The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone?

I thought I'd move this fragment of a comment from a discussion below to the top level, since I was happy with the way I put the point and it is worth discussing apart from the topic that originally generated the discussion.

No one beside Kant and his followers are suggesting "Limiting our research into God to the cognitive level." Our rational ability to go beyond mere sense experience to abstract truths via rational intuition is *one* of those transcendent things inside you. It is a check and balance on human fancy and enthusiasm, which, history demonstrates so clearly, can carry folks away on the wings of wish-fulfillment.

On my old website my icon was the ship--one of the most ancient of Christian icons. Here's an adaptation of something I read somewhere:

"A passionate person with out reason is like a ship without a rudder: tossed about on every wind and wave of doctrine. A person with reason but not passion is like a ship without a sail: sitting stagnant at port with no hope on the horizon."

The key is to harness the power of the wind--the pneuma, the spirit--while steering clear of our own personal Scyllae and Charibdes.


At Tuesday, February 07, 2006 12:38:00 PM, Blogger Christine Ansorge said...

Isn't it more about learning to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit as opposed to our own desires? Reason is, of course, a good guide, but doesn't the voice of God occasionally contradict our reason? Take the case of Ezekial having to eat human dung and explain to me where we differ if we do. Please.

At Tuesday, February 07, 2006 1:02:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

"Reason" and "our reason" are not co-referring terms. Compare "what Scripture means" and "what we think it means". One is objective or "out there" and the other is our subjective grasp of it. Our subjective grasp can be more or less reasonable depending on how logical our thoughts are and how well we've gathered evidence.

Sometimes what we think we know contradicts what we think Scripture says and we need to try to achieve equilibrium. Sometimes what we think Reason tells us here and what we think reason tells us there seem to conflict: this is called a paradox. Here also we try to achieve equilibrium.

What's true is that God often does things we would not expect. If you want to call our expectations what "our reason" says I can't forbid it, but it seems like a confusing way to talk, especially given the option of just talking about our expectations. Reason with a capital "R" just is the Mind of God and since God never contradicts Himself, He never contradicts Reason.

It would make sense for the Holy Spirit to show us where our expectations are unReasonable.

At Thursday, February 09, 2006 9:36:00 AM, Blogger Christine Ansorge said...

So a paradox is only a seeming contradiction? or are we using the term paradox for two different things? One an actual paradox that can't be resolved, and one for a seeming paradox? or are there only seeming paradoxes?

Our difficulties with reason is that I've always thought of it as a faculty, the concept seemed too small to be connected with God. I'll have to ponder the idea of God is Reason. (I know that's not what you said, but I think that it is possible to see that as implied.)

This is very helpful and interesting to me.

At Thursday, February 09, 2006 1:35:00 PM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

The use in philosophical writing and, I think, the most useful use, is as follows: A *inconsistency* occurs in a a set, when it is logically impossible for all the members of that set to be true at the same time. A *paradox* occurs when there's an *apparent inconsistency*. Some paradoxes will turn out to be inconsistencies and other will turn out to be consistent after all.

The most common kind if paradox is when apparently true premises yield an apparently false conclusion via an apparently valid form of reasoning. Consider the "paradox of the heap" much discussed by the Stoics and today's logicians. [It so happens this is what I'm discussing in my logic class today.]

1. One grain of wheat is not a heap.
2. One grain of sand never makes a difference between a non-heap and a heap. That is, if you've got a little pile of wheat and it's not a "heap" then if you add a single grain it doesn't become a heap.
3. Therefore, there are no heaps of wheat.

The premises--statements 1 and 2--seem really solid, but the conclusion--statement 3--seems false. Some philosophers think one of our intuitions has to be given up, others think there's a perspective from which we may keep them all.

The basic principle of logic is the Law of Non-Contradiction: A statement can't be both true and false in the same sense at the same time. This is an epistemological reflection of an ontological fact: something cannot both exist and not exist at the same time in the same sense. Thus the Laws of Reason (synecdoche for with is just "Reason") are based on the Facts of Being. Since God is the Supreme Being, he is the Supreme Reason. That is to say, since he is the ground of being, he is the ground of reason.

I would highly recommend reading this book or this book both of which specifically connect Logic and Theology. The spiel I gave above is standard Catholic philosophy derived from Saint Thomas.

At Friday, February 10, 2006 12:40:00 PM, Blogger Christine Ansorge said...

I wish I could commute to Rochester. It sounds like I'd enjoy your course.

It's the never that kills number 2. Heap is poorly defined. When heap is properly defined then one grain does make the difference.

Is there a different illustration?

Your links to books didn't take, so I'll need the titles. :)

I still can't see Reason as anything other than something finite. Reason belongs to us, and we are the finite beings who use it. I can see that God invented reason, but to me it stands apart from his being like the world or you and I. Perhaps if I look at it as "cause". God is the Supreme Cause. That's a no brainer. Even you say the laws of reason are *based* on the facts of being. I'm thinking reason is not an attribute of God it is description of God.

