The Limits Of Reason

Many individuals reject religion because it requires faith in things that cannot be proved. For many, the alternative to religion is “humanism” based on embracing reason. Reason and evidence can form the basis of a worldview that does not require faith.

But is this really true? Can humanism based on reason replace religion? Let’s consider what we mean by “reason”. It certainly seems reasonable to based one’s world view on reason. Reason is logical and basing our lives on logic permits us to avoid extremist viewpoints.

However, logic is no replacement for religion. Religion is about who we are and what we value. It is about the assumptions that motivate us in a fundamental way.

Logic, on the other hand, is more like a transportation device. With logic, we can start at some point A and get to another point B. A and B are not physical locations, but points in a journey of ideas and reason. Logic provides rules that allow us to combine ideas to get new ideas and insights.

Logic does not provide the starting point. If my ideas start here, logic can help my ideas get to there. But I can have ideas that are starting points. Logic and reason cannot help me with the starting points. There will always be ideas and thoughts that I simply have to accept, that I cannot derive from other ideas.

Many of the fundamental questions that religious people think about are ignored by humanists. Fundamental questions about why the universe exists, or what one should do within this universe, can be ignored. Pondering such questions might not help you in your job, or help you reach material goals. People who believe in the primacy of reason are well advised to steer clear of such imponderables.

There are those who will ask such difficult questions. The humanists will respond by saying “we don’t need to ask those questions, nor do we need to answer them.” Humanists are happy to ignore questions whose answers cannot be verified using logic. Yet, we cannot be sure such questions have no answer or meaning. I am not afraid to ask such questions, acknowledging that the answers may never be fully available. I am willing to consider questions that cannot be answered using reason. Certain questions about life may well be worth thinking about, even if the answers will remain elusive during our lifetimes.


About Anthony Mannucci

A physicist (yours truly) turns his attention to many subjects...

Posted on April 29, 2012, in Book Related. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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