The Prison of Reason

Couple on Bench

The world has a soul. Not in the theologically specific way that a human has a soul. But in the way that two lovers sitting on a park bench does. It simply can’t be comprehensively measured and explained by science alone. There is more to it than just the empirically physical. Love. Justice. Goodness. Beauty. Where science sees nothing, we see life – and all the best parts of it.

Unfortunately, the increasingly popular approach to finding truth in our modern, “free thinking” culture is one based solely on natural science. Forget philosophy and theology (complementary – not contradictory – approaches to discovering the same truth). We refuse to believe in anything we can’t quantify in a laboratory. It’s a religion known as Scientism (even if many who practice it wouldn’t identify it as such).

Scientism is self-defeating (as the very premise that all rational knowledge is only found in the natural sciences is itself not able to be proven scientifically). It’s also unnecessarily limiting, imposing an absolute (and impractical) requirement of rational understanding before belief. It’s a self-imposed “prison of reason.” So our belief and our embracing of life become squashed – completely limited by our capacity to reason. A dreadful, ultimately maddening outlook for finite, limited beings such as ourselves. And it makes us no fun, too.

That doesn’t mean our beliefs can’t be reasoned. And it doesn’t mean that our reason doesn’t play a key role in our understanding and belief in God. It does. But so does Faith.

And it’s important to also note that not requiring absolute rational understanding of something before believing it doesn’t make a person un-reasonable. And it doesn’t make the particular belief un-reasonable either. It doesn’t mean being un-reasonable at all. It means going on an amazing adventure beyond your own reason. It just means believing in something bigger than yourself. Bigger than your own limits. It’s getting your head into the heavens without having to fit the heavens into your head.

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. [...]

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits. – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

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8 comments Add comment

Bert McCollum August 9, 2011 at 1:06 pm

There should be no conflict between science and religion. To ask which is better at finding “truth” is an empty exercise. The simple fact is they are concerned with different aspects of reality. Science attempts to explain how things occur, religion attempts to explain why. Both questions are valid and should be regarded as complimentary not conflicting. Bert

Christopher August 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Great post Matt!

I also thought that “great minds think alike” after reading it since I was also lead to write on the relationship between faith and reason today.

Take care!

Matthew Warner August 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Good stuff, Chris! Pope Benedict has so much good stuff to say on this topic (and many others). I wish more people would really listen to him.

Matt F August 10, 2011 at 6:25 am

Science as you suggest, is a tool to enable our understanding. By itself the picture is only black and white in a sense. The vibrancy, the feel, and the nuance and our very perception (which includes the present, as well as experiences of the past, imagination and spirit of course) is much more than this. It is a wonderful world that God hath wrought.

John Carswell August 12, 2011 at 10:33 am

That’s a great Chesterton quote, especially the last part. Sort of reminds me of Jesus’ words about placing new wine into old wineskins.

I think there is something to the notion that reason only gets you so far as well. At some point, faith is necessary to know the divine as anything other than the first cause. To attempt to reason through the shape of heaven is perhaps to drive yourself mad.

It would seem that reason only gives us the structure of knowledge, but that faith gives us the flesh.

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