Archive for August 9th, 2021

August 9, 2021

There are no foundations

by Neil Rickert

This post is, in part, a response to the post “In the first place …” on another blog. The author of that post writes:

It’s really strange having fallen from faith to now be starting to wonder if faith is the only way to underpin the very thing I used to push faith away with in the first place (rationality).

Here I am using “foundation” as the same as “underpinning”. So this post has to do with foundationalism in epistemology. To a first approximation, foundationalism is the idea that there is a starting set of assumptions from which all knowledge can be logically derived. And I guess that’s similar to the “presuppositional apologetics” which we see in religious circles.

Sam, the author of the post to which I am responding, goes on to write:

Does there have to be rational arguments for God? There are many rational people that believe in God. If we assume anyone who believes in God is irrational and has no root cause of belief, then we label all believers with the same brush. I’ve grown to hate this.

You can see Sam’s concern. From my point of view, there are no rational arguments for God. But that does not imply that believers are irrational.

To put this in perspective, consider the concept of mass from physics. It is a rather central concept. Yet there are no rational arguments for mass — depending, of course, on what you mean by “rational”.

I sometimes toy with the idea of writing a post “Logic is illogical; rationality is irrational.” The problem here is that both words (“logic” and “rational”) can have different meanings, and those different meanings can be in conflict. For example “logic” can be used to refer to a formal method of deductive inference. As a mathematician, that’s my preferred meaning for the term. But “logic” can also refer to using ordinary good sense in making decisions, and quite often ordinary good sense does not involve any formal inference.

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