Do any Reformed writings explain the basis for naturalistic reasoning to reach religious teachings?

Discussion in 'Calvinism/Arminianism Debate' started by rakovsky, Apr 10, 2016.

  1. rakovsky

    rakovsky
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    Something that I find partly appealing in Calvinism is - and I am not sure how to put this - a naturalistic, demystifying, skeptical, materialistic use of reasoning to judge religious claims. This is not to deny the centrality of the Bible as a religious text in Calvinism, but to note this use of naturalistic reasoning in judging religion, including the Bible's meaning. My question here is whether Reformed writers have laid out the premises or justifications for the skeptical, naturalistic aspect of their reasoning?

    Please allow me to explain.

    I. Reason plays a major role in Calvin's thinking and approach.

    Jung S. Rhee writes in John Calvin's Understanding of Human Reason in His Institutes::
    II. The "natural order" was a major concept to Calvin.

    John Hesselink writes in Calvin's Concept of the Law:
    Peter Wyatt writes in Jesus Christ and Creation in the Theology of John Calvin:

    III. In many cases, Calvin uses a skeptical sense of naturalism in employing reason.

    One example
    is how Calvin judged the verse in 1 Cor 10 wherein Paul writes that Christ was a spiritual rock that followed the Israelites. Calvin concluded that since rocks don't follow people, the word "rock" must mean "stream of water". He disagreed with the Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox reading that "spiritual rock" was a name for Christ himself actually directly accompanying the Israelites. He wrote in his commentary:
    From a materialistic, naturalistic standpoint, I find his reasoning appealing. In nature, rocks don't follow people, so it is easier to think of a stream of water following people. On the other hand, if I put myself in a supernatural mindset and see Paul as talking about a rock that looked like a normal rock, I don't see any purely logical obstacle to thinking that there was an actual material rock following the Israelites. So it seems that he is using a naturalistic method.

    In a second example, when Calvin considered whether exorcists of his day were able to cast out demons and could show any proofs or specimens to prove their work, he wrote:
    As a matter of materialism, I sympathize with him. Demons and demonic possession can be hard to prove or show in the realm of natural observation. On the other hand, it seems to me that were I to put myself in a supernatural mindset and accept the role of such beings in human affairs, then I wouldn't reject across the board that Christian exorcists occasionally succeeded in their work in the last 15 centuries or so.
     
  2. rakovsky

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    To give a third example, I read that Calvin forbade Genevans from make their traditional pilgrimages to regional water that by legend a saint had made holy. I don't remember which water this was, but I found a similar story about Zwingli.

    [​IMG]
    fountain in Einsedeln from the spring

    John Broome wrote in his book Zwingli & Calvin:
    Here I sympathize with Zwingli and Calvin and am skeptical that a saint blessed the waters in either case, especially such that they would still be miraculous decades later. It's also ruled out by a strong or materialistic view of the natural order. On the other hand, working within strong premises of the supernatural, I am not sure what would rule it out or stop it from happening. If saints could be given supernatural blessings to imbue objects with holiness, then purely as a matter of logic, I am not sure what my objection could be, other than to go back to arguing for materialistic, naturalistic senses of the natural "order"


    In a fourth case,
    Calvin commented that the reference to the morning star in the title of Psalm 22 was of "small importance" and that preceding interpreters had "needlessly perplexed" themselves over it. The Psalm begins: "To the chief musician. On the doe/star/strength of the morning. A psalm of David." Calvin commented:
    Looking at it from the perspective of a skeptic who tries to take a simple, "natural" reading, this title in itself does not have any explicit connection to Christ. To read the title by itself in this way, rather than "perplexing" oneself over mystical cryptic meanings, essentially "demystifies" it. David never says something so explicit as "the Messiah is the 'morning star'".

    It's true though that Psalm 22 appears to be a Messianic Psalm, talking about the spiritual value of the narrator for future generations. Therefore, as a matter of pure logic that takes into consideration the mystical, supernatural, or cryptic nature of this Psalm, I don't have a problem with the proposal that the "morning star" refers to the Messiah in a cryptic way.

