Advice to Analytic Theologians
June 6, 2011 — 8:04

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Christian Theology  Tags: , ,   Comments: 28

I got back last night from the third LOGOS conference (and there’s more to come), which was hosted this year by Notre Dame and organized by Mike Rea and his team as part of the Analytic Theology Project. The general theme was Scripture, Revelation, and Canon, and more specifically, the question was posed whether (very roughly, cut me some slack here) the methods analytic philosophers apply when doing, for relevant example, philosophical theology, can be fruitfully applied in broader horizons within theology, especially to the more specific topics of the conference.
An example of this kind of research project can be found in Crisp and Rea’s _Analytic Theology: New Essays in Philosophical Theology. (As far as I know, Mike Rea coined the term.) In his key note speech William J. “Billy” Abraham issued a grave but friendly challenge to the project of analytic theology. It included a raft of challenges facing analytic theologians (I’ll see if I can’t get Billy to put up a draft). He was explicit that he was not at all suggesting that these challenges couldn’t be met–in fact he seemed to be optimistic about it–but they are still bridges that must be crossed on the way to building a viable analytic theology. I think many of them have in fact already been met in the process of developing the philosophical theology of the last few decades. I’ll wait to comment more on that until I can see if I can get a draft of Billy’s paper. But I think the main challenge is this–and this may overlap considerably with Billy’s concerns.
Analytic philosophers have made great strides in their treatment of core theological issues such as the trinity and incarnation. But it is time to branch out to concerns which might be even more complex in a way: revelation, inspiration, the normativity of tradition, and the individuation of ecclesial bodies. Swinburne is the only analytic philosopher/theologian who has treated any of these issues in much detail that I can think of (please post other instances you are aware of). Most analytic philosophers reject flat-footed verbal plenary inspiration, but what do they put in its place? These are the sorts of questions which were treated at LOGOS and which need to be treated in the next several decades of analytic theology.
[MM: See William Abraham’s Turning Philosophical Water into Theological Wine]

  • Matthew Mullins

    I really enjoyed Abraham’s talk and, among other things, I’ve been giving some thought to his second challenge. Abraham wants to challenge the typical approach of philosophers to break up problems into bite size pieces.

    Second, theology is not just a hit and run foray into a small set of topics (incarnation, Trinity, sin); it involves a complex interconnection of loci. You cannot simply work on the basis of a lucky-dip or I-can-pick-my-own-topics and leave it at that. The work on the comprehensive loci of theology has to be comprehensive and then coordinated and integrated into a single whole. The issues have to be thought through eventually as one single enterprise; it looks as if no philosopher is in a position to do this.

    Abraham seems to be enjoining us to do systematic philosophical theology, but I don’t know of many philosophers that have attempted systematic philosophical enterprises. (At least not since Hegel) In fact, you might think that part of the core method of analytical philosophy is the division of labor. I’ve been wondering if the need to work systematically can’t be kicked up to the group level, or if we can’t divide the work up between those who work very deeply on particular issues and those who tie the threads together.

    June 6, 2011 — 9:23
  • Matthew Mullins

    “Most analytic philosophers reject flat-footed verbal plenary inspiration,” because most philosophers reject inspiration tout court. 🙂 Restricting the domain, I’d say it’s hasty to claim that most Christian philosophers reject VPI. William Lane Craig defends it and it’s the kind of view likely to be popular among some subset of the membership of the EPS.

