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  • 1. RELIGIONknowledge only if S (i) employs a faculty that is in fact religionreliable, and (ii) possesses evidence of that faculty’s relia-bility. This entry is not a survey of the various forms that “reli- gion” has taken in human history; rather, it treats theSee also Alston, William P.; Armstrong, David M.; nature of religion as a problem in the philosophy of reli- Dretske, Fred; Epistemology; Epistemology, History of; gion. It will be concerned with attempts to develop an Evidentialism; Goldman, Alvin; Nozick, Robert; Planti- adequate definition of religion, that is, to make explicit nga, Alvin; Virtue Epistemology. the basic features of the concept of religion. general definition andBibliographyAlston, William. “How to Think about Reliability.” characteristics Philosophical Topics 23 (1995): 1–29. EXAMINATION OF DEFINITIONS. A survey of existingAlston, William. “An Internalist Externalism.” In Epistemic definitions reveals many different interpretations. Justification: Essays in the Theory of Knowledge. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989. “Religion is the belief in an ever living God, thatArmstrong, D. M. Belief, Truth, and Knowledge. Cambridge, is, in a Divine Mind and Will ruling the Universe U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1973. and holding moral relations with mankind.”BonJour, Laurence. The Structure of Empirical Knowledge. —James Martineau Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.Chisholm, Roderick. The Theory of Knowledge. Englewood “Religion is the recognition that all things are Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989. manifestations of a Power which transcends ourCohen, Stewart. “Justification and Truth.” Philosophical Studies knowledge.”—Herbert Spencer 46 (1984): 279–95.Conee, Earl, and Richard Feldman. “Evidentialism.” “By religion, then, I understand a propitiation or Philosophical Studies 48 (1985): 15–44. conciliation of powers superior to man whichConee, Earl, and Richard Feldman. “The Generality Problem are believed to direct and control the course of for Reliabilism.” Philosophical Studies 89 (1998): 1–29. Nature and of human life.”—J. G. FrazerDretske, Fred. “Conclusive Reasons.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 49 (1971): 1–22. “Religion is rather the attempt to express theDretske, Fred. Knowledge and the Flow of Information. complete reality of goodness through every Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981.Feldman, Richard. “Reliability and Justification.” Monist 68 aspect of our being.”—F. H. Bradley (1985): 159–74. “Religion is ethics heightened, enkindled, lit upGinet, Carl. “Contra Reliabilism.” Monist 68 (1985): 175–87. by feeling.”—Matthew ArnoldGoldman, Alvin. “Epistemic Folkways and Scientific Epistemology.” In Liaisons: Philosophy Meets the Cognitive “It seems to me that it [religion] may best be and Social Sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991. described as an emotion resting on a convictionGoldman, Alvin. Epistemology and Cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986. of a harmony between ourselves and the uni-Goldman, Alvin. “Strong and Weak Justification.” Philosophical verse at large.”—J. M. E. McTaggart Perspectives 2 (1988): 51–69.Goldman, Alvin. “What Is Justified Belief?” In Justification and “Religion is, in truth, that pure and reverential Knowledge, edited by George Pappas. Dordrecht, disposition or frame of mind which we call Netherlands: Reidel, 1979. piety.”—C. P. TieleNozick, Robert. Philosophical Explanations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981. “A man’s religion is the expression of his ulti-Plantinga, Alvin. Warrant: The Current Debate. Oxford: Oxford mate attitude to the universe, the summed-up University Press, 1993. meaning and purport of his whole conscious-Sosa, Ernest. Knowledge in Perspective. Cambridge, U.K.: ness of things.”—Edward Caird Cambridge University Press, 1991.Steup, Matthias. “Internalist Reliabilism.” Philosophical Issues “To be religious is to effect in some way and in 14 (2004). some measure a vital adjustment (however ten-Swain, Marshall. Reasons and Knowledge. Ithaca, NY: Cornell tative and incomplete) to whatever is reacted to University Press, 1979. or regarded implicitly or explicitly as worthy of Matthias Steup (2005) serious and ulterior concern.”—Vergilius Ferm ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY366 • 2nd edition
  • 2. RELIGION If we take these definitions as attempts to state nec- some sort of belief or other cognitive state; Frazer, as rit-essary and sufficient conditions for something to be a ual (conceived in a utilitarian fashion); Bradley andreligion, it is not difficult to show that none of them is Arnold, as a kind of moral attitude and activity; andadequate. With respect to necessary conditions, consider McTaggart and Tiele as a certain kind of feeling. OneMartineau’s definition. It is clear that such a belief does might attribute the failings of these definitions to theirnot have to be present in a religion. No polytheistic reli- one-sidedness. One could hardly expect to get an ade-gion recognizes a single divine ruler of the universe; and quate statement of the nature of so complex a phenome-there are religions, such as Hinayana Buddhism, in which non as religion, essentially involving, as it does, all thesebeliefs in personal deities play no role at all. Bradley and forms of human activity by restricting oneself to belief,Arnold identify religion with morality, but there are feeling, ritual, or moral attitude alone. Caird and Fermprimitive societies in which there is no real connection escape this particular failing by concentrating on a com-between the ritual system, with its associated beliefs in prehensive term such as attitude or adjustment, whichsupernatural beings, and the moral code. The latter is itself embraces belief, feeling, and moral attitude. But, asbased solely on tribal precedent and is not thought of as we have seen, these formulations do not come measura-either originating with or sanctioned by the gods. If, as bly closer to providing a set of necessary and sufficientwould commonly be done, we call the former the religion conditions.of the culture, we have a religion without morality. As for There are other ways of construing definitions ofMcTaggart and Tiele, it seems likely that if we specify religion. Instead of taking the above statements as“piety” or “feeling of harmony” sufficiently to give them a attempts to specify features that are common and pecu-clear and unambiguous meaning, we will be able to find liar to cases of religion, we might take each of them as anacknowledged religions in which they do not play an attempt to state the essence of religion, that central featureimportant role. It would seem that we could avoid this in terms of which all religious phenomena are to beonly by construing “piety,” for example, to cover any state understood. This approach to the matter is explicit in theof feeling that arises in connection with religious activi- following statements:ties. It does seem plausible to regard some of the defini- “The essence of religion is a belief in the persis-tions as stating necessary conditions, as in Caird and tency of value in the world.”—Harald HøffdingFerm. However, it is doubtful that these are sufficientconditions. Does any “ultimate attitude” or any “vital “The heart of religion, the quest of the ages, isadjustment” constitute a religion? As William James the outreach of man, the social animal, for thepoints out (The Varieties of Religious Experience, Ch. 2), it values of the satisfying life.”—A. E. Haydonseems doubtful that a frivolous attitude toward life con- “The essence of religion consists in the feeling ofstitutes a religion, even if it is the fundamental attitude of an absolute dependence.”—Friedrich Schleier-a given person. And Ferm’s overcarefully worded state- macherment would seem to admit any attitude with respect to There are two distinguishable interpretations ofanything considered important to the ranks of the reli- claims of this type. They might be interpreted genetically,gious. This would presumably include one’s attitude as accounts of the origin of religion. The claim wouldtoward one’s spouse, toward one’s vocation, and, in many then be that what is specified as the essence of religion iscases, toward one’s athletic activities. At this point one the original root from which all phenomena of religionwonders what has happened to the concept of religion. have sprung. Thus, Julian Huxley, like SchleiermacherMany of the definitions are deficient on grounds of both working with a conception of the essence of religion as anecessity and sufficiency. To return to Martineau, it is kind of feeling, says, “the essence of religion springs fromquite conceivable that such a belief might be held purely man’s capacity for awe and reverence, that the objects ofas a speculative hypothesis, without affecting the religion … are in origin and essence those things, events,believer’s feelings and attitudes in the way that would be and ideas which arouse the feeling of sacredness” (Reli-requisite for religious belief. And as for McTaggart, it gion without Revelation, p. 111). Similarly starting withseems clear that one could from time to time have such a Høffding’s formulation, we might try to show how typi-sense of harmony without this being integrated into any- cal religious doctrines, rites, and sentiments grew out ofthing that we would call a religion. an original belief in the persistency of value. However, It is noteworthy that most of these definitions stress since we know virtually nothing about the prehistoricone aspect or another of religion to the exclusion of oth- origins of religion, speculation in this area is almost com-ers. Thus, Martineau and Spencer represent religion as pletely unchecked by data, and it seems impossible to find ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 367
  • 3. RELIGIONany rational basis for choosing between alternative gion; they are intimately interconnected in several ways.genetic accounts. Some of these connections have been indicated, but there However, we might also give a nongenetic interpreta- are others. For example, the distinction between sacredtion. Saying that the essence of religion is a feeling of and profane objects is based on other factors mentioned.absolute dependence, for example, might mean that the It is not any intrinsic characteristic of a thing that makesfull interrelatedness of the various features of religion can it a sacred object; things of every conceivable kind havebe understood only if we view them all in relation to a occupied this position—animals, plants, mountains,feeling of absolute dependence. This claim would be rivers, persons, and heavenly bodies. Certain objects areindependent of any view of the origin of religion. The dif- singled out as sacred in a given community because theyficulty with this is that there would seem to be several dif- typically arouse such feelings as awe and a sense of mys-ferent features of religion that could be taken as tery, and thus the members of that community tend tocentral—such as ritual, a need for reassurance against the respond to these objects with ritual acts. Again, the emo-terrors of life, or a need to get a satisfactory explanation tional reaction to sacred objects may be rationalized byof the cosmos—and it is illuminating to view the rest of conceiving the object to be the habitation or manifesta-religion as related to each of these. How is one to settle on tion of a god. The awe aroused by the wild bull led to itsa unique essence? being identified with the wild god of intoxication, Diony- sus. The very special impression made by Jesus ofCHARACTERISTIC FEATURES OF RELIGION. Despite Nazareth on certain of his contemporaries was expressedthe fact that none of the definitions specifies a set of char- by calling him the Son of God. These examples make itacteristics which is present when and only when we have sound as if emotional reactions to sacred objects comea religion, or gives us a unique essence, it does seem that first and that these reactions are then explained by posit-they contribute to our understanding of the nature of ing gods as their causes. But it can also happen the otherreligion. It appears that the presence of any of the features way round. The acceptance of beliefs about the gods andstressed by these definitions will help to make something their earthly habitations can contribute to the evocationa religion. We might call such features, listed below, of awe and other feelings in the presence of certainreligion-making characteristics. objects. The members of a religious community are (1) Belief in supernatural beings (gods). taught to hold certain objects in awe by being taught var- ious doctrines about the gods. Thus, Christians are taught (2) A distinction between sacred and profane objects. to regard the cross and the consecrated bread and wine (3) Ritual acts focused on sacred objects. with reverence by being told of the Crucifixion and the (4) A moral code believed to be sanctioned by the Last Supper. gods. A similar reciprocal relationship holds between ritual (5) Characteristically religious feelings (awe, sense of and doctrine. A doctrine can be introduced as the justifi- mystery, sense of guilt, adoration), which tend to cation of an already established ritual. Thus, the myth of be aroused in the presence of sacred objects and Proserpine being carried off to the underworld and during the practice of ritual, and which are con- remaining there half the year seems to have been intro- nected in idea with the gods. duced as an explanation of a preexisting magical fertility (6) Prayer and other forms of communication with cult, in which an ear of grain, perhaps called the corn gods. maiden, was buried in the fall and raised sprouting in the spring. On the other hand, changes in doctrine can (7) A worldview, or a general picture of the world as engender, modify, or abolish rituals. Beliefs about the a whole and the place of the individual therein. divine status of Jesus Christ played an important role in This picture contains some specification of an shaping the Christmas festival. overall purpose or point of the world and an indi- cation of how the individual fits into it. Definition in terms of characteristics. If it is true that the religion-making characteristics neither singly nor in (8) A more or less total organization of one’s life combination constitute tight necessary and sufficient based on the worldview. conditions for something being a religion, and yet that (9) A social group bound together by the above. each of them contributes to making something a religion, Interrelations of characteristics. Religion-making then it must be that they are related in some looser way tocharacteristics do not just happen to be associated in reli- the application of the term. Perhaps the best way to put it ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY368 • 2nd edition
  • 4. RELIGIONis this. When enough of these characteristics are present dealing with definitions of the simplistic type that we haveto a sufficient degree, we have a religion. It seems that, criticized, these problems are not illuminated. Each partygiven the actual use of the term religion, this is as precise to the dispute will appeal to a definition suited to the posi-as we can be. If we tried to say something like “for a reli- tion he is defending, and since none of these definitions isgion to exist, there must be the first two plus any three wholly adequate, there is an irreducible plurality of notothers,” or “for a religion to exist, any four of these char- wholly inadequate definitions to be used for this purpose.acteristics must be present,” we would be introducing a Person A, who claims that communism is a religion, willdegree of precision not to be found in the concept of reli- give, for instance, Caird’s statement as his definition ofgion actually in use. religion, and person B, who denies this, will choose Mar- Another way of putting the matter is this. There are tineau’s. Obviously, the position of each is upheld by hiscultural phenomena that embody all of these characteris- chosen definition. Hence, it would seem that the only way to settle the dispute is to determine which is the correcttics to a marked degree. They are the ideally clear para- definition. However, we have seen that this gets usdigm cases of religion, such as Roman Catholicism, nowhere; no such definition is wholly adequate.Orthodox Judaism, and Orphism. These are the cases towhich the term religion applies most certainly and unmis- At this point there is a temptation to brand the dis-takably. However, there can be a variety of cases that dif- pute purely verbal, a reflection of different sensesfer from the paradigm in different ways and to different attached to the word religion. It may seem that the dis-degrees, by one or another of the religion-making char- agreement can be dissolved by persuading all parties toacteristics dropping out more or less. For example, ritual use the word in the same sense. But this is a superficialcan be sharply de-emphasized, and with it the demarca- reaction that does not adequately bring out how muchtion of certain objects as sacred, as in Protestantism; it the parties to the dispute have in common. In fact, Mar-can even disappear altogether, as with the Quakers. tineau and Caird represent two contrasting emphasesBeliefs in supernatural beings can be whittled away to within a common framework. Suppose that A and Bnothing, as in certain forms of Unitarianism, or may begin with the same paradigm, orthodox Protestantnever be present, as in certain forms of Buddhism. And, Christianity. But A gives greatest weight to the moral-as mentioned earlier, in certain primitive societies moral- orientation–emotion elements in this paradigm. As longity has no close connection with the cultic system. As as anything strongly manifests these elements, as long asmore of the religion-making characteristics drop out, it serves as a system of life orientation for the individualeither partially or completely, we feel less secure about who is bound to it by strong emotional ties, he will call itapplying the term religion, and there will be less unanim- a religion. B, on the other hand, gives greatest weight toity in the language community with respect to the appli- the belief in a personal God and the complex of emo-cation of the term. However, there do not seem to be tions, ritual, and devotional acts that is bound up withpoints along these various dimensions of deviations that that belief. Thus, although they have basically the sameserve as a sharp demarcation of religion from nonreli- concept of religion, they will diverge in their applicationgion. It is simply that we encounter less and less obvious of the term at certain points. Once we realize that this iscases of religion as we move from, for example, Roman the true situation, we can state the problem in a moreCatholicism through Unitarianism, humanism, and tractable form. We can enumerate the religion-makingHinayana Buddhism to communism. Thus, the best way characteristics and determine which of them commu-to explain the concept of religion is to elaborate in detail nism has and in what degree. Then we can proceed to thethe relevant features of an ideally clear case of religion heart of the dispute—the relative importance of theseand then indicate the respects in which less clear cases can characteristics. Insofar as there is a real issue between Adiffer from this, without hoping to find any sharp line and B, once both are in possession of all the relevant facts,dividing religion from nonreligion. (Cf. Ludwig Wittgen- it is whether communism is similar to clear cases of reli-stein’s notion of “family-resemblances” among the things gion in the most important respects, that is, whether theto which a term applies.) respects in which it is like Protestant Christianity are more important than those in which it is different. An adequate definition of religion should throw lighton the sorts of disputes and perplexities that typically pro-duce a need to define religion, such as disputes over types of religionwhether communism is a religion, and whether devotion In the case of so complex a concept as religion, it is desir-to science can be called a man’s religion. So long as we are able to supplement the very general portrayal of basic fea- ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 369
  • 5. RELIGIONtures with some indications of the varying emphases seen in these matters because God is encountered moreplaced on them in different religions. To do this, we must immediately in the lives and the inspired words of hisdevelop a classificatory scheme. messengers, the prophets, who reveal in their utterances William James has reminded us that in every religion God’s nature, his purposes and commands, and deriva-there is some sort of awareness of what is called divine tively in the sacred books that contain the records of theseand some sort of response to this divinity. This being the revelations. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the threecase, a very fruitful way of classifying religions is to ask in chief prophetic religions, are sometimes called religionsthe case of each: “Where is the divine (the object of reli- of the book. Here the key term is not sacrament but reve-gious responses) primarily sought and located, and what lation. Prophetic religion, unlike the others, stresses thesort of response is primarily made to it?” In answering word as the medium of contact with the divine. (Anthese questions for a given religion, the religion-making example is the opening of the Gospel of John.) For thefeatures most stressed in that religion will also come to ritualist, and still more for the mystic, whatever words helight. According to this principle of division, religions fall may use, the consummation of his endeavors is found ininto three major groups: sacramental, prophetic, and a wordless communion with the divine. In prophetic reli-mystical. gion, however, the linguistic barrier is never let down; it is not felt as a barrier at all.LOCATION OF THE DIVINE. In sacramental religion The center of mystical religion is the mystical experi-the divine is sought chiefly in things—inanimate physical ence, which at its highest development dominates thethings like pieces of wood (relics of saints, statues, consciousness, excluding all awareness of words, nature,crosses), food and drink (bread and wine, baptismal even of the mystic’s own self. In this experience the indi-water), living things (the totem animal of the group, the vidual feels himself pervaded and transformed by thesacred cow, the sacred tree), processes (the movements of divine, identified with it in an indivisible unity. The worldthe sacred dance). This does not mean that the thing itself and all its ordinary concerns seem as naught as the mys-is responded to as divine, although this can happen in tic is caught up in the ineffable bliss of this union. It is notvery primitive forms of sacramental religion, called surprising that those who have enjoyed this experience,fetishism. Usually the sacred thing is conceived to be the and those who aspire to it, should take it to be the onehabitation or manifestation of some god or spirit. Thus, true avenue of contact with the divine and dismiss allthe ancient Hebrews treated the elaborate box that they other modes as spurious, or at least as grossly inferior.called the Ark of God as the habitation of their god, Yah- Rituals and sacraments, creeds and sacred books, areweh; the Hindus consider the river Ganges sacred to the viewed as paltry substitutes, which are doled out to thosegod Shiva—they believe that Shiva is in some specially who, by reason of incapacity or lack of effort, miss theintimate relation to that river, and they bathe in its waters firsthand mystic communion; or else they are externalto benefit from his healing power. The Roman Catholic aids that are of use only in the earlier stages of the quest,finds the presence of God concentrated in the conse- crutches to be thrown away when direct access to God iscrated bread and wine, which, he believes, has been trans- attained.formed into the body and blood of Christ. At a moresophisticated level the material thing may be taken as a RESPONSE TO THE DIVINE. In sacramental religion,symbol of the divine rather than as its direct embodi- where the divine is apprehended chiefly in materialment, as in the definition of a sacrament given in the embodiments, the center of religious activity will beAnglican Book of Common Prayer, “an outward and vis- found in ritual acts centering on these embodiments. Theible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” sacred places, animals, statues, and such, must be treated In prophetic religion the divine is thought to mani- with reverence, approached and made use of with duefest itself primarily in human society—in the events of precautions; and around these usages tend to grow pre-human history and in the inspired utterances of great his- scribed rites. Since the sense of the divine presence in cer-torical figures. It is not denied that nature issues from the tain objects is likely to be enhanced by participation indivine and is under divine control, but it is not in nature solemn ceremonials centering on these objects, the reli-that God is most immediately encountered. The divine gious activity becomes a self-perpetuating system,reality is to be discovered in great historical events—the embodying what is currently called positive feedback.destruction of cities, the rise and fall of empires, the In sacramental religion, the ritual tends to absorbescape of a people from bondage. The hand of God is most of the religious energies of the adherents and to ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY370 • 2nd edition
