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Rationaliteit

Voorkant Smith 'The path of reason - A philosophy of nonbelief' Bruce A. SMITH
The path of reason - A philosophy of nonbelief
New York: Algora Publishing, 2008 211 blzn.; ISBN: 978 08 7586 5799

(1) Chapter 1 - Faith and reason collide

"But the big shocker came when I reanalyzed the concepts of God and the soul. There were fewer reasons to believe in these things than I had thought. It was only when the number of reasons for not believing in these things far out-weighed the reasons I had for believing in them, that the scales tipped, and I found that I — who had once been a boy singing “How Great Thou Art” with such reverence and joy — had become an atheist."(1-2)

"... it is my hope that this book can help those who are seeking answers in the same way that I was. If they have found that religion, ideologies involving the supernatural, and spirituality in general, are in some way lacking or unsatisfactory, perhaps they may find an alternative here that they had not previously considered."(2)

"The philosophical issues addressed in this book are based on the assumption that world around us is real and that there is such a thing as an objective reality."(5)

"There is no reason to have any discussion at all if nothing we are talking about is of any substance. Claiming that reality is not objective undermines all claims, including itself. Any basis or standard that we might have for future conversation is lost. In short, progress cannot be made without, first, taking reality for granted."(6)

"Postmodernists hold the opinion that all viewpoints about reality, as well as other topics, are open for interpretation. They state that there are no “right” or “wrong” points of view; there are only “different” points of view. According to those who think this, everything is relative and the words “true” and “false” have little or no meaning.
Postmodernists are in a similar position to those extreme skeptics who deny reality. Their arguments undermine their own viewpoint. In the case of postmodernism, their idea is equally valid as everyone else’s, but that also means that it is can never be shown to be a better idea. If all ideas are equal, then there is no standard or basis by which to judge and evaluate ideas and the world around us. Without that, comprehension becomes impossible, and the mind is doomed to mental chaos."(6)

" If all of our worldviews are that arbitrary, then any one belief (or nonbelief) system is in no position to claim superiority over any other, even those that claim to be “the one true religion.”
When everything is subjective, the world becomes an ideological twilight zone. In addition, any solid philosophical basis we might have for our decisions and actions is also lost. However, with this kind of subjectivism and the distracting idea of a nonobjective reality out of the way, a lot can be accomplished."(7)

"Karla McLaren, a former writer of New Age books who is now a skeptic, states that what lies at the center of the debate between believers and nonbelievers is that they have a different culture. I would agree that the two groups have different cultures, but I would add that culture is based upon the ideas a group of people adopt, ideas that are often mutually engaged through unspoken agreement. In the end, disagreements still revolve around the issue of reason versus faith."(9-10)

"Two camps have now been established, believers and nonbelievers. The focus of the debate between these groups is the value of faith and reason in comparison to each other. How effective are they when it comes to explaining the world? How good is the information upon which we base our worldviews? By identifying this core issue, it becomes possible to determine if the conflicts can be resolved or if everyone is going to have to “agree to disagree.”"(10)

"The theme that belief of some sort is preferable to nonbelief is so prevalent that I breathe a sigh of relief when I don’t encounter it in a book or movie."(11)

"Logic and science are associated with the cold, sterile whiteness of the lab coat and considered to be without heart. People have trouble picturing the skeptic as being imaginative or the scientist at home playing with his children. It is an inaccurate and unfortunate stereotype. There is a deeper conflict here, often described as “heart versus mind.” We are urged to “follow our hearts” and “trust our feelings,” but the intellect is mistrusted. Yet, what we call our heart and feelings are, of course, the emotions brought on by our thoughts. If the focus is on emotions alone, then the balance between heart and mind is thrown off. In an effort to be kind and good, the steady guidance of the intellect is neglected. The heart and mind should be employed together, not in disregard of each other."(11)

"There is the general conception that without belief of some sort, a person cannot be moral or ethical."(11)

"To add to the distance between reason and faith, faith (especially religious faith) is considered sacred and personal. Those who criticize religious faith are not going to be well received, and often such criticism is perceived as a personal attack. Reason, on the other hand, does not have such an aura of sanctity about it and can be attacked quite freely."(12)

