Wesley J. Wildman, Professor of Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics at Boston University, presented the second and final comparative theology lecture of the 2013–14 academic year at the Center for Study of World Religions.
Traditional natural theology attempts to infer a partial metaphysics of ultimacy from a partial ontology of nature. Detractors of natural theology assert that no rational knowledge of ultimacy is possible based on any amount of analysis of the natural world. The position defended in this lecture is intermediate between these extremes: conceptual traction between ontology of nature and ultimacy metaphysics is neither entirely absent nor strong enough to support direct inference; rather, conceptual traction shifts the relative plausibility of ultimacy views. This position implies that traditional natural theology is impossible, that outright skepticism toward natural theology is needlessly defeatist, and that a more supple approach to navigating the conceptual and logical linkages between ontology of nature and metaphysics of ultimacy is required—this is comparative natural theology. In addition to being properly fitted to the evidential and logical situation of natural theology, comparative natural theology overcomes a lamentable pattern of parochialism in traditional natural theology.