Alister McGrath—Faith and the Prison of Mere Rationality

The New Atheism makes rationality one of its core defining characteristics, and emphatically and aggressively asserts the irrationality of belief in God. For Richard Dawkins, faith in God counts as some kind of mental illness. Atheism is the only option for rational people.

But why should reason be able to tell us anything about God? Or anything else of significance, for that matter – such as what is good, or what is right?

From Faith and the Prison of Mere Rationality by Alister McGrath. He goes on to say:

The problem here is that this defence of the authority of human reason is ultimately circular and parasitical. It assumes and depends upon its conclusion. This philosophical defence of the validity of reason by reason is thus intrinsically self-referential. It cannot be sustained.

The rational defence of reason itself may amount to a demonstration of its internal consistency and coherence – but not of its truth. There is no reason why a flawed rationality will show up its own flaws. We are using a tool to judge its own reliability. We have convened a court, in which the accused and the judge are one and the same.

McGrath is right on in this article. Read the whole article here.

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3 Responses to Alister McGrath—Faith and the Prison of Mere Rationality

  1. me says:

    Actually, it doesn’t matter whether reason is held to be absolute or merely elevated to “beyond a reasonable doubt” (which is, by the way, invalid as it attempts to define itself…). The point remains that if men are fallible (I’ll leave women out of this …), which they must be, then reason is by definition unreliable. The only possible absolute authority must come from outside of mankind and reason; in other words, revelation. This is Godel’s point.

    In fact, the only possible scenario for reason to maintain any sort of validity is with confirmation from outside; again, revelation.

    Faith, then, is not irrational by definition. However, reason elevated above faith must therefore be irrational.

  2. ^”authoritative teaching”

  3. But my immediate point is that if there was a flaw in human reasoning processes, reason itself would not be able to detect this. We would be locked into unreliable patterns of thought, without any means of escape. Some say rationalism liberates. Wiser souls suggest that it has the capacity to entrap and imprison.

    Strawmen are so easy to knock down, aren’t they? And it’s fun! See the falling strawman! Baggini and Ruse are two of the atheists who assert their superiority by dismissing their straw versions of Gnu Atheism, by misrepresenting what they present.

    They are fully aware that individual humans cannot be completely nor entirely rational, and do not make absolutist claims even about the existence of God. Even Dawkins states that he is an agnostic, but quite reasonably (based on the lack of observable evidence to the contrary) asserts that His existence has as much factual support as do fairies in the garden.

    McGrath is quite right that science is a profitable enterprise, and it is because of the fact that science relies on cross checks to defeat the fallibility of the reason of the individual human’s rationality. The rationality that the atheists rely upon does not claim absolute certainty, as McGrath would lead you to believe that they claim. It leads to the “beyond a reasonable doubt” but never to the absolute certainty standard. Even physicists recognize hedging in the “fact” of gravity, despite the fact that to doubt its effects are unreasonable.

    Faith, by definition, is irrational when stripped bare of cultural influence and authoritative. There is no “reason” to have faith if people are not taught about it, but it can’t stand on its own as an objective way to describe reality.

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