The Reason of Reason
Author: Scott Cherry

Chapter 5
Reason, Revelation and Purpose

In this chapter I want to talk about the prospect of divine revelation in its relationship to reason. Simply put, revelation is the notion that there is, or may be, a kind of knowledge above and beyond our human capacity to obtain by natural means: from God, the gods, or some other supernatural source.  The prevalent forms of revelation are the so-called sacred texts such as the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Vedas, to name just a few.  Another form would be direct communication with God, the gods, angels, dreams and visions.  There is also the notion of general revelation which is that knowledge of the metaphysical, divine, or spiritual world which can be perceived in nature.  Only those who acknowledge such a world and such a Source accept this kind of knowledge as real.  I do.  But it is not my goal at this point to argue for this because my focus is on reason, not revelation.  I only want to assert that if there is such a thing as divine revelation it does not eliminate the need for reason.  Rather, the faculty of reason would still be necessary and operative even in the presence of revelation, to identify, verify and interpret it.

 

Part of my argument is the plain fact that there are some things that simply cannot be known through reason alone.  Some kinds of knowledge are inaccessible by natural means.  When it comes to these we have only two choices: 1) Write them off as unknowable, in which case we can decide to assign them to the column marked “irrelevant” and create our own answers and some rational basis for them. Or 2) we can try harder to discover them by natural/naturalistic means through our human powers of reason, which is valid.  But the things I’m referring to are undiscoverable and unknowable by definition, which I will try to reasonably explain.  If we want to know these kinds of things, which many of us do, and we are determined to know them in any objective sense, we would have to look to a source of knowledge that is theoretically superior to ours, if one exists—an Ultimate, Transcendent Source of reason, logic, intelligence, and all information.  Sociologically speaking, this is part of the explanation for why religions are universal—they are everywhere—a universal quest for meaning.)  You may or may not agree with my proposition, but metaphysical belief systems undeniably exist so this has to be on the table.  At the very least divine revelation is a theoretical possibility which millions of people espouse.  Whether it’s a probability, much less a certainty, is a different question altogether.  If you do not agree, of course you have your reasons, whether sound or unsound, and if you do you also have your reasons. Ironically, both sides must consider this possibility using reason, for there is no other way for us to consider it.  In other words, as adults we believe what we believe for particular reasons, and by using reason to some extent.  One’s reasoning may be sophisticated or simplistic, valid or invalid, but it is not totally absent even when considering the possibility of divine revelation.  Such a consideration still requires reason.

 

My basic observation here is that collective humanity desires to know things, and everything that is knowable. This is the driving force behind the insatiable quest of science and other disciplines.  Some believe this is a plausible quest, which I think is laudable and very telling about the nature of humanity. It is especially true in the scientistic West. The pervasive belief that humanity can and will eventually know everything speaks volumes about our collective psyche and our belief in the intelligibility of Reality.  As I see it, this is a kind of compound faith.  It is at once faith in humanity, faith in the powers of reason, faith in science, and faith in the order of intelligibility—that all knowledge is accessible to us. I think this is extraordinary, and certainly zealous if not overzealous.  But without this faith and the drive it produces we would certainly not know all that we do about the world we live in. This kind of quality, according to the late philosopher Francis Schaeffer, is part of what makes humans so ‘wonderful’ and ‘noble’ in contrast to our horrific cruelty to each other:

 

“The dilemma of man is what I call the nobility of man. We might not like this term because of its romantic ties to the past, but still there is the wonder of man; but contrasted with this is his cruelty.  So man stands with all his wonder and nobility, and yet also with his horrible cruelty that runs throughout the warp and woof of man’s history.”  (He is there and He is Not Silent, p. 291)

 

Nevertheless, there are certain barriers that we keep hitting in the acquisition of knowledge, especially regarding the origin of life and of everything else.  Why?  Surely many things are yet to be discovered and learned.  But again, there are kinds of knowledge that, by definition, the sciences can never obtain no matter how successful they are, chiefly because they’re not equipped to discover them. The tools are simply not at their disposal. Even if science could discover the origin of life, for example, which has been fantastically evasive, it could never tell us the purpose of life, if indeed there is one (which I believe there is).  This is the “Why are we here?” and “What is the meaning of life?” question.  The reason science cannot answer it, ever, is simply that it is a non-scientific question. It is also non-mathematical.  But it is a philosophical question, one that the most brilliant philosophers have been wrestling with for ages.  For the naturalist/materialist philosophers especially, there seems to be an impenetrable barrier to the acquisition of knowledge in this respect.  Even theistic philosophers, if they were to reject revelation, would run into this barrier (but then in what sense would they be theistic?).  Our very best reasoning can lead us right up to the edge, but without the prospect of revelation to provide information that is otherwise unattainable it can bring us no farther.  We simply could not know it.  (Of course, this would assume that a deity existed who provided no revelation; if there were no such deity at all there simply could be no revelation, no answers to those kinds of questions for which many people yearn.)  Should that surprise us?  Is it unreasonable that there be such a barrier?   I think not.

 

 

The Reason of Purpose

 

Consider the notion of Purpose, the transcendent kind.  If there were such a thing science/philosophy would have no means to measure it, because that kind of purpose would be rooted in the intentionality of a transcendent source.  So logically, if there were such a purpose to human existence that could only be true if there were a purposive source, or a purpose giver—a Purposer.  Any transcendent purpose would have to be assigned with intention.  So if there were no purposer then humanity could have no transcendent purpose other than the ephemeral kind that we assign to ourselves; we would need not look beyond ourselves.  But if there were such a Purposer who has assigned purpose to us, that purpose would be transcendent and definitive.  For many it would also be desirable and sought-after.  However, humanity could only have access to such knowledge if that Purposer granted us access, or revealed it.  This is necessarily true and would apply to other things such as postmortem destiny.  In other words, only revelation could be the source of transcendent knowledge if it exists.  On the other hand, if there were no purpose to our existence that could only be concluded by proving that a Purposer did not exist to give it, or that he had no intentionality.  Many people have embraced this conclusion, but not with rational certainty.  (Again, such a conclusion is hardly satisfying to those driven by the universal human desire to know their purpose.)   It is argued that it is impossible to prove something does not exist, and I agree.   Therefore, naturalistic science/philosophy, which denies the transcendent, is not equipped to answer the question of transcendent purpose, for it would require information from a source that it rejects a priori.  This is a reasonable proposition, and, after all, this is a discussion of reason.

 

What of the Purposer?  If there is one it must be personal, for only a personal being can assign purpose or reveal something otherwise concealed.  (And we all long for this sense of purpose.) For this and other reasons I and many others assert that there is such a being, who calls himself Yahweh (God).  He claims to give revelation to humanity by several forms, including nature, scripture, and the person of Jesus.  In these three categories there are subcategories, many of which are also subject to rational scrutiny and can therefore be corroborated using reason, though not all.  But according to His self-revelation, all revealed truths must be considered using reason.  In other words, reason is the normal means by which human beings apprehend and process revelation.  Every proposition that is found in the pages of the Bible, for example, is exposed to the process and principles of reason.  So, both the Christian and the atheist use reason to interpret written revelation, and there’s no way around that.  The Christian’s reason is influenced by his faith, and vice versa, but it is certainly not replaced by faith.  Conversely, his faith is informed by his reason, not replaced.  They are not opposites because they function together necessarily.  So a mature Christian lives by divine revelation and reason simultaneously. 

 

Of course, all religions are based on the belief of some form of divine revelation which has eventually been codified into a book or books. By definition they all claim to transcend reason, though this should not be confused with suspending reason.  Let me offer several examples.  The first one is the Bible, the foundational text for all Christian belief and practice.  We Christians recognize it as divine revelation, but not for lack of reasons and corroborating evidence.  Rather, Christians who are sufficiently educated in biblical studies should come to know something about the “doctrine of scripture”, a set of propositions on why the Bible is recognized as divine revelation.  In other words, there is a rationale, or a kind of logic applied to the Bible as there is for all books that make truth claims.  It is not merely because the Bible itself says it is God’s word, or because the church says it is, though they both do.  These are part of the rationale, but only part.  Without going too deep, it goes something like this:

 

 

List 1

 

1. A book known as the Bible exists.

 

2. The Bible claims to be divine revelation (otherwise it would not even be a candidate).

 

3. The Bible speaks with the claim of divine authority, often in the voice of God or Jesus.

 

4. It provides a category of information that cannot provided by science or philosophy.

 

5. This information comprises a comprehensive meta-narrative, message, belief system, and worldview that is unique, consistent and coherent within itself.

 

6. This meta-narrative accurately describes Reality and the human condition the way it is, and provides an authoritative explanation for why it is the way it is.

 

7. It describes the Problem of the human condition as well as the Solution for it.  It tells us that God was not content to let the Problem overcome humanity, so he acted.

 

8. It presents a man who lived in space-time reality, Jesus, who claimed himself as the Solution.

 

9. The Bible is therefore totally unique and self-authenticating, not merely by virtue of its claim to be divine revelation, but also because of the rational nature of its revelation.

 

10. There is abundant corroborating evidence for its claims to be found in the order of nature, human experience, history, archaeology, aesthetics, and science, etc.

 

11. Conclusion: The Bible is the word of God, i.e. true revelation from a Divine Mind.

 

 

Now, if you did not already accept the Bible as God’s word, and if this syllogism did not convince you, that’s ok.  Let me remind you that that was not my purpose.  It was mainly to show the kind of logic that makes up one’s confidence of the Bible, whether it’s convincing to you or not.  Allow me to make some additional disclaimers.  First, probably twice as many premises could have been included, or condensed to just a few.  Second, other thinkers may have articulated these ten premises differently, maybe better or maybe not as well.  In that event ach would be applying his or her rational skills uniquely. 

 

Admittedly, some Christians would not be able to articulate what I just did because of their lack of knowledge on the subject, or because of their less-developed reasoning and/or writing skills.  Indeed, if asked why they believe the Bible is the word of God, some Christians would simplistically say because their church or their parents say so.  Or they don’t know why, or even don’t believe it.  I contend that this is true across the board for virtually every belief system.  Consider the university student who also believes things on authority, i.e. because the textbook or the professor said so.  Still, if one of these Christians were engaged in an intelligent conversation and presented with these ten premises, quite often their more cogent thinking on the subject could be drawn out.  In any case, others of us can do better, as I hope I just demonstrated.  But many just never learn to do better. 

 

Christians who do not become adequately aware of the rational support for the Bible may eventually reject it.  (It happens a lot at the high school and university levels.)  Third, if you are a non-theist or an adherent of another religion, you may well challenge some of my premises, or all of them.  No problem.  It doesn’t affect my argument.  Again, my goal was to show that there is a logical rationale for the Christian’s acceptance of the Bible as divine revelation.  For me and many others in my circles, anyway, it is not “blind faith” or faith in church authority.  Rationally, one would first become confident that the Bible is has the marks of would-be divine revelation, and then in what it teaches.  In common, everyday experience, however, I realize that it may well happen in reverse: First a person becomes familiar with the teachings of the Bible though, say, family and community tradition, and later they come to believe it for intuitive reasons.  Still later they may learn to approach the Bible intellectually, as I have, or never.  The point is that they could.  There is such an approach that does not even resemble blind faith.

 

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