What is Rationality?

The meaning of rationality has been blurred, given the widespread misuse of the word. Usually it is used to describe the degree a statement is agreeable with one’s own opinions. In other words, I can say that your views are “irrational” because they simply clash with my own views.

But, in essence, rationality has two parts to its definition:

1- Consistency with reality: If something is consistent with reality, then it is considered rational. This includes beliefs, as well as actions. The benchmark for rationality is reality, and not one’s own opinions or religious beliefs.

2- The method that uses the principles of logic to understand reality: We can use logical reasoning, yet still arrive at a conclusion inconsistent with reality. That’s because the “facts” we base our thinking on are assumptions that aren’t consistent with reality. However, the approach used can still be considered rational, even if its outcomes are inconsistent with reality.

Human knowledge is continuously evolving, and we are learning more and more about the world, and are discarding many assumptions along the way. There are many aspects to the rational method, which we’ll explore in future posts.

It’s important to note that, as human beings, we can only reason with what we already know about reality, and our worldview (i.e. our understanding of how the world works) plays an essential role in our thought process. Therefore, when it comes to rationality, as a method, we think within our worldview, and seek to establish logical consistency with what we already know about the world, even if it’s inconsistent with reality.

This is a pitfall religious individuals can fall into (and they usually do).

Rather than judge their beliefs according to reality, they judge reality according to their beliefs.

If scientific evidence is in conflict with their beliefs, they consider the evidence “irrational” instead of questioning their own beliefs.

When it comes to religion and rationality, there are 3 issues that should interest us:

1- How religious beliefs relate to reality: At the end of the day, we want our religious beliefs to help us gain a better understanding of reality, rather than cloud our understanding of it. Religion should be a window to the world, and not a mirror that reflects back to us what we already believe.

2- How consistent religious beliefs are with each other: Beliefs that are inconsistent with each other reveal an inconsistency with reality, since reality is consistent. Sadly, many religious scholars promote conflicting beliefs, without realizing the contradictions, or try and offer explanations that don’t effectively address the contradictions. These contradictions lead to inner struggles within religious individuals, who might blame themselves for not harmonizing the beliefs, rather than identifying the contradictions in the beliefs they hold.

3- How consistent religious practices are to human nature and well-being: There are things we can do to promote human life, and things we can do to endanger it. There are beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and actions that undermine human happiness, and those that promote it. It’s important to recognize the consequences religious practices have on human life, and the degree to which they promote well-being and happiness. This is the measure of their consistency with human nature.

Elements from this article will thread all future posts, and this article will serve as an important reference for discussions about what we mean when we say “Rational Islam.”

If you happen to disagree with this definition, or would like to add to it, then feel free to leave a comment below. :)

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