"In his book, Natural Atheism, David Eller makes a great (and relatively elaborate) case for treating the notions of knowledge and belief separately. I have to agree with Eller on this one. If I know I have a TV set in my living room, I no longer have any need to say that I “believe” I have a TV set in my living room. Knowledge starts where belief leaves off. The two concepts should not be combined, and viewing them as separate provides a greater degree of clarity."(13)

"By the same token, to try to defend faith by rational means makes no sense. Every time someone tries to defend creationism with science or tries to defend the existence of God with some facet or feature of the universe, they have fallen into the trap of trying to make faith seem like knowledge when it is not. It is an immediate contradiction. There is no point in trying to logically justify something that cannot be logically justified."(14)

"When I speak of reason, I am referring to the ability to use rational, logical, and analytical thought. Reason also includes the formal disciplines of science and logic, as well as critical thinking. Critical thinking involves using logical thought in verbal and written discourse, and involves principles of argumentation as well as knowledge of logical fallacies."(15)

"One of the largest disagreements arises over the value of personal experience as a means of knowledge. Personal experience, I am sorry to say, does not qualify as evidence. Many find this to be both surprising and confusing."(15)

"A proper assumption cannot contradict what is already known to be true. If it is found to be incorrect, it must be discarded, modified, or the prior evidence against the assumption must be demonstrated to be wrong. A belief, though, does not have to meet these conditions. It can, but it is not required to."(17)

"Liberals get accused of being wishy-washy when they gain new information and then change their actions or positions accordingly, but it would be far worse to keep on doing or believing something for the sake of appearing consistent."(18)

"Throughout this book, I use the principles of reason to justify reason. Am I therefore using circular reasoning and being illogical? The answer is no, because there are things outside of reason that justify it. Outside validation is the escape from circular reasoning. Reason is validated by the solid and highly visible results it achieves.(...)
Without reason, the only other option we have is the chaos of irrationality. It’s one of the most clear-cut, either/or situations there is."(19)

"What such statements mean is, “I could not cope without my faith.” Again, the relevancy of this needs to be called into question. To set reality aside because one doesn’t like it is denial. If the truth isn’t comforting, but believing in something that isn’t true is comforting, is it worth being in denial to feel good? Some feel it is, but, as I will discuss in Chapter 7, faith is not necessary in order to feel good about one’s self and one’s place in the world. We can stand face-to-face with reality and not be unnerved."(22)

"Faith is overrated. When it comes to understanding the world around us, there is no need for it."(23)

"With all of this in mind, one is faced with a choice — reason or faith. Choosing any belief that contradicts reason is a choice to be irrational. It’s inescapable."(25)

"While the information that reason provides may not have 100 percent certainty (which I discuss in the next section), it is much more reliable than what we can obtain through faith. This is why it only makes sense to utilize reason, especially when it comes to the big questions about the nature of our world and the universe."(25)

"When you cross the Pacific from America to the Orient, you will find that the issues of contention over philosophical questions remain the same. It is still faith versus reason. At least the Eastern mystics were one big step ahead of Western thinkers. They realized that it was futile to try to logically justify a belief."(28)

(29) Chapter 2 - Reason applied

"The skeptic gets the reputation of being a spoilsport because he is always debunking and disproving things. When he says that certain things are impossible, he is regarded as narrow-minded."(30)

"Science is not able to disprove the notion of the soul, but what science can say is that wherever consciousness has been shown to exist, there has been a mechanism to support it, specifically the brain."(34)

[Over zijn basiservaring predestinatie tegenover vrije wil op p38: heb ik geen vrije wil als een alwetende ander precies weet hoe mijn leven zal verlopen en welke keuzes ik daarbij zal maken? Die conclusie vind ik niet zo maar logisch.]

