Reason. According to Merriam-Webster, it is “the power of the mind to think and understand in a logical way.” This intellectual power is often championed by atheistic thinkers and spurned by many who consider themselves to be religious or spiritual (including many Christians unfortunately). The atheistic community often characterizes itself as the bastion of reason. Today’s National Day of Reason, led by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists in response to the National Day of Prayer, is a case-in-point.
In fact, David Silverman, President of the American Atheists, writes, “The message we deliver is undeniably true, even if it may be politically incorrect. God is a myth and reason is inherently atheistic.” (emphasis in original)
The all-to-popular notion in our culture is that reason is reserved for the nonreligious among the population, and any who believe in God should not be considered reasonable. In fact, leading atheist thinker Richard Dawkins sees any and all belief in God and the supernatural the same and says,
“There are two ways of looking at the world: through faith and superstition or through the rigors of logic, observation, and evidence – in other words through reason.”
Space does not permit an examination of the false view of faith being portrayed above. The reader can see THIS for more information regarding that issue. Is it the case, however, that atheistic/humanistic thinkers have the market cornered on reason? The answer is an emphatic “No!” Aside from the facts that most Western universities were started by Christians, many prominent scientists and philosophers through the centuries were Christians (or at least believers in God), most of the founding fathers of the United States of America believed in God, etc., the very fact that human beings reason in the first place actually serves to demonstrate the existence of the very God the atheistic/humanistic “champions of reason” refuse to acknowledge. How so?
Please understand, this is not an argument about the complexity of the brain, how much complexity there must be for consciousness, or any other such biological or neurological issues. Rather, the argument here rests on the fact that man has an intellect that is directed towards pursuing truth. That man has an intellect should not need elucidating. The very fact that this debate about reason is taking place is illustrative of man’s intellectual powers. Likewise, upon a moment’s reflection, one can see that his intellect is directed towards attaining truth. Philosophers George Klubertanz and Maurice Holloway say,
“…our own human intellect is itself a natural power that is ordered to its proper end. For man does not order his intellect to the truth; he finds that of its very nature it is already ordered to the truth.…While man can order himself in many of his actions for ends that he sets up for himself, he nevertheless finds his powers initially finalized [i.e. directed] toward ends that he has not established, but toward which these powers tend of their very nature.”
To deny this fact is actually in practice to confirm it. In other words, if one disagrees with the fact that his intellect is directed towards truth, he would essentially be saying, “Wait a minute. That’s not true!” But if his intellect is not directed towards truth, then who cares if it is not true? What he is actually communicating by such a statement is that he only wants to believe what is true (that is, what corresponds to reality). Precisely the point!
Dawkins is a great example of how one can only fight reality so far before reality bites back. In his book River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life he says,
“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication [just electrons and selfish genes], some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.…DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
Notice that if man is merely DNA and there is at bottom no purpose, then there could not be the purpose of truth towards which his intellect is directed. Yet, Dawkins creates tons of media through which he attempts to communicate what he is convinced is truth, and he apparently expects his readers to be able to grasp with their intellects the “truth” he communicates. But that is the very thing he seems to deny is even possible.
Not only that, Dawkins actually admits that the intellect’s purpose is to know truth. In The God Delusion he writes about Kurt Wise, a Harvard-trained Christian geologist who studied under the famed Stephen Jay Gould. Wise was convinced the earth was young and decided he could not have a career in secular academia and hold to his conviction. Dawkins says,
“…I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because…It subverts science and saps the intellect.…the Kurt Wise story is just plain pathetic – pathetic and contemptible. The wound, to his career and his life’s happiness, was self-inflicted, so unnecessary, so easy to escape.…I am hostile to religion because of what it did to Kurt Wise. And if it did that to a Harvard-educated geologist, just think what it can do to others less gifted and less well armed.”
Recall that Dawkins said there is no purpose, no design, just blind, pitiless indifference. Yet here he implies it is contrary to the purpose of the intellect to believe something he thinks is not true (i.e. young-earth creationism). He also believes science is our only means of knowing truth, and thus it is wrong, according to Dawkins, to “subvert science.” He says such a scenario is “pathetic and contemptible.” If there is no purpose towards which one’s intellect is directed, how could not using one’s intellect to pursue truth be “pathetic” or “contemptible”? He goes so far as to say that Wise has wounded his “life’s happiness” for not using his gifts to pursue truth. While verbally denying purpose in one breath, Dawkins cannot escape the reality of purpose in the next. (Note, this has nothing to do with the merits, or lack thereof, of young-earth creationism). As Francis Beckwith says, “A verbal denial is not the same as an actual denial. Sometimes people practice what they don’t preach. Our duty, as Christians, is to draw their attention to this fact, to tell them of the unknown God they worship in ignorance.”
