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Epistemology: Reason and Faith

It is common to think that Faith and Reason must be in conflict. Often this view emerges because how we use the term "believe" is ambiguous. In this video we clarify how this term is used and how Faith and Reason can be properly related.

Speaker: Dr. Greg Ganssle.

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  • ohnoes default style avatar for user Cyan Wind
    IMO, it is okay to believe in God (although I am an atheist) because nothing can prove that beiief is wrong. It is similar to a human's emotions because no one (even scientists) can clearly explain how and why the emotional system works. However, when people said "God said this, God said that and you should do what God said.", their statements are the problem.
    (12 votes)
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    • old spice man green style avatar for user Don Spence
      I don't disagree with you, but in saying that nothing can prove that belief is wrong, you are engaging in the Russell's teapot argument http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot.

      The atheist (and I am also one) does not have the responsibility to prove that god doesn't exist. anymore than the atheist has the responsibility to prove that flying spaghetti monster does not exist.

      But I would not deny anyone their right to believe in whoever or whatever their particular god might be, as long as they do not try to impose it on others by force or by government.
      (22 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user J.S.Locklear #thinkmore
    At he says that people say"religious believer's confidence in God goes much further than reason can support". I don't think that is quite true. For example: Your best friend Tom says, "I wrote a book." You have known Tom for 10 years and he has always been very truthful. Should you, or should you not believe him?
    Now substitute Tom for God. You have talked to him(maybe not out loud, but you have talked to him), he is truthful, loving, he has shown you that he has the power to do anything(including make a Universe) and you don't really have reason NOT to believe him. So then he tells you that he DID make you, he DID write the Bible and it is TOTALLY true. Do you believe him?
    That is why the Religious Believers confidence is so great. :)
    (3 votes)
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  • piceratops tree style avatar for user captainjessykins
    Interesting video, I am wondering whether there are any schools of philosophy etc. that discuss what God IS, rather than whether God exists. Surely God can be a subjective term for something unknown, or does it have to be linked to religion?
    (2 votes)
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    • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Cogito, ergo sum
      Humans can never truly know what God is, our minds our brains our bodies are limited to what we can know and do. Imagine some fish discussing humans and weather or not we exist or what we might be, sure some fish might catch a glimpse of us every now and then, but they will never truly know what humans are due to their limitations in ability and intelligence.
      (3 votes)
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Giuseppe
    Could someone give me an argument for the non-existence of God? I am curious because all the arguments I've come across so far are rationally refutable.
    (1 vote)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Randy
    The speakers analogy is incorrect in the following ways.

    1) I don't know anyone who commits 100% to reaching their destination when they get in their car. It's perfectly knowable in advance that your car could break down or a more pressing matter could come up requiring you to change course. Religious overcommitment and the subsequent false certainty is part of a defense strategy for beliefs that don't stand up to honest criticism. Faith is a comfortable way for believers to ignore inconvenient facts and get on with living their life.

    2) As you travel along the I-95 there may be some crashes along the way but on any given day you are far more likely not to be in a crash than to be in one. Religious faith is a bit different. Unless you're Hindu or have some other way of thinking all religions are simultaneously true, you have to recognize that faith in any one particular religion is overwhelmingly likely to be steering you into oncoming traffic. If Judaism happened to be the one true religion, then faith only works 0.2% of the time and produces false beliefs 99.8% of the time.

    3) NYC is a real place while heaven falls in the category of myth.

    So if religious faith were a road trip it would be a road trip to the lost city of Atlantis with a dodgy map you inherited from your parents in a car with a heavily cracked windshield that you can't quite see through, all the while maintaining false certainty that you'll reach your destination.
    (1 vote)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user tuannb1997
    I find your video a bit hard to follow. So, the ralationship between Faith and Reason is not the same as the relationship between Religion and Science, in which one requires belief while the other demands solid, globally approved evidence, and the two often conflict with each other (God's existence is an example) ? According to your video, the familiar expression "I Believe IN" bears two ways of meaning: one is REASON, in which people suppose that their statements are true, where as the other is FAITH, which is their eagerness to believe in the truth of their statements, am I right ?
    (1 vote)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Alex
      No, the point is faith and reason are both in science and religion. You put faith in what you have good evidence for in science and religion. I have good evidence for gravity so I put my faith in the fact I won't fly off the earth without holding onto something. I have good evidence for God so I choose to put my trust in Him. The video is pointing out this false dichotomy between religion and science, faith and reason. They are not mutually exclusive. They work together. Imagine someone says, "Which caused the car, the laws of combustion or Henry Ford?" It would be silly to say you can only pick one option. You need both. Science tells you the how, religion the who.
      (0 votes)
  • male robot donald style avatar for user Krant
    Seems to be pushing an agenda for God.. a cross at the end?
    (0 votes)
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Video transcript

