Saturday, May 26, 2018
 

In Praise of Reason (part 2)

Preface to the Author's New Book, "The Reason of Reason: How Reason, Logic and Intelligibility are Evidence for God"

  • 13 September 2017
  • Author: Scott Cherry
  • Number of views: 1098
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by Scott Cherry–

Why does reason work? 

This is a question we will explore in my new book, The Reason of Reason of which this is part 2 of the preface. I think there are only three possible answers: The universe, God (some kind of intelligent omni-being), or ‘unknown’.  If we dismiss ‘unknown’ as not a real answer at all then of course there are only two. This is philosophy, of the sort that a college undergrad encounters in, say, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy or Religion, or even Intro to Philosophy. But it is also a kind of theology known as Natural Theology. Today in academia there seems to be a great divide between philosophy and theology, but in centuries past that was not the case. They use to be two sides of the same coin. In fact, would-be clergy and theologians of a bygone era of higher education would study philosophy pre-requisite to seminary, and some still do.  

Here is a 14-point syllogism that captures my whole argument. I welcome your analysis. To make comments in this website you must first register, or you may email them to me at srcherry@umich.edu.

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A. 14-point Syllogism of The Book’s Argument (not included in the book itself).

1.      Rationality, or reason, exists. (self-evident)

2.      Laws of logic exist. (self-evident)

3.      Intelligibility exists. (self-evident)

4.      Therefore, a kind of rational order, or ‘system’, seems to be in place that a) provides organization and functionality to our existence and b) constrain us within its rules. This is the Logos principle.

5.      Collectively, these rational elements are all reciprocal and complementary.

6.      Where this is the case we normally expect a kind of ‘meta program’ that both entails and dictates the apparent correspondence between the innumerable complements of the universe (i.e. reciprocity).

7.      Where there are reciprocity and complementarity there is, by definition, a necessary ‘design-like’ character to Reality, i.e. organization. 

8.      Where something is organized, or ‘design-like’, we should rightly be ‘suspicious’ of actual design, and we can hardly avoid it.

9.      Therefore, it is reasonable to suspect a kind of ‘super-organizer’, ‘architect’, or ‘programmer’, either the Universe itself or a divine Rational Being.

10.   If the Universe is rational we must ascribe intelligence and other attributes of “being” to it, such as purpose, which then would define it as ‘God’.

11.   It is unreasonable to ascribe these things to a non-rational Universe because ‘organization’ and ‘systems’ do not proceed from non-rational sources.

12.    Therefore, it is more reasonable to ascribe them to a rational, intelligent, and purposeful God who intended to place humans within a rational system.

13.   The kind of divine Being described in the Bible and the Qur’an is the most reasonable candidate for this set of circumstances.

14.   The Being described in the Bible is the best candidate because of His eternal reciprocity/complementarity as described in the doctrine of the “Trinity”.

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B. Preface to Book (part 2). Part 1 follows.

As an older, non-traditional student with an unusually flexible work/life schedule I’ve taken numerous philosophy courses from Ancient Philosophy up through Philosophy of Science.  (My debut or ‘baptism’ into philosophy was Islamic Philosophy which was essentially Philosophy of Religion through an Islamic lens.)  That’s more philosophy than most people ever get (or want) in their lifetimes, but not enough to make me a ‘professional’ philosopher of course.  (At the time of Socrates and Plato what qualified you as a real philosopher was being uncommonly adept with actual philosophy, also known as dialectics.) I would like to think I can spar with some of the professionals but my readers can be the judge of that, because in chapter 8 I take on Dr. Michael Martin of Harvard and his own web page called The Secular Web at infidels.org.  In 2000 he posted an article called Does Logic Presuppose the Existence of the Christian God? on which I decided to redress him.  I only just noticed from the homepage of Martin’s website that he apparently died in 2015, so regrettably I will never get a reply from him. On the other, maybe I should expect a rebuttal from one of his colleagues or protégés.

By profession I am a non-traditional clergyman and largely self-studied student of theology, but not a professional theologian for similar reasons.  Thirty-something years ago during my ‘original’ undergrad years, and later in seminary, I took only theology and no philosophy courses at all. Ironically, my formal training in philosophy now exceeds that of theology, for better or worse.  Five years ago when I started on this path I did not know I would enjoy philosophy so much (though I suspected it), nor the extent of its overlap with theology.  But now that I have ‘discovered’ it I confess that it absorbs and exhilarates me.  I hope my book will show that.  In fact, some of the material in it I first wrote in the form of papers for my philosophy courses, which I hope makes it more ‘authentic’.  But all of it is original.    

