Reason and Faith

Vienna, St. Stephens

Vienna, St. Stephens

Like science, reason itself has faith components within its practice.

As explorers consider the reaches of artificial intelligence, one of the great questions is whether algorithms can be created for machines that draw inference, think “outside the box,” or are capable of true reasoning. In short, can software be created that gives robots the ability to think like humans do.

Robots/machines can be made to look like humans and do human things like drive a car or vacuum the den. But for now, machine learning stops short of reason and faith. These still appear to be uniquely human.


So, have I digressed? I don’t think so.


The television series, “Star Trek: Next Generation,” featured an android named, Data. He looked human, but was a glorified robot that never used a contraction in his speech. A subplot of the program explored whether Data could become human, and it was Data’s aspiration to be more human. In the end, Data couldn’t make the leap. Sorry for the spoiler. But look at it this way: Now you have more time to watch reruns of “Downtown Abby”—and far be it from me to tell you the dog dies in the end.

So, have I digressed from the initial subject of faith, Christian faith? I don’t think so. In my experience and observation, the most frequent critique of faith is that it can’t be proven. Those offering the critique, i.e. those considering themselves rational, argue inconsistently. It is true: Faith is not provable, nor is it completely rational. So? Nothing else is unless you live in a laboratory and are a rat in a controlled study.

One can certainly argue that a machine needs to be able to reason and anticipate. Think for a moment about self-driving cars. You are driving down a neighborhood street and notice a cat crouched under a parked car. You also notice a squirrel on the opposite side of the street. You anticipate the probability that the cat will dart in front of you to chase the squirrel. Assuming you want the cat to live and the squirrel to die, you let off the gas pedal and keep a close eye on the cat. There was news recently of a self-driving Tesla car that anticipated a traffic accident. We can infer the algorithms will only become more sophisticated.


Could it be that faith is an essential component to our ability to reason as human beings?


But why would a machine need to have an algorithm for faith? An equally good question is why you and the rest of the human race have faith. If you believe humanity evolved from another species—higher or lower—the presumption is that the evolved result retained what was beneficial to survival. That would include faith. If you believe in creation, or at a minimum intelligent design, why was faith installed in you, the created one?

Could it be that faith is an essential component to our ability to reason as human beings? If so, the obvious question is why is it necessary? What is the presence of faith within our psyches telling us?

Without a doubt, my dog reasons. Of course, someone will write to say, “No. Your dog doesn’t reason. It’s a dumb animal. It merely acts upon the training you’ve instilled.” But, I disagree. When the dog is chasing the squirrel crossing the cable wire, the dog is reasoning, i.e. problem-solving. However, as nearly as I can discern, the dog nor any other animal never demonstrates faith.

Why? Why me and no other aspect of the natural order or of creation?

Maybe. Just maybe, the presence of faith in humanity equips us to connect with God should we choose to do so. Whether you believe in God or not, God-the-real entity or God-the-figment-of imagination dwells in the realm of faith. Therefore, to accept God or reject Him requires faith—faith to believe and depend upon Him or un-faith to dismiss the notion of Him and opt to go it alone.


Why would a robot need faith when it has no spirit with which to connect to God?


Either way, we humans can’t escape that faith is an essential aspect of our makeup. It is so ingrained in us that if it was possible to remove it from our operating system, we would no longer be human.

One of these days, robots might have a sophisticated ability to assess risk and avoidance. But in the end, why would a robot need faith when it has no spirit with which to connect to God or not?

Next up: This line of thinking implies the possibility of responsible relationship. That’s where we’re headed. Remember: It is foolish to believe that science and faith are mutually exclusive. It is also foolish to believe one is superior to the other. Asking which is the better tool, a hammer or a wrench, only demonstrates that you don’t understand the job to be done. Science and scientific method is great stuff, but when exploring the realm of humanity, something more is needed. Until next time.