Thursday, May 06, 2010

I Don’t Believe in Atheists – Three

Reason and Faith

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Neither sense, experience, nor logical evidence have been able, as of yet, to prove or disprove the existence of God. There is hope that on some higher “level of consciousness” the truth of all things can be known but, for now, we are left to live by Reason and Faith.

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Reason is not the contrived exercises of postmodern philosophy called Logic, with its formulaic equations of P’s and Q’s or Ts’ and F’s; rather it is man’s natural ability to discern between right and wrong, to recognize the truth.

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I love an example of man’s ability to reason given by Cicero. It involves Pericles and the Athenian mob. On page 13 of my 1998 Oxford World’s Classics edition of On the Law, Scipio tells how Pericles explained an eclipse of the sun which had brought fear to the people by telling them: “That this thing invariably happened at fixed intervals when the entire moon passed in front of the sun’s orb; and so while it did not occur at every new moon, it could not occur except in that situation. By pointing to this fact and backing it up with an explanation, he released the people from their fear.” It is this power, held by the most common of men and held in common with the gods, if Cicero is to be believe, that lights our way to truth. I see the same power of reason revealed in Mark Twain’s story of Huckleberry Finn. Huck has been taught that black men are inferior, that they are property and that God wills them to be slaves. But when he comes to know a black man he rejects his superstition and is willing to go to Hell to bring freedom to his friend.

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Faith is not a synonym for religion or any particular religious sect. Faith is not just believing in things not seen, true or not. It is acting as if one knows things one cannot know. For example, I don’t know that my school will still be standing on any given day, yet I prepare my lessons and head off to class each morning in faith. I do not know that anyone will ever read these words, yet I write them to the world, in faith.

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With these definitions or parameters set, I will give reasons for my faith.

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1. Men want to be free, for as Cicero says, “Nothing is sweeter than liberty”. Man values freedom above life. Men will fight for the freedom of others, at the cost of their own. This driving force, above biology or physics, indicates to me that there is something beyond the ken of the test tube and the textbook, universals which I can contemplate and strive to comprehend.

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2. Just Laws: I tell my scouts the story of rules – the ropes that set us free. Each summer at camp, hundreds of young people rappel and climb for the first time. Before they back over the cliff, the staff member aiding them in their rappel or climb ties them up with ropes. These “bonds” set them free to do thing they would never attempt without the ropes. It is the same with rules at camp or the laws of the Universe. They bind us in order to set us free. This is the common thread running through all religious, ethical, or philosophical systems that approach truth. The blessings come by obedience to Laws, not contrived statutes of men and moment, but universal Laws that have always been. This order evinces to me an organizing force which motivates my actions.

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3. Service, even sacrifice, for others creates love which brings happiness to the one who serves. One of my favorite stories is Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities. In the final scene Sidney Carton goes happily to the guillotine, he is glad to die for the happiness of those he loves. This joy through sacrifice, represented in the atonement of Christ and in the risk our mothers took to give us life gives powerful reason to live in accordance with these principles. I find joy in working for the comfort and protection of my family and in service to my friends, and students. I stand all amazed at the soldiers who give their lives for people they don’t even know – greater love has no man than this. It is reasonable to have faith in a god who teaches that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

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4. Good things come by art and art does not come easy. This is from a favorite quote found in Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It. His description of the need to understand the laws of fly fishing and its relation to mastery in other aspects of what is good gives me a reason to believe in a God that is the ultimate manifestation of good. If one works, one will grow – and infinite growth implies God.

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5. Nature is beautiful on all levels. That beauty, goodness, and truth exist gives me reason to act in faith that such beauty is divine. When I look into the night sky above Camp Loll I see the beauty of galaxies, in the summer sun I see the beauty of the Teton Range, on another day I contemplate the beauty of Union Falls and on the next the beauty of a single flower by the edge of Polar Bear Springs. If I could see the cells, they would be beautiful. I have faith that the molecules and atoms are beautiful as well. This omnipresence of beauty gives reason for faith in a God that is everywhere.

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6. Mans’ universal recognition of beauty in nature and art. Not all cultures create the same objects of admiration – but all admire the best of each.

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7. Man’s ability to recognize right and wrong.

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These are not proofs, they are just reasons. Other reasons, no doubt infinite in number, exist for my faith. I have not yet had the time to think of them all, let alone write them down here at the Agora

8 comments:

Reach Upward said...

Thank you for your discussion of beauty.

I note that while men will sometimes sacrifice for others' freedom, men are also frequently driven by selfishness, cowardice (a form of selfishness), and a desire to maintain the status quo.

However, just as ugliness does not refute the divinity of true beauty, men's baseness does not refute the divinity inherent in men's goodness.

Lysis said...

Reach,

Beautifully said. I do believe there is opposition in all things. Not as a requisite condition for the existence of any; simply as a condition through which we much search for truth.

Anonymous said...

Just a bit confused, my usual happy state. You don't believe in Atheists OR you don't believe in what Atheists believe . . . there is a difference you know.

So What said...

Just a bit confused, my usual happy state. You don't believe in Atheists OR you don't believe in what Atheists believe . . . there is a difference you know.

Lysis said...

So What,

Indeed, you get my point exactly. What does it mean when I say I don’t believe in Atheists? What does it mean when someone says they don’t believe in god/ I don’t believe anyone can know there is NO God. To claim that one knows there is no God, based on one’s personal opinion, is not reasonable.

Dr. Rackliffe said...

It is hard to know for an absolute that something DOESN"T exist. Indeed maybe even impossible. Following your list of reasons for knowing most lead to reason to have faith. Faith is different than knowledge. Even though it may be very reasonable to have faith in God reason cannot give us hard evidence of divine existence. (this goes back to the whole bit about why God doesn't just openly reveal himself because he wants us to have imperfect knowledge so we must have faith) Faith is a good idea, it makes sense, but it isn't evidence

The End of the Tunnel said...

I just read through all of your "I don't believe in Atheists" posts and it just reminded me of a quote.

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones." Marcus Aurelius

It seems to me that you would like the statement "God is Reason," and I could dig that God. The thing I can't understand, and probably never will, is Faith. There is a reason for everything, be it the school still standing each day, or, the tide coming in and out. Yes, I'm making fun of O'Reilly there.

I didn't believe in a God for a long time. I still don't believe that God is a man, or a woman, but Nature. The peace you get when you're completely surrounded by wilderness is one that is unsurpassed by anything else in this world.

Perloo said...

It seems that your fifth point attracted the most attention. The other day, I was reading The Naval Treaty from the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. In it, Holmes picks up a rose an delivers a monologue that I thought you'd appreciate:

"'There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,' said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. 'It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.'"