is religion even logical?
If religious belief is all about "faith," and knowledge
and science are all about "logic and proof," how can
they possibly make sense together? This is the very question that
Aquinas struggled with his entire life. And if we want to answer
it today, it will help to look at exactly what we mean by logic
proof vs. reason
Remember all those science projects you suffered though in grade
school, with the hypotheses, the experiments, the measurements
and the results? That's the scientific method, and it's how we
build our repository of knowledge about the world. But it's pretty
clear that we're not going to be able to take that sort of approach
to much of what we experience in life. There's nothing you can
add to a test tube to tell you what love is, or what college to
attend, or how to raise your children, or what career to pursue,
or why you love Venice, or what music is really about, or whether
God exists. The fact is, we live in a hugely complex world where
much of the time, intellectual tools such as information gathering,
abstraction, pattern recognition, fact checking, analysis and
judgment are the only tools we have at our disposal. For many
of our experiences, the scientific method is simply not applicable.
But that doesn't mean reason is irrelevant. We obviously can think,
and do think rigorously about these complicated experiences, even
if they are not suited to experimental verification. Human knowledge
advances first with insight; proof follows where it can.
thinking about complicated things
How do we reason about complicated things? In many ways. We recognize
patterns, we make connections, we abstract, we draw diagrams,
we map patterns to one another, we create a new context in which
to see things, we name, describe, we categorize (e.g., think about
how much of biology is categorization into genus and species).
We answer the question, "what just happened" or "what
did I just see," specifying the experience in words and creating
the inputs for logic. We do what scientists do prior
to the experiment, when they exercise scientific insight
to figure out how to set up the experiment in the first place.
Experimental validation is awesome. It's just that for many experiences
in life, the level of complexity is such that we are unable to
set up an experiment, nevermind carry it out. Nevertheless, there
are many valid tools of thought prior to proof, all of which are
utilized in the process of scientific insight, that can be applied
to complex experiences, including the experience of the sacred.
In fact, it is in this intellectual space of pattern recognition
and action that we live most of our lives; it is in this space
that we run our businesses, raise our families, govern ourselves,
produce our art and think about the sacred. Scientific insight,
daily life, philosophy and theology all work by people recognizing
patterns, making connections, and then taking appropriate actions.
thinking about the sacred
It is not only possible to think about the sacred, it is crucial
to think about it, and think about it rigorously, using all the
intellectual tools we have at our disposal. Religion is not some
subjective preference, like whether you like red wine or white
wine; it is a reflection of our most basic understanding of the
nature of reality. Therefore to engage it with anything less than
full intellectual rigor is, well, illogical. In between the sloppiness
of fundamentalism and the cluelessness of relativism lies the
straight skinny on reality, which includes an engagement with
the phenomenon of the sacred.
Understanding religion means understanding existence at the
hightest context: one universe, one brain, lots to dispute, nothing
off limits, no checking out.
"There is only one intelligence which both contemplates
God and knows the world."
M-D Chenu, Aquinas and His Role in Theology, p. 95.
"At the very heart of the spirituality of Thomas Aquinas
rests this conviction: human understanding is a place for holiness
because the truth is holy."
M-D Chenu, Aquinas and His Role in Theology, p. 31.
"Thomas feared logic as little as he feared mystery."
Josef Pieper, The Silence of St. Thomas, p. 38