"So now we find that logic disproves both the idea of an all-powerful God and the idea of an all-knowing God. Don’t even try it with the idea of omnipresence; it will make your head hurt.
What I have just covered has huge implications. It very simply and straightforwardly disproves the existence of the Christian God. If you refuse to accept it, you must take an illogical stance."(39)

"Nonbelievers spend a lot of time criticizing miracles that the Christian God is reported to have performed in the Bible. Christians see no problem with miracles because they believe that God transcends the laws of the universe, can alter them temporarily, and can do anything he wants. Meanwhile the nonbeliever tries to make the point that miracles are scientific and logical impossibilities. It forces a choice: rationality or irrationality. There is no in-between."(39)

"The concept of God has become irrelevant."(39)

"No matter how you approach it, if you ask the question why enough times, you will end up at a point where you can go no further. The final point is always “That’s just the way it is.” There can be no other ultimate meaning."(43)

"With no single goal or destination, life becomes open-ended. We no longer have to fret over the destiny of the universe. We can pick our own paths, work towards making the world and our lives the best we possibly can, and enjoy the show as the future is revealed.
The absence of an externally assigned meaning does not mean we have to plunge headfirst into existential angst20, give up, or stay in bed all day. It’s just the opposite. If you want meaning, you can have all of it you want. Find the things in your life that you think are most valuable, and you will have found your own meaning. Don’t fall prey to the idea the meaning and purpose must necessarily come from one single source. They can change from moment to moment. They can come from anywhere at anytime. Nor must meaning and purpose be found externally. You can create them for yourself."(44)

"There are those who are concerned that atheism is a dangerous idea — that without the moral guidelines of a belief system, or without the fear of God’s judgment, people will become wicked or try to get away with things they would not otherwise do.
This is sometimes expressed as an argument against atheism but fails completely because it is irrelevant."(44)

"Having a belief system in no way guarantees moral behavior, as evidenced by people across the globe who believe in a God while committing terrible crimes including murder, rape, and child molestation. Religious people commit lesser crimes on a daily basis without ever acknowledging they are doing any wrong and their beliefs never stop them. People who have a destructive or inscrutable nature are going to behave badly regardless of their belief system. They may even hide behind one. However, there is no correlation between “goodness” and belief."(45)

"People should want to be good of their own free will, and for the sake of being good in itself, not because they fear the consequences of Hell or because they are simply being obedient to a higher power.
There are no reasons left to object to atheism as a “dangerous” idea, but we now have more reasons to instill positive ethical values in our children as well as in those adults who have not learned them yet.
There is no need to fear that atheism breeds anarchy. It may even prove to be beneficial."(46)

"You can’t convince someone to change his or her beliefs, can you? If people have irrational beliefs, came another argument, then you can’t use rationality to convince them otherwise."(47)

"Above I give reasons why beliefs may come under attack, and in some instances, why they should come under attack. In scientific, atheist, and skeptical circles I have noticed a common sentiment that we have been too timid in expressing our views. Believers have not been shy, but many nonbelievers have been. This has happened because beliefs are treated as sacred, while reason and knowledge is not."(49)

(51) Chapter 3 - Critical thinking

"Critical thinking is a way of thinking that, among other things, includes problem solving skills, knowing how to ask the right questions, understanding methods of argument, recognizing legitimate and invalid forms of argument, and identifying logical fallacies that can cause us to make errors. Critical thinking provides us with useful tools to troubleshoot thought processes and keep them from going awry."(52)

"A person’s entire worldview can be changed simply because he or she uses (or fails to use) critical thinking. That worldview, in turn, determines how a person acts and makes decisions. These might be small decisions or life changing decisions. In the case of political leaders, they can even be world-affecting decisions. Logic and critical thinking principles turn out to be incredibly far-reaching."(53)

Vaardigheden in kritisch denken zijn dus belangrijk. Smith loopt door een aantal van die vaardigheden heen in dit hoofdstuk: goed taalgebruik, juist gebruik van analogieën, het vermijden van onjuiste generaliseringen, het uit elkaar houden van correlatie en veroorzaking, het zien van nuanceringen, het vermijden van cirkelredeneringen en suggestieve vragen, het vermijden van persoonlijke aanvallen of het aannemen van dingen op basis van autoriteit.

