Is Reason My “God” In Whom I Have “Faith?”

A Christian friend recently told me we all have faith and that reason was my “god” in whom I had faith.  Reason is not a “god” in whom one has faith. That’s just false. Reason is a set of cognitive processes that are potentially truth-conducive. That’s IT. We are all, as rational beings subject to its demands of logic, evidence, honesty, etc. That does not make it a “god” but the only authority in matters of truth we have. That’s not a matter of faith, that’s a rational inference.

If you try to dispute this inference, you can only do so in one of two ways: by reasoning with me (and in doing so, you implicitly acknowledge the authority of reason) or by just stubbornly declaring that I’m wrong. If you choose the latter, you don’t acknowledge the authority of reason or the need to give reasons. But then why do I have to listen to you?  If you offer no reasons then I have no reasons to listen to you.  It is the reasons you give that give me reason to consider what you have to say.  

Who would have to listen to anyone who just declares things with a stomp of the foot and no reasons? Most of us usually don’t (and none of us should) listen to people who want us to do or think things “just because they said so.” If they don’t have compellingly good reasons, none of us are obliged to obey or think like they do. But if they do have compellingly good reasons, then all of us are.

That’s how reason works. Without it, it’s just a bunch of people stomping their feet at each other. We all need reason.  It’s not a matter of faith, it’s a matter of our essence as humans and the essence of how we think and act in human communities.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Grant

    Seems there are people looking for an authority to believe in, be they religious or scientific. I wonder how they get on with uncertainty and inexplicability.

    You lost me at “We are all, as rational beings…” If there’s one thing demonstrated by the facts – humans are not rational beings. Unless you believe we are… against the evidence.

    Appealing to the authority of reason is the same as appealing to the authority of a God, same psychological dependence, just a different rationalisation.

    Do we really need to prove that we’re right? Or are we agreeing that this seems to work, but we’d throw out reason tomorrow for the myriad of cases that it doesn’t ‘work’? Could you really?

    • The Armchair Antichrist

      What a comment full of epic fail.

      Science is not authority based. It is based on systematic empiricism and rationalism.

      And yes we are all rational beings. We try to rationalize everything we do whether it ends up being correct or incorrect. It’s just part of our consciousness. There is evidence against this?

      “If you try to dispute this inference, you can only do so in one of two ways: by reasoning with me (and in doing so, you implicitly acknowledge the authority of reason)”

      Did you not read that? You can’t argue against reason through reasoning. It’s like arguing against the usefulness of language through speech.

      It is no wonder people like you have to follow a religion. You can’t even make proper arguments. The worst part is that you try to sound like an intellectual with words like “inexplicability”, “rationalisation”, and “myriad”, but you’re actually a pseudo-intellectual bullshit artist.

  • Apotheosis

    The best anti-rationalists invoke the inpassable chasm of Cartesian nihilism, wherein one must accept at least solipsism as a possibility, and that all of the sense data which one experiences could very well be a complex and detailed hallucination, which seems to operate upon regular principles, but in reality does not (much in the same was as dreams seem to operate on a certain kind of logic while one is dreaming, but appear to be nonsense upon waking.)

    In this sense, “reason” and “empiricism” are a kind of faith, because they imply a fundamental ontological belief that the world is as we objectively perceive it. Any state in which sense data disagree with the logic of existence as perceived by the majority is considered an aberrant state: drunkenness, insanity, stupor, self-derangement, or hallucinatory.

    That said, such arguments against rationalism are rather self-defeating, as they work upon rational argument itself (as you mentioned.) They’d rather better be served by an argument from Dada, methinks.

  • Sean

    I’ve heard this as well – that whatever supreme “authority” we appeal to, even reason, is our god.

    However, reason doesn’t demand worship. Reason doesn’t require sacrifice. Nobody claims to have a personal relationship with reason, and nobody prays to reason to solve their problems and heal their sick.

    Reason is a god? How unreasonable.

  • Analog Kid

    We must place our faith in cheeses…