To Reason or not to Reason?


#1

This is something that has entered into my mind. It is a result of different things coming together. Now, keep in mind, even if I were Catholic, I would still hold to a Van-Tillian “presuppositional” method of thinking about things, though if I were Catholic, it would be modified some to “fit the Faith”.

So there’s where my question comes in. Basically, why would anyone say that you cannot use Reason to arrive at sure knowledge about things? Like, wouldn’t you have to reason your way to that conclusion? And if you “reason” to that conclusion, maybe it’s wrong, because Reason is not a valid means of arriving at such major conclusions.

Not that I know anyone that says this in such an extreme way, but it seems to be an underlying premise of Protestants who are “in the know” to reject the Catholic “3-fold means of truth,” that is Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

Of course, if Scripture or Tradition said that Reason was not a valid means of arriving at truth, then that would settle it. Alas, that’s where it gets so intricate though, isn’t it!!


#2

[quote=Reformed Rob]This is something that has entered into my mind. It is a result of different things coming together. Now, keep in mind, even if I were Catholic, I would still hold to a Van-Tillian “presuppositional” method of thinking about things, though if I were Catholic, it would be modified some to “fit the Faith”.

So there’s where my question comes in. Basically, why would anyone say that you cannot use Reason to arrive at sure knowledge about things? Like, wouldn’t you have to reason your way to that conclusion? And if you “reason” to that conclusion, maybe it’s wrong, because Reason is not a valid means of arriving at such major conclusions.

Not that I know anyone that says this in such an extreme way, but it seems to be an underlying premise of Protestants who are “in the know” to reject the Catholic “3-fold means of truth,” that is Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

Of course, if Scripture or Tradition said that Reason was not a valid means of arriving at truth, then that would settle it. Alas, that’s where it gets so intricate though, isn’t it!!
[/quote]

I am not sure exactly where this question comes from but here is a thought that might be relevant.

Reason is the discernment of conclusions given certain assumptions. In math class we write "If ‘p’ then ‘q’ ". Given a certain assumption we can generally draw a certain conclusion.
That would generally seem to be a good thing.

One problem with living totally by Reason is, by itself, it doesn’t give us the first assumption. An important assumption that I believe has a great deal to do with Faith is whether or not we assume Reality to be basically just or basically unjust. Once we assume one path or another we can use Reason a great deal, but all will depend on that first assumption.

Another problem with reason is a single small error in the assumptions that we make can lead to profoundly erroneous conclusions. (I can prove mathematically that 1 = 1 000 000. I just have to make a slightly incorrect assumption.)

Reason is a powerful tool. If we have an important purpose (such as finding God’s kingdom) for that tool we should use it often. If we manage to find God’s kingdom without using that tool much, I think that is ok too.

peace

-Jim


#3

To paraphrase something I’ve read elsewhere, “we can’t avoid using reason; we can only avoid using reason well.”


#4

Trogiah,

This question comes mainly from the Logic course that a friend and I have been going through. Of course, we should understand that for our reasoning to be valid, we must reach God’s conclusions.

Part of the Reformed “Trancendental Argument for the Existence of God” is that Logic is not an empirically proven or experienced thing. However, if we cease to be logical in our thinking and speech, then where will we end up? We will be totally ridiculous. But would we even realize it? …

I say - In God’s infinite wisdom, God has given to man the ability to think consistently, and we do so on a Christian worldview, one that recognizes that God has “set in place” as it were, staunch rules (ie. logic) that are necessary for all men to follow in order to be clear and consistent. Of course, our ability to think clearly is exceedingly marred by sin.

So, an atheist that argues against God's existence, does so in an attempt to be logical and tries to set forth a well thought out and reasoned argument against God.  But why does he use some abstract principle such as "logic"  and "reason"?  In effect, that's what he ends up arguing against!!  You can't "see" God, but neither can you "see" logic.

I’m sure there are a couple atheists here that would like to get in on this discussion. But for the Christians here, I should say that in no way would “reason” be superior to God’s Word. Rather, we understand God’s Word in order to reason correctly.

