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Posts Tagged ‘rationalism’

Mindless Belief

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 20, 2010

The role of our mind or reason has been a past theme here. I want to share what someone said in a recent post on Beliefnet. Here’s the verbatim quote:

The idea that there is a God and the idea that there is no God are both mind conceptions. The mind can go on developing the idea one way or the other, but it just goes around in circles. The rational mind is incestuous and keeps recreating itself endlessly.

The perception of Reality is beyond the rational mind. The experiences that people have on drugs, for instance, happen when the drug annuls the rational mind.

In Zen Buddhism there is a practice based on koans, which are questions that have no rational answer, like “what is the sound of one hand clapping”. The purpose is to have the mind make the efforts to find a logical answer until it short circuits itself. That is the time when the transcending experiences, called satori happen, moments when reality is seen as it is.

I would add that the aim of all true spiritual practices is the wearing off of the rational mind. Not to kill it or remove it, but to transcend it and not be the center of one’s perceptions.


I feel uncomfortable reading this. I think there are two extremes, one is to have too strong a role for the mind, the other is not to value it at all.




? What do you think?

Listen to Plus-Tech Squeeze Box make genre-busting crazy music. This is “Early Riser”.

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Posted in agnostic, Buddhism, god, music, Mysticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

I’m Not Driving That! – Strong Rationalism

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 6, 2010

On the way to the airport today I saw a billboard with two photographs of a single car, one labelled “the emotionally satisfying view” and the other, “the rationally satisfying view”4. Picture one showed happy people crowding around the vehicle, the other displayed engineering cutaways of the engine, safety and comfort features. Which vehicle will get me to my destination?

You may recall me wondering if I am a rationalist, given that I value reason and think it has a part to play in my search for the numinous. Simplistically, when deciding what to believe I can either say “there’s got to be rational proof ”, or simply try it out and say “this belief makes me feel good and gives me trippy spiritual experiences.”

I have doubts about spiritual experience alone as a guide, which I’ll save for a future post. For now, I came across a section in a recent book1, which helped me:

[The new atheist] authors are evaluating Christian arguments by what some have called “strong rationalism”. Its proponents laid down what was called the “verification principle”, namely, that no one should believe a proposition unless it can be proved rationally by logic or empirically by sense experience. What is meant by the word “proved”? Proof, in this view, is an argument so strong that no person whose logical faculties are operating properly would have any reason for disbelieving it.

Fractal rainbow self

A few theists also hold to strong rationalism, suggesting their arguments are so strong that you’d be a fool to disbelieve. I’m thinking of some Islamic apologists here. I met a christian rationalist in an online forum not long ago. Sadly, he was belligerent and rude.

For those of us who find the path of the intellect to g0d challenging, put this on repeat, enjoy some beautiful music and imagine the experiential path to g0d as we continue:

The Gayatri Mantra. I also really like this version.

Keller continues:

Despite all the books calling Christians to provide proofs for their beliefs, you won’t see philosophers doing so, not even the most atheistic. The great majority think that strong rationalism is nearly impossible to defend 2. To begin with, it can’t live up to its own standards. How could you empirically prove that no one should believe something without empirical proof? You can’t, and that reveals it to be, ultimately, a belief.

Strong rationalism also assumes that it is possible to achieve “the view from nowhere,” a position of almost complete objectivity, but virtually all philosophers today agree that is impossible. We come to every individual evaluation with all sorts of experiences and background beliefs that strongly influence our thinking and the way our reason works. It is not fair, then, to demand an argument that all rational people would have to bow to.

The philosophical indefensibility of “strong rationalism” is the reason that the books by Dawkins and Dennet have been getting such surprisingly rough treatment in scholarly journals.

If we reject strong rationalism, are we then stuck in relativism – without any way to judge one set of beliefs from another? Not at all.

He suggests an alternative approach called “critical rationality” 3. I’m not sure what he means by that, but whether or not I agree with critical rationality I don’t think I’m a strong rationalist. I think some things in life just have to be believed – my own existence, for example. However, I do want some rational underpinning for my beliefs. I hope that one vehicle, both emotionally satisfying and rationally satisfying will get me there. Somehow I want to hold these two together.

