Saturday, February 02, 2008

Revelation and (non)-foundationalism

Key to my exploration of education, epistemology, theology is the question of revelation, and particularly the issue of whether/how we can know God. (E.g., Jerry H. Gill, On Knowing God: New Directions for the Future of Theology [Westminster, 1981] and idem, Mediated Transcendence: A Postmodern Reflection [Mercer, 1989]; Denys Turner, Faith, Reason and the Existence of God [Cambridge, 2004]; Paul D. Janz, God, the Mind's Desire: Reference, Reason and Christian Thinking [Cambridge, 2004].)
In his Revelation and Theology: The Gospel as Narrated Promise (Notre Dame, 1985), Ronald F. Thiemann sharply criticizes Torrance for his foundationalist epistemology (165-66, n. 40), a stance that, Thiemann says, stems from his commitment to the scientific method. (This is surprising to me, not least since Torrance is as enamoured of Polanyi as Thiemann is. On that note, I'm also interested to see how John Seely Brown and Richard Adler [see my comments on their article in my previous post] use Polanyi on tacit/explicit knowledge.) I'm not so sure Thiemann's criticism is just here; part of what he assigns to Torrance is inconsistency re: a "reciprocal relation between the investigating subject and the object of inquiry" (38) required by the scientific method and Torrance's insistence that the direction of revelation is necessarily from God to humans. I haven't seen anything in Torrance that would suggest he subscribes to that notion of a necessary "reciprocal relation"; in fact, I'm pretty sure he would oppose it as much in terms of science as in theology/revelation. (That may mean he's inconsistent re: scientific method--I can't rule on that--but it wouldn't mean inconsistency re: revelation.)
What Thiemann does re: non- (or "soft") foundationalism is instructive, though, for something that's puzzled me about both Torrance's and Lonergan's presuppositions. Thiemann wants to "begin with a set of accepted dependent beliefs and move by implication to the more general belief upon which they rest" (76). Specifically, he outlines "a group of dependent beliefs concerning God's promises and their narrative fulfillment and concerning the relation of God's identify and reality," arguing "that there are good reasons for assenting to these beliefs as constitutive of Christian identity. If that argument holds, then it follows by implication that the belief upon which they depend, belief in God's prevenience, is also a justified belief constitutive of Christian identity" (77). Clearly, there are links here to what Lindbeck tries to do with his “cultural linguistic” approach (and with the way Vanhoozer reworks it), and it also supports my model of aspects-of-learning/knowing-held-in-tension, but I also wonder if this is in fact what both Lonergan and Torrance are actually doing without realizing it--building up a set of beliefs re: the learner and the object of study, respectively, that not only presuppose but also support (in the way Thiemann suggests) their background beliefs about knowing God.
Even more helpful for me is Thiemann's distinction between an epistemology built on causation vs. one proposing an intentional direction of movement, and that will keep me busy re: both Lonergan (in the way he uses the phenomenological idea of intentionality to reshape Aquinas) and Torrance.

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