Reason’s Rigors and Revelations

Editor’s note: This article is part four of a five-part series, Truth in Modern Times.

Reason is an intangible reality that defies our modern ideas about how we can know.  It defies our assertions and assumptions about science as our solitary source for certainty, for truth of any and every kind.  It even defies the scientific method across every stage of its conceptual framework and sequence, across its every use and application and even across its conclusions and its many extrapolations.  It even defies the many implicit implications of science’s limitations to things of the physical world.

To make matters even more startling to the modern mind, at the same time science’s limitations and its dependency on reason comes to light, philosophy is given new life and vigor.  For this new life comes to a field long thought destroyed by the rise of modernity and its exclusive emphasis on science or dormant in the face of science’s apparent dominance.  

Now, these claims may seem too severe, too exaggerated to you.  Surely science’s dominance is not so exaggerated.  But is it?  Think of the two words: “science,” then “philosophy.”  Think about how our common cultural understandings and assumptions attributes power, validity and truth to science.  Using the word “science” is an implicit appeal to authority, power, truth.

On the other hand, think of the word “philosophy.” “Philosophy” conjures up ideas about beliefs and self-justification, a product of hope and aspirations, a matter of mere opinion and belief no matter how persuasive or subtle.  “Philosophy” is almost a universally accepted synonym for opinion in our modern times.

So, is science all it is purported to be?  And, is philosophy merely a matter of persuasive rhetoric, a matter of speculative justification, whose certainty pales when compared with the power and the breadth and depth of scientific inquiry and truth?  Well, in our modern world, science is certainty, truth, “the” sole source of matters of fact.  But, “philosophy” is merely opinion, despite how many others agree with any idea, any proposition, any truth claim. 

But, once the rigors of science reveal the crucial role of and the requisite reliance on the rigors of reason, then science’s power and dominance seem more attributable to reason’s order and power. For science is merely the rigorous use of reason applied to the physical world. And, to make matters worse for science, you quickly can discern how science is impotent and impossible without reason.  For science depends on reason, logic, rational order. But reason, on its own, is where the true power lies, as mathematics tells us so clearly. 

And, a brief example can clearly demonstrate the primacy and efficacy of reason.  Suppose you were inclined to make the case for science’s primacy, how could this case be made?  Well, you could point out all of science’s many triumphs.  But that doesn’t prove the exclusive nature of science as the sole source of truth.  It just portrays its many discrete truths about the physical world.

To demonstrate that science is the sole source of truth is a case that can only be made with reason, logic, deduction.  You could only make this case with reason, not with cumulative evidence of scientific truths.  And so, to prove the primacy of science you must use reason.  You must use philosophical deduction.  And that is a fatal and final contradiction.  One that is inescapable.   And, one that is definitive about reason’s primacy, power, dominance, despite our modern predilections to the contrary.

For the case for science’s primary and exclusive method to discover truth cannot be made with science.  It could only be made with reason, not with science.  For such an argument, such a case is only possible with reason, with deductive and inductive logic.  And, that reliance on reason’s rigors and rules contradicts the primary premise that science is the sole source of factual and actual truth. 

So, if you point to the extensive body of scientific knowledge and, by implication, conclude that science is the only path to truth that implication is an appeal to reason and logic.  An appeal based on the broad body of scientific knowledge as logical proof of science’s dominance and exclusivity when it comes to truth.  But, that logical appeal isn’t to science.  It’s an appeal to reason and its rigorous rational requirements.

For the idea and appeal that this vast body of scientific knowledge is the only path to truth is a scientifically meaningless assertion.  For this assertion cannot be assessed or tested scientifically.  It can only be considered and analyzed in the light of reason’s rigors.  Does it make sense to examine this claim experimentally?  Well, the answer is a resounding “no.”  The only way to make that case is with reason. 

So, we now know science is replete with reason.  Science is a composite method that uses reason and rational observation of physical phenomenon.  We know with absolute certainty that science is really the application and use of reason’s rigors and rational and accurate observations of the physical world in order to determine the nature and behavior of the physical world.  And, all that has given the modern world distinct advantages from our many scientific advances both pure and applied.

But, the presence of this observed order and our capacity for knowing all this, is only possible because of the intangible order of reason, logic and rationality that we possess and that is manifest in the physical world.  So, knowing anything is a matter of the order and proper use of reason be it science or mathematics or philosophy.

And, that intangible rational rigor and order needs an explanation, regardless of whether it is used in science and technology or in matters of philosophy.  And, the presence of reason’s rigors and its proper use needs an explanation, just as we need an explanation for the ubiquitous, intangible order we observe every day and the rationality we use constantly and implicitly every day. 

And, this rational presence and use points ultimately to its origin.  Where did this intangible mental, rational order come from?  How did reason’s rigors and order come into existence?  And, what or who caused it?  And, how do our brains have these rational capacities?  And, which came first the order of reason or the physical neural structure and function of the brain? 

Reason, its nature and its rigor, its power and its utility must be explained.  And, reason, and even science, compel this need for explanation.  For this explanatory compulsion is inherent to our human condition and curiosity, our natural need and desire to know, to understand, to explain such a fundamental aspect of our existence and the existence of the cosmos, as well as its physical and mental order. 

Just as human existence and our innate curiosity compels science to trace the order and origin of the universe, so too with reason, its order and its origin.  Where does this intangible and ubiquitous mental order come from and how could such order be innate, yet learnable?  How could humanity have the capacity for it?  How much do we inherit and how much do we develop over our lifetime? 

For we have to have the capacity for reason.  And, reason must exist as an intangible order, a knowable order to which we can appeal and through which we can prove both tangible and intangible truths.  For reason is a form and a capacity, an order and power for proving truth, scientific truth, mathematical truth, philosophical truth and even routine rational and relational truth. 

And reason is also a way to prove revelatory truth and the truth of its Source.  That is why the philosophical domain of “natural theology” and “revealed theology” are harmonic and it is why many such harmonic truths may be proven employing both reason and revelation and, where appropriate reason, revelation and science become mutually harmonic and certain. 

And, all that is why we may believe.  For our faith is not a blind faith or a desired hope.  For our faith is our rational response to these facts.  And, these facts are what makes our hope a natural and rational response to these facts, these truths.   These rational facts promote and compel, necessitate and require our willful faith, just as science and mathematics do.  Such is the very nature of truth, truth of every kind and type, and most particularly to the facts of our faith.  A faith of fact, not just mere belief. 

And, all these facts and the innate profundity inherent to such primary and penetrating principles compel our assent, our belief, our trust.  They are the grounding for our daily experience and for our ultimate purpose and destination – our love for God, our trust in His truth and our response to God. 

A God who is there.  A God who is real and knowable.  A God who exists and is experienced by us.  A God who is active and intimate with us.  A God who we can know, experience and love in space and time.  A God we can count on and trust just as we do in science. 

For He is there and He is not silent.  And, He reveals the truth in reason and through reason just as He does through science and His more direct revelation in the Holy Scriptures.  And, more particularly through His presence in history in the person of Jesus the Christ. 

Photo by Tono Graphy on Unsplash

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Mr. Cronin has studied on a graduate level in education at Harvard University and at the University of Connecticut, in leadership at Columbia University and in theology at Regent University and Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He also writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and appeared on EWTN’s The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi following his 2007 reversion to the Catholic faith from atheism and evangelical Protestantism.

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