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Dale McGowan’s Unconditional Love of Reality

November 6, 2009

This is a snippet from Dale McGowan’s recent article, “The Unconditional Love of Reality.”

I was unconditionally smitten with reality and began at some point working on the Big Question: Does God exist?If I had any predisposition, it was the usual human one: a desire that it all be true. How could I have stood at that casket and wished for anything but the existence of God, since that might continue the existence of my father? But my love of reality naturally came with a serious distaste for self-deception. The truth itself is more beautiful than an illusion, even when that truth is uncomfortable. I would be thrilled if there was a God; I would be thrilled if there wasn’t. I just wanted to know.

In short, I took the question seriously.

Three obstacles presented themselves immediately. The first was the claim that the question simply can’t be asked. “It’s not that kind of question,” I remember a Sunday school teacher telling our class, without explaining what that could possibly mean. For the sake of the inquiry, I had to assume that was untrue and see what would happen if I asked it.

The second obstacle was the wrath of God. Doubt is a sin, probing questions an offense to the divine. After some thought, I decided that God was unlikely to be so insecure or frankly egotistical as to punish me eternally just because I was honestly wrong about him.

The third hurdle was the notion that even if it were a question like any other, there was simply no way to answer it. You can neither prove nor disprove God.

I was in high school before I surmounted that one. I realized I didn’t have to answer the question “Does God exist?” Must we believe all assertions that can’t be disproven? Russell’s Teapot says no. So a perfectly askable and appropriate question was “Why do other people believe in God, and are those reasons convincing?”

This is really the deal. Many people confuse the question at hand. It’s not whether something exist…but whether we are persuaded to believe something exists.

Unfortunately, this should answer some of his own questions. He speaks rather uncharitably when he asks:

How do we go on, century after century, skating on the thin ice of a system so self-evidently false and self-contradictory? We do so by believing what we hear from those we love, from those who wish us nothing but the best: that religious faith is inherently and unquestionably good, and that all good people are people of faith.

But I can say this is really too dim, too cynical. Obviously, there is something more that people get from religions that give them no reason to question (and thus, no reason to question if their religious faith is unquestionably good or not). The idea of “self-evident” falseness really masks something that McGowan unfortunately takes for granted…that self-evident concepts are only indicative of an individual’s subjective perspective. So what is self-evidently false and self-contradictory to McGowan very naturally might not appear so to anyone who has different (and positive) experiences with the religion or faith community.

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20 Comments
  1. I think McGowan is basically right when he says this:

    “Most stunning of all to me, standing there in the ruins of the temple, was the totality of the failure of Christian belief to stand up to examination. It wasn’t a question of a scale tipped slightly in the direction of disbelief, 51–49. There was nothing whatsoever remaining to support belief in the doctrines of Christianity, no close decisions, no stumpers, no fuzzy outcomes. I was dumbstruck to realize how thin a veneer covers the whole enterprise and how easily and completely that veneer is broken by the simple determination to consider the question a question.”

    He’s basically right, from a strictly rational point of view. I reached the same conclusion when I did what he did. But he’s wrong from an emotional point of view. Most people believe because it feels right. They feel something, and they understand that feeling as God.

    And feeling is stronger than thinking, for most people. Or, at least, feeling is strong enough to constrain thinking. It’s enough to stop many people from pursuing “the simple determination to consider the question a question” all the way to the final conclusion: there is (probably) no God after all.

    That’s the kind of thing people like McGowan (and Dawkins, and many others) miss. They don’t “feel God” and they don’t understand that other people do. They don’t understand belief, so when they try to describe it, they do so in ways that don’t ring true to believers.

    That’s one of the things I admire about your writing, BTW. You apparently don’t feel those feelings either, but you are able to recognize that some people do. Unfortunately, that perspective seems pretty rare.

  2. Wha…? I’m happy to say that I accept reality, but that doesn’t mean I love it. I certainly don’t love it entirely, unconditionally, and without reservation. And I totally get why people would prefer religion, even if I don’t prefer it.

