My brother sent me an article. He is a Christian minister. I am an atheist. We sometimes argue matters of faith. I was already looking for a way to highlight my philosophical differences with Christianity. This article is the perfect jumping-off point for that discussion.
The Irrationality of Doubt is an opinion piece by a Christian writer named Cliff Goldstein. Mr. Goldstein’s thesis is that, to him, faith is rational, and to doubt is not. But this is wrong. My counter-thesis is summarized by the title of my post. Faith-based beliefs are fundamentally irrational. In another post, I will show the irrationality of Goldstein’s argument. In this post, I will develop the foundation from which I will mount that challenge.
My issue with Goldstein is that he does not seem to understand the meaning of the word ‘rational’. He mis-uses it throughout his argument. He argues that his faith-based beliefs are rational. I will show that, by the definitions of the words ‘faith’ and ‘rational’, this is not true.
At one time I was just as confused as Mr. Goldstein is about the concepts of rationality and faith. I was raised Catholic. There is not much rationality in the Catholic world view. But at least the Catholic Church does correctly teach that science is the ultimate authority in establishing matters of fact. Fundamentalist Christians should take a lesson from the Catholics on this. When Christians deny science, they stand on the wrong side of truth.
Science would not be possible without rationality. Science is not perfect. But, to the extent that it does work at uncovering truth, it works because science is rational.
- consistent with reason, or based on reason. Logical.
Science is based on reason and logic. This is why science can be called rational. And scientists are generally reasonable and logical in their thinking. At least within the bounds of expertise. Here are two other definitions for rational. These adjectives are often used to describe scientists and their thinking.
- having or showing the ability to reason.
- of sound mind; sane.
I can understand why Cliff Goldstein would want to call his faith rational. Who wouldn’t like to be thought of as sane and reasonable? Who wouldn’t want their beliefs to be judged as consistent with reason, or logic? The trouble is, calling yourself rational does not make one’s self rational. Don’t just call yourself rational. Be rational. Rationality is both a choice and a practice.
A rational person is reasonable. To be reasonable means to do form one’s opinions based on evidence or reason. A rational person is in control of their faculties for reason. They are sane. A rational person says things for reasons that make sense. They believe things for reasons that make sense. They do things and say things for reasons that make sense.
Now compare these meanings with the definition of ‘faith’.
- To believe something without evidence or reason
Faith is not rational. Faith is almost a polar opposite of rational. A rational person believes things for reasons that make sense. A person of faith believes things for no logical reason. Faith does not depend on reason. Faith is to simply believe. Faith inherits beliefs from the past.
Now understand. I am not saying that it is irrational to engage in a spiritual practice. I can’t say that practicing a faith is irrational. But I am saying that faith-based beliefs are not rational. A faith-based belief is a belief that is held without evidence or reason. A faith-based belief is not a logical belief. A logical belief is a rational belief. And a rational belief is based on reason. Faith-based beliefs persist for no apparent reason.