if reason is a wrecking ball…

Using reason to establish a worldview, life-orientation, ‘religion’ or philosophy is like building a house with a wrecking ball.  Or perhaps that’s too violent a metaphor.  The point is reason is not a constructive tool but rather deconstructive. Reason does not construct, build or supply the thing itself: belief, idea, value, etc.  Reason only deconstructs what is already constructed, built or supplied by another source. So then, using and trusting reason alone, you will not ‘get’ anywhere.  More likely, you will critique and dismiss all views until you ‘get’ to the absence of a view, which is by definition agnosticism.  Reason is very popular.

Assumptions, on the other hand, are not popular.  When you ‘assume’, we chide, you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.  Assumptions, however, should not be assumed to be all bad.  They are not created equal.  And actually, assumptions, which none of us can avoid (and I note that it is a particularly strong assumption that assumptions should be avoided!), are the sort of things that we can (and do) actually ‘build’ with.  Assumptions are thus incredibly useful and impossibly unavoidable.

If reason is a wrecking ball, demolishing every constructed system of thought we could build, then assumptions are the ground that we always build upon.

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23 Responses to if reason is a wrecking ball…

  1. I couldn’t disagree more: reason is the method used to answer the ‘how’ questions. No matter what I choose to build, it is only through implementing the ‘how’ answers that allows me to transfer wishful thinking into a creative product. Relying on assumption is a method of foolery. Reason alone, however, is not sufficient; we require adjudication by reality to arbitrate its value. Reason combined with reality’s testing of it is a wrecking ball only against such foolery.

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  2. I agree with tildeb on this one. Haven’t you heard of the saying about a wonderful idea/assumption/theory whicc was destroyed by an ugly fact.

    That’s how we make progess.

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  3. I agree with tildeb and Ken.

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  4. Reason has nothing to build upon without basic assumptions. That’s the case even for physics/science, and it’s more explicitly the case for metaphysics, which was the arena I was referring to in the post.

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  5. Occam’s Razor can be applied to basic assumptions.

    Essential assumptions = I exist, I can trust my senses most of the time, etc. — you know the drill, Dale.

    Non-essential assumptions = ‘God’ exists, and that ‘God’ is defined as a personal, loving creator (who came down to visit my species, as my species and wants me and my species to lead the universe, animals, aliens and all else to redemption etc. but this is a side track)

    And yes, you fully assume this as you never seem to be able to answer me how you might reason yourself to that conclusion regarding the qualities of ‘God’ (which otherwise only need to be ‘eternal’ and/or ‘necessary’ for the contingent things we observe).

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  6. Well that’s the whole debate isn’t it? If nature/creation/the-world is ultimate reality, then yes God is a non-essential, unnecessary idea/entity. But if it is not, then… So you actually don’t *know* if God’s existence is a non-essential assumption or the most essential of all essential assumptions.

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  7. True, Dale “Reason has nothing to build upon without basic assumptions” but assumptions and reason are sterile – they don’t provide anything new – and you have no way of realising if conclusions are at all valid. You need to interact with reality – it’s then one can find, perhaps, that the assumption may be dead wrong (assumptions usually are) and one can’t make corrections. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    One can only make progress, indeed even know if you are in the right track, by checking against reality.

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  8. Thanks Ken,
    Again, keeping the distinction between ‘physics’ and ‘metaphysics’ in mind, the former is where ‘evidence’ comes in and I agree fully with you. But when it comes to metaphysics where things are considered in other ways (i.e. qualitative rather than quantitative – essential rather than phenomenal), then we’ve got a whole different thing happening. Take human equality and ‘rights’. Without these concepts, which are rarely questioned esp. at a popular level, so much of our political/ethical talk loses its foundation. I think an honest person has to say that there is no ‘evidence’ for human equality or ‘rights’ – we just assume that. I think it is a good assumption, though, and I assume (lol) that most of us do as well. This metaphysical area is what I’m thinking of. So I hope there is no need to remind me any more about checking with ‘the evidence’, because when it comes to metaphysics, there is no physical evidence.