Philosophy, more than any other discipline, is concerned with the formal application of reason and logic to ‘hard’, metaphysical questions.  (Of course, EVERY discipline depends on reason and logic, but not with metaphysics.)  Yet in none of my courses were we ever challenged to analyze reason and logic themselves, and eventually I became cognizant of this.  Questions about whether reason is even a reliable tool with which to do philosophy or any other discipline were completely ignored, at least in my courses.  In post-modern philosophy I’m sure that would not be the case but the very existence of a course like that would beg the question.  In any case, that is precisely the sort of question I want to tackle with you.  In every one of my courses we simply presupposed reason.  Why?  Well, because you actually have to.  What else is there?  It’s our only tool for intellectual endeavors.  In principle I do not object to this presupposition, and I am not a postmodernist, so I do think it is a reliable tool for doing philosophy, its limitations notwithstanding. Non-theists will readily agree.  

“What about faith?” my fellow theists will ask.  Isn’t it also an important ‘tool’?  Yes of course.  Humans are endowed with and defined by both, among other unique faculties.  But I think the question reveals a view that faith can do what reason does.  I don’t think so.  Faith alone cannot be a substitute for reason unless perhaps it is truly “blind faith”, but I don’t think most types are.  Reason relies on forms of faith, while faith relies on the principles and faculties of reason.  I will give some basic examples of this.  In any case, I am not going to set up a contest between faith and reason.  I think they are like the two wings of a plane, but we will focus on reason.  Speaking of wings I have a story for you.

Allow me to preview something charming that happened to me and my household in the summer of 2015, the same summer I started to write this book.  I call it the “Mystery of the Cockatiel” which is part of chapter 6 in much more detail.  I share it because, among other things that I’ve mentioned and will yet mention, this occurrence was one that stimulated my thinking on The Reason of Reason. Simply put, I found a cockatiel in my backyard, hiding behind a 5-gallon bucket under the deck.  Immediately I knew it was strange and but not an illusion.  At the same moment my reason kicked in unconsciously, if not involuntarily, and I began to consider the contingencies. 1) This bird should not be here in SE Michigan, but it is here. 2) Since it is obviously a tropical bird, how did it come to be in my neighborhood and, more poignantly, to my backyard? 3) Since it seems uninjured but less autonomous than other birds—and because I have both a dog and a cat—I suppose I have to take responsibility for it, so what should I do with it for the short term?  4) What action steps should I take for the longer term? Within moments I had a pretty good theory of its origins and rejected the other possibilities.  If I am not wrong you are applying exactly the same kind of reason and you have basically the same theory.  But how can I know that about you?  I also knew I had two viable long-term options, either to keep this beautiful bird as a pet or find out where it belongs.  For more details you have to wait until you get to chapter 6, or skip to it.  Suffice it to say it stimulated my metacognition and it did not take me long to begin analyzing my own thought processes. Why was I assuming and, more fundamentally, presupposing the things I was?  And why was I so utterly confident that my theory was right? The reason is that I generally have faith in my powers of reason, and some questions lend themselves to such confidence.

To put it in colloquial terms, reason is ‘cool’ like that.

So for me this book is a celebration of reason, and I hope it will be for you too.  Frankly, I love reason—literally everything about it.  I love the way it works and how universal it is to the human species. Even though I will never talk to everybody in the world, by inductive reasoning I can be confident that people in Mongolia use reason too. It’s utterly fascinating to me that I can reason about things and solve many kinds of problems with it.  I love that I can think about my own powers of reason and apply reason to them. I can analyze my own reasoning and make mental observations about the way I am doing it. This is called metacognition, and much of this book is metacognitive. 

But I also love faith.  If you had assumed this about me before now it was justified, but now I will ‘show you my hand’ as they say in cards.  Yes, I am a man of faith as well as a reason, I openly admit it.  As I have already alluded, I do not think they’re mutually exclusive or normally in competition with each other.  In my educated opinion, faith and reason are complementary human attributes and share many interdependent qualities.  They go ‘hand-in-glove’.  That such pains are taken to exclude faith from the natural sciences is irrational.  In a paper I wrote for Philosophy of Science I defend that claim, but in this book I will merely scratch the surface of the intersection of faith and reason.  Again, I will primarily focus on reason to show how it validates faith.  You see, reason and faith have the same source, so reason is equally essential for people of faith as it is for those who disavow faith. It is necessary for both our everyday practices of faith and the intellectual pursuits of faith. That is to say, reason can be applied to faith and I do not think it is ‘schizophrenic’ to do so.  In fact, many of the greatest men and women of faith (or most) have also been great thinkers with impressive intellectual prowess.

Take C.S. Lewis for example, a prolific Christian philosopher of the 20th century and a great exemplar to me and many others.  Lewis actually formulated an argument for God based on the fact of reason.  From my reading of his various writings and the literature about them I have known of this argument for some years and but to my shame I had not actually read it until after I published my book. On the other hand I am proud to admit this because, if you believe me, it proves that I have not borrowed from it except for this quote below.  Still, one should not be surprised to find commonalities between his and mine.  

