The Argument from Reason to God

UnknownNaturalism is the view that there are no supernatural beings. The natural world is causally closed: there is nothing outside the box, nothing transcendent, nothing that impinges on the world from beyond. Thus, the basic level of analysis is physics: all reality, at rock bottom is captured by tiny bits of matter (quarks? strings?) that are properly understood by the discipline of physics. On this picture, a deep puzzle—conflict even—arises: how is it that our world is intelligible, if man is just a product of chance and necessity? Whence reason?

As C. S. Lewis put it in his book Miracles:

Thus a strict materialism refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true . .  . and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.” (Possible Worlds, p. 209) . . . [Naturalism] discredits our processes of reasoning or at least reduces their credit to such a humble level that it can no longer support Naturalism itself.[1]

Lewis is noting a deep conflict between naturalism and the reality of reason. On the other hand, on theism, reason and intelligence are a natural fit: A rational God exists and part of what it means to be created in the image of this rational God is to possess intelligence. Thus, an argument from Reason to God could be formulated as follows:

(1) If the natural world is intelligible, then God exists.

(2) The natural world is intelligible.

(3) Therefore, God exists.

I take premise (2) as obvious. For the world to be intelligible, a thing known and a knower are required. We (a knower) could not send a rocket (a thing) to the moon (a thing) or heal sickness (a thing) without some understanding of how the natural world works. It seems that our beliefs about the world correspond, to a high degree, to the way the world is.  Hence, the natural world is intelligible.[2]

To argue that premise (1) is false on that grounds that we can give an evolutionary account of the fact that the world is intelligible won’t help for at least two reasons. First, man understands far more about the world that what is required for survival. As John Polkinghorne puts it, “it seems incredible that, say, Einstein’s ability to conceive of the General Theory of Relativity was just a spin-off from the struggle for survival. What survival value does such an ability possess?”[3] The answer is “none.” Second, if naturalism and blind evolution are granted, then as Lewis noted in his book Miracles, and as Alvin Plantinga has more recently (and sophisticatedly) argued,[4] we have no reason to think evolution or naturalism true. Evolution selects for survival, not for truth. Thus, if we are the product of blind evolution in a naturalistic universe, we are not justified in thinking evolution, naturalism, or any of our beliefs true.

Reason itself points to a reality “outside the box.” The world is ontological haunted. As Lewis puts it, reason is “older that Nature.”[5] But, “to admit a cosmic mind is to admit a God outside nature, a transcendent and supernatural God.”[6]

This is the argument from reason to God. For a nice summary of the argument from reason by Lewis, see this video:



[1] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Touchstone, 1975), 24.

[2] The intelligibility of the world entails a host of phenomena unique to man that are hard to fit within the naturalistic story: the reality of intentionality (the “aboutness” or “ofness” of our mental life), truth, rational inference, mental causation, the unity of consciousness, the laws of logic, and the reliability of our rational faculties. For a good discussion of each of these phenomena, see Victor Reppert, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), chap. 4.

[3] John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006 ed.), 29–30.

[4] See e.g., Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), chap. 10.

[5] Lewis, Miracles, 34.

[6] Ibid., 43.

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