Marrying the Theological Anthropology of David Bentley Hart to a More Compelling Systematic Theology

Metaphysically, we must resist proving too much. We shouldn’t pretend that we can somehow a priori and rationally unscramble reality’s epistemic-ontic omelet of in/determinacies. This is to recognize that we can’t always specify which of reality’s levels of aboutness and/or layers of aporia represent entities and processes that are variously in/determinable and/or in/determined and to what extent. Neither can we specify which of these are primitive and which emergent, as well as which are atomic and which aggregate.

 

A vague phenomenological survey does reveal different types of aboutness or teloi: teleopotent or veldopoietic, teleomatic or cosmopoietic, teleonomic or biopoietic, teleoqualic or sentiopoietic and teleologic or sapiopoietic.

Theologically, we must resist telling untellable stories, philosophically. We shouldn’t pretend that we can somehow a priori and rationally unscramble reality’s theological-metaphysical casserole of teloi. This is to recognize that we don’t know enough about reality’s initial, boundary and limit conditions to determine which of the prevailing equiplausible accounts is more probable (e.g. mereologically, which explanatory account necessarily commits or avoids a fallacy of composition).

 

From a high theoretical altitude, ignoring the cultivars (or weeds) of metaphysical nuance, those philosophical theological accounts essentially reduce to nihilism, pantheism, deism, panen-theism, pan-entheism and classical theism.

 

A nihilism can derive from either a thoroughgoing determined reality of primitives, forces & laws or a thoroughgoing indetermined reality of dynamical, energetic contingencies or even some blend of such necessity & contingency, pattern & paradox, order & chaos. In any case, such outlooks will unavoidably reduce to epistemic nominalism, evaluative voluntarism, normative relativism, interpretive skepticism and existential nihilism, at least, in terms of eternal & ultimate concerns. (Arguably, temporally & proximately, there most certainly can be evaluative & normative, including moral, realisms, as well as weak, epistemic foundationalisms.) Such outlooks remain inescapably brute vis a vis any PSR (principle of sufficient reason) in that they a priori suggest that reality as a whole might, some day, be sufficiently explained, i.e. by an exhaustive account of its parts, as well as ontologically in/determined.

 

The prevailing theistic accounts approach reality as – not brute, but – the fruit of an eminently personal deity, Who sufficiently explains as well as ontologically causes the whole of determinate reality.

 

Some are motivated to embrace one worldview versus another based on various indispensable methodological presuppositions like, for example, naturalism or a PSR (weak or strong versions). HOWEVER –

 

Just because naturalism is an indispensable methodological presupposition doesn’t mean it necessarily holds, metaphysically, it only means that we will be unfortunate if it does.

 

Just because some (weak) Principle of Sufficient Reason is an indispensable methodological presupposition doesn’t mean it necessarily holds, metaphysically, it only means that we will be unfortunate if it does not.

 

One opts for an ultimate nihilism or naturalism, deism or theism, then, with other than apodictic certainty and on other than a priori rational presuppositions or metaphysical foundations. Does that necessarily implicate an unavoidable fideism? No.

 

All human epistemology boils down, in my view, to a pragmatic, semiotic realism, which is essentially fallibilistic and consistent with a number of reasonable, even though contradictory, metaphysical accounts, including eminently defensible minority positions alongside more common-sensical majority positions and folk psychological approaches.

 

In my view, since a pragmatic semiotic realism accounts for most human value-realizations, no mere fideism need account for one’s leap of faith past an ultimate nihilism. Faced with otherwise equiplausible approaches to reality writ large that are both a/theologically consistent and metaphysically coherent, why not opt, existentially, for that approach to human value-realizations which is, ultimately & eternally, the most meaningful & least absurd, anthropologically?

 

And, especially, why not thus opt if there are reliable, credible, authoritative and trustworthy voices across millennia, who’ve given witness to such approaches, wherein & whereby certain human value-realizations have presented and which, moreover, have appeared to be effects otherwise proper to no known determinate causes? That’s not fideism but fides et ratio par excellence!

