Historical And Theological Studies: Using Reason by Faith -- By: K. Scott Oliphint

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 73:1 (Spring 2011)
Article: Historical And Theological Studies: Using Reason by Faith
Author: K. Scott Oliphint

Historical And Theological Studies: Using Reason by Faith

K. Scott Oliphint

K. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary. This article is a revised version of a paper presented in June 2009 at the “Conference on Faith and Reason,” Wuhan University, China.

In the West and since the Enlightenment, discussions of faith and its relationship to reason have been, more or less, dominated by a Kantian paradigm. Without going into the knotty details of whether or not the paradigm itself is a faithful representation of Kant’s views, the influence of this paradigm is beyond doubt. Perhaps one quote from Kant will help set the contours of this paradigm, as well as summarize it. In the third part of his Critique of Pure Reason, speaking of transcendent ideas, Kant notes the following:

They [transcendent ideas] then no longer serve only for the completion of the empirical employment of reason—an idea [of completeness] which must always be pursued, though it can never be completely achieved. On the contrary, they detach themselves completely from experience, and make for themselves objects for which experience supplies no material, and whose objective reality is not based on completion of the empirical series but on pure a priori concepts. Such transcendent ideas have a purely intelligible object; and this object may indeed be admitted as a transcendental object, but only if we likewise admit that, for the rest, we have no knowledge in regard to it, and that it cannot be thought as a determinate thing in terms of distinctive inner predicates. As it is independent of all empirical concepts, we are cut off from any reasons that could establish the possibility of such an object, and have not the least justification for assuming it. It is a mere thought-entity.1

“A mere thought entity”—such is the way most would view any notion of faith and religion, especially when it comes to any concept or idea of God. If one claims to have such an idea, it is automatically assumed that it is had without any empirical evidence whatsoever, and that holding such a notion can only be justified on the basis of the subject alone. That is, it goes without saying, given Kant’s influence, that such notions can have no objective, or empirical, basis. They cannot be, therefore, knowledge claims; they can only be had by faith. Thus, we can see the impact of Kant’s now famous dictum in the Preface to the second edition of his Critique: “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

With this paradigm firmly intact...

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