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					Faith and Reason
Friends or Foes in the New Millennium?
Anthony Fisher OP and Hayden Ramsey (eds)
Australian Catholic University Series: 1
Series Editor: Anthony Kelly CSsR
ATF Press pb 384pp 2004
ISBN 1920691189

Reviewer: Rev Dr Stephen Downes, Flinders University
_____________________________________________________________________
This book should prove helpful for a range of people who read, study and teach in the
areas of philosophy and theology. At first glance its appeal might seem limited to
Catholics, especially philosophers, interested in the church’s long-standing discussion
of the relationship between faith and reason. For the papers it comprises, and the
conference that generated them, was occasioned by Pope John Paul II’s 1998
Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio. And someone with this interest will not be
disappointed. Many of the papers (an introduction, fifteen full-length articles and four
response papers in total) explicitly comment on the encyclical and one or more of the
issues it addresses and refer to various moments in the history of the subject. But as
the editors note, the encyclical did not dictate but rather occasioned the conference.
So some of the papers do not refer to the pope’s letter at all, or only in passing. More
significantly, a number of them adopt a frame of reference that is markedly different
from John Paul’s. As a result, a wide range of perspectives are represented in this
volume. And it can further be concluded on the strength of this collection that there is
a high level of academic interest in ‘faith and reason’ among contemporary scholars.
The browser who hastily concludes that this is a work for Catholic philosophers only
would be seriously mistaken. In the summary that follows, I hope to show that while
it might not quite have ‘something for everyone’, this work does have a lot to offer.
In their substantial introduction, Anthony Fisher and Hayden Ramsey identify the key
principle of Fides et Ratio: ‘a mature faith is always one that is rationally held,
philosophically well-informed’ (xiii). They list the major themes of the encyclical as
the relationship between faith and reason and philosophy and theology, the
importance of philosophy in general and realist-objectivist philosophy in particular,
the Magisterium’s contribution to philosophy, and future challenges for philosophy
and theology. And they sketch actual and likely responses to the pope’s treatment of
these issues.
Papers that are sympathetic to the thrust of Fides et Ratio, and broadly share its
traditional terms of reference, include two pieces that address the issue of pluralism
and diversity in philosophy. Ralph McInerny considers how the recent encyclical
advances our understanding of philosophy beyond that of Leo XIII’s Aeterni Patris.
While primarily concerned with endorsing John Paul’s insistence that philosophy
needs to recover its sapiential dimension, John Haldane acknowledges that
considerable clarification and development of its ideas is needed in order to make it
accessible to even philosophically educated readers. Tracey Rowland goes some way
towards relating the encyclical’s concerns to one potential dialogue partner, Alastair
Macintyre. Although she notes some tensions between the ideas of the pope and
Macintyre’s celebrated contemporary reconstruction of Augustinian Thomism, she
seems happier with, and certainly is less critical of, the pope’s optimism about the
power of human reason than other contributors. Marilyn McCord Adams, for
example, prefers the more ‘sceptical realism’ of Augustine and Anselm. Winifred
Wing Han Lamb argues that Christians must address the existential suspicion of
religious belief raised by Nietzsche and other modern thinkers. Like Lamb, Raimond
Gaita is much concerned with the challenges facing those concerned with truth and
truthfulness today. Although willing to approve of much in the encyclical, Kevin Hart
consistently argues that it is no longer sufficient to refer to ‘faith and reason’; we must
also speak of ‘faith and imagination’, ‘faith and dialogue’, ‘love and exegesis’,
‘sacrament and hope’.
About half of the papers in the collection could be termed philosophy of religion.
Most of them adopt what Lamb terms an ‘evidential’ approach, which focuses on the
evidence needed for rational belief, and which she distinguishes from her own
concern with the motivations of people who hold religious beliefs. Graham Oppy’s
meticulous analysis of the problem of evil is a clear instance of this approach. Other
writers here also engage in ‘analytical philosophy’, which has dominated Anglo-
American philosophy of religion for many years. So Michael Levine’s vigorous
critique of this approach, as lacking in vitality, relevance and moral seriousness, must
have led to at least one lively session during the conference. To be fair, it is more
accurate to say that a number of the philosophers represented here engage with
analytical philosophy as well as being influenced by a broader range of philosophical
perspectives. Greg Moses’s reflections on what constitutes reasonable belief, for
example, is inspired by Whiteheadian Process thought. John Ozolins draws on recent
studies of the nature of scientific theory to argue that admitting a reliance on faith
does not entail fideism. In marked contrast, John Quilter concedes that his proposal
about the meaningfulness of religious language amounts to a kind of fideism. Peter
Coghlan takes an altogether different view of another standard issue in the philosophy
of religion, namely, arguments for the existence of God. The relative rarity of the
perspective of aesthetic experience that he adopts, combined with his broad range of
references (ancient and modern, religious and philosophical, music/painting/poetry),
make this piece a favourite of mine.
Altogether the papers listed so far provide a good overview of the kind of work being
done in the philosophy of religion today. A final few address more specifically
theological matters. John McDermott considers the relationship between faith and
reason in the context of Catholic theology’s understanding of grace and freedom.
Arguing that neither conceptualist nor transcendental Thomism has provided a fully
adequate account, he maintains that Fides et Ratio’s synthetic approach provides the
basis for a satisfying solution. Tony Kelly, like a number of the writers in this
collection, responds to some of the apparent condemnations of Fides et Ratio. He
concludes, from an examination of Aquinas’s treatment of the gifts of the Spirit
(especially wisdom), that Aquinas’s theological thinking incorporates a significant
‘deconstructionist’ element. And he hopes that further work of this kind will foster
dialogue that transcends caricature. That two such able theologians, both firmly
rooted in the Catholic tradition, have responded so differently to the conference theme
confirms my opening claim about the potentially broad appeal of this work.
While it would be possible to read the whole collection from start to finish, as a
comprehensive and representative account of contemporary views on ‘faith and
reason’, I think it would be both heavy going and vertiginous for most readers. These
are, after all, academic conference papers. I would advise readers to start by dipping
into some titles that catch their attention and, over time, test the scope of their interest
by considering some others. I am confident that most readers of philosophy and
theology will find much in this volume that informs, puzzles, provokes and inspires.

				
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