Friday, 22 April 2011


The Basics

- Analogy is an approach to religious language that compares the normal use of language to that of religious use.

- Aquinas believed that univocal and equivocal language is insufficient when discussing God and religion. Univoical language is inadequate because it results in anthropomorphic descriptions of God and a contradiction. The contradiction being that according to Christian faith God is out this word but using the language that is used to describe things, situations etc in the world we imply that God is in this world. Equivocal language too has a difficulty, if words have different meaning then what do they mean? 

- So as Peter Cole described analogy is a "compromise" between the two.

- Aquinas is the most important scholar on this topic saying that "It seems that no word can be used literally about God" and "All human language about God is analogical" e.g. "The Lord is a Shepard" and Payley's watch argument.


Aquinas puts forward two different ways analogies can be used to express religious claims.

1. Analogy of Attribution

He suggests that attributes we see in the real world, in people, are all reflective of God's attributes.The source of these attributes.

Aquinas gives the example of the bull's urine, if the urine is healthy we can infer it has come from a healthy bull. When we see John being good we can infer this has come from an infinitely good God.

Brian Davies presents a similar example, if we taste a delicious bread we can infer that the baker is good. If we look at the wonderful deeds people do on Earth we can infer this is a reflection of God's wonderful work.

All assertions about God are analogies i.e. we understand the claim God is all-powerful because it is analogous to the power we see on a human level.

Tyler gives another way to describe this - just like fire is the genus, maximum of heat and the source of all other heat. God is the maximum of good, love etc.

Aquinas also provides evidence for this type of analogies. He says we were created in God's image and likeness thus we have a spark of Him and we can understand him, albeit on a limited level, through humans.

2. Analogy of proportion

Aquinas points out similar to univocal language, it is difficult to compare finite and infinite beings with the same language. So they are analogous through proportion. 

The meaning of language changes according to the proportion of the 'being' being described.

Hick uses Hugel's example of "faithfulness" to explain this. He says the faithfulness of a dog is limited in comparison to a human, the same way human's faithfulness is limited when compared to God's faithfulness.

Brian Davies, yet again, provides another example to explain this. Like a mirror makes a reflection when light is shone - the reflection's existence is caused by the object e.g. the man standing in front the mirror. The same way our existence is caused by God's existence. We can make meaningful statements about god because we are the reflect a part of this incident.

Ian Ramsley

Ian Ramsley is a 20th Century philosopher whose understanding of analogy is best explain through a flow diagram.

1. Religious Language is a model of how we understand God. The model changes and develops with changes in reality. For example, a child's WW2 Spitfire game gives the child an impression of WW2 as well as changing as better technology and graphics come out.

2. We need to apply a qualifier to these models in order to differentiate them from ordinary models. For example, to differentiate the model of fatherhood we say 'Eternal father' and to differentiate good we say 'infinitely good'.

3. This gives us an experience of an insight and this he calls Disclosure.

4. The disclosure eventually leads us to a sense of wonder.

5. Eventually this will result in a commitment to God and religion.

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