The problem with reason


Catholicism is a religion where reason plays a crucial role. When someone is looking to possibly join the Church, they are not told to have blind faith, but to also use reason to discern truth. "Why would God give us the great gift of reason to discern truth and then make His existance contrary to reason?"
The problem is, there does not seem to be a way to justify the use of reason without using reason, and therefore creating a circular argument. We take the valilidity of reason on faith.
But how do we (if it is even possible) dialogue with someone who is unconvinced of the validity of reason? i.e. someone who does not think reason is a valid means to discern truth?
I don’t know personally of anyone who is unconvinced of the reasonableness of reason, but I thought that it is an interesting concept. I’m interested in hearing others opinions on the subject, as well as possible workarounds the proving that reason is a valid avenue to find truth, without circular argument.

(side note: No, I didn’t think of all this by myself. I was prompted to post this after reading Catholic convert J. Budziszewski)


I’m not sure I understand your statement that I bolded…
Explain how God’s existance is contrary to reason?..



Sounds like Kierkegaard and Hegel to me.

Can we give a reason for using reason? Why is reason the fundamental criterion for which we can give no criterion for using?

That human beings are rational is simply an observation of human nature. We can’t stop being rational without damaging human nature.


I believe that faith is reasonable, but reason takes us only so far before we must make a “leap of faith”–a decision to either believe or not believe.

There are some people who get to that point, then refuse to take the leap of faith. An active faith demands that they do something–and they may not be willing to make the personal sacrifice. Such people may be willing to discussion religion in “intellectual terms”, but they know nothing about faith in the living God. I have known polite agnostics who fall into this category–and when we reach the point where reason stops, we must pray for them instead of simply trying to reason with them.

There are others who have great faith in God (or gods), but they don’t believe that faith is reasonable or they may be unable to reconcile their faith with their reason. That may be because they embrace unreasonable faiths, or may be they have limited reasoning abilities. They may base their faith on their spiritual experiences rather than intellectual reasoning. Some won’t use the intellect that God gave them when discussing their faith–and dialog with them can be frustrating if you try to use reaons alone, but sharing faith experiences may be a way to dialog. Then there are other’s with limited intellectual abilities. I know one such person–she is a lovely Protestant Christian with a mental handicap. For her, reasoning is difficult, but faith is easy–she’s beautiful and her faith is beautiful and child-like. When I dialog with her about faith, I am humbled.


Could it be that reason is a fundamental thing?

Gravity is fundamental. No sane person would say it does not exist. It is easy to study it and much is known about gravity but there are things that are not known about gravity.

Reason and gravity have their uses. You wouldn’t use gravity to fry an egg, you shouldn’t use reason to understand your wife/husband.


Without gravity, it would be hard to drop an egg into a fry pan. But gravity* alone* won’t fry that egg.:wink:


Sure, it’s really my way of stating that God must be reasonable. Here’s my logic:

  1. All human beings possess reason to some degree or another.
  2. If God exists and created us, he also gave us the ability to reason.
  3. Reason, properly used, is a tool to understand what must be true.

therefore either:

A. God wants us to know he exists and is therefore reasonable.
B. God doesn’t want us to know he exists and may not act according to reason.
C. God doesn’t exist.

Letter A. seems to be the most reasonable response.

For B:
If God doesn’t want us to know he exists, then
a)why would he bother creating us and giving us the ability to question our existance?
b)does his existance really matter, because he must not care?

For C:
How do you explain the order in the universe that makes reasoning possible?

Another point of the whole discussion is to show that even people who say that they don’t have faith actually do. They have faith that reason is a viable way to discern truth. Reasoning that reason is reasonable is a circular argument, and therefore not valid. The fact that people base their actions on reason shows that they have faith in something. Otherwise they would act completely randomly (or perhaps only with instincts), and they would certainly not be able to think.


Reason is natural for Humans.


This is really my problem with reason, especially “There are others who have great faith in God (or gods), but they don’t believe that faith is reasonable or they may be unable to reconcile their faith with their reason.”

Before I matured in my faith, I saw reason and faith as completely opposed. I thought that having faith in spite of reason was okay because it showed God how much you really loved Him.

When I found Catholic Answers and read some articles that stated faith MUST be reasonable, I was blown away…

But it seems hard/impossible to convince someone of ANYTHING if they refuse to listen to reason. (Except through prayer! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that!)


Fides et Ratio is a good thing to read from JP II.

Thomas Aquinas believed that Because God created the world, that there would be no contradiction between the universe and God, insofar as you could not disprove God’s existence through the “physics” of the universe. That is to say, “If by reason we mean the Primal Truth, or the Logos (The Word), is infinite reason, it would follow that his creation would also be reasonable”.

This is where the Church developes natural theology/philosophy, commonly understood as “NATURAL LAW”, from which we understand the “Why” of God’s law which is already written in our hearts. It also allows us to moderate our understanding and interpretation of the Bible, so that God’s law is never in contradiction with Reason. Aquinas Wrote two great books discerning such things: SUMMA THEOLOGICA & SUMMA CONTRA GENTILES - both very complicated texts, but quite helpful in understanding a lot of Church doctrine, especially with “double effect” the 5 proofs of God’s existence (not really proofs, more inferences ((effect–> Cause)) ).

In essence, we do not believe that God is restricted by reason, but ultimately is “Reason himself” - Hence, “I am who am”. That is why when a person asks the question: “Could God create a circled-Square” we would say, “because God is perfect, he can not be less than perfect or (weak) because he is all powerful” - thus we are not limiting God, quite the opposite, we are suggesting that he has no limits, which is why he cannot be a contradictory, unreasonable God.

