Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Can Reasoning Become Quicksand?

Written by: on February 24, 2020

As I write this paper on Pinker this morning, I reflect on the day ahead. I will be serving as guest minister at the Paw Paw Presbyterian Church today (thank you for this opportunity, Jacob!), babysitting my beautiful grandmunchkins this afternoon, and dinner plans this evening. So, my heart and mind are conflicted at this time…because of a busy day to come but also because of Pinker’s book, Enlightenment Now. More to come about that.

So, as I rehearse my message for this morning while writing this blog, I find myself both excited and a little nervous about today’s ministry. The Transfiguration is an exciting Sunday to be serving, but also one for reflection. As I think about Jesus’s Transfiguration, I am in awe. As Mark tried to grasp a way to explain the brightness of Jesus’s clothing, he actually has no words other than to pull us all along with him to his laundry room as he tries to explain the “bleach white” appearance. Sometimes, words cannot express what we are trying to say.

I found that Pinker also pulls us along on a journey with him that sometimes seemed a little too unexplainable for words. Science-driven reason and progress can be a double- edged sword at times. Although Pinker stays on a positive pathway with regards to his adventure through the book, he also discounts faith and religion. The author’s focus is based on reason. “Foremost is reason. Reason is nonnegotiable. As soon as you show up to discuss the question of what we should live for (or any other question), as long as you insidious that your answers, whatever they are, are reasonable or justified or true and that therefore other people ought to believe them to, then you have committed yourself to reason, into holding your beliefs accountable to objective standards.”[1] Yet, is that enough?

According to Webster, reason is “the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by the process of logic.” But what if our logic is skewed because of past experiences and/or trauma? Then, reason also becomes skewed. Working in the counseling world has opened up the door to me to hear many people “explain their reasons and choices.” And many of their “reasons” have led to their destructive patterns.

In Get Out of your Own Way, the authors note that reasoning can be dangerous when it takes on a form of its own. In contrast to Pinker’s beliefs in reasoning, the authors explained that reason should most definitively be negotiable. Without negotiation, reasoning becomes a concrete divide, which is often a stumbling block in today’s society.[2] So, my conflict with Pinker is his basis on reasoning being the solid ground we should always stand on. Because, when reasoning is skewed, it can become quicksand for those who do not have solid ground for their reasoning.

In the end, I do appreciate Pinker’s optimism about the world and where it is heading. He argues that, while there are risks to be aware of, there is reason for optimism in a world that seems to be bombarded with bad news.[3]  Amen!

[1] Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (NY, NY: Penguin Books, 2019).

[2] Mark Goulston and Philip Gouldberg, Get Out of Your Own Way (Grand Rapids: Penguin Press, 2018)

[3] Pinker, Enlightenment Now.

About the Author

Nancy VanderRoest

Nancy is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and fulfills God's calling on her life by serving as a Chaplain & Counselor with Hospice. In her spare time, Nancy works with the anti-human trafficking coalition in her local community.

2 responses to “Can Reasoning Become Quicksand?”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hi Nancy. You are, of course, right, our reason can be skewed if our logic is out of kilter. I think in ‘Pinkers world there is no such thing as self logic. Reason must be tested by others and the logic confirmed, or otherwise. Even the bible views the testimony of others as important for interpreting the work of God. Perhaps in your work, dealing with damaged stories, the voices of others are the catalyst for finding truth in the darkness. Blessings. Digby.

  2. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Thanks for your response, Digby. I appreciate your comment that ‘even the bible views the testimony of others as important for interpreting the work of God.’ I so agree with this viewpoint. Without the testimony of others, we cannot see both sides of an issue or reflect upon our individual perspective. I love your reflection that ‘the voices of others are the catalyst for finding truth in the darkness.’ Thank you for sharing, Digby.

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