    Calvin of course did not say that no Psalm was about Jesus. Some things like Psalm 22 were connected by Jesus or the Evangelists themselves to be about the Christ. But the NT did not specify whether Psalm 22's title was Messianic. This silence leaves open the option to take a cryptic, mystical view, or what Calvin calls a "simple, natural" view. And this in turn raises the question of why the latter method is better when it comes to concepts in the Psalms that are not explicitly Messianic.

    In a fifth case, Calvin said that John the Baptist did not actually "see" the Holy Spirit descending with his eyes, anymore than communion food "is" Jesus' "body". He writes in his Letters:
    When I clearly separate the realm of the material from immaterial, then I sympathize with Calvin's conclusion. The Holy Spirit, being a spirit, would not be material, and hence invisible to the eye. Thus, from a "simple, natural" or materialistic standpoint, I find Calvin's view very appealing.

    However, when I take a paranormal, supernatural view, I don't have a problem thinking that John the Baptist saw Jesus having the Spirit on him with his own eyes. That is, if the Holy Spirit was actually there in that place descending on John, and it appeared in the form of a dove to John, and John's physical brain was impressed with this fact, I don't have a problem of pure logic with thinking that John's eyes were imposed with a vision of the spirit either. In a supernatural, paranormal scheme, I don't have a problem with the Spirit giving off or reflecting light such that physical eyes could see it if God allowed those eyes to see the vision. For that matter, if a divine vision or manifestation of God occurred at some point, I don't have a problem logically in a paranormal scheme to imagine that a camera could or could not be able to record it. And if a camera could, then even more so it seems a blessed human eye could.

    So whether I go with Calvin's view or a paranormal view seems to lead to the question of premises - why is the materialistic or naturalistic scheme so strong that to propose John's eyes seeing the vision would be "more absurd" than anything?

    In addition, there are several other issues where Calvin or other major Reformed writers took naturalistic views on religious and scientific questions. On one hand, I find their approach rationalistically appealing, but on the other hand I could reach different conclusions if I allowed for the paranormal and supernatural. So I wish to please ask if Reformed writers have ever produced literature on a basis for the naturalistic or materialistic side of their reasoning.
     
  3. TCassidy

    TCassidy
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    I feel as if I just read a Russian novel. Or three. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Gogal at the same time? :D :D
     
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  4. Rob_BW

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    For a wall of text, though, it was formatted nicely. And had neat pictures.

    I can't wait to read some answers. :)
     
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  5. SovereignGrace

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    If I am understanding the OP's title correctly, forget about Reformed writers, as Jesus did this Himself when He spoke with Nicodemus.

    Jesus first told Nicodemus "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again."[John 3:3] Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus was expressing to him as he said, "“How can someone be born when they are old?”Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”[John 3:4] Jesus was using the wind as an example of how the Spirit moves freely to wherever He pleases. Jesus then went on to say "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[John 3:5-8] Still, Nicodemus did not grasp what Jesus was conveying because he said, “How can this be?”[John 3:9] Jesus then went on to lambaste him by saying, "You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?[John 3:10-12]

    Then go to Ezekiel 37 and you will see an example of how God resurrects souls from death unto life. As the bible in the chapter also uses the wind as an example of how the Spirit operates upon those who are dead in transgressions and sins. Then go to John 11 and see how Jesus brings Lazarus back to life by just saying "Lazarus come forth." Then go to Luke 7 and read of how Jesus brought a widow's son back to life by just touching his coffin.

    God quickens ppl to life via His Spirit, and He moves wherever He pleases to and asks not anyone's permission.

    What I am driving at is that Jesus used the wind as an example of how God operates upon the unregenerate. He uses natural examples to show how He does what He does. Those other examples I posted also us natural means to display supernatural interaction betwixt God and His ppl.
     
