Origins of Reason


I have sat in wonderment while listening to someone attempt to assert that "It is logical to deduce that one can understand that everything around us comes only from materialism." For many years this statement felt wrong to me, but I wasn't sure why. Then I was introduced to the following bit of reasoning by a little known Evangelist named Don Johnson (no, not the actor - the minister!).

It goes something like this: If we assert that everything we know comes from the logical grouping of materialistic evidence, then how can we trust logic or reason in general? In other words, if everything came into being via random chance, evolution, and/or materialism, then there is no reason to think that 'reason itself' is exempt from this randomness. Or think of it this way; if you maintain that logic and reason provide to us a way of manipulating different hypothesis and premises in a way that surpasses the premises themselves (a.k.a. "thinking"), then how can you trust that the reason or logic you are using to think about those premises is sound? If you are a strict materialist, you cannot!

Think about it, this isn't a slight of hand trick. Let's look at one more example to drive the point home. We will do it by way of a fictional narrative. Let's say that Bill claims that we exist in a closed system that only consists of material, and that there exists no supernatural component. Bill then says that he came to this conclusion by checking out all of the scientific data around him, and making reasonable and logical conclusions based on that data. He then came to the conclusion that given what he knows - there is no God. Only atoms and particles and matter.

Bill symbolizes many modern day thinkers that throw out the baby with the bathwater so to speak. How can Bill possibly trust that his use of logic is correct, if there is nothing outside this closed natural realm governing it? In other words, if logic doesn't exist apart from (and outside of) this closed system, then it cannot be used as a trustworthy means by which to make any valid judgements about that system. It is simply also part of the system. Of course no one really believes this. Most of us know that logic and reason are in fact more significant than this, so much so that we take if for granted.

You can argue possibly that straight logic (A, then B, then C) is a result of our experiences within this materialistic system. But we cannot assert that this other thing, this function of our existence that can take two or more separate premises or ideas and then decide between them is just instinct or experience. It is more like a governor or an overseer. It is that faculty within us that can step outside of the boundaries of the material only world, and guide our decisions with something more like a consciousness than a reaction or an instinct. It is reason in this sense of the word that is our signpost pointing to something greater, something beyond the normal everyday chain of events we see around us. I believe God has given us this gift of truth. It is what separates us from all other species of animal.

It would be easy for someone to get this one wrong. If they maintain that they are fearfully and wonderfully made; intelligent, logical, and capable of great reasoning skills which far surpass that of any other creature, and that they possess all of this on their own - then they are only half right. We are not our own creators. We have free-will sure enough. God did not create a legion of robots or automatons. But the vehicle for interpreting our world is much more than just a physical brain full of firing neurons and synapses. The brain is the house, what lives inside is different.

** This method of thought I find to be entirely unique, and as such I hope I did an adequate job of conveying it. It looks at something that most people take for granted so easily and readily (accuracy of logic and reason) that I fear many people reading this could miss the forest for the trees. It is of course, worth the risk, so I will post it anyway. I hope if nothing else, you enjoyed the read!

Comments

  1. I have to say that this is absolutely brilliant. I haven't heard any argument that even comes close to it, and don't worry, you did a good job explaining it. Massive kudos.

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  2. You said...

    “Or think of it this way; if you maintain that logic and reason provide to us a way of manipulating different hypothesis and premises in a way that surpasses the premises themselves (a.k.a. "thinking"), then how can you trust that the reason or logic you are using to think about those premises is sound? If you are a strict materialist, you cannot!”

    I fail to see why you cannot trust reason/logic if you are a strict materialist. A strict materialist’s trust in reason/logic is enforced when he builds an airplane that can and does fly. He had concepts about flight, lift, trust/propulsion and aerodynamics which he put into application when he designs this plane. If this plane can take the advantage of the natural world and its laws and fly, would that not reinforce the trust this strict materialist has in his reasoning skills?

    You asked…

    “How can Bill possibly trust that his use of logic is correct, if there is nothing outside this closed natural realm governing it?”

    I think it should follow that if Bill can use logic to make a several ton object defy gravity and fly, that there is at least some trustworthiness to his logic. You present an interesting idea, but I don’t think you are giving us reasons why logic would fail if there was no outside source governing it.

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  3. More good stuff. If Bill could build the airplane well and it performs up to par, where does the his ability to put all the parts together come from? The reactions and observations can come from the material world, trial and error, etc. -- but not the "thing" which governs them, orders them, and allows Bill to connect the dots so to speak. Easier to illustrate when we leave the realm of matter and discuss things like right and wrong, good and bad. If all we bring to the table is what we have experienced or observed, then how would we ever advance beyond those observations. This is what I meant when I mentioned, "the brain is the house, what lives inside is different."

    - Jon

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  4. I see where you are, but I do not see how you got there.

    Is there any reason why our material brain cannot piece together these different ideas and combine them in such a way that creates a plane (or anything else)?

    We understand our material brain, we understand the processes and mechanics which our brain utilizes to create thoughts and ideas. I do not see a need to postulate anything else, the material brain works as is.

    "the brain is the house, what lives inside is different."

    I disagree. I'd argue that the brain is all there is (when it comes to who we are). I had a patient who was in a motor vehicle accident and sustained minor brain damage. He recovered fully physically, but not mentally. His mother told me he was a very polite and kind young man before the accident, and now he has a very short fuse, curses, and has actually been violent with his friends and other siblings. She didn't understand what happened to her 23 year old boy. I tried to explain to his mother that the part of the brain which was damaged acted as a sort of inhibitor to basic feelings. If I felt angry, I might be able to keep that anger in check or even blow it off. However, if he felt angry, he would act angry. He literally wore his emotions on his sleeves. She didn't understand this at all, she couldn't understand why her son wasn't the same person as he was before the accident. She actually took the things he said and did personally and it affected their relationship. It was a very sad situation, and it was all happening because of the damage he sustained to his brain.

    If the brain is just the house, then why is it so important? If I do a frontal lobe lobotomy on someone, any function which the frontal lobe is responsible for will be gone. The ability to focus and keep attention would be gone, memory would be destroyed as well as the ability to plan, any sort of drive oriented behavior would also be gone. Why is that so if "the brain is the house, what lives inside is different"?

    Again, I see where you are, I just don't see how you got there. The material brain makes perfect sense, I see no reason to add some sort of supernatural item to it to make it work.

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  5. More good insights here. Think of the brain as the television set, but signal that goes through it is not completely generated withing that little box. The components can be damaged, and behavior impaired - but that is because the "housing" is affected.

    Similar probably to thinking that just because you die, nothing continues. Something can continue, just not in the same old "house" anymore.

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