In his essay, “Is Theology Poetry” Lewis wrote:

Long before I believed Theology to be true I had already decided that the popular scientific picture [i.e. naturalism] was false. One absolutely central inconsistency ruins it…  The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears. Unless we can be sure that reality in the remotest nebula or the remotest part obeys the thought laws of the human scientist here and now in his laboratory—in other words, unless Reason is an absolute—all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming.  Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based. The difficulty is to me a fatal one; and the fact that when you put it to many scientists, far from having an answer, they seem not even to understand what the difficulty is, assures me that I have not found a mare’s nest but detected a radical disease in their whole mode of thought from the very beginning.  (Underscore mine)

"Is Theology Poetry?": http://www.samizdat.qc.ca/arts/lit/Theology=Poetry_CSL.pdf

 

It is not my intent to delve deeply into Lewis’s argument, either now or later.  I only wish to highlight the fact that Lewis was a man of faith who thought reason was “absolute”.  In this quote he seems to point to the fact that it is by reason that we comprehend the world and the reality in which we find ourselves.  But he also seems to think it is ‘unreasonable’ to ascribe reason to “mindless matter”.  In other words, in reasoning about reason itself, Lewis was so impressed with the powers of reason that it seemed utterly unreasonable to him that reason could be the product of something without it. This is an idea that has captured my thoughts as well, and has been a stimulus for this book. He surmised that the most reasonable source of reason should be a rational one, as do I.  Again, Lewis was a man of faith but he is not even talking about faith here, only reason.  So his argument is that the fact of reason itself—the very presupposition of it—points to an Object that many think can only be believed through ‘blind faith’. I agree. I think Lewis is asserting that the exercise of reason involves a kind of implicit ‘faith’ in reason that is necessary to follow it where it leads, but also that reason actually bolsters the exercise of faith (or at least it should).  This is an important part of my perspective as well.  I am no Lewis but I hope I can do justice to his philosophical foundation.

 

I hope you enjoy my humble book, The Reason for Reason. More than that, I hope you will find it intellectually stimulating, meaningful, and compelling.  Still more, I hope the weight and strength of my whole argument will lead you to the same conclusions that I have drawn, or similar ones.  (And what author does not want that?) This is my first book and I value your feedback and reviews more than I might if this were my tenth.  If you have read all or part of it, please make a simple effort to share this and some of your thoughts with me in the form of an online comment, a full review, or an email to me.  I will use your feedback to improve future editions of this book.

 

 

Sincerely,

Scott Cherry

srcherry@umich.edu

 

 

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Part 1

*Posted September 13.

Dear Reader, this is part 1 of the preface of my new book, The Reason of Reason: How Reason, Logic, and Intelligibility Together are Evidence for God. Here I want to give you a preview of what to expect in the book, including some heady and technical content but also a fair number of anecdotes to illustrate my ideas. Here’s one ancient example.  Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 in subsequent posts.

In my work and in my unique community I have numerous conversations with people who represent divergent belief systems, many of which are college students.  In the university milieu, reason and logic are highly esteemed as one should expect.  I also esteem them.  Here there is also a higher percentage of Muslims than in other places, and many are college students or will become so.  In my conversations with Muslims I have come to anticipate a high expectation for me to be ‘logical’.  This is my attempt.

How would you feel if you were told you were going to ‘lose your mind’, or even just some of it, by someone you had reason to trust?  By that expression I am referring to your ability to reason, of course.  According to one curious ‘legend’ that is exactly what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon in the 6th century BCE, whose story I will present and analyze in full detail in chapter 2 of this book.  The story is very interesting, I’m sure you will agree. How would that affect your life? If you’re anything like me and most other people (which you are) you would be seriously troubled (by induction). No doubt you would want to find any measures that could be taken to prevent this from happening to you, or to reverse it once it had happened.  If you had wealth at your disposal, what expense would be too great to retain your rationality?  Fortunately for King ‘Nebby’ his reason was restored and he retained his rule, but he was rather permanently affected by the experience.  Wouldn’t you be?

When I first decided to write this book it was only going to be one chapter in a book about Self-Evident Things. At that time I had been pondering a list of things about humans, humanity and reality which, it seemed to me, everyone treats as self-evident (by induction). That is, we presuppose them without scientific evidence or philosophical proofs.  This list would include positive things like virtues, such as love, kindness, generosity, compassion, selflessness; purpose, meaning, order, justice, peace, knowledge, causation, pleasure, happiness, joy, and others; and negative ones like evil and wrongness, the opposites of all the good things. Another one is reason, with its first-cousin logic.  As I approached the point of writing I chose reason as the first ‘self-evident’ thing because it seemed more fundamental and pervasive than all the rest, the closest to what could be called a 'first principle' in philosophy. 

