Does Faith Trump Reason?
A long time ago, before I embraced my faith, I made my living as a psychotherapist. What a strange concept that is, therapy for the psyche! The word therapy presumes that something crooked can be made straight, or something dysfunctional can be made functional, as in physical therapy. But I digress. The need for correcting the psyche is not purely subjective, since the results of twisted or crooked thinking are manifest in the works of the sufferer.
At one point, late in my career, I had been retained by a physician who specialized in treating drug and alcohol addiction. She had me see her most difficult cases in her office. The most memorable was a disheveled young man who came in on crutches, with his head bandaged and a cast on one arm. He had recently been in his fifth auto accident while drunk, in this latest case the collision was through his own garage door. Our entire dialogue consisted of his self criticism of his stupidity and helplessness to change. I listened for awhile until our session was about done, when he asked me what I thought. I said “I quite agree with you, that you must be one of the most stupid people on the planet.” He was shocked. Then I hit him with one question, “but given how stupid you are, how can you believe anything you think about yourself?”
We were done and he hobbled out. The next time I saw him was two weeks later. He was completely cleaned up, and off the crutches. It seems a miracle took place. He said that for the first time he could ever remember, he had experienced no desire for or even thoughts about getting high. His internal dialogue about his stupidity was completely turned off, after he had tried but failed to answer my last question. When he had indulged in that dialogue, the truth of his being stupid was unquestioned. But once he could no longer trust in that “truth” he was free to believe what would give him the ability to overcome his habits. I was hoping he also had the psychological resilience to accept that whatever he believed was a matter of utility rather than absolute truth.
That’s true of everything we choose to believe, and that’s why faith can be more effective than reason. In fact, everything we believe, we take on faith. My assertion that whatever we believe is, or should be, a matter of utility–what works–rather than truth, is based on a three simple principles: 1-our sensory systems are so limited that we cannot apprehend much of the reality around us; 2-our inferences about the reality beyond what we can sense, whether distant galaxies or the inner workings of the mind, are limited and tainted by both the first principle and a myriad of unconscious and largely false assumptions; 3-our memories of events and experiences are fluid and malleable; they change over time in ways we are not conscious of. Those principles are demonstrably true, rather than opinion or conjecture. So either give up hope that you can truly understand anything, or rejoice in your ability to think useful, and thus ultimately happy, thoughts.
In the New Testament Bible, in the Book of Acts–the violent persecutor of Christ followers and over-educated Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus–meets Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.“
Saul became the apostle Paul. I say “became” but it was not a gradual transformation. All of his great learning, his upbringing as a devout Jew, his zeal to persecute and destroy the early church, were wiped away in a moment. His encounter with the Author of Truth trumped everything. He was finally free of the shackles of his enslaved reason. Will you be? You have faith, but faith in what, your reason? Or something/someone else equally flawed?
Stephen Hawking, a certified genius, the “world’s most famous theoretical physicist”, died on March 14, 2018. (From The New York Times): In “A Brief History of Time,” Dr. Hawking concluded that “if we do discover a complete theory” of the universe, “it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists.” He added, “Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist.” “If we find the answer to that,” he continued, “it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God.”
Really? How would we know that we know the “mind of God?” Sorry, if you ever think you know the mind of God, your god is pretty small. Hawking might have been the certified genius, the “world’s most famous theoretical physicist”, but in the end, his brilliance was undermined by not knowing his own presuppositions!