  3. re kuri:

    I don’t think we can be so cavalier about separating “rationality” from “emotionality.” Rationality (even STRICT rationality) *should* include some level of emotionality or it will become trivial, undesirable, and inhuman. (If rationality must be unemotional — and some definitions suggest exactly that — then many people simply would admit that they aren’t and don’t want to be rational, and I wouldn’t really blame them.)

    I would argue that for people that it feels right to, as you point out, it is most reasonable for them to go with what feels right (e.g., concluding in a god). The “reasonableness” of their position is rationality, no more and no less. It would be irrational to expect people to go against what feels right. (Even in instances when we seemingly ask people to do this, it is because we believe that they will get a greater reward somewhere down the line…so, we are asserting that something else will “feel right” in the future.)

    In the same vein, I really don’t think you want to put “feeling” at odds with “thinking.” That really makes nonbelievers look like robotic, cold, calculating monsters. I don’t think that’s the case; it’s not that nonbelievers disregard feelings or do not feel…rather, we feel different things and come to different conclusions based on them.

    (In the end, you come to this conclusion. This is what McGowan, Dawkins, etc., don’t seem to understand. They don’t “feel” God, and so their sets of evidence are different than that of the believer…but then they conclude they are being “rational” and the believers are not. When really, most parties are being rational…but they have different emotional components.)

    Thanks for the compliment, though. I don’t think it makes up for my TURBOFAIL on Mormon Matters today though -_-

  4. re chanson:

    I think McGowan means to assert that his love of reality is what drives his curiosity to understand it. Does mere acceptance drive that?

    I’d ultimately have to say for me, it doesn’t. (Of course, I’m generally just not curious about a great many things. -_- an intellectual lightweight, I suppose.)

  5. “I would argue that for people that it feels right to, as you point out, it is most reasonable for them to go with what feels right (e.g., concluding in a god). The “reasonableness” of their position is rationality, no more and no less. It would be irrational to expect people to go against what feels right.”

    I don’t agree, quite. That’s not to say that it doesn’t make sense for people to believe based on their feelings. It does. It just doesn’t make rational sense.

    Because one of the things that science and reason teach us is that things that feel true or that we want to be true aren’t necessarily so. If one takes a worldview that privileges rationality, then one will reject feelings about “truths” that don’t hold up under rational scrutiny.

    I guess I approach this from a different angle than many people, because I’ve been on both sides of the equation. I used to “feel God” all the time, and I based my life on those feelings for decades. But when I finally decided to look at God rationally, his existence couldn’t bear up under the scrutiny. Like McGowan said, it wasn’t even close.

    So I do, explicitly, reject the feelings I used to have. I felt and believed things that weren’t real or true. It was reasonable to believe them, but it wasn’t rational.

  6. kuri:

    I don’t agree, quite. That’s not to say that it doesn’t make sense for people to believe based on their feelings. It does. It just doesn’t make rational sense.

    In the case of your definition, I’d have to say rather strongly that I think “rational sense” is useless for people and not at all something people should seek. Not even applicable to humanity as humans.

    …seriously, I think your idea of reason and rationality presumes too much. Reason does not “teach” us anything. Reason is just a tool, a kind of thinking to go from premises to conclusions. If we start with different premises and assumptions, we can *easily* come up with different conclusions (all through rationality). This, by the way, is the same limitation of logic. You can have an argument that is perfectly logical but nonetheless untrue (or unable to be discerned whether it can be true or not.) Because the “logical” adjective just describes if the construction of the argument is valid and not fallacious. But logic doesn’t demand that we know the premises or the conclusions are sound and true.

    Not to try to presume things, but I would suspect that *something* changed…whether before you started looking at non-emotional evidence, or during, or after, and it caused you to change your premises or conclusions (for example, you might have changed one particular argument: “Certain emotions are evidence of spiritual experiences” based on coming across different data.) But still, it doesn’t mean that once you were irrational and now you’re rational. Rather, you were always reasonable and rational; the issue is that you had a different set of evidence (and a different set of premises and conclusions).

    I wouldn’t say that you reject the feelings you used to have. I wouldn’t say that you felt and believed things that weren’t real or true. Rather, I think what you have done is changed the assumptions and conclusions about these feelings and believers. Instead of saying, “Certain emotions are evidence of spiritual experience, which are evidence of God,” you could say, “Certain emotions are evidence of neurological patterns, which are evidence of an active brain.”