How does this point to God? Man’s intellect and its directedness towards truth is part of the nature of man as a rational animal. Edward Feser says, “. . . for a thing to have a certain final cause [i.e. goal directedness] entails that it also has a certain formal and material cause and thus a certain nature or essence; otherwise its final cause would not be inherent in it, nor would it be capable of realizing it.” David Oderberg observes, “…what a thing is does determine how it is – in the traditional terminology, function follows essence. Essence just is the principle from which flows the characteristic behaviour (sic) of a thing [emphasis in original].” Again Feser notes, “But the essences that determine the ends of things – our ends, and for that matter the end of reason too as inherently directed toward the true and the good – do not exist independently of God.…they pre-exist in the divine intellect as the ideas or archetypes by reference to which God creates.”
Why must that be the case? Man’s reasoning ability is proof that man changes because he forms arguments, makes judgments, and learns. Thus, man is a limited, contingent, and changeable kind of being. Feser continues,
“…for a contingent thing to be real, its essence must be conjoined to an act of existence…this can only be accomplished by something outside it…the ultimate cause of its existence must be something in which essence and existence are identical. It follows that whatever orders things to their ends must also be the cause of those things and thus (given what was said earlier) Pure Act or Being Itself.”
In other words, in man, essence (what something is) and existence (that something is) are distinct. Man does not simply exist by virtue of his essence since his essence is that of a contingent and changeable being as his reasoning ability (among other things) demonstrates, and a contingent being cannot cause itself to exist. Therefore, there must be something that just is Being itself, who’s essence and existence are identical, conjoining man’s essence with an act of existence at every moment man exists. And as Thomas Aquinas says, whatever else one means by God, the self-existent cause of all other things is certainly understood as God. For the details on this argument, and common objections, please read THIS and THIS. As Klubertanz and Holloway put it,
“A natural being is ordered to its proper end both by its nature [essence] and by an intellect. Immediately and intrinsically, it is ordered by its nature, but ultimately and extrinsically, it is so ordered by the divine intellect who has established the end and created the nature.”
This is why the philosophical theology of Aquinas laid out above is so brilliant and deceptively simple. By reasoning well about the most mundane and uncontroversial, dare one say undeniable, aspects of reality one can reach the conclusion that the God of classical theism exists, and from there one can further investigate the truth claims of Christianity and see that trusting in Jesus as Savior is the most reasonable thing one can do. As G.K. Chesterton says,
“But the mind is active, and its activity consists in following, so far as the will chooses to follow, the light outside that does really shine upon real landscapes.…In other words, the essence of the Thomist common sense is that two agencies are at work; reality and the recognition of reality; and their meeting is a sort of marriage. Indeed it is very truly a marriage, because it is fruitful; the only philosophy now in the world that really is fruitful. It produces practical results, precisely because it is the combination of an adventurous mind and a strange fact.…God made Man so that he was capable of coming in contact with reality; and those whom God hath joined, let no man put asunder.”
Therefore, in reality the National Day of Reason and the National Day of Prayer should go hand-in-hand as a match made in heaven. Ought man trust in reason or trust in God? Both, because it is not an either/or proposition. Reason examines reality and concludes that God exists and is trustworthy (Romans 1). Reason concludes that the Bible is reliable and that Jesus is therefore God in human flesh who is the only way to salvation. The Holy Spirit can then use man’s reasoning as the occasion upon which He provides the faith that enables the will to trust in Christ as Savior (true biblical faith) and to have conviction that God is trustworthy even when reason does not understand (Hebrews 11). That trust leads to obedience, and that obedience leads to prayer and other spiritual virtues. Would that those spurning God in the name of reason, as well as those spurning reason in the name of God, see the beauty of the marriage God has made between faith and reason.
As always, Southern Evangelical Seminary has a variety of ways to equip you to think well about reality and why the historic Christian faith is most reasonable. Visit www.SES.edu to learn more about how SES can serve your needs from the lay level all the way to Ph.D. studies.
3. David Silverman, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World. Macmillan, 2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=6Ds6CQAAQBAJ&pg=PT234&lpg=PT234&dq=silverman+reason+is+inherently+atheistic&source=bl&ots=poebFFzn-O&sig=KzubD8y8bvcee_Ybz9Ztnv3WOk4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjOpYDl4JXKAhUD8CYKHSb7Aj4Q6AEIIjAB#v=onepage&q=silverman%20reason%20is%20inherently%20atheistic&f=false
5. By human “intellect” I mean that aspect of a human being where by he is able to know things by abstracting the forms/natures of things, form judgements about things, and reason to further conclusions about other things based on what he knows.
6. George Klubertanz and Maurice Holloway, Being and God: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Being and to Natural Theology. New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1959. 291-292.
7. Richard Dawkins, River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View Of Life (Science Masters Series) (p. 134). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
8. Dawkins, The God Delusion (p. 321). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
9. Thank you to Dr. Francis Beckwith for pointing out these contradictions in Dawkins’ own writings.
10. Edward Feser, Aquinas (Beginner’s Guides) (Kindle Locations 1938-1939). Oneworld Publications (academic). Kindle Edition.
11. David S. Oderberg, Real Essentialism (Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy) (New York: Routledge,
2007), 24-25. Kindle Edition.
13. Feser, Aquinas (Kindle locations 1941-1944).
14. Klubertanz and Holloway, 292.
15. G.K. Chesterton. St. Thomas Aquinas (p. 121). Kindle Edition.
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