The Argument From Reason

by Glenn Smith

Naturalism is the view that all of life, indeed everything that exists, can be explained by physical and chemical causes. Such a view also results in every event being caused by a prior physical and chemical cause, to the extent that the universe is causally closed, which means that there are no new causes arising that are not caused themselves. Thus in naturalism, human agency is denied, and no human can originate any action or thought. Naturalists therefore hold that all human action is determined, we cannot but help believe, think, emote, and like what we like, for all our thoughts, emotions, and deeds are determined by prior causes.

Non-philosophical naturalists, such as some in the physical sciences, have not thought through the implications of this. With one breath they will hold to pure naturalism, then with another try to maintain that we can make moral choices and have free will. Naturalists who have thought through the philosophical consequences to their belief system will deny free will and moral responsibility.

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Theists in general, and Christians in particular, by contrast hold that there are causes in the universe that are not derived from physics and chemistry, but can be attributed to human souls and to God. If we can demonstrate that naturalism is false, then non-naturalism must be true, and the Christian position is supported.

Enter the argument from reason. To the naturalist, all thought is brain function, and all brain function is ultimately reduced to predetermined chemistry. The problem with this is that if our thoughts are all the result of natural forces, then reason is either entirely illusion, or is redefined to be predetermined processes. If naturalism were true, we would be no more free to reason to a different conclusion than vinegar and baking soda would have the freedom to react differently on my kitchen counter. All human reason, including perception of the world around us, would be reduced to physical forces of which we have no control.

In the excellent anthology True Reason (Gilson & Weitnauer, eds.), Lenny Esposito gives a powerful explanation and critique of naturalism. Esposito explains…

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