Reason vs Reason

Here are some stray thoughts on the question of reason vs revelation that I typed up in the comments section of another blog. I’m not sure if my thoughts here are right or not, but they are food for thought.

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There is no such thing as a contradiction between reason and revelation. Sounds a little fundamentalist, doesn’t it? Let me explain.

There is no such thing as “blind faith.” When people believe something, they believe it for a reason. That reason may be something as simple as a subjective spiritual experience, or it may be a complex mathematical formula proving the existence of a Creator.

It really doesn’t matter if the reason for belief is a good reason or not, or if belief is justified by the reason. What matters is that every individual has a reason for believing something. Maybe the reason is that they were raised that way and they’ve never considered any other alternative. Maybe it is because they feel good about it. Maybe it is because they have studied the issue from every angle for 20 years and finally arrived at a well-thought-out conclusion. No matter what the reason is, everyone has a reason for believing what they believe.

So the “revelation vs. reason” dichotomy is a false one, and should rather be described as “reason vs reason.” We can pit the reasons why we believe something against the reasons why we shouldn’t believe something. Let me give an example of how this might work in the real world.

Sister Jones believes that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient record, translated via Joseph Smith. The reason she believes this is because of experiences she has had that she considers sacred and spiritual. Sister Jones has never studied the Book of Mormon from a scholarly perspective, and is totally unaware of criticisms against it.

Then one day her neighbor tells her about some anachronism in the Book of Mormon. Sister Jones has no idea how to answer it. She researches, studies, and ultimately can’t figure out how to respond to the criticism. So, Sister Jones has to decide if her reasons for believing in the Book of Mormon are stronger than her reasons for disbelieving in the Book of Mormon. Which ever way she decides, she is relying upon reasons. It isn’t “blind faith” if she maintains faith in the Book of Mormon. It is faith that is established upon sacred experiences she believes she has had. That is her reason, whether we like it or not (and I happen to think that is a great reason).

As a final note, I think it is important to remember that there is a distinction between having reasons to believe something, and being able to persuade someone else to believe something. Or, as Evangelical scholar William Craig has put it, “How do I know that Christianity is true? In answering this question, I have found it helpful to distinguish between knowing Christianity to be true and showing Christianity to be true.”

Just because you can’t prove to someone else that something is true doesn’t mean you can’t know that it is true.

…..

“When reason that is supported by logic and evidence contradicts reason supported by revelation, and you must make a big decision, what do you do? ”

I’d suggest that before all else, one should slow down. In weighing reasons for belief or disbelief one needs to go slowly, don’t be hasty. There isn’t a need to rush. Sometimes the initial shock of cognitive dissonance can be overwhelming, and we badly want a way out. In order to relieve the stress we are feeling we sometimes will make rash decisions, such as abandoning faith or leaping into faith. What we need to do is to go slowly, realize the answers might be days, weeks, months, and even years away. Be cautious.

Then, when you feel like you have sufficiently weighed the issues, make a careful decision. No problem. But be careful not to be spiteful towards those who have also carefully made a decision if it is opposite yours.

Now, from my personal experience, as one who has chosen to maintain faith, I live by a couple rules:

(1) The LDS Church has as good a chance of being true as any other. If I come to the conclusion that the LDS Church is false, I will likely become agnostic because I don’t expect to find another faith with better evidence for it.

(2) Living the life of faith is incredibly satisfying, productive, and joyful. Even if one concludes that the underlying doctrines are incorrect, it is worth remaining in the community of faith for very practical reasons…that it is a very happy way to live.

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