"Those who think that all things are clearly right or wrong, and that there are no in-betweens, are making a serious mistake. The statement, “If you’re not for us, you’re against us,” often comes from the same kind of misplaced mindset."(56)

"The way to identify circular reasoning is to find out if something is being used to justify itself. If that thing is not so basic as to be self-evident, then another way to establish the truth of it needs to be found. If another way cannot be found, then nothing can be concluded."(58)

"It does not matter where the truth comes from, who says it, how they say it, or why they say it. It does not matter if the truth is something you don’t like, you don’t believe, or you don’t want to hear. Truth is truth regardless. The truth is independent in and of itself."(59)

"Just as we might disbelieve people for the wrong reasons, we may also believe people for the wrong reasons. This is the other side of the ad hominem argument. We might believe a person based on his authority alone."(60)

"Or perhaps we can be smart enough to figure out that the way a person reacts to an accusation is not a clear sign of their innocence or guilt."(61)

"All of these examples illustrate that truth is distinct from tones, attitudes, emotions, and appearances. These things may give us clues to the truth, but they are hardly clear or precise indicators."(62)

"As I started to employ critical thinking skills, I learned that there was a tremendous amount of information being fed to me during the day that was flat out wrong — from the trivial to the extremely important; from the urban myth to second hand “facts”; from generalized clichés to widely held cultural ideologies.
It is important to question things rather than to accept them blindly. There is nothing wrong with doubts or questions. They simply reflect the desire to know the answers. The truth should have nothing to fear from close examination."(62)

"People consciously and unconsciously change the subject when they near a conclusion they do not like. "(63)

"When questions can go no further, they should be consciously put aside. It is also important to be careful not to accept poor answers. Often, people are not so discerning. It seems that any answer will do, regardless of its quality, as long as there is an answer out there somewhere. All that matters is that the answers agree with their conclusions. Certain “answers” seem so flimsy, fabricated, unconvincing, or not to the point, that I have difficulty understanding how people can take them seriously."(64)

"When a claim (ridiculous or otherwise) cannot be disproved, it does not gain validity. Yet it is not uncommon for a believer to say, “Prove me wrong!” and when no one can, the believer acts as if he or she has achieved some great victory.
The name for this logical fallacy is the “appeal to ignorance.” It is sometimes based on the misconception that the scientific and logical worlds revolve around the ideas of proof and disproof, which is not the case at all."(65)

"When emotional reactions and unfair arguments reign supreme, it is the rare individual who seems to know that there is something wrong.
It is for the same reasons that I dislike debate. Despite the appearance of structure, principles of reason are often violated in formal debate by means of improper word usage, attacks upon irrelevant issues, and personal attacks. The speakers’ demeanor, emotional tone, looks, whether or not they can make people laugh, and how they make people feel, all have a dramatic effect in verbal debate.
A clever quip or the group dynamic can cause a perfectly good idea to be disregarded. Someone who is absolutely correct can easily lose a debate because he couldn’t think of the right words at the right time. Verbal debate requires quick thinking and does not allow for reflective thought, which is sometimes necessary to arrive at correct conclusions. Arriving at a well-founded conclusion should be the goal, but even in debate, the rules and goals of social behavior interfere."(68-69)

"Understanding does not come naturally to us. It is something that has to be learned and executed despite a large number of obstacles. Rationality is a skill, and we should be proud of ourselves when we exercise it effectively. It means that we have taken our ability to be self-aware and put it to good use. We have risen above our animal instincts and origins. It is unreasonable for people to think that they can achieve an understanding of the world with a minimal amount of effort, and yet many do. Sometimes we all need to slow down, put our names and dates on our papers, read the instructions, and do the work."(71)

(73) Chapter 4 - Skeptical specifics

"The sections in this chapter cover a diversity of topics that one might not intuitively think of as connected. The common theme is that they are all varieties of belief. Examination of them reveals that beliefs, of all shapes and sizes, share similar defects. At the very least, they are speculative and unfounded, but they can also contradict reason outright."(73)

"Invalid claims remain invalid, no matter how many of them there are. It is because of this that we need methods for testing their validity, which is where reason comes to the rescue."(74)

"Coincidences are pointed to as evidence that some higher power is at work in people’s lives, whether it be a force that is beyond our comprehension or a God who is so involved with all the tiny details of reality that he orchestrates events at an incredibly precise level."(75)

