Name: argument will be put forward for a very

Name: Kofi Ameyaw         
Professor: Daniel Estrada
Class: HSS 405
Date: 12/16/2017

The One-Sided Conflict Between Reason and Faith

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The question of whether philosophy
and religion are in conflict with each other is an incredibly complex question,
with arguably only one justifiable response: Perhaps, it depends. That is, the
only defensible response would be contingent on several important factors such
as what exactly one takes ‘philosophy’ to mean; what one intends by ‘conflict’;
and what one’s purposes might be in pondering the question of whether
philosophy and religion are in conflict with each other. In this essay, an
argument will be put forward for a very specific thesis: If ‘philosophy’ is
understood as the rigorous, rational pursuit of the truth, then there is indeed
‘conflict’ between philosophy and religion, and that conflict consists in
philosophy’s argument-based challenges to the primary tenets of religion(s).
Additionally, whether or not religion reciprocates in any way depends on how
the religiously faithful decide to handle those argument-based challenges from
philosophy. Thus, to support this thesis, this paper proceeds by presenting
some of the key argument-based challenges philosophy poses to religion, by
critical consideration of Paley’s argument for the existence of God,
presentation of the problem of evil for religion, and a brief overview of
Hume’s argument concerning miracles.

 

 

Paley’s watchmaker argument

In this first section, William
Paley’s watchmaker argument for the existence of God is examined. As will be
seen the point of this examination is to demonstrate one of the key ways
philosophy challenges religion – by using reason to undercut some of religion’s
most basic, most familiar ideas. In constructing its arguments, one of the
things philosophy does exceedingly well is classify or categorize ways of
thinking. Thus, Paley’s watchmaker argument is of the a posteriori category of argument. Such arguments claim to proceed
based on experience or evidence provided by the world; they claim to start with
observation of some feature of the world and then claim to reason backward to
an explanation of that feature. So, these a
posteriori arguments have as one of more of their important premises some
claim about the nature of the world, about how things are. So, what is Paley’s
argument? To get a better sense of the argument, first consider the general
form of argument Paley uses, specifically the form of an argument from simple
analogy (which is another example of philosophy’s excellence at classifying or categorizing
ways of thought). Kenneth Einar Himma spells out this form as follows:

1.        
“The
material universe resembles the intelligent productions of human beings in that
it exhibits design.

2.        
The
design in any human artifact is the effect of having been made by an
intelligent being.

3.        
Like
effects have like causes.

4.        
Therefore,
the design in the material universe is the effect of having been made by an
intelligent creator” (Himma).

Taking this form, we can make necessary substitutions to fit
Paley’s specific argument:

1.        
“The
material universe resembles the intelligent productions of human beings in that
it exhibits functional complexity.

2.        
The
functional complexity in any human artifact is the effect of having been made
by an intelligent being.

3.        
Like
effects have like causes.

4.        
Therefore,
the functional complexity in the material universe is the effect of having been
made by an intelligent creator” (Himma, with substitutions).

The notion of ‘functional complexity’ is what Paley sees as a
watch’s key feature – to Paley, the complexity of a watch is such that it could
only have come about from the work of a watchmaker. Then, because Paley claims
that there is similar functional complexity in nature, it follows for Paley
that there must have been an original Nature-maker, i.e. God. For Paley and
other religious-minded people, this sort of argument is sufficient to prove the
existence of God. Consider, however, two major problems: One is what science
has taught us about evolution and its ability to bring about functional complexity
far exceeding that of a watch, in particular by doing its work over billions of
years. And this brings us to the essential problem with arguments from simple
analogy: For such arguments to work, the analogy—represented by premise 3 in
both arguments, i.e. like effects have like causes—you use has to be correct. That
is, Paley depends on watches being like nature (in terms of functional
complexity), and so, for Paley, because watches have designers/builders, nature
must too. But, as we have learned in the century-and-a-half since Darwin
published The Origin of Species,
nature’s far greater complexity required not a designer but things like natural
selection, and lots and lots of time. So the simple analogy upon which Paley’s
argument depends fails.

