Early-Modern Irreligion and Theological Analogy: A Response to Gavin Hyman’s A Short History of Atheism

Secularism and Nonreligion 5 (1):1-8 (2016)
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Historically, many Christians have understood God’s transcendence to imply God’s properties categorically differ from any created properties. For multiple historical figures, a problem arose for religious language: how can one talk of God at all if none of our predicates apply to God? What are we to make of creeds and Biblical passages that seem to predicate creaturely properties, such as goodness and wisdom, of God? Thomas Aquinas offered a solution: God is to be spoken of only through analogy (the doctrine of analogy). Gavin Hyman argues Aquinas’s doctrine of analogy was neglected prior to the early-modern period and the neglect of analogy produced the conception of a god vulnerable to atheistic arguments. Contra Hyman, in this paper, I show early-modern atheism arose in a theological context in which there was an active debate concerning analogy. Peter Browne (1665–1735) and William King (1650–1729) offered two competing conceptions of analogical predication that were debated through the 19th century, with interlocutors such as the freethinker Anthony Collins (1676–1729), theologian/philosopher George Berkeley (1685–1753), and skeptic David Hume (1711–1776). Lastly, I discuss the 18th century debate over theological analogy as part of the background relevant to understanding Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

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Dan Linford
Purdue University


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