vrijdag 23 maart 2012

The resurrection of natural theology

" Having arrived at this point, the reader will be inclined to conclude that natural theology is as dead as a doornail, because its downfall is final in view of the epistemological critiques of Hume and Kant, and the linguistic criticisms of logical positivists and Wittgensteinean philosophers of religion. Such a conclusion would be in agreement with what many lay persons tend to think about religious affiliations anyway, to wit, that they are a matter of habit or feeling or blind decision or grace rather than of rational deliberation, not only in fact but also de jure. Yet the philosophy of religion, both apologetic and critical, is today a flowering field of academic research within analytic philosophy, so much so that we may speak of a surprising resurrection of natural theology.

This resurrection began when in the 1960s and 1970s analytically trained philosophers such as William Alston, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and Nicholas Wolterstorff started to apply the tools of analytic philosophy to natural theology, thereby radically transforming the field. The spirit of this renewal of natural theology was well expressed by Swinburne, when he wrote in 1977:

"It is one of the intellectual tragedies of our age that when philosophy in Englishspeaking countries has developed high standards of argument and clear thinking, the style of theological writing has been largely influenced by the continental philosophy of Existentialism, which, despite its considerable other merits, has been distinguished by a very loose and sloppy style of argument. If argument has a place in theology, large-scale theology needs clear and rigorous argument. That point was very well grasped by Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, by Berkeley, Butler, and Paley. It is time for theology to return to their standards" (The Coherence of Theism, Revised Edition, Oxford University Press, 1993)

Three years later, the general public was informed about the resurrection of natural theology within analytic philosophy when Time ran a story on 7 April 1980 called 'Modernizing the Case for God', which contains the following passage:

"In a quiet revolution in thought and argument that hardly anybody could have foreseen only two decades ago, God is making a comeback. Most intriguingly, this is happening not among theologians or ordinary believers, but in the crisp intellectual circles of academic philosophers, where the consensus had long banished the Almighty from fruitful discourse" "

Herman Philipse, God in the Age of Science? A Critique of Religious Reason, Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 26-27

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