Do Christians and Atheists View Reason differently? [Part 2 of 3]

In the first part–Do Christians and Atheists view Reason differently?–I introduced the question and tackled the perspective of one particular atheist, my stepfather, John. He would not only call himself an atheist, but more particularly a follower of Ayn Rand, who said, “I want to be known as the greatest champion of reason and the greatest enemy of religion.”

John believes what Ayn Rand said about knowledge, that to know anything, an individual must use his mind, not emotion or intuition or, certainly, not Faith. “Reason is the only way,” he says. “Since Aristotle, there has not been a stronger advocate of Reason than Ayn Rand.” Her philosophy is comprehensive, a testimony to her own Reason. Her logical arguments are tight and thorough.Dad and John agree on the primacy of Reason; yet they begin at different places to get there because of their presuppositions. John’s first principle is that “the universe is everything that exists, all there is.” He means the natural—not the supernatural—universe, because the Objectivist does not recognize anything ethereal or immaterial in the supernatural sense. “Yes, emotions are ethereal,” he said, “but emotions exist apart from anything supernatural.” As an example, angels are supernatural by definition. They don’t exist. Thinking is the opposite of going through life without asking questions. Ayn Rand’s description of not thinking is “not using our mind to reason, to survive, to create for ourselves what we need to thrive.” It follows that a “true Objectivist” accepts no conclusion at face value, even if it comes from Rand herself. He wrestles through, thinks through, each one. Now, John is my poster boy for Objectivism; and regardless if her critics caricature Rand’s followers as cultists, John gives them no reason to. On the contrary, he does not blindly follow her dictates as some sacred doctrine. That would be to negate the very process she advocates through her philosophy. Instead, as an individual guided by Reason, he asks questions about the derivation and application of Rand’s conclusions. Moreover, it’s not enough to “think right.” Ultimately, we want to live right. That requires living in accordance with right thinking.If Reason is all there is, if the rational is primal, then what is Reason? What is it for, and how does it work?

Rationality is the recognition of the fact that existence exists, that nothing can alter the truth and nothing can take precedence over … thinking—that the mind is one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide of action—that reason is an absolute that permits no compromise… the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind. — John Galt (see For the New Intellectual, p 128)

Reason suits the natural world. For the Objectivist, the natural world is all there is, so Reason is all we need. The abruptness of that statement is meant to reflect the very clear conviction of an atheist. But that’s not the end of the discussion; it’s just the beginning. In the last part of this three-part post, we’ll introduce the a Christian perspective on Reason that comes from Dad.

What aspects of the atheist perspective on Reason resonate with you? How do Christians think about Reason?

Other posts in this series:

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2 thoughts on “Do Christians and Atheists View Reason differently? [Part 2 of 3]

  1. This seems more like an exploration of different epistemologies than a question of how people actually reason. Also, I cringe at the apparent use of Objectivism as proxy for atheism. cultists or not, they are certainly not representative.

    • I agree, this is about epistemology and there are several additional tracks to take. On Objectivism as a proxy for atheism, you’re right again. I’m admittedly a single voice. My stepfather describes himself using both terms, depending on what he wants to emphasize. Thanks for your thoughts.

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