Reason /ˈrēzən/ the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic
“We all know how often we go to bed with a difficult question to settle. We say we will sleep upon it, and, in the morning, behold, the whole question has worked itself into shape: we see all its bearings and know just how to act. We are so accustomed to take wonders as matters of course, mere everyday events, that it does not occur to us to be surprised. We even say, the mind is clearer after sleep, regardless of the fact that we have no labour of thinking at all in the morning; all comes straight of itself” (page 115).
Recent research reveals why “the mind is clearer after sleep." The space between brain cells in mice may increase during sleep which flushes out toxins built up during the day. Sleep does indeed clean up the brain and it seems like “all comes straight of itself."
Because we often find ourselves making decisions in a flash, Mason viewed reason with healthy skepticism. Mathematical reason is one thing. In the imaginary world of pure, abstract mathematics, reason is infallible. This world is black and white. An idea is true or false. If true, we can prove another truth by making a beautiful chain of truths. Euclid used geometrical truths to prove the Pythagorean Theorem (Book 1, Proposition 47). Before assuming the office of the President of the United States of America, James Garfield inscribed a right triangle into a trapezoid to prove the same theorem. A counterexample or faults in reason (circular logic) renders an idea false.
In the real world, reason isn't all that reliable. Mason wrote, “Reason brings logical proof of any idea we entertain." The recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye illustrates this beautifully. The question argued by these two intelligent men was, “Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?" As any mathematician knows, a proof is only as good as its assumptions. Nye rejected Ham's distinction between historical science (the study of origins), which requires us to make assumptions about the past, and observational science (experiments). Because Nye accepts a materialistic, naturalistic worldview, he rejects what the Bible has to say about the origins of the universe, which Ham, an evangelical Christian, accepts as his authority.
Both men based their arguments about the Bible's account of Noah and the ark on science. Nye pointed to modern consensus and evidence from the fossil record to ice rods. Ham countered with evidence from the fossil record and sedimentary rock. Front-row observer Albert Mohler concluded, “If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence." Mason agrees, “All that reason does for us is to prove, logically, any idea we choose to entertain."
Bill Nye sees himself as a reasonable man — one with an intellect and education that can draw conclusions from knowledge, evidence, and arguments. Ken Ham also sees himself as reasonable man — one with an intellect and education that can draw conclusions from knowledge, evidence, and arguments. However, Ham believes that his reason is fallible and doesn't trust it implicitly.
Nye assumes the world is a closed material system that operates without supernatural influence, and Ham believes in a closed material and spiritual system created by a higher power. Nye's intellectual authority is scientific consensus while Ham's is the god of the Bible. People who share Nye's assumptions will reject Ham's points and those who share Ham's assumptions will reject Nye's. The science guy feels validated by a poll in Britain that says he won, which doesn't flummox Ham who seeks approval of One.
As Jay Wile notes, both operate in closed systems. Ham knows it: the god of the Bible always outweighs materialistic evidence in his mind. Seeking evidence to support his beliefs is his default mode. While Nye's system shuts out spiritual ideas, he's open to new information but he doesn't admit the bias of his own assumptions. He puts his faith in scientific consensus with like-minded people and natural evidence. Nye will never be open to spiritual evidence. Not without divine intervention, which would be a great irony if it did happen.
Rather than debate whether to believe creationism or evolution or intelligent design or nothing, we might be better off learning about the limitations of our own reason. The ideas we choose to entertain have a life of their own. Once the mind grabs onto an idea, it will prove it by any means possible. And pat itself on the back for being reasonable.