Is Religious Enquiry Rational?

There is, of course, the scientific method, which consists of conducting experiments to produce particular results, but this is only part of a larger scientific method which relies on more than irrefutable evidence.

When it comes to religion, like science, the first step is to observe the real world and to draw conclusions from one’s observations in order to construct a meaningful and true analysis of reality. This process is assisted in the individual enquirer (be he scientific or religious) by what might be called “tradition”. In other words, we use the observations and conclusions of those who have lived before us to build up the credible and cohesive analysis of the world we observe. Scientists do their work on the basis of an ever growing body of scientific knowledge which they take as proven–even if much of that “scientific knowledge” has only been established through theory, intuition, guesswork and probabilities. So it is with the religious enquirer. They rely on the findings and experiences of those who have explored the realm of religion, metaphysics, philosophy and theology for thousands of years in many different cultures and human experiences.

From that foundation of observation and reliance on tradition the scientific enquirer proposes a theory to explore and discover further. The theory is built from the observation and tradition, but seeks to answer a question that has arisen. He then tests the theory with experimentation–gathering data and experience and processing it through intuition, reasoning and further reliance on tradition. This is exactly what the informed and intellectually engaged religious enquirer does. He has certain experiences which are analyzed and filtered through tradition and he goes on to explore further, analyze experience, test reality, reject what is false and affirm what is true, and as they continue their exploration and experimentation they use a combination of personal experience, tradition, reason and intuition to analyze and construct a working theory.

Then comes a step which we can call “faith” on the part of both the scientific and religious enquirer. The homework is done, the experience is analyzed, the tradition is accepted, the guesswork is completed and the theory has been tested as thoroughly as possible. The scientist or the religious enquirer then changes his action based on the new belief which he has come to accept based on this process.

This is the process, to a greater or lesser extent which people go through whether they are conscious of it or not. Of course there are individuals–both scientific and religious–who do not go through this rational process. They accept the tradition blindly. They are lazy. They make emotional judgements. They don’t think things through. Both scientific and religious enquirers therefore will come up with faulty conclusions, untenable positions, prejudiced positions and shallow choices.

Any person, however, who wants to pursue truth in its fullest form will use this rational process and this process is a reliable pathway to discover both the physical facts of science as well as the metaphysical realities that are the stuff of religion.

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