    June 6, 2011 — 9:40
  • Trent Dougherty

    1a. True, though Swinburne has done a great job at doing systematic philosophical theology. I think Plantinga’s comments about his contribution to Natural Theology are not far off from true here, muatis mutandis: “Here the most prominent contemporary spokesperson would be Richard Swinburne, whose work over the last 30 years or so has resulted in the most powerful, complete and sophisticated development of natural theology the world has so far seen.” Swinburne, like Aquinas, is best known for his arguments for God’s existence, but he has written extensively on God’s nature, the nature of the soul, of sin and salvation, the nature of the church, of revelation, and he’s done really important work on miracles in general and the resurrection in particular, with much interpretation of Scripture and the Creeds thrown in as well.
    1b. One of the questions we need to consider is at what level of the taxonomic tree analytic theology belongs. Paul Nimmo, in Q&A seemed to suggest–and this was off the cuff, so we can’t hold him too it, though I got that this was a general sentiment–that analytic theology was a different SPECIES in the genus “Theology” ALONG SIDE such items as Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology, and Historical Theology. I doubt this is the best way to think about it. Just as I think analytic philosophy is basically philosophy done with a premium on clarity and logical structure, I think systematic theology can be done analytically and so analytic theology is just a way of doing systematic theology. Analytic philosophy proper is not a division of history, as I think the history of philosophy is. But almost all the good analytic philosophers I know are steeped in at least some aspect of the history of philosophy (and all the good historians I know, including the ones employed in philosophy departments, are good philosophers, and already are availing themselves of most of the tools of analytic philosophy (just as a historian of math would need to know a good bit of math, the more the better). Someone pursuing both analytic philosophy and history (esp of philosophy) seems perfectly natural to me, and many do so.
    (1) The Summa Theologica is a work of analytic theology.
    (2) The ST is a work of systematic theology.
    (3) Analytic theology and systematic theology are not mutually exclusive.
    This leads to the question of to what extent analytic theology should be seen as adopting any virtues or tools *specfific* to a certain liniage of 20th century philosophers. Certainly German theologians spend a lot of time specifically studying German philosophers. So perhaps the idea is something like this:
    20th century anglophone theologians should mine the likes of Russell, Wittgenstein, Chisholm, Kripke, what have you.
    In the same way that, say, Schleiermacher drew on Herder.
    The idea is that theologians have always drawn on the works of philosophers (Augustine/Plato, Aquinas/Aristotle, Schleiermacher/Herder), so there’s no reason not to do so now.
    2a. I actually didn’t think it would be controversial that most philosophers don’t accept VPI, since I figured that was limited to something like maybe 75% of EPS people, who make up maybe, what, 50% of christian philosophers.
    2b. An interesting question is whether the main Catholic view answers to the notions behind Evangelical use of “VPI.” Some now-Catholic former-evangelicals, like Scott Hahn seem to think the Catholic view is about the same. I doubt that. And of course I didn’t have most Catholic philosophers in mind, since most are continental and sense most of them probably don’t hold to the Church’s view of Scripture anyway (based on anecdotal but non-trivial evidence). I would really like to see about half a dozen catholic theologians and analytic philosophers duke it out on just what the Catholic view is. That would be a great exercise of analytic theology.

    June 6, 2011 — 14:42
  • Matthew Mullins

    You know I start worrying when I agree with you too much! 🙂
    1a. I think this is basically correct. Notice that if Swinburne is the best case, his work becomes a systematic whole over a lifetime of effort on digestible projects. There is an element of Abraham’s challenge that reads broader than even Swinburne’s work though.
    1b. Nimmo’s comment suggest that there is already something of a division of labor in theology. e.g. systematic people sometimes to defer to people doing historical biblical studies. (I’d have to consult someone else just because I don’t have the language skills for ancient texts nor the time to become such an expert)
    2. I just don’t know so I don’t want to guess. It strikes me as the kind of thing you’d just have to ask people. I’m not an x-phi guy though….

    June 6, 2011 — 18:13
  • “theology is not just a hit and run foray into a small set of topics (incarnation, Trinity, sin); it involves a complex interconnection of loci. You cannot simply work on the basis of a lucky-dip or I-can-pick-my-own-topics and leave it at that.”
    It seems to me that one can do some good work on whether the accidents of bread and wine can persist in the Eucharist after the bread and wine cease to exist, and if so how, without deeply integrating this with Trinitarian theology. Would it be better if one deeply integrated it with Trinitarian theology? Certainly. But in a finite lifetime there are competing intellectual goods. Unless one is one of a small number of geniuses like Aquinas who has the intellectual speed and versatility to engage in both, one has to make a choice between depth of analysis and breadth/interconnection/holism (or have both to a reduced degree). And it is a good thing for the intellectual enterprise if different participants in the intellectual enterprise choose differently among the competing intellectual goods.
    Maybe it is easier for a Catholic to say what I just said, because the Catholic can make a “hit and run foray into a small set of topics”. The Catholic analytic theologian can delegate at least some of the work of integration to the Church. If a theological doctrine is consistent with the proclaimed doctrines of the Church, then that is pretty good reason to think it fits into a larger coherent theological picture.

