“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Wm. Shakespeare, From Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5
In this oft-quoted line, Shakespeare has encapsulated the problem with those who would recomend a life based on reason, to the exclusion of faith. He probably didn’t intend to make this point outside of his play, but the point is still made, that you cannot reason that which is outside of reason. (This point has also been made based on Godel’s Theorum, but that’s for another day.)
This, of course, doesn’t stop people from trying to reason away faith. Just the other day, I nearly bought a book recently released in trade paperback, entitled “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, And The Future Of Reason,” By Sam Harris. (I should add that the paperback edition is much more attractive than the hardcover.) From a moment’s look at it, I pretty much figured out all he had to say, but considered reading it anyway. However, I decided to read a few reviews first, and I am glad I did. Essentially, the reviews confirmed my first impression.
Harris has a philosophy degree, currently working on a doctorate in neuroscience. According to reviewer Robert Hambourger, the book is “an open appeal for religious intolerance.” Essentially, Harris is anti-faith, proposing that a life based solely on reason would end terrorism and other evils. He is not only against religious extremists, he believes that religious moderates are dangerous, because they can make faith sound reasonable, thus, it’s harder to destroy. He is apparently okay with Buddhism; as it turns out, he is himself into meditation…
There were some, obviously, who liked the book. From the comments, it seemed that most who liked it were themselves looking for a reason to “not believe.” However, here’s an exerpt from Publishers Weekly: “In this sometimes simplistic and misguided book, Harris calls for the end of religious faith … Harris’s book generalizes so much about both religion and reason that it is ineffectual.” Another reviewer commented that the book sounded like a throwback to the Enlightenment, saying nothing new.
The Bible would call Harris a fool. I would simply say, echoing Shakespeare, that there are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Mr. Harris’ philosophy. Perhaps even more simply: if you don’t have any faith, you have no basis for understanding faith.
In considering the argument for reason (I am, by the way, a proponent for reason, and would probably agree with Harris on some of his points about religious fundamentalism), it occurred to me that this really isn’t an argument for reason at all; it is, in essence, just another argument for faith. Rather than faith in a god of some sort, it is an argument for faith in reason itself, and more specifically, faith in the human ability to think rationally. It doesn’t take much to see that man’s ability to think rationally is flawed, and no real sign that evolution is helping us out any in that arena.
So then, the issue is not faith versus non-faith, it is faith in a deity against faith in man. Reason is not an alternative, it is essential in understanding the issue and seeing truth. Harris may have only proven that not only does he misunderstand the essence of faith, he doesn’t understand reason either.
As God himself has said, “come, let us reason together.” There are more things, Horatio (and Harris) than are dreamt of in your philosophy.