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So far, in this series of essays about Natural Theology—which provides proofs for the existence of a Supreme Being based on reason and experience rather than religious revelation—we’ve discussed everything except what philosophers call the argument from reason. I thought I’d save that one for last.

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

The argument from reason originally came from the late 19th and early 20th Century work of British philosophers and authors Arthur Balfour and G. K. Chesterton; but probably the best-known formulation of this particular proof of God comes from C. S. Lewis, the Christian author and thinker. Lewis maintained that the naturalist philosophers—those who believe nothing exists outside of nature itself—actually contradict and refute their own philosophy. Here’s how the argument from reason goes:

  • Naturalist philosophers say nature is all that exists—that nothing exists beyond the physical

  • If that view is true, then no belief in anything beyond nature is rational

  • But naturalism itself should be subject to the same rule—it has to be rational to be true

  • So naturalism contradicts itself, and cannot be true.

According to Lewis, reason itself relies on rational insight into logic or evidence–which goes beyond anything in the tangible, natural world:

One absolutely central inconsistency ruins [the naturalistic worldview]…. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears… unless Reason is an absolute–all is in ruins. – “Is Theology Poetry?”

In some ways, the argument from reason takes two very different viewpoints—either the naturalistic one or one that accepts the possibility of the supernatural—and uses the mechanism of reason itself to demonstrate that a naturalistic viewpoint cannot possibly encompass everything that exists.

The Baha’i teachings take that point a step further. In fact, in several places Abdu’l-Baha even uses a modicum of bemused humor to talk about the limitations of a naturalistic world view:

It is no proof of intelligence to reject everything which does not strike the senses. Nay, rather, such a one is brother to the animal. The cow has no idea of God; she does not know the soul. So the only difference between her highness the cow and a materialistic philosopher is that the latter takes a great deal of trouble! It is not a special or exclusive privilege to be the prisoner of one’s senses; the cow is the example of this theory.

Man has a sacred power beyond the confines of the senses. The power of the rational mind is the power of the soul over the senses. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 94-95.

If it be claimed that the intellectual reality of man belongs to the world of nature — that it is a part of the whole — we ask is it possible for the part to contain virtues which the whole does not possess? For instance, is it possible for the drop to contain virtues of which the aggregate body of the sea is deprived? Is it possible for a leaf to be imbued with virtues which are lacking in the whole tree? Is it possible that the extraordinary faculty of reason in man is animal in character and quality? On the other hand, it is evident and true, though most astounding, that in man there is present this supernatural force or faculty which discovers the realities of things and which possesses the power of idealization or intellection. It is capable of discovering scientific laws, and science we know is not a tangible reality. Science exists in the mind of man as an ideal reality. The mind itself, reason itself, is an ideal reality and not tangible.

Notwithstanding this, some of the sagacious men declare: We have attained to the superlative degree of knowledge; we have penetrated the laboratory of nature, studying sciences and arts; we have attained the highest station of knowledge in the human world; we have investigated the facts as they are and have arrived at the conclusion that nothing is rightly acceptable except the tangible, which alone is a reality worthy of credence; all that is not tangible is imagination and nonsense.

Strange indeed that after twenty years training in colleges and universities man should reach such a station wherein he will deny the existence of the ideal or that which is not perceptible to the senses. Have you ever stopped to think that the animal already has graduated from such a university? Have you ever realized that the cow is already a professor emeritus of that university? For the cow without hard labor and study is already a philosopher of the superlative degree in the school of nature. The cow denies everything that is not tangible, saying, “I can see! I can eat! Therefore, I believe only in that which is tangible!”

Then why should we go to the colleges? Let us go to the cow. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 360-361.

The animal lives this kind of life blissfully and untroubled, whereas the material philosophers labor and study for ten or twenty years in schools and colleges, denying God, the Holy Spirit and divine inspirations. The animal is even a greater philosopher, for it attains the ability to do this without labor and study. For instance, the cow denies God and the Holy Spirit, knows nothing of divine inspirations, heavenly bounties or spiritual emotions and is a stranger to the world of hearts. Like the philosophers, the cow is a captive of nature and knows nothing beyond the range of the senses. The philosophers, however, glory in this, saying, “We are not captives of superstitions; we have implicit faith in the impressions of the senses and know nothing beyond the realm of nature, which contains and covers everything.” But the cow, without study or proficiency in the sciences, modestly and quietly views life from the same standpoint, living in harmony with nature’s laws in the utmost dignity and nobility.

This is not the glory of man. The glory of man is in the knowledge of God, spiritual susceptibilities, attainment to transcendent powers and the bounties of the Holy Spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 311.

3 Comments

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  • May 08, 2015
    Mark, you mean this from Words of Wisdom? "True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self."
  • May 08, 2015
    I think Baha’u’llah touches profoundly on this concept, in the passage where He laments the lot of those who have spun their lives away in ignorance of their own selves.
  • May 08, 2015
    david. i've never read these before, and they're hilarious. well done.