Other faiths reject this notion, placing God so far away from Nature, almost making him incompatible with any anthropomorophic (Father, “He/She” qualifiers) speach or symbolic understanding. Meaning that God can surpass reason. This is half true, because God can surpass "PHYSICS or “natural reasoning” - but that is by virute of his “Metaphysical Reason” - which is his existence, in a sense.


In order to be a good Catholic one must employ both reason and passion. As God passionately loves us, so must we respond in kind. If you employ only reason, you’re missing the boat.



I forgot who said it but it went like

We are supposed to act with passion, not on passion.


All this is great, but how do you dialogue with someone who refuses to listen to reason? Perhaps they believe God does not act according to reason, and therefore they refuse to be swayed by rational argument.
Worse yet, they will not even consider exploring thoughts beyond those that they are confortable with, because "Hey, God isn’t reasonable anyway…"
Myself for example, thought this way when I was sorta into non-denominational Protestantism, but I was still a Catholic (though very immature in the faith). I think it was because I wasn’t sure that Protestantism was right that I decided to see what the Catholic Church said in its defense. Perhaps if I was born Protestant, I would have never considered looking at other viewpoints, because I didn’t think reason was a valid method for discerning truth.

(Note: I know that not all Protestants have the viewpoint that God isn’t reasonable, this was just my own view while I was theologically closer to Protestantism, but still a Catholic.)



I like to add that St. Thomas did not complete one of his books. While he is known for his great writings, a couple years before his death he had a mystical experience. Reportedly he said he could not go on writing, “…All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.”

While faith is reasonably, we have finite minds. It is unreasonable to expect to fully grasp our Infinate God with our finite mind. That is one problem with exclusively relying on reason in matters of faith.


Ask yourself this: is it reasonable of you try reasonably discussing faith with someone who doesn’t listen to reason? :wink:

Discuss what you share in common. If discussing faith with a Protestant, discussed shared faith experiences. Sometimes I suspect Protestants conclude that Catholics have little faith because we *do *use reason when speaking of faith. Talk to them in their language. If they like using the Bible alone, then use the Bible. If they want to talk about their walk with Christ, share about your walk with Christ too. They may not want to make faith an intellectual exercise–they may want to share the Christ that the know in their hearts, not their minds. That’s okay. We should know Him in our hearts as well as in our minds.


One does not need reason to learn to know God, to love God, and to serve God. One needs not reason to follow Him and to develope the intimacy that God desires. Reason is but a bonus for those who happen to care to emply it. A simpleton, or a “retarded” person can know God intinatlly and love Him with all his or her heart, without ever understanding any of God’s words or Divine Revelation, other than what is wwritten on the heart. Faith and Reason are compatible, not equally necessary. Just thoughts jumping out of my head…


LOL everyone always uses this quote, and sometimes miss-uses it to undermine the beauty of his works in understanding nature and the sacraments through reason. I do agree that the Divine far surpasses the natural in every-which way, and we are not bound to “nature” but to die to ourselves for the sake of the Divine. But our culture really lacks any understanding of Natural Law with the rise of fallacious Darwinism, and relativism. As Chesterton often says, Aquinas is the cure to such dualism and messy contradiction. We need to bring our reason back into faith to lead us to the experience that Aquinas ultimately had. He used his reason so much that he was so impowered to take that leap of faith which God blessed him with.

I also like the quote, “Don’t be so heavenly good that you are no earthly good”

And to the previous posts (on passion); passion should be moderated by reason, meaning we should love God reasonably, not unreasonably. Meaning “crashing air-planes to kill innocent people out of love for God” is utterly insane, and is not “true” love or irrational passion/misguided.

The question comes down to our discernment of what is good:

Do we think things are good because we desire them or do we desire them because they are good. Obviously things are good and we all naturally are inclined towards the good. Our passions do not define what is good, what is good should define our passions (through reason and virtue) which will fulfill our universal desire to be eternally happy, as Aristotle would say.

It might also be helpful to note that our wonderful Pope Benedict, also suggested this, when he made that comment pertaining to the Islamic faith: he was calling them to interreligious dialogue that removed fundamentalism and supported “reason” to discern our faith.


Mentally or as you put it, “retarded” people, have the capacity to reason because they still have free-will. They may not reason in the same way we do, but in some ways their reason is much more simpler than our reasoning (Hence they are usually called simple). And since God is all-Simple, one could say that inlight of their reasoning, they are much closer to God. I think sometimes we think reasoning has to do with “Science” but really it has more to do with seeing beauty and importance in nature in all things. Truely coming into contract with God and recognizing it. Our society place too much importance on the sciences, and not enough on philosophy (common-sense thinking).

In many ways, those who are mentally challenged are much more reasonable than us scientific people. For example, science may take a flower and divide it into parts, and pieces, and destory the flowr in the process, and say “the flower is nothing but parts”. But the simple folk, who can see the forest from the trees, look at the flower and see something much more beautiful than all its parts, we see beauty and appreciate it. That is far more reasonable in my opinion.


And how would one argue against the use of reason? If reason is necessary to prove that reason is untrustworthy then there is no reason to trust that conclusion. I’d be interested in hearing how someone argues against the use of reason - without using reason.



Reason is one thing we call “self-evident” or primary. It requires no proof, because it is known by virtue of our existence and experience. It is “common-sense”. Simply put: reason is the discernment of “being” or “truth” on a natural scale. And thus, when we say that reasoning is “untrustworthy” we are really placing our own existence and the existence of the universe into question which is also self-evident(that the universe exists) and therefore absurd. Modern philosophy in this respect is quite stupid.

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