A Defense of Reason

October 18, 2008

Reason as the sole organ of understanding

Reason, that organ whereby man relates one proposition to another, is the only original means whereby he can attain understanding. Reason is sovereign above a man’s thoughts; all that he believes must first be accepted as justified by his reason. In saying this I do not claim that all men undergird all their beliefs with a chain of reason sufficient unto properly justified belief by the standards of the philosopher, for they may accept a belief on insufficient grounds, but at all times the justification must be sufficient to their reason. Sensory observation, special revelation, faith–all may contribute valuably to the conclusions of reason alone, but they are grounded in reason, for it is by reason that man deems these credible sources of beliefs.

Reason as self-evidently reliable

Some have objected that our reason is fallen, with our will, and therefore unreliable. The antecedent I grant, but the consequent I deny as a non-sequitur. Let us assume that the reason be not reliable, and discover how far we can proceed. Were the reason unreliable, whence might we learn anything? Calvin suggests the Bible, and special revelation. But is it not an act of the reason, antecedent to our acceptance of the Bible, whereby we declare it to be reliable? Were the reason unreliable, how could we know that our acceptance of the Bible, and not the Koran, is correct? He who holds reason to be unreliable cannot condemn another who has turned to a different source of understanding. I do not suggest that it is possible to attain right doctrine in any but the most general sense without turning to special revelation, but reason is the foundation of our acceptance of special revelation. Kierkegaard suggests faith. But in elevating faith above reason, does he not justify himself by the use of reason? Thus, it is by reason that he concludes that what seems impossible ought to be preferred to what seems obvious, and so reason grounds faith. Faith may profitably build upon reason, advancing beyond the scope of what is knowable by reason unaided, but it always extends from a base of reason; it can never contradict or act without reason. Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος; were reason unreliable, then must also be all else, and man is condemned to total doubt. To deny the reliability of reason is to deny the possibility of belief.

Reason as the mediator of God’s revelation

I do not claim that God deserves no credit for our approach to truth, for he is sovereign above our thoughts as above all else. However, God does not always act immediately, but is often mediated through his creation. God is the lord of the storm; do we thus deny that the cloud brings rain? God is the lord of the harvest; do we thus deny that the sun and the rain cause plants to grow? No, for God’s bringing of the rain is mediated through the cloud, and God’s raising of the plants is mediated through the rain and sun. Thus is God the lord of our thoughts, but through the mediation of our reason, his chosen organ for the attainment of understanding.