Friday, August 22, 2014

Revelation and Reason: Revisiting The Dialectical Movement [Part 4 of ?]

What exactly do we mean by “human reason?” What does it mean to reason? What do we mean when we say, for instance, that truth claims must be reasonable? What do we mean when we say that a particular position is unreasonable or irrational? One suggestion is that reason is a tool by which we measure true knowledge. That is to say that reason provides the necessary components by which we create the criteria of justification for beliefs. In one sense reason is defined as a cause, explanation, or justification for an event. In another sense reason is the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process we call logic. Reason is an activity of the human mind on the one hand. On the other hand, reason seems to transcend the human mind. We often speak of reason as if it were some law to which human thinking ought to submit. We describe one view or belief as reasonable and another as unreasonable. But we can also say that a belief ought to be reasonable. Philosophers appeal to reason as a source of authority to which human predication submits when such predication is engaged in correctly.

It is important to distinguish between the objective nature of reason, reason as an intellectual behavior among human beings, and what the Christian Scripture teaches about reason. These are three aspects of reason that deserve attention in their own right. The objective nature of reason is felt in the fact that philosophy imposes on all beliefs a requirement for rational justification. Reasonable views are views that are justifiably embraced. If a belief cannot be rationally justified, it ought to be abandoned. Reason is the process by which such beliefs come to be justified. Hence, our aim is to hold a philosophical view that is reasonable. In other words, we want to be philosophically justified in our belief. This raises the question as to how a belief is either reasonable or unreasonable. A person that gives reason priority of place philosophically speaking is called a rationalist. Rationalism sees the human mind as having authority over the senses, and any other epistemological theories as far as they go.

There can be little doubt that we are dealing with epistemic authority when we talk about things like justification and rational thought. So then, what is the authority to which we can appeal in order to claim that we can rest our case that a particular position is reasonable? It would seem to me that there are only two viable options: human autonomy or the Divine Mind. The problem even with my theory is that I already have some criteria in mind for why I limit the possible answer to two options. The unavoidable challenge here is what we call “presuppositions.” This raises the problem of the criterion. We must already have an idea of what the standard must be before we even introduce the standard. If human beings ought to think or behave intellectually according to some objective standard, how is it that we know this to be the case? And is that view itself reasonable? Nevertheless, we in fact do know even if some of us might not be able to escape this vicious circle due to our basic presuppositions. The nature of human reason then is both universal and objective. As such, it imposes itself on human predication much like a guardian, making sure that our intellect is behaving, as it should. Given some presuppositions then, rationality cannot account for itself by its own standards and appears to be reduced to mystery. But a mystery it is not! At least it is not entirely a mystery. Christian theism is capable of demonstrating the reasonableness of reason. In fact, it is the only worldview that can.

Reason is a human behavior. Human predication is an activity in which human beings were designed to engage. Since it is a behavior, it has a moral element that should not be ignored. Humans ought to think in a certain way. This seems uncontroversial. The human ability to reason is as much an expression of divine revelation as anything else in the created order. All of God’s creation is included in God’s divine self-disclosure. Humans were created to think by God and for God’s glory. Human reason is itself divine revelation. It reveals information and truth about God. Reason is, we might simply say, is the process of humans predication. Quite simply, it is how we think. It is an unavoidable element of human experience. Reason is what separates the human species from the animals. To be human then, to one degree or another, is to reason.  

Scripture talks about human reason. One of the first words that come to mind as it relates to the activity of reason is the Greek word δοκιμάζω. Paul uses it in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 where he commands the Christians there to examine everything carefully. By everything, Paul clearly meant every claim to truth. The sense of this word is test. It carries the notion of examining a claim, or trying to test the genuineness of views that claim to be true and worthy of belief. It is translated analyze, test, examine, and even approve just to mention a few. The word is used in 1 John 4:1 in the context of testing every teaching carefully to make sure they are correct.

In addition to Scripture commanding Christians to engage in the behavior of human reason, it also commands Christians to love God with their entire being which includes the human mind, or intellect. In Matthew 22:37 Jesus tells us that the greatest of all the commandments is to love the Lord our God with our entire mind. The mind is the faculty of thinking, comprehending, reasoning according to one prominent lexicon. The point of Jesus’ command is that Christians are to love God with their entire being and this obviously includes the intellect. To love God with one’s intellect is to think according to the Christian ethic.


A few things are becoming apparent as we journey through our analysis of the dialectical movement, which separated faith or revelation from human reason. The first is that revelation contains information about which humans must reason. Much of divine revelation is contained in propositions of human language requiring us to reason about the content of such propositions. Another fact is beginning to emerge and that is that human reason, or the act of human predication itself, is found in the very content of divine revelation. If this were true, it would hardly seem appropriate to attempt to separate two things that are so closely bound up in one another. In addition, human reason is clearly a human behavior and as such is subject to an objective standard. Since the human person is subject to this standard, it is difficult to understand how he could, at the same time, author the standard without falling victim to the notion that the standard is merely arbitrary or highly subjective. This would be a tragic end for reason and one that most philosophers would understandably like to avoid. At this point it seems that the attempts to separate revelation and reason as if the two refer to entirely different and unrelated things should be avoided. In fact, it is hard to see how one can make a hard separation between the two without at the same time destroying both. I will return to this idea shortly.

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