We relate to and come to know ‘Yous’ differently that we relate to and come to know ‘Its’. That’s one of the points Newbigin makes a strong case for in his discussion of the relation of “Reason, Revelation, and Experience” (The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). With things we come to know them by dissecting them, studying them, analyzing them. I don’t need an chemical compound to reveal itself to me, I am sovereign in the process of getting to know about it. This is not the case, however, in the world of human relationships. I can come to know some things about you by studying your past, observing you, etc. But to really know you I’ll need you to reveal yourself to me – to answer my questions, to speak. I just can’t really know anyone apart from their self revelation. This doesn’t mean that in personal relationships we have abandoned reason. Instead, Newbigin notes, “Reason has become the servant of a listening and trusting openness instead of being the servant of a masterful autonomy” (pg. 61).
Newbigin applies this idea to our knowledge of God. We can, through a study of the natural world come to know some things about God (“natural theology”). However, to real know God we need God to speak, to reveal himself. This doesn’t mean, again, that in relying on revelation we have abandoned reason. Again he writes, “If it is the case that the ultimate reality which lies behind all our experience is, in some sense, personal; if – that is to say – we approach an understanding of that ultimate reality most closely by following the clues which are given to us in personal relationship, the it will follow that personal knowledge of that reality will only be available in the way in which we come to know another person, or at least in a way which is more like this than the way in which we come to know the working of the electrical circuits in the human brain” (pg. 61).
The common contrast set between faith and reason or reason and revelation don’t really make sense. Instead, what is really happening is that one type of reasoning established upon one presuppositional foundation is being confronted with another type of reasoning established upon another presuppositional foundation. These starting points and the traditions built upon them (he argues strongly that science is built and dependent on tradition as much as religion. very interesting discussion) determine one’s ‘plausibility structures’ (what is deemed possible). So, for much of the scientific community talk of God working (or even an intelligent designer working) is deemed ridiculous and unscientific. Why? Because it’s outside the ‘plausibility structure’ that has been erected by the tradition (including peer review journals, tenure position hirings at universities, etc.) . Then the other camp, religion or even those scientists who advocate an ID position, is cast in an unreasonable light – as if they have checked their critical thinking skills at the door and chosen to be told via revelation how things work instead of using scienctific methods. This is the way the science v. religion debate is often framed and it is profoundly wrong headed.
I think his evaluation is brilliant and look forward to reading his prescription for how to move forward. I just watched Ben Stein’s ‘Expelled‘ last week and what he exposes certainly backs the conclusions Newbigin comes to.