Sermon Notes for
Reason and Revelation
show on Hubble Deep Field--discovering what is there in the farthest reaches of
the universe and at the dawn of time. The rabbis called this the Lore of
scriptures dealt with the same things, e.g., 1 Enoch. Astronomy, astrology,
calendar polemics. But see even Genesis 1.
is the difference between the two approaches? The ancient and
the modern? They have much in common. Both are Promethean efforts to use
human reason to plumb the upper depths--the secret arcana of the heavens.
Examining the old writings makes it evident the authors were "natural
philosophers" like Thales and Pythagoras,
speculating on what they could see.
are 3 types of differences--
1. The ancients' conclusions, though
plausible, are mistaken, because...
2. They lacked sophisticated
observational technology. But of course they
have the brains to eventually come up with it.
3. They appealed to divine authority
to get their speculations accepted. But even this is not so different from the
dogmatism of scientists today who are naively heedless of the whole paradigm
was saying something like this when he said that when reason and revelation
overlap. when God reveals something the human mind
unaided could and has come up with, he revealed it for the benefit of those who
lacked the wits to discern it for themselves. This reflects a kind of benign
condescension experts still have toward the laity, having to oversimplify.
The way we explain things to kids
there is a huge difference when you get to the point when you champion
revelation against what reason and science show. The same speculative process
(aided now by better observational means) has yielded new results unanticipated
by the speculations of the ancients, and in the name of loyalty to the old
writings, religious leaders try to exclude science in favor of literalism or biblicism. Now you are defending
the nursery version against the facts, as if a church said God had revealed
that babies are brought by the stork, and that it was godless Darwinian heresy
to say babies were conceived sexually!
wasn't deceptive priestcraft for the ancients to
attribute their astronomical speculations to God's revelation. They probably
felt like a modern scientist does when a flash of insight seems to strike out
of the blue. So it was even sort of true.
becomes priestcraft, and religion becomes the enemy
of science and reason, when someone opposes revelation to reason and
speculation. What has happened here is an equivocation on the word
"revelation"--it has ceased meaning a flash of intuition, and is
applied instead to the dead letter of an ancient book.
is doubly ironic that what is in that book got there in precisely the same way
that ideas come to the rational scientist today! This means the writer of
Genesis or Enoch would be the last to want his book quoted against the very
scientific endeavor he was trying to promote in the language of his own time!
this way, the opposition of revelation to reason reduces to a variation on the
theme of the canon of old revelation suppressing supposed new revelations. It
is not just an analogy but another case of the same thing. (And this is how and
why the Enlightenment and Pietism could make common cause against stifling
Lutheran Orthodoxy in the seventeenth century.)
I'd say that revelation bears the same relation to reason as astrology does to
astronomy and alchemy does to chemistry.