Natural Theology & Natural Law -however otherwise weak, at least- defeat Nihilism

In science, faith & quotidian life, epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can normatively adjudicate any competing responses using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty.

The hermeneutical spiral, above, recapitulates Lonergan’s transcendental imperatives & functional specialties.


To wit:

De-liberatively, regarding our references, descriptively & interpretively, epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can adjudicate, normatively, any competing responses, using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty, evaluatively.

De-liberatively (cosmos & mythos – be free, be loving, be-loved per both temporal & ultimate teloi) …

regarding our references …

descriptively (logos or perceptionbe aware in research & communications) & …

interpretively (topos or understandingbe intelligent in interpretation & systematics) …

epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can adjudicate …

normatively (ethos or actingbe responsible in dialectics & foundations), any competing responses, using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty

evaluatively,(pathos or judging & decidingbe reasonable in history & doctrines).

I must stipulate with Hart & Milbank that any rivalry between ultimate worldviews, say nihilist vs theological, cannot be logically coerced. Reality remains far too ambiguous for us & way too ambivalent toward us to compel belief through speculative reason, alone.

With the Thomists, I would insist that, even stipulating that nihilism has not thus been refuted, philosophy well demonstrates the reasonableness of natural theology as an equiplausible competing worldview.

For me, Thomism’s reasonableness remains indispensable over against any thoroughgoing fideism, much less, nominalism, idealism, voluntarism or relativism.

I do not receive Milbank as coming from some Thoroughly [Post]Modern Millie, but, instead, take (eisegetically) his postmodern critique as an admonition to avoid the temptations of dueling hyper-formalisms in countering those insidious –isms.

This is to recognize that —

no essentialistic framing will finally foreclose nominalism, descriptively;

no naïve realism will convincingly defeat idealism, interpretively;

no intellectualistic speculation will logically overcome voluntarism, evaluatively;

no absolutistic insistence will compellingly obviate relativism, normatively; and

no rationalistic appeals will definitively refute fideism, existentially.

But what amount to epistemic misfires for some are but caricatures for others, whose

1) descriptive probes include semiotic & moderate critical realisms;

2) interpretive heuristics employ a metaphysical fallibilism;

3) evaluative dispositions engage an irreducible triad of logos-pathos-ethos, e.g. Aristotelian eudaimonia, Augustinian beatitudo or Thomist summum bonum;

4) normative propositions allow some degree of ethical pluralism grounded – not in an insidious relativism or vulgar pragmatism, but — suitable epistemic humility, metaphysical fallibilism & moral probabilism ; and

5) philosophical preambula vault fidei past the threshold of equiplausibility.

Thomism’s reasonableness thus gets vaulted philosophically past the threshold of equiplausibility by the valid & coherent arguments of natural theology & natural law. (And its deontological conclusions should be considered at least as modest as its ontological commitments are tentative). There, philosophy culminates in either the theological preambula fidei & its general precepts or a nihilistic cosmogony.

Any “competing” theological or nihilistic mythos would come after a normatively justified existential leap.

Past this threshold of epistemic warrant, speculative reason yields to practical reasoning under uncertainty. The speculative arguments between essentialism & nominalism, realism & idealism, intellectualism & voluntarism, absolutism & relativism and fideism & rationalism have previously been transcended by a fallibilist, critical realism.

Normative justifications commence and can lead either to the fideistic, voluntaristic dichotomy of a theological versus nihilistic mythos or to an existential disjunction, where rational equiplausibility principles, albeit often implicit, adjudicate a decision to “live as if” that which is (more so, perhaps, they who are) the most life-giving & relationship-enhancing, the most beautiful & good, the most unitive & liberative, will — first & proleptically, i.e. proximately & temporally, as well as eventually & eschatologically, i.e. ultimately & eternally — also happen to be the most true.