(intro music) Hi, my name is Greg Ganssle, and I am a Senior Fellow[br]at the Rivendell Institute at Yale University. Today, we're going to talk[br]about faith and reason. It's a very popular idea that faith and reason are opposites. That if I hold something by[br]faith, it's not also the case that I have good reasons to hold it. or if I am reasoning about something, it's not the case that I have faith. Some of the reason that it's[br]difficult today to relate faith and reason has to do with how we talk about what we believe. We will use sentences[br]such as the following: "I believe that George[br]Washington existed," "I believe that ice cream tastes good," "I believe in recycling," "I believe in God." Notice that the various sentences I used use the word "believe." But we often follow that word either with "believe that" or "believe in." So when I say "I believe that[br]George Washington existed," I take a sentence "George[br]Washington existed," and I believe that[br]that sentence is true. What I believe, in this sense,[br]is either true or false. I'm either correct about my belief, or I'm mistaken about my belief. Now when we talk about "believe in," it gets much more complicated. "I believe in the Constitution." What does that mean? It does not mean "I believe[br]that the Constitution exists," although I do. It must mean something else. It means something like "I have confidence in the Constitution," or "I think it's a good[br]thing," or "I trust it." "I believe in recycling"[br]is even more complicated. It has to be more than[br]"I believe recycling exists" or "I believe it's good to[br]recycle," because I could tell you that I believe it's good to recycle. But if I never recycle[br]myself, you would say I really don't believe in recycling. To say "I believe in recycling" is to say that I am committed to a certain practice. It's the practice of recycling. So when we say "I believe in," it's very complicated. "I believe that" has to do[br]with making certain claims, and those claims are either true or false. Reason has much more to do[br]with "I believe that" claims. This is where we can[br]bring evidence to bear. I believe that George Washington existed. There's lots of evidence for this. Every once in a while, I[br]actually have a dollar bill, and his picture's on the dollar bill. Or I've been to Washington, DC,[br]and I've been to the archives, and I've seen his signature on documents. All of these are bits of[br]evidence that my claim, the claim "I believe that George[br]Washington existed," is true. Reason can be brought to bear on "believe that" statements. Now, when someone says "I believe in God," what does that mean? It does mean "I believe that God exists," but it also means something more. For many people, it means not only do I believe the claim that God exists, but somehow God is an[br]important part of my life. I have a commitment to God in some way. And this is a kind of ambiguity. You think of "ambiguity" meaning "the sentence can go in two directions." The sentence "I believe in[br]God" goes in two directions: I believe that God exists, and somehow I make God an[br]important part of my life. I have a commitment to God. So let's get back to faith and reason. In the sentence "I believe in God," which has these two divergent tracks, reason applies mostly to one track: "I believe that God exists." In other words, "I think[br]it's true that God exists." And it's exactly at that claim that reason applies the most: "Is there evidence?", "Are there reasons to think God exists?", "Or reasons to think God doesn't?" Some of the other videos in[br]this series discuss various reasons to think either God[br]does exist or God doesn't exist. This is the application of reason to the question of God's existence. Now, someone who says "I believe in God" also may have a trust[br]or a confidence in God. Some people have complained that religious believers'[br]confidence or trust in God goes much further than[br]what reason can support. So there may be evidence that God exists, but it is nowhere close[br]to bringing certainty. Yet religious believers seem to have one hundred percent commitment to God. There is a lack of proportion between the evidence and[br]the level of commitment. This is one of the accusations against religious belief being reasonable. Now, I think we can make some progress on this problem with a[br]couple of illustrations. Suppose you are going to drive from New Haven, Connecticut[br]to New York City. You get in your car and you are going to[br]drive down Interstate Ninety-Five. If you've ever driven down[br]Interstate Ninety-Five in Connecticut, you know it's kind of dangerous. When you get into your car,[br]you know that you do not have absolute certainty that[br]you will make it to New York without breaking down or without crashing, because people break[br]down and crash every day. So your confidence that[br]the claim "You will make it to New York" is true is less[br]than one hundred percent. But notice you have to get into the car either one hundred percent[br]or zero percent. You commit yourself wholly to the car, yet you know that it's less than[br]one hundred percent certain. Every time you get on an airplane, you know there's a chance[br]the airplane will crash. Now, it's a very small chance, but your certainty you will be safe[br]is less than one hundred percent. Yet you can make yourself one hundred[br]percent to getting on the airplane. There are certain decisions in life that require either one hundred percent[br]or zero percent commitment, and these decisions hold[br]or are binding on us, even if our reason tells us we have less than one[br]hundred percent certainty. This is simply the way[br]these things work together. So faith and reason can[br]be related in this way. We can have evidence[br]perhaps that God exists, but the question of God's existence is not purely theoretical. There may be something where[br]we commit ourselves to God, and that commitment[br]might require going beyond the degree of evidence. Is it reasonable for us to do so? Probably it depends on how strong our evidence is that God exists. So when faith and reason[br]seem to come in conflict, sometimes it's because reason applies to one part of the question,[br]"Is the claim true or false?", but reason is more indirect[br]with the second question, "Should I commit myself?" Now, the final illustration for this point is, if you were ever to get married, you would not commit[br]yourself to your spouse simply in proportion to your evidence that he or she would make a good partner. That's very bad relationship advice. Assess "Is this a good partner?", and then you commit yourself fully. That's the nature of a relationship, that's the nature of[br]getting on an airplane, and that's the nature of what it means to be a believer in God, despite the fact that our evidence might[br]be less than certain. Subtitles by the Amara.org community