It began as an effort to take seriously again both the Bible and the Lutheran Confessional documents -- as collected in the Book of Concord. "Taking these documents seriously" can mean, however, a great number of things. One can take these them seriously by unpacking what it is they meant in the context of which they originated -- the objectivist, archeological project -- what it is that they might mean for me today in my life -- the subjectivist, "reader response" approach, or what it is that the documents truly mean in our time: what do they say and claim of us within our current cultural-historical horizon? The early ILT attempt to articulate general philosophical lenses to read properly Bible, Confessions and tradition are attempts to uncovering this latter kind of meaning.
About fifteen years ago I came to the conviction that theology was in danger of losing its very language. Consider the situation in the philosophy of mind with beliefs/desire explanations for human behavior. What is the best explanation for Bob driving to the airport on April 14th? A standard philosophical response is that Bob drove to the airport on that date because he believed that Mary was coming in on a plane at the appointed time, believed that his driving to the airport would allow him to see Mary, and desired to see Mary. The philosophical problem with this standard view is simply that there are neuro-realizers of believings and desirings, brain actualizations that are sufficient for these believings and desirings. But if particular brain actualizations are sufficient for these believings and desirings, then it is plausible to claim that the deepest explanation of Bob driving to the airport is not found in his beliefs or desires, but rather in the particular neuro-events upon which his beliefs and desires metaphysically depend.
So what of the language of beliefs and desires? What do belief and desire terms name, and how do these named things relate to the neuro-events that putatively realize them? There are these general options:
- Belief and desire terms name incorporeal thoughts or mental events which, though ontologically different from their putative neuro-realizers, are nonetheless correlated with these realizers. One could say either that mental substances are ontologically distinct from neural substances or that mental properties are distinct from neural properties. Accordingly, one asserts either substance or property dualism.
- While belief and desire terms refer neither to mental events nor physical events, such terms are applied if and only if certain behavior conditions obtain. Accordingly, there is a semantic tie such that belief B obtains if and only if some set of complex stimulus-response conditionals hold. Mental terms thus do not name mental events, but are applied on the basis of the instantiation of some set of dispositions to behave. Since we can analyze the mental in terms of dispositions to behave, belief and desire terms simply mean this dispositional set. We might call this a semantic reduction of the mental to the behavioral.
- Belief and desire terms name types of putative mental properties which obtain just in case some type of neural properties obtain. One might say that the mental just is the physical, and claim a type identity between the mental and physical or a reduction of the mental to the physical.
- Belief and desire terms name instances of putative mental properties which obtain if some disjunction of physical property instances obtain. One might claims that there is a token identity between the tokening of a mental property and some tokening (or other) of a physical property. We might speak here of the weak supervenience of the mental onto the physical, or the physical realization of the mental. The point is that a type of mental event is multiply realizable in some set of physical events or other.
For the subsequent theological tradition convinced by Kant's argument, the task was to think God on the other side of critique, that is, one had to make sense somehow of theological language without asserting that God is a substance causally-relatable to other substances. They had to think God without asserting that God is an entity having causal powers. There are many trajectories of post-Kantian theological options, the most famous advocated by Schleiermacher, where God is understood as the whence of Das Gefuehl des schlichthinniges Abhaengikeit (the feeling of absolute dependence). Somehow, thought Schleiermacher, God language could be applied in the expression of our own piety. (The problem that individuating piety states, such that what might be called "piety conditions" had to be met before the assertion of particular theological language, seemed not deeply to concern him.)
There were reactions, of course, to the adoption in academic theology of "the Kantian paradigm." For over a century Roman Catholic theology generally dismissed the Kantian starting point as being inimical to theology. Thomism was realist in its outlook: The divine exists apart from human awareness, perception, conception and language. Lutheran thinkers like Harms, Hengstenberg, Loehe, and Vilmar rejected the Kantian paradigm as well, with Hengstenberg trying to repristinate 17th century Lutheran scholasticism. However, these movements while interesting, did not derail the hegemonic Kantian synthesis in theology. It was alive an well in the liberal theology of Ritschl, Harnack and Hermann, in the birth of dialectical theology with Barth, Bultmann and Gogarten, in the Luther Renaissance, and in the development of hermeneutical theology generally.