This constitutes meta-discourse, however inchoate or implicit, whether variously held provisionally or confidently, yes, prior to special revelations, and yes, on tradition-transcendent grounds. Importantly, this needn’t be formal discourse or what can sometimes devolve into sylly syllogisms, but more often, via our participatory imaginations, comes from our common sense & common sensibilities, from connaturality, an illative sense, a tacit dimension, intuitions & informal abductions.

The most problematical arguments of natural theology are rationalistically grounded in naïve rather than critical realisms. The most problematical arguments of the natural law are a prioristic, rationalistic, deductivistic, biologistic, physicalistic & infallibilistic, especially as they move from general precepts to specific concrete norms, particularly because of epistemic hubris and the lack of a more inductive, personalist relationality-responsibility approach. But the abuse of natural theology & natural law is no argument against their proper use.

The questions that beg?

What constitutes the most life-giving, existentially?

How do we define & measure the most relationship-enhancing? The most unitive, interpretively & orthocommunally?

Where’s the most beautiful instantiated, evaluatively & orthopathically?

And the most good realized, normatively & orthopraxically?

And the most liberative, metanoetically & orthotheotically?

These are not questions that yield to an armchair cognitive map-making but which must actively engage participative imaginations that are naturally embodied, historically situated, socially embedded, culturally bound, politically immersed & transcendentally horizoned.

Of course it’s incredibly problematical to apply our ortho-metrics to competing worldviews, precisely because their instantiations are so very particular & traditioned.

But I wouldn’t want to defend the notion that nihilism remains in that competition?

Finally, Between an overly pessimistic Augustinian interpretation & overly optimistic transcendental Thomism, perhaps a Goldilocks theological anthropology can be articulated:


Gelpi recognized both as donative realities – a gratuity of creation & gratuity of grace, the Spirit’s universal presence (e.g. nomicities) & particular presence, where Grace is mediated via transmuted experience, where, for example, Kerygma matter immensely.

This discussion continues here:

Where in the World is Sophia? —a Sophiological footnote

The created grace Gelpi refers to would be constituted by reality’s actualized potencies, eternalized teloi (both temporal & ultimate teloi) of Peircean thirdness, efficient materialities of secondness, connaturalized indeterminacies of firstness, existentialized essences, formalized finalities, participatory intimacizations eternalized, all temporal realities coaxed forth Pneumatologically, Christologically & Paterologically via Divine Energies as would account for effects as would be proper to no known causes.

Every trace of human goodness, for example, eternalized, i.e. every beginning of a smile & all wholesome trivialities!

Whether interpreted in Platonic, Neoplatonic, Aristotelian, Thomist, Scotist, Palamitic or Peircean categories (and I cross hermeneutical bridges between them all), collectively & dynamically, these cumulative actualized potencies or eternally realized divine teloi may represent Sophia, who participates in the Divine Energies in a perichoretic Divine Dance.

In The Wisdom of God, Bulgakov spoke of two Sophias, one created and the other uncreated. She to whom I refer above would be the created Sophia in her participatedness. While I affirm the Divine Energies per a formal distinction, I must defer to others regarding the manner of viewing Sophia in Orthodoxy. And still wonder just how we might best account for ecstatic visions of Sophia.

See more re this theophany:


This body of work largely comprises my project, which I refer to as Pan-semio-entheism, because, as a systematic theology, while it is metaphysically realist, it prescinds from any given metaphysical root metaphor (substance, relational, process, experience, etc) to a phenomenological meta-heuristic.

See: Amos Yong With John Sobert Sylvest, “Reasons and Values of the Heart in a Pluralistic World: Toward a Contemplative Phenomenology for Interreligious Dialogue,” Studies in Interreligious Dialogue 20:2 (2010): 170-93

Simone Weil – patron saint of the religious Nones?

A wise nephew once told me that families are often like a fire. At the proper distance, we can warm ourselves, while, being too close can get us burned.

