Is man rational?

I’m not asking directly about free will or not. What I am asking is something I have devoted a lot of thought to.

I don’t know if I want to muddy the waters with what I have seen to be true for myself, but I am looking for theological information regarding this question.

Man has a Spirit. That Spirit dictates what he will do as is his breath of life. But this breath of life comes from God. Hence, our Spirit is how we are created in the image of God.

I was sitting outside today and I saw an ant carrying something that looked to be about the same size as it was. I thought to myself, “I could squash you and make you nothing.” But then I thought, “Why would I ever want to do that since you are working and fulfilling your purpose?” It’s not a perfect analogy because I didn’t create the ant, but hopefully you can see how this imparted to me how God has ultimate control, while the ant can chose to carry something it’s own size and struggle or not. I supposed that is not exactly the question, but it illustrates that the ant has a need and that need comes from God and who am I to dictate an ants life while fulfilling its purpose? And does this make that ant a rational creature since he is doing what the father wills anyways?

All things come from God. Personally I believe our rationality or lackthereof is one such thing.


@Jesse_Means_God_Exists I would say that, because we are made in God’s image, we are moral beings with the capacity to reason. Our reasoning is not always rational and may be influenced by our emotions, ignorance or a lack of training in clear thinking.

Does that begin to get at what you are wondering?


Yes, that starts the question IMO.

IMO, man is made up of parts. In my mind, we have a soul or Spirit that dictates things, but what the soul and Spirit are depended on is a matter of salvation. If we are saved, then a change occurs in the person and they are no longer completely acting solely on their own behalf.

But think for a moment about psychology. Do we really have the capability to say to ourselves, “I will think of this or that idea.” In my mind it is absurd to think we have complete control over our thought or that which springs into our mind. It is because of this that I ask the question. In my mind, ideas are the link between the conscious and the unconscious. Now ideas may be the “freest” part of ourselves in that it is actually us doing the thinking, but is this thinking actually rational, or does it come from elsewhere? That’s where I would argue it comes from God. So in my mind, God is the only rational being that exists because he is the ultimate director of the soul and the Spirit. So I would say if one has no control over there soul or Spirit, how can they be rational?

To illustrate my point, I would point to Proverbs 16:9.

I guess my quandry to your answer is how can we be rational some of the time and irrational some of the time and who exactly is the one who determines such things?

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I can’t speak for all but I know I am certainly capable of irrational thought and even actions !


Oh, this is my own personal theory, but I think reason isn’t necessarily “rational”. In my mind, we think in color, not black and white.

@Jesse_Means_God_Exists My personal view is that as long as our brains are healthy and we are not under extreme duress we are capable of thinking rationally. Rational thought requires discipline. We must examine our assumptions and analyze our own line of thinking. Of course, we are also limited by our most basic assumptions because all reason is based upon certain foundational beliefs. If those foundations are incorrect, then rational thought does not get us where we need to be…

Naturally, not all of our thoughts are rational. Our brains produce lots of sporadic thoughts. But it is my experience and opinion that a rational thought can be achieved via effort - at least for a time. Being tired or sick or in a bind can cause us to rely more on our emotions than on our reason and sometimes there is too much information to process to be entirely rational.

In short, I think that while we have the ability to be rational and exercise control over our own minds, that ability can be limited by lack of knowledge or physical state.

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps. (ESV)

Excellent question that makes me wonder why you put that question there. “Wisdom cries in the streets”, (Prov. 1) But who cares about wisdom who lives in the world of today when we have all this knowledge at our fingertips, and pictures, too.

The simple answer is no, and yes with the right guidance, right? Sins, transgressions, iniquity is insane, irrational, unreasonable and even after we have become his children we do it – deliberately and not. How do we become rational is the question, and there is no other way except through the only foundation which has been laid: Jesus Christ. He is the way, truth, and life for us and remains so always. To the degree that we feed on his word, and walk in his Spirit – we can be rational. Now even though this is obvious, and you already know it, it is good to be reminded.