Psalm 36:9
For with Thee is the fountain of life: In Thy light we see light.

Isaiah 1:18
’Come now, and let us reason together’ says the Lord


#5

[quote=Reformed Rob]Trogiah,

This question comes mainly from the Logic course that a friend and I have been going through. Of course, we should understand that for our reasoning to be valid, we must reach God’s conclusions.

[/quote]

Just to clarify some terms. consider the following arguement:

“All dogs have three legs. Misha is a dog, therefore Misha has three legs.”

The textbooks I have read tell me the reasoning of that arguement is valid - that is to say - the conclusion follows from the premise. But the premise is false. The fact is that Misha has 4 legs. (or had 4 legs, she is dead by now I think. She was a good dog.)

The conclusion arrived at was false , not because there was anything wrong with my logic or my reasoning but because the original premise was false.

This is the limit of logic and reasoning. If the original assumpions are false, then no amount of perfectly applied reasoning skills will guarantee a true conclusion.

I think that the total cessation of logical thinking would result in ridiculus conclusions and we would most definitely realized it. Whether we were talking about science, religion, politics, the weather or anything else.

What you say makes some sense to me. However I believe that even more important than the strict application of logic is that we make the right assumptions in the first place. I say that one of the most important assumptions we can make is that we accept the goodness of God’s creation. That we accept that there is divine justice, however difficult it may be for us to recognize. I don’t have a way to prove this assumption logically but I think accepting it is part of keeping the First and Greatest Commandments.

I have made my own peace with the idea of atheism. It is a much shorter answer to the question “Does God Exist” than the book Hans Kung wrote.

I answer the question by saying “God is the name I give to Existence.” I know it is not a perfect response theologically speaking but for me it presents the question as I think it really should be presented - as a question of definition.

I like your quotes.

peace

-Jim


#6

The 3 rules of faith in Catholicism are Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium (teaching office of the Church).

The truth that is revealed by all 3 legs of the Church is independent of human reason. Instead, she is guided and enlightened by the Holy Spirit fulfilling the promise of Christ.


#7

Trogiah,

About correct premises, yeah, that’s something I quickly realized when I started perousing some logic books in college. Logic doesn’t exist in a “vaccum” so to speak. We live in a world where we can be deceived by non-truths being set forth as truths. So yeah, I’ve been taught that it’s a basic fact of logic that:

If you’re premises are true, and your reasoning is valid, then you’re conclusion must be true.

Furthermore,

If you’re conclusion is true, and your reasoning is valid, then your premises must be true.

However, you can reason validly from false premises to a false conclusion! Doesn’t that make us want to be cautious!

There is a distinction here between validity and truth. You can have a true premise w/ an invalid argument. Also, there is a difference between deductive and inductive reasoning. Deductive is when everything you need to form a conclusion is there. Inductive is when you can form a better conclusion after you learn more. Inductive reasoning uses the term “sound argument” rather than “valid argument” generally speaking.

Martino,

I didn't just pull that out of my head.  I read it somewhere, though I'm not sure where.  I know that doesn't help, and you're probably right in what you said.  So, ok, Magesterium.  

But, back to my original question. Can we validly use reason to argue against the use of reason?


#8

[quote=Reformed Rob]If you’re premises are true, and your reasoning is valid, then you’re conclusion must be true.

Furthermore,

If you're conclusion is true, and your reasoning is valid, then your premises must be true.

However, you can reason validly from false premises to a false conclusion! Doesn’t that make us want to be cautious!

[/quote]

Dear Rob,

Of the three statements I quoted, the first and third are correct but the middle one is not, using standard “if-then” truth values. If the premise is false, then the conclusion may be either true or false and the statement still has “true” truth value. The only false “if-then” happens with valid premise and false conclusion. Note that “if p then q” is logically equivalent to “q or not p,” of course using an inclusive “or.”

symbolically, the following truth table applies to p->q (if p then q)

p | q | p->q

T | T | T
T | F | F
F | T | T
F | F | T
[font=Arial]
For example, I can say, “If the moon is made of green cheese I will give you $100.” As long as the moon is not made of green cheese, I haven’t said anything about whether I will give you $100 and my statement is still true.

