Natural theology vs theology of nature


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Benjamin Chicka, Philip Clayton, Daniel Dennett, Charles Sanders Peirce, Robert Cummings Neville, theology of nature, natural theology

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Natural theology vs theology of nature

  1. 1. Sobert Sylvest says:March 29, 2010 at 11:52 amBen, this is an excellent recap and faithful to the way I experienced that particularMardi Gras afternoon (the ONLY person in New Orleans virtually at Claremontand not actually on Bourbon Street; forgive me, Lord.).I would say that we all need philosophical norms to provide a meta-metaphysicalperspective but that essential Christian dogma are not inescapably loaded withany particular scientific, philosophical or metaphysical presuppositions,including such as a soul, metaphysical self or even a wholly autonomous free will.There is a probabilistic middle ground, for example, between absolutely freechoices and seemingly free choices that can be established even within a so-called hegemony of the physical. I have imported some of my own reflections onthe Clayton-Dennett debate into another discussion we’ve been having atNational Public Radio about related matters re: philosophy of mind, where I offeran expanded critique of Dennett that keeps his baby but cleans up his bathwater.Should one go metaphysical, that’s fine as long as it is fallibilist.John Sobert Sylvest says:March 29, 2010 at 4:07 pmBen, another distinction: I tend to lump metaphysics into the same category asnatural theology and natural philosophy, where it is useful in framing up ourultimate concerns, disambiguating our concepts, clarifying reality’s putativeinitial, boundary & limit conditions, maybe even formulating our arguments thruabductive inference but going no further, chastized by past overreaches,attempts to prove too much or to say more than we can possibly know. With acontrite fallibilism, we explore the nature of our questions and the form of ourmeta-talk. This critique is not the radical apophaticism that’s exhibited by someof those with overly dialectical imaginations; rather, it affirms metaphysicalrealism but suggests that our deontologies should then be considered astentative as our ontologies are speculative. IOW, we might severely question howmuch normative impetus our metaphysics can claim as we move from what wethink IS to what we think OUGHT to be. 1
  2. 2. What I whole-heartedly affirm is the robust engagement of our analogicalimaginations, employing analogies and metaphors in what is a essentially poeticrhetoric that has its starting place within the faith and is thus a Theology ofNature. This is how I receive most of the work of Clayton, Bracken, Haught et al.These are elaborate tautologies filled with nature references and even technicalscientific jargon that are nevertheless on par with the psalms, St. Francis’ Hymnsto nature and such but brought up to date for our postmodern milieu. They have atremendous amount of interpretive and evaluative significance and the moreconsonant with what we already know from descriptive science and normativephilosophy, the more taut will be the tautology, which means that, while allmetaphors eventually collapse, our metaphors can be rather resilient andversatile. IOW, such theologies of nature find their usefulness among those whohave already taken the leap of faith, not unaided by reason and not inconsistentwith science, but not so much as argumentation for faith, like the classical proofswhich were metaphysical. Such a theology of nature-enlivened imagination can,indeed, recursively help further illuminate our understanding of life, in general,as we believe in order to know.Anyway, that’s my parsing. As for competing metaphysical tautologies, the way Iwould adjudicate between those is by asking which one might best foster thenormalization of gravity and quantum mechanics. Otherwise, they aren’t terriblyinteresting are helpful. We know that religion as a value-realization approachenjoys epistemic virtue, just like science. But we can’t deny that they otherwisediffer in the amount of epistemic risk; we can only suggest that the increasedrisks has commensurate rewards.John Sobert Sylvest says:March 29, 2010 at 10:54 pmBen, that was a delightful read. It is something I will keep in my pdf library. As forus getting there from opposite directions, your suspicion may be suspectbecause my philosophical project is called a Peircean-Nevillean IntegralAxiological Epistemology [PNIAE] and my theology of nature is called Pan-semio-entheism. If I grasped the import of your own thrust correctly, we may behermeneutical blood-brothers. I am mighty pleased to thus make your cyber-acquaintence. I am precisely interested in the application of my PNIAE in theinterreligious realm, employing a concept that Amos Yong (my collaborator)calls the pneumatological imagination. Our collaboration remains a work-in-progress. If you scroll down to the bottom of this page , where it reads NOTES,there you will find some summary materials. BTW, I reject the transcendentalthomism of Rahner b/c its kantian notions are too a prioristic and rationalistic. Ido look to Lonergan but similarly qualify his stuff. Stay in touch! Are there others 2
  3. 3. of you at Claremont with pragmatist leanings?Jo Ann, I am about at the same place Phil Clayton is with all of this. I just finishedarchiving all of the stuff I’ve been scribbling over the past 10 years post-retirement and have basically given up new investigations of this nature. Theyhave reached a point of diminishing returns for me. You know: So much straw.They reached that point for others much earlier, I know. I suppose I get ondiscussion forums like this one at National Public Radio only to avoid going coldturkey with my pomotheo process addiction. Still, at times, we must engageothers like Dennett and Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens on their own terms andwith their jargon in order to better subvert their systems from within. At othertimes, such jargon represents a lapse because it is not audience-appropriate andthus offends charity by excluding people. Then again, on the other hand, it canbe a shortcut and will take less time and less space than a more accessibleversion in an exchange such as the one above. My time and this space is limitedbut I will gladly address any specific questions as I can, when I can.John Sobert Sylvest says:March 30, 2010 at 7:29 amWell, as Radical Orthodoxy might say, Dennett does have a few ratherconfessional stances, himself. One way to bust the religious move is to avoidgetting so apophatic that one imagines that what is wholly incomprehensible isnot, at the same time, partly apprehendable or thinks that a failure to successfullydescribe a reality necessarily forecloses on one’s ability to successfully refer toit. Each stance has risks and rewards. Perhaps one measure of the amount ironythat will attend to any given stance is its risk:reward ratio vis a vis what Lonerganhas described in terms of a growth in human authenticity through variousconversions?John Sobert Sylvest says:March 30, 2010 at 12:18 pmBen, I better understand our convergence, now. I am an autodidact w/noacademic background in philosophy, religion or theology, plus I lead an almosteremitic life, and this might make my prose a tad dense and my wordingssomewhat idiosyncratic.Below is my defense of what I think you are saying using Peircean categories as I 3
