Monday, January 16, 2012

Review of Brad Gregory's New Book

Here.  The beginning of it is like a bad game of telephone.  The reviewer seems to misunderstand Gregory's explanation of univocity, and Gregory himself misunderstood Scotus.

Some snippets:

The book's first chapter, "Excluding God," begins with what I regard as an accurate portrayal of the modern intellectual's arbitrary and illogical refusal to countenance any explanation of the world's origins, no matter how cogent that explanation may be, if it happens to include God. The roots of this mindset reach back centuries, Mr. Gregory says, to the late-medieval theologian John Duns Scotus, who argued that God and man both exist in the same essence of things and that therefore man may speak of God with "univocal" as opposed to "analogical" language. In Scotus's thinking, the word "wise," for example, might apply to God in the same sense in which it applies to man. This had the effect, says Mr. Gregory, of defining God as if He were bound by the material world rather than transcendent over it. And when this view combined with William of Occam's "razor"—the principle that the best argument is the one with the fewest unnecessary parts—philosophers eventually felt emboldened to exclude God from any explanation of natural phenomena: and, in time, from any argument at all.

Very interesting, one might think—except that the book presents no evidence that any Protestant reformer actually espoused "univocal metaphysics," in the author's phrase. Nothing from Luther or Calvin on the subject, nothing from William Farel or Martin Bucer. Mr. Gregory does mention the Swiss Reformation leader Ulrich Zwingli and his disavowal of Christ's real presence in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, but that position is hardly the "logical corollary" to univocal metaphysics that the author claims. Transubstantiation is a far more "univocal" reading of the words "This is my body" than Zwingli's interpretation. But never mind. When Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Nietzsche and, more recently, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris formulated their skeptical views of religion, Mr. Gregory says, they thought of God in reductive, univocal terms, and this was somehow a long-term consequence of the Protestant Reformation.


Leaving aside Mr. Gregory's preposterously overwrought characterization of modern Western societies, especially America—he sees little beyond depredation, exploitation, consumerism and global warming—his complaint that modern Western morality elevates acquisitiveness to the status of a virtue is justified. But blaming this state of affairs on events that occurred and people who lived five centuries ago is a sort of rearview-mirror utopianism: If only the right social order had been left in place—if only the Protestant reformers hadn't shattered medieval Catholicism's "institutionalized worldview"—life today would be so much better.


Anonymous said...

Interesting and surprising Review.

Although the reviewer as you stated did not understand the true meaning of univocity, whoever it is, did see that there was something amiss to the argument, while remaining confused.

A mistake seems to be to equate univocity with nominalism or with a principle of nominalism.

Would not these confusions harken back to the notion that there must be some kind of univocal consideration in order to ground analogy and to avoid nominalism?

The reviewer does seem to grasp a good point to regard to there being in the meaning of the Eucharist a closeness to univocity.

It seems if one sees both Aquinas and Duns Scotus as preserving a kind of realism through both analogy and univocity versus nominalism, it could be the more easier way to link the reduction of nominalism to the reformation and even further to atheistic modernity.

There appears to show a wide division of concepts of nominalism as Ockham's nominalism and various types of protestant nominalism or philosophical or atheistic nominalisms that stand to be in a multiplicity of differences.

Without reading the work it sounds as if definitely further distinctions must be made.

Johann Eagleton

Credo In Unum Deum said...

That was hilarious.... and stupid.