The argument from reason

Hi friends,

Have you heard of the argument from reason?

One version of it is an argument for the best explanation.

Generally, there is agreement that humans have the ability to engage in logical reasoning, abstract thought, and the apprehension of truth.

If you’re talking to someone who denies the existence or the validity of rationality, then, of course, providing them with an argument may not be the best course of action. By the same token, of course, they cannot claim to be in an intellectually superior position to Christianity.

Here are a few aspects of rationality and a brief comparison of whether theism or naturalism better explains each component of rationality.

  • Origin of Rationality:

What better explains the emergence of complex rational faculties:

Non-rational processes or the gift of an all-knowing God?

  • Reliability of Thought:

Why are our cognitive faculties reliable for truth-seeking:

The constant pressure to survive and reproduce or God designed our minds to know the truth?

  • Existence of Abstract Entities:

What better accounts for logical laws, mathematics, and other abstract entities:

A random, purposeless universe or a creative, intelligent Mind?

  • Apprehension of Abstract Entities:

How do we apprehend truths like logical laws, mathematics, and other abstract entities:

Physical neurons can access immaterial realities or we are made in the image of a transcendent God who eternally knows all truth?

  • Intentionality:

How do we explain the “aboutness” of thoughts:

Chemical interactions in the brain or God enabled us to imitate God’s capacity to think about something else?

  • Objective Morality:

What is the source of objective moral truths:

Social constructs and evolutionary pressures or a good God who provides moral guidance?

  • Unity of Truth:

Why can different kinds of truths (scientific, moral, logical) coexist and be unified:

Chaotic, disparate processes or an ultimate, transcendent source of truth?

  • Unity of Conceptualization:

How can I unify disparate thoughts into a logical order:

Disparate neurological processes or a mind that can understand multiple ideas?

  • Free Will:

What accounts for the genuinely free choices essential for rational deliberation:

Deterministic, physical laws that govern every event in our brains or a non-deterministic universe in which God creates persons with the capacity to make choices?

  • Purpose and Value:

Why does rationality operate under the assumption that life and truth have purpose:

A byproduct of evolution or a recognition of God’s purposes?

  • Cosmic Rationality:

Why is the universe intelligible and mathematically structured:

Coincidence and random chance or a rational Creator?

What would you add to this list? How do you evaluate the argument from reason?


These are interesting! I can’t add anything as yet, but I wondered whether you’ve ever had the opportunity to discuss some of these with people from the naturalism viewpoint and whether they had any responses to these?

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Hi @alison,

Yes, I often discussed these points with students in campus ministry.

It was often a fun and helpful conversation for them. In the context of a university, it’s rare to find someone who denies that reason exists or that it is valuable. So it was common ground with almost anyone I met.

What I found most often is that people had assumed free will, morality, purpose, the existence of their minds, and their ability to reason.

And, as smart, educated, cosmopolitan individuals, they were atheists, or at the very least, not Christians.

Further, if anyone denied reason, it was Christians: the Bible is God’s word, Jesus rose from the dead, miracles happen, and God answers prayer. It’s absurdity after absurdity.

So it was difficult, at first, for them to see why there might be any clash between their naturalistic commitments and their commitment to reason.

More perplexing, it was strange that it was a Christian who was advocating that reason is real, important, and invaluable to how we form our beliefs.

In part, it was a philosophical discussion, but it was more about honestly imagining the world from different perspectives.

For instance, I would say, “Take this table. What happens to it is causally determined by the laws of nature and the physical capacities of its constituent elements?”

The answer was always, “Yes, of course.”

Then I’d ask, “Ok, so is that same basic analysis true of your brain, and of my brain?”

That was more uncomfortable, but what could be said?

“Yes, the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology determine what happens in my brain, given its particular physical constitution.”

Ok. Then I might ask, “Then, how can we explain the laws of logic, or the causal power of an inference to the best explanation, affecting what happens in your neurons? Everything is already fully explained by reference to physical entities.”

In some cases, students withdrew from the conversation. But in others, it led them to reconsider their starting point, and to have further conversations that led them to theism, and in a few cases, to follow Jesus.


That’s great, it sounds like a really thought-provoking conversation that you held with various students.

I’ve shared my faith recently with someone, and I presented it from a rational viewpoint instead of talking about supernatural things. I didn’t go into the detail that you’ve presented, and I never presented particular arguments from reason. It was more that my testimony included the fact that I was willing to consider various viewpoints, and that I’d approached Christianity from a place of thought and reason. I think this impacted my listener and as a result was more willing to consider that Christianity had a right to be seen as a compelling answer to the questions of life. I think it’s really important to show people that rational thinking is part of the Christian life, because Christians (or theists) are often perceived to leave their brain at the door!