It seems to me that the theological tradition in the North Atlantic countries is more dependent upon 19th century philosophy than is perhaps warranted. Kantian philosophy is studied in the history of philosophy, but transcendental idealism and neo-Kantianism in general does not currently enjoy heavy subscription within the contemporary philosophical world. That there is a healthy Kantian influence within the philosophical community is, of course, undoubted. (One thinks here of Hilary Putnam's "internal realism.")
There is, however, no general consensus against realism -- metaphysical or otherwise -- within the contemporary philosophical discussion. Realism of various stripes is widely and intensely discussed. One can be an informed modal realist, a moral realist, an aesthetic realist, a metaphysical realist, an epistemological realist, a mathematical realist, a scientific realist, a naive or critical or representative realist, a semantic realist, a causal realist, or a Platonic or moderate realist. If all of this is possible, why can one not be an informed theological realist? The Institute of Lutheran Theology's three philosophical commitments to theological realism, semantic realism and theophysical causation manifest the institution's wariness of an in toto subscription to the Kantian paradigm as a presupposition for its theological work. It does not specify the determinate contour of the realism thereby asserted.
My own reflections on the current discussion in the philosophy of mind has brought me to the point of thinking that granting to the mental in se causal properties entails that a mental event does not mean a set of dispositional properties, that it cannot be reduced to some set of neural-realizers, and that it cannot either strongly or even weakly supervene on neurophysiological actualizations. This position betrays my own conviction to a general truth of reductionism: If a domain A is reduced to domain B, then the causal connections within domain A are realized by the causal connections within domain B. That is to say, the ultimate causal map is drawn within domain B rather than domain A. In the philosophy of mind, this means that the neural processes realizing mental events are the real causal drivers in mental processes. While A events can be causally relevant in A-explanations, A events are not causally effective in A-explanations. (Causal stories can refer to higher-level causal powers without the higher-level events having in se causal powers. Explanations are intentional, but causes are extensional.)
So what precisely do these positions in the philosophy of mind have to do with theological realism?
Imagine there exists a divine domain. What is its ontological status? Is it something other than nature broadly conceived, that is, the sum total of all physical entities, events, properties and relations? Most honestly doing theology would answer, "yes." But is this an affirmation of the existence of a realm beyond nature, a supernatural order? Most doing theology in the Kantian paradigm would say, "no." While religion is vitally at the heart of what it is to be human, religious claims, and theological assertions explicating those claims, do not have truth-conditions satisfied by the determinate contour of some supersensible, non-natural reality. So what options remain?
Analogous to positions in the philosophy of mind, we could assert these:
- Strictly speaking, theological terms refer neither to divine nor micro-physical entities, properties or events. Rather, such terms are applied if and only if certain macro states of affairs occur in the world. Accordingly, there is a semantic tie such that theological proposition P obtains if and only if some set of macro-world dispositions obtain. Theological terms thus do not name theological events, but are applied on the basis of the instantiation of some set of macro physical dispositions. Since we can analyze the theological in terms of macro physical dispositions, theological terms simply mean this dispositional set. We might call this a semantic reduction of the theological to the macro-physical. (I know of nobody who would actually hold this view, but simply provide it here as a logical possibility.)
- Theological terms name types of putative theological properties which obtain just in case a determinate type of physical, psychological, sociological or economic properties obtain. One might say that the domain of the theological just is the physical, psychological, sociological or economic and claim a type identity between the theological and the physical, psychological, sociological or economic, or a reduction of the theological to the physical, psychological, sociological or economic. (While I cannot think of a strong reductive program of the theological to the physical, one might claim that Schleiermacher and/or Feuerbach hints that a particular theological term is applied if and only if a determinate psychological state obtains. Durkheim might be said to strongly reduce the theological to the sociological while Marx does the same for economics. For a number of reasons, however, the strong reduction of the theological to any of these domains is implausible.)
- Theological terms name instances of putative physical, psychological, sociological or economics properties which obtain if some disjunction of physical, psychological, sociological or economic property instances obtain. One might claim that there is a token identity between the tokening of theological property and some tokening (or other) of a physical, psychological, sociological or economic property. We might speak here of the weak supervenience of the theological onto the physical, psychological, sociological or economic, or the physical, psychological, sociological or economic realization of the theological. The point is that a type of theological event or property is multiply realizable in some set of lower-level properties. (This view might better describe the general, though not explicitly or deeply-articulated views of Schleiermacher, Feuerbach, Freud, Durkheim and Marx. While more needs to be said about this, I cannot say it here.)