There is a logical operation that has a truth value you have described, “if and only if.” That is quite different than the standard “if-then,” and makes both statements function as premise and conclusion for each other. Symbolically, p <-> q is only true if the truth values of p and q are the same, but not if they are different. I could not assume this is the structure you meant because you referred to one statement as “premise” and the other “conclusion” when in fact the statement is reflexive.

Alan
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#9

Dear Jim,

I would be interested to hear your “proof” or 1 = 1 million.

When I taught math I used to “prove” that 1=2, but I have now forgotten the proof. The flaw in that one was first making the assumption that a=b=1, then in the middle somewhere divided by (a-b) therefore implicitly dividing by 0, arriving at something like a+b=a. The lesson was on having to make sure every time you are dividing using variables to make sure you have specifically excluded all possibilities that you have divided by 0.

Alan


#10

Dear Reformed Rob,

My daughter, a freshman in high school who is a consistent winner in “religion bowl” contests, was telling me the other day that my arguments on this forum would be stronger if I actually knew what I was talking about, such as what the various councils actually taught. I asked her about the magisterium and she confirmed that the three “pillars of faith” of “pillars of truth” or whatever she called it, are Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium, as martino said.

To your original question, I personally place a very high value on logic, and I find that protestants are usually somewhat responsive to arguments they believe are based on scripture and logic. There are some caveats; for example, one has to be open minded to possible alternative explanations to the meanings of certain “truth statements,” and one has to be very careful to state what axioms one is working from. The axioms themselves are premises which, if false, can cause a good logical argument to reach an invalid conclusion, as you have stated above. Also known as garbage in, garbage out.

[quote=Reformed Rob]Trogiah,

This question comes mainly from the Logic course that a friend and I have been going through. Of course, we should understand that for our reasoning to be valid, we must reach God’s conclusions.

[/quote]

This is true, if you also make the assumption that you are using God’s premises (or axioms). If you are starting with false premises, then you can conclude anything and your logic may have been perfectly valid, or faulty.

Also, if you presume God is logical, and that you know what “God’s conclusions” are, then you probably also presume to know what His premises are. The problem with that is, at least when it comes to arguing with a Protestant, is that they may not agree with the premises any more than your conclusions, so any attempt at logical derivation is invalid.

Part of the Reformed “Trancendental Argument for the Existence of God” is that Logic is not an empirically proven or experienced thing. However, if we cease to be logical in our thinking and speech, then where will we end up? We will be totally ridiculous. But would we even realize it? …

I say - In God’s infinite wisdom, God has given to man the ability to think consistently, and we do so on a Christian worldview, one that recognizes that God has “set in place” as it were, staunch rules (ie. logic) that are necessary for all men to follow in order to be clear and consistent. Of course, our ability to think clearly is exceedingly marred by sin.

You are right. If we abandon all logical structures in a mathematical sense, then it is a small step to say that grammar and semantics similarly have no meaning and no effective communication at all is possible. Here is an excerpt from the book “My Search for Absolutes” by Paul Tillich:

Alan


#11

[quote=martino]The 3 rules of faith in Catholicism are Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium (teaching office of the Church).

The truth that is revealed by all 3 legs of the Church is independent of human reason. Instead, she is guided and enlightened by the Holy Spirit fulfilling the promise of Christ.
[/quote]

Formally, perhaps - but not materially.

All of these imply that reason is needed; which does not, BTW, require us to conclude that reason is the foundation of them. Yet it is still essential. ##


#12

[quote=AlanFromWichita]Dear Jim,

I would be interested to hear your “proof” or 1 = 1 million.

When I taught math I used to “prove” that 1=2, but I have now forgotten the proof. The flaw in that one was first making the assumption that a=b=1, then in the middle somewhere divided by (a-b) therefore implicitly dividing by 0, arriving at something like a+b=a. The lesson was on having to make sure every time you are dividing using variables to make sure you have specifically excluded all possibilities that you have divided by 0.

