Reason and the First Person -- a shared criteria in favor of reason (and theism!)

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the third for chapter 17, can be found here.]

[This entry concludes chapter 17.]

(Picking up from the end of the previous part...)

Reed (the theist): Evidently, we both share some kind of criteria as a fairly reliable clue when we're no longer talking about our human ability in general, but about particular instances of that ability instead. Let us see if we can put our common agreement into play. I claim that Christianity is true; and let us say that I claim this because of automatic knee-jerk reactions to the cultural stimuli that have pummeled my mind since childhood. Any comments?

Chase (the atheist): I seem to recall already addressing this example.

R: Indeed, you yourself introduced it earlier! What did you say back then? Or what would you say now? Would you say my belief, under these conditions, is rational or non-rational?

C: As a rational agent myself, I would judge your belief to be, at best, irrational, and maybe non-rational.

R: Are you at least ready to stoutly presume I am in principle capable of rational behavior, just like you presume about yourself?

C: Yes. But you are not being rational within these circumstances. So you wouldn’t be behaving non-rationally, perhaps (presuming you are a rational agent), but you would be behaving irrationally (as if you were not a rational agent).

R: Given this explanation for my belief, would you accept my offer to go to church next Sunday and be baptized?

C: Certainly not!

R: And why not?

C: I don't have to do anything I don't want to do; I'm a free person!

R: So you're an atheist only out of your own subjective aesthetic taste.

C: Absolutely not! Admittedly, my aesthetic taste for or against atheism might in theory have something to do with why I believe it--just as it might in theory have something to do with why a Christian or any other religious person believes their religious beliefs! But in my case, no, I assure you I reject my mere aesthetic taste as a criteria for believing what is ultimately true.

R: I quite agree! So, you wouldn't go to church on those grounds? Don't you consider them to be an intrinsically reliable means of leading you to truth?

C: No! Do you think they are?

R: Frankly, no. And I suspect we agree why this hypothetical condition on my part would not be a reliable path to the truth. Do you want to say it, or shall I?

C: It isn't rational.

R: I agree. I only gave one qualifier for the existence of that ‘belief’, (if we want to dignify that behavior with the label ‘belief’). Why should we not consider that belief to be rational?

C: Because...

R: ...that belief was totally produced as a series of automatic non-rational responses to non-rational causes.

C: ...yes.

R: If you yourself decided my belief was logically valid anyway, would that therefore mean my belief was actually rational after all and worthy of attention and assent on its own grounds? Or, if you decided that my belief, although logically invalid, still happened to match up with factual reality. Would you go to Church and be baptized because my belief that Christianity is true was entirely produced by automatic knee-jerk reactions to my environment?

C: No. That would be the externalist fallacy. If I did decide you were right, it would be due to my own responsible judgment of the matter.

R: And would you then abandon your own responsible judgment in order to ‘believe’ according to the utterly non-rational causes of my belief?--throwing away the rationality that led you to God?

C: Absolutely not! That would actually be less than totally pointless!

R: Which of course is why atheists often denigrate religious belief, or try to do so, on exactly the ground you’ve been using all throughout your side of our dialogue. You’ve transcended such unthinking acceptance of beliefs.

C: Exactly. And I am a better man for it.

R: I don’t have any problem agreeing with that in principle, and maybe even in practice!

C: So why are you smiling?

R: Because you’re proving my point the whole time. The claims you make for yourself and your own responsible judgment, are just the reason I reject atheism for theism: because I accept and respect your responsible personhood. And also the implications of your responsible personhood.

C: So... you’re a theist because you believe in atheists.

R: That’s an excellent way to put it! And it looks like you and I agree pretty closely on the application of a general principle: the first conclusion to draw about behavior utterly produced by non-rational causes, is that the behavior is itself not rational.

C: All right, I’ll grant that.

R: So, if you propose to me that your and my reasoning ability--which will include all particular behaviors which we term "reasoning"--is produced ultimately by non-rational causes, what should my first response be?

C: Yes, I understand that your first response should be "No, that's nonsense." But that doesn’t have to be your only or last response.

R: Then you will have to show why the normal judgment can (or even should) be set aside in this instance. You will have to show why, against this sceptical threat, it is possible for non-reason to come from reason.

C: Which I am reasonably confident I can do.

R: Except that this presumes already (whatever method you go about trying it makes no difference) that it is possible to successfully set aside the sceptical threat of "non-reason into reason is nonsensical". Otherwise I could level that at your explanation itself--because your explanation for why it is possible, is also (according to you) ultimately a product of non-rational causes.

C: Fine! But that doesn't mean God exists.

R: If it is nonsense to claim (whether we go the long road or the short) that rational behavior is ultimately a product of only non-rational causes; and if we must stoutly presume that you and I nevertheless can be rational; then what is the conclusion of combining these two principles?

C: Our rationality must be at least partially produced by rational causes. Which is something I have affirmed and not denied!

R: Causes? Plural? Such as?

C: Such as other humans!

R: Yes, I recall you trying this back at the beginning. I also recall you admitting that other humans are not ultimately a rational cause.

C: We presume they can be rational.

R: Agreed. Are you ready to presume they are ultimate causes, though?

C: What does an ‘ultimate cause’ mean? That's just playing with words.

R: Was the first reasoning animal taught to reason by his or her reasoning parents?

C: No, that would be ridiculous. And certainly any competent atheist would have enough sense not to say that.

R: Is Nature ultimately non-rational?

C: If atheism and naturalism are true, then yes.

R: Were we caused by something more basic and fundamental than Nature?

C: No. Unless supernaturalism is true. But supernaturalism could be true and also atheism.

R: Would that Supernature be ultimately rational?

C: No, as I just said: not if atheism is true.

R: So as an atheist, you do accept, in principle, what the phrase "ultimate cause" means. I'm not just playing with words.

C: sigh...

R: I repeat: if we stoutly presume that it is possible for us to reason, then that ability must ultimately come from a rational cause.

Next up: Chase shifts to denying rational action in thinking (i.e. defense type b)


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