    But if you still want to use your definition of rational, then I really have to wonder if rationality is worth a darn. It seems to be counterintuitive to humanity.

  7. In the case of your definition, I’d have to say rather strongly that I think “rational sense” is useless for people and not at all something people should seek. Not even applicable to humanity as humans.

    OK, rationality is a tool. That’s a good way of looking at it. But one of the things it’s useful for is overcoming emotion.

    Let me give you an example. The sight of two guys kissing causes an emotional reaction in me: it creeps me out. I’m homophobic that way; I don’t think I can help it.

    But my rational side says, “So what?” There’s no rational basis for those feelings, so while I still feel them, I reject them. Those feelings are morally wrong because they are irrational.

    Not to try to presume things, but I would suspect that *something* changed…whether before you started looking at non-emotional evidence, or during, or after, and it caused you to change your premises or conclusions…

    Of course. I changed my premises. Deliberately. My old first premise (and conclusion) was, “The Church is true.” Why? Because I felt that way. Because I had many experiences that I thought were “spiritual” ones. Those are intuitive, emotional bases for belief, not rational ones.

    But I dropped that premise. I tried an experiment. I said, “What if…?” I said, “What if I quit stopping myself from following reason wherever it leads? Where will that take me?” So I dropped my old premises. “The Church is true. My experiences are spiritual. Feelings are a valid means of discerning empirical reality.” I stuck a “not necessarily” into each of them, and looked at the whole thing rationally rather than emotionally.

    And that was that.

    I wouldn’t say that you reject the feelings you used to have. I wouldn’t say that you felt and believed things that weren’t real or true.

    But I would say both those things. I could still feel those feelings and have those experiences if I wanted too. I always could, and I still know how to. But I don’t, because I’ve concluded — rationally — that they’re not valid reflections of reality. They’re just reflections of my brain chemistry.

    But if you still want to use your definition of rational, then I really have to wonder if rationality is worth a darn. It seems to be counterintuitive to humanity.

    I don’t deny rationality is counterintuitive. That’s precisely why it’s valuable, imo. Intuition and emotion led me to believe things that aren’t true. My rationality led me to stop believing them. Whether that’s “worth a darn” is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

  8. Let me give you an example. The sight of two guys kissing causes an emotional reaction in me: it creeps me out. I’m homophobic that way; I don’t think I can help it.

    But my rational side says, “So what?” There’s no rational basis for those feelings, so while I still feel them, I reject them. Those feelings are morally wrong because they are irrational.

    A counter-example. The sight of two guys kissing causes an emotional reaction in me: it turns me on. I’m homosexual that way; I don’t think I can help it.

    But my rational side says, “So what?” There’s no rational basis for these feelings, so while I still feel them, I reject them. Those feelings are morally wrong because they are irrational.

    Now, actually, many people would believe this is so, so let’s change the facts a bit. The sight of the most beautiful woman in the world causes an emotional reaction in me: it turns me on. I’m heterosexual that way; I don’t think I can help it.

    But my rational side says, “So what?” There’s no rational basis for these feelings, so while I still feel them, I reject them. Those feelings are morally wrong because they are irrational.

    In both cases I should certainly hope not. The first thing to point out is that it does not follow that if something is irrational, it is morally wrong. (Or at least, if that is true, then I don’t want to be morally right or rational. For this, I could accept that something like, say, “love,” is irrational or immoral. But then I’d just reject morality and rationality.) The second thing is that even if emotions were irrational, it would not follow that we should reject them (or at least, we wouldn’t reject them on basis that they are irrational.) If we should, then again, I would not want to be rational.

    Finally though is the assumption that the emotion *is* indeed irrational. We cannot make a blanket statement that they are.

    For example, if we have been in a car accident, then our fear and anxiety of cars is not irrational. We have very good reasons for our feelings. On the other hand, with things like homophobia, racism, and other things, we usually don’t have these good reasons, because instead, our fear is based on their difference and their unknownness. And indeed, even here, the distinction is a difference in information. The difference between a “bad” reason and a “good” reason is difference in information, which would not have been understood by the person with the bad reason.

    So, we shouldn’t just say emotion = irrational.

