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The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories.

CLOUSER, Roy A. The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991. xii + 330 pp. Cloth, $39.95; paper, $18.95--Clouser claims that every theory is based on a religious presupposition, that is, on an idea of what is self-existent (divine). Since all such ultimate presuppositions are unjustifiable in principle, those who presuppose the biblical faith in God as creator are equally respectable intellectually as are those who presuppose any other theory of reality. In fact, the presupposition of a creating God results in superior interpretations of reality in all its many facets. This thesis is laid out in four parts: (1) "Religion," (2) "Theories," (3) "A Casebook," and (4) "Radically Biblical Theories."

In the first part Clouser defines religion: "A religious belief is any belief in something or other as divine. 'Divine' means having the status of not depending on anything else" (pp.21-2). In other words, religious belief is one's assumption about what is independent and self-existent, and on which all else depends.

In Part 2 he defines what he means by a theory and shows that every theory presupposes a religious belief. A theory is a hypothesis based upon an abstraction of an aspect of reality (p. 59). Behind every theory, whether of mathematics, physics, psychology, or ethics, there lies an unproven (indeed unprovable) religious presupposition which guides one's choices about what to emphasize and what to downplay. Thus, one's assumption about what is self-existent (for example, matter, mind, God) will affect how one accounts for the order in the world or the status of mathematical entities or the nature of human agency.

In the third part Clouser presents a case book of theories, focusing on various theories of mathematics, physics, and psychology, and showing how these theories differ in proportion to the difference of their assumptions of what is divine (that is, what has independent status).

In Part 4 Clouser presents a biblical theory of reality, and then applies it to theories about society and the state. Throughout this part of the book Clouser draws heavily on the work of Herman Dooyeweerd, especially his New Critique, and grounds his theory on passages from Scripture with support from the writings of John Calvin. Clouser rejects what he calls pagan theories of reality (any theory which makes part of creation self-existent) because they are reductionist, and he rejects traditional Christian explanations of reality (for example, those of Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas) because they make extensive use of these noncreationist pagan theories. Only by presupposing the biblical position of God as creator can an undistorted interpretation of reality be achieved. Such a position Clouser calls the "law framework theory," and it is guided by four principles: (1) the "principle of pancreation," which means that "everything other than God is his creation and nothing in creation, about creation, or true of creation is self-existent" (p. 202); (2) the "principle of irreducibility," which means that "no aspect of creation is to be regarded as either the only genuine aspect or as making the existence of any other possible" (p.202); (3) the "principle of aspectual universality," which means that "every aspect is an aspect of all creatures, since all creation exists and functions under all the aspectual laws simultaneously" (p.215); and (4) the "principle of aspectual inseparability," which means that "aspects cannot be isolated from one another; their very intelligibility depends on their connectedness" (p.217). An explication of the theory is quite complex and would require definitions of many technical terms for which there is no space here.

The book is very well written. It is clear and informative. There is excellent work on recognizing deficient theories in terms of logical inconsistency, self-referential incoherence, self-assumptive incoherence, and self-performative incoherence (pp. 68-73). His case studies point out clearly the unproven presuppositions behind many so-called "rationalist" theories about various aspects of reality. In addition, the "law framework theory" is impressive in its complexity and subtlety and well worth serious study.

I have two general comments. First, treatment of Aristotle and Aquinas is rather weak. Perhaps Clouser is influenced by late Scholasticism's interpretation of their theories--the kinds of things Calvin would have known. Aristotle's notion of substance is far subtler than it is characterized here. Also, Thomas Aquinas's doctrine of creation is very bit as strong as the pancreationism recommended by Clouser, with this difference: Aquinas thought creation was not just a matter of belief, but could be established by natural reason. This brings me to my second point. It does not seem to me that all ideas about what is self-existent (what I would call metaphysical rather than religious principles) are equally unjustifiable, and this for the very reasons Clouser mentions. The reductionist positions which he criticizes all lead to incoherence, whether self-referential, self-assumptive, or selfperformative. Only a view of reality which lets reality speak in all its many aspects can avoid these incoherences. When reality is allowed to speak this way, it shows itself to absolutely dependent on God the creator.--Montague Brown, Saint Anselm College, Manchester, N.H.
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Author:Brown, Montague
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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