An excellent resource on this I am reading now is: ***Real Faith & Reason Volume One. He discusses rational vs. irrational, reasonable vs. unreasonable, the brute beast mind and sources of made up stuff. It’s free, and he has other volumes, too.

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I see what you are saying. But apart from logic (which I would argue is a means and not an ends insofar as it is used mostly as picking and choosing based on one’s world view, and I would also add man can only be as logical as their bias allows them to be) what can we say that is actually logical?

As far as that is concerned, what is a rational thought? A truly rational thought without ANY hint of bias? I ask this because I don’t believe we live in black and white and as such what one may consider rational another might consider irrational. This is even seen in philosophy where there is rarely one thought that everyone agrees on. “Beware of the sound of one hand clapping.”

Also, I would imagine you know we are more than simply our brain. Our brain is a tool, no necessarily the totality of who we are. We know from quantum mechanics that a particle changes where it is depending on if we are looking at it or not. So why wouldn’t this expand to the world at large and end up being a matter of what happens in the world? After all, if we are just particles, then it would follow that this micro principle spreads to the macro.

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@Jesse_Means_God_Exists Good points :slight_smile: I would say that you have hit upon the very reason that we humans actually need both divine revelation and science. Divine revelation in Scripture gives us a foundation for morality and ethics. By scientific experiment we can seek to root out our own biases in regard to the workings of nature. Revelation can provide a sure starting point for reason to build upon - as can scientific inquiry.

Yes, I would most certainly agree we have a spirit / soul, which is one way of explaining human consciousness / self-awareness. Unfortunately, I do not know of any way to actually accurately measure where the soul / body connection begins and ends and therefore can only speak meaningfully about the brain itself.

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Hi, thanks for your post.

What I was trying to illustrate with that verse isn’t the way it is written in English (though I too am partial to ESV translation) but what it actually means in the hebrew.

You can basically read the verse like this:

Heart here means inner man. Plans means thoughts or to think. Steps here can be thought of as behaviors in it’s association with Way.

It would probably be more accurate to read this verse as this:

The conscience of man thinks about his way,
but the LORD makes his behaviors concrete.

It’s a way of saying:
“What we do in accordance for or against God’s commands in our behaviors is what we think about,
but what we think about comes from what God reaveals to us in our conscience.”


I will definitely check out that thread now.

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Thanks, I appreciate the help on this. However, my quandary is more something of an Epistemological nature. I understand the question, “How am I here?” because I asked a question just like that at about the age of 8-10 or something.

My question is more this statement, “If the saying ‘I think therefore I am’ is true, then what do we make of having that original thought in the first place?” More or less, it pulls from the idea that our thoughts are not our own. Hence, something else governs our premises in the first place. Now if I am right then it would follow much like the Moral Argument. If I do not have control over my thoughts, how can I claim to be rational? If what comes to me in thought is not my own, then it is not me who is rational, but the giver of the thought that is rational. Do you follow? And in saying as much, we might say, "How can one will themselves into rational thought if their thoughts themselves are not even of their own merit? I keep trying to say this different ways, but I feel I am lacking in my poignancy. To say it, I do not believe man is rational because one cannot be rational that comes from something else. Also, Like I keep trying to say, and this is the main point, how do we will ourselves to not be biased? That’s the real question that I cannot answer without saying we are not actually rational.


@Jesse_Means_God_Exists Hmmm - that is interesting. We are not born knowing a language - we have to learn it. Most kiddos learn things like ‘momma’ and ‘dadda’ - build up to ‘mine’ - and then move on to sentences. So would you say that those sentences are actually a result of what we have learned from our environments? The premise that our thoughts appear out of nowhere cannot be sustained unless I am mistaken.


Long post incoming.

