Philipse on Analogy: Relying on Swinburne

I haven’t given up on this one yet, but I haven’t made too much progress on reading it since October because I read Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 … and Chapter 7 is, in my opinion, a mess. It is such a mess that I feel the need to go through it in detail instead of just pulling out a few main points and addressing them. And I just didn’t have the time or energy to do that until now.

But before I do that, I want to pull out one point to talk about. When Philipse talks about analogy in Chapter 7 and 8, he brings in an argument from Swinburne where Swinburne argues that if theists make too many things about God allegorical, they’ll end up saying nothing. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, and using a theist to buttress his point about how theists cannot rely on allegory doesn’t hurt him and can help; the argument can’t be dismissed as an argument that rules out all religious positions a priori, for example, if a theist thinks that they can work around it. Where Philipse fails, however, is that while he’s still in a section dealing with general religious beliefs, he ends up focusing on Swinburne’s view and how it doesn’t escape Swinburne’s own admonishment against analogy. This results in two issues. First, it leaves a lot of the general views untouched, as they don’t have the same framework as Swinburne and so might not be vulnerable to the same attacks. The biggest example of this is with the discussions of necessity in Chapter 8, where classical theism — which is probably the view most dependent on necessity — is mostly ignored in order to focus on Swinburne’s relations with Kripke and the like. As classical theists are also very likely to use analogy and argue that they still say something, this leaves a fairly popular general religious view mostly unrefuted. The second problem is one that Philipse acknowledges: if successful, he would end up refuting Swinburne’s arguments about half-way through the book, leaving little to talk about. The main issue here, however, is that he hasn’t given us Swinburne’s full argument and a full treatment of Swinburne’s full position yet, so we don’t really know how important this is to Swinburne’s view or if he can indeed really sidestep it. So we either come away convinced that Swinburne is defeated by his own argument — but note, nothing about the Bayesian reasoning that Philipse thought was so important — or wonder if Philipse isn’t just being a little cute here, trying to refute the view before talking about it, and taking valuable time away from the general question to address a point he needed or wanted to make later.

The key is whether or not refuting Swinburne on analogy is really the important counter-argument for God in the Age of Science or not. If it is, then bringing up that argument should really have been done there, as part of the overall refutation and showing how even Swinburne’s procedure doesn’t work to establish a credible theory for the existence of God. If not, then it again should have been left there as an aside, if necessary. What Philipse, in my opinion, needed to do was use Swinburne’s argument against analogy as a framework for this own arguments, and spent a lot of time arguing why you can’t use analogy to describe God in any meaningful way without arguing that Swinburne actually ends up having to use too much analogy himself. This would have allowed for a tighter focus on the general issue without cluttering it up by talking about Swinburne’s purported problems, and would have allowed more room to discuss Swinburne’s own issues later, in the full context of Swinburne’s full position. As it was, I don’t feel that, at this point, he’s addressed either side very well, and as well as he needed to.

I’ll say more about Philipse’s issues when I talk about Chapter 7 directly.


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