The history of theology and philosophy is rampant with what I would call the reductionist program. Certainly there is an order to the cosmos that is reflected in rational thought. All one has to do is look to the “summas” of various thinkers over the years to see the massive volume of thought that seeks to rationally elucitate theological and philosophical thought. It is as if a rational argument is deep enough and consistent enough it will persuade. There is some element of truth in this. There is an rational order to the cosmos as propounded by the Logos concept and many philosophers like Hegel. However, it is becoming more and more evident that a reductionist approach (the logic of primitives) cannot be adequate. In science this is represented by the burgeoning field of organizational studies or as more commonly called emergence. Philosophers and scientists of emergence claim that the whole cannot be explained by understanding the dynamics of its parts. Often, it is thought that there has been great success in this approach at very low levels of complexity (i.e. particle physics). That exploration has, however, revealed that there are no deterministic “laws” that determine things but only probabilities and averaging(decoherence). This has been a striking and disturbing turn of events for many thinkers because it opens the possibility that no “lawlike” theory of everything is attainable. Instead what we are left with is the idea that the hope of reductionism and with it, its predictive certainty is ill conceived. The same can be said, I think, about the goal of rationally reductive theological and philosophical systems that seek to manipulation foundational primitives.
In my view what rational thought does is only represent, rather muddily, one side of the dynamics of reality. It represents the life giving order that is present in the cosmos. It leaves out what is even more crucial, the creative element in the structure of reality. Laws have limited creativity because they have no goal, teleology in mind. They cannot adjust to the dynamics of life “on the ground”. They just do their thing regardless of the outcome. Unless one is willing to reject the idea of intelligence in humans, the analogy of human creative activity flies in the face of a mechanistic view of reality.
The other, most important component, in the emergence of life is its creative, goal oriented component. This component takes into consideration the current state of affairs and decides what is needed based on a goal. This is teleology in its essence. It is also the component that cannot be reduced to the primitives of logic and reason. It represents, on the other hand, a component of reality that can only be grasped by the intuitive, or as Michael Polanyi called it the tacit way of knowing. The great mystics were very well acquainted with this type of knowing. Many tried, with limited success, to transfer this intuitive, mystical knowing to explicate knowing. By its nature this can only be of limited success because in the intuitive component of knowing, as Polanyi states, we know more than we can say. A person can learn how to dance without knowing dance theory but as any gifted dancer will attest, they cannot totally explicate what they do. Instead they use language the language of “feel” which in and of itself points to the ineffable nature of creativity.
Rational theology, as a complete approach, has run its course. The Enlightenment project, while having its place, has found its inadequacy as a total system. Instead what is needed now is some balance of characterization in theology of both the tacit and explicit components. What this means practically is that theology must exercise some constraint. The creation of rational summas is a waste of time. As Aquinas apparently realized, reflecting on his summas, “they are nothing but straw”. His scholastic rational thought was not straw but it could only take us so far.
In the 3rd millennium theology must accept the limitations of rational explication and be minimalistic. To do otherwise falls into the same problem that science has with its reductionist program. It must recognize that rational thought can only characterize the reality of things so far. From that point theology must appeal to the intuitive component of adherents. Does the logical, rational component of theology fit with the intuitions, tacit religious experience of its adherent or not? Does it fit with the whole milieu of human experience, both personal and that coming from the sciences and humanities? This is its test.
Theology must not abandon its rationality for that reflects the Logos of creation but it must not stop there. It must realize the limits of this and appeal to the creative, intuitive component of reality for validation. Only then will theology be compelling in a broad sense.