The Argument From Reason

Naturalism is the view that all of life, indeed everything that exists, can be explained by physical and chemical causes. Such a view also results in every event being caused by a prior physical and chemical cause, to the extent that the universe is causally closed, which means that there are no new causes arising that are not caused themselves. Thus in naturalism, human agency is denied, and no human can originate any action or thought. Naturalists therefore hold that all human action is determined, we cannot but help believe, think, emote, and like what we like, for all our thoughts, emotions, and deeds are determined by prior causes.

Non-philosophical naturalists, such as some in the physical sciences, have not thought through the implications of this. With one breath they will hold to pure naturalism, then with another try to maintain that we can make moral choices and have free will. Naturalists who have thought through the philosophical consequences to their belief system will deny free will and moral responsibility.

Theists in general, and Christians in particular, by contrast hold that there are causes in the universe that are not derived from physics and chemistry, but can be attributed to human souls and to God. If we can demonstrate that naturalism is false, then non-naturalism must be true, and the Christian position is supported.

Enter the argument from reason. To the naturalist, all thought is brain function, and all brain function is ultimately reduced to predetermined chemistry. The problem with this is that if our thoughts are all the result of natural forces, then reason is either entirely illusion, or is redefined to be predetermined processes. If naturalism were true, we would be no more free to reason to a different conclusion than vinegar and baking soda would have the freedom to react differently on my kitchen counter. All human reason, including perception of the world around us, would be reduced to physical forces of which we have no control.

In the excellent anthology True Reason (Gilson & Weitnauer, eds.), Lenny Esposito gives a powerful explanation and critique of naturalism. Esposito explains:

Basing our reason on a cause-and-effect model doesn’t make sense. Reason is not the kind of thing that can be explained by examining the makeup of the brain or its physical processes. Reason must be oriented toward an objective external reality and our ability to tap into that reality. If, in fact, naturalism is true, it means either that what we take to be rationality is either in no way grounded in external, objective truth (and as such cannot be called rational), or we’re fooling ourselves into thinking that rationality exists at all. (p.104-105)

Esposito supports his views by giving examples from Alvin Plantinga, C. S. Lewis, and Victor Reppert, who also hold that the argument from reason supports the existence of God. Interestingly, even atheist Thomas Nagel has pointed out the absurdity of naturalism in his book Mind and Cosmos: Why The Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. 

The point is that if pure cause-and-effect were true, then our thoughts are not derived from observing the universe and drawing rational conclusions, but are rather caused by predetermined chemistry in our brains. Plantinga goes so far as to say that if naturalism were true, all our cognitive faculties cannot be trusted, for they need not accurately represent the way the world actually is. If a rabbit runs from all lions not because they might be eaten, but because they happen to have a brain chemistry that makes them think the lion is playing a fun game of tag, the effect is the same. Under naturalism, our reason cannot be trusted.

Thus the irony is astounding. The naturalist, who typically wraps himself in the cloak of reason and rationality in denying that the human soul can originate thoughts, ends up pulling the own foundation out from under himself, collapsing into a pile of self-refuting, unfounded beliefs. Many of the greatest philosophers have realized this, with even men like Kant having to posit God to save the rationality of his system. I wonder how many modern thinkers irrationally cling to an illogical naturalism mainly so they will not have to admit that God exists.

Oh, that they would merely read their Bibles and walk into the loving arms of the true God, accept that they are a special creation that has a will, and can freely choose to accept God’s mercies.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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15 Responses to The Argument From Reason

  1. Good stuff. Well written and concise. This argument, though compelling, is somewhat overlooked by mainstream apologists — Plantinga and Moreland notwithstanding — I think, because discussions generally tend toward technical biological issues, about brain chemistry etc. Nevertheless, I think you have done well here without broaching that topic.

  2. robinobishop says:

    then there is the problem of demanding God is unbounded, yet demand that to approach God we must do it rationally. In so doing, we demand he be bounded to our cognition. How parochial. The answer is that God is rational in most of the ways we see as irrational. Spirituality, mysteries, revelation.

    • humblesmith says:

      A bit off topic, but….interesting nontheless.

