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Empiricism v. rationalism

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Over at the Raving Theist, formerly the Raving Atheist, there is ongoing hubbub over the author's recently-announced conversion to Christianity. A recent post about conversion compared the conversion from atheism to theism, or conversion between different religions, to conversion between two philosophical schools of thought: empiricism and rationalism. I must admit that I had never thought too much about these metaphysical approaches.

One of the themes of this blog is that religion is rational. Clearly I am a rationalist. But I also am a woman of science, which necessarily makes me an empiricist.

The bottom line is that I cannot accept either philosophy as completely superior to the other. They complement each other. In science, purely empirical observations can only describe the world, not explain it. A rational approach is also necessary. On the other hand, science is meaningless without an empirical approach. A hybrid of the two philosophies, in which reason informs observations and observations guide reason, is best for learning about the natural world.

Another theme of this blog is that there are two distinct realms of truth, what Stephen J. Gould called the two magisteria: natural truth (the laws of nature, which are explored and explained by science) and supernatural truth (those parts of existence that are outside nature, meaning God and other non-material beings). In exploring the supernatural world, I favor rationalism as coming before empiricism. Empirical observations of the supernatural would include revelation (such as the Bible) and personal experience. These must be subject to the rational mind. The abundance of contradicting religious beliefs are evidence of what happens when one relies only on "empirical observations" of the supernatural without using the rational mind.

Some religions utterly rely on abandoning the rational intellect. If you have ever talked to Latter Day Saints missionaries, who encourage people to read the Book of Mormon and wait for a subjective fiffy experience to decide whether it is true, you know what I am talking about. ("Fiffy" means related to a "fif," or "funny internal feeling.")

What do you think is a better philosophy for looking at the world, empiricism or rationalism?

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