Saturday, October 02, 2010

“Apples” and “wheels”

Comparing faith and reason is like comparing apples and wheels. Thus said Andrea in the comment reported in the previous post. In the meantime our conversation has been going on in "comments", with me recalling that the name science (from Latin scientia, translating Greek episteme) expresses the philosophical concern already of Plato and Aristotle, and him retorting that the pre-Galilean use of the word doesn't have anything to do with the post-Galilean one, when it acquired a whole new meaning thanks to the discovery of "scientific method". So in his last comment Andrea returned to his, should I say rather desperate, conclusion that "the problem of bringing rationality and faith together" is a problem that "has currently no solution whatsoever".

Well, of course, I feel like saying, if we pretend to compare them forgetting that they actually are like "apples" and "wheels".

That they are so, was implicit in my erudite dissertation about faith, fides, pistis. To which I should add that in Catholic theology it was usual to distinguish between fides quae (creditur) and fides qua (creditur), in a sense somewhat equivalent to the two meanings of pistis on which I called attention: that of which one is persuaded, let's call it belief, and the personal relation by which that persuasion comes. Today we tend to equate faith essentially with the fides quae, i.e. with belief, a persuasion of some sort, to distinguish then between different kinds of beliefs according to the ground on which they rest: some would rest on the "irrational" ground of authority, others on the ground of reasoning methodically. But this would not be like comparing "apples" and "wheels", it would rather be like comparing "apples" and "pears", being both different kinds of fruits.

By the way, "resting on a solid ground" was the etymological meaning of the Greek word for science: episteme. So the question of science was whether we can reach such a ground in our knowledge of things, and how, by what "method". Whatever the answer given, it always implied an explicit or implicit reference to experience, with the demand addressed to an interlocutor to recognize himself in it. It already means, in terms of the so called scientific method, the demand to put our ideas to the test of experience. But…

Which experience? what actually makes an experience? This is the question underlying the conversation with Andrea. A scientific proposition must be such to account for experience. But experience is multifaceted, and consequently there are different levels of science, lower or higher according to the aspects of experience they are able to encompass.

This brings me back to faith and reason as "apples" and "wheels". They cannot be compared because they aren't just different kinds of beliefs, but are different aspects of our ordinary experience. Different, and though inseparable.

A "scientific method" that doesn't allow to account for both makes for a very poor science.


To be continued, because many are the arguments of Andrea that deserve an answer.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Well, Dear Hp
as far as experience is concerned, I agree, it can take many forms.
A dream can also be considered an experience. When you classify experiences in lower and higher types under which one do you classify dreams?
If the "non oniric" experiences we have when we are awake belong to the lower type, to which class do dreams belong to? To which do religious experiences belong to and why? What would be the rationale to associate those with one of the two types?

I'd say that the reason we give more importance to the experiences we have when we are awake is related mostly to the fact that we spend more time being awake than dreaming. Could that of dreams be considered the real reality??? What if we were living an eternal dream, with a few awakening moments, those we actually call dreams? (hard to falsify that)

One aspect that is relevant is the kind of sharing and mutual understanding we have of the first type of experiences (the non oniric ones). When I see a rock fall the model of the event is easily and directly shareable with other people, without requiring any communication or any act of faith. When I describe a dream that dream is only mine, it is a personal experience generated by a personal brain without any direct stimulus. I can explain my dream to others, to my psychiatrist maybe, but it is still and intimate and personal only experience.

The scientific method doesn't have to account for dreams because they are irrelevant to the progress of humanity. They are relevant to the mental health of some people because there is experimental evidence of the correlation between the kind of dreams people make and the kind of problems , wishes, events they go through in real life.

To conclude I agree with you there are different types of experiences, but there seems to be only one level of science, and it has already found out which type of experience deserves to be investigated in order to make our understanding of the world progress.

I'd like to point out that there is no desperation in my assessing the incompatibility of faith and reason. On the contrary, I feel it is the effect of a correct application of rationality which brings me to the assessment of the irrelevancy of faith and religion in determining the causes and the mechanisms that regulate our life in the universe. They may have a comforting effect on some of us, but that has nothing to do with what's true or false.

In spite of the desperate (this one is) need to find a sense, a meaning to our lives, we must not do so at the price of compromising our understanding of reality. And if God is real, and we live "tangible", "non dreaming" lives there has to be a tangible link not only between God and the universe, but also between God and us (as the Bible claims). Such direct link does not exist, I'd see no reason for God to delude us with evolution, a huge universe, and thousands of other clues against his role and existence if the initial purpose of everything was only to "enjoy" the continuous human struggle between good and bad on an unbelievably small pale blue dot, not even placed in a particularly relevant location in the sky. As minds far more brilliant than mine have already stated, "The stage is way too big for the drama…"

I'd be the first to welcome a unification of faith and rationality, unfortunately the link that connects faith with reality is broken, it has been broken by our current level of understanding of the universe, an understanding which has made two thousand years of progress, in spite of the numerous efforts to not accept this fact.