  • 6. RELIGIONcrowd the other elements out of the center of the picture. Therefore he concentrates on an ascetic and contempla-Primitive religion, which is strongly sacramental in char- tive discipline that will be conducive to the attainmentacter, is often unconcerned with moral distinctions; and and maintenance of that condition. He tends to becomewe might speculate that the progressive moralization of involved in abstentions and self-tortures designed toreligion is achieved at the expense of ritual preoccupa- wean him from his attachment to things of this world,tions. We can see this conflict at many points in the his- and in contemplative exercises designed to withdraw thetory of religions, most notably in the denunciations that attention from finite things, leaving the soul empty andthe Hebrew prophets directed against the ritual-minded receptive to influences from the divine. He will make usereligionists of their day, and in their exhortations to sub- of ceremonies and will accede to moral principles insofarstitute thirst for righteousness for the concern for niceties as he believes them to be efficacious in furthering his ulti-of ceremony. Even in its highest developments, sacramen- mate goal. But ultimately they must go; when union withtal religion tends to slacken the ethical tension that is God has been achieved, they are of no more significance.found in prophetic religion. Where sacramentalism is Thus, like sacramentalism, mysticism tends toward thestrong in a monotheistic religion, the natural tendency is amoral. Only rarely does either become completelyto take everything in nature as a divine manifestation. If amoral, and then for different reasons. For the sacramen-everything is sacred, then nothing can be fundamentally talist, conventional moral distinctions may come to seemevil; and thus the distinction between good and evil unimportant because he views everything as equally sat-becomes blurred. One of the elements in the Protestant urated with the divine; they seem unimportant to theReformation was a protest against tendencies to blurring mystic because every finite object or activity is outside theof this sort, which took place in the largely sacramental mystic union, and so all are, in the end, equally worthless.medieval form of Christianity. The righteous and the wicked are equally far from the true religious goal. While united with God, one does not The typical response of prophetic religion to the act.divine is also nicely coordinated with the chief form inwhich the divine is apprehended. The reaction naturally PLACE OF DOCTRINE. Finally, we may compare thecalled for by a message from the divine is acceptance. This three types of religion with respect to the status of beliefsinvolves both an intellectual acceptance of its contents— and creeds. Since faith is central for prophetic religionbelief that whatever statements it makes are true—and and since the word is stressed as the primary medium ofobedience to the commands and exhortations it contains. divine manifestation, it is not surprising that in propheticHence, in prophetic religion faith is the supreme virtue, religion, creed and doctrine are emphasized more than inand affirmations and confessions of faith play an impor- the others. Mystical religion, at its purest, is indifferent totant role. This is illustrated by the insistence of such great matters of belief and doctrine. The mystical experienceChristian prophetic figures as Paul and Martin Luther on and the divinity it reveals are often regarded as ineffable,faith in Christ as both necessary and sufficient for salva- not to be expressed in human language; hence, mysticstion and by the Muslim practice of repeating daily the tend to reject all doctrinal formulations as inadequate. Atcreed “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his best, a mystic will admit that some formulations are lessprophet.” It is important to realize that faith in this sense inadequate symbols of the unutterable than are others.means far more than the intellectual assent to certain Thus, in such predominantly mystical groups as the Sufispropositions. It also involves taking up an attitude on the and the Quakers, little or no attempt is made to enforcebasis of that affirmation and expressing that attitude in doctrinal conformity. And in an extreme form of mysti-action. The Jewish prophet Micah expressed the essence cism, like that of Zen Buddhism, any doctrinal formula-of prophetic religion when he said, “What doth the Lord tion is discouraged. Sacramental religion occupies arequire of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to middle ground in this respect. In its more primitivewalk humbly with thy God?” Thus, it would not be incor- forms, it is often extremely indefinite about belief. It hasrect to say that the emphasis in the prophetic response is been said that primitive man “dances out his religion.”ethical, providing we do not separate ethics from the Certainly the elaboration of ritual in primitive religionbelieving acceptance of the divine message that is its far outstrips the associated theory. The primitive willfoundation. often possess an incredibly detailed set of ritual prescrip- To understand the typical response of mystical reli- tions but have only the haziest idea of what there is aboutgion, we must remember that for the mystic, immediate the nature or doings of the gods that makes them appro-identification with the divine is of supreme importance. priate. In its more developed forms, sacramental theology ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 371
  • 7. RELIGIONbecomes more definite, but it is still true that to the extent Looking at Christianity today, it can be said thatthat a religion is preoccupied with a sacramental although it is predominantly a prophetic religion, asapproach to the divine, it is more impatient than compared with Hinduism and Buddhism, with respect toprophetic religion with doctrinal subtleties. its internal divisions the Catholic wing (both Roman and Greek) tends more toward the sacramental, while the We can coordinate this classification with the list of Protestant is more purely prophetic, with mysticismreligion-making characteristics by pointing out that appearing sporadically throughout. In Catholicism thesacramental religion stresses sacred objects and ritual, elaborateness of prescribed ceremonies, the emphasis onprophetic religion stresses belief and morality, and mysti- the necessity of material sacraments for salvation, and thecal religion places chief emphasis on immediate experi- insistence on a special status for consecrated priests are allence and feeling. typically sacramental. In Protestantism the emphasis on the sermon (the speaking forth of the Word of God)CONCRETE APPLICATION. When we come to apply our rather than on ritual, the emphasis on the Bible as thescheme to particular cases, we must not suppose that any repository of divine revelation, and the moral earnestnessreligion will fall completely in one class or another. In and social concern are all earmarks of the propheticfact, it is better not to think of types of religions, but of spirit.“Religion” new copy p. 235:religious tendencies that enter in varying proportionsinto the makeup of any actual religion. However, we can See also Buddhism; Chinese Philosophy: Religion; Chris-usually say that one tendency or another predominates in tianity; Creation and Conservation, Religious Doctrinea given religion. Thus, Buddhism and philosophical Hin- of; Epistemology, Religious; Islamic Philosophy; Jewishduism are predominantly mystical; Judaism, Islam, and Philosophy; Philosophy of Religion, History of; Philos-Confucianism are primarily prophetic; and popular Hin- ophy of Religion, Problems of; Philosophy of Religion;duism, in company with all polytheistic and primitive Religion and Morality; Religion and the Biological Sci-religions, is primarily sacramental. Often a religion that ences; Religion and the Physical Sciences; Religion,begins with a definite bent will admit other elements in Naturalistic Reconstructions of; Religion, Psychologicalthe course of its development. Islam, which began as the Explanations of; Religious Experience, Argument formost severely prophetic of religions, has developed one of the Existence of God; Religious Experience; Religiousthe world’s most extreme group of mystics in the Sufis, Language; Theism, Arguments For and Against.who are completely out of harmony with the spirit ofMuhammad, no matter how they may continue to Bibliographyexpress themselves in his phrases. Again, in Tibet, Bud- Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion, translated by Johndhism has undergone a development quite foreign to its Oman (New York: Harper, 1958), and The Christian Faith,founder’s intentions, blossoming into an extremely elab- translated by H. R. Mackintosh (Edinburgh, 1956), contain classic statements of the view that religion is essentially aorate sacramentalism. mode of experience. A more recent statement of this point Christianity furnishes a good opportunity to study of view that emphasizes mystical experience is in W. T. Stace, Time and Eternity (Princeton, NJ: Princetonthe intermingling and conflict of the different tendencies. University Press, 1952). The moral aspect of religion isIt began as an outgrowth of Jewish prophecy, but in the stressed in Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits ofprocess of adapting itself to the rest of the Western world Reason Alone, translated by T. M. Greene and H. H. Hudsonit took on a considerable protective coloration of both the (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1934), and in John Baillie, The Interpretation of Religion (New York: Scribners, 1928).sacramental and mystical, and these aspects have Conceptions of religion from the standpoint ofremained with it throughout its career. Christian mysti- philosophical naturalism are to be found in Auguste Comte,cism presents a good example of an element existing in a A General View of Positivism (London, 1865); Ludwigreligion that is dominated by another element. As the Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, translated by George Eliot (New York: Ungar, 1957); George Santayana, Reason inprice of toleration, Christian mystics have had to pay lip Religion (New York: Scribners, 1905); John Dewey, Aservice to the official theology and to the prophetic moral Common Faith (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,element; and as a result, mystic thought and practice in 1934); and Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion (NewChristianity have seldom received the extreme develop- Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1950). Stimulating discussions, not so easily classified, are Henriment found in India. In those cases where the mystical Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion,spirit has burst the fetters, as with Meister Eckhart, offi- translated by R. Ashley Audra (New York: Holt, 1935);cial condemnation has often resulted. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY372 • 2nd edition
  • 8. RELIGION , NATURALISTIC RECONSTRUCTIONS OF York: Longman, 1902); Josiah Royce, The Sources of Religious religion, naturalistic Insight (New York: Scribners, 1912); John Oman, “The Sphere of Religion,” in Science, Religion and Reality, edited reconstructions of by Joseph Needham (New York: Macmillan, 1925); and Alfred North Whitehead, Religion in the Making (New York: In philosophy a naturalist is one who holds that there is Macmillan, 1926). Important discussions from the social nothing over and above nature. A naturalist is committed sciences include Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of to rejecting traditional religion, which is based on beliefs the Religious Life, translated by J. W. Swain (London: Allen in the supernatural. This does not necessarily carry with and Unwin, 1915), and Bronis%aw Malinowski, Magic, it a rejection of religion as such, however. Many natural- Science, and Religion (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1954). ists envisage a substitute for traditional religion that will James H. Leuba, A Psychological Study of Religion (New York: perform the typical functions of religion without making Macmillan, 1912), and Julian Huxley, Religion without any claims beyond the natural world. We can best classify Revelation (New York: Harper, 1958), provide extensive naturalistic forms of religion in terms of what they take critical discussion of a wide variety of definitions, as well as God to be—that is, what they set up as an object of wor- presenting original conceptions. ship. In traditional religion the supernatural personalOTHER RECOMMENDED TITLES deity is worshiped because he is thought of as the zenithBanton, Michael, ed. Anthropological Approaches to the Study of of both goodness and power. More generally, we can say Religion. Reprint edition, London: Routledge, 1990. that religious worship is accorded to any being because itBatson, C. Daniel et al. Religion and the Individual: A Social- is regarded as having a controlling voice in the course of Psychological Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, events and at least potentially exercising that power for 1993. the good. This suggests that to find a focus for religiousBerger, Peter. The Social Reality of Religion. Harmondsworth, responses in the natural world, we should look for a basic U.K.: Penguin, 1967. natural source of value. Forms of naturalistic religion dif-Boyer, Pascal. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of fer as to where this is located. Broadly speaking, achieve- Religious Thought, Reprint edition. New York: Basic, 2002. ments of value in human life are due to factors of twoBraun, Willi, and Russell McCutcheon, eds. Guide to the Study sorts: (1) man’s natural endowments, together with the of Religion. London: Cassell, 2000. deposit of his past achievements in the cultural heritageByrne, Peter. Natural Religion and the Nature of Religion. of a society, and (2) things and processes in nonhuman London: Routledge, 1989. nature on which man depends for the possibility of hisClarke, Peter, and Peter Byrne, eds. Religion Defined and successes and, indeed, his very life. Most naturalists locate Explained. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. their religious object primarily on one or the other side ofDerrida, Jacques, and Gianni Vattimo, eds. Religion. Stanford, this distinction, although some try to maintain an even CA: Stanford University Press, 1998. balance between the two.Godlove, Terry. Religion, Interpretation, and Diversity of Belief: The first factor is stressed most by those who are The Framework Model from Kant to Durkheim to Davidson. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989. called religious humanists. This group includes Ludwig Feuerbach and Auguste Comte in the nineteenth centuryGuthrie, Steward. Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. and John Dewey and Erich Fromm in the twentieth. Of these men Comte has been the most influential.Hick, John. An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989. comteLawson, E. Thomas, and Robert McCauley. Rethinking In Comte’s view, it is to humanity that the individual man Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture. New York: owes everything that he is and has. It is because he shares Cambridge University Press, 1990. in the general biological and psychological capacities ofPhillips, D. Z. Religion without Explanation. Oxford: Blackwell, human nature that he is able to live a human life. And the 1976. men of a given generation are able to lead a fully humanSmart, Ninian. The Science of Religion and the Sociology of life because of the labors of their predecessors in building Knowledge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973. up their cultural heritage. Moreover, according to Comte,Yinger, J. Milton. The Scientific Study of Religion. New York: the service of humanity, in the many forms this can take, Macmillan, 1970. is the noblest ideal that could be proposed to an individ- William P. Alston (1967) ual; and humanity, unlike an omnipotent God, needs this Bibliography updated by Christian B. Miller (2005) service. Thus, Comte proposed to set up a religion of ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 373
  • 9. RELIGION , NATURALISTIC RECONSTRUCTIONS OFhumanity with man, viewed as a unitary though spa- century, reeling under the impact of two world wars andtiotemporally scattered being, as the object of worship. the hourly expectation of the death knell of civilization, Unlike many naturalists Comte was not at all vague we are not inclined to grow misty-eyed over humanity.about the detailed functioning of his proposed religion. Recent humanists have tended to be more critical in theirHe was impressed with the ritual structure of Roman reverence. The latest trend is to single out the more idealCatholicism and took it as his model. For example, in the aspects of man—his aspirations for truth, beauty, andanalogue of baptism, the sacrament of presentation, the goodness—for religious worship. Or the emphasis shiftsparents would dedicate their child to the service of from man as he actually exists to the ideals that man pur-humanity in an impressive public ceremony. Public sues in his better moments. Thus, in his book A Commonobservances were to be reinforced by the regular practice Faith, John Dewey defines God as “the unity of all idealof private prayer, on which Comte laid the greatest stress. ends arousing us to desire and action” (p. 42).A person was to pray four times daily, with each prayerdivided into a commemorative and a purificatory part. In deweythe first part one would invoke some great benefactor ofhumanity; by reflecting gratefully on his deeds, one Unlike Comte, Dewey has no interest in developing anwould be inspired to follow his example, and one’s love of organized naturalistic religion. It would seem that reli-humanity would thus be quickened. The purificatory part gious organization and religious ritual are too closelywould give solemn expression to the noble desires thereby associated in his mind with the supernaturalism that heevoked; in it the individual would dedicate himself to the rejects. For Dewey the important thing is the religiousservice of humanity. Other rituals included a system of quality that experience can assume under certain condi-religious festivals and a calendar of the saints of human- tions. Any unification of the whole self around the pur-ity that provided the material for the prayers on each day suit of an ideal end is religious in quality. Dewey isof the year. emphatic in insisting that this is a quality, rather than a Some idea of the religious fervor generated in Comte kind, of experience. Whenever a person is thoroughlyby the contemplation of humanity may be gained from committed to the pursuit of any ideal, be it scientific,this quotation from A General View of Positivism: social, artistic, or whatever, his experience attains the kind of fulfillment that has always been characteristic of what The Being upon whom all our thoughts are con- is most valuable in religion. According to Dewey, in tradi- centrated is one whose existence is undoubted. tional religion this quality has been encumbered and We recognize that existence not in the Present only, but in the Past, and even in the Future: and obscured by irrelevant trappings, particularly the theo- we find it always subject to one fundamental logical dogma in terms of which it has been pursued. In Law, by which we are enabled to conceive of it as the past, self-integration in the pursuit of the ideal has a whole. Placing our highest happiness in uni- been thought of as service of God, unity with God, or versal Love, we live, as far as it is possible, for submission to God’s will. It is Dewey’s conviction that the others: and this in public life as well as in pri- religious quality can be more effectively sought if the vate; for the two are closely linked together in quest is not carried on under this banner. To reflective our religion; a religion clothed in all the beauty men, supernaturalistic dogma will always appear dubious of Art, and yet never inconsistent with Science. at best. If the quest for self-integration in the service of After having thus exercised our powers to the the ideal is too closely tied to theology, it will be endan- full, and having given a charm and sacredness to gered when the theology is rejected as rationally ground- our temporary life, we shall at last be forever less. Moreover, insofar as the theology is taken seriously, incorporated into the Supreme Being, of whose it diverts attention from the active pursuit of the ideal. life all noble natures are necessarily partakers. It Worse, the assurance that the good is already perfectly is only through the worship of Humanity that realized in the divine nature has the tendency to cut the we can feel the inward reality and inexpressible nerve of moral effort; in that case it is not up to us to sweetness of this incorporation. (p. 444) introduce the good into the world. Thus, Dewey’s main Comte had considerable influence in his lifetime, concern as a philosopher of religion is to redirect reli-and a few functioning parishes of his religion of human- gious ardor into the quest for a richer quality of humanity sprang up. They have not survived, however, and a life rather than to construct a framework for a naturalis-revival in our time hardly seems likely. In the twentieth tically oriented religious organization. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY374 • 2nd edition
