Sunday, August 29, 2010

Supernatural Rationalism

Another repost to The One Best Way here.

This is a quote from a post by Transient and Permanent which I discuss:

Wright calls attention to a middle way between Deism and Christian enthusiasm which appears to have been widespread. In so doing, he not only points out a common attitude but also draws the Deists and revivalistic evangelicals into sharper focus. The supernatural rationalists shared with the Deists an appreciation of reason and natural religion, while they also shared with the evangelicals a belief in the Christian revelation. For them, natural religion serves as the launching point for the special revelation of Jesus Christ, which not only doesn’t oppose reason, it is confirmed because of its accordance with reason. Christianity for them is rational, not mysterious: even miracles are basically the logical actions that an orderly God would take to intelligently demonstrate his intentions to humanity. One could call it a theology that promotes the reasonableness of the miraculous. Christianity thus functions to guide people in a Newtonian, Lockian universe, discernible through the senses and intelligible to the mind that approaches it empirically. Natural religion sets the stage, and revealed religion becomes the star performer.


King of Ireland said...


Where does someone, like me, that believes in the Christian revelation and that God can reveal himself in nature in all his fullness. I would say if He cannot them he is unjust to the nomad that has never seen a Bible. What about Abraham that never had a Bible? Aquinas never had to deal with this because it seems they denied that groups like the Native Americans even existed. Manegold based his whole view of geography on this notion to defend the justice of God.

For the most part Protestantism sentences them to hell justly. I am not sure how modern Catholicism deals with this issue.

Anyway, I think the founders you cite believed a whole lot like except for a put a whole lot more stock in miracles than some of them did. I think much of our trouble is a bad definiton of what Deism really was. I am totally open to the idea that they had a lot more trouble with the dogmatic view of Science and how the Church tried to explain the natural world than God.

I think we are making some headway here sorting a lot of this stuff out.

Daniel said...

The Enthusiasts and the Revivalists also shared an appreciation of reason and natural religion. Edwards wrote some treatises that were very much in the Enlightenment tradition of reasoned approaches to the various questions, most notably concerning human will. Wesley was steeped in Enlightenment rationalism and relied on it as much as scripture in developing his methods and doctrines.

While the Great Awakening may be viewed as a reaction against the Enlightenment, it was also a product of the Enlightenment.

As to the Supernatural Rationalists, I assume the reference is to the group that included Witherspoon, who had little use for enthusiasm and seemed to forget to use a T in spelling TULIP.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Edwards wrote some treatises that were very much in the Enlightenment tradition of reasoned approaches to the various questions...

So did Thomas Aquinas. I don't understand why the Enlightenment is being credited here, Daniel.

Here's Jonathan Edwards on the "imaginary light" of the "Enlightenment":

"...we cannot help ascribing all the true religion in the world to divine instruction, and all the frightful variety of religious errors to human invention; and to that dark and degenerate nature, by the imaginary light of which, Deists suppose the right idea of God may be easily and universally discovered..."

More here:

Daniel said...

TVD: "So did Thomas Aquinas. I don't understand why the Enlightenment is being credited here, Daniel."

The influence of Aquinas can be seen in Edwards, but so can Descartes and Bacon. Edwards' was educated in an Enlightenment setting, wrote using Enlightenment methods, and was widely read among Enlightenment scholars in America and Europe and was accepted as part of the Enlightenment dialogue.

Although Aquinas was important to the Enlightenment, even the Natural Law version of the Enlightenment looked to Descartes, Bacon, Newton, and Locke. One must credit the Enlightenment, because its crisis of epistemology really did change everything. This is not to demean Aquinam, since his approach was the foundation that gave us Descartes, Bacon, Newton, Locke.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Again, which Enlightenment? Not Hume's. Edwards is specifically against it, and that of the deists like Tindal.

Daniel said...

There were different strains of the Enlightenment, but it was the same Enlightenment. When Voltaire said "we look to Scotland", he wasn't just referring to Hume. He was referring to sceptics, unorthodox Christians, and good Presbyterians.

Edwards' most impressive philosophical work was on the nature of the human will. He approached it using the tools of reason and observation. That is the Enlightenment approach.

If we think of the Enlightenment as a religious movement, it included divergent and contradictory influences. But we cannot toss the orthodox and the near-orthodox believers out of the movement, because its luminaries did not do so.

Defining Edwards' allies within the Enlightenment is difficult. Certainly not Hume. But not the Scottish Presbyterians either; Witherspoon was brought to Princeton as an anti-Edwards. But the Enlightenment is not defined by conclusions, but by methods: reason, observation, experimentation, and epistemological scepticism. On the validity of those methods, Hume and Edwards were in agreement.

Tom Van Dyke said...

So both Edwards and the "anti-Edwards" were Enlightenment? I'm sorry, I'm just not following the argument. Just because Edwards could engage the Enlightenment [or in the case of free will, Arminianism] with logic and reason doesn't mean we plant the Enlightenment flag on him.

Edwards maintains the common historic Christian viewpoint with unusual intellectual vigor. Many today misunderstand Edwards and Christianity precisely at this point. The historic Christian position has been, in spite of the prevailing contemporary notion to the contrary, a reason­-plus­-faith synthesis. Many today think that faith minus reason is the Christian position because it is so common in our time. That, however, is a caricature of Christian belief It is not the consensus of the church's tradition. But certainly reason minus ­faith, which may be a caricature even of rationalism, is not the consensus either. If one looks at the whole history of Christian thought, it is the reason­-plus­-faith synthesis of Edwards which emerges dominant.

Even if he didn't use Aquinas' arguments, Thomas was doing the same thing in the 1200s, well before any "enlightenment."