Saturday, November 13, 2004

Faith & reason

In reply to your inquiry, regarding your friend of a friend, one could give a long answer or a short answer. For now, I'll content myself with a short answer.

1. If we equate the Bible with divine revelation, through-and-through, which is the classic Protestant position, as well as the position of the historic Christian church, then of what is the Bible a revelation? It is a revelation of the very mind of God.

As such, there is no necessary dichotomy between reason and revelation. To submit our fallen, finite, and fallible reason to omniscient reason is supremely reasonable. To operate apart from the guidance of divine reason, or in defiance of divine reason, is supremely unreasonable.

2. Due to natural revelation and common grace, we can sometimes learn from the unbeliever.

3. If you study the history of philosophy, it moves in cycles. It generally starts out with a very high view of reason. But as reason reflects on itself, it runs into scepticism.

A man lost in the dark needs a flashlight, map, and compass to find his way out of the woods. Reason is the flashlight. Revelation is the map and compass. Without a map and compass, the flashlight is useless. Everywhere we look we see more trees.

4. Scripture, tradition, and experience are not on a par. Tradition is like multiple-choice. It presents us with a range of interpretive options. We then test these options against Scripture. Which makes the most exegetical sense?

Experience makes us more receptive to certain truths of Scripture. They are more relevant to our immediate need. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to understand something for which we have no personal experience.

5. It is also possible to mix-and-match the best of various theological traditions. A Calvinist might like Lutheran music, Gothic architecture, and Anglican poetry.

6. Why say that faith and reason ask different questions based on different assumptions? What not say that faith and reason often ask the same questions based on different assumptions?

7. Faith doesn't come into the picture at some point along the way. The Christian faith is a walk of faith from start to finish.

Bertrand Russell drew a celebrated distinction between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance.

To oversimplify, faith is knowledge by description, whereas reason is knowledge by acquaintance.

There are some things we know as a matter of direct, personal experience. But that is very limited.

We are dependent on knowledge by description for most of what we know and most of what we need to know.

The Christian takes many things on faith. He doesn't know them to be true as a matter of immediate experience, but he knows them to be true because the source of knowledge (divine revelation=the Bible) is veracious.

8. Aquinas is too complex a thinker to easily summarize. However, 'subjective' or 'intuitive' are hardly the adjectives which spring to mind. Aquinas is highly analytical.

Also, Aquinas was in no sense a religious pluralist. He was a high churchman.

9. 'Subjective' is a slippery word. It can be used as a synonym for what is personal or individual, but it can also be used as a synonym for a form of relativism.

In Reformed theology, the subjective dimension is also under the providence of God.

'Literal' is another slippery word, as is 'fundamentalist.' 'Original intent' would be a more accurate description. Conservative Christians believe that the Bible means today whatever it meant at the time it was written. It means what it was meant to mean to the original audience.

This is not distinctive to Scripture. This holds true for any document from the past. The difference attaches to the authority of original intent. In the case of Scripture, original intent carries divine authority.

10. Like every other relativist, he has to cheat: 'God transcends each of our avenues of Christian enlightenment and understanding, but works through us and teaches us where we're at.'

If we are confined to our subjective avenues of enlightenment and understanding, then we are in no position to know if they're converging or diverging, headed in the right direction or the wrong direction. I can't see over the wall.

He is having to assume a God's-eye viewpoint for himself in order to deny a God's-eye viewpoint for the rest of us. He is illicitly transcending his own eye-level avenue in order to claim that there is both a God's-eye perspective and an eye-level perspective. This is fudging. If he's down here with the rest of us, then he's not privy to satellite cartography, but only our earthbound sightlines.

If, on the other hand, the Bible is divinely inspired, then God can reveal a slice of his transcendent perspective. Knowledge can't move from the bottom up, but it can move from the top down--the transcendent becoming in some measure immanent.

In addition, if he really believes in diversity, then why does he insist on a common destiny? Wouldn't diversity allow for, if not imply, divergent destinations?

******************************

Ralph,

You said:

<< I like your blog alot. Very smart, well written and well thought out. However, though I believe in God, I do not believe in any religion having the definitive word of God. To assume or have faith in words set down by men, whoever they might have been, and assume they received the word of God, and that is what we read today, makes me wonder. No one should ever assume they have received the definitive word of God, especially when one assumes that word is for all. "The Christian takes many things on faith. He doesn't know them to be true as a matter of immediate experience, but he knows them to be true because the source of knowledge (divine revelation=the Bible) is veracious." How do we know that? How do we know it is veracious?
Oh by the way, without a flashlight, you could never see the compass and map. >>

i) You say you believe in God. If so, it has to be a God with certain specific attributes, to the exclusion of contrary attributes. So you have to believe that your concept of God is true, and contrary conceptions are false.

Now, you may not adhere to that with dogmatic confidence. Still, you happen to believe, with whatever caveats, that your version of God is true.

ii) Presumably you have certain reasons for believing in God, and for your particular version of God. There must be something you count as evidence for the existence of God.

That would be a form of divine revelation, whether you think it's written down or natural or intuitive or whatever. So you must believe that there's a true revelation of God which you, for one, can truly construe.

iii) You say, "No one should ever assume they have received the definitive word of God, especially when one assumes that word is for all."

I should think the logic would be just the reverse. A truth, any truth, is a universal truth. Take your statement that "without a flashlight, you could never see the compass and map." Is that truth only true for New Yorkers, and not for Indians or Eskimos or Tibetans?

iv) Now, you might say that there is a truth, but it is unknowable. Well, how would one know about the existence of an unknowable truth?

v) You say you don't "believe in any religion having the definitive word of God." Well, that belief negates the opposing belief that one religion does have the definitive word of God. So you take your belief as true, and the opposing belief as false. At that level, your belief is just as exclusionary as mine.

vi) Incidentally, why don't you believe that any religion has the definitive word of God?

vii) You say that "to assume or have faith in words set down by men, whoever they might have been, and assume they received the word of God, and that is what we read today, makes me wonder."

Since this is a statement rather than an explanation, I don't know the nub of your objection. Why would God not want to communicate his will to men? And, if so, why would he not use the medium of words? That is the standard form of communication.

viii) You ask, "How do we know that? How do we know it is veracious?"

Okay, that's a good question. There is, of course, a considerable body of apologetic literature in answer to that question.

In some measure, the answer is person-variable, for different individuals are impressed by different lines of evidence. Some folks are impressed by archeological evidence, others by psychological realism, others by more philosophical strains of reasoning, and so on.

I've sketched some of my own personal reasons for believing in my essay on "Why I believe," posted at Triablogue.

5 comments:

  1. I like your blog alot. Very smart, well written and well thought out. However, though I believe in God, I do not believe in any religion having the definitive word of God. To assume or have faith in words set down by men, whoever they might have been, and assume they received the word of God, and that is what we read today, makes me wonder. No one should ever assume they have received the definitive word of God, especially when one assumes that word is for all. "The Christian takes many things on faith. He doesn't know them to be true as a matter of immediate experience, but he knows them to be true because the source of knowledge (divine revelation=the Bible) is veracious." How do we know that? How do we know it is veracious?

    Oh by the way, without a flashlight, you could never see the compass and map.

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