  • 10. RELIGION , NATURALISTIC RECONSTRUCTIONS OF There is no developed naturalistic philosophy of reli- ralism,” a view of the spatiotemporal universe, inspired bygion that stresses the nonhuman side of the natural modern biology and cosmology, in which the universe issources of value to the extent to which Comte stresses the conceived of as an indefinitely extended creative process,human side. (Though we can find this in literature, always tending to higher levels of development, with allnotably in Richard Jeffries, who had a kind of religious the sources and principles of this creativity immanent inintoxication with inanimate nature without, however, the process. The basic role of man is to be the chief agentconceiving of it as suffused with a spiritual being or of this evolutionary advance on earth through the appli-beings. This is a naturalistic counterpart of the nature cation of his intelligence to the problems of life on Earthworship of ancient Greece, just as Comte’s religion of and through the building of a harmonious and stablehumanity is a naturalistic counterpart of an ethical community. A religion based on these conceptions will bemonotheism like Christianity.) However, there is a focused on an object of worship that is a construct out ofmarked tendency among contemporary naturalists to all the forces affecting human destiny, including basicemphasize the nonhuman side much more than Comte physical forces as well as the fundamental facts of humanor Dewey. Good examples of this are the liberal theolo- existence and social life. God, then, will consist of all thesegian Henry Nelson Wieman and the biologist Julian Hux- factors, held together by the feeling of sacredness withley, who in his book Religion without Revelation has made which they are apprehended. As a start toward conceivingthe most coherent and comprehensive recent attempt to this assemblage as a unified object of worship, Huxleysketch out a naturalistically oriented religion. presents a naturalistic version of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. God the Father is made up of the forces ofhuxley nonhuman nature. God the Holy Ghost symbolizes the ideals toward which human beings at their best are striv-According to Huxley’s conception, religion stems from ing. God the Son personifies human nature as it actuallytwo basic sources. One is man’s concern with his des- exists, bridging the gulf between the other two by chan-tiny—his position and role in the universe and their neling natural forces into the pursuit of ideals. And theimplications for his activity; the other is the sense of unity of all the persons as one God represents the fact thatsacredness. Following Rudolf Otto, Huxley thinks of the all these aspects of the divine are intimately connected.sense of sacredness as a unique kind of experience that is Many thinkers, atheists as well as theists, take a diman intimate blend of awe, wonder, and fascination; this view of all these proceedings. Since the theists’ lack ofmode of feeling arises spontaneously in reaction to a wide enthusiasm stems from obvious sources, let us concen-variety of objects and situations. Religion, then, is a social trate on the atheists. The issues here are normative ororgan for dealing with problems of human destiny. As evaluative rather than factual. Comte and Huxley assuch it involves a conception of the world within which philosophers of religion are not, with perhaps minorthis destiny exists, some mobilization of the emotional exceptions, making any factual judgments with whichforces in man vis-à-vis the world thus conceived, some other naturalists might disagree because they are makingsort of ritual for expressing and maintaining the feelings no factual judgments at all beyond their basic commit-and attitudes developed with respect to the forces affect- ment to naturalism. If a man like Bertrand Russell oring human destiny, and some dispositions with respect to Jean-Paul Sartre disagrees with Huxley, he differs aboutthe practical problems connected with our destiny. The the value of what Huxley is proposing. His low evaluationsense of sacredness enters into the second and third of may have different bases. First, he may feel that man orthese aspects. As Huxley sees it, a way of dealing with the basic forces of nature constitute too pallid a substituteproblems of human destiny would not be distinctively for the God of theism to afford a secure footing for thereligious if it did not stem from and encourage a sense of distinctively religious reactions of reverence, adoration,the sacredness of the major elements in its view of the and worship. A man like Huxley might, for his part, inter-world, man, and human life. pret this as a reflection of a suppressed hankering after Huxley, as a thoroughgoing naturalist, holds that the the old supernatural deity. Second, Russell or Sartre maysupernaturalistic worldview in terms of which religion turn this charge on Huxley and maintain that onehas traditionally performed its functions is no longer ten- searches for an object of worship within nature onlyable in the light of modern scientific knowledge. More- because he has not sufficiently emancipated himself fromover, he thinks that it is possible to develop a full-blown the old religious orientation and that this religion of evo-religion on a naturalistic basis. As the intellectual basis for lutionary naturalism represents an uneasy compromisesuch a religion, Huxley puts forward “evolutionary natu- between religious and secular orientations. It seems clear ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 375
  • 11. RELIGION , NATURALISTIC RECONSTRUCTIONS OF [ ADDENDUM ]that there is no one objective resolution of such disputes. supernaturalism is weaker than naturalism as understoodPeople differ in such a way that different total orienta- by contemporary philosophers, who would balk at callingtions will seem congenial to people with different tem- the dualist Richard Swinburne (2004), the idealists Tim-peraments and cultural backgrounds. It is perhaps othy Sprigge (1983) and John Foster (2004), or even theunfortunate, on the whole, that many people need to find nonreductive physicalist Peter Forrest (1996) naturalists.something fundamentally unworthy in every other reli- This suggests that naturalism is to be contrasted notgion in order to find a firm attachment to their own reli- merely with the supernatural but also with anthropocen-gious positions, although it is undoubtedly true that tric Metaphysics, which takes consciousness and agency asreligious discussions are more lively than they would be if fundamental features of reality that may be used tothis were not the case. explain but must themselves be accepted without expla- nation. Naturalism in this strong sense is unlikely to sup-See also Comte, Auguste; Dewey, John; Evolutionary The- port the humanist attitudes of Auguste Comte or John ory; Feuerbach, Ludwig; Human Nature; Naturalism; Dewey, but coheres well with Julian Huxley’s evolution- Otto, Rudolf; Russell, Bertrand Arthur William; Sartre, ary naturalism. Jean-Paul. deep ecologyBibliography The most widespread contemporary naturalistic move-Ames, E. S. Religion. New York, 1929. ment with religious tendencies is deep ecology, whichComte, Auguste. A General View of Positivism. Translated by J. typically goes beyond an attitude of aesthetic apprecia- H. Bridges. London, 1880. Ch. 6.Dewey, John. A Common Faith. New Haven, CT: Yale tion of—and scientific interest in—life on earth, to atti- University Press, 1934. tudes of reverence and self-sacrifice (Naess 1989).Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity. Translated by Combined with a suitable metaphysical system this could George Eliot. New York: Harper, 1957. be a genuinely naturalistic religion, although neopaganFromm, Erich. Psychoanalysis and Religion. London: Gollancz, movements such as Wicca tend to incorporate belief in 1951. the supernatural. Two such metaphysical systems areHuxley, Julian. Religion without Revelation. New York: Harper, 1957. process theology and pantheism.Russell, Bertrand. Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957. process philosophyWieman, Henry Nelson. The Source of Human Good. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946. The process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, and most recently David Ray Griffin William P. Alston (1967) (2001) can support either a liberal theistic religion or deep ecology. Process philosophy counts as naturalistic because it is biocentric rather than anthropocentric, inreligion, naturalistic that it relies on preconscious sensitivity to the environ- ment (prehension) and final causation. For that reasonreconstructions of the God of process philosophy is immanent in the[addendum] processes of the natural world, resulting in something similar to, although less austere than, Huxley’s evolution-contemporary naturalistic ary naturalism. A chief objection to process philosophy isreligion that we no longer have a theoretical need for either pre- hension or final causes even in biology.What should one contrast nature with? The supernatural,maybe? What is meant here by supernaturalism is the the-sis that the divine is different in kind from familiar things pantheismand persons; and/or that there are divine interventions The universe as a whole or, perhaps better, the naturalthat are contrary to the laws of nature. If this is the rele- order is sufficiently awe-inspiring to ground some religiousvant contrast then naturalistic religion requires merely attitudes. So pantheism can form the basis of a naturalisticthat God be taken as either a person or a community of religion (Levine 1994). Like any religion this has meta-persons. God is then like humans, although infinitely physical commitments: either the existence of the universemore powerful, and acts in the world in whatever way as a whole or the existence of laws of nature, but neither ofpeople act when they exercise their freedom. Such anti- these commitments would worry most naturalists. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY376 • 2nd edition
  • 12. RELIGION , PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPLANATIONS OFthe afterlife Naess, Arne. Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy. Translated and revised by David Rothenberg.Much religious motivation (for good and ill) lies in the Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.belief in an afterlife. Does naturalism cohere with this Price, Huw. Time’s Arrow & Archimedes Point: New Directionsbelief? Granted that if there is a God concerned about for the Physics of Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press,individuals then there is not much problem, for there are 1996.ways God could ensure an afterlife without miracles and Sprigge, Timothy. The Vindication of Absolute Idealism. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 1983.without there being souls (van Inwagen 1992). However, Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford:a pantheist God that just is the natural order will not be Clarendon Press, 2004.concerned about individuals, whereas the God of process Tipler, Frank J. The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology,philosophy might well lack the power required to be God and the Resurrection of the Dead. London: Pan, 1996.providential. Frank J. Tipler (1996) has suggested that in van Inwagen, Peter. “The Possibility of Resurrection.” In Immortality, edited by Paul Edwards, 242–246. New York:the distant future sentient beings will be able to reconsti- Macmillan, 1992. Reprinted from the International Journaltute all the lives of those who have died. In his version all for the Philosophy of Religion 9 (1978).possible lives seem to get reconstituted, which prevents Peter Forrest (2005)any of them being the same as early twenty-first centurypeople. But one might surmise that there are traces ofactual lives that could be used to reconstitute only thosewho have actually lived. A less far-fetched naturalistic religion,account of the afterlife is based on the many worlds inter-pretation of quantum theory. For if there are many paral- psychologicallel universes and every physically possible event occurs in explanations ofsome of them, then in some of them it seems humanssurvive anything (Price 1996, ch. 9; Lewis 2004) The chief In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the chiefproblem with such scenarios is over-survival, that is, at impact of science on religion came from the revised pic- ture of the cosmos that emerged from developments ineach moment each person divides into millions of suc- astronomy and physics. In the nineteenth century thecessors. impact was from the changed view of the history of life on Earth that was presented by geology and evolutionaryconclusion biology. In the twentieth century the social sciences hadNot surprisingly the more narrowly naturalism is under- the greatest impact on religion, although of a differentstood the more drastic a naturalistic reconstruction of nature. Physics and biology worried theologians becausereligion must be. At one extreme, anti-supernaturalism they introduced theories about the cosmos, life, and mansits comfortably with all but conservative religious move- that were at variance with beliefs intimately bound upments. At the other, naturalists might reject even the bio- with the religious tradition, such as the special creation ofcentrism of process thought and be left with only a rather man. The impact of the social sciences, on the otheraustere pantheism. hand, comes not from theories that contradict basic reli- gious doctrines but from explanations of religion itselfSee also God, Concepts of; Naturalism; Pantheism; Phys- that seem to rob it of its significance. icalism; Whitehead, Alfred North. Since the nineteenth century numerous ideas have been put forward as to the psychological and sociologicalBibliography factors that are responsible for religion. The most impor-Forrest, Peter. God without the Supernatural. Ithaca, NY: tant of these are (1) the Marxian theory that religion is Cornell University Press, 1996. one of the ideological reflections of the current state ofFoster, John. The Divine Lawmaker: Lectures on Induction, Laws economic interrelations in a society; (2) the similar, but of Nature, and the Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon more elaborately developed, theory of the sociologist Press, 2004. Émile Durkheim that religious belief constitutes a projec-Griffin, David Ray. Reenchantment without Supernaturalism. tion of the structure of society; and (3) the Freudian the- Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001. ory that religious belief arises from projections designedLevine, Michael P. Pantheism: A Non-Theistic Concept of Deity. New York: Routledge, 1994. to alleviate certain kinds of unconscious conflict. TheseLewis, David. “How Many Lives Has Schrödinger’s Cat?” are all scientific explanations in that they trace religion to Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82 (2004): 3–22. factors wholly within the world of nature, and hence they ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 377
  • 13. RELIGION , PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPLANATIONS OFare, at least in principle, subject to empirical test. Con- various mechanisms provided for dissipating the guiltcentration on one of these, the Freudian, will enable us to over sexual desire for the mother and hostility toward theillustrate the philosophical problems raised by such father. Confession, penance, and renunciations of variousexplanations. kinds afford socially approved means for relieving this guilt and counteracting its crippling influence.the freudian explanation People are more receptive to religious belief at someThe Freudian account begins with certain similarities times than at others. Freud explains this in terms of thebetween attributes of and attitudes toward a personal mechanism of regression. When a person encountersdeity, on the one hand, and the small child’s conception severe difficulties and frustrations at one stage of life, heof and mode of relating to his father, on the other. In both tends to regress psychologically to an earlier stage atcases the superior being is regarded as omnipotent, which these problems did not exist. Thus, when an adultomniscient, inscrutable, and providential. In both cases is particularly hard pressed, there is generally some rein-the individual reacts to this superior being with utter statement of earlier modes of thinking, feeling, and relat-dependence, awe, fear of punishment, and gratitude for ing to the environment. This means that the Oedipalmercy and protection. These parallels suggest, though material in the unconscious will become more intense and closer to the surface, while at the same time the per-they do not prove, that the original model for the con- son is more likely to engage in the childish practice ofception of God is to be found in the infantile conception projection.of one’s parents, and that the almost universal inclinationto believe in personal deities is to be traced to psycholog- Thus, according to Freudian theory, an individual’sical remnants of the infantile situation. According to Sig- tendency to accept belief in a supernatural personal deitymund Freud, these remnants are mostly the result of the (together with the other aspects of religious activity andOedipal conflict. According to his theory, around the age involvement) is at least partly caused by a tendency toof four the boy (restricting ourselves to the male for sim- project a childhood father image existing in the uncon-plicity of exposition) comes to desire his mother sexually scious, this projection normally following a regression setand to regard his father as a rival. Reacting more or less to off by a current problem of adjustment and serving toactual indications, the boy becomes so afraid of the alleviate unconscious conflicts and unconscious guilt. It isfather’s hostility, and also so afraid of losing his love, that clear that, at best, this is only a partial explanation of reli-he not only abandons his sexual aims but also represses gious belief. For one thing, it presupposes the prior exis-the entire complex of desires, fears, and conceptions. This tence of the religious ideas in the culture; at most, it is ancomplex remains, in greater or lesser intensity, in the explanation of the individual’s readiness to accept theseunconscious; and it is because a supernatural personal ideas when they are proffered.deity provides an external object on which to project it Freud tried to supply this lack by developing a paral-that men have as much inclination as they do to believe in lel theory of the development of religion in society.such a being and to accept the attitudes and practices that According to this theory, religion develops as a projectiongo with this belief. of a psychological complex that results from unconscious To understand what the projection does for the indi- racial memories of a primal murder of the tyrannical father figure of a “primal horde.” Cultural development isvidual, we must recognize that the repressed material thus treated along the same lines as the development ofinvolves severe conflict between tendencies to rebel the individual; something like a “collective unconscious”against the father and tendencies to submit to the father, is posited in which psychic material can be transmitted inand between the Oedipal desires and the standards that an unconscious form from one generation to another.would be violated by satisfying those desires. Projection However, these ideas have never won any considerableof this material onto an external deity reduces distress in degree of acceptance, and in discussing Freud we can con-several ways. First, the externalization of the problem centrate on his account of the psychological basis of reli-provides some relief. Instead of being plagued by myste- gion in the individual.rious discomfort, the individual is faced with a clear-cutopposition between various desires of his own and a for- criticism of freudianbidding external person. Second, there is less conflictbecause the external figure is so powerful as to seriously explanationweaken the rebellion, and he is so idealized as to render With respect to any scientific explanation of religion,resentment and hostility less appropriate. Third, there are there are two questions to be raised. (1) What reason is ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY378 • 2nd edition
  • 14. RELIGION , PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPLANATIONS OFthere to accept it? (2) If it is true, what bearing does it activity in the brain, but all the explanations in the fieldhave on the truth, value, or justifiability of religion? It is trace religion to states and activities that are more or lessthe second question that specially lies within the province irrational, immature, or unworthy. Projection is involvedof the philosophy of religion. in all the theories cited at the beginning of this article; the It is clear that the Freudian explanation does not Marxist theory adds the point that religion is used by theimply that the beliefs of religion are false; Freud himself dominant class to provide illusory consolations to thoserecognized this, though not all Freudians do. But it is being exploited.often assumed that the success of any explanation of reli- To be clear on this issue, we must distinguish the dif-gion in terms of factors within the natural world would ferent forms these claims can take. Psychoanalytic litera-show that we do not need to bring anything supernatural ture is often simply an enumeration of similaritiesinto the explanation, and hence would seriously weaken between religion and compulsion neuroses, such as firmreligion’s claims to credibility. However, this depends on attachment to rituals without having a rational explana-how these claims were made. If religion is based solely on tion of the attachment. However, the similarity in itselfdivine revelation, then the fact that we can give an ade- proves nothing. A scientist “obsessed with an idea” alsoquate explanation of religion without bringing in divine exhibits marked similarities to a compulsion neurotic,activity, revelatory or otherwise, seriously affects— but this has no implications for the value of his work. Thethough it does not conclusively disprove—the claim that more important claim has to do with the causal factorscertain beliefs are true because they are communicated to said to underlie religion. Here, too, we must distinguishman by God. But if rational arguments are advanced in between (1) the claim that some neurotic condition issupport of religious doctrine, such as the classical argu- always or generally among the factors producing attach-ments for the existence of God, then whatever force these ment to a religion, and (2) the claim that the causal basisarguments have is in no degree lessened by the fact—if it of such attachment is markedly similar to the basis of rec-be a fact—that the psychological basis for religion is as ognized neuroses. There is no real evidence for the firstFreud supposed. Of course, if the Freudian mechanisms claim. Controlled studies on the required scale have neverconstitute a necessary as well as sufficient condition of been carried out. As for the second, we must ask how sim-religious belief, then it follows that no one has any good ilar the causal basis is and what implications we are toreason for these beliefs. If anyone did have a good reason, draw from whatever degree of similarity exists. The merethat would itself be a sufficient condition of the belief, fact that religion involves projection as a relief fromand this would show that it is possible to have the belief unconscious conflict is not sufficient ground for labelingwithout needing to project an unconscious father image. religion, in Freud’s terms, “the universal obsessional neu-However, it is almost inconceivable that we should show rosis of mankind.” We must distinguish between patho-that projection is a necessary condition of belief. At most, logical and healthy resolutions of unconscious conflict.we could hope to show that there is some correlation The anti-Freudian psychoanalyst Carl Jung, inbetween degree of unconscious Oedipal conflict and terming religion an alternative to neurosis, expressed hisfirmness of religious belief. Showing that a certain set of belief that it is a healthy outcome. The basic issuenatural factors is one of the things that can produce reli- involved here concerns the definition of “neurosis.” If wegious belief may well nullify certain ways of supporting define it in terms of a certain causal basis, then it may bethe beliefs, but it could hardly show that no adequate that according to the Freudian theory, religion is, by itsrational grounds could be produced. very nature, a form of neurosis. But then it remains an There is another way in which it has been thought open question whether or not it is a desirable, justifiable,that the Freudian theory of religion carries with it a neg- or realistic mode of activity. If neurosis is defined in thisative evaluation of religion. The particular causal factors way, we may have to distinguish between good and badto which Freud traced religion are of a sort associated neuroses. If, on the other hand, we accept common usagewith undesirable patterns of organization. To regard reli- and build a negative evaluation into the definition ofgion as caused by these factors is to class it with neurotic neurosis (by having as a necessary condition of neurosisand infantile modes of behavior, and as such it is hardly that it make a satisfactory adjustment to one’s environ-worthy of serious consideration. In this respect, too, the ment difficult), then it would no longer be an open ques-psychoanalytic explanation is typical. One can imagine tion whether religion, if neurotic, is a good thing. Butan explanation that traces religious activity to evalua- with this concept of neurosis, we have a much strongertively neutral natural factors, such as patterns of neural thesis, which calls for evidence that has not yet been pro- ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 379
