Monday, May 14, 2007

Tip the Scales in my Favor

Much of the practice of law involves negotiation. The opposing attorney, the judge and I already know the law and the likelihood of the outcome, based upon the facts. The only thing left to do is see who can negotiate out a settlement.

We often “split the Baby.” (A term we use, ripped right from the story of Solomon. 1 Kings 3:16-28) A remarkably simple idea that if one side is willing to pay $10,000, and the other is willing to accept $20,000, then we will “split the baby” at $15,000. We even play with the concept, by demonstrating righteous indignation that we most certainly will not split the baby, and come up with a resolution of $15,500 or $14,500 to demonstrate to the world how we have justifiably defended our client’s position.

With this idea ever prevalent in the back of our mind, we are extremely careful as to what number to initially commit to. If I am pursuing a case, and they offer $10,000, requesting a counter-offer, I know that a $20,000 counter-offer will likely result in a $15,000 settlement. A $25,000 counter-offer in a $17,500 settlement. Of course, the other side knows that too, so their initial offer is likely to be $5,000.

My opponent starts extremely low, I start extremely high, and we play cat-and-mouse in attempting to see who will move the fastest to some middle ground.

Thanks to Guy Sonntag, I recently read a discussion between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris regarding those old stalwarts: “Faith” and “Reason.” Sullivan concluded that his position was the most valid, partly because he does not rely solely on faith, nor solely on reason, but has a “balance” of the two.

I see that come up so many times in our discussions. “I am not a fundamentalist. I am not an atheist. I am ‘balanced’ because I am a liberal theist.” “I am not this extreme. I am not that extreme. I am ‘balanced’ because I am in the middle.”

Somehow, we have come to glorify “balance” as if it is always the better position. “Extremism” is bad, so “balance” is good. There are two problems with this.

First, there are some things that the extreme actually IS correct. We would find the following statement silly, “I am not a geocentric theorist. I am not a heliocentric theorist. I am balanced because I hold that the sun and earth orbit each other.” On some things, we have to pick sides.

But the second, and greater problem I see, is that we can almost always make ourselves balanced, by determining the two extremes. A fundamentalist wants to be balanced? Pick the extremes of “hyper-Calvinism” and Pentecostal. Landing nicely in the middle. An inerrantist wants to be balanced? Pick the extremes of errancy and inerrancy in the copies. Claim inerrancy ONLY in the original writings and bingo—you are balanced.

Watch—I can do it too. “I do not hold to the Christian God. I do not hold to the non-Christian God. Look at me! I am nicely balanced between those two!” Do you see how easy it is to be balanced?

Just like a lawsuit that I want to settle at $15,000, I try to get the two extremes to be $10,000 and $20,000; that way, I am sure to be “balanced” right where I want to be--$15,000.

I got to thinking—how DOES one claim they are in a “balanced” position on faith and reason. Where is the middle ground, and how do we know when we have achieved it?

Perhaps it would be helpful to first understand what the balancing act is not. It is NOT the battle between opposite contentions. I would hope no one claims that “faith” is the opposite of “reason.” The opposite of “reason” is “unreasonable.” We are not saying that faith is “unreasonable.” Further, the opposite of faith is “lack of belief.” It is quite conceivable to reasonably have the lack of belief in something.

It is not as if we pile all the reason at one end of a line, and place all the faith at the other, and claim they are opposites. Assuming a “1” as reason and “10” as faith, we are not saying that a “1” has all reason, and lack of belief, and a “10” has unfounded belief and no reason. That some balance person must be at the 5 – 6 range. Treating these two as contrary and opposite only leads to trouble.

Secondly, I think it is important to see that none of us is 100% faith or 100% reason. The reality of the scales of balance is that we have a mixture of faith and reason, at times employing them both on the same premise. Humans are multifaceted, and rarely make decisions based solely on one category or the other.

I think what the person is implying when they say they are balanced between faith and reason is more analogous to the scales of justice. The scales with two free-standing platforms in which one places weights on each side to see the scale tip back and forth, eventually to rest either perfectly level (perfectly balanced) or demonstrating which side is heavier by being lower.

