Reflecting the Mystery: Analogy Beyond Negation and Affirmation
via Fr Aidan Kimel
By Robert F. Fortuin
My reflections evoked by the above:
I’ve been musing over the wisdom of this presentation all week, trying to formulate a succinct response that doesn’t sacrifice either clarity or brevity. I have been relishing this blog trying to learn its idiom that I may make more apposite responses as my lifelong interest has been biology and not speculative theology (only formative and contemplative spirituality, practically considered).
Here’s the source of my delight in this presentation. Due to my own analogogical imagination, I extrapolated Robert’s insights to cosmology, in general, anthropology, in particular. I could take his essay, in other words, and perform a simple syntactical “find and replace” that substituted the words “anthropology” or “cosmology” in place of theology and his conclusions would equally hold in those speculative disciplines.
More concretely, up and down the great chain of being, in their cosmo-talk and anthropo-talk, certain scientists and philosophers, especially of that cabal whom the late Don Gelpi, SJ would refer to as Enlightenment fundamentalists, have rather univocally employed concepts like entropy, cause, agency, even telos, so to speak, leveling the ontological playing field, giving only a wink to complexity and — not just a nod, but — a full bow to naturalism. That wink, of course, comes in the form of epistemic openness (nonreductively) and the bow reverences ontological closure (reductively). They end up “proving too much” precisely because, in nature, beyond our vague conceptions of entropy, cause, agent and telos, we must recognize that there are entropies, causes, agencies and teloi, each rather rigorously defined, all requiring dutiful disambiguation prior to their employment in facile syllogisms, many which can get sylly to the point of absurdity.
These reductionistas have properly gathered one take-away, which is that god must not be placed in our metaphysical gaps. At the same time, they have issued epistemic promissory notes denominated in a naturalistic fiat currency, which cashes out no value, metaphysically, only methodologically.
I am hard pressed to give examples, such as from philosophies of mind and cosmogonies to better illustrate my intuitions without running into those walls of clarity and brevity and my idiomatic barriers. Most succinctly, though, as God will arrive when the half-gods depart, theologically, so too the Cosmos and the Anthropos will arrive when the half-natures and half-humans depart from our cosmological and anthropological conceptions, the therapy for which includes suitable analogical predications.
Stephen Hawking expressed some liberation from his realization that there were Godel-like implications for any Theory of Everything, that one could choose between the consistency of one’s axioms or the completeness of one’s system. I listened to Hawking’s speech when it was first made public, marveling only at the fact that he was only of late realizing what the Jesuit Stanley Jaki had taught us decades prior, that when wagering between being either inconsistent or incomplete vis a vis any TOE, the good money’s always been on incompleteness. If that’s true regarding the cosmos, then how much more true that must be for the mysterium tremendum et fascinans?
Theological skepticism has never been some ad hoc strategem simply to avoid (properly, I say) theodicies, but has only ever been inherent in any worthwhile theological grammar. In the end, this has enormous import for our practical theology, formative spirituality, life of liturgy, prayer life, theopoietics and theotics, whereby our theological antinomies much less so will ever resolve, philosophically, but much more so will dissolve, existentially, via divine encounters, communions, participations, partakings and … well .. about those Energies?
Now, in the normal methodological scheme, such an abductive-deductive inferential cycling can fall into epistemic vice if, at some point, it is not also interrupted by inductive testing, if you will, falsification and empirical investigation.
So, beyond our establishment of logical possibilities, we pursue evidential plausibilities.
However, we must be mindful of our subject matter, even in that metaphysics pertaining to the origins of the cosmos, life, sentience and human agency, precisely because of transcendence, minimalistically conceived. These problems remain intractable because we haven’t been able to reconcile emergent nomicities from one level of complexity to the next.
So, as we encourage a plurality of logical interpretations at various of nature’s causal joints, we resist any rush to closure, especially aspiring to
avail ourselves of falsifiability and empirical probing. We don’t ever presuppose that we are, in principle, necessarily ontologically occulted, only imagine, instead, that, for now and in this case, we might remain epistemologically thwarted, methodologically.