On the way home I saw a bumper sticker on a car: “Don’t follow me, I’m lost too”.



What do you think? Comment below.

1. Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton, 2008), pages 118, 119, 120.

2. Keller’s footnotes explain more, and cite Alasdair MacIntyre Whose Justice, Which Rationality (Notre Dame, 1988) in particular. He says “One of the best critiques of the Enlightenment view of strong rationalism is Faith and Rationality: On Reason and Belief in God A. Plantinga and N. Wolterstorff, eds (Notre Dame, 1983). The Enlightenment view has been called classic or Cartesian “foundationalism,” and that approach has been almost universally abandoned among philosophers. See also Nicolas Wolterstorf, Reason Within the Bounds of Religion (Eerdmans, 1984).”

3. Keller footnotes “For a non-technical introduction to the difference between strong and critical rationalism, see Victor Reppert, C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea (Inter-Varsity, 2003), pp 30-44.

4. [Edit:] I saw the billboards again, and realised they say “emotionally appealing” and “rationally appealing”. I wonder if there’s a difference between “appealing” and “satisfying”?

Posted in agnostic, epistemology, Hinduism, music, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments »

Am I A Rationalist?

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 5, 2010

When I was at university Rationalist House was just down the street, but I never crossed its threshold. The building looked archaic, and I imagined old men inside, perhaps bitter atheists. Much like people must conceive of old churches. I’ve been thinking about *how* I undertake my search, and wondering if my love of reason makes me a rationalist?

I thought, “If I’m going to call myself a rationalist, I’d better understand what that means.” In the library, I picked up a book and began to read 1.


Rationalism regards religion as a personal question … [and] does not deny the existence of God or a future life.

Surprised? I was. I definitely want reasonable beliefs, but not a rationalism which by definition excludes spirituality. However the following section in the book makes it clear that an atheist-leaning agnosticism is the ‘rational’ presumption. Oh well.

The Rationalist Press association defines rationalism “as the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a system of philosophy and ethics verifiable by experience and independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority.”

A noble idea. I mustn’t forget the postmodernism of the end of last century attacks the idea that one can create a grand narrative.

Rodin - The Thinker

The writer makes a good deal of noise about ethics, at times there was a moralistic do-gooder sense about his writing. I wonder if that’s the defensiveness of an atheism which was accused of leading to amorality by outsiders?

He quotes Chillingworth, an “eminent Christian writer” of the time who says

Reason gives us knowledge; while faith only gives us belief, which is a part of knowledge, and is, therefore, inferior to it … it is by reason alone that we can distinguish truth from falsehood.

Also one Bishop Butler who says, “Reason is the only faculty we have wherewith to judge concerning anything, even revelation itself.”

That whole belief and reason thing interests me a lot, and I intend to write more about it some time. I was also concerned rationalism might ignore our emotions.

On the contrary, it fosters and regulates the emotions. There is no denying that some of the noblest thoughts born of human genius have emanated from the impulse of emotion, but it was that emotion was controlled by reason.

Controlled? I’m not sure if I deprecate emotion to that level.

I wondered if being a rationalist would turn me into one of those rabid hater-type atheists I see on twitter and in other places on the intarwebz. I very much appreciated these comments:

“Gentleness is one of the greatest of virtues, and to promulgate our opinions in what is conventionally … termed a gentlemanly manner…[is wise]”

“Of course, destructive work must be done [of error]; but a man need not put himself into a passion in doing it.”

“While some rely entirely upon faith as their rule of life, others seem to attach too much importance to the lack of it. The latter contend that belief cannot save mankind, but they ignore the fact that neither can mere unbelief.”

I heartily agree.

Maybe Not…

Since researching this, I’ve been doing some more thinking and reading. I do think it’s important to figure out the best method to search for truth. Yes, I’m still committed to reason and experience… but perhaps not to the extent of calling myself a rationalist. In my next post, I write about the reasons.

Agree or disagree? How does this rationalist approach to finding reality make you feel?



1. All quotes are from Charles Watts The Meaning of Rationalism (1905) in An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism (Prometheus, ed Gordon Stein, 1980)

Posted in agnostic, atheism, ethics, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , | 42 Comments »