    (to be continued)

  9. (It’s really awkward for me to now try to defend belief, but here goes).

    Notice what you have said…when you changed your premises and conclusions that *is* what you were doing. Because when you were in the church, you *did* have a chain of reason for believing the way you did. You did begin with the premise that feelings were a valid way to discern empirical reality, and you inferred that your feelings were examples of spiritual experiences. Your experiment was to change these premises…

    Changing premises doesn’t get you from irrational to rational…because the system of premises, inference, and conclusions *is* reason. You didn’t start “following reason wherever it led,” because in fact, you had already been doing so. It’s just that with your prior inferences and premises, it led you smack dab to the church.

    But I would say both those things. I could still feel those feelings and have those experiences if I wanted too. I always could, and I still know how to. But I don’t, because I’ve concluded — rationally — that they’re not valid reflections of reality. They’re just reflections of my brain chemistry.

    Brain chemistry is reflective of reality. YOU are part of reality, right :)? But I see what you’re saying — brain chemistry isn’t the same thing as an external “divinity”.

    I don’t deny rationality is counterintuitive. That’s precisely why it’s valuable, imo. Intuition and emotion led me to believe things that aren’t true. My rationality led me to stop believing them. Whether that’s “worth a darn” is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

    To try to knit things up, as I said, you are part of reality. Your brain chemistry is part of reality. So feelings actually *do* tell you about truth. For example, love (from my previous comment) tells us about a truth. Is it a truth that some external being (aphrodite or cupid, maybe?) is hitting us with an arrow? No. Is it a truth that the person that we love is objectively lovely? No. But is our feeling of it a fact? A fact worth acting upon? Most people would say yes. I think many people would rather eschew “rationality” than eschew these things…or, they would rather look for a different description of rationality that isn’t so hostile to those ideas.

  10. My example didn’t go far enough. If I were to try to force every pair of gay guys I saw engaged in PDA to stop, or if I were to discriminate against gay people, those would emotionally-based but morally-wrong acts. It is my rationality, my awareness that my emotions have no rational basis, that (in part) keeps me from carrying out those morally wrong actions.

    The first thing to point out is that it does not follow that if something is irrational, it is morally wrong.

    Stipulated. Of course I’m not saying that emotion is always bad and rationality is always good. Love, compassion, elevation, and so on are all emotions, not rational thoughts, and human society would be very poor without them.

    For example, if we have been in a car accident, then our fear and anxiety of cars is not irrational. We have very good reasons for our feelings.

    Well, no, not really. That’s what phobias are pretty much by definition: irrational fears. They’re usually emotional, based in the amygdala. Cognitive therapy — teaching the sufferer to think more rationally about the object of fear rather than simply reacting emotionally — is often an effective treatment.

    So, we shouldn’t just say emotion = irrational.

    “Irrational” has such pejorative connotations (“unreasonable” or even “insane”) that I often use “non-rational” instead. But I think emotion is not rational — feeling is not the same as reasoning — even when it’s reasonable and sane.

  11. Stipulated. Of course I’m not saying that emotion is always bad and rationality is always good. Love, compassion, elevation, and so on are all emotions, not rational thoughts, and human society would be very poor without them.

    Yet, opening up for these emotions allows people to open up to other emotions. For example, the emotion someone feels when they commune with the divine. Perhaps they believe society would be very poor without that. You can try to divide emotions that would enrich society from those that would not, but people could easily disagree on specifics and argue that some emotions you think don’t enrich actually do.

    Well, no, not really. That’s what phobias are pretty much by definition: irrational fears. They’re usually emotional, based in the amygdala. Cognitive therapy — teaching the sufferer to think more rationally about the object of fear rather than simply reacting emotionally — is often an effective treatment.

    That’s why I explicitly tried to establish a non-phobic fear. Phobias are by definition irrational fears, I agree. But that doesn’t show that all fears are irrational. You’ve just picked out fears that we know are irrational. But all fears do not fit thus.

    “Irrational” has such pejorative connotations (“unreasonable” or even “insane”) that I often use “non-rational” instead. But I think emotion is not rational — feeling is not the same as reasoning — even when it’s reasonable and sane.