Now, to the extent this describes our situation regarding, for example, the origins of life and human symbolic language, ontologically and nomically nearby, so to speak, then, how much more so will this epistemic distance obtain as our thermodynamic equations break down as we approach t=0 near the Big Bang?
That’s why evidential approaches, such as the attempt to establish irreducible complexity by ID proponents, remain seriously misguided. For one thing, some anthropic principle approaches confuse the math between chance and coincidence. More importantly, though, we simply do not know enough about the cosmos’ initial, boundary and limit conditions to say with any confidence what should or should not be expected. (I generously grant each person their unique bayesian priors but all might properly concede that those are rarely universally held). To boot, irreducible complexity is unfalsifiable.
So, if a healthy degree of metaphysical agnosticism remains defensible, how much more so theological skepticism?
The problem is, as Pascal and William James realized, the matter of God remains existentially vital and axiologically forced. So, we evaluate what might be live options. Now, by evaluate, I certainly include logical interpretations of primal reality and logical defenses of the problem of evil. But our final evaluations simply cannot turn on informative necessities, logically, but, instead on the performative significance of our leaps, existentially. So, there’s an evidential aspect that, with no little epistemic virtue, warrants our leaps of faith, and evaluates them in terms of how much value we can cash out of them in terms of what Don Gelpi, SJ (building on Lonergan) would describe as intellectual, affective, moral, social and religious conversions or, in short, human authenticity.
Faith, in such an approach, is much less so warranted epistemically vis a vis inductive testing of abductive-deductive “best explanations,” and more so normatively justified. The leap takes place at an existential disjunction as a “living as if” in the face of competing and intractable equiplausibilities, where we wager or choose the most life-giving and relationship-enhancing response (is that a rope or a snake coiled up on the floor of my cave? i shall leave it alone until i can light the fire and see! meanwhile, i’d best jump over it).
So, while I find evidential theodicies terribly off-putting, some worse than others, more fundamentally, they seem epistemically misconceived. We simply don’t know enough about — not only the cosmos’ initial conditions, but — G*d’s essential nature to say what should or should not be expected vis a vis creatio, metaphysically.
So, the problem of evil, logically, invites a plurality of defenses, none which must necessarily hold, evidentially remains way epistemically distanced but, existentially, suggests certain normative responses and requires creative pastoral solutions.
from a separate post re: divine & human activity
A lot of philosophical analysis to me seems over-invested in the employment of the excluded middle, which ends up in all or nothing & either/or thinking. When Charles Sanders Peirce formulated his modal ontology of firstness (roughly possibilities), secondness (actualities) and thirdness (roughly probabilities), in that category of thirdness vis a vis reality’s regularities, Peirce precisely prescinded from necessity to probability, where, while noncontradiction still holds, excluded middle folds. Whether regarding epistemic in/determinables or ontological in/determinacies, then, different realities are recognized as more vs less determined in varying degrees, on a case by case basis. For example, we might say a given entity is “adequately” determined without at all implicating “absolute” determinism.
Thus it may be, I’ve always thought, that, when deliberating over monergisms and synergisms, we certainly needn’t treat those dynamics in an absolutist frame. When attributing monergism or synergism to entities, we must ask both 1) regarding what particular attribute (as well as predicated univocally or analogically) and 2) to what extent?
McCann’s coreligionists would never countenance an absolute monergism and neither does he. Neither would it object to an adequate monergism while, at the same time, regarding other attributes, emphasizing an indispensable synergistic dynamic, between an Agent, Who’s absolutely sovereign (free), and an agent, who’s free-enough to aesthetically attain the beatitude of divine participations.
For my part, I’m not threatened by the image of my being divinely ravished, especially by such a courtly Suitor/Seductress, Who so coyly woos but never slav-ishly (double entendre intended) coerces my erotic attentions. I’m just desperately trying to better attune my tone-deaf self to Her overtures (insert your favorite composer du jour).