    June 6, 2011 — 18:20
  • Trent:
    By the way, on the topic of VPI, I suppose the controversy between Catholics and conservative Protestants will be with regard to the “verbal” part. Vatican II seems to affirm everything else in VPI: “the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. … [E]verything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit” (Dei Verbum 11).
    So, basically, the question is going to be whether God inspired the words and messages or just the messages, where a message is something like an ordered pair <p,f> where p is a proposition (better: doxin) and f is an illocutionary force. Right?

    June 6, 2011 — 18:37
  • Heath White

    I agree with some other voices here that there’s nothing wrong with hit-and-run philosophical theology. In general, a synthetic view is only going to be built up over a long period of time, and like Alex says there are some who will contribute more to the pieces and some more to the integration and holism. But that’s okay!
    Also, it’s important not to hold on too tightly to one’s own pet view–should the dialectic show that your piecework doesn’t fit with what the broad tradition shows, maybe just let it go. Often intellectual work proceeds by trial and error, so even coming up with an instructive error can help the whole tradition make progress.

    June 7, 2011 — 8:05
  • “so even coming up with an instructive error can help the whole tradition make progress”
    It can, but what if the instructive error gains followers, and a new heresy arises?

    June 7, 2011 — 8:28
  • Heath White

    That’s why I said “it’s important not to hold on too tightly to one’s own pet view…just let it go.” In philosophy we do a lot of putting forward views we think are plausible, letting people respond to them, and modifying them as necessary. That’s how you make progress. I don’t think theological subject matter should fundamentally change that process.

    June 7, 2011 — 9:49
  • I think there is still a danger. Even if I don’t hold on too tightly to my own pet view, once it’s out there, my readers may hold on to it too tightly. In theological and medical matters, one must be careful with “instructive errors”.
    That said, there is little reason to think that scholastic theological methodology (which is basically what analytic theologians use, albeit with an unfortunately less deep knowledge of the Church Fathers) is more likely to lead to heresy than other models of theological methodology. In fact, I am inclined to think the contrary.

    June 7, 2011 — 11:10
  • Tom Talbott

    Hi Alexander,
    With respect to the issue of instructive error, you asked: “what if the instructive error gains followers, and a new heresy arises?” You also wrote: “In theological and medical matters, one must be careful with ‘instructive errors.’”
    Personally, I am not one to worry about the issue of heresy, except that, as I see it, the heresy hunters typically represent the worst side of organized religion. But that’s just my own attitude. Could you perhaps say something about the nature of your own concern here? One must indeed be careful with “instructive errors” in medical matters, I presume, but could you perhaps say something more about the dangers, as you view them, in theological matters?

    June 7, 2011 — 22:33
  • Trent – thanks for this interesting post. I will read Abraham’s paper.
    But have we made “great strides” in Trinity and Incarnation?
    How can there be such progress when there is no consensus among Christian philosophers about these things, and when this work is pretty much unknown outside of professional philosophers and grad students, and nearly always ignored by professional theologians? (
    We have come up with a lot of genuinely new, creative and well articulated stuff – e.g. Swinburne or Leftow or Rea on the Trinity, Davis on kenosis theory, Morris’s two minds theory, Senor unmasking the hoary qua move, Cross on the ins and outs of incarnation theories. But I can’t think of a theory which has really made any converts, as it were. I guess just exploring all the logical options is progress. (I mean that seriously, not sarcastically – one must as it were lay the theories side by side on the table, to compare them.)
    But “great strides” suggests this is all marching in a certain direction, which I do not see. And the *positive* theories I mention above all bristle with problems.
    I suspect philosophers would have more of an impact if they went back to the sources, back to the Bible, with the eyes of an analytic history of philosophy specialist. Better to untie a knot, than to bury it in clever moves. Our skill of patiently putting together careful, charitable, and well-motivated readings of texts is a skill that could be of use. Problem is, most of us like to start with puzzles supplied for us by, e.g. the Athanasian creed. Philosophers can be ultra-sophisticated about our areas of philosophy, but too often just accept conventional views about the sources. We’re too timid; at least, if we’ve read a lot of historical stuff, our skills are directly applicable, and we needn’t *necessarily* address the expected theological “greats”, i.e. those academic theologians would expect to hear about – e.g. Barth or Hegel on the Trinity. Also, we pretty much only write for each other, for the philosopher crowd.