Alan
[/quote]

Here is the version that I remember. the numbers 2 and 7 could be replaced with any other numbers (even 1 and 1 000 000 and the “proof” still works.
"Let x = y

than 2x = 2y and 7y = 7x by multiplication property of equality

Then 2x + 7y = 2y + 7x by addition property of equality

Then 2x - 2y = 7x - 7y by subtraction property of equality

Factor to get 2(x-y) = 7(x-y)

Divide by x-y to get 2 = 7 "

There is an almost perfect arguement that 2 is equal to 7
you stated correctly the problem with the last step. since the beginning assumption was that x=y, x-y will equal zero.

Peace

-Jim


#13

Trogiah,

That was neat!! Yeah, I see how simple it can be to do a mathematical quirk like that.

Alan,

You’re daughter is very insightful! Thanks for pointing out my mistake from those 3 statements too. I didn’t take enough time to present that.

Ok, I know there’s not hostility to the “presuppositional argument” here. That’s comforting. My Catholic friend actually uses it to argue against Protestantism and Sola Scriptura.

Anyways, trying to keep this going, let me present this next issue:
If I were Catholic, I’d want to be able to demonstrate how a Catholic view of knowledge is more consistent than a non-Catholic view of knowledge. By that I mean, is it possible to have certainty about things that are not explicit in Scripture? As a Reformed guy, I’d say yes, but I’d have a hard time showing that the Trinity is explicit in Scripture. I could make a good case for it I think, but in the end it’s based on my reasoning. Beyond that, it’s based on my acceptance of a collection of books I call the Bible that I accept to be inspired by God, but I’m certainly not prepared to give an explicitly “Scriptural” defense of that! So how do I know they are to be known as revelation from God?

To deny the Trinity, isn’t that heresy? Do you cease to be a Christian (at least “formally”)? Even in the OT, I believe they understood correctly Who God was, though not as clearly as we know Him now, but based on what God had revealed. Moses was not a “Jehovah’s Witness” as we know them today.

If I can't be sure (ultimately certain) about the most basic things, then how can I attain to any degree of certainty to "less basic" things>

#14

You might want to check out a Catholic Answers article I saw in another thread, which gives the catholic view of authority:

catholic.com/library/proving_inspiration.asp

As a Reformed guy, I’d say yes, but I’d have a hard time showing that the Trinity is explicit in Scripture. I could make a good case for it I think, but in the end it’s based on my reasoning. Beyond that, it’s based on my acceptance of a collection of books I call the Bible that I accept to be inspired by God, but I’m certainly not prepared to give an explicitly “Scriptural” defense of that! So how do I know they are to be known as revelation from God?

That’s too much at once. The above linked article addresses the Catholic view on that, which seems to satisfy 99% of the Catholics, but I suspect you, like I, still might feel something is missing in one step. For that step, I am working on my faith. Remember Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” That is, if we believe something by faith, then we don’t require understanding. If we had the understanding, it would not require faith.

  To deny the Trinity, isn't that heresy?  Do you cease to be a Christian (at least "formally")?

I don’t know what you mean by “deny the Trinity.” The trinity is the teaching that there are three persons in one God. There is more information about that here:
newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm

If I can’t be sure (ultimately certain) about the most basic things, then how can I attain to any degree of certainty to “less basic” things>

Now I think you’re getting to the heart of it. I also want a logical explanation, or at least a feasible argument, for things I am supposed to believe. I don’t know your background but in my case I am a very analytical person who gradually came to the unsettling realization that the vast majority of people on this planet apparently are not that analytical. To me it is very difficult to believe in things I don’t understand because I am taught, as an engineer, to understand how things work, and how to modify and exploit them so they will do what I want them to do.

You just might consider looking for the book I quoted from earlier by Paul Tillich (caution: non-Catholic theologian) called “My Search for Absolutes.” It sounds like you might need the full treatment. First, to become comfortable with the idea that absolutes in human knowledge are in fact possible, then what absolutes are there in moral and religious teaching.

Alan


closed #15

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