  • 15. RELIGION , PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPLANATIONS OF [ ADDENDUM ]vided. No one has shown that in general religious believ- Exploration of the Inner World (New York: Willett, Clark,ers are less able to establish satisfying personal relations 1952); and Theodor Reik, Dogma and Compulsion, translated by Bernard Miall (New York: Internationaland less able to get ahead in their work than are nonbe- Universities Press, 1951). R. S. Lee, Freud and Christianitylievers. Even if this were shown, there would be further (New York: A. A. Wyn, 1949), and William P. Alston,problems of a very sticky sort. The believer might com- “Psychoanalytic Theory and Theistic Belief,” in Faith and theplain that restricting “the environment” to the natural Philosophers, edited by John Hick (New York: St. Martin’senvironment is question-begging. He would say that Press, 1964), present discussions of the Freudian treatment of religion.whatever the bearing of religious attachment on getting For a sociological point of view, see Émile Durkheim, Thealong in human society, it is essential to adequate adjust- Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, translated by J. W.ment to God and his demands. To ignore this aspect of Swain (London: Allen and Unwin, 1915); Vilfredo Pareto,“the environment” is to employ a criterion of adjustment The Mind and Society, translated by Andrew Bongiorno andthat presupposes the falsity of religious beliefs. Arthur Livingston (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1935), Vol. III; V. F. Calverton, The Passing of the Gods (New York: Similar comments apply to the idea that the psycho- Scribners, 1934); and G. E. Swanson, The Birth of the Godsanalytic theory implies that religion is infantile and hence (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960).unworthy of mature men. It is true that the way a reli- William P. Alston (1967)gious man relates himself to God is in many ways similarto the way a small child relates himself to a father. Butwhether or not this is a mature, realistic mode of activityis wholly a function of whether there really is such a God. religion,If there is, then this is the only reasonable stance to take. psychologicalHence, to condemn religion on these grounds is to pre-suppose the falsity of its beliefs. explanations of Thus, there are many gaps in any line of reasoning [addendum]that tries to derive a negative evaluation of religion froma causal explanation of religion in psychological or socio- During the last few decades of the twentieth century sci-logical terms. If a person does not feel that he has a firm entific ability to explore the brain directly increased dra-basis for his religious beliefs, then looking at religion in a matically, so neuroscientific discoveries during the periodFreudian or Marxian light may well lead him to give up resulted in a broadening of perspectives from which psy-his beliefs. More generally, we can say that Freudian or chological explanations of religion may be given. First,Marxian theory does not provide an intellectual atmos- the ideological impasse on method between behavioristicphere in which one would expect religious belief to flour- and psychoanalytic or introspective approaches in psy-ish; but it does not appear that these theories, as so far chology yielded to more pragmatic heterophenomeno-developed, are in any way logically incompatible with the logical (Dennett 2003) or neurophenomenologicaltruth, justifiability, and value of traditional religion. (Varela, Thompson, and Rosch 1991) methods for inves- tigating mental states. Second, Platonic and CartesianSee also Durkheim, Émile; Freud, Sigmund; Jung, Carl views of emotion as inherently irrational and subversive Gustav; Marxist Philosophy; Philosophy of Religion, of productive cognitive functioning were contested by Problems of; Popular Arguments for the Existence of studies that showed that absence of emotion produced a God. cognitively dysfunctional Phineas Gage, not a pure- minded Philosopher King (Damasio 1994). Third, the Enlightenment notion of a person as an isolated,Bibliography autonomous rational optimizer, a “ghost” in a bodilyImportant treatments of religion from a psychological point of machine, began to yield to a notion of a person as an view include Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, translated embodied and interactive global workspace (Baars 1997) by A. A. Brill (New York: Moffat, Yard, 1918), The Future of an Illusion, translated by W. D. Robson-Scott (New York: that is distributed across both interpersonal relationships Liveright, 1928), and Moses and Monotheism, translated by (attachment theory; Panksepp 1998) and the environ- Katherine Jones (New York: Knopf, 1939); Carl Jung, ment (Clark 1999). Fourth, clinical, cognitive, and Psychology and Religion (New Haven, CT: Yale University transpersonal psychologists (Wilber 1998) began to see Press, 1938), and Modern Man in Search of a Soul, translated by W. S. Dell and C. F. Baynes (New York: Harcourt Brace, the value of studying and using religion in their clinical 1933); Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Religion (New practices to aid in communication, understanding, and Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1950); A. T. Bosien, The healing. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY380 • 2nd edition
  • 16. RELIGION , PSYCHOLOGICAL EXPLANATIONS OF [ ADDENDUM ] The net effect of these shifts in perspective on psy- nations, are a result of kindling, erratic neuronal stimula-chological methodology and ontology has been a return tion that spreads through sections of the brain. He alsoto a Jamesian (James 1981) view of human psychology as reports that enhanced geomagnetic activity and limbicconsisting of a stream of variously conscious and uncon- seizures produce religious senses of a “felt presence” andscious processes, related to one another in modular ways that meditation contributes to intrusive experiences.(Fodor 1983; Weiskrantz 1997), and integrated somewhat In contrast, Eugene G. d’Aquili and Andrew B. New-haphazardly through the accidents of evolutionary his- berg (1999) offer SPECT scans of advanced-level medita-tory. tors that show changes in regional cerebral blood flow as New avenues of exploration for religious psycholog- evidence that alternate circuits of brain activity are devel-ical states, beliefs, and practices have been opened by oped during meditation. D’Aquili and Newberg discov-these developments in cognitive neuroscience, as well as ered that during meditation there is increased activity inby new technology. Some of these include: the frontal lobes of the brain correlated with decreased (1) Brain scans: studies of the brains of persons activity in the posterior parietal lobes of the brain. They engaged in religious activities, through Positron claim that the result is deafferentation of the outward ori- Emission Tomography, Computed Axial Tomog- entation and association areas of the prefrontal cortex, raphy, and Single Photon Emission Computed resulting in senses of spacelessness, timelessness, and self- Tomography (SPECT) scans, and a comparison of lessness typically associated with religious experiences the experimental results with base-line brain that they characterize as Absolute Unitary Being experi- scans and scans of persons with known patholog- ences. ical conditions such as brain lesions, schizophre- nia, and epilepsy. first-person and introspective (2) First-person methods: Without behaviorist pre- studies suppositions, methods for systematic and con- Neurophenomenologists are examining systematic trolled introspection can be studied in a critical approaches to introspection as a tool of study, using both but open-minded way. Husserlian phenomenological techniques and meditative (3) Health and integration studies: Studies of the techniques developed in Asian religious traditions, to interpersonal and integrative effects of religious gain insight into the psychology of religious states of con- experiences, beliefs, or practices are being done in sciousness. The Mind and Life Institute, working at the clinical settings. Keck Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Madi- son, and at the University of Paris, engages in collabora-While it is still possible that the pathologies attributed to tive research between Buddhist meditators and Westernreligious experience, beliefs, and practices by elimina- neuroscientists, aimed at correlating the Buddhist first-tivists, Freudians, Marxists, and Durkheimians might be person trained experience of focused attention, opencorroborated by the emerging twenty-first–century evi- attention, visualization, and compassion, with states ofdence, religious psychology is now at least open to the neural phase-symmetry detected on high-density elec-vindication of religion from charges of pathology. In troencephalography, magnetoencephalography, andwhat follows, samples of each of the previous lines of functional magnetic resonance imaging. The researchersinquiry into the psychology of religion in cognitive sci- hope to show that stabilized, trained, first-person experi-ence are cited. ences of focused attention, compassion, and so on can be systematically correlated to states of neural phase-syn-brain scan studies chrony that represent states of large-scale integration within the brain.Brain scans of advanced-level meditators, persons suffer-ing from hallucinations, and persons engaged in prayer orother religious ceremonies are being produced by health-integration studiesresearchers at a variety of universities and institutes. Psychologists, such as Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (1997), areMichael A. Persinger (1993) induced hallucinations in studying the relationship between happiness and peaklaboratory subjects through stimulation of temporal experiences of the type outlined by Abraham Maslow,lobes of the brain. Based on this evidence and reports of and are discovering that highly engaged attitudes andreligious experience by schizophrenic and epileptic relationships, of the type long encouraged by religions,patients, he argues that religious experiences, as halluci- are productive of happiness, or Aristotelian eudaimonia. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 381
  • 17. RELIGION AND MORALITYIn this research self-sacrificing and loving relationships to Forman, Robert K. C., ed. The Innate Capacity, Mysticism,work and significant others are turning out to produce Psychology, and Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.both happiness and physical and mental health, despite Freedman, Anthony, ed. The Emergence of Consciousness.predictions to the contrary made by psychological sur- Thorverton, U.K.: Imprint Academic, 2001.vivalist and egocentrist theories. Hood, Ralph W., Jr., et al. The Psychology of Religion: An Research groups such as the John Templeton Foun- Empirical Approach, 2nd ed. New York: Guilford Press, 1996. James, William. The Principles of Psychology. Edited bydation, the Metanexus Institute, and Stephen G. Post’s Frederick Burkhardt. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UniversityInstitute for Research on Unlimited Love are using Press, 1981.methodologies that could be characterized as heterophe- Lutz, Antoine, and Evan Thompson. “Neurophenomenology:nomenological to explore the health and social effects of Integrating Subjective Experience and Brain Dynamics incompassionate behavior on human thriving. Also, Divi- the Neuroscience of Consciousness.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (9–10) (2003): 31–52.sion 36 of the American Psychological Association has Metanexus Institute,, 2004.been sponsoring conferences, several journals (i.e., Inter- Mind and Life Institute. “Training and Studying the Mind:national Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Journal for Toward and Integration of Buddhist Contemplativethe Scientific Study of Religion, and Review of Religious Practices and Neurosciences.”Research), and a newsletter cataloging its members’ study, 2002.of a wide variety of issues related to the clinical and psy- Newberg, Andrew, et al. “The Measurement of Regionalchological roles of religion in the family, in coping with Cerebral Blood Flow during the Complex Cognitive Task of Meditation: A Preliminary SPECT Study.” Psychiatricillness and death, in youth violence, in gender studies, in Research: Neuroimaging Section 106 (2) (2001): 113–122.psychotherapy, in shaping values, and in sociological Nielsen, Michael E. “Psychology of Religion in the USA.”group formation, among many other topics. Psychology of Religion,, FebruarySee also Mysticism, Nature and Assessment of; Religious 2000. Experience; Religious Experience, Arguments for the Núñez, Rafael, and Walter J. Freeman. Reclaiming Cognition: The Primacy of Action, Intention, and Emotion. Thorverton, Existence of God. U.K.: Imprint Academic, 1999. Panksepp, Jaak, Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. New York: Oxford UniversityBibliography Press, 1998.Alper, Matthew. The “God” Part of the Brain: A Scientific Pargament, Kenneth I. The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God, 4th ed. Theory, Research, Practice. New York: Guilford Press, 1997. Brooklyn, NY: Rogue Press, 2001. Persinger, Michael A. “Transcendental Meditation and GeneralAndresen, Jensine, and Robert K. C. Forman, eds. Cognitive Meditation Are Associated with Enhanced Complex Partial Models and Spiritual Maps: Interdisciplinary Explorations of Epileptic-Like Signs: Evidence for Cognitive Kindling?” Religious Experience. Thorverton, U.K.: Imprint Academic, Perceptual and Motor Skills 76 (1) (February 1993): 80–82. 2002. Varela, Francisco J., and Jonathan Shear. The View from Within:Baars, Bernard J. In the Theater of Consciousness: The First-Person Approaches to the Study of Consciousness. Workspace of the Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, Thorverton, U.K.: Imprint Academic, 2000. 1997. Varela, Francisco J., Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch. TheBaars, Bernard J., William P. Banks, and James B. Newman, Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. eds. Essential Sources in the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. Weiskrantz, Lawrence. Consciousness Lost and Found: AClark, Andy. Being There. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997. Neuropsychological Exploration. New York: Oxford UniversityCsikszentmihaly, Mihaly. Finding Flow: The Psychology of Press, 1997. Engagement with Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books, Wilber, Ken. The Essential Ken Wilber: An Introductory Reader. 1997. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1998.Damasio, Antonio R. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Laura E. Weed (2005) Human Brain. New York: Putnam, 1994.D’Aquili, Eugene G., and Andrew B. Newberg. The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999.Dennett, Daniel C. “Who’s on First? Heterophenomenology religion and morality Explained.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (9–10) (2003): 19–30. Morality is closely associated with religion in the mindsFodor, Jerry A. The Modularity of Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT of many people. When religious leaders speak out on Press, 1983. moral topics, their opinions are often treated with special ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY382 • 2nd edition
  • 18. RELIGION AND MORALITYdeference. They are regarded as moral experts. This raises illuminating definition of its scope. Philosophers oftenthe question of whether morality depends in some way say that the realm of morality in this broad sense coin-on religion. Many philosophers have held that it does. cides with the realm of the ethical.John Locke, for example, argued that atheists could not When philosophers reflect on the contents of thebe trusted to be moral because they would not consider ethical, they find it useful to distinguish within it twothemselves obliged even by solemn oaths, much less by domains, each characterized by a distinctive family ofordinary promises. The answer to this question may be of fundamental concepts. One is the axiological domain. Itsconsiderable practical importance. If morality does basic concepts are goodness, badness, and indifference.depend on religion, the process of secularization, in the The other is the deontological domain. Its basic conceptscourse of which religious belief and practice wither away, are requirement (obligation), permission (rightness), andseems to pose a serious threat to morality. At one time prohibition (wrongness). Duty is the chief subject mattermany social theorists were confident that secularization of the deontological domain. Some philosophers—was inevitable in modern and postmodern societies. Bernard Williams, for example—have proposed thatExperience has undermined this confidence. Seculariza- morality be conceived narrowly as restricted to the deon-tion no longer appears to be an inevitable consequence of tological domain. On this conception, the domain ofmodernization. Moreover, the process seems to occur at morality is a proper subdomain of the realm of the ethi-different rates in different modern societies. Thus secu- cal.larization is more advanced in some Western Europeansocieties than it is in the United States. Nevertheless, Discussions of whether morality depends on religionit seems reasonable to be concerned about whether mor- frequently focus exclusively on the deontological domain.ality will decline to the extent that modern societies It is not hard to see why this occurs. Deontology consistsbecome more secular if it is the case that morality of a system of requirements, permissions, and prohibi-depends on religion. tions. It is structurally similar to systems of law. Hence it is natural to think of deontology as the domain of moral This entry discusses several ways in which morality law. Once this way of thinking has been adopted, themay depend on religion. It considers causal, conceptual, question arises as to whether moral law’s binding forceepistemological, and metaphysical dependency relations. depends on the authority of a divine lawgiver. Most of theIt also explores the possibility that morality and religion discussion in this entry will address the issue of whethermay come into conflict. But a fruitful discussion of how moral requirements (obligations) and prohibitionstwo things are related must rely on some understanding (wrongness) depend on a deity of the sort to which theof what those two things are. Hence the entry begins with major monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islamcharacterizations of domains of morality and religion. are committed. However, some consideration will also be given to the topic of whether axiological goodnessmorality and religion depends on such a deity. For this reason, the narrow con-circumscribed ception of morality—which restricts it to the deontolog-Understood in broad terms, morality consists of answers ical domain—will not be adopted in this the general normative question of how one should live Religion, too, consists of beliefs and practices thatone’s life. It covers a wide range of topics related to the exhibit great diversity. Most scholars who study it doubtconduct of human life. Morality concerns actions that that the concept of religion can be defined or analyzed inshould and should not be performed and rules of con- terms of necessary and sufficient conditions for being aduct that should and should not be followed. It also com- religion. Some philosophers—for instance, John Hick—prehends motives for actions that people should and take the concept of religion to be a family-resemblanceshould not have and character traits or habits that people concept. On this view, religions resemble one another asshould and should not try to develop. Another subject of members of a family resemble one another. For example,moral concern is ideals of saintliness or heroism to which the ancient cults of Moloch, Christianity, and Theravadasome people may properly aspire, even though not every- Buddhism may be classified as religions because theyone is called upon to live up to these ideals. Yet another resemble one another in various respects, without sup-subject is social and political arrangements that people posing that all three of them satisfy a single set of neces-should and should not strive to create or to sustain. Thus sary and sufficient conditions for being a religion. A moreunderstood, morality consists of a diverse array beliefs refined version of this view is provided by accounts devel-and practices, and it is probably not possible to give an oped in cognitive psychology of concepts organized ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 383
  • 19. RELIGION AND MORALITYaround examples that serve as prototypes or paradigms. causal dependenceAs a result of complex patterns of similarity to—and dif- Morality would depend historically on religion if moralference from—the prototypes, other cases lie at various beliefs and practices were derived by causal processesdistances from the prototypes in a similar space. Cases from prior religious beliefs and practices. It is often imag-near the prototypes fall under the concept; cases far ined that early human societies had worldviews in whichenough away from the prototypes do not fall under the no distinctions were drawn between moral and religiousconcept. In between there may be a gray area in which can beliefs and practices. All norms of human conduct werebe found borderline cases. then religious in character; their authority was taken to In attempting to define the concept of religion in rest on superhuman sources such as the prescriptions ofterms of necessary and sufficient conditions, there is gods. Independent moral beliefs and practices emergedoften disagreement about whether commitment—in the- from such religious worldviews in the course of culturalory or in practice—to superhuman beings is a necessary evolution as a result natural processes of functional dif-condition for being a religion. A celebrated debate in ferentiation. Rules governing the performance of reli-anthropology nicely illustrates such disagreement. gious rituals, for example, were distinguished fromMelford Spiro made the following proposal: “I shall norms of ordinary human social interaction. The ideadefine ‘religion’ as ‘an institution consisting of culturally that all early human societies had tightly integratedpatterned interaction with culturally postulated superhu- worldviews dominated by religious concerns is, of course,man beings’” (Spiro 1966, p. 96). However, there is an highly speculative. There is little direct evidence that sup-obvious objection to Spiro’s proposal. In its purest form, ports it. Perhaps studies of tribal societies by anthropolo- gists during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries lendTheravada Buddhism does not postulate superhuman this idea some indirect evidential support. But the infer-beings. Yet most scholars think that pure Theravada Bud- ence from structural features of the worldviews of thosedhism counts as a religion. So Spiro’s proposal fails to tribal societies to structural features of the worldviews ofprovide an adequate necessary condition for being a reli- early human societies is problematic. After all, whengion. It is too narrow. anthropologists encountered them, the tribal societies Clifford Geertz (1966) offered a more complex defi- they studied had themselves been evolving for a longnitional proposal. According to Geertz, “a religion is: (1) a time.system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, Moreover, even if something such as this story of thepervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in historical origins of morality were true, it would not havemen by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of important philosophical consequences. It would notexistence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an establish the conclusion that human beings would neveraura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations have developed morality if there had been no antecedentseem uniquely realistic” (Geertz 1966, p. 4). Theravada religion because a function of large parts of morality is toBuddhism will count as a religion by this definition. But make possible human cooperation for mutual too will the system of symbols characteristic of People would have encountered problems of cooperationNazism, although most scholars wish to classify Nazism even in the absence of religious beliefs and a secular political ideology rather than as a religion— Given human ingenuity, therefore, it is plausible to sup-or at least to insist that it is religious only in some pose that some form of moral belief and practice wouldextended or analogical sense. Thus Geertz’s proposal fails have arisen in the course of human history, even if reli-to provide an adequate sufficient condition for being a gion had never existed. Nor would history show that thereligion. It is too broad. Disagreements of this kind fuel truth of moral beliefs depends on the truth of religiousskepticism about whether it is possible to frame an illu- beliefs. In general, it is fallacious to infer from the prem-minating definition of the concept of religion in terms of ise that one belief grew out of another that the truth ofnecessary and sufficient conditions. the former depends on the truth of the latter. Though For historical reasons, the monotheistic religions of modern chemistry grew out of alchemy, it is believed thatJudaism, Christianity, and Islam are the prototypes of modern chemistry is true, whereas alchemy is viewed asreligion for people brought up within European and mostly false.North American cultures. Discussion in this entry will Morality would depend psychologically on religion iffocus almost entirely on the theism that is common to religious beliefs were causally necessary to motivate gen-these paradigmatic religions. eral compliance with the demands of the moral law. If ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY384 • 2nd edition
