Re: Feedback on Howell

From: George Murphy (
Date: Mon May 05 2003 - 20:02:49 EDT

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    Ted Davis wrote:
    > I know Ken Howell quite well. We both studied at the Indiana University
    > graduate school at the same time, and he took courses in my department
    > (history and philosophy of science) while mainly studying linguistics. He
    > has since earned a doctorate in HSC with John Brooke.
    > At the time, Ken was a staunch Calvinist, even pastoring a PCA or OPC church
    > (I can't recall which). His conversion to Catholicism surprised me, but he
    > has talked about it with me. I don't feel free to share here all of his
    > reasons, but religious authority (and the magisterium of the Roman church)
    > did play a major role.
    > In our student days, Ken and I sometimes discussed my more open view of
    > Christianity--by this I mean simply that I didn't define Christianity in a
    > narrowly reformed way, even though I was also a Calvinist at the time. (I
    > might still be, depending on the definition applied, but I don't want to
    > digress about that.) Ken had a hard time accepting this, as I recall.
    > Since his own conversion, he has mentioned this point to me as something of
    > an irony. Obviously, he now also holds a more open view of Christianity
    > than he once did.
    > By "open," just to be as clear as possible, I really mean "ecumenical," but
    > ecumenical in the sense of "mere Christianity" rather than "anything goes."
    > Ken is a good friend, a very clear thinker, and a credit to the church he
    > now serves. His book is also very original and I think important. It got
    > reviewed in PSCF partly b/c I asked him to make sure that we received a
    > copy.

            The "2 books" idea as usually expressed is one form of what I have called the
    "classic" view of the relationship between a supposed "natural knowledge" of God and
    revelation. Since it posits a source of knowledge of God independent of God's
    revelation in the history of Israel which culminates in Christ, it has all the problems
    of independent natural theology that I have pointed out here before. It can - & in the
    Enlightenment did - lead to belief that revelation is not needed at all, that we can
    learn everything necessary about God from nature & reason.
            For Roman Catholics, belief in the possibility of a natural knowledge of God is
    /de fide/ from Vatican I. How important that may be for Howell I don't know.
            The proper approach, in my view, is to begin with revelation. Scientific
    knowledge of the world (which, N.B., requires no religious presuppositions) can then be
    considered in the light of revelation in order to gain further understanding of God's
    activity in the world. If we are going to use the 2 books metaphor, this means that we
    should read the Bible first in order to know the important characters before we read the
    book of nature as a theological text.
            The metaphor doesn't really work very well, however, because, as I noted, we can
    & should read the "book of nature" in order to learn about _nature_ independently of any
    religious beliefs. It is only when we want to learn something about God from it that we
    need to place it in a theological context.


    George L. Murphy

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