The first question we must ask is, “Is progression rational?” If learning is rational, how can people learn to do what is irrational, or an incorrect conclusion? As far as that goes, how can man learn to do more and more evil? Is not evil irrational? Is not separation from God an irrational response to God’s commands? Is not this irrationality based in the flesh? Is not the brain part of the flesh?

Also, as you have said what confirms this point of view, the child learns to become more selfish in their progression as saying “mine” comes after a reliance on their parents saying “mamma” or “dadda”. So one must ask if the increase of information is necessarily a rational thing? And insofar as learning is concerned, what our environment teaches us is how to act immorally, which I am sure you can appreciate given the lack of morals today as we grow away from God. So learning to say “mine” is of the flesh.

As I speak, I speak to the motive of man, not his ability to think because his ability to think comes from his motive (Prov. 16:9) which is based in his salvation insofar as his rationality comes from God, the origin of rationality.

And taking the whole of what I said, rather than a progression of what is said because it is all a complete thought in my mind, out thoughts of course do not come from “nowhere” as I have said our thoughts come from our motives which come from God which is a matter of salvation though we are not perfectly sanctified now but, as Paul says it in 1 Corinthians 1: 18, we are “being saved”.

So I might illustrate this more drawing from the book of Romans.

Rom. 3:9 (ESVS) ¶ What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are munder sin,
Rom. 3:10 (ESVS) as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
Rom. 3:11 (ESVS) no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
Rom. 3:12 (ESVS) All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
Rom. 3:13 (ESVS) “Their throat is pan open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
Rom. 3:14 (ESVS) “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
Rom. 3:15 (ESVS) “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Rom. 3:16 (ESVS) in their paths are ruin and misery,
Rom. 3:17 (ESVS) and the way of peace they have not known.”
Rom. 3:18 (ESVS) “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Rom. 3:19 (ESVS) ¶ Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
Rom. 3:20 (ESVS) For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Rom. 3:21 (ESVS) ¶ But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—
Rom. 3:22 (ESVS) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
Rom. 3:23 (ESVS) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Rom. 3:24 (ESVS) and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Rom. 3:25 (ESVS) whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Rom. 3:26 (ESVS) It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Rom. 3:27 (ESVS) ¶ Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
Rom. 3:28 (ESVS) For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

And as Paul explains,

Rom. 9:6 (ESVS) ¶ But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,
Rom. 9:7 (ESVS) and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
Rom. 9:8 (ESVS) This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

If we look at what Paul is saying in light of what I have said, there can be no rationality apart from God. And as being a son is to be righteous, and as to our righteousness we are rational, how can we say we have anything to do with our own rationality in the first place? I do not mean to make this an argument of Calvinism vs Arminianism apart to say that was it not Joseph who acted rationally and Pharaoh who acted irrationally? So we see the rational man is a righteous man, but in saying so we must conclude his rationality is not his own. This has been my point from the beginning.

We can tackle whether man is free in the thoughts portion of himself if it comes up, but we don’t need to I don’t think.

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@Jesse_Means_God_Exists Whew - long post indeed! I don’t think I would agree that our thoughts come from our motives, though perhaps I see where you are going with that idea. I think (wherever I am doing that from :slight_smile:) that a person can be rational in one area of their life and irrational in another area due to motives. For example, they might be very rational in their ability to perform their duties at work, but they may be irrational in the reasons they give for rejecting God or the way they establish their own sense of moral superiority over other people.

Does that make sense to you?

Yes, it makes sense. But it doesn’t answer why this is the case. It’s a point I would agree with, but having no explanation of what gives us our rationality or not isn’t a conclusive premise IMO.

My premise is that man is inherently biased and as such all things he may think come from that lens unless of course what he is thinking is the rationality given to him by God.

@Michael_Fitzgerald Where would I find that book?

Online through edge. It should come up as the Real faith & reason library and it’s by Scientia which I believe is a pen name.

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Hi, I know you have reached out to me and it is appreciated. I know you have also liked several of my posts. I don’t know your background but I am wondering if you have any thoughts on this idea I have.