    Except we use feeling in reasoning. Again, “reasoning” isn’t as specific a claim as you want it to be. Your past REASONING that “feelings are a valid means to discern empirical reality –> I have a feeling –> this feeling is a valid mean to discern the empirical reality of spiritual experience” was in fact reasoning. Reasoning did not preclude you from using emotion to inform your conclusion.

  12. Changing premises doesn’t get you from irrational to rational…because the system of premises, inference, and conclusions *is* reason. You didn’t start “following reason wherever it led,” because in fact, you had already been doing so. It’s just that with your prior inferences and premises, it led you smack dab to the church.

    I don’t think that’s quite right. To the extent I was reasoning about the church while I was a believer, I was reasoning backwards from the conclusion. The church is true, therefore whatever I experience, feel, or think must reflect that truth.

    I suppose one might say that that’s still rationality, just poorly reasoned. But the basis of that premise was emotional: I felt the church to be true. I didn’t reason it to be true, I felt it. Then I reasoned backwards from that feeling. So I was following reason to where my belief led it, not to where reason itself led.

    What I changed was, I looked at my experiences and my feelings and my former reasoning without the preconceived premise. I simply sought the most rational view of each of those things and of the whole that they contributed to. I let reason guide me to a conclusion rather than using reason to provide support for a conclusion.

    So I think that was a significant difference, enough for me to say that I did indeed move from non-rationality to rationality. (Of course, I’m still making a number of assumptions, such as reason being a valid tool and me being capable of using it, and no doubt those assumptions are partly based in emotion at some level. But I’m only human.)

    So feelings actually *do* tell you about truth.

    Yes, but they tell us emotional truth. They can tell us the truth about themselves. My feelings about the church were true in that sense. I truly felt it was everything it says it is. But that emotional truth wasn’t an external truth. The church almost certainly isn’t what it says it is.

    Is it a truth that the person that we love is objectively lovely? No. But is our feeling of it a fact? A fact worth acting upon? Most people would say yes.

    Love an ordinary person, and that love is “true” and worth acting on. But suppose somebody loves an abusive person. It’s so common for them to say, “But he really loves me” and so on. That’s what they feel. Their love blinds them. But if you can get them to think rationally, to look beyond their feelings, then they can see: “I’m being abused. He doesn’t really love me.” I’ve seen that happen.

    I think many people would rather eschew “rationality” than eschew these things…or, they would rather look for a different description of rationality that isn’t so hostile to those ideas.

    I don’t think my definition is hostile to emotion. It simply distinguishes between feeling and thinking. Rationality is a tool, like you said. I believe in applying it when apt. But just because I have a hammer doesn’t mean I think every problem is a nail.

  13. Yet, opening up for these emotions allows people to open up to other emotions. For example, the emotion someone feels when they commune with the divine. Perhaps they believe society would be very poor without that. You can try to divide emotions that would enrich society from those that would not, but people could easily disagree on specifics and argue that some emotions you think don’t enrich actually do.

    I don’t think I’ve been prescriptive or normative in what I’ve been saying. I haven’t been saying that people should eschew emotion for rationality, except in certain circumstances (prejudices and abusive relationships, for example). I’ve just been saying that they are two different things. That was my original point: McGowan (like Dawkins) is such a rationalist that he apparently can’t understand the emotional bases of belief.

    Except we use feeling in reasoning. Again, “reasoning” isn’t as specific a claim as you want it to be. Your past REASONING that “feelings are a valid means to discern empirical reality –> I have a feeling –> this feeling is a valid mean to discern the empirical reality of spiritual experience” was in fact reasoning. Reasoning did not preclude you from using emotion to inform your conclusion.

    But emotion did preclude me from reasoning properly about something that in the event could be better discerned by reason than by emotion. My emotion led me to reason in a circle. When I abandoned my emotional outlook on that particular problem, I was able to reason more clearly and reach a more valid conclusion.

  14. I suppose one might say that that’s still rationality, just poorly reasoned. But the basis of that premise was emotional: I felt the church to be true. I didn’t reason it to be true, I felt it. Then I reasoned backwards from that feeling. So I was following reason to where my belief led it, not to where reason itself led.