 

Anthropologically, then, I commend the stance of David Bentley Hart, which, from one perspective, might be portrayed in terms of a theological suite of apophatic eschewals, which negate

1) instrumental accounts of evil, suffering & pain

2) evidential theodicies

3) libertarianisms

4) compatibilisms

5) intellectualisms

6) voluntarisms

7) consequential (& instrumental) disproportionalities and

8) frozen human potentialities (limited potencies) post-mortem.

 

Systematically, while there are coherent accounts under classical theism, which can be sustained consistent with certain logical defenses regarding the problem of evil, in my view, unless one employs a nuanced incarnational divine omnipathy in that defense (as I’ve elaborated elsewhere), merely relying on such distinctions as divine antecedent & consequent wills and on such as privation theories to account for all evil just doesn’t render accounts that are sufficiently persuasive, rhetorically, or satisfying, existentially, to many minds & hearts because, however consistent they may be logically, they don’t square with our common sense & sensibilities vis a vis our quotidian personal interrelational dynamics. Others have well inventoried such shortcomings.

 

On the whole, though, a suitably nuanced version of a doctrine of divine simplicity will have much to commend it, especially if it properly distinguishes between the divine nature and will, between divine esse naturale and intentionale, allowing for a thin passibility and recognizing a wide Pareto front of equipoised optimalities (rather than any singular best world scenario). For their part, determinate realities would variously reflect vestigia, imagines & similitudines Dei, all with varying degrees of incipient teloi, intentionalities and freedom.

 

There could be a multiversal plurality of different tehomic, formless voids, each a prevenient & uncreated chaos, representing all manner of eternal and/or ephemeral teloi of varying degrees of in/determinedness, constituting structured (some more so & some less so) fields of activity, each inherently (although variously) receptive to all manner of divine invitations (creatio ex profundis) to participate in novel teloi (creatio ex nihilo).

 

 

Each new Imago Dei would be soteriologically eternalized (thus divinely & radically determined) and sophiologically poised for growth in intimacy as a Similitudino Dei (per one’s radically free response in every participatory space opened by divine kenotic indeterminacies).

 

Such an approach would remain phenomenologically vague, hence metaphysically agnostic. One couldn’t specify the precise nature of any tehomic chaos vis a vis, for example, its degrees of incipient telos, intentionality or freedom versus what novelty was introduced by the creative divine esse intentionale, beyond insisting that the latter, in terms of being, only ever introduces what’s ameliorative, therapeutic, invitatory & eternalizing, where truth, beauty, goodness, unity and freedom are concerned, all over against what would otherwise be metaphysically (inherently) unavoidable in the way of tehomic pain, suffering, natural evil and moral evil. The divine will would thereby always reveal that truth, beauty, goodness, unity and freedom greater than which could not otherwise be conceived without introducing metaphysical incoherence, theological contradiction or anthropological absurdity.

 

Such a dynamical, divine matrix (as that of Joe Bracken) in dialogue with classical theism and a personalist Thomism (as that of Norris Clarke) would escape the flirtations with nominalism & determinism that inhere in many process theisms.

 

Because my account remains metaphysically agnostic (e.g. vis a vis a given root metaphor), poised between process & classical approaches but inspired by Peirce’s pragmatic semiotic realism, I call it a Tehomic Pan-semio-entheism: creatio ex nihilo ex profundis.

 

It ambitions no metaphysic and no evidential theodicy, but offers a logical defense to the problems of pain, suffering and natural & moral evils. This would all be consistent with a radically, divinely determined, soteriological apokatastasis, where each Imago Dei enjoys an aesthetic freedom gifted by an emergent abductive inference, anthropologically, as well as with radically indetermined relational & moral freedoms, whereby each Similitudino Dei can grow in divine intimacy, sophiologically.

This is all more fully explicated in Retreblement.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s