  • 20. RELIGION AND MORALITYhuman beings are sufficiently selfish, many of them will wrongness, Robert M. Adams (1987, 1999) proposed anot behave morally when the moral law requires large theory in which being contrary to the commands of asacrifices from them—unless they believe that it is in the loving God is part of the meaning of the term wrong inlong run in their self-interest to do so. The common the- the discourse of some Jewish and Christian theists. Andistic belief that in the afterlife God rewards those who in her famous attack on modern moral philosophy, G. E.obey the moral law and punishes those who do not will M. Anscombe (1981) recommended getting rid of thethus serve to motivate compliance with the demands of concepts of moral obligation and moral duty—and themoral duty. Maybe this purpose can only be effectively concepts of moral right and wrong—because they belongserved by a belief that morality has the backing of a sys- to an earlier conception of ethics that no longer survives.tem of divine rewards and punishments in the afterlife. If The earlier conception she had in mind was a law con-this is the case, people who lack a religious belief of this ception. In it, according to Anscombe, the ordinary termskind will also lack what it takes to cause or motivate them should, needs, ought, and must acquired a special sense byto live up to the demands of morality when the going gets being equated in certain contexts with terms such as istough. obliged, is bound, or is required, in the sense in which one However, there are compelling reasons to think that can be obliged or bound—or something be required—the view of human nature on which this line of thought legally. She contends that “it is not possible to have such arests is inaccurate. Living in a social world in which many conception unless you believe in God as a law-giver; likepeople lack belief in an afterlife, experience shows that Jews, Stoics and Christians” (Anscombe 1981, p. 30). Inmany people are motivated to comply with the most the absence of this religious belief, the concepts of moralstringent demands of morality even though they lack any deontology have no reasonable sense; they are not reallybelief in a system of divine postmortem rewards and intelligible outside a divine law conception of ethics.punishments. It was clear to thoughtful people who Modern moral philosophers who lack belief in Godinhabited social worlds—worlds in which belief in would therefore do well to cease using the deontologicalheaven and hell was nearly universal—that belief in concepts in their thinking.divine punishment in the afterlife all too often did not Anscombe realizes, of course, that some nonreligioussuffice to motivate people who did believe to obey the moral theorists will wish to retain a law conception ofmoral law. ethics without a divine legislator. In a Kantian conception What is more, according to some moral theories, of the moral law, for example, practical reason substitutesmorality requires not only that people comply with the for God in the role of moral legislator. One’s own practi-moral law but also that their compliance be motivated by cal reason engages in self-legislation; it is the authorita-respect for the moral law itself. For example, Kantians tive source of moral obligations. Anscombe alleges thathold that actions that are in compliance with the moral the idea of self-legislation is absurd. She remarks: “Thatlaw but are motivated by hope for rewards or fear of pun- legislation can be ‘for oneself ’ I reject as absurd: whateverishment have no moral worth, even though they are you do ‘for yourself ’ may be admirable; but is not legis-legally correct. In other words, morality demands both lating” (Anscombe 1981, p. 37). However, she does notthat people do their duty and that they do it for duty’s offer an argument to support the charge of absurdity.sake. They will do the right thing for the wrong reason if Hence Kantians are in a position to take issue with hertheir obedience to the moral law is caused by the belief cursory dismissal of the idea of moral self-legislation.that obedience will be rewarded or the belief that disobe- A deflationary approach to the deontological con-dience will be punished. On a view of this sort, religious cepts provides another nonreligious alternative to thebelief in rewards and punishments in the afterlife consti- divine law conception. According to the account of thistutes a danger to morality; such belief may tempt people kind proposed by Williams (1983), obligations are notto rely on motivational factors that will deprive their always prescriptively overriding; they do not always beatactions of moral value, even when they are the actions out ethical considerations of all other kinds. Instead, theyprescribed by morality. are constituted by considerations to which some deliber- ative priority is granted in order to secure reliability inconceptual dependence human social life. High deliberative priority is, in the caseSome philosophers have maintained that concepts of of some obligations, responsive to the basic and standingmoral deontology contain religious content. In a seminal importance of the human interests they serve. Such obli-paper defending a modified divine command account of gations are negative telling people what not to do. In the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 385
  • 21. RELIGION AND MORALITYcase of positive obligations, high deliberative priority is Bentham clearly articulated the epistemic asymmetryresponsive to the demands imposed by emergencies. implicit in the objection. He remarked: “We may be per-Williams thus indicates how it is possible for nonreligious fectly sure, indeed, that whatever is right is conformablemoral theory to salvage at least deflated versions of the to the will of God: but so far is that from answering theconcepts of traditional moral deontology. purpose of showing us what is right, that it is necessary to Anscombe’s claim that the main concepts of tradi- know first whether a thing is right, in order to know fromtional moral deontology have theistic content is intu- thence whether it be conformable to the will of God”itively plausible. However, moral belief and practice seem (Bentham 1948, p. 22). In other words, people do not firstcapable of surviving, almost unchanged, the replacement come to know, from religious sources, that actions areof such concepts by successors without religious content. commanded by God and then, on that basis, come toAnd nonreligious moral theorists may even welcome the know that they are morally obligatory. Rather, they firstdeflationary features of such a replacement if it is carried come to know, from nonreligious sources, that actions areout along the lines envisaged by Williams. morally obligatory and then, on that basis, come to know that they are commanded by God.epistemological dependence Religious disagreement clearly does have a negativeMany religious believers hold that their moral convic- impact on the degree to which moral beliefs derive posi-tions acquire some positive epistemic status, such as tive epistemic status from religious sources. At least forbeing justified or being warranted, and thereby count as those who are sufficiently aware of it, religious diversitymoral knowledge, by virtue of being rooted in religious reduces that degree to a significant extent. After all, moralsources. Among the sources widely acknowledged in the- convictions would acquire a higher degree of positiveistic religions are divine revelation recorded in sacred epistemic status from religious sources if all the sourcestexts, divinely inspired prophetic utterances, and the produced exactly the same outputs. However, nonreli-teachers of divinely guided institutions. Frequently such gious sources also yield conflicting moral judgments insources purport to reveal divine commands by means of pluralistic societies that tolerate free inquiry into moralwhich God promulgates moral obligations. In addition, issues. Anyone who is familiar with the history of secularcalls from God to perform particular actions or to enter moral theory in the modern era is apt to think it unlikelyinto religious vocations are taken to be revealed in indi- that agreement on a single moral theory will ever bevidual religious experience. Perhaps the most celebrated achieved under conditions of free inquiry. So unless peo-example in the history of Christianity comes from Augus- ple are prepared to live with extensive moral skepticism,tine’s Confessions. In retrospect, he took the childish voice they should be reluctant to think that moral beliefs derivehe heard saying “Take and read” to be an indirect com- no positive epistemic status at all from religious sourcesmunication from God, because the biblical reading he did merely because those sources yield conflicting deliver-in response served providentially to trigger his conversion Christianity. Because they hold that these sources are Few people who live in religiously pluralistic soci-reliable—at least in certain circumstances—theists sup- eties rely exclusively on religious sources for epistemicpose that their deliverances, when properly interpreted, support of their moral beliefs. Most people think thehave positive epistemic status. moral beliefs they form when responding intuitively to Religious diversity furnishes the grounds for an their experiences or to works of imaginative literature—objection to this supposition. Survey the entire religious or those beliefs acquired from interaction with parentsscene and it becomes evident that there is enormous dis- and peers outside of religious contexts—often have posi-agreement among religious people about which sources tive epistemic status bestowed on them by nonreligiousare reliable, as well as how to interpret the deliverances of sources of these kinds. Even the religious people whothese various sources. Consequently, theists disagree inhabit such societies typically find themselves withamong themselves about what God has commanded, and moral convictions that stem from a plurality of sources,so they disagree about what is morally required or for- some religious and others nonreligious. However, unlessbidden. Such disagreement undermines the claim that the religious worldviews that serve to accredit their reli-religious sources confer positive epistemic status on their gious sources are disqualified for rational acceptance—deliverances. Positive epistemic status for one’s moral which would be difficult to establish—religious peopleconvictions can only be derived from nonreligious seem to be entitled to trust those religious sources and tosources, because only they can yield agreement. Jeremy regard them as conferring positive epistemic status on ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY386 • 2nd edition
  • 22. RELIGION AND MORALITYtheir deliverances. Hence the moral convictions of reli- by virtue of resembling or being images of God in variousgious believers apparently can, in principle, derive posi- ways. Modifying again his modified divine commandtive epistemic status from both religious and nonreligious theory of wrongness, Adams has claimed that wrongnesssources. Bentham’s view is therefore one-sided. While bears the metaphysical relation of property-identity toreligious believers in pluralistic societies may acquire contrariety to the commands of a loving God. He asserts:knowledge of what God commands by first coming to “My new divine command theory of the nature of ethicalknow their obligations, they may also acquire knowledge wrongness, then, is that ethical wrongness is (i.e., is iden-of their obligations by first coming to know what God tical with) the property of being contrary to the com-commands. At least some of the moral convictions of mands of a loving God” (Adams 1987, p. 139). And insuch people can be epistemologically dependent on their presenting his framework for ethics, Adams sometimesreligious beliefs and yet possess positive epistemic status. says that an action’s being obligatory consists in its beingOr, at any rate, this view is more plausible than Bentham’s commanded by a loving God and that an action’s beingif moral and religious skepticism is ruled out. wrong consists in its being contrary to the commands of a loving God. The fundamental principle of obligation ofmetaphysical dependence a theory of this kind asserts that actions are obligatory if and only if, and solely because, they are commanded by aBeginning in the last third of the twentieth century, inter- loving God. Its fundamental principle of wrongnessesting ideas about how morality might depend metaphys- claims that actions are wrong if and only if, and solelyically on God were developed and defended in the work because, they are forbidden by a loving God. The meta-of proponents of divine command theories of morality. physical dependency of moral deontology on God isIn an influential paper offering suggestions to divine expressed in such principles by their requirement thatcommand theorists, William P. Alston (1990) proposed actions are obligatory or wrong just because a loving Godthat axiology and deontology depend on God in different commands or prohibits them.ways. In the axiological domain, in Alston’s view, God isthe paradigm or supreme standard of goodness. An anal- Of course, many philosophers have mounted objec-ogy to the situation helps to clarify Alston’s suggestion. tions to divine command theories of morality. PerhapsHe maintained that the meter could be defined in terms the most famous objection alleges that divine commandof a certain metal bar kept in Paris. What then made a theories render moral deontology arbitrary because Godparticular table a meter in length was its conformity to a could have commanded absolutely anything. Thus, forcertain existing individual. Similarly, according to Alston, example, God could have made cruelty for its own sake“what ultimately makes an act of love a good thing is not obligatory simply by commanding it. A defense againstits conformity to some general principle but its conform- this allegation is available within the framework pro-ity to, or approximation to, God, Who is both the ulti- posed by Alston and developed by Adams. God’s naturemate source of the existence of things and the supreme and character, which constitute the standard of goodness,standard by reference to which they are to be assessed” constrain what God can command. Though they may(Alston 1990, p. 320). There is, to be sure, a disanalogy as well leave some room for discretion in what God com-well. While it is arbitrary which particular physical object mands, God cannot command absolutely anything. Ifwas chosen to be the standard meter, Alston does not sup- God is essentially loving and so could not be otherwise, itpose that it is similarly arbitrary whether God or some- is impossible for God to command cruelty for its ownone else serves as the standard of goodness. Thus sake. Hence, according to a divine command theory ofunderstood, moral axiology depends metaphysically on this sort, it is likewise impossible for cruelty for its ownthe nature and character of God. By contrast, within the sake to be obligatory.domain of deontology, moral obligations and moral Divine command theories have been defendedwrongness depend metaphysically on God’s commands, against many other objections in work by Philip L. Quinnand ultimately on the divine volitions expressed by those (1978) and Edward R. Wierenga (1989). As a result, itcommands. seems that these theories are good candidates for adop- Alston’s suggestions have been developed into a tion by theists. If the larger theistic worldviews in whichframework for ethics by Robert M. Adams. According to divine command theories are embedded are themselveshis theistic Platonism, God plays the role that the Form of rationally acceptable, an account of the metaphysics ofthe Good plays in Plato’s metaphysics. God is the Good morals, according to which morality depends on God, isItself, the standard of goodness; and other things are good a live option in moral theory. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 387
  • 23. RELIGION AND MORALITYconflict threatened and pended from the outside in his case. But Abraham, whomresisted de Silento acknowledges to be the Father of Faith, is never a murderer. Therefore the divine command to AbrahamThe arbitrariness objection to divine command theories must produce a suspension of the ethical.suggests a threat that religion may—in some cases—poseto morality. It is the possibility of a religious obligation, Many theists do not wish to accept such a radicalimposed by divine command, coming into conflict with interpretation of the akedah. Kant is a notable example.moral duties. The possibility is ominous because the his- In an often cited footnote in The Conflict of the Faculties,torical record is full of crusades, inquisitions, and terror- he insists: “Abraham should have replied to this suppos-ist acts perpetrated in the name of theistic religions. edly divine voice: ‘That I ought not to kill my good son isThose who have done such things have often sincerely quite certain. But that you, this apparition, are God—ofbelieved that they act in obedience to God’s will. Within that I am not certain, and never can be, not even if thisJewish and Christian traditions, reflection on this possi- voice rings down to me from (visible) heaven’” (Kantbility frequently focuses on the Hebrew Bible’s story of 1996, p. 283). Kant’s strategy of resistance to radical read-the akedah, the binding of Isaac, narrated in Genesis 22. ings of the akedah carries with it an epistemological price.According to the story, God commands Abraham to offer No matter how impressive the sound effects in the skyhis innocent son, Isaac, as a sacrifice, and Abraham shows may be, they cannot confer on the claim that the voicethat he is willing to perform this terrible deed of human commanding Abraham to kill Isaac actually came fromsacrifice. As it turns out, an angel tells Abraham that he is God the exalted positive epistemic status of certainty.permitted to substitute a ram for Isaac as the sacrificial More generally, religious sources cannot confer epistemicvictim, but the substitution is permitted precisely because certainty on claims about what God has commanded thatAbraham has demonstrated to God his willingness not to conflict with epistemically certain moral judgments. Onwithhold Isaac from being killed as a sacrifice. this Kantian view, therefore, there are limits on the extent Johannes de Silentio, the pseudonymous author of to which claims about what God commands or wills canSøren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, argues that the derive positive epistemic status from religious sources.story of the akedah reveals a teleological suspension of No doubt this is a price many theists will be happy to paythe ethical. De Silentio conceives of the ethical in broadly in order to rule out certain sorts of conflict between theirHegelian terms. People have prima facie duties to social religious beliefs and the moral beliefs to which they aregroups of various size. If a duty to a smaller group con- most deeply committed.flicts with a duty to a larger group, the duty to the largergroup is more stringent than—and hence overrides—the See also Atheism; Authority; Bentham, Jeremy; Deonto-duty to the smaller group. logical Ethics; Enlightenment; Ethics, History of; Hobbes, Thomas; Kant, Immanuel; Locke, John; Mill, Thus, for example, Agamemnon’s familial duty not John Stuart; Philosophy of Education, History of; Phi-to sacrifice his innocent daughter, Iphigenia, is overrid- losophy of Law, History of; Philosophy of Religion,den by his political duty to lead the Greek expedition to History of; Rashdall, Hastings; Teleological Ethics.Troy. He is a tragic hero because he sacrifices Iphigenia.However, he remains within the ethical in doing sobecause he does so in order to fulfill his overriding polit- Bibliographyical duty. Abraham is not a tragic hero. When he consents Adams, Robert M. Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework forto sacrifice Isaac, he does not do so in order to fulfill some Ethics. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.more stringent duty to a larger social group. Were he to Develops a framework in which a divine command deontology is embedded in an axiological theisticcarry out the sacrifice, he would be violating a duty that Platonism.has not been overridden within the ethical. Yet Abraham Adams, Robert M. The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays inlies under an absolute religious obligation to obey God. Philosophical Theology. New York and Oxford: OxfordDe Silentio regards Abraham’s situation as a paradox that University Press, 1987. Reprints the 1973 paper in which hiscannot be solved by mediation. He claims: “During the modified divine command theory of wrongness was firsttime before the result, either Abraham was a murderer proposed and the 1979 paper in which that theory was further modified.every minute or we stand before a paradox that is higher Alston, William P. “Some Suggestions for Divine Commandthan all mediations” (Kierkegaard 1983, p. 66). In other Theorists.” In Christian Theism, edited by Michael D. Beaty.words, from the time he consents to sacrifice Isaac, Abra- Notre Dame, IN, and London: University of Notre Dameham is a murderer in his heart unless the ethical is sus- Press, 1990. Suggests combining an axiology in which God is ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY388 • 2nd edition