    June 8, 2011 — 0:08
  • Matthew Mullins

    I think there is an echo of your worry in Abraham’s paper when he writes that,

    What theological agenda is the analytic theologian serving? Calvinism? Scholastic Reformed Protestantism? Fundamentalist Evangelicalism? Perhaps the answer is any and all of these and more. But then we want to know, what theological constraints are in play here from the beginning? How far is there a hidden apologetic strategy rather than a full and free industrial strength exercise in theology? Put differently, how far is analytic theology itself compromised by a theological negotiation already conducted off site and hidden from view? (my emphasis) If this is the case, we need a lot more critical examination of the theological tradition being served by the analytic theologian and what that means.

    In my experience, most of the theological work is done for philosophers and this is why so much philosophy of religion can look apologetical. The challenge for Christian philosophers often tends to be working out a set of problems within the boundaries of the creeds. e.g. Whatever one says about God, salvation, atonement, etc, is going to have to fall within the scope of creedal orthodoxy. I don’t think there is anything wrong with people working out their commitments, but I was surprised when I discovered the degree to which my colleagues are committed to the boundaries of the creeds.

    June 8, 2011 — 9:37
  • Tom:
    Well, the danger of heresy has at least three components.
    1. The Christian life is a life of love for God. But false beliefs about one’s beloved can and often do adversely impact one’s love. If I falsely think that my wife is a Martian, I probably fail to love her for her humanity. This example may seem extreme, but it isn’t: to be mistaken on whether God is a Trinity, or on whether God is simple, is a more radical mistake about the sort of Being one is dealing than to be mistaken on whether my wife is human. And there are less extreme examples. If I have false beliefs about major motivations or goals of my life, that certainly adversely impacts the relationship.
    2. If you accept a heretical view, you have to reject, at least in part, the authority of the Church which says that the view is heretical. And that leads to schism, which is obviously harmful to the body of Christ.
    3. Because of the rejection of the Church’s authority and the tendency to schism, heresy eventually affects moral beliefs and moral praxis, as well as sacramental beliefs and sacramental praxis. But incorrect belief about morals and sacraments, and incorrect moral or sacramental praxis, is obviously unhealthy for the soul. Socrates notes that the health of the soul is more important than the health of the body, and that the health of the soul is a much more intellectually difficult matter than the health of the body. So error in regard to Christian praxis is, surely, much more to be feared than error in medicine.
    Intellectual progress does not require immediate recognition.
    Moreover, we need to distinguish who the relevant body of experts is. Analytic theology is the natural continuation of scholastic theology, just as analytic philosophy is the natural continuation of scholastic philosophy. Bracketing mainly the Ordo Praedicatorum as a very notable exception, few theologians outside of analytic theology are engaging in scholastic theology. And outside scholastic theology, I think that most of them ignore Ockham’s views on the transsubstantiation and Aquinas’ views on the range of possible incarnational options almost as much as they ignore Brower/Rea on the Trinity.
    I suspect that, by and large, non-scholastic theologians simply have relatively little direct substantive engagement with the traditional problematic. I don’t know what the best theological journals are.
    I just had a browsed through the tables of contents for the last two issues of the Journal of Theological Studies, published by Oxford, which claims to cross “the entire range of theological research, scholarship and interpretation.”
    Judging by titles, all the articles are historically oriented (and that includes most of the articles on biblical interpretation, since often their point is to figure out historically what the human author said), rather than involving a direct and substantive engagement with such questions as Trinity, simplicity, Incarnation, transsubstantiation and the relation between grace and free will.
    A few of the articles may use their historical engagement with the end of furthering substantive discussion on doctrinal matters, but even there I think those who want answers to the great questions will be disappointed. For instance, the most hopeful title was “The ‘Son of God’ was in the Beginning (Mark 1:1)”. But it turns out the article is almost entirely on a textual issue–whether the textual evidence supports “huiou theou” as being originally in the text rather than being a later scribal insertion (the author argues that the textual evidence supports it being there). This is a very fine article in biblical scholarship, drawing nicely on patristic data, or so it looks to a layman, but it does not further our theological understanding of the Incarnation, since whether or not Mark 1:1 says that Jesus was the “Son of God”, it is clearly a part of the Christian faith that he was.
