A continued popular thread around the internet is the self-declared righteousness of so-called rationalists: that is, people who believe that everything in the universe and outside of it can be explained only by empirical observation that accumulates facts that then, of their own volition, create some kind of unavoidable conclusion.
I have always believed that rationalists are full of the worst kind of bunk, mostly because they fail to understand just how much of their supposed rational understanding they take on faith and without the use of any kind of real rational thought. Far too often, they assume that, because someone with some kind of pre-established authority observed something and reached a conclusion because of those observations, the observer must be right, even when what the observer concluded doesn’t make much sense or fit with the conclusions caused by other clear observations.
The most disingenuous attacks launched by rationalists are against people who publicly acknowledge faith in anything but their narrow rationalist worldview. They claim, rightly so, that people who have faith, especially in God or gods or anything but–usually–science, are not rationalists and, incorrectly, that they are somehow mentally and morally deficient as a result.
Yet, in their claim, they reveal their own weakness, because they assume their own righteousness as a matter of faith. Rarely do rationalists, who often trumpet facts determine by scientific method as the source of their rationalism, know much or anything about the thinks they claim prove their belief. As I said previously, they take it on faith that the pronouncements of fellow rationalists who have observed something are sufficient proof of its existence, or even worse, that consensus about the nature of an observation is itself some kind of proof.
Human history is filled, and very often driven forward, by the failure of conclusions derived from observation and consensus to bear up under the weight of the passage of time and the arrival of new observations and conclusions. From my point of view, this historical failure of rationalism as part of ongoing human history leaves me very skeptical of basing my own worldview on rationalism alone.
I have heard it said that “faith is belief beyond reason”(1), yet even rationalists take their beliefs on faith, even if they hide that faith behind rationalist curtains. Rationalists hope–that is have faith–that current observation produces sustainable conclusions and that their own “reason is a rational motive for a belief or action”(1). Indeed, they hope for this reality beyond all evidence to the contrary, something they regularly lambaste people who hold to more traditional faith for doing.
I believe instead that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen(2). Faith represents one of what I believe are three elements necessary in order for any thinking being to be able to function in a universe far too complex for any individual to completely comprehend. In fact, reason is one of those other elements, but only when it is tempered by the presence of philosophy–that is consistency of thinking (not even necessarily logic)–and faith.
So, consequently, I am not a rationalist because I believe that rationalism is incomplete. Without faith and philosophy, reason is a flawed system destined to fail and disappoint, just as surely as faith alone(2) or philosophy alone will produce the same result. No person is whole until they possess all of the elements of wholeness, and rationalism is not whole.
(1) “Faith is belief beyond reason. Reason is a rational motive for a belief or action… Therefore, by definition, faith is not rational. Therefore, it CANNOT be understood by one who is logical.” –From a comment on The Daily Beast
(2) Many rationalists will whine that using the Bible to prove the validity of faith presents a circular argument that proves faith is irrational and, therefore, invalid. This argument on the part of rationalists, especially by their rabid atheist brethren, just proves how little they known about faith, Christianity, or the Bible, yet they somehow manage to take what they believe on faith and without the supposed rational understanding they claim to hold so dear.
(3) I know that many of my orthodox Protestant readers will instinctively recoil from my statement that faith alone will fail and disappoint, but this statement is not directed at the question of justification but at the whole life of a Christian, which includes justification, sanctification, and what we do (works). I think most Protestant readers will acknowledge that the life of a Christian must consist of a life of both faith and action, each given its proper place and understanding (e.g: Ephesians 2-9).