1. Religious belief controlling theoretical reason

So far (1, 2, 3, 4) in The Myth of Religious Neutrality, Roy Clouser has been arguing for a view of the relation between religious belief and theoretical reason as follows (p.96):

Religious Belief

  1. guides and directs the use of reason in all of life

Theoretical Reason is:

  1. not neutral because controlled by religious belief
  2. not final court of appeal
  3. not able to decide all matters

In Chapter 5 he now labels this as the radically biblical position, saying

The position is this: there is no knowledge or truth that is neutral with respect to belief in God. The [Bible] writers who assert this do not also specify exactly how belief in God impacts "knowledge of all kinds" or "all truth," but they are clear that they regard beliefs in other (putative) divinities as partially falsifying all that is taken to be truth or knowledge, and that knowing God enables us, in principle, to avoid that partial falsehood (p.94).

He then quotes some biblical texts and concludes

that the cumulative effect of these texts is to teach that no sort of knowledge is religiously neutral (p.95).

However, most people throughout the history of thought have taken different views on the relation between religious belief and theoretical reason.

2. Theoretical reason controlling religious belief

First, there is the view that reason is autonomous and "trumps" religious belief. This may be religious rationalism, which "was the dominant influence in ancient Greco-Roman culture" (p.94). In this view, reason can be used either to justify or to refute religious beliefs. In some ways this may be seen as the reverse of the radically biblical position (p.93):

Theoretical Reason is:

  1. neutral respecting all matters
  2. final court of appeal in all matters
  3. able to decide all matters (?)

Religious Belief is:

  1. a theory or conclusion of reason
  2. optional

(Closely related to this is religious irrationalism, which states that religious belief is completely isolated from theoretical reason.)

3. Religious belief and theoretical reason in harmony

When the radically biblical position clashed with religious rationalism, religious scholasticism emerged, which

devised a compromise between the all-encompassing claim pagan rationalism made for reason, and the equally all-encompassing biblical claim that right faith is a necessary prerequisite for knowledge of every sort. This was done by limiting the scope of each claim (p.99).

This position "had permeated the whole of European thought by the sixth century" (p.104), and "Among thinkers who believe in God, [it] is still by far the most popular position in the world today" (p.105). Diagrammatically, it looks something like this (p.101):

Realm of Supernature or Grace

Faith accepts revelation as supreme authority concerning God and the soul and related matters.

Natural Realm

  1. Reason is neutral and final authority concerning nature;
  2. Reason harmonizes religion with the theories of science and philosophy;
  3. Reason proves the existence of the supernatural and systematizes revealed doctrines.

4. Faith and reason post-1500

The change in Western thought came

in the sixteenth century when scholasticism was simultaneously challenged by two movements. One of these, the Renaissance, advocated a return to pagan rationalism by insisting on the autonomy and neutrality of reason in all matters, so that it dispensed with faith imposing any limit to reason. The other was the Reformation, which rejected limiting faith to only supernatural matters and argued that reason is intrinsically guided by faith in all matters (p.105).

Calvin was strongest on the latter point, taking "the view that human reason is not neutral because it is affected by sin, where sin is understood as false divinity belief which produces deleterious effects on reason's attempts to interpret reality" (p.106).

However, the Protestant church soon sank back into scholasticism, having a "general view of the relation of faith and reason [that] was largely the same" as that of the Catholic church.

Their main difference over faith and reason came to be that while Catholic thinkers tended to harmonize their faith with theories about nature derived from Aristotle (due to the influence of Thomas Aquinas), Protestant thinkers felt free to harmonize their faith with whatever theories about nature were currently fashionable (p.107).

So where is the radically biblical position today? It does have its adherents, but generally doesn't have a good press, "owing to the specific interpretation of it which has been advocated by the largest single group of its adherents, the fundamentalists" (pp.108f), to whom (or against whom) the next chapter will be devoted.