Rational thinking

For a long time, I have highly valued rational thinking.  At school I was strongly attracted to the rational disciplines – mathematics, science, chemistry, biology, physics and so on.  Conversely, I was repelled by the fuzziness and subjectivity of humanities and the arts, in which the same piece of work can get different (sometimes vastly different) marks from different teachers.
When I dabbled in religion for a while, mostly to try to find some sense of belonging, I was likewise repelled by the almost total lack of logic and rational thinking.  Despite vehement assurances to the contrary, I finally realised that to accept religion I would have to reject rational thinking, so I did the only same thing I could do, I rejected religion.
Somewhere along the way, I was misled by a very common myth about rational thinking.  I assumed that there was such a thing as an autonomous rational mind, and this meant that two people applying rational thought to the same data set would arrive at the same rational conclusion.  After all, is that not true of the pure sciences such as mathematics – there is one right answer and a million wrong ones?  Well, yes and no.  While there may well be only one right answer in an absolute sense, in the real world there may be more than one rational answer.  Let’s use the example of my wife choosing a dress to wear to a formal event.  It is likely that in her wardrobe, she has only one dress that really meets the criteria for the event, but if she doesn’t like it, the rational choice is for me to agree with her wearing what objectively is ‘second best’.  That is not because everything is relative, as I reject that premise, but because priorities and external factors do affect rational decision-making.  If someone holds a gun to your head and demands that you agree that two plus two equals five, is it rational to disagree with him?
So I guess the point is that I grappling with the implications of rational thought being inevitably coloured by subjectivity.  Firstly, I will have to be more accepting of people whose conclusions do not agree with mine about a particular situation.  Secondly, I will need to seek more external validation of my conclusions, so that I can benefit more from the wisdom of others, rather than relying on my own rational thinking.  Finally, I will need to spend more time examining my assumptions and biases, looking more deeply than I have previously to find the real reasons for accepting one idea over another.
And for the hot potato question – have I changed my mind about religion?  Absolutely not.  My problem is not that religion uses a different rational thinking than I do, it is that it is not rational at all.

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