An internet conversation about “reason” (is that already an oxymoron?)
by Ron Millam, Guest Contributor
In my last post, I discussed a thread from on my congressional representative’s Facebook page where she asked her constituents to “pray for our great nation” on the national “Day of Prayer” to which I responded in a secular manner, considering that it was also the national “Day of Reason.”
Another reader was quick to question the “source of reason”, told me that “atheists were amusing” (the poster assuming that the only way I would want to have a day where reason was celebrated, I must be an atheist), and asked me to prove that there was no god using “reason and logic.”
Not satisfied with my response, I was “taken to task,” so to speak.
“So, Ron your ‘source of reason’ is limited only to your own perceptions and evaluations. By that standard, nothing exists unless you have personally perceived it. That is not rational, nor logical but merely a self-centered humanistic approach that leads to a relativist approach where anything that anyone can rationalize is acceptable and nothing exists unless your limited senses can perceive it. Apparently, you don’t believe in sub-atomic particles, quarks, or space travel among other things. For reason to exist there must be an objective source that is immutable.
“There are many things science can’t prove. There are many instances where science was totally incorrect. Of course, your bigotry against others is okay because your flawed science and reason let you make up whatever you want to believe…as long as it meets your ‘evaluation of the real world (whatever that is?) and the impact of [your] actions…’”
I am not biased against anyone for his or her own personal beliefs. As a supporter of reason and rational thought, I realize it’s not rational to have these sorts of arguments online. But I also do like to stir the pot…
My response to my new Internet buddy went a little something like this:
“Wow. Where do I begin? Going back to your first response to my initial post…the one where you accused me of being an atheist because I support reason and logic. Really? At the time of your comment, you knew absolutely nothing about me other than I support reason and logic. (OK - my comment about officials who rely on myth may have given you a clue, but still, I never made the declaration. How do you know I’m not a person who believes in a god, but just rejects religious dogma?) On that point alone, you decided that I must be an atheist. Again I say… Really? Don’t you realize that by coming to that conclusion you have placed reason and logic squarely in the arena of the nonbelievers? That you are saying believers are incapable of reason and logic?
“I do not agree. There are many, many believers who are capable of reason and logic. It’s just that on some issues they are, shall we say, misguided. But that’s OK - I’m of the opinion that everyone has the right to be wrong. But problems arise when those believers demand that I live my life under their belief system - you know, like those folks who insist on calling me and others to prayer on a special day designated by government decree, and using MY tax dollars to fund it! I have no problem with folks who want to live in their religious world, as long as they do not demand that I live there with them. Secularism - separation of church and state - is the only social system that allows this to happen.
“Now, on to your most recent posting…
“First - that’s one hell of a jump you made - assuming that if I cannot personally experience something it does not exist. As I said earlier, I evaluate the REAL world along with the impact of my actions AND THE ACTIONS OF OTHERS. I learn from those experiences, constantly growing in my ability to reason. And I certainly do not have to experience quarks personally in order to reasonably accept their existence. Technology allows others, well trained in their fields, to research such things; things that can be shown to exist - things that can be explained - by measurement, experimentation, testing, review, critical evaluation, more testing, revisions, peer review, criticism, adjustments, more review, more testing, etc., etc. The result of all that effort is available to me for my own perusal and evaluation, allowing me to make up my own mind whether I agree with the conclusions.
“I challenge anyone to name one religion at any time in human history that could survive that level of scrutiny - or even one that would allow itself to be SUBJECTED to that kind of critique.
“Second - that which you say “is not rational, nor logical” (i.e., that which can be perceived and evaluated), other people call “empirical”:
“Empirical” - From Merriam-Webster Online:“Thinking that empirical evidence is irrational and illogical is itself irrational and illogical.
Definitions: “originating in or based on observation or experience” and “capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment.”
Synonyms: existential, objective, observational.
Related words: actual, factual, genuine, accepted, indisputable, and verifiable.
Near antonyms: conjectural, speculative, unproven, and metaphysical.
“Third - I would be scared to death of a culture that based its sense of reason on (as you describe it) ‘an objective source that is immutable.’
“Immutable: that which, once it has been established, cannot be changed. It’s as though you advocate drawing a sense of reason from an immovable, permanent source, as one would draw water from a well. I prefer to draw my sense of reason from the full river of humanity, rising from the hundreds of generations that have gone before me, and constantly evolving and growing, fed by the experiences and critical thinking of today’s minds.
“At one time it was reasonable to think that the Earth was flat…that lightning bolts were thrown from the hand of some god… that the basic elements of the universe were earth, air, fire, and water…and that the Earth was the center of that universe. Imagine where we would be today if the ‘immutable source’ for that kind of reasoning had never been challenged.
“Reason feeds on itself - the more it’s used, the stronger it grows. It cannot be restricted or constrained by the fear of discovering something new. Anchoring it to an ‘immutable source’ - to an unchangeable world view - will kill it. The five centuries between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance are not known as ‘The Dark Ages’ because of a lack of sunlight.
“Fourth - your last paragraph begins with a statement with which I actually agree - there are many things science cannot prove. But then, science has never claimed the ability to prove everything. And it’s also true that there are many instances in history where science has been incorrect. During its infancy, science has been wrong about things. Science has stumbled. But as methods improve, as technology improves, as our understanding improves, those incorrect conclusions have been thrown out and replaced by theories that more accurately explain the facts gathered through the evaluation of (here it is again) empirical evidence.
“I again challenge anyone to name a single religion willing to do that. Keep in mind that a huge number of Christians in this country still believe in talking snakes, and that the Earth is no more than 10,000 years old. I doubt that many of them would be willing to change their beliefs simply because actual facts prove them wrong. And I say let them keep those beliefs if they insist. But do NOT expect me to sit quietly by when they demand that those myths be taught as facts in public school science classes.
“Fifth - you accuse me of being bigoted against others simply because I favor fact over fiction and reality over myth, when in fact bigotry is one of the foundation stones of religion.
“Over the years, I’ve done my best to rid myself of the bigotry my religious parents tried to teach me. I think I’ve done pretty well in that regard. I’m fairly certain I have no bigotry toward other people.
“But I’m perfectly willing to admit certain bigotry toward ignorance. For a person to refuse to see the facts in front of his/her face…for a person to proudly embrace ancient dogma, even when it’s been proven wrong by (here it is again) empirical evidence…yes, I’m bigoted against that kind of intentional, arrogant ignorance…and I pity the individual held captive by it.
“And Sixth - in your final sentence you indicate that you have no idea what the ‘real world’ is.
“You should know that modern treatments for schizophrenia can be very effective. I highly recommend that you see someone…
“(BTW…When you called me a humanist, I think you meant it as an insult. Believe me, it’s not. Thank you! I accept the label and will wear it proudly!)”