    Many of the titles are fascinating and I expect the articles are of excellent scholarly quality. But by and large the articles do not appear to engage in substantive engagement with the puzzles raised by the doctrines I listed above.
    The book reviews in the journal outnumber the articles, and again few of the titles of the books indicate substantive engagement with the doctrines I listed above. That said, the book reviews did include at least two books by philosophers: Jerry Walls on eschatology and Craig and Moreland’s Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. The latter (I didn’t read the review of the former) gets an extremely positive review, so it looks like theologians have enough interest in what we philosophers do at least to review some of our books.
    Looking next at a bunch of AAR presentation titles, again it looks like substantive engagement with the great questions I gave above is rare. It is symptomatic that in the 113 pages of the gigantic 2010 AAR program book, the word “Trinity” occurs only once in the title of a presentation or session, and all the other occurrences are in the names of institutions. “Eucharist” occurs once, and “Incarnation” fares slightly better, with two occurrences. “Transubstantiation” (including the variant double-s spelling) doesn’t occur. “Aquinas” occurs only in the name of an institution.
    So I think there could be a simple explanation for why analytic theology has not been that influential among theologians. Once one brackets those theologians, like analytic theologians and many Dominicans and a few others, who practice scholastic theology, the topics of interest to most contemporary theologians seem to by and large differ from the topics of interest to us. And that is perfectly fine: there is an intellectual division of labor.
    Of course, there are other journals and other conferences, so what I looked at may be unrepresentative of the field of non-scholastic theology. I would be happy to be corrected.
    If the above tentative evaluation is right, it’s not so much that mainstream theologians don’t care about Brower/Rea’s attempted solution of some puzzles about the Trinity, it is that they do not care all that much about the puzzles. Maybe they think the puzzles have all been solved in the middle ages. (A recent translation of Augustine’s De Trinitate contains an amusing remark by the translator that Augustine is basically right on the Trinity, and that Aquinas has solved all the remaining difficulties.)
    Let’s look for influence among those who are working on the same problems we’re working on. And that means we should try to join forces with expressly scholastic theologians like many Dominicans.
    “Problem is, most of us like to start with puzzles supplied for us by, e.g. the Athanasian creed.”
    I don’t see that as a problem. The pseudo-Athanasian creed is one of the traditionally respected Christian creeds, and as such it is a legitimate source for Christian doctrine, carrying with it the tacit approval of the Church.

    June 8, 2011 — 9:45
  • “Intellectual progress does not require immediate recognition.”
    Well said, Alex. These things are unpredictable, and there can be a slow burn.
    I also think your remarks about substantive engagement is on the mark. Yes, why would you puzzle hard about finding a coherent view if all the options (you suppose) have been explored. There’s something else, often spun (by Abraham too, I notice) as a healthy dose of epistemic humility. It’s that given divine transcendence, any theory we come up with will be shot through with unclarities and apparent inconsistencies.
    Look, if that’s so, it is going to be hard to muster the energy to really refine, test, and compare the theories! Better to just keep repeating the traditional lingo, on whatever the topic is.
    One more point: “back to the sources” can include things beyond the Bible, including the creeds. When I look at what theologians typically say about historical greats, e.g. Origen – I usually think it is confused – that there has been serious engagement, but the guy’s work has been squashed into some common narrative.
    To my fellow philosophers who haven’t read much Origen – just imagine how, say, a historian would try to sum up the theories of Leibniz or Hume. That’ll give you some idea. Big brush strokes, and probably some simplistic controlling narrative.
    BUT there are different kinds of theologians – the historical specialists can be excellent. But sometimes their interests are curiously divorced from substantial theological issues.