  4. 4. understand them. I think this sets forth how our views resonate. I do not want topresume upon your time. Also, I do not want to suck the oxygen out of this threadwith an off-topic consideration so I am inviting Tripp to delete it and send it toyou by e-mail for your disposal at your convenience. Whatever protocol dictates.I do not have the luxury of classroom exchanges, seminar discussions and graddept coffee klatches, so I don’t want to presume upon your generosity, whichmight be easy for me to do.In my approach to Peirce, I distinguish between 1ns and 3ns in terms of thein/determinate and un/specifiable, respectively. The indeterminacy is epistemicin nature and results from methodological constraints. Any unspecifiability isontological, or modal, in nature and results from a putative in-principleontological occulting. One way these would differ is that any ignorance due tounspecifiability would be invincible, while that due to indeterminacy ispotentially temporary and could be conquered with future methodologicalimprovements (e.g. technological) or epistemic insights (e.g. aha moments,abductions, paradigm shifts). Our semantical vagueness thus treats the modalpossibilities of 1ns such that excluded middle holds while noncontradiction folds(in epistemic indeterminacy) and the modal probabilities of 3ns such thatexcluded middle folds while noncontradiction holds (in ontological vagueness).Which modal realities will later present as the actualities of 2ns, where EM & NCboth hold, remains to be seen because we cannot a priori know when it is that ourignorance is invincible due to an in-principle ontological occulting and when itmight otherwise be conquered due to our overcoming of methodologicalconstraints. Of course, we adopt a methodological naturalism precisely becauseto otherwise presuppose that our ignorance results from an ontological occultingwould be to drive into an epistemic cul-de-sac. A philosophical naturalism apriori presupposes that all ignorance results from what is temporarilyindeterminable, epistemically speaking, and issues a metaphysical promissorynote for future ontological specificity.I say all of this to provide me a framework for grappling with your directionalitydistinctions. Stipulating to the indexical nature of human knowledge, it wouldseem that any intentionality that moves from humans in the world reachingtoward what is unknown, which we cannot a priori presuppose as eithertemporarily indeterminate or invincibly unspecifiable, would entail a fallibilist,speculative metaphysic, which necessarily employs both positivist andphilosophic methodologies. And it would seem that any reversal of that claim inDewey’s notions of intending symbols mediating the world back to humans isalso an integral part of the same triadic inferential process as 3ns play itsmediating role in an ongoing recursive interplay with 1ns and 2ns. This wouldthus correspond to the Peircean rubric that the normative sciences (3ns) mediatebetween phenomenology (2ns or science) and metaphysics (1ns, incl speculativecosmology and highly theoretical physics). This is to say that it seems that Nevilleis talking about Peircean 1ns and you are talking about 3ns (vis a vis your 4
  5. 5. reversal). And it is also to suggest that, while your insights are indispensable thatthey are supplemental and not wholly over against Neville’s account, whichwould be incomplete per your description.You appear to be making an additional move, as I see it. I appreciate that thecontext of Neville’s work hereinabove was theological, but my treatment aboveprescinded from that theological take to the strictly phenomenological,philosophical and metaphysical. In your treatment of 3ns, you are taking anessentially phenomenological category and coloring it with a theological hue,analogically imagining that the world is mediating to us not only our localenvirons but also expressions of primal reality (reality’s initial, boundary & limitconditions). Thus you are making a distinctly theological turn and have seguedfrom a natural theology to a theology of nature.The reason I thus characterize your thrust as a theology of nature is because ournatural theology is confronted with what is very likely an immeasurable amountof information erasure due to entropic processes. The deeper we go into thestructures of matter and the closer we get to t=0 near the Big Bang, the lessinformation available re: our initial, boundary and limit conditions, much lessultimate reality. The world certainly mediates info to us re: our own horizons butany temporal critical realism looks like it will indeed be methodologicallyconstrained if for no other reason than temporality, itself, collapses, aspatiotemporal reality on which we rely in our common sense notions ofcausation. The human experience of ultimacy remains fraught with mystery asreality appears terribly ambivalent toward us and incredibly ambiguous to us inthe symbols it has intended for us. Thus, if with Blake we do see the world in agrain of sand, heaven in a wildflower, holding Infinity in the palm of our hand andEternity in an hour, we are doing a theology of nature. And so it is that I call myown theology of nature a pan-semio-entheism. I make that theological turn withyou and take that existential leap even while suggesting THAT Ultimacy ismediating Herself back to me through manifold and multiform symbols (physicalsigns at that) even if I cannot give a robust account of just HOW that may be so.On that front, I prefer to remain ontologically vague, if only to return the favor tothe mysterium tremendum et fascinans. This indeed supports a robustlypluralistic approach to the world’s Great Traditions and indigenous religions.John Sobert Sylvest says:March 30, 2010 at 12:43 pmBTW, and that’s also why I characterize Dennett’s confessional stance as a(n) (a)theology of nature, also ;)Someone is saying more than one can possibly know, proving too much, taking a 5
  6. 6. leap but not looking over one’s shoulder at the leap and considering its distanceand nature. 6