The Voluntary Life: 243 Thinking Rationally Part 1: Faith Versus Reason

23 April 2016

243 Thinking Rationally Part 1: Faith Versus Reason

Rational thinking is the engine behind all the great achievements of the modern world. It is the vital tool for making your own choices and for freeing yourself from prejudices and indoctrination. This series of episodes will summarise all the best ideas that I've found about how to think rationally. Part 1 uses the example of the history of Christianity in Europe to explain the conflict between religion and rational thinking.

Show Notes:
Listen to Episode 243


  1. Hey, Jake faith versus reason is a false dichotomy. We all live by faith, assuming that the future will be like the past for example. Christianity offers a logical framework for thinking rationally. Just because some political leaders use the name of Christianity in the past to serve their own ends does not mean that the Christian worldview itself is wrong. It simply means they used it for their own ends. The materialist simply believes that we are nothing more than matter in motion. What does Christianity actually teach about the nature of the world how we know what we know what is right and wrong? There are simple answers to these questions that do not lead to a false dichotomy of Faith versus reason.

  2. Thank you, but it is important to remember: The Greek city-states were really islands of wisdom in a pagan world governed very much by superstition. Through most of human history, we have been governed by family based systems like tribes and clans. It seems as when christianity spread, it was much a grass root movement who were inspired by the anti authoritarian sayings of Jesus. Therefore a number of early church fathers, like Marion did not want to include the Old Testament with a commanding god into the bible. Tribal and clan affinity declined during the first centuries of christianity and eventually almost disappeared in Europe while it still is strong in other parts of the world. To weaken clan and tribal affinity was absolutely essential for the enlightenment to happen. That is why you cannot establish reason and enlightenment in the same way in Afghanistan for example. Constantin was a genius, because he introduced a religion that both had the arguments for power politics, especially in the old testament and a lot of stuff for the small man to find comfort and question the authority, in the New Testament. This is probably the main reason why enlightenment could happen in the western world and not in India or China who were in many ways ahead of Europe with regard to sciense 2000 years ago - but in both countries the seeds to enlightenment were stopped by religious dogmas supported by their rulers. So the paradox is that it is all the inconsistencies in Christianity that finally allowed enlightenment to break through. In the end, Christianity did not have any holy dogmas that not could be attacked while that is not the case with all other religion. Again: The world was not governed by rational ideas 2000 years ago, but mainly by superstition, patriarchal power and family rule and in no way could those customs have been broken by the isolated islands of reason in Greece alone. Remember also that any idea can be turned into a dogma, which is why reason and critical thought is the most important way to create freedom.

  3. Thanks for taking a shot at this topic, because it's an important one. Ultimately, I think you presented a pretty revisionist view of history, and a decidedly one-sided look at the topic of faith and reason. You completely ignore that numerous Greek philosophers believed in a god (a classic philosophical god in this sense, who is all powerful, all knowing, all good, etc). You also presented Christianity as having nearly no positive benefit to society historically. I'm not entirely sure of your experience with religion and religious people, but you really don't have to go far to see significant benefits to society that Christianity has historically provided - hospitals, orphanages, charities of various sorts, universities, etc. We can debate whether or not faith and reason are mutually exclusive, but your version of Christianity you present here is a laughable farse, and I sincerely hope that no one would believe in the Christianity you present.

    The Christianity I believe in and practice encourages me to seek truth in all sources, because God is the source of all truth. Whether it is scientific (natural sciences or social sciences) knowledge or any other type, I find great joy in learning about it, and it only leads me to a greater appreciation for the wisdom and power of the God I worship. The Christianity I believe in has stains in its history, no doubt, but has been an incredible force for good in its existence largely. If you're going to present on this topic, there's no sense in using such a poor straw man.

  4. Thanks to all commenters for all the feedback on this episode. I've done a response to listener feedback on faith versus reason in episode 246