    #5 SovereignGrace, Apr 10, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2016
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  6. rakovsky

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    Thanks for your compliment!
     
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  7. TCassidy

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    Another great Russian author! Well done rakovsky! :)
     
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  8. rakovsky

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    Thanks, Rob!

    Let me illustrate better the dilemma.


    I. The Rock issue

    Here is a rock moving with supernatural power from Luke Skywalker using the Force:
    [​IMG]

    Here is a rock split in the Saudi desert that some Christians claim is the rock referred to in Genesis:
    [​IMG]

    On this website, you can read more about the claim that this site is where the story in Genesis was described as happening: http://bible7evidence.blogspot.com/2014/08/mount-sinai-ron-wyatt.html
    Personally, my guess is that the Genesis story is based on or refers to this location, but I actually don't have a strong opinion on it.

    Calvin certainly never visited or heard of this particular location as it exists outside of the Bible. Simply faced with a strict dilemma over whether a verse saying that a "rock" followed the Israelites meant that:
    (A) a solid metallic rock moved with them, or
    (B) the word rock means "stream of water" ,

    I would only pick B if I relied so strongly on a naturalistic understanding of events over a supernatural one that I had to go against what I see as a normal reading of the text to pick would be incorrect as a manner of normal speech. In normal speech "rock" practically cannot mean "stream of water", unless there is some extreme exception made.

    II. The Issue of Exorcisms

    Here is a photo of a photoshopped or artificial scene of an exorcism:
    [​IMG]

    Here is a photo of a real catholic exorcism:
    [​IMG]

    Here is a photo of Jim Carrie acting like a mental patient at a mental hospital:
    [​IMG]

    A similar dilemma of supernatural vs. the natural arises. Either:
    (A) Christians cast out demons from Demoniacs in 300-1550 AD, or
    (B) Christians in that same time period could not cast out demons because they lacked the power to do so or because demons are not real.

    If I were to accept the supernatural, the paranormal, and God's willingness to answer prayer on occasion from sincere Christians about their needs, I have no problem purely of logic with picking (A). It seems perfectly logical to think that God occasionally answered prayers to fight demons if they existed and were attacking people. It is quite hard to understand why God would never accept sincere requests to cast out demons if demons were real beings.
    If however I accept the a naturalistic frame of reference, I could easily understand Calvin's conclusion that the claims about Catholic exorcists were "ignorant and stupid falsehoods." I could conclude like the Reformed writer J. Mede that demoniacs in the Bible were simply lunatics and mad men.

    Similar dilemmas exist with the three other cases I mentioned in my opening message.
    So this leads to the question of whether Reformed writers explained the premise of why a naturalistic reading of the Bible or in judging religion is as a rule strongly preferable to a supernatural one.
     
  9. rakovsky

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    Thanks for writing back, Sovereign Grace!

    I understand your answer, and I am sorry I didn't ask the question in the opening message better. You are quite right that Jesus occasionally used analogies from nature to talk about religion.
    The blowing wind is a good example, and so is the mustard seed.

    What I really meant to ask was whether Reformed writers have explained the naturalistic, skeptical, materialistic, demystifying aspect of Calvin's "Reason" vs. "Absurdity" test to judge both religion and the nature of reality.

    When he disagreed with Lutherans and Catholics over whether a natural or a miraculous supernatural event occurred, Calvin had a strong pattern of picking a naturalistic solution based on a concept of the "natural order" as directly perceived by the senses. He used this same sensory-based perception of reality and "Reason" in judging scientific claims, as when he said that it was "perceived by all" that the sun went around the earth and not the other way around. (http://biologos.org/blogs/archive/j...rnicus-and-heliocentrism#sthash.TosdEfJM.dpuf)

    I am not sure how I could ask the question in a better way in the Opening Post, but I tried to give some examples to illustrate what I meant by Calvin using naturalistic criteria for a "Reason vs. absurdity" standard to judge religion. In the first case about the moving rock, he asks rhetorically:
    On one hand he calls the idea of rock = stream of water "abundantly manifest" , because he rules out that the rock was moving when Paul says that a spiritual rock was following the Israelites.


