Disambiguating Faith: Heart Over Reason

Disambiguating Faith: Heart Over Reason August 29, 2009

In reply to Rod Dreher’s recent post explaining his decision to train his children’s wills to be faithful since the intellect was not a firm foundation of faith, I critically characterized his position as essentially boiling down to the following:

So, the solution is not to train your children to be intellectually scrupulous but to deliberately prioritize faithfulness to what they would otherwise intellectually eventually see as false. You want to train your children’s wills to be prejudiced towards what you recognize would not remain believable otherwise.

Below is his reply from the comments section under his post, with my new rebuttals interspersed:

That’s not how I see it. I see it as recognizing that intellect is only a limited way of knowing,

This is palpably false.  The intellect is the only way of knowing.  It is with our minds that we know anything we know.  Now, there are some ideas we generate “below” the intellect in subconscious, preconscious, or unconscious reasoning.  And we have perceptive beliefs which happen automatically and not always with the active agency of discursive reason.  And there are contributions of our sense of the world which come from our emotions.  They give us prima facie evidence of certain true beliefs.  For example, if I saw a bear’s open jaws, I’m evolutionarily conditioned to feel fear rather immediately.  And that fear is rationally defensible on reflection and often we can respond to it automatically without confirming it is justified.  No one who sees a charging bear at him with open jaws gets very intellectual about the situation.  We run or we shoot or we aim our spear (or other suitable weapon) or we die.

So, sometimes we do not “intellectualize” when we think.  Sometimes we rightfully act off of our minds’ “automatic settings” which tell us to fear, to feel kindness, to trust, etc.  And often we can know just fine this way.   But when our emotions are called into question, when our prejudicial snap judgments are presented with counter-evidence, it is only our intellect’s responsibility to begin to sift what the emotions and store of settled beliefs tell us and assess it rationally.  The heart gives data that is important for the intellect, but ultimately a belief is either intellectually justified or it or it is rationally impermissible.  When the evidence is inconclusive, it is not rational to just go with our hearts.  That is not a way of “knowing”—the heart adds no extra knowledge.  It can make its case about what it feels like we should pay lots of attention to but it cannot ultimately settle any question of where preponderance of evidence lies.  It cannot substitute for, nor contravene, the inellect’s logical powers of deduction and probable inference.  The heart can do none of this.

The intellect cannot know all things.  This is granted.  That does not mean the heart miraculously can leap into the void and know beyond what the intellect does.  It simply means there are some things we cannot know.  It is a baffling prejudice found seemingly only among religious people which assumes that all truths must be accessible to us and that, therefore, truths inacessible by our intellects must be accessible via the heart or via faith.  No.  There are some things we just cannot know.  Period.  The “intellect” is our only available tool for adjudicating what we can or cannot, and do or do not, know.  The emotions make strong appeals, but the intellect must judge according to its commitment to rational standards of logic and evidence.

and an inferior way of knowing God (inferior to the heart, and the noetic faculties).

Again, no.  Here is where you (Rod) read the article about rationalization, lament about the will’s ability to corrupt the thinking of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore and then go and declare the heart a better way of knowing when heart reasoning about God is formally exactly the same as what Limbaugh and Moore engage in.  Here’s what you said about Moore’s heart-aimed appeal: “The left, of course, has its own highly implausible scenarios, and believes its own extreme partisans (e.g., Michael Moore) who use emotionally charged rhetoric to substitute for facts.” This proves you are disingenuous when you preposterously argue that the heart is a better tool for knowledge than the intellect.  If it was the more judicious feature of our minds, then Moore would not only be justified in appealing to the heart with emotionally charged rhetoric instead of reasoning with facts, but he would be obligated to appeal to the superior faculty, the one more conducive to recognizing truth.  But you understand it is false in the case of health care and arguments made by Michael Moore.  You have no justification to think any otherwise about matters religion made by those who presume on bald, unmerited claims to be authorities about matters of religion—be they “Moses” or Paul or Augustine or Father Stephen or your local priest.

If you really want to be introspective and self-critically honest here, then recognize that the whole notion that there is a special class of truth that is “heart-based” is the mother of all rationalizations.  It is the rationalization that in the light of the rational refutation of centuries of traditional beliefs just declares them all known “otherwise” by the “heart” which admits (so conveniently) of no rational refutation.  And it supersedes, is superior to that “inferior” reason.  So the inability to know gets turned presto change-o into the ability to know better even than the intellect by an affirmation of the heart!  I’m almost willing to declare this “the rationalization greater than which no rationalization can be conceived!”

Your Thoughts?


For more on faith, read any or all posts in my “Disambiguating Faith” series (listed below) which strike you as interesting or whose titles indicate they might answer your own questions, concerns, or objections having read the post above.  It is unnecessary to read all the posts below to understand any given one. They are written to each stand on their own but also contribute to a long sustained argument if read all together.

Faith in a Comprehensive Nutshell


How Faith Poisons Religion


What About The Good Things People Call “Faith”? (Or “Why I Take Such A Strong Semantic Stand Against The Word Faith”)


How Religious Beliefs Become Specifically *Faith* Beliefs


Faith There’s A God vs. Faith In God

Trustworthiness, Loyalty, And Honesty

Faith As Loyally Trusting Those Insufficiently Proven To Be Trustworthy

Faith As Tradition

Blind Faith: How Faith Traditions Turn Trust Without Warrant Into A Test Of Loyalty

Faith As Tradition’s Advocate And Enforcer, Which Actively Opposes Merely Provisional Forms Of Trust

The Threatening Abomination Of The Faithless

Rational Beliefs, Rational Actions, And When It Is Rational To Act On What You Don’t Think Is True

Faith As Guessing

Are True Gut Feelings And Epiphanies Beliefs Justified By Faith?

Faith Is Neither Brainstorming, Hypothesizing, Nor Simply Reasoning Counter-Intuitively

Faith In The Sub-, Pre-, Or Un-conscious

Can Rationality Overcome Faith?

Faith As A Form Of Rationalization Unique To Religion

Faith As Deliberate Commitment To Rationalization

Heart Over Reason

Faith As Corruption Of Children’s Intellectual Judgment

Faith As Subjectivity Which Claims Objectivity

Faith Is Preconditioned By Doubt, But Precludes Serious Doubting

Soul Searching With Clergy Guy

Faith As Admirable Infinite Commitment For Finite Reasons

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

How A Lack Of Belief In God May Differ From Various Kinds Of Beliefs That Gods Do Not Exist

Why Faith Is Unethical (Or “In Defense Of The Ethical Obligation To Always Proportion Belief To Evidence”

Not All Beliefs Held Without Certainty Are Faith Beliefs

Defending My Definition Of Faith As “Belief Or Trust Beyond Rational Warrant”

Implicit Faith

Agnostics Or Apistics?

The Evidence-Impervious Agnostic Theists

Faith Which Exploits Infinitesimal Probabilities As Openings For Strong Affirmations

Why You Cannot Prove Inductive Reasoning Is Faith-Based Reasoning But Instead Only Assert That By Faith

How Just Opposing Faith, In Principle, Means You Actually Don’t Have Faith, In Practice

Naturalism, Materialism, Empiricism, And Wrong, Weak, And Unsupported Beliefs Are All Not Necessarily Faith Positions

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