Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Nature of Reason

Do the synapses in my brain cause me to think, or does my thinking cause the synapses to fire? Put another way, how did rational, reasonable, logical thought come into being? If you take a look at things from a strictly scientific perspective, say from the evolutionary standpoint, you could say that as humans evolved (chose whichever evolutionary path you’d like to) the necessity for higher intellectual functions presented themselves to be advantageous to the species. From an even more naturalistic point of view, the human brain could simply be, in essence, an advanced computer. In that paradigm, every thought or emotion would be the result of a complex algorithm of firing synapses. These synapses would have to have a pattern of some kind because as humans we will always have the same emotions or thoughts reoccur throughout our lifetime at some point or another. Ironically (because of the title), both of these perspectives have to fit within the confines of some sort of greater whole, which is commonly referred to as “mother nature” or some derivation of that. Under the blanket of nature, there has to be some sort of biological advantage to having various intellectual functions, or at very least a reason for them to exist. On the surface, this seems to be a fairly easy question to answer, take for example education. At any level, there will be tests that students are required to take and it would follow then that it would be advantageous for the students to develop some sort of intellectual faculties to be able to dictate the correct response to the indicated examination and progress with their education. However it gets more difficult when you start to examine the more uninhibited thoughts, which have no natural pressure or reason to be dwelt upon. For instance, why would it be advantageous for humans to ever develop differing, if not opposing view points? A quick answer to this would be for the growth and development of society as a whole. The problem with that answer though is that the process of growing and developing as a society would simply go much faster if naturally all humans had the same general ideas about how to advance society. Naturally speaking, evolution would dictate that only thoughts and ideas that advanced (positively) society would be passed on through the generations of humans. With that being the case, differing viewpoints would be superfluous and opposing viewpoints would be counterproductive. The problem of the other paradigm that implies that all functions of the human brain are simply an algorithm is that there are varying degrees of the same emotion, ideas about the same subject may or may not change over time, and that both of those things more often than not are different from person to person. Some might say that the answer to that problem would be that there are simply different algorithms for different people and/or for different levels of emotions. The problem with this idea is that if you look at other animals in nature, you do not see the same division or differentiation of algorithmic synaptic firing patterns that would be implied by the above proposal. The reason for this is that the animals lack something that humans have, which is the ability to reason. Animals have brains, some of which are even similar in biological size and shape to that of humans, but the division is still not there.

The answer to this question is simple; reason does not exist per se from nature. That is to say that reason does not come from nature in any way other than that in order to be able to reason, you need a brain with which to do it. The conclusion that follows is that there is something outside of nature that is either coexistent with or outside of entirely, nature. It would appear at first glance that there is an opposing force that is coexistent with nature. Not to the extent of the classic “Good vs. Evil,” but simply sources with intents latent within them that are differing from one another. Webster defines reason as the capacity for logical, rational, and analytic thought; the reason that the idea of the two warring factions is so appealing is because there are times when things that are not reasonable dictate what we as humans do in certain situations, i.e., instinct. However, by the definition of the word, such an appeared take over of human functionality would then cease to be reason at all. This idea would be more correctly viewed not as a take over, but simply as a shift. The relationship between nature and reason is an unsymmetrical one. To borrow an analogy from C.S. Lewis, if A is the brother of B, then B is the brother of A; however if A is the father of B, then B cannot be the father of A. The correct relationship between nature and reason would be the second kind. Not to imply that reason is the father of nature, but simply that the relationship of nature to reason is not the same as the relationship of reason to nature. Reason acts both within nature, and abstractly outside of it. Within the confines of nature, reason influences the way people make decisions, and since those decisions are made in nature, nature can influence to some degree those same decisions. However reason has the ability to remove itself from nature to observe it from perspectives that nature cannot provide. Logically, if reason has the ability to act outside of the confines of nature, than it has to come from something that is itself outside of and independent from nature.

It is more likely that something that has the ability to act both on the inside of nature and on the outside of it comes from a source that controls nature than it is to simply think of it as something that is coexistent with nature. The reason for this is that there would be no purpose for the intermingling of abilities between two things that simply coexisted but had no interrelationship. The conclusion here is also simple; the thing that is controlling nature and that created reason has to be God. The Bible talks about how God created the world and everything in it yet made man special. It would then make sense that man alone would have the ability to reason, and that reason would be able to act outside of everything that nature controls. Ultimately, God gave people the ability to reason so that they could think outside of nature, and to start to comprehend Him and seek Him.