    June 8, 2011 — 10:00
  • In my remarks to Tom above, under point 1, “If I have false beliefs about major motivations or goals of my life, that certainly adversely impacts the relationship”, the “my life” should be “her life” (though it’s also true with “my”).

    June 8, 2011 — 10:57
  • Tom Talbott

    Thanks for your response, Alex.
    I certainly agree with you that ideas have consequences and that one’s false beliefs can have disastrous consequences in one’s own life as well as in the lives of others. It was a host of false beliefs, for example, that led Saul of Tarsus to become one of the most notorious religious terrorists of his day: “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence” (I Tim. 1:13). And as Peter pointed out when he charged an audience with killing the “Author of Life”: “I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your rulers” (Acts 3:17). So it is non-controversial, I presume, that ignorance and false beliefs, particularly in matters that touch upon morality, can he highly dangerous.
    But not just any false belief, however tragic its consequences may be, will qualify, I take it, as heresy. If, to use your own example, you come to believe falsely that your wife is a Martian, this might qualify as a delusion, but hardly as a Christian heresy. Or, to switch to a more appropriate religious example: Saul of Tarsus was no doubt an unbeliever, in part because he lacked some crucial information that was eventually supplied to him on the road to Damascus. Similarly, a Hindu or a Buddhist may also hold some mistaken theological beliefs, even as many Christians do. But you would not, I presume, regard every unbeliever as a heretic or every mistaken belief as heretical. All of which raises the question: Just what is heresy anyway?
    Because I have never been one to worry about such matters, I would not presume to have a relevant definition and would never insist upon my own understanding anyway. But suppose we restrict our attention here to honest disagreements in abstract theology, such as the dispute between the Arians and the Trinitarians, where both sides identify with the Christian religion and agree on many of the same sources of revelation, however differently interpreted. You said that “heresy eventually affects moral beliefs and moral praxis.” But do we have any reason to believe that the Arians were, on balance, morally worse than the Trinitarians? And are not the relevant causal relationships here going to be exceedingly difficult to trace in any case?
    Thanks again for your response.

    June 8, 2011 — 13:03
  • Tom:
    I take the Church to define heresy.
    As for the Arians, if Christ is God, then the Arians failed to worship Christ as God. That is a serious (though perhaps not culpable) shortcoming in their love for Christ. On the other hand, if Christ is not God, then the Trinitarians committed idolatry. In both cases, these are serious consequences.

    June 8, 2011 — 18:34
  • Tom Talbott

    Alexander Pruss wrote: “As for the Arians, if Christ is God, then the Arians failed to worship Christ as God. That is a serious (though perhaps not culpable) shortcoming in their love for Christ. On the other hand, if Christ is not God, then the Trinitarians committed idolatry. In both cases, these are serious consequences.”
    I guess I’m still not clear, Alex, how to understand the term “serious consequences” in the present context. If I should become an idealist, that might have serious consequences for my understanding of creation; and if I should adopt a libertarian conception of human freedom (or a compatibilist one, for that matter), that too would have serious consequences for my approach to the problem of evil. So yes, of course: In that sense, whether one becomes an Arian or a Trinitarian will have serious consequences for one’s theological outlook; hence, those who take theology seriously will also take seriously (and examine carefully) the logical implications of both views.
    There is, however, a deeper issue to be considered here. Suppose that the Trinitarians were right and the Arians honestly mistaken. What follows? Well, as you point out, “the Arians failed to worship Christ as God,” and that, you say, “is a serious (though perhaps not culpable) shortcoming in their love for Christ.” But of course Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had no knowledge of the Cross at all, at least not during their earthly lives, and no knowledge of Christ’s nature. So these exemplars of saving faith, as the Christian religion describes them (see Heb. 11), also “failed to worship Christ as God,” and that, no doubt, was “a serious (though perhaps not culpable) shortcoming in their” understanding of God. Do not all Christians, indeed, have serious (though perhaps not culpable) shortcomings in their understanding of God? That is precisely why in a deeper sense I never worry about the issue of heresy, at least not in the case of honest disagreements. For God is quite capable of correcting our honest mistakes when and where he sees fit.
    Thanks for your further response.