That faith and reason are not contradictory as much as separate creatures. We place 5 pounds of “faith” on one side of the scale and 5 pounds of “reason” on the other, and the scale tips to an even balance.

Two questions immediately pop out at us: 1) How do we measure the quantity of “faith” or “reason” and 2) Where is it written that we must have perfect balance between the two?

What does 5 pounds of faith look like? We understand that if we put 6 pounds on one side of the scale, and 4 pounds on the other, that the scale would tip heavily to the 6 pound side. If I see a Christian exerting 6 pounds of faith and only 4 pounds of reason, can I confidently point out, “A-ha! You have too much faith!” That seems silly. And how do I measure 2 pounds of reason to be applied to the premise to bring them back to “balance”?

Further, is it not possible that some decisions have more reason, and others have more faith? If I am making a religious decision, and my scales are at 6 pounds faith and 2 pounds reason—is that balanced enough? Or MUST I apply more reason, in order to claim the title of being “balanced”? If I am taking a math test, should my scales be at 2 pounds faith and 6 pounds reason? What about determining inerrancy? Or scientific evidence for the universe’s existence?

There are so many different discussions that take place with different amounts of proof, and different possibilities, that to claim perfect balance between faith and reason seems an impossible task.

What becomes clear is that there really is no way to measure faith or reason, nor weigh them, nor determine what an appropriate “balance” between the two is. I fear the claim of “balance” is more of an accusation toward the other person (no one wants to be “un-balanced”) than with any real meat to the concept.

Just as I cleverly appear to be very, very “fair” in setting a number in my negotiations so that we end up at a middle number where I really want it to be—this seems to be a tactic to claim that one (unlike their opponent) is seeing BOTH sides of the picture, and applying BOTH faith and reason. No lop-sided decision here, no sirree!

I am less than impressed with a person claiming to be “balanced” between faith and reason. I suggest we call the person on this claim, questioning where it is written that we must be balanced, how we know when we are within the correct zone of balance and how we can add an appropriate quantity of the immeasurable concepts of “faith” and “reason” to reach that balance.

Who is it reading these scales and shouting out, “We have Balance!” and how can we know when we have achieved it?


  1. DagoodS,

    "Moderation in all things." Google offers a number of possible sources for the phrase, Terence, Xenophon, Aristotle. Balance seems to be an ancient Greek virtue, and it is only sensible that we have inherited it as part of Western culture.

    The phrase brings to mind Phil 4:5, which the KJV renders "Let your moderation be known to all men." Other translations use "gentleness" or "forbearance" instead of "moderation," so we might think of the verse as referring to calmness or meekness in the face of trouble, not balance, though KJV-only Christians may misunderstand it to mean this.

    But as "moderation" describes "avoidance of excess," the current understanding of the word, C.S. Lewis has Screwtape advising a moderated religion. Lewis, then, thinks that balance is inappropriate to faith. From his perspective, the ones calling for balance are the devils, and we know when we have achieved it when we practice a meaningless, Laodicean religion. Even cold disbelief is better than lukewarm balance.

  2. **Who is it reading these scales and shouting out, “We have Balance!” and how can we know when we have achieved it?** It's simple. You know you've achieved balance when all the sides disagree with you. :)

    It's always interesting, though, how we can hide our own 'extremes' by focusing on another extreme, such as fundamentalism -- for any religion or mindset. It's a way of assuring ourselves that we'll never be an extreme, because we're not like 'that.'

  3. I like your analysis here. You make the important point that faith and reason are not the opposites of each other, much as postmodern thought has relegated them to such a place.
    As Heather points out, calling attention to extremes seems to justify our position, but often serves to make us feel better by (over)simplifying the issues rather than reflecting a more logical thought process. I, too, have fallen into this trap more than once. It makes for an exciting argument, but not a very enlightening one.

  4. I think i posted it on the wrong blog but here is your answer for the lukewarm blog that will not let me comment for some reason:


    Yes I do have references. This is well known and is mentioned in debates debates all the time. All the research and references are in this book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.

    Even atheists don’t refute it. It is also mentioned on pg 367 of Dan Barker’s Book Losing Faith in Faith. The back of his book has a slew of references for this information but it is common knowledge. Maybe Wiki has it also. lol