

I like that 'faith' and 'trust' as a way to look at this. It's a good way to think about it.

June Calender said...

It's a big topic to undertake and should be interesting for yourself and your readers. I'm not sure what you're saying in your last paragraph here. Do you value the river only where it is fast running and apparently full of power more than where it is serene and flowing quietly? And where does education come into that? Since I don't follow the thought process here I think I'll have to return to your blog as your exploration unfolds.

Rain said...

Thanks for that thought, June. A river that is sluggish doesn't have the power to do mighty things. I wasn't thinking so much about old people but about a nation that wants to extend itself but has lost the will to do any of the tough things. It can then just kind of slip along before it's swallowed up. It's more polluted and less inviting to sit on its banks when its a river and when it's a nation, I think it leads to things like manufacturing being shipped overseas and a populace without a clue how to protect themselves. I do see it as sad and not necessary for the river either as some of this happens because its energy has been sucked off for other uses-- which might or might not be good ones.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

I like to believe that faith and reason aren't either/or words.