Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Is Reason Sufficient?

It has been said that to claim “reason is insufficient” would be self defeating because it is by reason that such a conclusion is arrived at. Such a statement, aside from seeming too confident in reason, seems inaccurate due to the fact that reason is quite simply the most dependent function of the human mind. One may read the previous statement and think to themselves, “Well how can you say such a thing and even trust it?” I would respond by pointing out that reasoning must of necessity have input to even function on the minutest level. Without information, reason is just an engine without gas.

Picture a child sitting in a bare room with nothing inside. The child observes his/her surroundings and takes in information. Based on this information the child can decide to move, sit still, lie down, etc. Like gas in an engine, this enables reason to function. Apart from information intake the child would not be able to reason about anything. “I can think. I can see. Can I move? I can. I will move over here.” Without knowing that movement is possible or that observation is the means by which the brain takes in information, reason would be at a stand still.

One might conclude from the above argument that a person’s reason is only as good as the information it receives. If the same young child was shown videos of little children jumping off buildings and slowly floating to safety, he/she might reason incorrectly about what would happen if they were to jump from a high location. So the real question is not about the sufficiency of reason, but the reliability of the information received through observation. Someone might say, “We conclude what is right and wrong by reasoning with our minds.” After stating this you must show what information influenced your reason to come to such a conclusion. You must also prove that this information is reliable. Essentially, you have reasoned that reason is how you determine right from wrong. What influenced your reason to reason that reason is reliable? Is the information that has been observed trustworthy? What makes it trustworthy? Have we simply reasoned that the information is trustworthy? If so, what information lead us to reason that information itself is trustworthy? It seems a tad circular does it not? You reach a point when, with reason stripped down, it is seen as insufficient due to its dependent nature.

At this point one might ask, “How can you even trust your current argument if reason is insufficient?” My response is that everyone takes a leap of faith when trusting his or her reason. There is no irrefutable concrete evidence that reason is trustworthy. Even if there were hard evidence for the trustworthiness of reason, it would be by reason that we judge and examine said evidence. One must reach a point where a leap of faith is taken, and a large amount of trust is placed in reason. It is dishonest to claim that no leap of faith is made when trust is placed in reason. Concluding that the faith of a Christian is no more of a leap than that of an atheist who trusts his or her reason.

So the question remains: Is reason sufficient? The gas and engine analogy seems to function well to answer this in a short and simplistic way. An engine cannot run on its own just like reason cannot function without information. An engine will only run as well as the gas put into it just like reason will only function as well as the information plugged into it. It would obviously be easier to see whether or not the best gas was used in the engine by observing how well it ran. It would prove a tad more challenging to see whether or not the best information was plugged into a person’s reason. Pragmatism is not a conclusive way to solve this problem. Thus concluding that reason is not solely sufficient, but highly dependent. Forcing strong skepticism on the anti-faith crowd that places so much confidence in reason and ridicules faith with such derision. Ironically it is faith that they place so blindly in reason’s sufficiency in spite of the absence of any hard evidence, the very thing people of faith are commonly labeled with: blind faith with no evidence.