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Analogical God-talk is the Best Solution for the Problem of Religious Language

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Religious language first became a topic in philosophy in the early forties, when most logical positivists believed all god-talk to be meaningless (Kraal). In the fifties Anthony Flew even published an essay that seems to prove god-talk is meaningless, based on the premise that it cannot be proven true without empirical evidence (Sweet). This theory continued for decades until finally theistic philosophers took an opposing view. The debate then grew into a problem for all on how we are to speak about God. There have been many theories on the correct way we talk about God, all which come with their own criticisms. The argument for analogical god-talk proves to be the strongest, with a slightly weaker objection that states God loses his transcendence.

Religious language has grown into a very large debate with six main solutions to the debate. The first solution is that all god-talk is just meaningless or involves contradictions. Another answer is that when we use religious language we don’t say exactly what we mean. The third solution is that we refer God to be like us, but to a higher degree. Some philosophers believe it is a more causal language; that we can replace verbs like is with caused and our talk about God is meaningful. We can only speak of God negatively; we cannot say what he is, but we can say what he is not is the fourth solution (Branson). Many Christians, including Christian theologian Jan Muis, believe god-talk to be metaphorical. However, they realize not all god-talk can be metaphorical. They question how it can be literal and conclude analogical language, the final answer, is the best solution to the debate (Muis).

Analogical language is a medium between univocal and equivocal language. Univocal language is when a word can be used in multiple scenarios and mean the same. Equivocal language allows a single word to serve multiple meanings. So analogical language allows the word to have a very similar meaning to the original definition of the word. Dr. Branson, a professor of Philosophy offers a great example of how analogical talk works. He explains how there can be several slightly different meanings of good. A good thief doesn’t qualify as a good person, yet good is used in similar ways in each description (Branson).

To better understand the middle between univocal and equivocal god- talk, Branson gives another great example with the word game. There are many types of games and they don’t all share the same qualities. We categorize them together anyway, because they are related. For instance, the Olympic games and video games like Minecraft do not share all the qualities that we would generally use to describe a game, however they both fit under our category of a game (Branson). In the same way there are qualities of a game, but they don’t all share some qualities, God and humans are similar.

Thomas Aquinas is a firm believer in analogical god-talk and specializes in analogical predication. Branson points out how Aquinas’s belief in analogical god-talk can allow him to deem some god-talk meaningless; “…would say that it’s just a mistake to think that we must choose between (1) using words about God literally – and therefore univocally, endangering God’s transcendence – versus (2) using them in a way that is either equivocal or at least non-literal – either making our talk about God meaningless, or watering it down to metaphor (Branson).” Although Aquinas point out that univocal god-talk can cause God’s transcendence to disappear, others believe that analogical religious language can have the same result.

In order to use analogical language, we must have a reasoning for why we can use a word to describe something else. In the example of describing a game, they don’t all share the same qualities, however there is one quality each game has that allows us to qualify it as a game. This is where many find their best criticism of analogical god-talk. When referring to analogical god-talk there must be a quality that allows us to categorize God into a single word. This is when we begin to relate God to humans even if we don’t exactly know what human quality we are giving God. God’s transcendence is one of his most important qualities to classical theists. Their belief that God cannot share the same qualities as any human creates a barrier for analogical god-talk. If we didn’t allow this small connection we would see the problem of god-talk becoming meaningless, because it has no reasoning (Branson).

Analogical god- talk still survives this criticism with a few more points. A theistic personalist is defined as a believer in God who views him as a person of a higher degree than humans without a body. The objection of transcendence does not address theistic personalist at all. Since they already believe God to share similar qualities as humans, the problem of transcendence simply cannot apply to theistic personalists.

Analogical god-talk refers to god as relating to humans in the smallest manner possible. That is the reason why it is more successful than any other forms of religious language. In order to speak meaningfully about God, we must allow some comparison to what we know, since we know so little about God. In reality there is no other way to describe God without relating him to human qualities, since that is the only language we have available.

It can also be said that to speak analogically about god, we don’t need the complete definition and qualities of a word. Davies believe that we only need a simple understanding of the word to use it to speak about God analogically. Davies eventually believes, “In order to speak meaningfully and truly about God, we do not have to understand what God exactly is (Davies).” I also believe that he concludes in this statement that we don’t need to relate God to humans at all when we speak analogically. We have a basic understanding of a word and can apply that to God without saying that God is alike humans. In the same way that we don’t have to understand what God is, we don’t have to define a word with human qualities.

Religious language has come a long way from the forties, when all god-talk was meaningless. Out of all six probable solutions, analogical god-talk is the best solution for the problem of religious language. It even offers a valid answer to the worst objections it has encountered thus far, the issue with God’s transcendence. Clearly analogical god-talk can be somewhat debatable from a classical theists’ perspective, but it is still stronger than any criticism. However, there is no debate for theistic personalist to further pursue, since they don’t believe in God’s transcendence. Analogical language has proved itself to be the most credible way to talk about God.

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