The Light of Faith: Fideism sets the epistemic bar too low, Positivism – too high

Our common sense weighs various burdens of proof and evidentiary standards, which it uses to both morally and practically justify our actions to ensure that they are commensurate with the quantity and quality of available evidence.

A burden of proof tells us who must produce the evidence. Evidentiary standards define the level of evidence that must be produced. A given level of evidence, in terms of its quantity and quality, thus will establish various degrees of epistemic warrant. The higher those degrees of warrant, the wider the range of action that can be normatively justified, morally and practically.

In our everyday endeavors, we often reason with uncertainty (nonmonotonic reasoning). This is also true in the life of faith. 

What level of epistemic warrant normatively justifies, more generally, everyday reasonings from uncertainty, more specifically, the life of faith

Regarding the life of faith, fideists are accused of setting the bar rather low, while rationalists and empiricists imagine it to be much higher than most deem necessary. How do we resolve this disparity?

We need only turn to the natural sciences, which not only traffic in falsifiability, experimentally, but which, unavoidably, must also engage in highly speculative, theoretical interpretations on the various thresholds of nature’s causal joints. 

On nature’s causal joint thresholds, whether in quantum physics, theoretical cosmology or speculative neuroscience, for example, scientists must often reason backwards, analogically, from effects and properties as would seem to be proper to no known causes or entities

Such reasoning employs the weakest form of inference, abduction or retro-duction, in conjunction with the strongest, deduction. 

The dyadic cycling of abductive-deductive inference remains a necessary aspect of all human inquiry, but, without inductive testing and falsification, it remains, for some purposes, insufficient, sometimes unavoidably so. 

Such an insufficiency, alone, may or may not render our hypothetico-deductive frameworks inactionable, for sometimes, our reasoning with uncertainty is axiologically forced on us by vital existential (especially ultimate) concerns.

In such cases, we must appraise such alternate interpretations of the facts of existence and aspire to base our existential leaps on options that remain truly live in light of various criteria for epistemic virtue, epistemic warrant and normative justification. 

This all applies to the analogical-abductive and hypothetico-deductive reasoning (sans inductive) of our quotidian existence, of the natural sciences, of metaphysics and of theology.

We thus sometimes resolve questions of epistemic disparity by properly recognizing epistemic parity!

As Karl Popper so aptly observed:

“We may see from this that Wittgenstein’s criterion of meaningfulness coincides with the inductivists’ criterion of demarcation, provided we replace their words ‘scientific’ or ‘legitimate’ by ‘meaningful’. And it is precisely over the problem of induction that this attempt to solve the problem of demarcation comes to grief: positivists, in their anxiety to annihilate metaphysics, annihilate natural science along with it. For scientific laws, too, cannot be logically reduced to elementary statements of experience. If consistently applied, Wittgenstein’s criterion of meaningfulness rejects as meaningless those natural laws the search for which, as Einstein says, is ‘the supreme task of the physicist’: they can never be accepted as genuine or legitimate statements.”

In the life of faith, then, which, most people of large intelligence and profound goodwill agree, can be sufficiently warranted, epistemically, and eminently justified, normatively …

it’s not enough vis a vis its normative actionability for a given option to be both vital, existentially, and forced, axiologically (a value will be decisively frustrated or realized) …

an option must be truly live, exceeding fideism’s low bar of epistemic warrant, while not banging one’s head on the high bar of the rationalistic and/or empiricistic positivists, who, in their anxiety to extinguish the light of faith, would destroy — not only the beacons of the natural sciences, but — the brilliant luminosity of good, old-fashioned common sense!


The “Trans-Formal Distinction” between the Divine Essence & Energies

Let’s first consider some ​Analogies of Phenomenological Distinctions:

essential or real:

  • creature: nonstrict, contingent esse naturale
  • Creator: strict, self-subsisting esse naturale

modal temporality:

  • creature: asymmetric
  • Creator: atemporal

modal adequacy:

  • creature: finite
  • Creator: infinite

modal ontology:

  • creature: possibilities, actualities & probabilities (in/determinacies)
  • Creator: ens necessarium

modal epistemology:

  • creature: reality variously in/determinable, epistemically distanced
  • Creator: reality absolutely determinable, omniscient

formal or real metaphysical:

  • creature: mutability presents from each genus/species/haecceity, which remains variously constrained by end-stated (mortal), end-purposed (adequately determined) & end-intended (intentional agency) teloi due to the boltzman, shannon & darwin entropies of an aesthetic teleology, which is variously realized (adequate freedom)
  • Creator: with an immutabile aesthetic intensity (absolute freedom) indwells creation via a passible esse intentionale, which, per the sovereign divine will (consistent with – logically conceivable but evidentially indeterminable – essential, metaphysical and/or kenotic constraints) amplifies aesthetic diversity via divine energies, which manifest in the glorious multiplicity of creaturely participations

    Speculative Take-aways:

    Creaturely formal distinctions, noninherent but inseparable for each entity, refer to the nature of each entity’s journey toward its maximum aesthetic realization. Each journey might, more or less, be distinguished by its degree of substantial contingency (mutability), temporality, modal adequacy (finitude), in/determinedness (teleonomicity), epistemic distancing and volitional freedom (aesthetic teleological realization).