    “reason” doesn’t lead anywhere. Really, your “reason” always has beliefs that lead it to places. When you were a believer, you implicit reasoning was that feeling *is* indicative of spiritual experience, and spiritual experience *is* indicative of the church’s truth. You might have had a further reasoning (e.g., must begin with faith that the church is true to have the feeling of spiritual experience, etc.,)

    But in this case, there is still a clear path. It was, as I would say, rational. It just depended on the premises and inferences (which you do not make now)

    Yes, but they tell us emotional truth. They can tell us the truth about themselves. My feelings about the church were true in that sense. I truly felt it was everything it says it is. But that emotional truth wasn’t an external truth. The church almost certainly isn’t what it says it is.

    I agree, but don’t you see how even from what you said, one set of premises (e.g., feelings tell the truth about themselves. So, if we interpret a feeling as a spiritual experience [even if it is not], then we can reason that the feeling tells the truth about itself. The spiritual experience tells the truth about itself) could make it altogether rational to go with feelings, yet other premises would not allow us to conclude that.

    Love an ordinary person, and that love is “true” and worth acting on. But suppose somebody loves an abusive person. It’s so common for them to say, “But he really loves me” and so on. That’s what they feel. Their love blinds them. But if you can get them to think rationally, to look beyond their feelings, then they can see: “I’m being abused. He doesn’t really love me.” I’ve seen that happen.

    And yet, all of a sudden, the “rationality” doesn’t depend on the emotion at all. In other words, love isn’t rational in one and irrational in the other. The emotion is just one piece of evidence in the equation, and when you try to get someone in an abusive relationship to think rationally, you try to get them to weigh other evidences (e.g., damage)…you don’t paint their feeling of love broadly as irrational.

    I don’t think my definition is hostile to emotion. It simply distinguishes between feeling and thinking. Rationality is a tool, like you said. I believe in applying it when apt. But just because I have a hammer doesn’t mean I think every problem is a nail.

    And yet, thinking is informed by feeling and vice versa.

    That was my original point: McGowan (like Dawkins) is such a rationalist that he apparently can’t understand the emotional bases of belief.

    Yet my point to you was that McGowan’s (and Dawkins’s in particular) major faux pas was recognizing that the emotional nature of belief does not make them irrational. Rather, believers have different premises and inferences than the nonbelievers do.

    But emotion did preclude me from reasoning properly about something that in the event could be better discerned by reason than by emotion. My emotion led me to reason in a circle. When I abandoned my emotional outlook on that particular problem, I was able to reason more clearly and reach a more valid conclusion.

    No, emotion did not preclude you from reasoning properly about something that could be better discerned by reason than by emotion. Again, you were ALREADY using reason. The issue was in the evidences you viewed, the inferences you took with those evidences, and the premises you took about how to evaluate or gather evidence.

  15. No, emotion did not preclude you from reasoning properly about something that could be better discerned by reason than by emotion. Again, you were ALREADY using reason. The issue was in the evidences you viewed, the inferences you took with those evidences, and the premises you took about how to evaluate or gather evidence.

    Yes, it did preclude me from reasoning properly. Intuitive thinking and rational thinking are not the same thing. They’re different processes that use different parts of the brain. When I believed in the church, my initial thinking was emotional and intuitive. I felt the church was true and I accepted that as a conclusion. I didn’t think about it carefully and rationally, weighing the evidence for and against before deciding, I went with my “gut instinct.” I “just knew.”

    And there’s nothing wrong with that in many circumstances. Going back to love, for example, I don’t need to reason out whether I’m in love. I don’t need a checklist of “symptoms” or something to run through and compare myself with. I know when I’m in love. I understand that intuitively (and that’s a good thing).

    But say I not only know I’m in love, I know I want to get married. I can just go ahead, based on my intuition and feelings, or I can stop and think about it. I can think about how compatible we really are, how stable our relationship is, our long-term prospects, and so on. That’s the advice wise older people always give young lovers, and young lovers usually ignore (and nobody blames them very much).

    But my point is that those are two very different ways of thinking. The way a person knows he’s in love and the way he can know whether the person he’s in love with offers a good prospect of long-term happiness are different. One way is intuitive, and the other is rational. Sometimes one way is more appropriate, and sometimes the other is. Sometimes they complement each other, and sometimes they interfere with each other. But they are different.

