Does Human Reason Point Toward God’s Existence or God’s Absence?

thinker

Human anatomy is a mind bogglingly amazing thing.

 

For example…

 

The cardiovascular system threads through your body. Hundreds of miles of plumbing carry 5 litres of blood around our frame every minute. Oxygen is distributed, nutrients shared, and cellular waste products are disposed of.

 

The digestive system converts food into energy, absorbs that energy and excretes the waste.

 

The skeletal system is like scaffolding that supports and protects our soft tissues. Each bone is a living organ; some featuring mounting points for muscles, many containing red marrow for the production of new blood cells.

 

And on – and on it goes. Amazing.

 

Now some think that your body and its systems are simply the product of the blind and purposeless forces of nature. Others feel that it is the intentional product of a supernatural (i.e. outside of time + space) Designing Intelligence. But both groups agree – there is clear purpose inherent in each and every one of our body’s systems.

 

 

 

We also have another incredible system.

 

I’m referring to our faculties of REASON. This is our capacity to think, to consider, to explore, to theorise and to speculate about whatever takes our fancy! I believe (or I reason) that our ability to reason has as much purpose as any of the other biological systems we have mentioned.

 

We can reason for a good reason.

 

So what is the purpose of our ability to reason? Surely it is there so that we can begin to understand. So that our choices are carefully selected from the options open to us. And we use reason in the hope that it will lead us to an important destination. Discovery of the truth!

 

If the purpose of the digestive system is to keep me energised and healthy – then the purpose of my faculties of reason are to allow me to move towards discovering the truth – in which ever topic takes my fancy.

 

I reason that it’s a pretty cool system. But it leads me to a question.

 

Why do you trust your ability to reason?  And why do I?

 

 

 

Okay – we might not feel very clever, or quick to reason. Yet I can guarantee that we are sharper than we think we are. Think of the smartest person you know. Perhaps you’ve read one of their books or listened to them talk. And you have been captivated by their ideas and their discoveries around life’s big questions. Why are we here? What is our purpose in life? My question is not why do you like their ideas – my question is is why do you trust their ability to reason in the first place?

 

“The fact that we human beings – who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature – have come close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our Universe is a great triumph.” — Stephen Hawking

 

Yes okay Professor Hawking – but why do we choose to trust your understanding of the Universe? After all, we did not create the Universe. Did we? We were born into it. We have found ourselves here and some of us are compelled to study it and reach some understanding about the truth contained within it. But here is an important thing to consider. My ability to reason does not define that truth – it simply seeks to understand it. However clever the reasoning is – these are just ideas and theories about how life works. How do I know the theories are right?

 

Ah – by using our senses. That’s the answer. By gathering evidence! But wait – evidence is simply an input to my system of reason. I’ve still got to draw conclusions about the evidence I have found. This takes me back to my original question. Why does anyone trust the conclusions that we make?

 

Is human reason capable of reaching objective truth? Think of it like this. Someone who sits down at a piano with no training – will quickly master the ability to make the sound of musical notes. But as they randomly press down on the keys, the result will most likely sound horrible! It takes time and training to master the instrument – to play a tuneful melody (altho what is tuneful to my teenagers right now, ain’t so to me!). My question is – we do we believe that human reason is able to reach the truth, in the same way that a pianist can work reach that tuneful melody?

 

To most people – the intuitive rightness of human reason is just assumed. But I am asking – why is that…and is it right?

 

 

 

It is common amongst many people today to assume that life is a big cosmic accident. That human beings are the product of millions of years of biological mutation and natural selection of the most appropriate mutants. This counts AGAINST our assumption that human reason is right and trustworthy. Why? Because if all of life’s an accident – then there’s every chance that my reasoning faculties are just compounding the mistake!

 

“if the thoughts in my mind are just the motions of atoms in my brain – a mechanism that has arisen by mindless unguided processes, why should I believe anything it tells me?” — J.B.S Haldane

 

Why indeed.

 

It seems to me – as I exercise my questionable faculties of reason – that if people are solely the result of blind, unguided, Darwinian evolution, then we lose any solid ground for rationality. Chaos leads to chaos – randomness leads to randomness not exquisite structure and information.

 

Further – if we are the product of evolution – why do people intuitively care about truth anyway? Why do we spend so much of our lives seeking for our own truth that will bring us security and happiness? Or running from that same truth? Why do so many spend their lives seeking a true understanding of how our Universe works? Surely if we really were the product of evolution – we would simply be a machine that prioritises survival above everything else. Genes are apparently selfish, not truth seeking!

 

 

 

I suspect the irony of atheism is that it may undermine the very rationality needed to understand, to study and to explore the Universe.

 

“If Dawkins is right that we are the product of mindless unguided natural processes, then he has given us strong reason to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties and therefore inevitably to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce – including Dawkins own science and his atheism.” — Alvin Plantiga

 

 

I am not painting a rosy picture here. If evolution is right – then human reason is broken.

 

 

 

Unless, however, Christianity is true.

 

 

 

If Christianity is true then we have a coherent explanation for why our Universe is rationally intelligible. Because God lovingly created everything – including my mind – to be rational and intelligible. He made me in his image – in other words, he has passed his rationality on to me.  This is precisely why I can trust the capacity of human reason. Because I’m built to reason my way toward the truth.

