Are religion (christianity) and rationality mutually exclusive to one another?

Saw someone state that the two are mutually exclusive and this has me wondering if they are indeed mutually exclusive or not.

That’s a pretty broad question you’ve got there. Nearly all the threads on this forum might be said to be some specific subset of that very question. You could visit our Penner “end of apologetics” thread if you want something of a deeper dive into this.

But meanwhile, just to venture a short quick response here (from a Christian), I’m gonna say “no - they aren’t mutually exclusive at all.” Of course, neither is rationality exclusive of atheism … or Buddhism … or Hinduism … or _______. While there are things that stretch rationality to its limits or even break it, it nonetheless is an extremely pliable property towards a wide variety of ideologies.

Actually … YEC might be one of the few ‘-isms’ that does manage to break it! Perhaps a distinction they might take some pride in. [And yet even that will have its own subset of rationality within which it can exist. Once you grant that God forced the world to appear a very certain way for reasons inaccessible to us, and you apply the appropriate gymnastics to force your Bible into that mold of thought - then you’ve entered a world that also has its own internal brand of rationality.]

Of course “religion” is such a broad class of animals, that your question is nearly meaningless. It’s like asking “are people good”? Religion is such a huge thing (even with respect to say, just one religion and one person of that religion), that one would realistically have to concede that within that one religion, and for that one person, he or she will often act rationally, and will at other times act irrationally. And since we will all exist somewhere in that spectrum (none of us will be rational 100% of the time or irrational 100% of the time either), the answer to your question has to be “It depends.” … and depends mostly on you rewriting your question to ask something much more specific.

Thank you i wasnt sure if there was a thread or not talking about this.

1 Like

Feel free to ask more. If there’s one thing there’s no shortage of around here, it’s a willingness to share of whatever anybody feels they have to offer!

I’m a Christian and I think I am one of the most skeptical people on earth :joy: So for me, no, being rational and a Christian are not mutual exclusive. This is not to say we don’t find Christians possessing irrational beliefs at times, just like everyone else.

Vinnie

1 Like

It is always possible to define two things in such a way as to make them mutually exclusive. I have seen Christian do the same with atheism and rationality, defining them as mutually exclusive.

From a simple historical perspective the notion is ludicrous. For a long time in many countries the religion (incl. Christianity) was the only thing keeping rationality alive.

The usual argument is to juxtapose reason and faith. But the fact of the matter is that reason is impossible without faith. Logic only takes us from premises to conclusion, so it can do nothing without first taking premises on faith. And science does not hold itself up by its own bootstraps – none of its method is a result science. So science also can do nothing without faith in its methods. So reason and faith certainly are not mutually exclusive.

And what about the plain evidence that many scientists were not only religious but even clergy. The ignorance of this claim is really astounding. It reminds me of the creationists – simply replacing reality with some fantasy they want to believe in.

As an outsider where religion is concerned it seems to me that, like our humanity itself, religion is neither exclusively rational nor devoid of rationality. Done well, religion might provide a perspective from which occasions calling for rational thought and others which do not can be discerned, accommodated and appreciated. If religions were exclusively rational it is hard to see what use they would be, just one more theater for legalism I suppose.

Having said that you might wonder whether I thought religion was required for a proper perspective on rationality. I do not.

One can engage in both concurrently, in parallel, as many people do. Ritual is fine as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else, make one a toxic person. And many people combine both, making rationality subservient to religion. The challenge is to subject religion to rationality.

Faith isn’t compatible with a strictly evidenced based approach to understanding the world. However, both are compatible with being a human. If we restricted ourselves to strictly rational endeavors I think we would be missing out on a big part of the human experience. Is it rational to spend our limited time and effort learning how to paint art or how to play the guitar? Absolutely not. However, how much richer are our lives when we include these irrational pursuits?

3 Likes

There are plenty of atheists who firmly believe that, and a lot of Christians who definitely seem to believe that. Personally, I think Christians who do, could benefit from trying to be a little more rational and atheists who do, need to “get a grip”.

1 Like

To me it’s a baseless claim and it greatly bothers me when people make assertions like this with no evidence. What part of religion or Christianity is at odds with rationality? Are believers like Francis Collins, Alastair McIntyre, and former President of the American philosophical association Alvin Plantinga irrational?

I totally understand why someone many be initially skeptical of the claims of Christianity, but asserting its mutually exclusive from rationality is just ridiculous. The burden of proof is on the person making this claim to show the two are at odds.

1 Like

I also think “rational” is a poor way to frame the discussion. It gives the connotation that people are somehow thinking incorrectly which isn’t a fair way to describe religion.

In the same vein, would you consider prominent Hindus, Buddhists, and people of other faiths to be rational people?

I think it’s a good way to frame the discussion and gives Christians an opportunity to be humble and honest. They rarely take it. Notwithstanding I champion rational faith.

A good question-I absolutely would. To be honest, I don’t know too much about other religions to be able to really say one way or another, but I have good friends who are Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, etc who are all very rational people who I respect greatly. If this belief system creates a cohesive worldview for them, presupposing that they are “wrong” or worse “irrational” is going to cloud my judgement when interacting with them. I don’t have any reason to think their view is “wrong” or “misguided.” I certainly would need to learn much more about it (with an open mind) if I wanted to pronounce one of these other religions as “irrational.” James 1:19 says it like this, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”

For instance one of my friends is a therapist who practices DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) which brings in some Eastern ideas of mindfulness, meditation along with stoic ideas and plenty of ideas from Christianity. A lot of that mindfulness stuff is really helpful, and I’ve tried it out for myself. I know some Catholic priests who meditate every morning.