                  Stepping
back, the key takeaway for the present discussion is that, in this discussion
of the commonly heard watchmaker argument for the existence of God, we see
philosophy’s many strengths: the ability to categorize ways of thought and
argument, and then to analyze a given argument based on reason, in order to
either arrive at the truth or to prove that an argument fails to arrive at the
truth (as is the case here, with an assist coming in the form of evidence
provided by science). The problem for religion is that, as with the important
case of Paley’s watchmaker argument, there is little-to-nothing that can be
done to rescue the argument. Moving on, in the next section, the problem of
evil is considered, as one of philosophy’s greatest challenges to religion.

The problem of evil

                  This
discussion of the problem of evil is based on Sam Harris’ discussion of the
topic in his book, The End of Faith:
Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. So, what is the problem of
evil? Specifically, the problem of evil is only a problem for a religion which
professes that its God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and utterly, completely good. So, the
problem of evil is a problem for the Abrahamic faiths, i.e. Christianity,
Islam, and Judaism. The problem is that these religions must somehow provide an
account of the seemingly undeniable fact that God’s creation is rife with
things and happenings which apparently differ wildly from that God’s supposed
goodness. In other words, it seems contradictory for there to be immense
suffering and evil in a world or existence created and maintained by a God that
is good. That is, it seems that due to God’s omniscience and omnipotence, the
universe could have been made in a different way, i.e. in a way more in keeping
with its Creator’s goodness.

                  To
stave off the inevitable protests screaming “but, but..free will!”, consider
this example: A family of four is on vacation on a tropical island. The
family—two adults and two young children—is devoutly religious and, in
addition, conduct their lives with moral integrity and with kindness and
generosity. While driving along a coastline road, unbeknownst to them, there is
a massive, unpredicted, undersea earthquake far out in the ocean, which then
causes a tsunami. The tsunami crashes onto the coast and the family’s car is
instantly swept inland. Presumably, because they were in a car, they likely had
some awareness of what was about to happen to them, and they may have been
aware as their car was washed away. It seems reasonable to think there was
unimaginable terror; it also seems reasonable to think the parents knew in
their last moments that, in the blink of an eye, their own futures and,
infinitely more importantly, the futures of their children would not come to pass.
Then consider that situations like this and often far, far worse, often
involving—yes—random evil at the hands of strangers, have occurred throughout
history, to people and to most other types of living things on our planet. To
any open-minded, reasonable person, it seems as though such random cruelty and
suffering would not be countenanced by an omniscient, omnipresent, truly good God. For some, like for Sam
Harris, the problem of evil is conclusive proof that the Abrahamic God does not
exist. Note again that the problem of evil is a particular sort of argument.
Specifically, it has the form of a reductio
ad absurdum: The claim that a particular kind of God exists is set up as
the first premise of the argument. Then, from that first claim, obvious absurdities
or contradictory things are shown to follow. Therefore, it must be that the
first premise—the claim of the existence of a good God—must be false.

                  For
the sake of completeness, before moving on to the final section of this
discussion, consider a standard religious response to the problem of evil, such
as represented by my tsunami example: That God’s plan or design in ending the
lives of a devoutly religious young family, or the plan/design in any of the
vast suffering that occurs across existence, is beyond the understanding of
mere mortals who are neither omnipotent nor omniscient. But, of course, we do
understand quite perfectly notions like cruel whim, caprice, and negligent
disinterest, regardless of whether those traits belong to a human or to God –
which is precisely why the problem of evil is such a problem for some
religions. The problem of evil poses a challenge impossible to escape without
either admitting that the Abrahamic God must be cruel, capricious, and/or
negligently disinterested, or that God is not good in any meaningful way.
Besides, it is apparently the case that human societies, laws, and ethics hold
people to higher standards for how we must think and behave than do the
religions hold their God when they are willing to accept or ignore the problem
of evil.

