On intellectually serious skepticism and religious faith

I love this area. I will jump right in. There are two mistakes to my mind: the wannabe-intellectually-serious-skeptic will demand proof and scoff at the efforts by the religious doomed to failure. The wannabe-intellectually-serious-religious-apologist will scoff at the very real limits of the skeptics own ability to treat this or that important topic from within the confines of said skepticism. Each walks away having made an interesting point.

The point made is not that both are wrong and right. The point is that limit is real, we reach it quickly. Reason can only work within limit, said Pascal, and thus it can be pressed further than capacity quickly. Both sides push each other to the limit, and often unfairly allow the reaching of the other’s limit to be evidence for the position taken.

I have taken another path in recent years. It is not mine. I am not alone. But it rests on an alternative taken by neither of the above but by both Pascal, Hume and Kierkegaard. It has its costs and benefits but I prefer them to the costs of the above framework shared by the religious apologist and skeptic as both are intensely invested in claiming reason as property right. I will finish with quotes from Hume for Hume most are likely surprised to find in the list with Pascal and Kierkegaard. Isn’t Hume the classic skeptic? No. Sure, he has been co-opted by the skeptic of this or that variety, but co-opted at best. I consider myself a skeptic of a better Humean variety. Here goes.

Both the religious apologist and the atheistic skeptic take reason to be the best and the divine to be approachable with it. Pascal, Kierkegaard and I will say Hume doubt both that human reason can contact the divine, and that all of reality is thus knowable by reason. They all acknowledge faith as another contact with reality and specifically the divine.

What is faith? Faith is a commitment to walk in a direction despite its unreasonability. Faith is movement without light. What is primary is that faith is movement not cognitive representation. Belief, in the sense of intellectual commitment, is not faith. Faith has little or nothing to do with the rational capacity. Faith has everything to do with the will and with passion.

Here is Hume. Both quotes are taken from his famous chapter on miracles and their unreasonability: “But a weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger; and, therefore, were the doctrine of the real presence[1] ever so clearly revealed in scripture, it would be directly contrary to the rules of just reasoning to give assent to it. It contradicts sense, though both the Scripture and the tradition on which it is suppose to be built, do not carry such evidence with them as sense, when they are considered merely as external evidence and are not brought home to everyone’s breast by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit.”

And whoever is moved by faith to assent to it is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person which subverts all the principles of his understanding and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.

I simply want to let these quotes rest with the reader. These are quotations made by one of the champions of the atheist skeptic. Notice Hume has to be interpreted as inserting these phrases as a kind of fear of trouble with authorities and not meaning what he says. Dubious I think. Alternatively, what Hume famously does is show the reader about the finitude and limitation of reason and the rational faculty more generally. But he by no means thinks what he is often taken to mean.

The man of faith looks silly. He walks toward that which there is no reason for. He aims at the dark abyss…death. He says gibberish like, “Beyond death is life”. There is by definition no evidence. So, it is unreasonable. But that there is no life after death is as in need of evidence and is similarly without.

The suspension of the use of the rational faculty was the goal of the ancient Skeptics and their father Pyrrho. But the suspension merely leaves the effort at justification limp. It by no means relieves choice. What is left to motivate choice? Will, passion. Are there different kinds? Of course. Could any of those passions be “supernatural” moving the individual toward that which no natural passion could move him? Sure. Can I prove it. I wouldn’t begin to try. I would just leave you with your natural passions and wish you luck and move on.

Reason is tied to justification and persuasion. I leave it in its place with its task. Living must go on even beyond the limits of reason and persuasion. There is nothing safe here. But each must choose whether to move only when reason is finished or to move more than what reason has finished. Such is faith–a supernatural passion that inexplicably moves the individual toward that which can only be represented inadequately as death and abyss (otherwise known as the divine). Why do I speak so of the divine? I have not been able to find more suitable words. So, I turn to the poetic and metaphorical. To speak literally Aquinas taught me was not possible.

Faith is for movement. Reason is for representation. If reason has limits to its ability there is not promise that choice will or can be similarly limited. So, what can move when reason is not finished but movement is necessary. There are of course then natural passions: desire, aversion, hope, fear, etc. Is there anything else?


[1] The “real presence” is the doctrine in some strains of Christianity that the bread and wine offered at the communion rite actually transform into the body and blood of the god.

Published by Purilib

Anonymously interested in grasping the good life.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: