It is widely agreed upon that reason exist. The problem is that you cannot defend reason by reason without finding yourself in a circular argument. But the origin of our reason is an important question to ask ourselves. When we look at the animal kingdom it becomes apparent that human beings are the only species to use reasoning at such a capacity to rule over the earth. Many other unique anomalies occur due to our reasoning e.g. Human beings have shown a remarkable proclivity for progress, possess a moral code, and are self-ware.
When considering all that we have achieved in our onward march, the question arises, “How is all of this possible?” It seems that there are two popular positions for our unprecedented capacity to reason: evolution and design. In this article, I will briefly explore these two positions.
It is often argued that evolution is a perfectly sound means of achieving the depth of reason that human beings have today. The argument coincides with the general premise of evolutionary advancement which claims that the fittest survive and continue to make progress. And therefore, reasoning is simply an evolutionary trait that effectuates progress and human flourishing.
People must be able to reason in order to make decisions that are conducive to their survival. This is self-evident and not up for debate. The theist and the atheist agree upon this point. The conflict arises when we begin to explore the origins of reason.
Those who boast that the evolutionary process is the best answer claim that there is no need for an intelligent Designer. But the theist sees a problem with this line of thinking. In fact, even the father of evolution himself saw the same problem. In an honest and sobering moment of reflection about what natural evolution ultimately suggested, Charles Darwin once wrote:
But then arises the doubt, can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions (Darwin, 443).
This lingering doubt is further expressed in a letter to a philosopher named William Graham:
But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? (To William Graham July 3 1881).
This has become known as Darwin’s Doubt and has profound implications for an evolutionary worldview. If one is to surmise that the origins of life did not require an intelligent Designer then the concept of reasoning must be questioned. Herein are a few problems worth considering.
How can people trust a mind that has been formed by random events with no purpose? If matter came from nothing, then matter thinks and feels nothing. But somehow, by nothing short of a miracle, the universe created itself and formed human beings who have the capacity to think and feel. Keep in mind that we as intelligent and self-aware agents are capable of doing what the universe cannot. We have transcended our maker, in other words, by having the capacity to understand the universe around us—something the universe itself cannot accomplish. Yet we cannot create something out of nothing even though some people desperately cling to the belief that such a thing is possible.
It seems to me that this is a philosophical position more so than a scientific position. And this philosophical position is grounded in contradictions that makes it untenable. The counter argument that an intelligent Designer created the orderly and reasonable world around us seems more plausible.
Animal Kingdom Reasoning
Why should we assume that reasoning is an evolutionary trait? The positive claim is circular reasoning. The premises are (1) evolutionary reason helps people survive and (2) mankind has survived for millions of years, so therefore we can trust evolutionary reasoning. The problem is that the two premises assume the validity of one another. But a close look at the animal kingdom explicitly reveals that extensive reasoning is not necessary for survival. This is why the slogan for evolution is “Survival of the fittest” and not “Survival of the most reasonable.”
It is true that wolves and lionesses will lure their prey and orchestrate the most opportune moment for a lethal strike. But most animals are actually utilizing their instincts instead of profound reasoning. Animals have a propensity to survive through information they have inherited in their genes i.e. animals are programmed with an intuition for a proper diet, procreation, migration patterns and so forth. On the other hand, human beings are the only species to show a singular and unparalleled capacity for reasoning. Insomuch that there are various and nuanced levels of reasoning that we often use to understand reality and the world around us:
- Abductive Reasoning: the process of creating explanatory hypotheses.
- Analogical Reasoning: relating things in the form of an analogy.
- Cause and Effect Reasoning: showing causes and the resulting effects.
- Comparative Reasoning: comparing one thing with another.
- Deductive Reasoning: starting from a general rule and moving to specifics.
- Inductive Reasoning: starting from specifics and moving to to a general rule.
- Systemic Reasoning: considering the whole as greater than the sum of its parts.
- Modal Logic: arguing about necessity and possibility.
- Traditional Logic: assuming that premises are correct.
This list is only a sampling of the various means and methods in which humans reason. Any reasoning accomplished in the animal kingdom is negligible in comparison. And yet we see that many animals have survived alongside humans for millennia. These animals seem to survive quite well without the depth of reasoning that we possess. It cannot even be stated that we as human beings survive in a more peaceful and enjoyable way due to reason. We have our own problems and wars despite this profound ability to think things through before acting. Not to mention that animals seem to be quite content with a simple life of ignorance.
Another problem for evolutionary reason seems to be how we as human beings are the only species to transcend into a state of self-awareness and logic. Today taxonomists boast that we have approximately 1.8 million known species on our little blue planet. Each year there are around 15,000 species reported. And if this is not enough to impress upon you the significance of life around us, consider that researchers have now calculated that there may be 1 trillion species in the world when factoring in the unclassified micro and macro species. Yet we are expected to believe that human beings are the sole species to transcend ignorance and reach the pinnacle of reasoning.
I find it difficult to believe that after millions of years of evolution, only one species has reached such a significant place in the animal kingdom. The very definition of miracle is something that transcends nature—it is something supernatural. Mankind is certainly a miraculous species that transcends the natural order and thereby points towards an intelligent Designer.
REASON FROM INTELLIGENT DESIGN
Now it is time to consider reasoning from a theistic perspective. But I must be fair and present the argument against intelligent design. Much like Darwin considered whether he could trust a mind that evolved from lower animals, theists must grapple with the notion that an all-powerful God could create minds to think and reason in a particular manner.
If God created mankind with a mind hardwired to love and believe in Him we would never be the wiser. We could assume that we have used logic and sought out the evidence for God, but it could merely be a delusion outside of our grasp like the madman who claims to be Napoleon Bonaparte and is fully convinced in his mind.
Earlier I wrote that trying to defend reason by reason is a circular argument that provides no answers. What I mean by this is that we cannot know for certain whether our minds have been compromised by evolution or creation. The only way to derive the truth from this dilemma is to follow the evidence to the most logical and self-evident conclusion. We do this every day when we make decisions without all the answers or data to insure that life goes on uninterrupted. We make the most rational conclusions possible and go on living. This is the same method the court systems use when jurors reach a consensus that is beyond a reasonable doubt.
Here I would like to spend some time presenting an accumulative case for the origin of human reasoning by intelligent design.
Free-will and Denial
Let us consider the implications behind the gift of free-will. Mankind has been blessed with the gift to think and make decisions on his or her own. The Scriptures reveal a loving God who wants people to come to Him on their own accord. When we consider this biblical description of God and His plan for humanity, free-will makes a persuasive case for reason being a reliable gift from God.
The first point that needs to be understood is that many people do not use their reasoning to accept Jesus Christ as their savior. If God truly was pulling the strings to make people think a particular way then we would expect everyone to bend a knee to God.
The second point is that the torture and sacrifice of Jesus Christ would have been futile and needless if God were simply manipulating the minds of people.
The third point is that if God were so willing to manipulate the minds of others, then He would have no reason to create life as we know it today. He could have simply created people to love Him in His heavenly Kingdom from the very beginning.
I Think Therefore I Am
In the seventeenth century, a philosopher by the name of René Descartes questioned whether he could know anything for certain. He surmised that it was possible that he could be completely delusional about reality, or something to the effect that a demon was manipulating his mind. And he was finally able to reconcile this doubt by a philosophical formation known as Cogito ergo sum. This is Latin for “I think, therefore I am.”
What Descartes came to understand is that the ability to question and doubt whether he could trust his mind, at the very least, proved that he had a mind and did exist. I find this important regarding our trust in God as the Giver of reason.
If people suspect that God may be deceiving them, then the so-called deception is not complete. The inability to completely deceive a person would further bring into question the omnipotence of God. But we should expect Him to have the power to control the minds of people if He were powerful enough to create life and reasoning in the first place. And so, it is with this that I believe the very means to question and doubt whether or not God has hardwired our minds is evident that He has done no such thing. Indeed, God has done quite the opposite by giving us free-will which is the foundation for reason.
Good and Moral Thoughts
It is worthwhile to consider the role reasoning plays in moral thoughts. Mankind is not a sterile species that is unconcerned with the well-being of others and the planet. Every day we are surrounded with situations where we must make moral decisions. It is like a proverbial crossroads where we calculate the pros and cons and moral ramifications for the choices we make.
Most people would agree that everyone makes moral decisions. But the question we must ask ourselves is how that is possible with an evolutionary origin for reason. Natural evolution has no need for a stringent moral code to ensure survival. It may be argued that a morally grounded society is an evolutionary necessity to foster progress. But from a naturalist perspective what we call morality is merely a genetic disposition to propagate the human species and survive.
Consider a man walking along a dirt road who hears a child yelling for help. He looks to the nearby lake and notices that the child is unable to swim and therefore drowning. Immediately two thoughts arise within himself: do I put my life at risk and save the child, or do I continue walking down the path to ensure my own safety? Now let us say that this man decides to put his life at risk to save the child’s life.
Richard Dawkins explains such a principle as “The selfish gene.” The essence of this argument is that people protect their communities to ensure human flourishing. But the very premise of this argument inadvertently destroys any notion of morality. The man who saves the child from drowning is doing so out of a selfish desire to pass on the genetic structure of his species. The child is not seen as a person of intrinsic worth, but merely a vehicle to propagate the species.
Admission to this naturalistic position gives license for stronger communities to overwhelm and takeover weaker communities. We see this take place in nature all the time. When resources become scarce or territory is threatened, one community will eliminate another and take what is theirs. If people are to be consistent with this position then there can be no argument against stronger countries killing off the citizens of weaker countries in order to ensure the progress of their own citizens.
Ethical morality, on the other hand, requires a person to put themselves at risk when they have nothing to gain. It requires people to do the right thing regardless of any advantage. It is selfless, and goes against any notions of survival of the fittest. The morally upright man saves the child because he values the child for the person they are, and if necessary, is willing to give up his life for theirs.
Morality in the sense that we understand it today is not compatible with a naturalistic worldview. If we are to champion the notion that human beings are moral creatures, then we must look beyond the natural order and towards a Creator who has made mankind in His image. It is only then that we can claim to have moral reasoning. We simply cannot subscribe to evolution as the origin of our reasoning if we claim to make moral decisions.
EVOLUTION OR INTELLIGENT DESIGN?
It is my opinion that there are too many problems with an unguided evolutionary worldview when it comes to explaining the origin of our human reasoning. If mankind has evolved without divine intervention then our intelligence has no positive trajectory and has evolved from unintelligent animals. It is much like the assertion that the universe was created out of nothing and for nothing.
How can I trust a mind that is born out of chaos? How can I trust a mind that is related to crude animals that do not seem to need such profound reasoning to survive? And why are human beings the only species capable of such thinking and logic when this planet abounds with a striking number of other species?
However, everything falls into place when I consider the argument for an intelligent Designer. I can trust my reasoning based on free-will, the ability to question, and how I observe people making diverse and contrasting decisions around me. I also know that mankind has great moral potential which is not possible in a naturalist worldview. It is for all these reasons that I suggest human reason derives from intelligent design.
Darwin, Charles, and Joseph Carroll. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selections. Broadview Texts, 2003.
To William Graham July 3 1881
3 thoughts on “The Origin of Reason”
There is a problem with Descartes’ argument that manifests after he comes up with his great epiphany, and its the same problem that Darwin was suffering from, I think.
First, Descartes says, ok, what if I’m deceived by an almighty deceiver, etc. Then he comes to the conclusion that he can know in spite of that that he exists, the great “I think, therefore I am.” From there he knows he must start his analysis of the world with his own existence, that being the only thing (right now) he can be sure of. He says he cannot yet be sure he has a body or that there is an external world, but only that he exists as a mind, as a “thinking thing”, because his questioning of all these things proves the existence of his mind. But then he instantly claims he cannot trust his mind without first finding his maker. AAAAAH! How did he come to this leap? If the only thing he can be sure of at this point is the existence of his mind, then he can only be sure he has a maker on the basis of his surety of his own mind’s ability to reason. So the idea that his reason’s competence is based on finding his maker first, is wrong. And the rest of his book proceeds from this error. Darwin makes a similar mistake, i.e. that he can only trust his reason if he first figures out where it came from. Honestly, who cares! That I can think is obvious, so I’m going to trust my thinking. It doesn’t really matter where my ability to reason came from. In fact, obviously, I have to trust my reason in my quest to find out where my reason came from! I don’t trust some notion of where my reason came from in my quest to figure out if I can trust my reason—it has to be the opposite. Otherwise, how can I be sure my reason comes from anywhere? How, in other words, would I know that I am not God, deceiving myself or dreaming? I have to trust my reason that I’m not.
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Thanks for your input. I am not arguing whether people have reason because that is a self-evident truth. The object of this article is to explore accusations by both theists and atheists about whether we can trust our reasoning according to our worldview.
Many Christians point out to atheists who propound a naturalistic worldview that Darwin questioned his theory of evolution because he could not trust a mind that evolved from lower animals. But I have heard the rebuttal that Christians cannot trust their reasoning since it is impossible to know whether or not God is making people think things such as “God is good.”
I merely wanted to address these notions because I believe there is more evidence to suggest that God has not forced people to think a certain way but has created autonomous human beings.
It may not be a dilemma or question for some people, but I do believe it is something to which some people need answers.
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Its not a delima for me because I reject Calvinism with its silly theology that the fall has destroyed our reason and it cannot become operative again without a magic zapping from God. I read Genesis 3 and found my understanding of Genesis 3 on Genesis 3, not on Augustine or Calvin. The consequences of the fall are plainly listed there: mortality, i.e. physical death, increased difficulty in agriculture, pain in childbirth. Nothing about a diminished reasoning capability, nor total inability, nor total depravity, nor even “Adam, all thy descendants shall be born damned.” Nay. As Pelagius points out in his commentary on Romans 4 (it is available in English) the soul is a new creation of God at the point of conception, and therefore inherits nothing from Adam because it is not derived from Adam, whereas the body, being derived from Adam, inherits physical death. Since I believe that, I don’t have the problem Calvinists present in their attempt to make atheists unconvertable, which is what they’re doing when arguing “nah nah nah boo boo you have no reason because God didn’t magically zap you.” Atheists have reason, they just are refusing to use it in certain areas. Rather than tell them they don’t have it, we should try to get them to use it.
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