Name: Kofi Ameyaw Professor: Daniel EstradaClass: HSS 405Date: 12/16/2017The One-Sided Conflict Between Reason and FaithThe question of whether philosophyand religion are in conflict with each other is an incredibly complex question,with arguably only one justifiable response: Perhaps, it depends. That is, theonly defensible response would be contingent on several important factors suchas what exactly one takes ‘philosophy’ to mean; what one intends by ‘conflict’;and what one’s purposes might be in pondering the question of whetherphilosophy and religion are in conflict with each other.
In this essay, anargument will be put forward for a very specific thesis: If ‘philosophy’ isunderstood as the rigorous, rational pursuit of the truth, then there is indeed’conflict’ between philosophy and religion, and that conflict consists inphilosophy’s argument-based challenges to the primary tenets of religion(s).Additionally, whether or not religion reciprocates in any way depends on howthe religiously faithful decide to handle those argument-based challenges fromphilosophy. Thus, to support this thesis, this paper proceeds by presentingsome of the key argument-based challenges philosophy poses to religion, bycritical consideration of Paley’s argument for the existence of God,presentation of the problem of evil for religion, and a brief overview ofHume’s argument concerning miracles. Paley’s watchmaker argumentIn this first section, WilliamPaley’s watchmaker argument for the existence of God is examined. As will beseen the point of this examination is to demonstrate one of the key waysphilosophy challenges religion – by using reason to undercut some of religion’smost basic, most familiar ideas. In constructing its arguments, one of thethings philosophy does exceedingly well is classify or categorize ways ofthinking. Thus, Paley’s watchmaker argument is of the a posteriori category of argument.
Such arguments claim to proceedbased on experience or evidence provided by the world; they claim to start withobservation of some feature of the world and then claim to reason backward toan explanation of that feature. So, these aposteriori arguments have as one of more of their important premises someclaim about the nature of the world, about how things are. So, what is Paley’sargument? To get a better sense of the argument, first consider the generalform of argument Paley uses, specifically the form of an argument from simpleanalogy (which is another example of philosophy’s excellence at classifying or categorizingways of thought). Kenneth Einar Himma spells out this form as follows:1. “Thematerial universe resembles the intelligent productions of human beings in thatit exhibits design.2. Thedesign in any human artifact is the effect of having been made by anintelligent being.3.
Likeeffects have like causes.4. Therefore,the design in the material universe is the effect of having been made by anintelligent creator” (Himma).Taking this form, we can make necessary substitutions to fitPaley’s specific argument:1. “Thematerial universe resembles the intelligent productions of human beings in thatit exhibits functional complexity.
2. Thefunctional complexity in any human artifact is the effect of having been madeby an intelligent being.3. Likeeffects have like causes.4. Therefore,the functional complexity in the material universe is the effect of having beenmade by an intelligent creator” (Himma, with substitutions).The notion of ‘functional complexity’ is what Paley sees as awatch’s key feature – to Paley, the complexity of a watch is such that it couldonly have come about from the work of a watchmaker.
Then, because Paley claimsthat there is similar functional complexity in nature, it follows for Paleythat there must have been an original Nature-maker, i.e. God.
For Paley andother religious-minded people, this sort of argument is sufficient to prove theexistence of God. Consider, however, two major problems: One is what sciencehas taught us about evolution and its ability to bring about functional complexityfar exceeding that of a watch, in particular by doing its work over billions ofyears. And this brings us to the essential problem with arguments from simpleanalogy: For such arguments to work, the analogy—represented by premise 3 inboth arguments, i.e.
like effects have like causes—you use has to be correct. Thatis, Paley depends on watches being like nature (in terms of functionalcomplexity), and so, for Paley, because watches have designers/builders, naturemust too. But, as we have learned in the century-and-a-half since Darwinpublished The Origin of Species,nature’s far greater complexity required not a designer but things like naturalselection, and lots and lots of time. So the simple analogy upon which Paley’sargument depends fails.
Steppingback, the key takeaway for the present discussion is that, in this discussionof the commonly heard watchmaker argument for the existence of God, we seephilosophy’s many strengths: the ability to categorize ways of thought andargument, and then to analyze a given argument based on reason, in order toeither arrive at the truth or to prove that an argument fails to arrive at thetruth (as is the case here, with an assist coming in the form of evidenceprovided by science). The problem for religion is that, as with the importantcase of Paley’s watchmaker argument, there is little-to-nothing that can bedone to rescue the argument. Moving on, in the next section, the problem ofevil is considered, as one of philosophy’s greatest challenges to religion. The problem of evil Thisdiscussion of the problem of evil is based on Sam Harris’ discussion of thetopic in his book, The End of Faith:Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. So, what is the problem ofevil? Specifically, the problem of evil is only a problem for a religion whichprofesses that its God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and utterly, completely good. So, theproblem of evil is a problem for the Abrahamic faiths, i.e.
Christianity,Islam, and Judaism. The problem is that these religions must somehow provide anaccount of the seemingly undeniable fact that God’s creation is rife withthings and happenings which apparently differ wildly from that God’s supposedgoodness. In other words, it seems contradictory for there to be immensesuffering and evil in a world or existence created and maintained by a God thatis good. That is, it seems that due to God’s omniscience and omnipotence, theuniverse could have been made in a different way, i.e. in a way more in keepingwith its Creator’s goodness. Tostave off the inevitable protests screaming “but, but.
