Thursday, April 20, 2017

Duns Scotus - The Critic

The path of extreme intellectualism is a dangerous one. This is not because reason or reasoning is an unreliable thing. But we are sinners and find it very easy to twist our reasoning to serve our own purposes. That is why we need God's revelation. Also, there is a temptation in reasoning to tear other people down to build  our own ego. Thus we can end up sceptics who tear things down without building up anything in their place. This was the direction taken by Duns Scotus.

The early scholastics, such as Thomas Aquinas, attempted to build up an intellectual defense of the Medieval church and ended up going too far that way. Duns Scotus critiqued the reasoning of those defenses. He then claimed he still believed the positions were proved. But he did it based on the authority of the church and not because they could be shown to be true by reasoning. He also subjected the Bible to that same authority, claiming that the church created the Bible. (It was really the other way around: the Bible created the church.) Scotus also tried to claim that things were what they were, not by nature, but by God's choice. Good and bad were such because God chose them to be, and He could have chosen otherwise. The plan of salvation was also something God arbitrarily chose and that could have been something else. (Why God would, as a purely voluntary option, pick a plan that involved death on a cross seems strange to me.)

Now there are advantages to this approach. If you believe everything is based on authority and claim it is all arbitrarily chosen, then you make it hard to refute or undermine. But you also make it hard to convince anyone on the outside of the truth of what you hold. In fact, if there are not some shared understandings agreed on by both parties, it is hard to even meaningfully communicate. And without any external support from Scripture or reason, your authority becomes viciously circular. It is a mistake to pin too much on reason. But it is also a mistake to throw reason out entirely. Even if it makes you vulnerable to the other persons reasonings. For meeting him in that arena may be the only way to reach him.   

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