      I would not say we “demand” God be anything. He just is. As for the problem of God being “bound by our cognition,” we can claim that God is rational, and can be understood by us, but yet not bound by anything. The reasons are because we have no other way to understand anything except by doing it rationally, because God’s rationality is distinct from whether or not I understand Him to be so, and because what I do understand of God I understand by analogy. God is infinitely loving, and although I cannot understand infinite love, I can understand some love, so I can understand God in this way. Thomas Aquinas solved the problem of how a finite being can relate to an infinite one: by analogy. My limited understanding neither negates what I correctly understand, nor limits God in His being.

      • robinobishop says:

        “I would not say we ‘demand’ God be anything.”
        The misunderstand. Doctrine demands that God has certain attributes. It follows that with doctrines we sculpt God, supposing legitimately that he will not be this or that. For instance, you mention Thomas Aquinas. Well, Thomas Incorporated the writings of Aristotle (a pagan) into medieval Christian doctrine, binding him by pagan thought. Aquinas denies the existence of an irrational God like the pagans. Thus, Aquinas supposed that Aristotle could improve upon Judeo-Christian tradition and doctrine. In doing so, he contaminated true doctrines. The notion that a fellow from the dark ages could perform such a travesty and be honored for it, should alert you to what the Orthodox Christian world has become since.

        Being a member of the LDS church, a restoration church, we are not bound by the Councils that have bound to God and his Word. the first generation church was startlingly different in their approach to God than Orthodox Christianity is today.

        • humblesmith says:

          Per my comment policy, I won’t pursue this line of thought since it is far afield from the topic of the post. But I disagree vehemently in all points; perhaps another post will address this. Regarding the LDS, I’ve written on them before; simply search in the search box for Mormon-related topics and you will see more about them.

    • I don’t think it’s a problem to assume that the cognition God gave us is a valid medium to use for making sense and meaning of the reality we exist in. Being ‘unbounded’ does not mean that all sense of reason and meaning is lost.

      • robinobishop says:

        I don’t get it. Describing deity as the “cognition God” merely subscribes the capacity to think. In the Scriptures God makes a clear point that he does not think as we do. He does not reason as we do. As a matter of fact, all of orthodoxy in their preaching are stuck in one the form of cognition, from my view. That would be convergent thought. Such thinking is not of God. It promotes polemic points of view where certain Christians condemn in the same manner that certain atheists condemn.

  3. robinobishop says:

    Guess you folks have no qualms with stealing in total the text of others and call it your own. You and the “Poached egg” are in the most immediate plagiarism stetting back to the Stanford Encyclopedia. Should one expect original text from you all?

    • And ad hominem attacks are a sure sign that you’ve lost the debate.

      • robinobishop says:

        I can appreciate your sentiment, Seth. But it is misplaced. Obviously, copying other people’s work verbatim, pasting it here and calling it the blogger’s own literary work is an accepted tradition. I offer my apologies for offending you. In the meantime, I will apprise the original author.

        • humblesmith says:

          Twice you have now made the serious charge that I have plagiarized someones work, and neither time have you cited anything specific. This is a serious charge. I have done nothing of the sort. My writings are my own, except where I give quotes with citations. The post here is no exception, for the writing is my own, except where I quote others. Where I do quote others I give credit.

          Due to the seriousness of this charge, I am asking you for a specific citation to back up your claim. Please no other comments are allowed until you clear this up first, for you will not continue to clog my blog with confusion and imprecision as you have done. Before you do anything else here, I will give you one chance to cite a source or apologize; else another false accusation or off-topic rambling and you will be blocked.

          So far you have shown no signs that you read the post or understood its significance.

          • humblesmith says:

            As I already knew, you cannot come up with an instance of me committing plagiarism, because I have not done so. You have come here and apparently not even read the post, then confused a block quote with stealing someone’s material. When I ask for documentation or an apology, you ignore me and move on to other obfuscations. I will not have people making false accusations and then moving on to add more confusions on my blog. You are blocked.

  4. dwwork says:

    Reblogged this on Reasons For The Hope Blog and commented:
    Great post

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