Letter to the Editor: Phantasmal Rift Between Religion and Reason

Religion and rationality are not the same, but neither are they separate. Many great scientists, philosophers and others of their kind recognize this. Even if they don’t, religious teachings are present in their words under a different name. Many religions have been accused of inhibiting personal freedom, but the early Christian church pioneered this concept.

Emperor Constantine, Tertullian of Carthage, Lactantius, Augustine of Hippo, Pope Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas and many others recognized the need for people to retain their free will because, according to Tertullian, “it is a human law and a natural right”. While new ideas are accepted with caution, religious groups have frequently used scientific evidence, and yes, reason, to explain the beliefs of the faith.

A phantasmal rift between reason and faith has been created in our society. In order for civilization to function properly the two must coexist. The faithful should be allowed to act according to their conscience. To suggest that religion should exist in its own corner of society without touching or being touched by any other element of that society is like suggesting that a scientist hypothesize, experiment and draw a conclusion, but then not share that conclusion with anyone else.

This is not what a reasonable and rational person would call “reasonable and rational.” A common misconception is that this is a bad thing. While it is undeniable that atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, atrocities have also been committed in the name of medicine (organ harvesting), nationalism (Nazi), greed (slavery) and countless other ideals. Claiming that rationalism can support morality is true, but saying that it is the best way is a fallacy. Evil is the perversion of the good. Think about it. Destroying the good to prevent evil is self-defeating.

Teresa Fenn is a student at the University of Mary Washington.

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17 Comments

  1. Edmund says:

    When we say “The faithful should be allowed to act according to their conscience” we support all atrocities committed in the name of religion. Instead of carving out a special place for religion, we ought to demand that it be held to the same standards of science and reason. Without this, great power falls into the hands of corrupt and/or individuals, allowing them to call for violence, repression, and outlaw education.
    Slavery, Naziism, and organ harvesting aren’t the result of too much rational inquiry, they’re the result of a religious mindset that refuses to question the tenets of a powerful authority.
    Religion is responsible for the phantasmal rift between reason and religion. It has refused to accept new scientific evidence that contradicts its doctrine. This lead to the April 10th passing of a Tennessee bill that forces Evolution to share time with Creationism in the classroom.
    People should be free to practice whatever religion they wish, but the instant that religion begins to reach outside its territory and make claims about the world without peer-reviewed research or evidence of any kind, it must be held accountable the same as any institution in the modern world.

    • eh says:

      The science that you put on a pedestal is based as much on faith as religion is. Somehow I doubht that you yourself have seen with your own eyes that the world is round, or that it orbits the sun and not the other way around, or are able to replicate (on your own) the carbon dating that helps to determine the age of fossils, etc.

      That shiny new iphone of yours is a technological marvel but you wouldn’t be able to explain how it works. It might as well be powered by the distilled tears of a thousand sacrificed puppies. Or it might be electricity. The point is that we all have something we choose to believe in, be it science, religion, Steve Jobs or space Jesus–that requires a bit of faith.

      • Edmund says:

        You miss a vital difference between blind faith and supported faith. Namely, those theories of science I have ‘faith’ in, can be tested at any time. If I don’t trust a certain scientist I can reconstruct the experiment and validate. It’s the closest to the truth human beings have come. And when new information is discovered, the theories are changed.

        But not in religion. Consider prayer. Prayer u has proven ineffective in many scientific studies (link below), yet religion refuses to change its belief about the healing powers of prayer.

        It’s true that when you don’t know how something works you can make up stories about it. You could say an iphone is powered by sacrificed puppy tears. You could say that an all powerful being created the earth in seven days. or you could plead ignorance and continually check and recheck evidence attempting to develop a factual, verifiable world view that frowns on extremism and intolerance.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all

        • eh says:

          And what say you about your vaunted science’s idea of developing a factual, verifiable world view devoid of extremism and intolerance resulting in the high probability that our common existence is nothing more than a posthuman computer simulation?

          Have Nick Bostrum from the University of Oxford.

          http://www.simulation-argument.com/computer.pdf

          • Edmund says:

            Certainly an interesting idea from Bostrum, but as he says in the article, he’s speculating on what could happen in 50 to 10,000,000 years. This model provides a vastly more reasonable claim than say, Revelations about the future, but is a non-sequitur to the key issue.

            Science ought to supplant Religion as our key source of knowledge about the world just as Astronomy replaced Astrology. When people become certain that religious claims are true, that, for instance, 72 virgins await in an exclusive eternal paradise, events like 9/11 occur.

            Preventing irrational thinking isn’t possible, but preventing institutions who claim irrational things from holding sway in important communities is a vital step in any move toward a safer and more advanced moral society.

            • 2010 alum says:

              Events like 9/11 occur for much more complex reasons than religious claims.

              Edmund, while I may agree with some of what you have to say about science and reason, you couch your claims in language similar to the religiously devout. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, to make it relatable, covered the issue of scientific zealotry in the episode “Go God Go.”

