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

Voting – a prime example of “reasoning under uncertainty”

I assume that if I accepted your premises, both implicit & explicit, I’d also describe your POTUS candidate as the only viable choice.

But those premises will necessarily involve a great deal of what we call “reasoning under uncertainty.”

This is to say that the causal chains between a given POTUS vote & various un/desirable outcomes are very tenuous. This is also to recognize that the individual acts of all persons involved in effecting those un/desirable outcomes are highly contingent.

Ergo, very intelligent persons of incredibly profound goodwill, who even share identical values vis a vis un/desirable outcomes, can thus differ in their POTUS choices, everyone doing so in an eminently reasonable way.

As for any alleged character-based disqualifying criteria, those are much less compelling, generally, to those who are voting pragmatically rather than expressively. Increasingly, nowadays, voting expressively, based on a candidate’s character (note below), seems to be an increasingly rare opportunity?

Practical Take-Aways:

Intellectually, we should all better realize that our prudential judgments regarding political solutions can be very highly speculative. There are ordinarily so many unknowns regarding the probability of un/desired outcomes that a high level of confidence in one’s political approach is seldom warranted and arrogance is never warranted. And if this is true regarding so very many political objectives, which are way underdetermined, it’s especially the case regarding ultimate policy goals as measurable outcomes, which are most often way overdetermined, all of this also subject to indeterminable counterfactual analyses.

Interpersonally, we should primarily focus on the values & love that we certainly share with family, friends, co-religionists, neighbors & associates. In my view, that thoroughly suffices!

Precisely because of the hyper-speculative nature of political prudential judgments, it’s to be expected and should be unsurprising, when, among those very same people, those judgments are not uniformly shared.

None of this is to suggest that our political prudential judgments do not matter or cannot make a difference. They indeed contribute to a collective wisdom that, when it does go astray, inevitably corrects (depending on the cultural milieu, e.g. modern democracy vs tribal, this can be in a single cycle, hopefully not multi-generational epochs!).

It is to observe that, if you find yourself overinvested emotionally or, worse, at risk of relationship breaches regarding your political dis/agreements, it could very well be due to the fact that you have equally overestimated your intellectual acumen (at least, politically).

Certain candidates may evoke significant emotional responses in us for various reasons, as with any other personalities. Because important values are often involved in our political assessments, this can add emotional energy to our experience of electoral outcomes and to the pols, themselves. We might even marvel at why others don’t experience the same degree of attraction or revulsion to a given person as we do. That mystery can be understood, in part, by the fact that, while certain emotions are cerebral and can be rationally accounted for upon self-reflection, some of our emotional responses are visceral and don’t lend themselves to an intellectual accounting (not without deep-dives into our unconscious). The more forceful and immediate our response to a given politician, then, the less we should be surprised when many others don’t share it, because, notwithstanding our inventory of otherwise justifiable cerebral emotions, the greater will be the likelihood that much (in various degrees) of our attraction or revulsion is visceral, which can leave it no more accountable for itself than any other matter of mere taste. And it certainly means we shouldn’t expect others to be able to give a rational accounting of their own lack of a visceral experience thereof!

There’s a book I intend to procure called Longing and Letting Go: Christian and Hindu Practices of Passionate Non-Attachment, written by Holly Hillgardner. In it she describes passionate non-attachment. That paradoxical concept sounds to me like a great religious prescription for what ails us in life, in general, politics, in particular? Hillgardner suggests that authentic practices of longing will always contain the seeds of non-attachment, i.e. the letting go of cravings, aversions, fears, and false identities that keep the self bound in an illusory self-possession that walls it off from others. Sounds relevant, n’est pas?

Note: Voting expressively can, among many other strategies, also include voicing one’s prophetic issue-based stance (even independent of a candidate’s character).