    And that’s what I’ve been saying. When I “knew” the church was true, I was like somebody in love. I didn’t reason it out like a logic problem. I didn’t think, “Here’s the evidence for and against” and decide accordingly. Not at all. I just jumped to a conclusion, intuitively and emotionally. Later, sometimes, I did think carefully and rationally about the church. Then, I did pretty much what you said, reasoning from certain premises. But my rational thinking was always based on my initial intuitive thinking. It was, in effect, “contaminated” by my intuitive or emotional biases.

    So what I finally did was cast off that initial bias and start over. I looked at the evidence for and against, without my old biases. I thought about the question in a different way, not just with different premises, and I reached a different conclusion.

  16. FireTag permalink

    Great debate, both of you.

    I think the key is not to contrast the various parts of the brain where the chemistry is occurring, but to integrate them. Our bodies are one organism, that contains various brain systems and mechanisms added on species by species throughout evolutionary history. They tend to supplement each other (like additional apps) much more often than they replace an inferior function entirely.

    That process is still going on, I think, which is why I don’t think the questions Andrew was raising about evolving God and eternal progression was a “turbofailure” at all.

    I think the choice to value rationality over all else is inevitably a PERSONAL rather than a rational choice, which has to rely on values rather than reason. The IMPERSONAL aspects of reality don’t, by definition, “care”.

    To me, the interesting question becomes, what is the relative importance of the personal and impersonal in reality, since both aspects can be experimentally observed.

  17. Yes, it did preclude me from reasoning properly. Intuitive thinking and rational thinking are not the same thing. They’re different processes that use different parts of the brain. When I believed in the church, my initial thinking was emotional and intuitive. I felt the church was true and I accepted that as a conclusion. I didn’t think about it carefully and rationally, weighing the evidence for and against before deciding, I went with my “gut instinct.” I “just knew.”

    You’re right in this instance…

    But I would argue that in other instances, there certainly *is* a “rational intuition.” For example, I don’t “reason” that 2 + 2 = 4. As soon as I know about the concept 2, and the concept 4, it is intuitive that 2 + 2 = 4.

    I don’t disagree that there are two different kinds of thinking…I just disagree both on when the two different kinds of thinking are applicable, and if one kind of thinking can or cannot inform the other.

    I have to really agree with FireTag here, but since I do agree with you that rational thinking and intuitive thinking are different (although I think that the latter *can* inform the other, which is actually most often the case), I guess I also agree with you there. I especially agree with FireTag that the question becomes what is the relative importance of the personal and impersonal? Since we’ve listed a couple of place when the two get different relative importances (e.g., love vs. a church)

  18. I’m not too sure about your 2 + 2 example. I think maybe we learn that rationally (adding on our fingers) and then we just remember it.

    But anyway, here’s an interesting article about intuitive and rational thinking.

  19. Howard permalink

    I’m really not sure you read the whole piece. The author quite clearly empathizes with the emotional aspect of belief, in the very next paragraph after the one you quote:

    “I do have empathy for those who wish to believe. I could have used some comfortable certainties when my father died. I tremble to imagine myself on a spinning ball racing forty thousand miles an hour through the vacuum of space. And though Huxley and Hume and Epicurus have helped me, I do fear death, especially now that I’ve reached my father’s last age.”

  20. Howard,

    Since this piece is now nearly 3 years old, I guess I’m distanced enough from it that I can try to look at it — and Dale’s article — with fresh eyes.

    I still feel the same way now that I did then (although I haven’t re-read all the comments, so I don’t know what comments I would make in conversation.)

    The paragraph you quote does not capture the aspect of belief to which I refer (which, incidentally enough, in the original post, I never call it “emotional” — although I suppose through many of the comments, the discussion is about emotionality vs. rationality.)

    See, what I’m trying to get at in my post is that Dale doesn’t understand the subjective experience of believing. He takes his own subjective experience and projects it as objective rationality — and so he concludes that this system is “so self-evidently false and self-contradictory”

    To state that the only (or main, or primary) reason one might believe is for “comfortable certainties” about death really trivializes religion. It emphatically does not Get It.

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