Monday, February 1, 2010

What is Rationalism?

Last week, we looked at one side of the faith and reason discussion from side of "blind faith" (fideism). This week, we look at it from the other side of the debate.  

Many atheists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarian Universalists, and liberal "Christians" would fall under the category of rationalism.  What does rationalism mean?

Rationalism: Conviction that reason provides the best or even the only path to truth. In philosophy, rationalism as an epistemological theory is often contrasted with empiricism, which emphasizes the role of sense experience in the acquisition of truth. In this context reason is understood narrowly as a faculty distinct from sensation and memory. Rationalist philosophers of this type include Renee DesCartes, Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Liebniz.

In theology the term rationalism often designates a position that subordinates revelation to human reason or rules out revelation as a source of knowledge altogether. In this sense an empiricist can be a rationalist who gives precedence to human reason over revelation (understanding reason here in the broad sense that includes such faculties as sensation and memory). (Source: C. Stephen Evans. Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002, s.v. "rationalism".)

Note: Next week we will look at what is meant by revelation.

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