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  9. Alway suspicious of people using the word “metaphysics” – it seems to be a sloppy way of avoiding real issues. And no, doesn’t matter what you call it if you have to avoid reality to protect it you can be sure it is wrong.

    Human values, etc, are of course experience subjectively but that does not mean they have no connection to reality, or that the are not influenced and changed by reality. After all, outperform values as we experience them are objectively based – they don’t exist in a vacuum.

    We have lots of trouble from people who “just assume” their values, rights etc. isn’t that what the Taliban did, and is doing, when they opposed female education? And isn’t it possible for even a member of the Taliban to change their assumptions by interacting with reality in a wider way?

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  10. I’m about of fond of your use of the word ‘reality’ as you are of the word ‘metaphysics’. I suggest we both get over it and try to understand what the other one is saying regardless. The ‘reality’ is, quite simply, there is no evidence against which to validate a metaphysical (MP) concept such as a human ‘right’. If that puts Ken Perrott and Osama Bin Laden in the same metaphysical starting blocks, then so be it. This doesn’t mean that you will construct the same value system as he, it just means that we sort out ‘good’ MP ideas from ‘bad’ MP ideas by means other than ‘checking the evidence’. What we **actually** do is we check one MP assumption against a deeper, more general, more basic, more foundational MP assumption, until we get to fundamental assumptions, of which human equal rights & dignity is one of the most basic. The abortion debate is of relevance to this discussion of MP values such as human rights. In the debate, few if any people ever question whether a human even *has* ‘rights’ or what they are based on. They mainly just debate at what point (i.e. after or at fertilization) a human comes into being, because the moment they exist, they (are assumed to) have rights.

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  11. Dale, what are you doing if not reasoning in this hypothetical model of yours (“What we **actually** do is we check one MP assumption against a deeper, more general, more basic, more foundational MP assumption, until we get to fundamental assumptions, of which human equal rights & dignity is one of the most basic.”)?
    When in fact we don’t reason, we just “know” what is right and wrong in our guts. We feel it.
    And this does change over time – even in the abortion debate people can start with a logical justification for the feeling that a human is a human at conception, or before even, but manage to change their views over the relative rights to life of the foetus and the mother as they learn more or have different life experiences.

    By the way, we can be pretty sure, through experience, of reality but find different people use the word metaphysics in very different and sloppy ways.

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  12. Ken, yes, as I said above, once an assumption is in place, you can then apply reason to compare/contrast etc. But it is actually the assumption that is what constructs a value system – reason tears it down as contradictory or confirms it as being internally consistent. What reason does *not* do, with metaphysics anyway, is ‘check it against the evidence’, because there ain’t none.

    And if “we just ‘know’ what is right and wrong in our guts”, then why are there so many contradictory voices in the abortion debate? Answer: we have different MP assumptions, and/or we prioritize some above others. In the abortion example, the ‘rights’ of the pre-born either trump or are trumped by other things. It all depends on the value system one holds. This is all really straightforward to me?

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  13. “So you actually don’t *know* if God’s existence is a non-essential assumption or the most essential of all essential assumptions.”

    You’ve completely misread my comment it seems. I 100% do know that your ‘God’ (how you define god) is a non-essential assumption. You’re yet to show me how it is essential that the eternal, necessary stuff responsible for all the contingent matter and energy logically need be all-loving and all the other sweet ‘human’ emotional stuff that comes with Christianity.

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  14. And if I might chime in to what you guys are saying – at root it’s really things like ‘chasing happiness’ vs ‘avoiding pain’, or ‘helpful’ vs ‘hurtful’, ‘society’ vs ‘anti-society’ which are near the bottom and then ‘survival’ vs ‘death’ at the bottom. I think it would take some serious thinking and careful word choosing/defining to dig deeper than these sorts of fundamental concepts.

    Human rights is in my opinion at least a tier or two further up and is in fact evidenced by how well or not it contributes to or lines up with those examples of fundamental concepts I listed above.

    inb4 “But how do we know survival is a ‘good’ root goal assumption to just have??”

    Always strikes me as a dumb question with a self-evident answer: because by surviving all other goals further up are made possible.