  • 24. RELIGION AND POLITICS the standard of goodness with a divine command Distinguishes morality from ethics and offers a deflationary deontology. account of moral obligation.Anscombe, G. E. M. Ethics, Religion and Politics. Minneapolis: Philip L. Quinn (2005) University of Minnesota Press, 1981. Reprints the 1958 paper that contains her famous attack on modern moral philosophy.Bentham, Jeremy. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789). New York: Hafner, 1948. Argues that religion and politics morality is not epistemologically dependent on religion.Geertz, Clifford. “Religion as a Cultural System.” In Is it morally appropriate for citizens in a liberal democ- Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion, edited by racy like the United States to support or oppose public Michael Banton. New York: Praeger, 1966. Presents a policies solely for religious reasons? Although regularly definition of religion according to which the postulation of superhuman beings is not a necessary condition for being a serving as grist for the mill of political theorists, that religion. question is not the familiar fare of ordinary political dis-Hick, John. An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to cussion. It’s not a question about, or at least directly the Transcendent. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale about, which laws our government ought to enforce. University Press, 1989. Endorses a family-resemblance We’re all too familiar with such questions—about the account of the concept of religion. moral propriety and practical wisdom of abolishing theKant, Immanuel. The Conflict of the Faculties (1798). In Immanuel Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, edited and death penalty, legalizing abortion, declaring war on translated by Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni. Afghanistan, and so on. Rather, it is a question about the Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996. kinds of justifications citizens should or should not have Comments on the akedah in the course of a discussion of for their political commitments. the relations of theology and philosophy.Kant, Immanuel. Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason The most common position on this issue calls for a (1793). In his Religion and Rational Theology, edited and general constraint on the political use of religious rea- translated by Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni. sons. Proponents of this constraint argue that citizens Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996. must support public policies for secular reasons and Develops his account of moral religion, which contains reflections on the akedah. therefore that they morally ought to restrain themselvesKierkegaard, Søren. Fear and Trembling (1843). In his Fear and from supporting public policies solely for religious rea- Trembling/Repetition, edited and translated by Howard V. sons. So, for example, they argue that a citizen who lacks Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton, NJ: Princeton any secular reason to criminalize abortion or discourage University Press, 1983. Interprets the akedah as involving a homosexuality ought to refrain from supporting any such teleological suspension of the ethical.Outka, Gene, and John P. Reeder eds. Prospects for a Common policy. Morality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993. This entry presents the main lines of argument for Collects papers by scholars in philosophy and religious and against this view that citizens should obey the doc- studies that address the question of whether religion can contribute to a common morality for a pluralistic world. trine of restraint: that they ought to restrain themselvesOutka, Gene, and John P. Reeder, eds. Religion and Morality. from supporting or opposing public policies solely for Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973. Collects papers by religious reasons. scholars in philosophy and religious studies on the relations of religion and morality. liberal democracy, religiousQuinn, Philip L. Divine Commands and Moral Requirements. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1978. Defends divine pluralism, and the doctrine of command theories against a variety of objections. restraintSpiro, Melford E. “Religion: Problems of Definition and Explanation.” In Anthropological Approaches to the Study of In order to understand why a given philosophical com- Religion, edited by Michael Banton. New York: Praeger, mitment is significant, it’s helpful to identify the problem 1966. Presents a definition of religion according to which that that commitment is supposed to solve. This is true of the postulation of superhuman beings is a necessary the doctrine of restraint: It is significant because it claims condition for being a religion.Wierenga, Edward R. The Nature of God: An Inquiry into to solve a problem that naturally arises from the institu- Divine Attributes. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell tionalization of a liberal democracy’s deepest normative University Press, 1989. Formulates and defends a divine commitments. What is that problem? command theory in which deontology depends metaphysically on divine agent causation. At the very least, a liberal democracy is a form ofWilliams, Bernard. Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. government that affirms and protects a citizen’s rights— Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985. to private property, to freedom of association, to freedom ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 389
  • 25. RELIGION AND POLITICSof conscience, and so on. The most fundamental of these its scope to coercive public policies; others further delimitrights, both morally and historically, is the right to reli- its scope to laws of fundamental and structural impor-gious freedom: Citizens are entitled to decide which reli- tance. Some have argued that the doctrine of restraintgious creed or practice, if any, they wish to pursue. So a applies only to public political advocacy, whereas othersliberal democracy just is a kind of political system that contend that it should also apply to political decision-provides citizens with considerable leeway to decide for making the decision as to whether to vote for some can-themselves what they are to believe regarding religious didate, for example.matters. A more important variation is between the inclusive Protection of the right to religious freedom has far- formulation of the doctrine of restraint on which thisreaching social consequences, the most important of entry focuses and a more demanding but less plausiblewhich is religious pluralism: A society that assiduously cousin with which the inclusive version is sometimesprotects each citizen’s right to religious freedom will find confused. The inclusive version of the doctrine ofits citizens disagreeing among themselves as to which reli- restraint has been most effectively advocated by Robertgion is true, how to please God, and so on. What explains Audi (2000), who insists that citizens should include sec-this close connection between religious freedom and reli- ular arguments in their political practice, not that theygious pluralism? Because our rational capacities are not should exclude religious reasons. According to Audi, citi-powerful enough to produce widely convincing proofs zens may support only those public policies for which(or refutations) of religious truth claims, even the flawless they have secular reasons they regard as sufficientlyemployment of our rational capacities will lead to dis- weighty that they would continue to support the relevantagreements about such matters. From this claim about policies absent corroborating religious reasons. But asthe limited powers of our rational capacities, it follows long as citizens have, and are motivated by, adequate sec-that citizens who are free to decide which religious tradi- ular reasons for a given public policy, they are free totion to affirm will embrace a diversity of religious tradi- appeal to religious reasons as well. So inclusivists such astions. So, then, since well-functioning liberal democracies Audi advocate a kind of limited privatization: Citizens areeffectively protect the right to religious freedom, and free to rely on religious reasons for public policies so longsince the effective protection of religious freedom results as they have correlative secular reasons but must refrainin a citizenry that is rationally committed to divergent from supporting public policies for which they have onlyreligious traditions, it follows that well-functioning lib- religious reasonseral democracies will be characterized by a citizenry that Other advocates of the doctrine of restraint haveis rationally committed to divergent religious traditions. demanded a complete privatization of religious reasons. This fact of religious pluralism raises a question of This exclusive version of the doctrine of restraint, advo-enormous moral and practical import: How are the mul- cated by Richard Rorty (1994), demands that citizenstifariously committed citizens of a liberal democracy to refrain entirely from relying on religious reasons whenmake collective decisions about the laws with which each supporting or opposing public policies. Its advocatescitizen must comply? For advocates of the doctrine of expect that the real business of politics will be conductedrestraint, the pervasive pluralism of a liberal democracy exclusively on the basis of secular argument. But thisrenders obedience to the doctrine of restraint imperative: complete privatization of religious reasons is gratuitouslyThe morally appropriate response of citizens to religious exclusionary: There is no good reason to stigmatize citi-pluralism is to refrain from resolving public matters zens who support a given public policy on religioussolely for sectarian, and therefore for religious, reasons. grounds if those citizens also have and are sufficiently motivated by plausible secular reasons. Any serious eval-the doctrine of restraint uation of the doctrine of restraint, therefore, will pay due regard to the more moderate, inclusive version articu-Although agreed on a core prohibition of exclusively reli- lated by Audi.gious support for public policies, advocates of the doc-trine of restraint diverge in their formulations of this against the doctrine ofdoctrine. Some have argued that it constrains all politicalactors, including citizens, legislators, judges, and other restraintpublic officials; others limit its scope to public officials. Critics of the doctrine of restraint reject even its inclusiveSome have argued that the doctrine enjoins restraint with formulation. According to Eberle, (2002), Perry (2003),respect to all public policies, whereas others have limited and Audi and Wolterstorff (1997), citizens need not be ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY390 • 2nd edition
  • 26. RELIGION AND POLITICSmorally criticizable in any respect for supporting public So critics of the doctrine of restraint will appeal topolicies for religious reasons—even solely for religious the very great good of a citizen’s acting in accord with herreasons. These critics of the doctrine of restraint need not conscience to establish a heavy presumption in favor ofand do not typically license an “anything goes” approach. the moral propriety of that citizen’s making political deci-They may advocate substantive constraints on the reasons sions solely on religious grounds. But that there is a pre-citizens have for their favored public policies—for exam- sumption against the doctrine of restraint by no meansple, they might argue that citizens ought not appeal to implies that that doctrine is false. After all, presumptionsreasons that deny the dignity of their fellow citizens. They can be overridden, and the burden of proof can be met—may also advocate epistemic constraints on the manner in so long as advocates of the doctrine of restraint can mar-which citizens support public policies, arguing, for exam- shal sufficiently powerful arguments.ple, that citizens should engage in critical reflection ontheir reasons. They may even argue that citizens should the argument from respecttry to articulate secular reasons for their favored politicalcommitments: Citizens ought to do what’s within their Some advocates of the doctrine of restraint have arguedpower to speak to their fellow citizens in ways that their that citizens should obey the doctrine of restraint out offellow citizens can take seriously and so ought to do respect for their compatriots. When a citizen supports awhat’s in their power to articulate reasons that speak to public policy, she is complicit in authorizing the govern-their secular compatriots—presumably these will be sec- ment to coerce citizens. But her compatriots aren’t mereular reasons. Critics of the doctrine of restraint argue, playthings who may be forced to satisfy her whims;however, that none of these constraints provide an ade- rather, they’re rational persons who are fully capable andquate basis for a general constraint on religious reasons; desirous of deciding for themselves how they will liveso long as a citizen satisfies the appropriate substantive their lives on the basis of reasons they find acceptable.and epistemic constraints, and so long as he or she gen- And so if she is to respect her compatriots as persons, sheuinely searches for a plausible secular rationale, then a must be committed to providing them with reasons thatcitizen has no good reason not to support a given public they find, or at least can find, acceptable. That requires apolicy solely for religious reasons. search for some common ground, premises that one might share with one’s compatriots. Given the pervasive These critics argue that advocates of restraint must religious pluralism of a well-functioning democracy, thisdischarge a heavy burden of proof: Absent sufficiently common ground will most likely be secular, not religiouspowerful reasons in favor of the doctrine of restraint, cit- in content. On this view, advocated by Charles Larmoreizens may refuse without compunction to comply with (1987), it is respect for the dignity and autonomy of ourthat doctrine. The argument for this distribution of the fellow citizens that requires us to abide by the doctrine ofburden of proof is short, direct, and powerful. We surely restraint.want and expect citizens to treat their compatriots as con-science dictates: A citizen ought to support or oppose The argument from respect is both popular and con-public policies on the basis of what he or she sincerely troversial. Critics have expressed doubt that reliance onand responsibly believes to be the just and decent thing to religious reasons—even exclusive reliance—necessarilydo. And sometimes what a citizen sincerely takes to be the involves disrespect for other persons. Some argue that itjust and decent thing to do will depend solely on religious is unclear why any disrespect can be imputed to citizensbeliefs. And in that case, the heavy presumption in favor who affirm their compatriots’ dignity, who are willing toof acting in accord with conscience translates into a heavy engage in critical analysis of their favored public policies,presumption permitting a citizen to decide, solely on reli- and who provide their fellow citizens with sincerely heldgious grounds, to support or oppose some public policy. and carefully elaborated reasons that are, nevertheless,Consider, for example, a Christian pacifist who, after based on religious doctrines. Consider again the Christ-sober and competent reflection on the morality of war, ian pacifist: There is every reason to believe that herconcludes that the life and teachings Jesus Christ forbid opposition to war is based on the kind of moral commit-the lethal use of force. In this case, our conviction that cit- ment that putatively underlies the doctrine of restraint:izens should support those public policies that they actu- respect for all other persons. The argument from respectally believe to be morally correct should lead us to seems an entirely unpromising rationale for requiring aexpect—indeed, encourage—Christian pacifists to Christian Pacifist to exercise restraint—thereby castingoppose war, even though they have an exclusively reli- doubt on the doctrine of restraint insofar as it constrainsgious rationale for that policy. on religious reasons generally. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 391
  • 27. RELIGION AND POLITICSthe argument from religious that good would be threatened by the refusal of largewarfare numbers of citizens to abide by the doctrine of restraint. On this view citizens should not support public policiesReligious wars have played a defining role in the history without reflecting on those policies with their compatri-of liberal democracies; the commitment to religious free- ots; as an implicit acknowledgment of human fallibility,dom was formulated and defended in reaction to a cen- the pursuit of such political discourse invites our compa-tury and a half of wars fought to “resolve” religious triots to challenge our mistaken assumptions and inher-disagreements. The specter of religious warfare lingers ited prejudices. Moreover, a commitment to publicon, and in some cases, that wariness motivates the argu- discourse about public policies affords those who hold ament from religious warfare. minority view the opportunity to convince other citizens Here is one way to formulate that argument. Reli- of good will that their minority position is in fact correct.gious wars are morally abhorrent: Military conflicts Hence this kind of public discourse is advanced as anguided by religious aims are purely destructive, extraordi- important moral good.narily vicious, and utterly without redeeming value. If In order to secure that good, citizens must abide by alarge numbers of citizens rely solely on religious reasons number of constraints, especially that which requires cit-to direct state coercion, there is a glaring temptation to izens to support public policies on the basis of reasonsenlist the power of the state to force conversion and per- open to rational evaluation and debate. Religious reasons,secute heretics, thereby provoking armed conflict; hence by contrast, are not subject to rational analysis and thusonly a policy of religious restraint can ward off the require a nonrational, subjective act of faith that can onlyspecter of sectarian bloodshed. In short, that citizens be experienced, not rationally analyzed or debated. Onfirmly commit to supporting only those public policies this view compliance with the doctrine of restraint is afor which they have an adequate secular rationale is a cru- prerequisite for healthy discourse about public policies.cial bulwark protecting us from confessional conflict. It is, however, reasonable to deny that there is a real- Critics have pointed to a number of problems in theistic prospect that segments of the population of the argument from public discourse. Insofar as advocates ofUnited States will enter into armed conflict over religious the doctrine of restraint depend heavily on the argumentmatters. Religious warfare is not a realistic prospect in the from public discourse, they seem to rely on controversialcontemporary United States because we have learned claims about the epistemic status of religious reasons. Ifhow to prevent it and have taken the appropriate meas- religious reasons are not amenable to rational criticismures: The proper preventive for religiously generated by others, then it follows that religious reasons lack whatstrife is constitutional and cultural, viz., effective protec- many regard as an important epistemic desideratum. Buttion of religious freedom on the part of the government this demotion of the epistemic status of religious reasonsand commitment to religious freedom on the part of cit- likely to trouble religious citizens. As this entry noted atizens. This point has direct implications for the idea that the outset, the primary significance of the doctrine ofobedience to the doctrine of restraint is necessary to pre- restraint is that it putatively provides a morally attractivevent religious war. For it implies that what’s essential in guideline for a pluralistically committed citizenry to fol-preventing religious war is that citizens are fully commit- low when supporting public policies. This implies thatted to religious freedom, not that they refrain from mak- the doctrine of restraint should be acceptable not just toing use of that right to support public policies solely for secular citizens, but to all citizens and therefore to thereligious reasons. So long as citizens are firmly commit- religious citizens who are expected to comply with thatted to religious freedom, their willingness to support doctrine. But many religious believers are likely to regardpublic policies solely for religious reasons has no realistic the epistemic assessment of religious claims that under-prospect of engendering religious warfare. pins the argument from public discourse as thoroughly objectionable; after all, it’s dubious that we should place our trust in claims, whatever their content, that aren’tthe argument from public amenable to rational criticism by others. So the argumentdiscourse from public discourse recommends that religious believ-A third argument for the doctrine of restraint, advocated ers exercise restraint, but on grounds that many religiousby Daniel Conkle (1993–1994) hinges on the following believers will find deeply objectionable. It seems likely,two claims: (1) that healthy public discussion of public then, that the best argument advocates of the doctrine ofpolicies is a great moral and political good and (2) that restraint can muster will be anathema to the very citizens ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY392 • 2nd edition
  • 28. RELIGION AND THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCESwho are expected to comply with that doctrine, thus Weithman, Paul ed. Religion and the Obligations of Citizenship.emptying the doctrine of restraint of its primary signifi- Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.cance. Quinn, Philip L. “Political Liberalism and their Exclusions of the Religious.” In Religion and Contemporary Liberalism, edited by P. J. Weithman, 138–161. Notre Dame, IN: Notreconclusion Dame Press, 1977.The literature on the proper role of religious reasons in Christopher J. Eberle (2005)liberal politics is voluminous. And so as one mightexpect, the preceding discussion is far from definitive (orexhaustive for that matter). But this should hardly be sur-prising: The problem to which the doctrine of restraint religion and theresponds rests on a pluralistic social reality that results biological sciencesfrom the successful implementation of a liberal democ-racy’s defining commitments. That social reality is here to historystay, as are the problems that it engenders, and so reflec-tive people will continue to advocate for and criticize pro- Plato and Aristotle recognized that understanding natureposed solutions to those problems. The doctrine of demands reference to factors—what Aristotle called “finalrestraint, and its critics, will be with us for the foreseeable causes”—that in some sense anticipate what will orfuture should happen. In the Timaeus, Plato wrote, “From the combination of sinew, skin, and bone, in the structure ofSee also Democracy; Liberalism; Philosophy of Religion, the finger, there arises a triple compound, which, when History of; Political Philosophy, History of; Rawls, dried up, takes the form of one hard skin partaking of all John; Social and Political Philosophy. three natures, and was fabricated by these second causes, but designed by mind, which is the principle cause withBibliography an eye to the future.” He continued, “For our creators wellAudi, Robert. Religious Commitment and Secular Reason. knew … that many animals would require the use of nails Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000. for many purposes; wherefore they fashioned in men atAudi, Robert, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Religion in the Public their first creation the rudiments of nails. For this pur- Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Political Debate. pose and for these reasons they caused skin, hair, and Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997. nails to grow at the extremities of the limbs” (Timaeus,Carter, Stephen. The Culture of Disbelief. New York: Basic Books, 1993. 76d–e).Conkle, Daniel. “Different Religions, Different Politics.” Journal Such adaptations, organic features that demand a of Law and Religion (1993–1994). final-cause understanding, are the basis for (what was toEberle, Christopher. Religious Convictions in Liberal Politics. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002. prove) a very popular and longstanding proof of God’sGreenawalt, Kent. Private Consciences and Public Reasons. existence. The forward-looking aspect of adaptations Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. comes from the fact that they seem as if they wereGreenawalt, Kent. Religious Convictions and Politics Choice. designed. They are like artifacts. Why? Quite simply Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. because adaptations are artifacts—the artifacts of a deity.Larmore, Charles. Patterns of Moral Complexity. Cambridge, Just as a couch has a couch designer, so the hand and the U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.Perry, Michael. Love and Power: The Role of Religion and eye must have a hand and eye designer. There is no nec- Morality in American Politics. Oxford: Oxford University essary implication that there is just one designer, or that Press, 1991. it has the attributes of the Judeo-Christian God—eternal,Perry, Michael. Religion in Politics: Constitutional and Moral all powerful, all loving, creator of all from nothing—but Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. this Greek argument (known as the “argument fromPerry, Michael. Under God? Religious Faith and Liberal design”) was taken over by the great Christian philoso- Democracy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003. phers and theologians, and became one of the main sup-Rawls, John. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia ports of the route to God through reason (natural University Press, 1993. theology).Rorty, Richard. “Religion as a Conversation-Stopper.” Common Knowledge. (1994). This argument continued to enjoy great popularityWeithman, Paul ed. Religion and Contemporary Liberalism. and force right into the nineteenth century. Archdeacon Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997. William Paley in his book Natural Theology (1802) pro- ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 393
