Beyond Reason 315

Because sometimes we must step beyond reason, and let faith take flight.


Welcome to Beyond Reason 315.

It’s a blog written by someone who likes lively debate and values reason, but also acknowledges that we don’t have all the answers, not all can be reasoned and there is always room for faith – the place where we have to be brave enough to go beyond reason and open up our wings to fly.


Going beyond reason


I love reason. There’s something about it that seems so certain, secure. I also love puzzles, especially logic puzzles – the idea that one can pit one’s wits against a problem and weigh up all of the alternatives before arriving at a solid conclusion which can be demonstrated without doubt! Perhaps reason is something of what makes us human, sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom? The ability to work out new ways of doing things, evaluate them and improve based on evidence. But what do we do when we come to the boundaries of reason? Sure these boundaries are ever expanding, by the marvels of science and philosophy, but are there places that reason cannot take us?

It was George Gordon Byron, the English romantic poet, who said, “Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.” I think I agree. I don’t think I would ever advocate turning off our brains or closing our eyes to reason – in fact the more switched on of us simply wouldn’t be able to do that anyway – it’s part of who we are!

Christopher Hitchens, the twentieth century author, critic and journalist would almost certainly agree. He said, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” But what if there is evidence beyond what can be shared, beyond what Science can capture in a bottle or record on a video camera? What if there is something that exists beyond what we might call objective reason – reason that all can see and share?

I suppose we are now venturing from the realms of science, into the realms of philosophy and so perhaps philosophers can offer some food for thought. Blaise Pascal was a French seventeenth century mathematician, physicist, inventor and writer. He was very familiar with reason and committed to it, though he would certainly marvel at the beauty of modern physics were he able to experience it! Pascal, however, was also a Christian Philosopher. He had perhaps been confronted with the edge of reason (if you’ll pardon the irrelevant film reference!). For him, the boundaries of reason, or scientific enquiry at least, were probably much narrower. But what did Pascal do when he reached the edge of reason? I think he went beyond reason. It was Pascal that said, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.” Don’t, for even a minute, think he disengaged his brain, instead I think he’s allowed it greater freedom. Contemplate the great scientists for a moment, Einstein, Newton…and modern Scientists such as Peter Higgs. Great rational and scientific minds – but all possessed something which could be argued to be just as important – imagination! (In fact Einstein is credited with saying, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”) It was first in the 1960s that Higgs and others suspected particles, which are now known as Higgs boson, existed. They had no evidence then and I don’t think the evidence is fully conclusive now (though I’m happy to be corrected on this – its not my field of expertise). But my point is, there was a time when they believed something was true despite the evidence – in fact sometimes its contrary to all the current stock of evidence – who first imagined that the Earth could be round?

Voltaire, the French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher said “Faith consists in believing what reason cannot.” Was it faith that kept Higgs searching for his particle? Was it faith that gave Einstein the dogged determination to develop his general theory of relativity? It was Einstein who said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” and I wonder if he was onto something there. Let’s put aside modern critiques of religion for a moment, that’s a separate issue. What I’m fascinated by, is the idea that Science and reason alone are incomplete.

And now for the leap of faith – or maybe we’d prefer small steps…but let’s wonder for a moment if, when we step beyond reason we can’t perhaps enter a realm of personal, empirical, scientific exploration. Sure the world around us may think we’re mad, they may not believe our journey for they cannot see our personal evidence – perhaps not until some time later, when the objective evidence finally emerges – or when they see it for themselves. But perhaps along this journey we’ll find our own personal evidence – as a result of our faith and as a result of determination to venture further than Science and reason alone can go. For many the modus operandi is “See and I will believe.” I just wonder if there is a place, beyond reason, where it follows to, “Believe and then we’ll see.”