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  15. Ryan,
    Re god and assumptions:
    the question behind the question is essential for what? ‘god’ as a vague generalised creator can easily/logically be seen as essential for creation to exist. God as Christian theology understands, however is essential for the redemptive processes in/for the creation, etc. I had the general creator concept in mind. And yes, as I’ve said before, Christian theology never seeks to rest it’s beliefs about God/Christ/gospel on human powers of reasoning – but rather on God taking the initiative and revealing – which is not ‘assumption’, but like assumption is to be distinguished from reason.

    Re MP assumptions:
    Indeed, as I just said above, different people/traditions have put things like ‘survival’ over or below things like ‘rights’. This is where a lot of differences of ethical speaking/acting comes from.

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  16. Essential for everything to be here!! You know that, Dale. All that is required is that something exists which is eternal and necessary – it need not be loving, it need not be ‘revealing’ or possess initiative – those are human attributes that you just throw on this completely unawares eternistuff. Poor eternistuff..

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  17. erm, isn’t that what I said? distinguishing between 1) general/vague creator entity (‘god’) essential for x) general creation; and 2) the specifically loving Christian God, essential for y) redemptive process of creation incl. humans being loved, etc….

    1 is essential for x, and 2 is essential for x and y. To say this in an idiot-proof way would be to say that 1 is NOT essential for y, but only x.

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  18. “1 is essential for x, and 2 is essential for x and y.”

    I would say 1 is essential for x, and humans are essential for y. Show me how it’s necessary that the loving Christian god exists, in order for humans to love each other. Cos as far as I see it, in order for humans to love each other, only loving human beings must exist.

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  19. suffice to say that I meant ‘y’ in terms of a loving/redeeming God being essential for humanity to have love/redemption from God.

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  20. Cool. I just re-read your previous comment again.

    Having growing up in Christian theology, I know all this “well in Christian theology, Ryan…” business. I just want to know how you get from “there exists an eternal, necessary stuff” to “it loves us and used its initiative to redeem us”. I noticed more clearly on second read that you say you don’t assume that or reason yourself to that point in Christian theology but rather that by “God taking the initiative and revealing” …………………………………………………….. so you’re saying all your beliefs about these other characteristics of ‘God’ (eternistuff, necessary) rest upon divine revelation??? How did this divine revelation occur? What makes you so certain that it was divine? Or that it was even ‘revelation’? This whole time I’ve thought you’d reasoned yourself to those extra characteristics. I thought you had logical ‘reasons’ 1,2 and 3 for believing or perhaps you would say ‘knowing’ that the eternal, necessary stuff is a) personal, b) loves us, c) wants to redeem us, etc.

    If you don’t… well… tell me all about this revelation stuff… but if you do: can you please show me your reasoning. If possible, be succinct, hell, even flow-charty about it. Please don’t muddy it up with verbose paragraphs of meditative Carey student musings.

    Actually, no, no, I will just ask a question, and perhaps you could purely answer me it:

    Q: In a one or two (if you must) sentences, tell me why you believe that the stuff responsible for contingent matter and energy must not only be
    1) necessary
    2) eternal
    but it also makes sense that it is
    3) separate (which is a confusing thought)
    4) personal
    5) loving
    6) possessing initiative to intervene

    Cheers.

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  21. I’m (as usual) keen to keep discussion relevant to the post, so not keen to use this thread for a Q&A on Revelation. Search bar ‘revelation’ and you’ll find at least a few posts… Don’t mind being called a topic nazi.

    But briefly. Yes, as I clarified long ago with you and others in person – and as the original post suggests, reason is not at all sufficient for establishing worldviews – yes this includes the Christian worldview. Reason checks for consistency and contradictions with mathematical precision. But it doesn’t provide the apples and oranges with which to do any adding.

    As for your question, the eventual, full answer is of course Jesus. Jesus reveals what God is like. That’s one word – how was that? ;)

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  22. Cool. Let’s go from there. Keeping it simple.

    Why do you believe/How do you know/What makes you think Jesus reveals what God is like.

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  23. I’m (as usual) keen to keep discussion relevant to the post, so not keen to use this thread for a Q&A on Revelation. Search bar ‘revelation’ and you’ll find at least a few posts… Don’t mind being called a topic nazi.

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