Reason and these other things captured my thoughts because, empirically, none of them exist. In other words, if we were to apply the standards of science and philosophy to verify or validate them we should conclude that they are not real. Yet most people say they believe in many of these things, and everyone wants to obtain the positive ones while largely avoiding the negative ones. Also, everyone lives and functions as though they are real, or at least many of them. Reason and logic seem the most fundamental to me because without them none of the others could exist, or at least be comprehended or appropriated.  (Having said that, I visited my clergy/philosopher friend Joshua Tilley in Iowa City that summer, and he suggested that order is more fundamental than reason, and he may be right. That’s why there is a good bit of discussion about order too.) Even now, as I reflect on my own reasoning, it intrigues me that I have created a taxonomy, or hierarchy, of ideas in which reason emerges at the top.  It is utterly abstract!  How is it that we humans can do something that is exponentially more sophisticated than the next most intelligent animal (whichever one it is)? Can evolution account for it? This leads me to another beautiful example of reason in-action.

In a 2015 I saw a movie I really enjoyed called "The Martian”.  (That was the year I started this book.)  In this film the main character, Mark Watney, was stranded on Mars alone after the rest of the crew had to make a sudden departure due to a strong wind storm.  They were in a dilemma: If they did not take off within minutes the wind would blow over their ship and make the return impossible for the whole crew.  Watney got knocked unconscious in the storm and they could not find him in the dark, so they left without him. Their justification—and consolation—was in assuming he was dead.  After all, they had to assume something.  But the circumstances really left them no other viable options.  They were wrong, but we can hardly blame them for that.  As sophisticated as our powers of reason are they’re often wrong.  Reason has its limitations. What’s incredible to me is that the propensity for being wrong has not prevented us from being right much of the time, especially after much trial-and-error.  But think about the magnitude of cumulative knowledge, assumptions, and failures that go into it.

When Watney regained consciousness the next day he immediately had to begin making life-or-death decisions in the interest of his survival.  But he knew he could not survive on Mars indefinitely, and who would want to.  So his obvious goal, while surviving, was to figure out a way to communicate with the people on Earth who could possibly save him. The odds were stacked enormously against him, yet it was believable.  Not to extend this analysis further than is warranted for a preface, but I’d like to offer just one example of the kind of reasoning Watney had to use in order to survive: He had to take inventory of his food and water supplies so he could figure out how long he could live based on this factor alone (calories).  Fortunately Watney was very clever and he figured out a way to get produce more food by growing potatoes. This was no small achievement, but alas! there was an unfortunate accident and his supply of new potatoes came to an end. Thus he was ultimately forced to ration his food based on a computation of the minimum required calories he needed per day to avoid starvation.  This, along with controlling other necessary factors extended his life until he was rescued after 560 days.  Here’s what Aryan Bajwa of Quora.com writes about the film:

The Martian is a movie that can save the world.  It’s a movie dedicated to the greatest side of humanity that is so rarely celebrated in film, our can-do problem solving nature. It’s a film that embraces all aspects of human greatness—bravery, compassion, love, curiosity—but it is an unprecedented examination of humanity’s ability to set our minds to a problem and triumph over it.  This film reminds us that all of the problems facing our world are surmountable, and that with the right attitude and the right math and the right dedication we can solve them all, one after another. 


Reflect on this with me.  In my opinion there is something significantly true about this excerpt but at the same time it’s overly generous.  Thanks to reason and a ‘bundle’ of other uniquely human qualities we have a remarkable ability to solve difficult problems; but I do not believe that all of the world’s problems are surmountable.  To be blunt, that is nothing less than a statement of faith on the writer’s part. It’s a kind of faith that is idealized in some movies but a kind that I do not share completely. Again, there is something true about it. Certainly we can believe in reason with a high measure of confidence, but does it deserve that much confidence? Can reason really solve every problem?

Throughout the plot there is a complex ‘web’ of rational contingencies where every fact and possibility affects nearly every possible outcome. Also, consider the meaning of the notion of ‘viable’.  Not every option or possible outcome has equal truth or application value based on their likelihood of success.  The human capacity to factor in all these components is enormous.  Finally, make a mental list of the things that Watney had to assume or presuppose on Mars—that Mars has the same degree of predictable uniformity as Earth, and that given similar conditions potatoes on Mars would grow the same way they do on Earth, for example.  The point is, I thought this movie was a winner and I was highly impressed with the way they depicted the exercise of reason on Watney’s part.  When I’m engrossed in a story like this I can’t help marveling at the way reason works. 

So, why does it work?  And, if it isn’t (“ahem”) foolproof or even generally reliable then why do we use it? (Pun intended.)  These are two of the inter-related questions we will explore in The Reason of Reason. Find out more by ordering a copy of The Reason of Reason: How Reason, Logic, and Intelligibility Together are Evidence for God.

 

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