There’s an epistemological issue I have which is that I only know my own experience with God and Christianity, and do not know someone else’s experience with any other religion. I believe trying to force any of my ideas on them without first listening to their own views would be premature. 1 Peter 5:5 says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

I think some Christians have this idea of needing to “convert” people, but can sometimes do it more for their own glory rather than out of love for the other person. The question is, “why am I telling this person about the gospel?” Is it because I’m convinced that I’m “right” and they are “wrong”? Or is it that I think Jesus has something to offer them that they aren’t getting with their current worldview-And how would I know this if I didn’t first listen to them (perhaps I could learn something and grow from their worldview)?

1 Like

I don’t think Christianity, or religion in itself is rational. I mean ultimately we are placing faith in a invisible, eternal and immortal being that we believe communicates with all of creation and always has been and always will be. It’s obviously irrational. But it does not mean someone is irrational. Take horror movies. It’s irrational to be afraid of a masked slasher in a film. Michael Meyers is fictional. Freddy Krueger is fictional. But plenty of people get scared of them, they close their eyes when a gory death is happening. It’s irrational, because they know it’s fake. Two minutes later they are laughing and eating popcorn. But it does not mean that they don’t have a grasp on life.

I think every argument to “prove” god is a bit irrational. I think some people just get mad because they refuse to realize faith is foolish, despite the Bible saying we will look like fools to the world. For me it’s just simply not a issue. It’s something I realize as a bit silly, but don’t care and love my faith anyways and through me faith, and because of faith, choose to live as though I’m confident it’s true.

1 Like

I think it depends what we mean by rational. Was it rational 2,000 years ago to believe the sun revolved around the earth? Or that the earth was flat?

For scientific “truths”, we take other people’s testimony on “faith”-we don’t do the experiments ourselves and often don’t read the papers that are published directly when accepting a view. Many people do not understand the mathematics behind the arguments made in these papers, so our ability to even assess the reasons and logic behind the arguments put forward is suspect.

I wonder if naturalism is a rational position. Or simulation theory. If we define rational as “based on or in accordance with reason or logic,” with reason being defined as “the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic” then any of these positions are rational, including theism.

I mean it this way.

There is a One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater that lives underneath my house that is invisible and can’t be detected but I know what they look like because they sing a song every night as I’m going to sleep. But it’s not just me who has experienced this. Millions of people have experienced this though some swears they are pink and whispers, a few weirdos say they are yellow and scream, but traditionally they are purple and sing. The earliest records in a long dead language found in a rabbit hole a man tripped in also agrees they are purple and sing.

With that said, I’m a mechanic who really likes history. I read tons of books on history and my free time is me and my spouse of faithful ten years goes out walks through historical landmarks. Often for fun we just lay in bed using google earth to scroll through their “ history tab” and see images and what it looks like now and ect and tons of other mundane things that requires a basic grasp on reality and logic to function with. ( all of that is fake by the way ). Just showing how someone can be perfectly rational, logical and decently educated with responsible hobbies that requires things like reading to carry out. A rational person with some irrational beliefs that they’ve chosen to place their faith in. Same with religion. I mean is Hinduism , Buddhism, Islam or Shinto anymore irrational than Christianity?

I know some people in here believe they can prove God. I don’t. I think most in here agree. None of us can prove that Yahweh is real. None of us can prove Jesus rose from the dead, walked on water or floated away or whatever he did at the end.

I mean if I said I just found out that 2,000 years ago a few hundred to a few thousand people saw a dude named JollyBee hold a feather and fly around with it and he once cursed a well and it dried up right before our eyes no one would believe me. So it’s just faith for me. Irrational faith that does very little in a rational life when it comes to accomplishing things.

As for naturalism, is it more rational than religion? Typically.

Let’s explain how babies are made, how stars are created, how grass grows and why blueberries are sweet or why it rains. ( rhetorical I’m too lazy to do that)

But if I was to say I will only explain things using natural processes and you can only explain them using supernatural processes I’ll probably come off as rational and you’ll probably not. But let’s say that we both explain those things I’m using science but you believe in ghosts and I don’t. The belief in ghosts are irrational, but you can still rationally grasp the science in all those things.

Here is where I would disagree. Naturalism does not provide a metaphysical account for why matter and the “laws of nature” exist. As a result, it cannot really explain how stars are created or why anything exists at all. Instead, it claims that everything can be explained in physical terms without reference to anything “spooky.” Naturalism is thus comparable with a deistic God, or perhaps argues that the natural world exists necessarily. It is a claim about how the universe functions, not how it began to exist.

I don’t see how we are justified in accepting naturalism. If we assume naturalism is true, then we have reasons to doubt that our belief in naturalism being true is correct (this is similar to Plantinga’s EAAN, but perhaps a bit different). The effectiveness of mathematics and effectiveness of reason are two challenges to naturalism as well. The fact that we can do a good job describing many of the things in nature in a naturalistic way, i.e. without reference to anything supernatural does not necessarily mean everything can be described this way. And even if everything can be described in naturalistic terms, is this the best account for why the world works as it does? For instance, some seem to think that the start of life is best described as a “miracle” (I think Anthony Flew took this position when he converted from atheism to theism). For these people, it is not that life is impossible to describe in terms of unguided natural forces, but instead that it seems very improbable given the condition of naturalism.

In this way, I think naturalism is often an unjustified argument about ergodicity-that because miracles or any such lapses in the laws of nature happen so infrequently for us to observe (despite claims that they do happen or have happened) they must never have happened, because we expect the laws of nature to have held for all time the same way. As a result, I think naturalistic skepticism is far more rational - we can assume most causes have natural explanations and even favor naturalistic explanations for many causes, but are still justified in doubting naturalism in cases where it seems very improbable that the assumptions of naturalism best explain an observation.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.