I’m not an Atheist or a Religious Rationalist
But I have a hard time making a firm commitment on “religion.”
I know I’ll disappoint some of my skeptically minded friends by noting my hopeful agnosticism weighs in the direction of theism and universalism.
What I understand as “rationalism” is what man’s reason discovers pursuant to the laws of evidence, empiricism, objective rules of logic and fallacies. 2+2=4. A is A.
Thomas Aquinas and philosophers who followed in the philosophic tradition of “classical theism” (like Samuel Clarke) held that man could reason his way to “God.” (Ed Feser, in my opinion, does a notable job at defending the philosophical basis for classical theism.)
Even if we accept that man can reason his way to something above him (let’s call it “suprarational” in the same way that animals are “subrational”; or perhaps something(s) merely “rational,” but more advanced, like aliens) given what we currently know, reason cannot and will not lead to specific ultimate truth answers. And the different religions teach or tend to teach the need for belief in those specific places.
But maybe later we will learn more (hence the importance of the philosophical way of life, and to keep one’s mind open).
So for example, at the funeral of my beloved late paternal grandmother, who was agnostic or nominally religious for most of her life, only to return to Roman Catholicism after being diagnosed with terminal cancer (my other beloved maternal grandmother was a cradle to grave devout Roman Catholic, with a gentle but unshakable faith) the Monsignor inquired as to why “we” (my immediate family) weren’t practicing Catholics in good standing with the Church.
A contrarian, I replied something like “maybe I like what the Protestants teach better.” I was 18 and the Monsignor already in old age, of course had an answer (paraphrasing): “You shouldn’t be looking for what you ‘like,’ but the truth … and the Roman Catholic Church teaches the truth; the Protestants do not.”
The philosopher in me, of course, respects the Monsignor’s admonition to look for the “truth.” However, I was not and am not convinced he arrived at the proper destination. Though I do concede or at least believe the place he (as with my two grandmothers) arrived was “in good faith.” Therefore, I can’t imagine a just God or whatever holding it against them.
So, even if we concede — and it’s a big concession — certain “theistic” or “Christian” common denominators, the different particular sects tend to demand arrival at their specific destination. This is why I believe Pascal’s Wager is refuted. I know of a great deal of Protestant fundamentalists who would damn Roman Catholics qua Roman Catholics to Hell. Just as Muslim fundamentalists damn non-Muslims. And some Roman Catholics too (though hopeful universalism seems to have taken hold in conservative Roman Catholic circles) damn all non-Catholics. So it’s not just about choosing between belief and non-belief, but choosing the correct one among numerous doors.
How to tell which door? That’s something to which “rationalism” can’t answer. If you examine the debates between and among the different religious sects, one sees they can be quite rationalistic in how they argue. They must grapple with a vast knowledge of religious texts and historical understanding of such. And they must synthesize that data through the rules of logic and so on.
If they make blatant logical fallacies, misstate facts, or otherwise seem not aware of pertinent facts, their opponents will call them out and potentially make them look like buffoons. And indeed ignorant buffoons abound in abundance.
And, whether they argue their case well, they invariably use objectively sounding language like “I have refuted my opponents points and proven that Roman Catholicism is false, Calvinism true.” Now, maybe the Roman Catholic really did lose the debate. Maybe the Mormon won. The truth is what it is regardless of whether its advocates well argue the case.
(A sophist with a lie can beat a Forrest Gump with the truth according to the strict rules of “rationalism.”)
But we could narrow our look at what “the best” have to offer. We can view multiple live performances and examine their multiple written words. I confess, over the pass decade I’ve done a great deal of this, taking seriously religious arguments many of my skeptically mind friends do not. Closely watching the debates.
Here is what I have found: The folks who believe in traditional Christianity (i.e., Roman Catholics v. Protestants v. capital O Orthodox; 5 Point Calvinists v. Arminians who deny all 5 of those points, and on and on) cannot refute one another on rationalistic grounds (in terms of “we prove our conclusion” and so on). Regarding those “supernaturally” inspired books, supposedly “revealed” in a “God speaking to man” sense (which books belong in a “canon”) rational argument can’t settle which ones authentic (belonging in the “canon”) which not (that don’t). (How many books are there in the Bible? 66? 73? Or some other number?)
Rationalism is important in one sense: To test. If someone says “the Bible teaches that a giant Giraffe temps man in the Book of Genesis,” rationalism says no, it wasn’t a Giraffe, but rather a snake or some kind of serpent. Rationalism can also observe such things as “you have made a non-sequitur, your conclusion does not necessarily follow from the facts presented.” For example, if Jesus’ body was seemingly deceased but then disappeared, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he was an Incarnate God. He could have been an advanced, created Being. Or something else.
But still, some assumed truth can at a general level appear to meet rationalism’s tests. And once so apparently meeting, there is no one necessary place where such truth specifically terminates. Rather all sorts of different, incompatible, contradictory truths that apparently meet the test of rationalism (or certain shared assumed premises) can presently argue one another to Mexican Standoffs.
Roman Catholics can’t refute the reformed Protestants, who can’t refute the capital O Orthodox Christians and all of them, vice versa between and among themselves. But they aren’t the only ones. There are lots of others who we could add to the bunch.
Likewise, an advancement in discovery of knowledge can change the rules of the game. (The “game changers.”) Think about places in the past when knowledge of later discovered truths weren’t known. How does one believe in E=MC squared if it hasn’t yet been discovered? Before it was discovered such a truth was in “black box.” So I endorse belief in “black boxes.” Black boxes as “gaps.” As in “God of the gaps.” Or “aliens of the gaps.” Or “atheism of the gaps.” And so on.
Later I will elaborate more on the concept of mysticism. That when rationalism hits a wall, mysticism can perhaps transcend.