Ed challenges me to reconcile the analytic demand for precision and rigor with Pascal’s theological anthropology. I wrote a book on Pascal’s account of the Fall and the noetic effects of sin, but I also value analytic philosophy and analytic theology. How do I reconcile the two? It’s a fair question, and I hope that Ed will continue to press me on it.
I take the noetic effects of sin very seriously. The danger of anthropomorphizing God is ever-present, as is the danger of reducing God to some more manageable deity, like a kinder, gentler Zeus. Philosophers of religion sometimes roll their eyes when theologians of a certain stripe insist that “God is not a god.” They shouldn’t.
Moreover, although I’m no Bible scholar, it does seem to me that one lesson we should draw from the Biblical narratives is that even God’s most beloved followers are mostly wrong about who God is and what God wants. In summary, many philosophers and theologians are much more confident than they should be in their ability to reason well about God. We are especially likely to deceive ourselves in our moral and theological reasoning.
All of that is true, but I’m not sure why it entails that analytic philosophers or analytic theologians are in any worse shape than anyone else. To cease reasoning about God altogether is to give up on something fundamental about being human. But — precisely because of the noetic effects of sin — when we reason about God, we should try to reason well. We should try to be as precise and clear as we can be, and as transparent as we can be about why we assert the claims that we assert, so that we are maximally open to correction. I have found that the attitudes, tools, and methods of analytic philosophy can help with this task. This is a very modest claim. So modest, in fact, that opponents of analytic philosophy usually prefer to ignore it altogether and instead criticize some grand theory of concepts, language, or rigor to which they assume analytic philosophy as such is committed. But the modest claim is the claim that I defend. Analytic philosophy is one tool that can help some people with the difficult yet unavoidable task of reasoning about God.