As far as any tendency to make divine unknowability the truth value of one’s position, at least regarding the problem of evil, what’s not defensible, in my view, are any ad hoc retreats into theological skepticism. Generally, though, that’s not what I encounter. Disagreements regarding whether or not theodicies are un/necessary or even im/possible are, instead, rooted in one’s religious epistemology, systematically. I get frustrated trying to figure out what implicit, alternate epistemological approaches might be the locus of some impasses. I’m not sure I’ve spoken to your frustration but you did remind me of my own. In my approach, for example, I suppose I could say that a positive theodicy remains unnecessary, largely because it’s virtually impossible.
Not sure I was thinking exactly the same thing re: such a “meticulous providential control,” but the logical consequences that I was intuiting regarding such a sovereignity seemed to lie in the same direction that I’ve called the Baskin Robbins account of the divine will, which comes in 31 classic flavors, mostly designed to feed theodicial appetites. I can imagine God being exculpable vis a vis sin in a double agency framework, but I can’t tell if McCann has succeeded in meeting such criteria (via some combination of sub- and super- venience). Where the price of such a sovereignity gets uneconomic, for me, comes at the expense of including evil and suffering in one’s divine economy, such as in an Irenaean theodicy. I cannot conceive of a “G”od, Who has anything whatsoever to do with author-ing evil or needing suffering, including annihilationism. The Brothers Karamazov makes more sense to me than metaphysics when it comes to those divine attributes. I’m more frightened by the thought that some atrocities might ever be made morally intelligible than I am of remaining forever befuddled or intractably theologically skeptical.
contd re: McCann
As I have grappled with the problem of evil, I have been rationally satisfied by different logical accounts of the divine economy, all which seem, more or less, consistent with special revelation, some seeming not to be necessarily mutually exclusive from others, none seeming to necessarily be the case.
I view soul-making and the greatest good as divinely willed “ends” for which neither evil nor suffering are divinely willed “means,” which, instead, include, for example, epistemic distance and theosis.
Epistemic distance necessarily introduces finitude and contingency, which, while they can constitute failures to cooperate with grace, merely result from “inabilities.” While moral evil can also constitute such failures, those result, instead, from “refusals” to thus cooperate, in a word, sin.
An anti-theodicy can logically affirm both divinely willed soul-making and the greatest good as “ends,” while denying evil and suffering as necessary “means” in the divine economy? God would never intend evil or suffering but whenever confronted with same could work — not with, but — providentially against and around them and seemingly, perhaps, could even opportunistically exploit every new set of circumstances to bring about the greatest good (Romans 8).
Now, in this scenario, anthropological questions would beg for me about why we wouldn’t necessarily suffer from mistakes, only from sin (but, oh what a better world it would be!) Still, I’d rather remain theologically skeptical, on one hand, about how epistemic distance and theosis, alone, might have (even if somewhat implausibly so) operated in a possible world without evil and sin than, on the other hand, skeptical regarding God’s lack of moral intelligibility vis a vis what might exculpate Her from employing sin and suffering as necessary means (often seemingly repugnantly so).
Is McCann offering a soul-making, greater good evidential theodicy, arguing — not only “that,” logically, but — “how,” plausibly, sin and evil were “necessary” divine means?
Or is he otherwise recognizing that, logically, the realities of sin and evil, even if probable, definitely not necessary, could successfully be worked around without overwhelming the divine economy with its eschatological, soteriological, sacramental, ecclesiological or sophiological ends?
As for the uninstantiated “possibilities” for moral evil, as logically entailed by freedom, they would have no ontological status. Arguably, too, sinful choices would result in axiological privations, evil having no ontological status? Also, God, in McCann’s acount, appears to be ontologically authoring, pre-morally, only an indispensable ontic evil (via epistemic distance as finitude not sin), which a proportionate reason would underwrite with the currency of a greater good, but otherwise remains teleologically uninvolved with any intentional agency, who might directly intend such an evil in a morally culpable act.
Perhaps this is more consistent with Scotus, who believed that the Incarnation was in the divine will from the cosmic get-go and not occasioned by some felix culpa.