Getting to the Bottom of Reason

August 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

The Claim:

Any conclusion about the origin of the universe that asserts “God” is of course a non-sequitur, since that would constitute a religious a priori assumption.

Response:

God is presupposed in Christian apologetics and this is circular, but so is every other argument, as the above statement shows. What does he presuppose? Is the ultimate presupposition reason? A defense of reason BY reason is circular also. Is knowledge the ultimate presupposition? Logic? Objective morality? Those all assume what is to be proven.

Design arguments and other evidentialist approaches will go so far but fail to make sense of ultimate presuppositions, the knowledge, reason, moral reasoning, reliability of the senses, and uniformity in nature we all assume before we even begin to make an argument. The God described in the Bible provides a basis for those assumptions.

Atheist:

I have to say, I’m not a fan of presuppositional apologetics. I just don’t see the point of arguing with someone who does not actually have any interest in argument, and whose views do not rely on either evidence or reason.

Why don’t you try presupposing that you have a million dollars in your checking account? When the salesman at the Ferrari dealership calls security to escort you out, just tell him that the validity of accounting is “the ultimate presupposition.”

I’m sorry if I sound harsh, and other contributors to the site might disagree with me, but personally I think presuppositional apologetics are useless, and I have no interest in arguing about them.

Response:

Maybe you don’t realize this, but you already make presuppositions about your deepest convictions. Fan or not, in that way you’re a presuppositionalist too. Ultimately it’s by faith that you adopt reason as your ultimate authority. If not, what evidence do you use to support the use of reason? Anyone making any kind of argument, including yours, starts with the assumption of reason. That does not mean reason (and evidence, but really we reason to evaluate evidence, so basically we’re talking about reason) doesn’t play an important part. If I presupposed a million dollars in my checking account, reasoning from the evidence of a balance far less than that would prove the presupposition wrong. But that isn’t an ultimate presupposition—something you CAN’T prove so you have to assume. You can, however, reason about other evidence and determine if your presupposition makes sense of what we can observe.

So your highest authority is human reason, and you don’t come to that by evidence. Christians presuppose God as their highest authority, and God cannot ultimate be proven, so we didn’t come to that by evidence either. The atheist’s faith in reason is the same as a theist’s faith in God. The Bible provides a basis for faith in reason: The God therein reasons, and made us in Him image. On atheism, all that exists is basically matter and motion. There is no reasonable basis for reason in that worldview. Everyone reasons because we’re made to use it and on faith assume it works, but Christianity can offer a rational basis for it.

Atheist:

Ok I’ll bite again. It should go without saying that neither of us is a logician, so there is a fairly good chance we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. I’ll give it my best shot though.

“So your highest authority is human reason, and you don’t come to that by evidence.”

Actually, I think we do come to believe in reason through evidence, and I don’t think reason is an authority: Modus ponens (for example) is not just something we take by faith, it is something that has been vindicated time and time again. I’m curious as to what exactly you think reason is. You seem to be under the impression that the laws of logic were handed down from on high, that they were gift-wrapped rather than discovered over time. I think the opposite is true, that we discovered through trial and error which rules of thought work and which don’t. This discovery is ongoing (see the Monte Hall problem, or the sunk cost fallacy). So I think reason isn’t so much an authority as it is a set of observations about which rules work and which ones don’t; it’s a construction. Do you see the difference between what you think I think, and what I really think?

“The atheist’s faith in reason is the same as a theist’s faith in God.”

I have to strongly disagree here. Belief in the effectiveness of reason can be justified by testing the system, but the same cannot be said for faith in God. It should work that way with Christianity. After all, you should be able to move mountains with your faith, but Christians never seem willing to actually test their beliefs.

“The Bible provides a basis for faith in reason: The God therein reasons, and made us in Him [sic] image. On atheism, all that exists is basically matter and motion…but Christianity can offer a rational basis for it.”

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but your argument seems to be:
1: God is a being capable of reason.
2: God created man in his image.
3: If God created man in his image, then man is also capable of reason.
4: Therefore, man is capable of reason.