    June 9, 2011 — 9:24
  • Tom:
    The worry I was expressing wasn’t over salvation, but over missing out on an important component of the relationship that should be there. Perhaps an infant can be saved with no explicit beliefs about God at all. But that state is not an enviable state. Someone who dies in infancy has missed out on an important aspect of earthly life by never having had explicit beliefs about God.
    Now, in the case of the paradigms of faith who came before Christ, I’d say that by their own lights they have missed out on much by not hearing more explicitly about Christ. There were important aspects of love for Christ that they were unable to have.
    One likely difference between the patriarchs and Arians is that the patriarchs probably did not believe that Christ wasn’t God. The question probably did not occur to them, because the prophecies of the Messiah were quite unclear at that point.
    Another difference is like the difference between someone in the year 1500 who is a young earth creationist (YEC) and a contemporary YEC. The year 1500 YECis not missing out on something already known about the earth. The contemporary YEC is.
    The patriarchs weren’t missing out on something already revealed about Christ. Moreover, they could, indeed, be said to have a disposition to accept revelation about Christ.
    The Arians, on the other hand, rejected an aspect of what was, in fact, revealed about Christ, and after Nicaea they rejected the teaching of the Church. Similarly, YECs right now, unlike YECs in the 1500, are rejecting the teaching of science. Of course, many of the Arians will deny that the true Church spoke at Nicaea, just as many of the YECs will deny that real science teaches contrary to YEC. But the facts remain that the true Church spoke at Nicaea and real science teaches contrary to YEC, and that Arians and YECs deny these teachings. They may not be culpable in their denial, but their life is the poorer for it. Truth in important matters is valuable.

    June 9, 2011 — 16:14
  • Dani Rabinowitz

    Moses Maimonides is another (medieval) philosopher who exemplifies what is here termed “analytic theology.”

    June 9, 2011 — 16:54
  • Dani Rabinowitz

    PS: it must not be forgotten that in the medieval period there were some fantastic Arabic or Islamic philosophers who were doing “analytic” theology e.g. Alfarabi, Avicenna, Averroes. They were essentially using neo-Platonism and neo-Aristotelianism to explore and defend their relevant theologies. Put side by side with Swinburne, I don’t see that they were engaged in different projects.

    June 9, 2011 — 17:04
  • How much were Maimonedes and the Muslim philosophers doing analytic theology, and how much was it just analytic philosophy of religion? My memory of Maimonedes is that he does do a fair amount of theology proper, but I can’t remember if he’s in analytic mode when doing it.

    June 9, 2011 — 18:26
  • Matthew Mullins

    I’m not as familiar with the Islamic philosophers, so I’ll reserve comment on them, however I don’t think Maimonides will fall under the umbrella of analytic theology. Setting aside issues of anachronism there are at least two challenges for reading Maimonides as engaged in analytic theology. The first is that the Maimonides doesn’t think that some propositions about God can be straightforwardly formulated in sentences that can be logically manipulated. Perhaps the via negativa can be overcome, there is still a second problem. Maimonides esotericism prevents him from modeling the precision and clarity that we expect in analytic work.

    June 9, 2011 — 19:35
  • Dani Rabinowitz

    Alex and Matt,
    You both raise interesting points wrt Maimonides. I guess a lot depends on how one defines analytic theology. If one were to use Rea’s collection as a guideline for a list of topics, then Maimonides falls squarely within the boundaries of analytic theology.
    As for whether it can be considered analytic, I’m not quite sure what is intended here. But since we consider the study of Aristotle to one of the pursuits of analytic philosophy, then I am more inclined to think that an application of his work to issues in theology would count as “analytic.” Perhaps I just missed the point.
    I also am disinclined to think Maimonides “esoteric” or committed to there being no propositions about God that can be logically manipulated. Matt, I would like to hear more about how you are thinking about this.
    Lastly, if one reads the Arabic philosophers they read much like Swinburne i.e. using the tools of philosophy to elucidate theological issues.