    You brought up a sixth great example in Ezekiel 37 of Calvin's naturalistic answers to a natural vs. supernatural dilemma, besides the five I already listed in my OP, when you write:
    [​IMG]
    Ezekiel and the Dry Bones

    Reformed scholars say that Calvin's opinion was that this chapter was not actually about God supernaturally, miraculously resurrecting physically dead people from death to life.

    Reformed theologian William Young explains this in John Calvin on the Visions of Ezekiel: Historical and Hermeneutical Studies in John Calvin's sermons inédits, especially on Ezek. 36-48:
    E. A. De Boer, professor of the Theological University of the Reformed Churches, writes the same thing in his book John Calvin on the Visions of Ezekiel: Historical and Hermeneutical Studies :
    https://books.google.com/books?id=RR0_7RuCXhgC&pg=PA182&lpg=PA182&dq="Ezekiel+37"++calvin+commentary&source=bl&ots=IsCZQ-ouhb&sig=vsYxNo-dvvv9GixewLS7UOIPzzg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjj3638oIfMAhUCaD4KHfJxDQAQ6AEINDAE#v=onepage&q="Ezekiel 37" calvin commentary&f=false

    Now perhaps both these theologians have misrepresented Calvin, since Calvin wrote about Ezekiel 37 "This vision is a kind of archetype of the resurrection". Maybe by archetype Calvin thought that it predicted the resurrection. Or maybe by archetype he just meant that it was a picture of it, not actually a prediction that the resurrection would happen, any more than a Biblical picture of Leviathan in the ocean means that there actually is an animal called Leviathan.

    But regardless, it means that the two Reformed theologians are promoting a reading of Ezekiel 37 that is not supernatural. And this goes back to the dilemma of why one should prefer a naturalistic reading to a supernatural one.

    If I take a skeptical, materialistic view, I find Calvin's interpretation appealing. It's true that the context in other passages is about Israel's restoration.

    However, if I take a supernatural view of the Bible and of the world, I have no problem of logic thinking like you did that Ezekiel was talking about the future resurrection of the dead. It's true that there can be a sense of Israel in the context of the surrounding passages, but that's not surprising even if the passage is about the resurrection. After all, Ezekiel would certainly have a major focus on whether Israel's population was resurrected if he described the resurrection at an apocalyptic, Messianic moment in the future. Further, Ezekiel is so detailed in describing the physical process of resurrection, that it sounds like he is talking about physical resurrection. At least such a viewpoint is perfectly reasonable if we accept supernatural premises.

    And this reflects the issue about a supernatural vs. naturalistic set of premises that I was trying to ask about in my opening post. i am looking to see if reformed writers have laid out why we should prefer to use a naturalistic perspective in judging religion based on a test of "reason" vs. "absurdity".
     
  10. Greektim

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    Have you read anything by Cornelius Van Til?
     
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  11. rakovsky

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    Thanks for stopping in, Greektim!

    Van Til came up because I read his section on Calvin's Epistemology. Van Til had written in A Survey Of Christian Epistemology (Volume 2 of the series In Defense of Biblical Christianity by Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing Co): "It remains now to observe that Calvinism has been more truly theistic than either Lutheranism or Arminianism because it, better than they, has rid itself of the last vestiges of human independence or autonomy."

    But Van Til did not really get into whether the Epistemology (philosophy of acquiring knowledge) of Calvin had a major materialistic aspect.

    In contrast, Kenneth Keathley, of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, disagrees with Determinism (as opposed to free will) and says that it is essentially materialist in his book Salvation and Sovereignty:
     
    #11 rakovsky, Apr 13, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2016
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  12. rakovsky

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    Since he is a Baptist theologian considering Calvinism as essentially materialistic, maybe I should have started with him in the OP since this is a Baptist forum.

    So far peoples' comments have been pretty supportive.
     

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