 

“we are faced, not with the choice between God and science, as the New Atheists would have us to think, but with the choice either to put faith in God or to give up on understanding the universe. That is, if there is no God there can be no science.” — Robert Spaemann

 

 

If there is no God – there is no designing first cause mind – therefore there is no guarantee of a rationally understandable universe.

 

And yet a rationally understandable universe is precisely what we find. Surely a Designing Intelligence is sure to follow?

 

Personally I believe that Christianity is true; that it makes sense of human reason and points to God’s existence. And I agree with CS Lewis, when he said:

 

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” — C. S. Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

If you have reached this far – you will be reacting to the argument that I am laying out. Namely that human reason points to the existence of a creator God. At this point – let me mention that we have also been provided with free will in addition to human reason. This means I am well within my rights to acknowledge God – or not. Some today happily stand on the firm ground he has provided – and declare him absent. Or shake their fists at him in anger. Or exercise their reason and communicate in a way that tries to obscure his presence for other people. I can choose to use my God given reason to deny him.

 

At least I can for now. But our window of opportunity for ignoring him is closing. The clock is ticking.

 

And frankly what an unreasonable exercise anyway? Cos I reckon the human faculties of reason point to the true, loving, patient and hope giving God that we are working so hard to avoid!

 

 

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him–though he is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:27, NLT

 

 

A Curiosity Snap

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This might surprise you.

Above the door to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University is not a pithy quote from a forefather of Experimental Physics or Evolutionary Biology. No – the quote above the entrance to the Lab is from the Bible – Psalm 111 verse 2, to be exact.

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”

If you are thinking – “Yea – I bet that was a decision made over hundred years ago at a far more religious time” – then you might be partly right. When the Cavendish Laboratory opened in 1874 the prescription above the door was indeed Psalm 111:2, written in Latin.

“Magna opera Domini exquisite in omnes voluntates ejus”

But before you dismiss these  naive people of a more ignorant time…think again. When the Cavendish moved location in the early 1970s, the decision was made for the inscription to remain above the door. And everyone who enters this seat of learning in Cambridge walks beneath it to this day.

So what? Why should I care?

Because that quote hits the nail on the head. Consider this:

Last week, 50 million miles away from where you are reading right now, on the surface of the planet Mars the Curiosity Rover stopped and turned its robotic eye to the sky. And it snapped a startling photograph. Someone has kindly tagged us all in that photograph. You can see it above

On its lonely mission, as it explores the Martian landscape, Curiosity snaps a picture of us. Or more accurately – it snaps a picture of the distant Earth.

That is mind blowing. An army of scientists and engineers from many disciplines worked long and hard for years to get the Curiosity Rover safely onto the surface of Mars in 2012. My mate Mike is one of them. And you can hear him talk about it here.

Why did they all put the effort in? The long days…weekends…late nights? Why did they allow themselves the torture of launching their carefully crafted rover into space in the hope that it would land safely on Mars months later?

Because these people delight in our Universe. They are filled with insatiable curiosity about how our Universe works and what is out there. And because they delight in creation – studying it is no chore to them. It is what they were born to do!

“Great are the works of the Lord, they are pondered by all who delight in them.” Psalm 111:2, NIV

Curiosity’s photograph reminds us how wonderful our Universe is – and how talented the engineers are who got that little guy onto that alien landscape in the first place! But it also points back to the Cavendish Laboratory inscription. The Bible makes a good point.

We passionately explore our solar system because it is there. We visit alien planets with unmanned spacecraft because we can…and because planets exist to be explored. We are so fortunate that we are the ones living at a technologically advanced time where space travel is possible.

But more than that – we are such fortunate people to be alive. To exist. To have been placed in this mind bogglingly beautiful yet mysterious Universe. We are indeed blessed to have the opportunity to delight in and to intensely study creation.

But it’s not our Universe. We are only placed here. We are only passing thru it. We live for a few short years in which to discover who we are, exercise our brains and our talents and our personalities. We discover and we theorize. And we pat ourselves on the back for being pretty smart.

But the One who created it and holds it all together – wow. His works are truly great in every sense of the word. And with all our cleverness – we are merely scratching the surface of His wonderful works.

Let me end with three brief points.

First – may I suggest humility and respect as we pass thru His creation; both personally in our own lives, and cosmically as we explore our Solar System. After all – we are not here to stay. We are the visitors here.

Second – even though it’s not the cool thing to ask for – may I suggest humility and respect for Him. There are those in 21st century Science who regularly pour scorn on people of faith. And in doing so – they are also criticizing the brilliant minds who started their own Scientific disciplines all those centuries ago.

  • Forebears like Johannes Kepler, who in the 17th century perceived intelligent design in the mathematical precision of planetary motion and the laws governing it.
  • Forebears like James Clerk Maxwell who discovered electromagnetic theory – and who quoted the Bible at the entrance to his Cavendish Physics Laboratory in Cambridge.

Surely these men and many more besides deserve respect from the current thinkers of today?

Third and finally I call for humility and respect towards the One who has made our lives – and our space exploration possible. Who has given us a Universe to travel thru and to wonder at. Because, as Psalm 111 says in closing…

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” Psalm 111:10, NIV