Can We Use Reason to Understand God?

Many times in conversations with Christians, I have heard the claim that God cannot be understood using reason. Some Christians will bring up the doctrine of the Trinity as an objection to using reason to understand God, seemingly admitting that the doctrine is not rational. The reason usually given is that God is beyond reason and that by attempting to use reason to understand Him, we are putting God in a box. Furthermore, a Christian may even claim that one is arrogant for attempting to understand God using reason. However, I disagree with this sentiment and believe that we can use reason in our pursuit of God.


In a sense, yes, God is beyond reason. God is infinite, and hence, cannot be fully understood by finite creatures. Nevertheless, we must ask, then: what is the source of reason? The answer that I suspect most Christians will give is that reason comes from God. This is true. 

Reason may be considered arbitrary, although it is applied to concrete things. We must ask, then, whether reason is also subjective. It would seem that if reason is purely human, it is subjective and cannot be used in the pursuit for discovering objective reality. Now, reason is simply the way by which we understand things using our intellect. With that said, reason is nearly unavoidable in any context. The question of concern is whether the reason being used is good reasoning or bad reasoning. 

What is meant, however, by the statement that reason comes from God is that the principles of logic according to which good reasoning operates is from God.  Now, logic is certainly discovered rather than invented by humans. Otherwise, mathematics itself would be subjective, since mathematics may be thought of as logic applied to quantities and numerical values. Logic is simply the way by which things function and by which things are defined. For example, something cannot be both possible and impossible at the same time and in the same sense, since that which is possible is by definition not impossible and that which is impossible is by definition not possible.

Since logic is discovered, it must have an ultimate source external to humans. Now, logic cannot find its source in nature, since nature is material and concrete, yet logic is immaterial and arbitrary. Thus, logic must find its source in a mind, since that which is arbitrary comes from a mind. Now, logic, as already discussed, cannot come purely from human minds, since it is not a human invention. However, it cannot come from any other contingent mind either, for a contingent mind is subject to other causes. Therefore, logic must come from the mind of a necessary being, that is, God. If logic comes from the mind of God, then in that sense, God is beyond logic and consequently beyond reason insofar that by reason it is really meant the principles of logic according to which good reasoning operates.


With all of that said, God’s essence cannot be contrary to logic, since logic comes from God. If logic comes from the mind of God, then God would be contrary to Himself if His own essence is not logical. Thus, God’s nature cannot be logically contradictory. However, a qualification should be made here. There is a difference between that which is logically contradictory and logically incoherent and that which is logically incomprehensible. Something can be true yet logically incomprehensible, but nothing can be true and logically contradictory or logically incoherent. 


The claim that is essentially made by Trinitarians is that God’s essence cannot be understood through logic since He is beyond logic. However, the consequence of this thinking is that God’s essence can be contrary to logic. This results in odd conversations, since a Christian may at first admit that the doctrine is, in fact, not contrary to logic, but then after further conversation will say that God is beyond reason anyway. In other words, it is as if they make their positions unfalsifiable if they are presented with an argument that clearly demonstrates the logical contradiction of the Trinity. Really, this is a show of dishonest discussion. They make the claim that the Trinity is not illogical but then claim that it does not matter whether the Trinity is logical or not since God is beyond reason. Thus, these discussions will often prove to be fruitless. 


It is evident that reason can be used to understand God’s nature, although only to a limited extent. It can be used to check for logical coherence in our understanding of God and to ensure that our understanding of Him does not produce any logical contradiction, since logic comes from God. However, we should also not be presumptuous in thinking that we can know every aspect of God’s nature through reason, since our minds are finite and incapable of understanding the great magnitude of who God is. There are times when it must be admitted that, although something may not be logically contradictory or logically incoherent, it may still be logically incomprehensible, at least for now.

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