"The many interpretations of coincidence as meaning something significant are the result of problems of perception and a misunderstanding of probability. It is a mix of faulty math and human emotions."(75)

"We act as if everything was designed to lead up to a certain goal, when it wasn’t."(76)

Over Richard Bach (en vele anderen):

"According to this philosophy, somehow, in some way, and in some fashion, there are powers behind the scenes in our lives manipulating events so that everything has significance. Every event in our life is another cog on a gear in a giant cosmic clockwork, ticking away towards some mysterious end."(78)

"Bach, Northrop, and Kirshenbaum have all made the same mistake. They have taken the effect and called it the cause. It’s easy to do this because of the ambiguity of the word “reason.” It can refer to everything that led up to an event or it can refer to what is supposed to happen after an event (the goal, as it were)."(80)

"The way that coincidences are interpreted is not very different from the way that generalities are interpreted. With both, significance is given to something that does not deserve it."(81)

Over Carlos Castaneda:

"I loved Castaneda’s books because they made me feel that, if I wanted to, I could walk through walls, and I could transport myself to different worlds. All of reality would be mine to manipulate, instead of the opposite where reality held me down under its big oppressive thumb.(...) I had a big problem with Castaneda, though — his use of drugs. How could he claim to be objective about anything or examine his experiences in a light that we could understand, if he was tripping on peyote? The hallucinogenic nature of the drug ruined his credibility.
The other New Age authors I read did not share that particular problem, but they shared a trait with Castaneda that began to bother me — they were vague."(86-87)

(99) Chapter 5 - Origins

"Before I begin an examination of Christianity, it seems fitting to address two things that those who believe in “God the creator” find nearly inconceivable. The first is that humankind has arisen from lower life forms. A study of evolution will reveal that it does not deserve the questionable status that some fundamentalists have placed upon it. The second “inconceivable” notion is that our world, with all of its minute details and grand wonders, came about from an explosion billions of years ago. The following section provides an aid towards understanding and visualizing it."(99)

"We are still learning about specific details of evolution and probably always will be, but the main mechanisms of evolution have been solidly established. Evolution is often attacked as being “just a theory” and not “a fact.” One response to this is to say that creationism is “just a faith,” and so it is farther removed from “fact” than evolution could ever be."(100)

"Sex is so powerful because of natural selection. Those with the strongest urge to reproduce are the most likely to do so, and so that trait survives and perpetuates.
Watch young boys in line at a movie theater or a fast food restaurant. If they do not have decent supervision, they are likely to jab at each other, roughhouse, and wrestle. Does it look at all like lion cubs in the wild? It is. "(101)

[Natuurlijk is de evolutietheorie een heel wat betrouwbaarder theorie dan het geloof in de bijbel en zo, maar niet alle evolutionaire argumentatie is erg sterk. Seks is misschien wel zo machtig / dat gedrag van jongens is misschien wel zo opgefokt vanwege de cultuur? Beetje eenzijdig dit verhaal.]

"In comparison to the deist’s rendering of the creation of the universe, which begins with complexity, the origin of the universe that the physicist portrays makes more sense by itself because it starts simply and works upwards towards complexity. By adding God, the deist inserts another element that only creates more questions and further confusion."(110)

(113) Chapter 6 - Christianity examined

"I am sure there are portions of the previous chapters that will leave some people very unhappy, but it is this chapter that will really get me into trouble. Here I examine Christianity. You probably will not be surprised to discover that I find it wanting. Having already found that Christianity is wrong about the origins of our universe, our world, and our species, I conclude, not too far into this chapter, that Christianity is also incorrect about the cause of our problems and its proposed solution for our problems. As such, Christianity fails from all perspectives, including both the fundamentalist and liberal viewpoints."(113)

"While it is often said to provide a moral guideline, the Bible actually presents an inconsistent morality."(114)

[Ik zelf vind die analyse van de bijbel totale tijdsverspilling die ook alleen nog maar indirect met rationaliteit te maken heeft, als een illustratie van irrationaliteit als het ware. Ik ga er dus snel doorheen.]

"Throughout the Bible women are treated with disparagement."