Simone Weil could not bring herself to approach the hearth of the institutional church — not only for the fear of getting burned, herself, but — out of a genuine fear of others, whom the church excluded, getting burned even more. She chose to remain outside, beyond the institutional margins, travelling as a pilgrim in a noninstitutional vehicle, an unmarked ecclesiological car of the Mystical Body.

For its part, the institutional vehicle was too often (not to say either exclusively or always) being steered (both hierarchically & by many infantilized laity) by those whom I would call People of the Lie, those whom Scott Peck generically referred to whenever he encountered persons caught up in efforts to preserve sick identity structures, whether of themselves or of their institutions.

It wasn’t the mysteries entrusted to the Church but the institutional evils encrusted on it that Simone rejected.

Noninstitutional vehicles are manifold & multiform. Sometimes, they’re the only viable means of traveling. Returning to the first part of this mixed metaphor, they’re the only form of community by which some can warm themselves without getting burned or possibly burning another.

Every time that a man has, with a pure heart, called upon Osiris, Dionysus, Buddha, the Tao, etc., the Son of God has answered him by sending the Holy Spirit.

And the Holy Spirit has acted upon his soul, not by inciting him to abandon his religious tradition, but by bestowing upon him light — and in the best of cases the fullness of light — in the heart of that same religious tradition. … It is, therefore, useless to send out missions to prevail upon the peoples of Asia, Africa or Oceania to enter the Church. (Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 1951)

I am heartened by some recent papal admonitions against proselytizing.

The phrase “with a pure heart, called upon,” to me speaks of – not just an intentionality, but – a profoundly relational intentionality. In reading and encounter, I have come across this type of devotional dimension in all of the world’s great traditions, as well as both indigenous and even nontheist religions.

Intertwined with (yet largely abstractable from) these devotional intentionalities, which are creedal or propositional in the way that they point toward specific “targets” of intentionality, e.g. cosmos, others, God or even self, are all manner of practices, disciplines, rituals, asceticisms and exercises, which, without being essentially propositional, foster our growth in human authenticity (a dispositional reality wherein our intellectual, affective, moral, social & relational dimensions take on postures of humility).

Humility presents in other domains beyond the intellectual, including affective, moral, social, political and relational. I elaborate on that elsewhere on this site, where I distinguish between the dispositional trajectories of Lonergan’s conversions and the developmental trajectories of the human growth theories of Piaget, Erickson, Kohlberg, Fowler and so on.

In my view, our Spirit-inspired traditions all share the same soteriological trajectory, that growth in authenticity that Bernard Lonergan called secular conversions, which I like to refer to as the love of wisdom. That’s what ortho-doxy or true glory means to me.

That’s why we can appropriate certain practices from other traditions and integrate them into our own, eg. Christian Zen.

Our traditions may otherwise diverge to various extents, taking distinct sophiological trajectories, growing us as “beings in love” with specific “targets” and dimensions of intentionality, e.g. cosmos, others, God or even self. That’s what poly-doxy means to me, many-gloried, and even nonbelievers can participate.

Folks like Maslow, Viktor Frankl and Lonergan all, each in their own way and time, eventually came to recognize that authenticity, in order to be sustainable, required self-transcendence, which I like to refer to as the wisdom of love.

I don’t deny how our getting our creedal propositions right can help us journey more swiftly and with less hindrance, enjoying a spiritual superabundance. So, I’m not suggesting some insidious indifferentism. But I do believe that these soteriological and sophiological trajectories, as I have come to understand them, can be realized ubiquitously, yielding human value-realizations in abundance, across traditions. Some folks have even co-inhabited traditions, although that’s rare because, anthropologically, religions’ cultural embeddedness present major challenges to converts, often requiring deep participatory immersions for both creedal inculturations as well as moral & sociological enculturations.

Simone, I believe, was in touch with such a profound pneumatological (Spirit-inspired) optimism and inclusivism as I have tried to describe. That may be why she saw no need to proselytize as evangelizing, itself, was sufficient, and why she also felt safe abiding beyond the margins, journeying in a noninstitutional vehicle.