Setting Reasonable Limits To Our Reason

It isn’t a shock to anyone who knows me, even a little bit, that I’m a big fan of reason. It’s on the short list of my favorite gifts God has given us. I love that God has given us, not only the senses of an animal, but the intellect to examine and reflect on what those senses reveal to us about Him. All the varied clues, those thumbprints of the artist left all over the canvas of creation, which we then get to think and process to discover the reality behind them. How incredible is that?

And yet, as much I love this gift of reason, I’m deeply concerned by the misuse of this gift that seems to run rampant at this point. Like so many problems in our modern society, the issue stems from our disordered approaches. Reason, as a tool to know God and understand His revelation, is incredibly effective and helpful, but as the sole defining measure of truth, it’s doomed. Reason is not a tool for defining the truth, but for discovery. In other words, it must be checked against something else to be sure of its accuracy.

It is kind of like a ruler, which measures length, but doesn’t do so independently. If you want to know whether your ruler is really 12 inches long, you can’t check it by simply looking at the numbers on the ruler. There has to be some objective standard, something we already know to be truly 12 inches to measure it against. In the same way, our reason is our attempt to understand the Truth, but it can’t be the standard which it is checked against. There must be some known truth, something which serves as the bedrock which we check our thoughts against.

Having a society that has largely abandoned the idea of objective truths, though, what can we check our reason against? Without some shared first principles, without any foundational starting points, our thoughts collide with the thoughts of others, but without hope of cooperation. If we are both seeking the truth, and believing it is a thing which can be found, our disagreement and different understandings are tested against each other, and both of us are left closer to having understood what is real. If, however, our reason is the ultimate, unquestionable standard, and the truth is what I decide it to be, we are enemies. Each of us now has our own “truth” that we have to defend at all costs. At this point, reason stops being a tool for our growth, and instead becomes a weapon. Discussion and debate, instead of an opportunity to improve and move forward in cooperation, becomes a competition where we want to make our opponent look like a fool.

Reason is an incredible gift, but like all gifts, it’s value largely depends on what use we make of it.

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