    June 9, 2011 — 20:44
  • Matthew Mullins

    My own inclination is that reading ancients or scholastic philosophers as ‘analytic’ is mistakenly anachronistic. While there may be parallel projects or aims, the tools, methods, and styles are distinctly different. This isn’t to suggest that there isn’t fruitful material in ancient or scholastic philosophy, there has been fantastic mining and appropriation of ancient philosophy by contemporary analytic philosophy. However, because we can turn an analytic lens on the material doesn’t make the material itself analytic.
    I thought the primary question about Maimonides was where and to what degree his work is esoteric. Maimonides himself tells us that his work will contain contradictions and hidden material, he’s just not explicit about where it is. Discussion of Maimonides esotericism is a major part of the secondary literature. As for the logic part, Maimonides thinks the highest form of praise we can give God is silence. He thinks anything we say about God actually takes us farther from him. He offers talking about God in a negative way, but that’s fraught with difficulties. This all probably deserves its own post, but it’ll sadly have to wait until sometime later.

    June 9, 2011 — 21:19
  • Tom Talbott

    Thanks for the further clarification of your view, Alex. You may have identified a possible misunderstanding between us when you wrote: “The worry I was expressing wasn’t over salvation, but over missing out on an important component of the relationship that should be there” (during an earthly life?). For it may be that I was thinking more about salvation and one’s future relationship with God, whereas you were thinking more about one’s relationship with God here and now, or at least one’s relationship with him during one’s earthly life. In an event, because our discussion is perhaps tangential to this thread as a whole, I’ll here restrict myself to two final comments.
    First, a clarification of my own view: As you will no doubt agree, many possible (and actual) theological views, such as a racist interpretation of the curse of Ham or a theological defense of slavery, are morally objectionable. Indeed, like many Roman Catholics, I would reject a doctrine of limited election, the pernicious idea that God restricts his mercy to a chosen few and even foreordains some to eternal perdition, on the simple ground that such a view is morally repugnant. So nothing I have said on the issue of heresy should be taken to imply a reluctance to oppose certain theological views on moral grounds, particularly when a doctrine leads directly (and almost inevitably) to immoral actions. But if I should oppose, say, a racist doctrine on moral grounds, I would do so precisely because I find it to be morally objectionable, not because some authority has declared it to be heretical.
    Second, I basically agree with the following: “Perhaps an infant can be saved with no explicit beliefs about God at all. But that state is not an enviable state. Someone who dies in infancy has missed out on an important aspect of earthly life by never having had explicit beliefs about God.” Certainly those who die in infancy have missed out on many goods associated with an earthly life, everything from sexual expressions of love to the joy of hiking through the wilderness on a gloriously beautiful summer day. Neither do those who never learn a language and never develop into rational agents during their earthly lives acquire any beliefs about God during this time, as you point out. But I see no reason for a Christian to believe that those who die in infancy are somehow frozen in an immature state forever. What a horrifying thought that would be for the young mother who loses her beloved baby at an early age! As I see it anyway, such a baby will develop into a rational agent in some other realm and acquire (true) beliefs about God at some future time; as I see it, furthermore, these are necessary conditions of any worthwhile salvation and perhaps of any meaningful salvation as well.
    Do you agree?

    June 10, 2011 — 15:28
  • Tom:
    Right: my focus was on this life. I do think that even if in another realm you develop rationality, acquire true beliefs about God, etc., you still have missed out by not doing it in this life if you died in infancy. If that were not true, would it make that much sense to put great effort into medical interventions to save the lives of babies?
    I think one difference between us is that I take the formal declaration by the Church (speaking as the Church) that a doctrine is a heresy to provide definitive evidence that the doctrine is false. Now, there are doctrines like racist ones whose moral harmfulness is obvious now. But there are also doctrines whose moral harmfulness is not so obvious independently of the declaration that the doctrine is a heresy. We could give contemporary examples, but you and I might disagree too much on them for them to be helpful, so let me give an early example: To many people in the early Church, it was far from obvious that believing that marriage is wrong was morally harmful. They thought that abstinence from marriage would make the Christian community more whole-heartedly devoted by God. But Paul forcefully ruled the view heretical, thereby providing definitive evidence of the falsity of the doctrine, at least to those who had definitive grounds for thinking Paul authoritative.

    June 10, 2011 — 19:42