                  This
section’s key takeaway is that philosophy, through the use of rational argument
and by relying on indisputable, basic facts of our existence, is able to pose
the most damaging of challenges to the most important tenets of religion(s). In
the next section, Hume’s argument concerning miracles is considered, to examine
one way in which belief in the (miraculous) tenets of religion can be
undermined through rational argument.

Miracles

This brief section considers Hume’s
argument concerning miracles. The purpose of this section is to demonstrate
another way in which philosophy poses challenges to religion through the use of
rational argument. Hume targets the definition of miracles which states, “an
event that violates (or is otherwise not in accordance with) the law of nature,
caused by God” (Lacewing 1). And, specifically, Hume targets belief in miracles, which is what
matters for religion; the whole point of miracles for religion is that the
faithful believe the miracles occurred. Hume’s argument is in fact quite
straightforward, perhaps startlingly so: By the definition of a miracle as
something which goes against the laws of nature, the entirety of our experience
tells us that “the probability that a miracle has occurred must always be less
than the probability that it hasn’t” (Lacewing 1). Thus, because rationality
dictates that only that which is most probable must be believed, there is never
sufficient reason to believe the occurrence of a miracle.

Consider, however, that what we hear
of miracles always comes to us by way of some report or testimony of a miracle,
such as via the holy books of the various faiths. Specifically, what testimony
here refers to is “other people saying that they witnessed a miracle” (Lacewing
1). This is an important point because the vast majority of what we know of the
world is based on the testimony of others, such as through our teachers, our
books, scientists, news reports, etc., and, based on experience, we know that
such sources tend to be reliable. And we also learn to tell the difference
between reliable and unreliable sources, and thus between reliable and
unreliable testimony; for example, we consider reliable similar reports which
come from several sources, and we consider reliable sources which have a long
track record of reliability. And when we receive a report of some happening, it
is rational to base whether or not we believe it on how probable or
improbable—or extraordinary—the event reported happens to be. In the specific
case of miracles, Hume argues, we have to decide whether or not to believe the
testimony/report of someone claiming to have witnessed a miracle. But, a
miracle is a violation of the laws of nature (and thus goes against all
experience) – the occurrence of a miracle is utterly, extremely improbable. And
it always the case that the probability that a miracle report is false is
higher than the probability that the miracle indeed occurred. In such a
situation, one can rationally only not
believe that the miracle occurred.

Conclusion

                  The
‘design’ of this discussion proceeded as follows: First, one of the most
commonly heard arguments in support of the
existence of God, Paley’s Watchmaker argument, was considered in terms of
philosophy’s ability to analyze it and then point out the ways in which the
argument does not work. Then, a key tenet concerning the nature of the
Abrahamic God was considered, i.e. God’s
goodness, using the problem of evil. Again, by careful rational argument,
philosophy is able to point out that this most basic of religious tenets is
wholly at odds with reality, thereby undermining the ability to rationally
believe such tenets. Finally, reports of miracles were considered, with an eye
to showing how belief in reports of key
religious ‘events’ cannot stand up to rational scrutiny. Taken together,
these three lines of thought lay bare why philosophy, through its tools of
rational analysis and argument, is able to challenge the very foundations of
religion. Because the faithful can only choose to ignore these challenges, any
‘conflict’ between philosophy and religion can and will only ever be one-sided.

Works Cited/Consulted

Harris, Sam. The end of faith:
Religion, terror, and the future of reason. WW Norton & Company, 2005.

Himma, Kenneth Einar. “Design
Arguments for the Existence of God.” Internet
Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2017. Web.

Hume, David. An enquiry concerning
human understanding: A critical edition. Vol. 3. Oxford University Press,
2000.

Lacewing, Michael. “Hume on
miracles.” Routledge. 2017. Web.