Sunday, 29 September 2013

Believers And Reasonable Men

In Poul Anderson's Planet of No Return (London, 1971), the viewpoint character, Lorenzen, acknowledges that:

"Whether you agreed with the Dissenters or not, it was undeniable that they had worked and fought like heroes..." (p. 65)

- to colonize Mars, and goes on to reflect that:

"There was a vitality to the believer type - whether he called himself Christian, Zionist, Communist, or any of a hundred other faiths which had shaken history. It was too bad that the reasonable man didn't share that devotion. But then, he wouldn't be reasonable if he did." (ibid.)

I think that this sets up a false dichotomy. Most people do reason not only about everyday matters but also about their beliefs although, in the latter case, they reason from different premises to different conclusions, not always remaining logical en route! Conditioning, prejudice, emotion, wishful thinking, logical fallacies, fear of elders or peers, ignorance of alternatives etc intervene but often there is at least  attempted rationality which, on reflection, is not always the same as "reasonableness."

The Dissenter, Thornton, offers to "'...discuss [religion] on a reasonable basis, like any other subject.'" (ibid.)
Lorenzen refuses on the ground that, "'We'd never agree...Waste of time.'" (ibid.) They probably would not agree but discussion clarifies beliefs and influences future rationalizations so I think that Lorenzen is wrong to refuse unless he has already experienced impasse with Dissenters.

Jehovah's Witnesses are perfectly rational. I just do not accept their reasons for theism or their premise of scriptural authority but it is possible to have an informed discussion with a Witness. Evangelical Christians are completely irrational. They simply do not understand that there is any difference between someone who does not believe that God exists and someone who has knowingly and culpably refused an offer of salvation from God - who must therefore, of course, be presumed to exist. Evangelicals address us on the implicit assumption that we already share their belief which, further, they offer no reasons for. Lorenzen's refusal to discuss would, unfortunately, make sense when dealing with this kind of Evangelical.

According to the completely different Christian tradition in which I was indoctrinated, philosophical reasoning could prove theism and historical evidence could prove revelation. Years later, when my father was being instructed before his conversion to the Faith, he was apparently told that divine existence could not be proved... A friend who had been brought up as a Catholic divided his former co-religionists, like Gaul, into three parts: devout; indifferent; intelligent. None of these is quite the "believer type" to which Lorenzen referred. That would be a fourth type, which also exists, the zealot.

However, the human race has built civilization sometimes because "believer types" have fought like heroes but sometimes also because "reasonable men" have had to make a living and some of them wanted to learn more about the world around them.

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