Monday, June 11, 2007

3 points on Prof. Robert T. Miller's latest

This post responds to something that was posted in the First Things blog, On the Square: (Senator) Brownback's Faith and Reason

Deacon Scott Dodge has added some acute philosophical nuances to this discussion.

Originally Posted: 06 Jun 2007 11:16 AM GMT-06:00 at Deep Furrows


A favorite topic of Miller is the relationship between faith and reason, especially as attempted by public figures who aren't experts in philosophy. I've commented on Miller before.

In his latest post, he takes on Senator Brownback's comments on evolution.

Miller comes to the conclusion that:
«Senator Brownback, as I said, is a Roman Catholic, but his view of faith and reason is not the one generally upheld in the Catholic tradition. The traditional view, the one I’ve described here, derives from Thomas Aquinas and has never been better explained than in a very short and beautifully written book by Etienne Gilson called Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages. Gilson’s portrait of Averroes, for instance, could well be of Daniel Dennett; there’s truly nothing new under the sun, at least on this question of faith and reason.»

1. I didn't look closely at Brownback's formulation until prodded by Miller, but I think Miller is essentially correct in his assessment of Brownback's stated position.

2. Miller's definitions of faith and reason are fairly commonplace, but they are still problematic.
«The distinction between faith and reason, correctly understood, is based not on a difference in subject matter but on a difference in epistemological warrant, that is, on the kinds of reasons a person may have for assenting to a particular proposition.

On this view, a person holds a proposition in faith if he believes the proposition because he thinks it has been revealed in history by God — for example, on Mount Sinai through Moses or on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias by Jesus Christ. A person holds a proposition as a matter of reason if he thinks he has for that proposition the kinds of arguments properly accepted in a discipline such as natural science or philosophy, neither of which accept arguments based on purported divine revelation. Any one proposition, therefore, may be divinely revealed, or be knowable by reason in science or philosophy, or both of these, or even neither.» (line break inserted)

So, the warrant of faith is revelation and the warrant of reason is argument, discourse, dialectic, logic, etc. For Miller, faith and reason may overlap - may coincide - but they are essentially irreconcilable. Also, by grounding the difference between faith and reason in propositional epistemology, Miller avoids the question of ontology, that is, the possibility that faith and reason may help to uncover the truth of things.

At Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI called for a "broadening of reason." He noted in particular that:
«Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept [by faith] the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.»

Pope Benedict criticizes especially the scientific restriction of reason to the empirical; Miller would broaden reason to include also argument, dialectic, philosophy; but reason is even broader than argument.

What is faith?
"Faith is acknowledging a presence" (Giussani).
  • To recognize the presence of Jesus Christ is the foundation of being a Christian.
  • To recognize the presence of the natural world is the foundation of being a scientist.
What is reason?
"Reason is the capacity to be aware of reality according to the totality of its factors." (Luigi Giussani, quoted by Msgr. Albacete in "The Road of Reason."

3. Miller would like to avoid pesky questions of truth, grounding dialogue in discourse using common terminology. But, Fr. Giussani has pointed out that authentic dialogue is grounded in a recognition of a common humanity. See my post: What is dialogue?
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