Accepting/Rejecting Beliefs/Rationalistic Propositions
vitally important distinctions that are being lost
Increasingly, it seems, people are making no distinction between beliefs and rationalistic propositions. I think it is vitally important for human beings to distinguish between those two forms of knowledge.
Here, I am not concerned with understanding the contributors to that trend. Postmodernism? Maybe. Ideology? Perhaps. Radical individualism? Possibly. Something of which am totally unaware? Could be.
Whatever its source, that trend is bad news for humanity. Simply put, in order to negotiate material existence successfully, we have to approach it rationally.
Beliefs are a form of knowledge. They are propositions relating to truths that transcend material existence. They certainly can have implications for material reality because they can definitely influence how we will act within that reality, but their source has nothing to do with material reality.
Rationalistic propositions relate to material reality. They refer to matters of the temporal world.
It is important to understand that reason and rationality are not the same thing. That was one half of the Great Mistake that the ‘Enlightenment’ thinkers made when they touted ‘Reason’ as the means for solving any and all problems faced by humankind.
Reason is essentially the correct use of logic. We can reason from beliefs as well as we can reason from observations within material existence. Reasoning from beliefs, however brilliant the logical extrapolations might be, is not being rational.
Secularity and rationality are not the same thing, either. That is the other half of that Great Mistake: those thinkers equated secularity with ‘objectivity’, as a purely rationalistic mental process that excludes any extraneous subjective influences (which postmodernists have demonstrated to this writer’s satisfaction to be a humanly impossible undertaking, in any event).
There are such things as secular beliefs. They are as purely subjective as any religious belief is. For example, total atheists can believe in ‘human equality’ (or believe one or another group of humans is inherently superior — or inferior — to all others) or believe in the existence of ‘Natural Rights’. Those are still beliefs, whether either is believed to be ‘God-given’ or not. As beliefs, neither is any more a matter of rationality that is my believing in the existence of a Spirit Being that created the Universe — material existence — from nothing.
Accepting/rejecting one belief or another is a purely personal thing. No one can say exactly why one belief or another is accepted or rejected by anyone, including oneself. Beliefs, then, are extra-rational knowledge: knowledge pertaining to an extra-material reality that is obtained without the participation of the rational capacity.
So, what makes a belief true? There is one thing and one thing only that makes a belief true: that a person accepts it as true. To accept a belief is to make it true. To reject a belief is to render it untrue.
The only grounds for accepting or rejecting a rationalistic proposition, one pertaining to material existence, is whether or not it accords with the reality of that existence. That reality is established by observation. The more a given observation is verified, the more valid, the more a part of our knowledge of material reality it is.
So, what makes a rationalistic proposition true? There is one thing and one thing only that makes a rationalistic proposition true: conformity with observation within material existence.
One consequence of the difference between beliefs and rationalistic propositions is that the truth of a belief is absolute and eternal (or at least absolutely true for as long as a person continues to hold it), whereas the truth of a rationalistic proposition is contingent. We can only ever say of any rationalistic proposition that it is true ‘to the best of our knowledge’. We have to accept of any rationalistic proposition that it could possibly be disproven as more knowledge becomes available.
Even so, to meet successfully the challenges that arise within material existence, we humans have no choice but to act on the basis of the truest, i.e., most valid, i.e., most verified knowledge of material existence that is available to us. To engage with the physical world we inhabit on the basis of beliefs rather than the realities of that world is to disdain the rational capacity that, I believe, our Creator bestowed upon us: it is to tread upon that pearl like a swine, to rend that gift like a dog might rend a Bible. It is to invite material disaster upon our own heads — and calling it an act of God.