.free will!”, considerthis example: A family of four is on vacation on a tropical island. Thefamily—two adults and two young children—is devoutly religious and, inaddition, conduct their lives with moral integrity and with kindness andgenerosity. While driving along a coastline road, unbeknownst to them, there isa massive, unpredicted, undersea earthquake far out in the ocean, which thencauses a tsunami. The tsunami crashes onto the coast and the family’s car isinstantly swept inland. Presumably, because they were in a car, they likely hadsome awareness of what was about to happen to them, and they may have beenaware as their car was washed away. It seems reasonable to think there wasunimaginable terror; it also seems reasonable to think the parents knew intheir 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, ofteninvolving—yes—random evil at the hands of strangers, have occurred throughouthistory, to people and to most other types of living things on our planet.
Toany open-minded, reasonable person, it seems as though such random cruelty andsuffering would not be countenanced by an omniscient, omnipresent, truly good God. For some, like for SamHarris, the problem of evil is conclusive proof that the Abrahamic God does notexist. Note again that the problem of evil is a particular sort of argument.
Specifically, it has the form of a reductioad absurdum: The claim that a particular kind of God exists is set up asthe first premise of the argument. Then, from that first claim, obvious absurditiesor contradictory things are shown to follow. Therefore, it must be that thefirst premise—the claim of the existence of a good God—must be false. Forthe sake of completeness, before moving on to the final section of thisdiscussion, consider a standard religious response to the problem of evil, suchas represented by my tsunami example: That God’s plan or design in ending thelives of a devoutly religious young family, or the plan/design in any of thevast suffering that occurs across existence, is beyond the understanding ofmere mortals who are neither omnipotent nor omniscient. But, of course, we dounderstand quite perfectly notions like cruel whim, caprice, and negligentdisinterest, 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 somereligions. The problem of evil poses a challenge impossible to escape withouteither admitting that the Abrahamic God must be cruel, capricious, and/ornegligently disinterested, or that God is not good in any meaningful way.Besides, it is apparently the case that human societies, laws, and ethics holdpeople to higher standards for how we must think and behave than do thereligions hold their God when they are willing to accept or ignore the problemof evil. Thissection’s key takeaway is that philosophy, through the use of rational argumentand by relying on indisputable, basic facts of our existence, is able to posethe most damaging of challenges to the most important tenets of religion(s).
Inthe next section, Hume’s argument concerning miracles is considered, to examineone way in which belief in the (miraculous) tenets of religion can beundermined through rational argument. MiraclesThis brief section considers Hume’sargument concerning miracles. The purpose of this section is to demonstrateanother way in which philosophy poses challenges to religion through the use ofrational argument. Hume targets the definition of miracles which states, “anevent 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 whatmatters for religion; the whole point of miracles for religion is that thefaithful believe the miracles occurred.
Hume’s argument is in fact quitestraightforward, perhaps startlingly so: By the definition of a miracle assomething which goes against the laws of nature, the entirety of our experiencetells us that “the probability that a miracle has occurred must always be lessthan the probability that it hasn’t” (Lacewing 1). Thus, because rationalitydictates that only that which is most probable must be believed, there is neversufficient reason to believe the occurrence of a miracle. Consider, however, that what we hearof 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 testimonyhere refers to is “other people saying that they witnessed a miracle” (Lacewing1).
This is an important point because the vast majority of what we know of theworld is based on the testimony of others, such as through our teachers, ourbooks, scientists, news reports, etc., and, based on experience, we know thatsuch sources tend to be reliable. And we also learn to tell the differencebetween reliable and unreliable sources, and thus between reliable andunreliable testimony; for example, we consider reliable similar reports whichcome from several sources, and we consider reliable sources which have a longtrack record of reliability. And when we receive a report of some happening, itis rational to base whether or not we believe it on how probable orimprobable—or extraordinary—the event reported happens to be. In the specificcase of miracles, Hume argues, we have to decide whether or not to believe thetestimony/report of someone claiming to have witnessed a miracle.
But, amiracle is a violation of the laws of nature (and thus goes against allexperience) – the occurrence of a miracle is utterly, extremely improbable. Andit always the case that the probability that a miracle report is false ishigher than the probability that the miracle indeed occurred. In such asituation, one can rationally only notbelieve that the miracle occurred. Conclusion The’design’ of this discussion proceeded as follows: First, one of the mostcommonly heard arguments in support of theexistence of God, Paley’s Watchmaker argument, was considered in terms ofphilosophy’s ability to analyze it and then point out the ways in which theargument does not work. Then, a key tenet concerning the nature of theAbrahamic God was considered, i.e.
God’sgoodness, using the problem of evil. Again, by careful rational argument,philosophy is able to point out that this most basic of religious tenets iswholly at odds with reality, thereby undermining the ability to rationallybelieve such tenets. Finally, reports of miracles were considered, with an eyeto showing how belief in reports of keyreligious ‘events’ cannot stand up to rational scrutiny. Taken together,these three lines of thought lay bare why philosophy, through its tools ofrational analysis and argument, is able to challenge the very foundations ofreligion. 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/ConsultedHarris, Sam.
The end of faith:Religion, terror, and the future of reason. WW Norton & Company, 2005.Himma, Kenneth Einar. “DesignArguments for the Existence of God.
” InternetEncyclopedia of Philosophy. 2017. Web.Hume, David. An enquiry concerninghuman understanding: A critical edition. Vol.
3. Oxford University Press,2000.Lacewing, Michael. “Hume onmiracles.” Routledge.