I think of three levels of…knowledge, perhaps? Three levels where we can ask ourselves “How do we know this is true? How could we tell if it was false?”
1 – The lowest level, logic itself. How do we know that logical thinking is correct? If A, then B. A, therefore, B seems pretty solid to me. But what if the part of my mind that finds this persuasive, and gives me a feeling of certainty is mistaken? Logic works according to logic, but if it were mistaken, then the proofs for it would be mistaken, too, so that’s circular, that doesn’t prove anything. On this level, I say “I don’t know.” Faith and reason both are unable to assess this question. On the deepest level, I can’t be sure of anything
2 – But, suppose logic works. Now can I be sure of things? Well, no, now we have the next level, our senses. What if we’re all in a Matrix, brains in a jar? How can we know that our senses are reliable reports of reality? Well, we can’t, as far as I can tell. Faith and reason perform equally well on this area. Of course, you could always just say you knew, I guess that would be faith. But just saying doesn’t make it so.
3 – Okay, well, what if logic and our senses are reliable. Now can we know things? Yes (with different degrees of probability). It is on level 3 that reason really starts to shine, easily outstripping faith. On the deeper levels of 1 and 2, we may not know anything for sure, but if we put aside 1 and 2, and focus on 3, then reason is the magic of the world. In fantasy worlds, people gain power by magic and spells. In our world, the power comes from reason. Reason has unlocked the mysteries of the universe, and granted us power to shape the world according to our will. We can fly, through air or space, send messages around the world in an instant, and live a lifestyle far beyond that of kings of ancient times.
Faith users claim to be able to heal people, to access knowledge not known to humanity and so on. They always have so claimed. At some point in history, reason started producing more healings than faith users even claimed to, and reason could do so in front of people, at any time, at the drop of a hat. Faith users have sometimes claimed the ability to fly, but reason has now made this power cheap and available to all, and you can see it for yourself; we’re not afraid to have this claim tested any way you can imagine to test it.
It is a very peculiar kind of confidence I once had, that I could answer any attack on my faith, and be totally unperturbed by any argument, safe in my absolute certainty that I was on the right path. And yet…I wasn’t confident that people watching would be equally persuaded. If you asked me to explain why God would kill the firstborn of Egypt, I was perfectly secure in my answer. I told myself that this confidence was a sign of how right I was. But, on some level, I knew that others wouldn’t be persuaded; I wouldn’t have wanted those “weaker in the faith” to hear both the attack and my defense, I must have known how it would sound.
Now, I have a different confidence. I don’t tell myself how confident I am, I’m just willing to have anything I believe be scrutinized and tested. I’m willing to have it done in front of others. I invite it, confident in most of it, and completely willing to change my mind about any of it that I find to be mistaken.
In this world, reason provides true power, true miracles, and true confidence. Where reason is not able to perform, neither is faith, and where reason is able to perform, faith still cannot. Is this proof? Perhaps not. But it’s quite a clue.