At Monday, February 13, 2006 8:25:00 AM, Blogger Christine Ansorge said...

I've been enjoying the whole heap thing, and my new favorite way of seeing it is to say every grain of rice is a heap. I think it's because I've been thinking about Rene Girard's work at the same time. I'm considering a small act of protest. It's grain of rice sized, but I'm held in check by Girard. I've purchased the reader to see if I should drop my "heap" or not.

I'm very interested in your response to my quibbles with the idea that God is Reason. I can see God is Love. I can see God is Holy. I have a difficult time seeing God is Reason, but I want to understand how such notables came to see it that way.

At Friday, February 17, 2006 10:27:00 AM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

re: heap paradox: If we had never discussed the paradox of the heap and were walking along and and saw two grains of wheat lying together, you would not call them a heap. Same goes for three. How, then, would you properly define heap so that one grain makes a difference between a non-heap and a heap.

re: Reason: Reason does not belong to us, we belong to Reason.

1. God has the attribute of thinking consistently.
2. Reason as I hereby define it is the attribute of thinking consistently.
3. Thus, God has the attribute of Reason.

By "consistently" I mean in a non-contradictory manner. I'm neither affirming nor denying that God changes his mind, that's a different kind of consistency. All of (classical, deductive) logic can be derived from from the Law of Noncontradiction. To say that God has Reason is to say that he is a conscious thinking being who's thoughts are not contradictory. I think you can agree with that.

At Friday, February 17, 2006 10:54:00 AM, Blogger Latin's Lady said...

Video slots on the web has a fan club of there own, people just can’t get enough. Even when news slots are launched by the different software developers they get a standing ovation and are attacked with an intensity of a wolf mother protecting her cubs. It is like the New Years sale in Bond street where the entire population of crazy housewife’s fight over every garment and will draw blood if need be.

Lucky us the since the slots are online there is no such thing as a queue and you can play when you want. You don’t even have to get dressed.

Not that this has any relevance to who plays slots and who don’t. There is clearly according to the latest polls more women playing slots then men. Men seem to drift towards the poker and table games. But here is something us men have to watch out for, they are coming. And they are also coming in swarms.

And since we men can not do more then one thing at a time (at least that is what the women say) we are in trouble. Take Blackjack, they should be better at handling two and three hands then us. Texas Hold’em is up for grabs because of the pace and many factors in the game. So when you are playing against a women you might want to hold on to your chips (and maybe your hart as well) she could end up owning both of them. Women know we are simple beings, and do have this factor over us when playing face to face. All men are suckers to a nice smile, so in all fairness any poker game that has both men and women in it should be played online.

At least you will not be distracted by that nice perfume drifting in from the women next to you. It is so faint but a man has certain instincts and will try to get a good sniff. So leaning in (ever so careful) I still get booted from a game for trying to look at other peoples cards. And I had a straight lined up. Even the big smile I got from the women next to me did not really soften the blow of getting booted. At least the dealer understood me and just told me to take a break for a while. That is my 2 cents worth on the topic of women and gambling.

Signing off for now and heading towards the slots, someone told me there is a good chance of meeting women there. At least that is what they tell me on

At Friday, February 17, 2006 10:57:00 AM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Ack! First every spam comment! I think I know how they did it though.

Problem is I can't figure out how to delete it!

At Sunday, February 19, 2006 7:27:00 PM, Blogger Christine Ansorge said...

Yes, I totally agree with that.

I'm quibbling with putting it as God is reason. God has reason, of course. God is Reason, not so much.

I so love Rene Girard. His ideas explain so much, including large chunks of my childhood. I was amazed that I'd never been exposed to his ideas before since they are so Christian and so vital then I noticed that he embraces higher criticism, evolution and he's a Catholic. It's amazing how theological prejudice is wreaking such havoc currently. I mean it always has, but this is my era, I feel responsible somehow. We need a way to bring Girard to the evangelical masses. I'll think on it.

In any case, thanks for a fascinating discussion. I feel like every day I grow immensely lately. This last year is almost dream like in the way I've expanded intellectually. You get some of the credit for that. Blessings

At Monday, February 20, 2006 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

There are two venerable old doctrines which both support the move from God having the attribute to God being the supreme expression of it. The doctrine of divine simplicity entails that you can always go from "God has______" where the blank is filled in with an intrinsic attribute to "God *is* ______" because in God's nature there is no real distinction between God's existence and his essence. So to admit that God has reason and deny that the he is Reason is to deny this doctrine and commit yourself to the theses that God's existence and essence are distinct which threatens His status as necessary being.

Another doctrine which supports the move from "God has reason" to "God is Reason" is the doctrine of the Transcendental Unity of Being. For a recent post on that look here:

Devotionally, to say that "God is Reason" is to acknowledge Him as the foundation of our mental life and the basis of all correct thinking. Statements about how God *does* think state the rules for how we *should* think. He not only has reason, He is Reason.


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