              Yes, Edmund, it is true that when you don’t know how something works you can make up stories about it. I’m surprised to see someone who advocates so strongly on behalf of research and reason repeat the “72 virgins” nonsense. You haven’t made up a story to explain how 9/11 or the current state of things. You’ve taken the easy way out and repeated nonsense that you’ve heard from someone or somewhere else without verifying or doing any real research of your own. You do reason and logic a disservice by reducing a complex matter involving not only religion, but geopolitics, the fallout from the Cold War and Cold War era policies on both sides of the Iron Curtain, defense industry surpluses, and a whole host of other issues ranging from the societal to the personal that conflated into the current mess to one, misconstrued, mistranslated, and constantly propagated falsehood.

              Your comment showcases your own brand of intolerance. Extremism in the name of science and progress has not been unheard of in the short history of mankind.

              • Edmund says:

                To elucidate for 2010 Alum,
                Blaming 9/11 solely on religious motivation would be a mistake. I stand by what I said earlier which is that religion was a major contributor in the thinking of these people and a major aid in the 9/11 tragedy.
                To dispel the 72 virgins equivocation, the point here is that a paradise is promised those that participate in holy wars/become martyrs. See Hadith 1:35 (link: http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/bukhari/bh1/bh1_34.htm). The 72 Virgins reference is a contentious one, but some sects of Islam translate the Quran in a way such that 72 Virgins are a reward in heaven and attainable through martyrdom.
                Saying that because religion is not the only reason behind 9/11, it should be ignored, is like saying don’t wash your hands because germs aren’t the only thing that cause illness. Religion erodes the reason of otherwise rational people. To clarify my point here, science is simply a powerful tool for inquiry. Evaluating claims with reason is a moral imperative and religious spheres seem to be the only spheres of their relative size and power continually convincing people of irrational ideas like rising from the dead, the power of prayer to heal, while simultaneously interpreting thousand year old books to create intolerant and harmful dogma (see Catholic condom condemnation in Africa, homophobia).
                The true cause of these large scale tragedies is too often traceable to fundamentalism, that is, strict adherence, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, to theological doctrine. Reducing the amount of credence we give to these institutions upholding or propagating fundamentalism contrary to our current understanding of human well-being is an important step in societal advancement.
                I am intolerant of institutions causing and allowing harm to occur under the guise of faith. I value human well-being over age old dicta any day.

                • eh says:

                  Maybe you can tell off the people who are offering their thoughts and prayers to Jackson while you’re at it.

                  Maybe his family and friends would be better consoled in their difficult time by kindly informing them that their son has no soul that will not go on in another life, but rather that his tragically short life here is it, and there’s no hope to see him again ever again.

                • Edmund says:

                  Certainly Jackson’s death is a tragedy. I did not know him, but I offer my support as a UMW student and respect those that offer their support also.

                  I’m saddened that anyone would take a negative position about this issue, however I’m also saddened by those that claim to know what occurs after death. I have two points. 1. Any claim that states with certainty anything about existence after death should be met with skepticism. We know now that the same source claiming life after death was a fact claimed other things (see all of Genesis) that are patently untrue. 2. The idea that any one religious system offers more/better consolation than any other system is nonsense. No matter the religion you choose, more people across the world disagree than agree. Because most major religion prescribe a penalty (hell in various forms) for not believing, accepting the teaching of one of these religion includes accepting that the majority of people currently alive will be damned.

                  Instead of focusing on what could or would happen, I urge those close to anyone who has passed to offer tangible support to those who need it.

                • I think I’m going to be the voice of the students here and say that bringing up Jackson in your important existential discussion is a little inappropriate. This is just becoming a circlejerk conversation between you two, and if I can be called out on having such things by Arnold, then I can call you each out for the same thing.
                  -
                  Why not exchange emails to continue? Phone numbers? How about you two go talk on the topic over dinner for two? Candlelight dinner? Now look at that, I have set the possibility for you each to go on a date with the other. You’re welcome.

  2. eh says:

    A nice little piece on the American rift between religion and reason.

    http://www.salon.com/2012/04/20/americas_christian_hypocrisy/

  3. eh says:

    Edmund, your “offer of support” is about as tangible as any prayer.

    • Edmund says:

      eh, thank you for beginning a fresh thread. I remain embarrassed about so populating the Bullet comments, but it’s for a sound cause. About prayer: Imagine a man named Bob is in a California hospital with cancer. His friend John in Wisconsin learns of this and every day holds a seance, attempting to communicate psychically with John’s spirit. When Bob recovers, John claims his psychic abilities helped heal him.

      Most people would deem John delusional. Yet they make an exception for prayer, sometimes to the exclusion of medical attention, resulting in suffering and death (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-5206140-504083.html)+ (http://tinyurl.com/63k6ndy). Support for the family is undeniably beneficial, but claiming that prayer has helped heal anyone is outrageous as claiming psychic powers. The support that prayer stands for should be realized through channels with proven effectiveness.

      When substantiated, an offer of support could result in funds, recommendation of a specialist, medicine, meals, and other tangible benefits. Prayer, when substantiated, is not correlated with any benefits, but is correlated with an increase in postoperative complications. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16569567)

  4. eh says:

    Fleur, you say circle jerk like it’s a bad thing. And it’s not really a circle jerk if there’s just the two of us, you’d have to join in on this thing that you’re setting up.

  5. a banana says:

    The constitution separates church and state. Also, religion isn’t inherently good IMO.

    • eh says:

      The separation of church and state is open to interpretation. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

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