Why do Humanists Value Reason?
Humanists put great value on how we treat others, our ability to care for others, make ethical judgements (decisions which assess the consequences of our actions), and the freedom to decide our own purpose and meaning in life. All these rely on our ability to reason.
Reason is the ability to think clearly and logically, to verify facts, and then to change or modify ourselves, our attitudes, traditions or institutions, based on that information. Reason is a form of freedom that prevents us being chained to beliefs or habits by prompting us to continually ask questions and examine our lives.
Feelings and intuitions are sometimes helpful when dealing with other people, guiding us as to how someone is feeling and how to respond to them. But looking at the results when we interact with others can ascertain how accurate our initial assessments, and responses to them, were.
If we rely only on our own senses and feelings we can be misled. We have a tendency to select information that supports our beliefs (confirmation bias) and to justify our actions (“well they deserved it”), as we wish to maintain self-images of ourselves as good people. When it comes to understanding and explaining the world around us, beliefs and feelings are not reliable guides.
Our reason prompts us to be careful about what we think and feel and to look towards evidence.
Religion is the opposite of reason. We are asked to accept things that we cannot verify and that seem absurd. It relies on believing what we’re told, tradition and (usually) only one holy book containing claims that have no independent means of verification. It is based on personal feelings and experiences that can be faulty. These feelings and experiences are encouraged within us, particularly when we are young, so that they seem real to us, and are then offered as proof of religion’s claims. In order to free itself from scrutiny and to create the illusion these inner experiences are shared, it uses vague and unclear words to talk about itself, allowing for multiple interpretations. It allows us to believe we’re all talking about the same thing when quite often we’re not. It tells us what to think but does not encourage us how to think.
“Our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions. Most of the traditional causes of belief – faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, the invigorating glow of subjective certainty – are generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge.” Science, by contrast, teaches “skepticism, open debate, formal precision, and empirical tests.”
Religion is therefore not a good guide to understanding the world because it is inaccurate and vague and has no reliable techniques for investigation. It has no greater claim to helping us behave better than humanism does, although it can share similar values. The difference is that humanism does not rely on old traditions, is flexible, looks at context, and can respond to new situations, necessitating that we use reason as our guide.
Humanists believe that reason, and its upshot the scientific method, is the most accurate, and possibly only way, of investigating and understanding the world. But more than this, it is the only tool we have for examining and modifying our own personal behaviour and for changing institutions and societies.
Reason was seen by Aristotle as our defining feature and is the very thing that defines us as human beings. To argue against reason is to argue against that which makes us human.
- Ethics is hard because it requires thinking (arthurdobrin.wordpress.com)