    The formal distinctions made between divine attributes refer to no substantial or modal realities of the divine esse naturale (there simply are none), which remains immutable, atemporal, infinite, sovereign, omniscient and absolutely free in the unsurpassable aesthetic interrelationality of the divine essence and hypostases of the Ens Necessarium, Simplicity, itself. They refer, rather, to the otherwise noninherent but inseparable relational passibilities of the divine esse intentionale and to the ineluctably unobtrusive yet utterly efficacious responses that are freely gifted by the divine energies to creatures. These divine activities are then manifested in the effects that ensue from creaturely participations in this sacramental economy, in which evil and suffering enjoy no currency whatsoever, the donative nature of which remains profoundly incarnational (cf. Scotus) and profusely pneumatological (sans filioque).

    Our distinctions, whether essential, formal or modal (Scotists), whether physically real, metaphysically real, virtual or logical (Thomists), cannot be univocally applied to both Creator and creatures due to the transcendent nature of divine realities. In the same way that it would be a category error to presuppose epistemological and/or ontological reduction between the different layers of complexity of cosmic realities, which require the analogical — not univocal — predication of the various emergent teloi, similarly, transcendent divine causalities simply (pun intended) will not reduce to epistemic or ontic categories of their subvenient cosmos. Our causal analogies, divine vs cosmic, remain vague, hopefully successful, references but in no way can be presupposed as successful descriptions. 

    Our vague phenomenology remains an exploratory heuristic, out of which a plurality of legitimate theologoumena might flourish, not a robustly explanatory metaphysic, logically coercing or axiologically compelling one valid opinion over another. Once we properly disambiguate the various distinctions analogically predicated of Creator and creatures, then, whatever it is that suitably distinguishes between the divine essence and energies, it cannot properly be called Scotus’ formal distinction or even the real or virtual distinction of Aquinas, for those refer to contingent realities with modal properties. 

    Arguably, the distinction between the divine essence and energies is the one most analogous to Scotus’ formal distinction. I like to refer to it, then, as the trans-formal distinction, both to emphasize its analogical character and to evoke the trans-formative Telos that inheres in the energies, coaxing our participation in a perichoretic-like dance with the divine. Likewise, the divine esse intentionale would, analogously, be supremely passible, transcending our conceptions of creaturely passibility.

    Of course, questions are left begging regarding how the Divine Telos causally interacts with our subvenient cosmic teloi. Our abductive inference to the best explanation can only suggest that, while otherwise ineluctably unobtrusive, a supervening (aesthetic) Telos can be, analogously, just as utterly efficacious as that cosmic telos, which is located in human personal intentionality, which, for its part, however tacitly, causally interacts with other layers of complexity. In such interactions between these somewhat dis/continuous ontological layers, while human telic intentionality clearly transcends them, we similarly lack (as with putative divine causal joints) explanatory adequacy for the apparent causal closures, among and between them. While we certainly methodologically presuppose such closures, for all practical purposes, still, we cannot metaphysically describe them to our speculative satisfaction (except, perhaps, for Dan Dennett and Richard Dawkins, who seem rather easy targets for a facile neuromythology).

    Practical Upshots:

    We best emphasize, then, de fide, kerygma and mystagogy, synergeia and theoria, sophiology and theosis, in an orthocommunal, orthopathic and orthopraxic authentication of true glory, ortho-doxically. We best deemphasize any so-called logical coercions of philosophical theology and should positively (pun intended, again) eschew evidential theodicies, otherwise epistemically warranting our leaps of faith abductively (as in Peirce’s Neglected Argument for the Reality of God), while, at the same time, normatively and performatively justifying such existential orientations by their formative and transformative progressions toward the transcendental imperatives 

    • of truth, as preserved in our creeds;
    • of beauty, as celebrated in our devotional and liturgical cult-ivations;
    • of goodness, as preserved in our canons and codes;
    • of unity, as enjoyed in our communities and fellowships; and
    • of freedom, as realized in our trustful abandonment to providence, faithful surrender to the divine will and in our ongoing attunement to the siren song of that divine suitor/seductress, neither threatened by Her virtual irresistability nor fearful of His delightful ravishing, precisely because, while we’re merely adequately determined, monergistically, we enjoy a most robust intentionality, synergistically.

      This musing was evoked by:

      Reflecting the Mystery: Analogy Beyond Negation and Affirmation By Robert F. Fortuin