The Problem of God in Modern Thought

The Problem of God in Modern Thought

The Problem of God in Modern Thought

The Problem of God in Modern Thought


"This study by Philip Clayton reconstructs and evaluates the steps by which the concept of God became a problem in modern thought. Clayton shows that this development has its roots in Descartes's break with the medieval tradition, in Leibniz's failure to build a modern metaphysics of perfection, in Kant's reduction of God to a regulative concept, and in the increasing power of the Spinoza tradition as it met the challenge of German idealism and became incorporated into it. These developments provide the backdrop against which theology's prospects today can be assessed. Clayton shows how key thinkers of the modern period continued to wrestle with the concept of God as "infinite" and "perfect" and to make fresh proposals for understanding the divine. The sophisticated models of God developed by Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Fichte, and Schelling, among others, are presented, analyzed, and constructively applied to contemporary philosophical theology. Clayton's work reveals the resources that modern thought continues to offer to philosophical theologians. Ultimately, he finds in the narrative of modern thought about God strong support for panentheism, the new theological movement that maintains the transcendence of God while denying the separation of God and the world." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


The following pages reflect a commitment to two theses: that language about God represents a problem with a history that can be reconstructed and evaluated; and that careful analysis, combined with thorough historical scholarship, can provide reasons for preferring some metaphysical and theological views over others.

“Preferring some views over others” need not entail dogmatism, rationalism, or intolerance. This is especially true if one replaces “proofs of the existence of God” with the framework of inference to the best explanation. Accepting competing explanatory accounts means a pluralistic metaphysics: multiple models of God instead of a single univocal theory. What remains, then, of the modern tradition? Certainly not deductive proofs and indubitable knowledge, but rather the more enduring features of the metaphysical quest: commitment to evaluation over relativistic arbitrariness; the search for systematicity and for comprehensive, coherent theories; and the realization that the early modern theories are in many respects as sophisticated and as worthy of attention as much of what is offered for consumption today.

The last few decades have seen a remarkable renaissance in philosophical theology. Many factors have contributed to this renaissance — more, certainly, than can be chronicled here: the disappearance of the last vestiges of positivism, which had dismissed God-language as meaningless; a robust discussion of theological themes within Anglo-American analytic philosophy; the new “multicultural” emphasis within American universities and within the Ameri-

1. For a persuasive argument in defense of this shift, see Robert Prévost, Probability and Theistic Explanation (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990).

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