  • 29. RELIGION AND THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCESmoted the argument: The eye is like a telescope; tele- addressed this issue in On the Origin of Species, publishedscopes have telescope makers; therefore eyes must have in 1859. Committed to evolution, Darwin sought a causeeye makers—what one might call the Great Optician in that would speak to adaptation. This he found in thethe sky. By this time, however, the pendulum was starting mechanism of natural selection. More organisms areto swing the other way, with biology giving theists cause born than can survive and reproduce. This brings on afor concern. The eighteenth century saw the rise of evo- struggle for existence. Organisms tend to vary naturally,lutionary speculations—hypotheses that organisms are and the winners in the struggle (the fit) have features notthe end results of long, slow, natural processes of devel- possessed by the losers (the unfit). Moreover, these fea-opment from very different and much simpler forms. At tures tend to be deciding factors in whether an organismthe most obvious level, evolutionary ideas challenge the is successful or unsuccessful. Hence, equivalent to theGenesis story of creation. But though this was certainly a selection practiced by animal and plant breeders, there isstumbling block for many, believers have long had a natural selection, where the winners pass on their favor-resources to deal with problems caused by literal inter- able features. Over time this leads to full-blown evolu-pretations of the Bible. tion, a key feature of which is the development and Far more threatening to the theist was the connec- perfection of adaptations.tion between organic evolution and the doctrine of intel- Although he himself was never an atheist—at thelectual or cultural progress. As humans supposedly have time of writing the On the Origin of Species he was a deistrisen up from ignorance and poverty in the cultural and later turned to agnosticism—Darwin apparentlyworld to the sophisticated state in which we humans now drove a stake through the heart of the argument fromfind ourselves, so in the world of organisms, primitive design. The eye resulted from blind, unguided processesforms have developed into humans. Cultural develop- through natural selection. There is no need to invoke ament points to biological evolution, which in turn rein- designer. In the words of the contemporary English biol-forces cultural development. To quote an early ogist Richard Dawkins (1986), only after Darwin was itevolutionist, Erasmus Darwin (a grandfather of Charles): possible to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” As Imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd, expected, not everyone agrees that such a conclusion fol- Of language, reason, and reflection proud, lows. Below are the different positions taken on the rela- With brow erect who scorns this earthy sod, tion of biology and religion in the post-Darwinian era. And styles himself the image of his God; Arose from rudiments of form and sense, separation An embryon point, or microscopic ens! One strategy is to separate science and religion, specifi- (1803, 1, 295–314) cally, biology and Christianity. This means that biology All of this progressivism was a direct challenge to the cannot support religion, but then again neither can itChristian notion of Providence. For the believer, because refute it. A common suggestion is that biology can tell usof Adam’s sin, we are in a fallen state. To earn us salvation how things occur—that humans came from apelike crea-in this fallen state, God intervened in his creation, choos- tures, for example—but it cannot tell us why thingsing freely to die on the cross. This means that our happi- occur—why there should be creatures with the consciousness comes not from our merits, but simply as the result ability to tell good from evil. The great English theologianof God’s forgiveness and grace. Progress challenges this. It John Henry Newman, an Anglican convert to Catholi-carries the central message that improvement is possible cism, had no trouble at all with evolution. It was simplyand due entirely to human intentions and labors. Success not something that bore on his faith. “I believe in designcomes from our own efforts, not from those of others— because I believe in God; not in a God because I seeincluding God. As part of the picture of progress, evolu- design.” He continued, “Design teaches me power, skilltion was rightly seen as challenging conventional and goodness—not sanctity, not mercy, not a future judg-religious verities. ment, which three are of the essence of religion” (New- Although popular in some quarters, evolution was man 1973, 97).always somewhat of a pseudoscience. As Immanuel Kant This kind of reversal of the argument—designpointed out in his third critique, The Critique of Judg- because of God, rather than God because of design—ment, there are difficulties with final causes. Such a com- found much favor in the twentieth century, particularlyplex, apparently intentional entity as the eye simply could in circles influenced by Karl Barth, another major critic ofhave come about through blind law. Charles Darwin natural theology. In the opinion of such thinkers, often ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY394 • 2nd edition
  • 30. RELIGION AND THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCESlabeled “neo-orthodox,” evolution is true. But this does and strength might be a better biological strategy. Manynot prove anything affecting religion. In the language of evolutionists now reject progress entirely. The latethe German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg (1993), we Stephan Jay Gould (1989), paleontologist and sciencemust strive for a “theology of nature,” where the beauties writer, argued that there is no genuine progress, and cer-of the living world enrich our faith, rather than a “natu- tainly no guarantee that if the tape of life were replayed,ral theology,” where the living world is used as a substitute humans would inevitably emerge.for faith. Thus, Dawkins is wrong not so much in think- This is not the last word. Darwin himself believed ining that one can be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, but progress and thought that natural selection gives rise toin thinking that this is the end of the journey. It is the what biologists of 2005 label “arms races,” where one linebeginning. Darwin shows that there can be no proofs, and of organisms competes and improves adaptations againstthat is where faith begins. the threat of other lines. Intelligence is an end result. Dar- win has his supporters in the early twenty-first century,interaction notably the English paleontologist Simon Conway MorrisNot every post-Darwinian thinker has been so negative (2003), who argues that selection leads steadily to theabout natural theology. Many think that Darwin’s work is conquering of one major ecological niche after another.the spur to find a new natural theology, a natural theol- Consciousness is the prize at the top, waiting to beogy that accepts evolution and works with it rather than grasped, and if not by humans, then by some other con-against it. Instead of rejecting progress, Christians should tender with outstretched paw.take it on board in some fashion, arguing that we humansshould work with God to achieve our salvation. The rise darwinian opposition to theismof organisms, from slime to humans, “from monad to Dawkins is an atheist. He thinks that Darwinian evolu-man,” as it was traditionally put, is proof that not all is tion is hardly neutral. Although the argument from evil—random and without purpose. It shows that God is work- that the bad things of this world are incompatible with aning out his plan, and also that we are obligated to work all-loving, all-powerful god—is not new with Darwin, hiswith him. theory focuses on evil and makes it a central part of the The thinker who tried most fully to work out a the- evolutionary story. For Dawkins and others, this is con-ology that stayed true to conventional Christian belief firmation that the Christian God does not exist, thatand yet made the upward progressive message of evolu- other forms of deity are not worth entertaining, andtionism central was the French Jesuit and paleontologist hence that life has no meaning, that it just is. “In a uni-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In his masterwork The Phe- verse of blind physical forces and genetic replication,nomenon of Man, Teilhard saw life evolving upward some people are going to get hurt, other people are goingthrough the realm of life (the biosphere), to the realm of to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it,humans and consciousness (the noosphere), and then nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely theeven further onward and upward to the Omega Point, properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, nowhich in some way he identified with the Godhead, with design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing butJesus Christ. “An ever-ascending curve, the points of blind, pitiless indifference” (Dawkins 1995, 133).transformation of which are never repeated; a constantly Theists have standard counters to the problem of evilrising tide below the rhythmic tides of the ages—it is on (Ruse 2001). Some theists separate moral evil (the exter-this essential curve, it is in relation to this advancing level mination of Jews at Auschwitz) from physical evil (can-of the waters, that the phenomenon of life, as I see things, cer). In the case of moral evil, it is better that humansmust be situated” (p. 101). have free will, even though they will do wrong, these the- One major problem with this whole approach is less ists argue, than that humans have no genuine choices atwhether the post-Darwinian Christian should accept the all. This may or may not be an adequate response, but ifdoctrine of progress than whether the post-Darwinian one argues for the philosophical position known as com-evolutionist should accept such a doctrine. If natural patibilism—the position that freedom and natural lawselection is true, then change is much relativized. Which are not contradictory—then an evolutionist could inspecies are fit? Not necessarily those at the top of an principle support this defense. The fact that we humansabsolute scale. Intelligence might seem a good thing, but are the product of biological law and still subject to itit has major costs, not the least of which is a constant sup- does not in itself deny some dimension of freedom andply of quality protein. In many circumstances, stupidity ability to act on our own choices. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 395
  • 31. RELIGION AND THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES In the case of physical evil, recourse is often made to biological system, if there is such a thing, would be a pow-an argument of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), erful challenge to Darwinian evolution. Since naturalnamely that such evil is an unfortunate but unpre- selection can only choose systems that are already work-ventable consequence of a world governed by natural law. ing, then if a biological system cannot be produced grad-Here too the evolutionist has a defense. Somewhat para- ually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in onedoxically, Dawkins himself supports this counter, for he fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to actargues that if organisms were created naturally, then on” (p. 39).adaptive complexity could have been achieved only As an example of something irreducibly complex,through the action of natural selection. “The Darwinian Behe turns to the micro world of the cell and of theLaw … may be as universal as the great laws of physics” mechanisms found at that level. Take bacteria that use fla-(Dawkins 1983, 423). One might still argue that given the gella, driven by a kind of rotary motor, to move around.consequent pain, it was a pity that God created at all, but Every part is incredibly complex, and so are the variousthis is a different claim totally independent of evolution. parts in combination. For example, the flagellin (theFrom the viewpoint of biology, if God did create and did external filament of the flagellum) is a single protein thatso through natural law—and there may be good theolog- forms a kind of paddle surface contacting the liquid dur-ical reasons for this—then Darwinism does not refute ing swimming. Near the surface of the cell, one finds athis, but shows rather why physical pain is bound to thickening, just as needed, so that the filament can beoccur. connected to the rotor drive. The connector is a hook protein. There is no motor in the filament, so it has to beintelligent design located somewhere else. And so on. Such an intricateNotoriously, from the beginning many American evan- mechanism is much too complex to have come into beinggelical Christians have rejected all forms of evolution. in a gradual fashion. Only a one-step process will do, andThe best-known clash between such Christians and evo- this one-step process must involve some sort of designinglutionists occurred in 1925 in the state of Tennessee, cause. Behe and his supporters, including the mathemati-when the young school teacher John Thomas Scopes was cian-philosopher William Dembski, are careful not toput on trial for teaching evolution. As it happened, identify this designer with the Christian God, but thealthough Scopes was found guilty, his penalty was over- implication is that the designing cause is a force beyondturned on appeal, and that was the end of so-called cre- the normal course of nature. Biology works through “theationism for several decades. Yet thanks to a number of guidance of an intelligent agent” (p. 96).dedicated fundamentalists, people who insist on taking Evolutionists strongly deny that there are irreduciblyevery verse of the Bible literally, opposition to evolution- complex phenomena, and they strive to show that theism started to grow again, particularly after the publica- adaptations highlighted by intelligent-design theoriststion in 1961 of Genesis Flood, a work by the biblical could in fact have been produced by natural selection. Ofscholar John Whitcomb and the hydraulic engineer course, often mechanisms as we see them today could notHenry Morris defending every verse of the Bible. This led function if a part were removed, but this is compatibleto renewed efforts to get literal biblical teachings into with their coming into being through blind natural law.publicly financed American schools, and again the matter Perhaps formerly essential but now redundant parts haveended in court, this time in Arkansas in 1981, where it been removed. Think of a stone arch. Build it withoutwas ruled that “creation science” is religion and as such supports, and the center keystones will fall before they arehas no place in school biology classes. secured. Build supports and then build the arch, and the More recently, those who oppose Darwinian evolu- completed structure will stand even after the supports aretion on religious grounds have been promoting a more removed.sophisticated form of creationism. Supporters of intelli- In any case, argue critics of intelligent-design theory,gent design argue that the organic world is just too com- there are significant theological problems with the theory,plex and tightly functioning to have been produced by which is little more than Paley’s natural theology broughtnatural forces. The world, particularly at the micro level, up to date with some modern examples. If an intelligenceexhibits what they call “irreducible complexity,” and intervened to produce the irreducibly complex, why doeshence cannot possibly have been the result of something the intelligence not intervene to prevent life’s simple butlike natural selection. In the words of Michael Behe, devastating occurrences? Sometimes a simple change inauthor of Darwin’s Black Box, an “irreducibly complex the structure of DNA can have horrific effects on an indi- ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY396 • 2nd edition
  • 32. RELIGION AND THE PHYSICAL SCIENCESvidual. Why are these sorts of occurrences not prevented? religion and theOne might say that the intelligence is not interested indoing everything, but if this is true, then it at least seems physical sciencesthat the intelligence pointed to by intelligent-design the- This entry is concerned with philosophical questionsory is far removed from the traditional Christian concep- arising from the interaction of religion and physical sci-tion of God. ence. Here the focus is primarily upon Western religious monotheism, for this is the larger religious context in which modern science arose. And among the physical sci-conclusion ences, the focus is on astronomy and physics.There is more debate at the beginning of the twenty-firstcentury than perhaps at any other time about the rela- historical rootstionship between science and religion, and in particular The relationships between physical science and monothe-between biology and Christianity. It is neither static nor ism have deep roots in the history of Western thought.philosophically uninteresting. The simple assumption that religion and science have been and remain in conflict is falsified by the historicalSee also Religion and the Physical Sciences. data. Rather, more complex and interesting connections hold between religious faith and scientific understandingBibliography in at least three domains: individual scientists and schol- ars, social institutions, and worldviews. At the individualBehe, Michael. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: Free Press, 1996. level, the facts are too complex for one simple view to beConway Morris, Simon. Life’s Solution. Cambridge, U.K.: true all the time, or even in a majority of cases. At the Cambridge University Press, 2003. institutional level, the record of religion is at best one ofDarwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species. London: John indifference, and at worst outright opposition to physical Murray, 1859. science. At the level of worldviews, in contrast, WesternDarwin, Erasmus. The Temple of Nature. London: J. Johnson, religion has helped to make modern physical science pos- 1803. sible.Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W. W. The regular pattern of astronomical events traced by Norton, 1986. ancient Babylonian astrologers and the understanding ofDawkins, Richard. A River out of Eden. New York: Basic Books, the physical world in Greek natural philosophy and 1995. astronomy gave currency to the idea that there must be aDawkins, Richard. “Universal Darwinism.” In Evolution of supreme god of some sort behind the universal patterns Molecules to Men, edited by D. S. Bendall. Cambridge, U.K.: of causes and motions in heaven and earth. As Plato University of Cambridge Press, 1983. argued in The Laws, “If the whole path and movement ofGould, Stephen Jay. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the heaven and all its contents are of like nature with the Nature of History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. motion, revolution, and calculations of wisdom, and pro-Newman, John Henry. The Letters and Diaries of John Henry ceed after that kind, plainly we must say that it is the Newman. Vol. 25, edited by Charles Stephen Dessain and Thomas Gornall. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1973. supremely good soul that takes forethought for the uni- verse and guides it along that path” (bk. 10, 897c). BothPaley, William. Natural Theology (1802). Vol. 4 of his Collected Works. London: Rivington, 1819. Plato and Aristotle were philosophical monotheists, aPannenberg, Wolfhart. Towards a Theology of Nature. view based in part on their understanding of the work- Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. ings of nature.Ruse, Michael. 2001. Can a Darwinian be a Christian? The The tradition of Greek natural philosophy continued Relationship between Science and Religion. Cambridge, U.K.: to develop in the monotheistic traditions of Christian, Cambridge University Press. Jewish, and Arabic scholarship by means of commen-Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. 1959. The Phenomenon of Man. taries on the physical works of Aristotle. What these London: Collins. philosophers had in common was what we might call aWhitcomb, John C., and Henry M. Morris. The Genesis Flood: macrodesign scientific worldview: God created the whole The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. cosmos and sustains the principles and laws of nature Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1961. that regulate physical interaction and motion. The pur- Michael Ruse (2005) pose of natural philosophy (as physical science was then ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 397
  • 33. RELIGION AND THE PHYSICAL SCIENCEScalled) was to investigate the primary and secondary broke this agreement by publishing his Dialogue concern-causes sustained by the first cause. Natural philosophy ing the Two Chief World Systems, he was suspected ofdid not discuss God per se as the first cause, nor did it heresy and forced to recant publicly. This became theappeal to God as an explanation for the natural phenom- most famous example of institutional religion suppress-ena of the world. God’s nature was the province of theol- ing the scientific quest for truth in the physical sciences.ogy. This division of labor aided the development of the For the most part the Christian churches have beenrationality of early modern science in the European uni- unconcerned with science, focusing instead on spiritualversities in the thirteenth century, the later Middle Ages, truth and religious practices. Indeed, by creating theand the Renaissance. Western university and the hospital, the Church provided Important to this development was the influx of the indirect support for scientific research.“new” Aristotelian science from Arabic sources. Com-bined with a Platonic-Pythagorean tradition of mathe- methodologymatics, this Aristotelian tradition of empirical study was By way of contemporary issues of philosophical interest,assisted by voluntarism in theology and nominalism in the rise in the latter half of the twentieth century ofmetaphysics. This complex tradition of inquiry formed theology-and-science debates has stimulated a number ofthe background to the development of early modern sci- methodological questions concerning both religion andence and made sense of a quest for empirical, mathemat- science. The question of how we know in both disciplinesical laws of nature grounded in the will of the Creator. A has given rise to philosophical investigation into thegood historical example of this combination is Jean Buri- nature and limits of knowledge in physical science anddan (c. 1292–1358), a natural philosopher and one of the academic theology. Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientificmost honored intellectuals in Europe, who was twice Revolutions (1962), a revolutionary work in the philoso-elected rector of the University of Paris. In his commen- phy of science, made a lasting contribution to the dia-tary on Aristotle’s On the Heavens, he wrote, “In natural logue between theology and science. Science, according tophilosophy we ought to accept actions and dependencies Kuhn, is based on tradition and on “paradigms” of sharedas if they always proceed in a natural way” (bk. 2, ques. 9; values, rationalities, and perspectives that gave shape top. 423 f.). In the same question, Buridan went on to each of the scientific disciplines. It is thus based on epis-attribute the existence and design of the universe to God temic values and metaphysical presuppositions that itas first cause, but he did not appeal to God in natural phi- owns but cannot justify. Far from being a completelosophy. worldview, science depends upon these larger perspec- tives for its working assumptions. This overarching view The scientific revolution was a genuine revolution in brought science into closer contact with philosophy andhuman thought. Despite some continuity with the Mid- religion, since it was no longer the domain of purelydle Ages, a whole new way of seeing the world was born. objective, empirical fact derived from logic and evidenceThe contributions of Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo alone.Galilei, Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton, for example,gave rise to a new understanding of the physical cosmos. Investigations of the different methods of theologyWhile a macrodesign worldview did assist in the develop- and science has also raised issues in the philosophy of lan-ment of early modern science, there was tension at the guage. How language is used in both physical science andinstitutional level. The Catholic Church continued to theology has highlighted the importance of analogy andinsist upon its right to judge theological truth, including metaphor for both disciplines (Barbour 1974). This isthe proper way to interpret the Scriptures. The Catholic especially true in subjects that study phenomena beyondastronomer Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) ran into trouble human experience or full comprehension, for example,with the Congregation of the Holy Office (the Inquisi- God and quantum reality. Yet both theology and quan-tion) over exactly this point. In his famous “Letter to the tum physics wish to make truth claims about their sub-Grand Duchess Christina” (1615/1957), he argued as an jects, and this can only happen if we allow metaphoricalindividual scholar that the Scriptures should be inter- truth and analogical predication.preted in a manner consistent with the new Copernicanastronomy. The Counter-Reformation authorities in mathematical perspicuityRome soon banned the work of Copernicus “until cor- Contemporary physical science, going back to the days ofrected,” and got Galileo to agree not to publish his views Galileo, constantly uses mathematics to model reality. Yetexcept as purely hypothetical theories. When Galileo mathematics is a symbolic language that humans created ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY398 • 2nd edition