Line 3 seems very shaky to me: the God of the Bible has many qualities that are not given to humans: omniscience /omnipotence /omnibenevolence, the presence of a mind without a physical brain, invisibility, the ability to turn bread or wine into various parts of your body with an incantation…but I digress. I think you’re being a bit greedy in your interpretation of man being created “in God’s image.” If I asked ten people what that meant, I would get ten different answers, and I doubt more than one or two of them would be similar to your take concerning reason. I don’t think you can get to reason through the Bible, and I certainly don’t think the better way to establish the legitimacy of reason is through the Bible. I think you’re presupposing reason and the Bible separately, and if that’s the case then your line about presupposing the Bible to establish reason is bunk, and you’re just presupposing too many things.

Response:

Thanks for the reply! When you justify reason by saying it’s been vindicated time and time again, you are saying that since it has worked a certain way in the past it will always work the same way in the future. This is the “uniformity in nature we all assume before we even begin to make an argument” I mentioned in my first comment. This uniformity is valid at all times and in all known places of the universe, which is why we can make predictions and inferences and do science at all. Most say “That’s just the way it always works,” but that’s no way to explain it.

Bertrand Russell, in The Problems of Philosophy, admits the principal of induction has no foundation in observation/sense experience. He rightly argues that it is ultimately circular reasoning. The principal of uniformity is not a scientific law but an act of faith that you use to undergird scientific law—we presuppose it in order to act on it.

The Bible provides a basis for uniformity in nature: God established the regularity of the earth’s rotation (Gen. 1:14-19; Jer. 33:20), seasons (Gen. 8:22, Psalm 74:17) planting/harvest cycle (Jer. 5:24, Mark 5:26-29) and is responsible for the whole natural order (Col. 1:16-17, Eph. 1:11, Heb. 1:3). We take this for granted, but there is no logical reason for our base assumptions on Atheism.

Thanks for clarifying your view, but I think you are still assuming something so basic that it’s hard for you to see how it is ultimately circular. You say that reason is “discovered”, and that’s true in that we just assume a way of thinking that conclusions follow from the premises. We “discover” ourselves thinking in a way that best makes sense of reality. But it still is valid to ask why, at the foundation of all this, there is a requirement for reason to work that must be assumed. It makes sense that we think in a way that seeks conclusions from the premises because that is the way God’s mind works. If you assume there is no God, then you have to look in vain for an alternative, or really just stop your critical thinking short of analyzing your ultimate principals.

I call human reason the atheist’s ultimate authority because that seems to be what he relies upon to give him answers above all else. We make something our authority if we follow it. If you can think of something else that might be your ultimate authority, please offer it up. It would have to be something that you don’t get to by use of reason. 🙂

Regarding the “omniscience /omnipotence /omnibenevolence” of God, I’m sure you are aware that “omni” means “all.” These divine attributes are only exclusively held by God in their perfect state. In knowledge, God is perfect, but we are limited. In power, God is perfect, but we are limited. In charity, God is perfectly good; we recognize His moral law, an obligation to do good, but are not perfect in that regard either. We have even these characteristics found in an infinite Creator, just in a finite degree.

And we may presuppose reason and the truth of the Bible separately, that’s not a problem. The problem is trying to explain the use of reason without the Bible.

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§ 2 Responses to Getting to the Bottom of Reason

  • IronAtheist:

    Reason is foundational to what you believe. How do you account for your use of reason on atheism? In other words, how do you get around the fact that you reason in a circle when you defend reason merely by virtue of reason. As explained in the above debate with another atheist, “the Bible provides a basis for faith in reason: The God therein reasons, and made us in His image. On atheism, all that exists is basically matter and motion. There is no reasonable basis for reason in that worldview.” Do you have a coherent answer?

  • […] of intelligibility that Ken laid out: We accept by faith certain natural laws, such as the laws of logic, morality, uniformity, that allow us to do things like scientific experiments and reasoned debate. […]

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