Research

My paper “The Passibility of God: A Plea for Analogy” is forthcoming in Faith and Philosophy.

My major project to date has been to elaborate and defend a particular approach to questions in philosophy of religion and in philosophical theology. The central features of my view are as follows. First, if God is to be an appropriate object of worship and to otherwise meet core theistic desiderata, God must be something ontologically more fundamental than a concrete being (i.e. a being that participates in the same horizontal causal order we do). Second, since God is not merely a concrete being, God “escapes our conceptual nets”; human beings are unable to say anything true about God’s positive and intrinsic properties except by analogy. And third, because of the way these claims about God rely on analogy, any theology based on the previous two principles could be justified only by special revelation (if at all). While these are all partly theological claims, my interest is in defending the coherence and reasonableness of the above position using the tools of analytic philosophy.

As a key part of this broader project, my dissertation defends the adequacy of the view that God is properly described only analogically, where by that I mean that the only true, positive descriptions of God’s intrinsic nature available to us are ones that describe God in terms of something God is similar to. A standard objection to this position is that unless analogical claims are reducible at least in principle to non-analogical ones, they are effectively empty of content. I respond to this objection by proposing an account of religious language which isn’t vulnerable to such criticisms. One crucial element of my solution is that we must understand claims about God not as isolated analogical assertions of the form “God is similar to x,” but rather as claims which serve to construct complex analogical models of God. Drawing on the recent profusion of literature on scientific models, I demonstrate that analogical models can serve to describe an element of reality in a way that is both theoretically contentful and practically action-guiding way without being reducible to non-analogical descriptions. It is thus possible for a thoroughly analogical theology to serve as the basis for a robust religious worldview and way of life.

One question I am currently working to address is whether anyone could ever be rationally justified in believing such a theology. Appealing to irreducible analogy in formulating claims about God raises additional difficulties for any subsequent attempt to justify those claims. For example, an argument for God’s existence based on evidence of an intelligent designer seems to break down if we specify that God is not really an intelligent designer, but is merely similar to one in respects we are unable to specify. I have argued the only possible way an irreducibly analogical theology could be justified is on the basis of testimony from a trustworthy authority—i.e., supernatural revelation. But it is not immediately obvious how this could work.