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"Faith And Reason"

The official spokesman of the Acting President stated that the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research was murder. Anyone who can't tell the difference between a zygote, an embryo, a fetus, a baby and a child has no business occupying the office of the "Decider." "His science teacher should be ashamed," said one scientist. It reminded me of my own oft-repeated exclamation that his history teacher should be ashamed. There does seem to be a lot of shame to go around.

When asked why veto stem cell research, the Acting President says it's because of his faith, by which he means the faith of his so-called base. There are people who are capable of believing the absurd, or of admitting openly their inability to distinguish between a fetus and a baby, because of their faith. Faith excuses them from thinking, and reason is never called into the picture.

Bill Moyers is now interviewing on PBS assorted celebrities and scholars on the tension between Reason and Faith. The writers and philosophers, like Salmon Rushdie and Margaret Atwood, take different positions, but the discussions seldom get right to the point, it seems. Some equate faith and myth, which is a stretch; others are drawn to reason, but cling to faith in spite of everything.

There is a Biblical definition of faith, and it clarifies this very well. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." [Hebrews 11:1] Wishful thinking takes on a sort of solidity, "by faith." Things not seen, invisible or future, have a sort of reality which can be depended on, "by faith."

If you have faith, you don't need reason. The Apostle Paul stated flatly that reason will only get in the way of living by faith. I personally can testify that that is so. You start letting reason go to work in your life, you start thinking, and faith will be compromised, made difficult, and made impossible finally. You start trusting evidence instead of authority, and you won't be needing faith. Faith is for when you don't have evidence, or don't like the evidence and the implications of the evidence.

If you have reason, you won't need faith. When there is no conclusive evidence, you can just stand there and state that you don't know. You don't have to assert the preposterous, or quote the absurd irrational authorities.

Reason entails direct observation. "What do I know and how do I know it?" Reason also entails repeatable tests. The Book says, "Thou shalt not test the Lord thy God." That seems to imply that God may not pass the test! Reason also uses logical inferences. If A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C. Christian theology states that everything that happens is God's doing. It also states that God is good and just. The logical inference, then, is that everything that happens is good, and for the good. Direct observation indicates otherwise. The residents of Beirut and Tyre can tell, and so can some other people, like victims of rape and paedophilia. Faith, not reason, clings to the idea of a good and all-powerful God. The evidence is quite to the contrary.

Bill Moyers seems to have some trouble reconciling Faith and Reason, because he can't let go of faith. My fellow Humanists have asked me why I keep wrestling with these questions, even writing whole books about them, like FREEDOM FROM GOD: RESTORING THE SENSE OF WONDER and MYTH AND MORTALITY: TESTING THE STORIES. One friend stated, "I thought Humanists were finished with all that."

I had to reply, "Some of us find freedom so exhilarating, we can't shut up about it!" Another possible retort now comes to mind. "As long as persons who have thousands of nuclear bombs available to them take the myth of Armageddon literally, all reasonable persons are bound to speak up about the deleterious effects of faith in God and the other myths."

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Copyright © 2006 Harry Willson

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