By Ben Swift
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)
In 1988, Australian pop singer John Farnham, released his hit song titled, ‘The Age of Reason’, in which the lyrics challenge us to consider carefully the options put before us, making use of the wisdom waiting for us. While that all sounds inspiring, particularly when backed by the band’s recording, the actual ‘Age of Reason’ occurred well before Farnham and his blonde mullet. According to allabouthistory.org, ‘The Age of Reason’ was an eighteenth century movement which acknowledged a new birth in the way man viewed himself, the pursuit of knowledge, and the universe. It came at a time in history where the fear of being labelled a heretic and being burned alive at the stake for having new questions, ideas and opinions, had become a thing of the past. It was in this period of history that man began to place his intellect on a pedestal, embracing an exaggerated perception of the perfection of humanity based on reason and clear thinking.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the flow on effect of the Age of Reason to the present day thinking of atheists and humanists as they spread their reasoning for the so called ‘death of God’. There’s even a book now available for purchase called, ‘The Good Book’ by A.C. Grayling, published in 2011, with the subtitle, ‘A Humanist Bible’.
But just how reasonable are human beings? Are human beings even capable of true reason, or is their ability to reason with others always tainted by their own view of the world, based on their personal experience, worldview and desire for a particular version of truth?
A few years ago, I recall having a conversation with some friends about a miniature railway that I used to drive past as a child. Another person involved in the conversation felt the need tell me straight out in front of everyone else, that he knew everything about the suburb that I mentioned the train to be in and that it never in fact existed. I found his comment not only rude but interesting because I had driven past the train for years and was pretty sure I wasn’t under the influence of magic mushrooms at the time. I even drove my wife past the train to show her that I wasn’t hallucinating. It’s amazing how a cocktail of life experience, closed mindedness and a pinch of arrogance can shape a person’s ability to listen to reason about topics that challenge previously entrenched understandings and perceptions.
When it comes to humanity’s ability to reason, well-respected Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, suggests that ‘our intellect is not intended to be an end in itself, but only a means to the very mind of God’.
The question that follows therefore is, “Does Christianity and its understanding of God, stand tall when subject to questions of reason?”
Throughout history there have been several well-reasoned arguments for the existence of God. Cosmological arguments that revolve around the need for an intelligent creator, the mind and energy behind the Big Bang and thus the birth of the universe have been discussed extensively. Moral arguments have been put forward suggesting that humanity’s sense of right and wrong must originate from an ultimate source of morality being God. While these well-reasoned arguments can be beneficial to Christian believers in deepening their personal faith, they have not and remain unable to provide reasonable proof beyond any doubt for the existence of the Christian God.
This should come as no surprise to believers as Scripture plainly explains that without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will not understand the truth about God.
This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:13-14)
Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, physicist and religious thinker in the 1600’s, put human reason and faith into a well-balanced perspective. Pascal suggested that it is a mistake to trust in reason alone, but also to despise reason and what it has to offer. In other words, he denounced the idea of making man ‘the measure of all things’, while at the same time confronting thinkers who became ignorant of human nature and reflection. Faith, believed Pascal, transcends reason as it flows from the heart and the heart has its reasons, which reason knows nothing of. (Marguerite Baude)
For the theologian Martin Luther, the issue concerning reason is about conceptualizing the right way to interact with knowledge. Whoever has let himself become a fool because of the message of the cross does not seek to discover the nature of his existence through philosophical reasoning. He has been set free from that type of thinking. (Oswald Bayer)
The question of whether Christianity can stand tall in the face of reason will never be answered with a resounding, “Yes!” For if reason alone could explain the reality of God, then faith would become obsolete. The good news for the Christian however, is that by the ongoing, transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to understand the reasonableness of our faith. Louis Berkhof expresses this well in the following passage:
‘The Christian accepts the truth of the existence of God by faith. But this faith is not a blind faith, but a faith that is based on evidence, and the evidence is found primarily in Scripture as the inspired Word of God, and secondarily in God’s revelation in nature. Scriptural proof on this point does not come to us in the form of an explicit declaration, and much less in the form of a logical argument.’
And so we arrive at the point of understanding that the God given gift of faith, provides us with the only means of truly comprehending God’s truth. That is the truth about His existence, His nature and His revelation and plan for His people. Let us therefore, seek to use our intellect in a way that is spiritually driven, as we seek to know what God reveals to us, foolishness in the realm of humanistic reason.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)