Friday, July 2, 2010

The Tibetan Nomad and "Reason Trumps Revelation"

An interesting discussion has continued in the comments section of a recent post by Jon Rowe on the subject of "reason trumps revelation".  The following is a comment left by Secular Square:

"The nature of religious belief is a far more difficult question than any discussed at AC. Because your conversion is your own private experience, I can only accept your account of it. Aquinas, however might disagree. He might argue that your reason is only valid concerning matters that are empirically evident or in some way demonstrable. Reason might lead you to infer the existence of a supreme being, but little more. Reason cannot make conclusions about God’s will in general or specific Christian doctrines such as angels/spirits, the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection. They come through divine revelation. And these are not propositions that can be affirmed by reason.
So how does one come to profess belief in these specific Christian doctrines? By faith-- an act of your will in which you assent to the truth of these propositions that are not evident to reason. And where did faith come from? The grace of God, of course."


I responded with the following:


"'So how does one come to profess belief in these specific Christian doctrines? By faith-- '
The Tibetan nomad has no idea what these doctrines are. What can he find out about God from "what is made"(Romans 1)? It says God's qualities or nature. That is put into words in Exodus 34:5-7. I do not know if it is by reason or revelation? I think Tom is right when he calls it first revelation. Or Aquinas general revelation. Either way it seems to be reason unaided by scripture(special revelation)? We need to get our definitions straight to understand what these men are saying."


I know this is getting into some of the "tall weeds" of theology here but at times that is necessary when attempting to understand the theological views of an era.  Regardless, I think this is an often overlooked aspect of these discussions. Romans 1 and 2 state clearly that God's "invisible qualities" can be known through "what is made" or as the founders put it through nature.  That is not the mere "existence of God" as stated by Secular Square above. It seems to point to all of humanity having access to (Romans 1:18-20) and the ability interact with and derive truth from(Romans 2:14-15) the God of Exodus 34:5-7 in the same manner that Abraham did.

The question is how this interaction takes place. Some seem to call it reason, others call it revelation, and many label it faith. I am not sure how much that matters to these discussions as it does that they access God unaided by the Bible.  When I read the quotes that are put forth as evidence that many founders believed that "reason trumped revelation" this is what I see them actually saying:  That man is able to access God unaided by special revelation or as some called it, just plain "revelation".  An idea that is in the Bible!

It seems that they then applied the information gained via this manner of access to God to combating irrational interpretations of the Bible associated with creeds and dogma.  Wilson himself says that the information gained about God accessed through nature and that accessed through the Bible in no way contradict one another. 

Additionally, I believe that Locke was simply stating that what Aquinas called general revelation was accessed via reason when he states:

"The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker"


In other words, general revelation is reason not that reason is superior to revelation. Could all this be that simple?  I certainly hope so for the sake of the Tibetan nomad that understands none of these "tall weeds" of theology but simply wants to worship his Creator via the same means that Abraham did:

Unaided by the Bible.

2 comments:

secular square said...

Yes KOI--we are about to get lost in the tall grass of the soteriological savannah.

I agree that your Tibetan monk can reason about the existence of God from natural revelation--the existence of nature itself. . And he might infer that God is a person, something like us with a mind and a will and many other things. But what do you mean by access? If access means a spiritual relationship, most orthodox Christians believe that special revelation is needed in addition to reason for something like that.

As Aquinas writes,


It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason.

But, of course, many Christians believe that knowledge of the one true God is all that is needed or that all will eventually be saved. But again, this is we are wandering far from the main business of AC. Jon will be sending out a search party soon.

King of Ireland said...

"I agree that your Tibetan monk can reason about the existence of God from natural revelation--the existence of nature itself. . And he might infer that God is a person, something like us with a mind and a will and many other things. But what do you mean by access? If access means a spiritual relationship, most orthodox Christians believe that special revelation is needed in addition to reason for something like that. "


Romans 1 and 2 state that man see the character of God through nature. Perhaps the rub here is that Locke called reason what Aquinas called general revelation. I think they are both wrong personally but that would send Jon searching for us I agree.