(183) Chapter 7 - Atheism and beyond

Persoonlijke ontboezemingen over wat de overgang naar atheïsme in de paktijk voor de schrijver betekende.

"Up to this point, I have stressed the value of reason. Now, I must draw a line that shows its true limits. In a paradox of sorts, reason provides a rational understanding of an irrational world. The world is not irrational in regard to the underlying rules of physics that govern it, but it can be crazy when it comes to the particulars of human behavior and chaotic circumstances."(188)

"But what I could do was extract useful tidbits from Eastern thought, incorporate them into my philosophy, and utilize them to help solve some of the problems that I was faced with.
The solutions I discovered included adopting a more accepting attitude towards life and living in the moment."(189)

"The principles presented here allowed me to emerge from my philosophical quest with a balanced blend of Eastern and Western ideologies, as well as the answers I sought. By utilizing logic and the scientific rationality that is identified with Western thought in order to understand the world and by then adopting the practices of nonresistance, nonjudgmental thinking, and mindful awareness, I achieved an exceptionally practical synthesis. The resulting philosophy could be described as “Zen Atheism.” While not entirely accurate, it does have a certain ring to it."(189)

[Ik begrijp niet waarom er nu ineens over de grenzen aan rationaliteit gepraat wordt en waarom er andere levensbeschouwelijke principes aan te pas moeten komen om prettig en filsofische / rationeel verantwoord te leven. Waarom is rationaliteit niet genoeg? Het zijn ook ideeën die al in de zestiger jaren alle aandacht hebben gekregen, dus ik begrijp niet waarom ze hier zo uitvoerig gepresenteerd moeten worden. Zouden al die Amerikaanse christenen nog nooit van Boeddhisme en zo gehoord hebben? Ik kan het me niet voorstellen.]

"It is difficult to face a world where there are no guarantees, where there are no rules saying everything has to work out right, where you may lose your battles despite your best efforts, and where justice does not happen automatically. A perfectly natural reaction to this is anger."(193)

"What does it mean to accept what we cannot change? It means to acknowledge it, stop being angry about it, and stop fighting it. Acceptance is an attitude of openness, where one embraces the world for what it is. It means that whenever we catch ourselves making judgments about the world, we should ask if those judgments are necessary or helpful in any way. If not, giving them up can free us from anger and help us to be more satisfied with the world around us.
In no way should acceptance be thought of as surrender or compromise, as passive or as accepting defeat. There is nothing weak about it. To accept reality is not to relinquish power but to exercise a readily accessible, although often forgotten, power."(194)

"When we resist pain and suffering, the only thing we often succeed at doing is making it worse. Accepting it can lessen the pain. It is like relaxing your muscles when you get a penicillin shot. It will hurt a lot less if you aren’t tense."(195)

[Ik zie liever een pleidooi voor het veranderen van dingen die wél veranderd kunnen worden. Hoe weten we trouwens wat NIET veranderd kan worden? We moeten wel oordelen over de wereld, al was het maar om op een of andere manier vast te stellen wat wel en wat niet veranderd kan worden. Te snel het laatste accepteren in zo'n Boeddhistische spirituele houding van aanvaarding en verzetloosheid kan wel degelijk en al te gemakkelijk laf en passief en escapistisch worden, misschien goed voor jou als individu, maar slecht voor de samenleving.]

"To live in the moment, and to do so with a nonjudgmental, accepting attitude (thereby incorporating the ideas and practices of the last several sections with this one) is what is referred to as “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is an idea that has strong origins in Eastern thought."(199)

[O nee, hé ... "mindfullness" - waarom moeten we het daar weer over hebben ... ]

"The principles I have discussed — an understanding of anger, nonjudgmental acceptance, being aware of our thoughts, and living in the moment — have special significance within the context of an atheistic worldview."(200)

"Creativity also helps us to live in the moment. By focusing our attention on what we are doing artistically, or by trying to capture a moment in a picture or words, we effectively pull ourselves into the here and now."(202)

"Humankind is again ready, just as it was at the time of the New Testament, for an improved way of looking at the world. Reason can help us achieve that, but in order for that to happen, reason must become a part of our lives and play a role in our communications with each other."(205)

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