  • 34. RELIGION AND THE PHYSICAL SCIENCESover centuries but never grounded in pure logic. Why cold, dark, empty universe in which humanity has no spe-should mathematics be such a powerful tool to describe cial place. Somehow the vastness of space and time makesphysical reality? The physicist Eugene Wigner raised this humans less significant, they argue. However, this ignoresquestion in his oft cited essay “The Unreasonable Effec- the fact that the God of traditional Western religion istiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” (1960). both eternal and omnipresent. To an infinite, unboundedThe structures of mathematics and the deep structure of deity, what difference can it make how big or old the cos-the physical universe share a feature that makes physics mos is? Any finite being will be the same relative to thepossible. Especially in the area of quantum physics, the creator, namely, of limited time and size. In biblical reli-ability of mathematics to predict the outcome of difficult gion, the special status of human beings comes from theirand complex experiments is a striking example of this capacity for a personal relationship with God, not fromaspect of the universe. For theoretical physicists, the how big, strong, or old they are. Still, the scientific con-beauty and elegance of the mathematical formulas of a ception of our universe has forced religious scholars totheory has become a key indication of the truth of the rethink the interpretation of the Scriptures and theirtheory. But why should this be so? Is there any a priori understandings of the place of humans within creation.reason to believe that the structures of mathematics But nothing in the size and age of the universe actuallyshould describe and predict the nature of the cosmos so falsifies the teachings of the great world religions.well? Religious faith, especially monotheism, provides an The development of the concept of an initial singu-answer to this question. The rational mind that designed larity for the entire universe is one of the fascinating sto-the cosmos set it on a mathematically well behaved path ries of twentieth-century physics. Suffice it to say that(macrodesign again). Whether this is the answer to the reluctantly, after several decades of debate, the physicsquestion is a matter of serious dispute. A possible natura- community agreed that the general structure of space-listic answer might point to the evolution of the brain. time is dynamic. While such a conception of the begin-Human consciousness (including the ability to create ning of the universe fits very poorly with the scientificmathematics) is the ultimate product of the very laws and materialism common in the physics community of theprinciples of nature that we study—a fact that makes twentieth century, it does fit quite well with the oldertheir harmony seem more reasonable, perhaps. macrodesign view. The problem has to do with what caused the cosmos to come into existence. Even if spaceastronomy and cosmology and time break down at the very earliest moments ofFrom mathematics we now turn to astronomy. Three space-time, we can still point to the first instances of timeareas of this science have especially drawn the attention of (which would not have any particular metric) and ask,philosophers and theologians: the age and size of the uni- Where did that come from? What caused it to be? Whereverse, big-bang cosmology, and the fine tuning of certain do the structures and laws that allow such an event to takephysical constants in a way that allows for the evolution place come from? A macrodesign worldview has anof stars, planets, and people. This discussion requires the answer to these questions—not a scientific one, but a reli-distinction between a universe and the cosmos. Here gious one. The cosmos has a creator of some kind, who“universe” refers to our space-time domain. A universe is must be eternal, omnipotent, and omniscient (in fact, aa spatially related collection of objects under a set of nat- necessary being). Note that this answer is not physical butural laws and principles. “Cosmos” refers to all the uni- metaphysical. It has implications for religion as well.verses that have ever been or ever will be. Philosophers who resist this implication, such as Our universe is expanding, and this implies that it Quentin Smith and Adolf Grünbaum (2000), are forcedhad a beginning, when the volume of space was zero and to suggest either that (1) the earliest prematerial phase ofphysical time first began. Along with this discovery, the first quantum field that gave rise to the big bangastronomers in the twentieth century discovered how vast sprang into being from nothing at all, or that (2) we canthe universe really is. We are a very small part of a gigan- only ask questions about things that begin to exist whentic system of planets, stars, galaxies, and galactic clusters there is a space-time metric to measure temporalitywhose vast reaches boggle the mind. Just our galaxy alone (Grünbaum), or that (3) the cosmos was just an acciden-consists of 100 million stars, and many of them may well tal, random event in an infinite series of random events.have planets. How can we think of the Earth or our None of these answers is especially cogent. First, a quan-species as special in any way? Philosophers and scientists tum field is, after all, a kind of order. Where did this orderalike have embraced a kind of Stoic defiance against a come from? If matter is structured energy, as quantum ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 399
  • 35. RELIGION AND THE PHYSICAL SCIENCEStheory teaches, the origin of structure is the key to the the proton-to-neutron mass ratio, the weak nuclear force,question of where matter comes from. The idea that all the strong force, and so forth. According to Barrow andmatter sprang out of an utter nothing at all—not simply Tippler, a 50 percent decrease in the strength of the strongno particles, but no laws, no fields, no energies of any force, to take another example, would make all elementskind—seems rather absurd. Second, to suggest that we necessary for life unstable.can only think about why things come into being when The initial response to this problem was to develop athere is a temporal metric to the time in question con- number of inflationary models of the big bang. Accord-fuses physics and metaphysics. In metaphysics, it is still ing to such models (and there are many of them), matterperfectly natural and rational to ask where the universe in the very early universe (10–35 second) expanded fasterand its measurable temporal passage came from (and than the speed of light but then slowed down, and thiswhere it came from in the first place), even if there was no resulted in a nearly flat curvature of space and the isola-physical, measurable time prior to the first event of cos- tion of our relatively homogeneous space-time within amic time. Finally, to suggest that the whole cosmos is larger cosmos. We should remember that these modelspurely random seems much more like an evasion of the are highly speculative and as yet have no empirical sup-problem than an attempt to answer the question. To pos- port (that is, they are mathematical and theoretical con-tulate an infinite number of universes (or space-time structions). On the basis of some inflationary models,domains) only to explain the design of this one is ad hoc theoretical physicists have gone even father and suggestedand violates in the most extreme way Ockham’s razor, or that our cosmos may be a “multiverse.” In such theories,the principle of simplicity. We should not need to be which need much further investigation in both physicsreminded that this principle is important to the rational- and metaphysics, our universe is one space-time domainity of both physics and metaphysics. The existence and in a vast cosmos that might contain a large number ofultimate origin of the cosmos cry out for an explanation. other universes. No serious astronomer or physicist sug-This final issue, however, raises the question of design, gests that there are an infinite number of universes. Butand the possibility of a “multiverse,” in the fundamental there could be an extremely large number of universes instructures of physical reality. the cosmos, and the number might be potentially infinite (that is, finite at any moment of time but open to an infi-fine tuning, design arguments, nite future). If we assign laws and principles of natureand the multiverse hypothesis randomly among all these universes in the cosmos, theIn addition to the cosmological argument (the existence fact that ours is so well fine-tuned for the evolution ofof the universe as evidence for the existence of God), in intelligent life seems less surprising.the 1990s there appeared a new and powerful version of But is it less surprising? Stephen Barr (2003) hasthe design argument that relies on certain fundamental argued cogently that even if there are many, many uni-constants in nature. It seems that for any intelligent life verses in the cosmos, the fine-tuning needed across the(including human life) to ever evolve anywhere in the whole range of principles and laws is so great that nouniverse, the exact values of some fundamental physical finite number of universes would lower the “surprise”constants must be so precisely fine-tuned and balanced (the probability of our universe, against a backgroundthat it boggles the human imagination. For this reason knowledge consisting only of the truths of reason). IfJohn Barrow and Frank Tipler have called these physical Barr is even close to being right, then the multiverseconstants “anthropic.” hypothesis does very little to make our biologically This quality of fine-tuning for anthropic purposes is friendly universe less surprising (or more probable). Per-widespread. Stephen Hawking, for example, estimates haps some macrodesign scientific worldview is the mostthat the initial temperature of the universe at 10–43 second rational explanation of the order of the universe. Otherwas fine-tuned to one part in a trillion. A tiny increase options are possible, of course, for those uncomfortablewould have precluded galaxies from condensing out of with belief in some kind of creator. These options includethe expanding matter; a tiny decrease would have resulted the view that epistemic probabilities are purely subjective,in the collapse of the universe. Such fine-tuning is also and that the only real probabilities are physical ones, sopresent in two constants in Einstein’s equations for gen- that one simply cannot judge probabilities for the initialeral relativity: the gravitational constant and the cosmo- conditions of a universe. Another possibility is that ourlogical constant. It is also found in the fine-structure probability reasoning cannot apply to a whole universe:constant (which regulates electromagnetic interaction), Any universe is just as improbable (and just as probable) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY400 • 2nd edition
  • 36. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCEas the next one. We are extremely lucky that one universe Polkinghorne, John. The Faith of a Physicist. Princeton, NJ:in the cosmos of multiple space-time domains is capable Princeton University Press, 1994.of bearing life. Despite these options, or perhaps because Shea, William, and Mariano Artigas. Galileo in Rome. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2003.of them, philosophers, scientists, and theologians con- Swinburne, R. G. The Existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford, U.K.:tinue to find the new fine-tuning arguments of great Clarendon Press, 2004.interest. Wigner, Eugene P. Symmetries and Reflections. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967.See also Religion and the Biological Sciences. Wigner, Eugene. “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics 13 (1) (1960).BibliographyBarbour, Ian. Myths, Models, and Paradigms. New York: Alan G. Padgett (2005) Harper, 1974.Barr, Stephen M. Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003.Barrow, John D., and Frank J. Tipler. The Anthropic religious experience Cosmological Principle. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1986.Buridan, Jean. Ioannis Buridani Expositio et Quaestiones in Most of the philosophical work on “religious experience” Aristotelis De Caelo, edited by Benoit Patar. Louvain, that has appeared since 1960 has been devoted to its phe- Belgium: Peeters, 1996. nomenology and epistemic status. Two widely sharedCraig, William Lane, and Quentin Smith. Theism, Atheism, and assumptions help account for this—that religious beliefs Big Bang Cosmology. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1993. and practices are rooted in religious feelings and thatDavies, Paul. The Accidental Universe. Cambridge, U.K.: whatever justification they have largely derives from Cambridge University Press, 1998. them.Denton, Michael. Nature’s Destiny. New York: Free Press, 1998. The majority of the discussions of the nature of reli-Earman, John, and Jesus Mosterin. “A Critical Look at Inflationary Cosmology.” Philosophy of Science 66 (1999): gious experience are a reaction to Walter Stace, who 1–49. believed that mysticism appears in two forms. Extro-Galilei, Galileo. Dialogue concerning the Two Chief World vertive mysticism is an experience of nature’s unity and of Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican. Translated by Stillman one’s identity with it. Introvertive mysticism is an experi- Drake. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1953. ence of undifferentiated unity that is devoid of conceptsGalilei, Galileo. “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina” (1615). In Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo. Translated by and images; it appears to be identical with what others Stillman Drake. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957. have called “pure consciousness”—a state in which one isGrünbaum, Adolf. “A New Critique of Theological conscious but conscious of nothing. Interpretations of Physical Cosmology.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 51 (2000): 1–43. R. C. Zaehner argued that Stace’s typology ignoresGuth, Alan. The Inflationary Universe. New York: Helix Books, love mysticism in India and the West. There are two types 1997. of introvertive mysticism—monistic (pure conscious-Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam, ness) and theistic. The latter is a form of mutual love that 1988. unites God and the mystic in an experience withoutKaiser, Christopher. Creational Theology and the History of images and with very little, if any, conceptual content. Physical Science. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1997. The most effective defense of a position of this sort is Nel-Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962. son Pike’s. Pike argues that the principal forms of mysti-Leslie, John, ed. Physical Cosmology and Philosophy. New York: cal prayer in Christianity (quiet, rapture, and full union) Macmillan, 1989. are phenomenologically theistic. He defends his analysisLindberg, David C., and Ronald L. Numbers, eds. God and against William Forgie, who denies that the identification Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between of the experience’s object with God can be part of its phe- Christianity and Science. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. nomenological content.Manson, Neil A., ed. God and Design. London: Routledge, Phenomenological analyses of religious conscious- 2003. ness presuppose that we can distinguish descriptions ofPadgett, Alan G. “Science and Theology.” In The Encyclopedia religious experience from interpretations. Ninian Smart of Christianity, edited by Erwin Fahlbusch et al., 4: 192–198. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006. proposed two tests for distinguishing descriptions—thatPadgett, Alan G. Science and the Study of God. Grand Rapids, the accounts be autobiographical and that they be rela- MI: Eerdmans, 2003. tively free from doctrinal concepts. The question of crite- ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 401
  • 37. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCEria remains vexed, however (see Wainwright, 1981, chap. reasons for thinking them deceptive. Swinburne argues1). that there are none. Others have argued that, because religious experi- The most sustained defense of religious experience’sence is significantly constituted by the concepts, beliefs, epistemic credentials is William Alston’s. Whereas Wain-expectations, and attitudes that the mystic brings to it, wright and Swinburne concentrate on perceptual (or per-attempts to distinguish interpretation from description ception-like) experiences, Alston focuses on perceptualare misguided. For example, an influential article by practices. Doxastic (belief-forming) practices are basicSteven Katz contends that a mystic’s experiences are when they provide our primary access to their subjectlargely shaped by his or her tradition. This has two con- matter. The reliability of a basic doxastic practice likesequences. First, there are no “pure” or “unmediated” memory cannot be established without circularity; anymystical experiences and, second, there are as many types attempt to justify it relies on its own outputs. Alstonof mystical experiences as there are traditions. argues that sense-perceptual practice and “Christian mys- Katz’s “constructivism” has been attacked by Robert tical practice” are epistemically on a par. Since both dox-Forman and Anthony Perovitch among others. Since pure astic practices are basic, neither’s reliability can beconsciousness is devoid of content, it is difficult to see established without circularity. Both practices are sociallyhow it could be constituted by contents that the mystic established, internally consistent, and consistent with thebrings to it. To argue that it must be mediated because all outputs of other well-established practices. They are alsoexperience is mediated begs the question; on the face of self-supporting in the sense that they have the outputs weit, pure consciousness is a counterexample to the thesis in would expect them to have if they were reliable (success-question. Forman also argues that constructivism cannot ful predictions in the first case, for example, and moraladequately account for novelty—the fact that the mystic’s and spiritual improvement in the second). Alston con-experiences are often unlike what he or she expected. cludes that it is unreasonable to engage in sense-percep- Defenses of religious experience’s cognitive validity tual practice while rejecting the rationality of engaging inhave taken several forms. William Wainwright argues that Christian mystical practice. The rationality at issue, how-mystical experiences are presumptively valid because they ever, is not epistemic. Neither practice can be shown to beare significantly similar to sense experiences. Both expe- epistemically rational, since it is impossible to establishriences have what George Berkeley called “outness”—the their reliability without circularity. Alston intends tosubject has the impression of being immediately pre- show only that it is practically or pragmatically rational tosented with something transcending his or her own con- engage in them, although it should be noted that engag-sciousness. Corrigible and independently checkable ing in them involves accepting their outputs as true andclaims about objective reality are spontaneously made on therefore believing that they are reliable. Alston concedesthe basis of both types of experience. There are tests in that the existence of competing mystical practices weak-each case both for determining the reality of the experi- ens his case but denies that it destroys it. Critiques ofence’s apparent object and for determining the genuine- Alston’s work have tended to focus on this point (see, forness of apparent perceptions of it. The nature of the tests, example, Hasker, 1986).however, is determined by the nature of the experiences’ The most significant attacks on religious experience’salleged objects. Since the apparent objects of religious cognitive validity to have appeared since 1960 are Wayneexperience and ordinary perceptual experience differ, so Proudfoot’s and Richard Gale’s. Proudfoot argues that antoo will the tests for veridical experiences of those objects. experience’s noetic quality should be identified with its Richard Swinburne’s defense of religious experi- embedded causal judgment (that the experience is causedence’s cognitive validity is based on the principle of by a tree, for example, or by God) and this judgment’scredulity, which roughly states that apparent cognitions affective resonance. The incorporated causal judgmentare innocent until proven guilty. This is a basic principle has no intrinsic authority; it is merely one hypothesisof rationality; without it we would be unable to justify among others and should be accepted only if it providesour reliance on memory, sense perception, and rational a better overall explanation of the experience than itsintuition. The principle implies that there is an initial competitors’. While the causal hypotheses embedded inpresumption in favor of how things seem to us, although religious experiences could be correct, they are in factthis presumption can be overridden. What is true of suspect; they appear to be artifacts of the subject’s reli-apparent cognitions in general is true of religious experi- gious or cultural tradition and not products of nonnat-ences. They too should be accepted in the absence of good ural causes. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY402 • 2nd edition
  • 38. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE Proudfoot’s identification of an experience’s noetic attempts to establish this by refuting P. F. Strawson’s claimquality with an incorporated causal judgment and its that a “no space world … of objective sounds” is concep-affective resonance is more plausible in some cases than tually possible. We could neither reidentify sounds inothers. Given my background knowledge, I believe that a such a world nor distinguish between numerically dis-certain sort of pain in one’s tooth is caused by cavities. tinct but qualitatively identical ones. It would make noBelieving this, and having a pain of that sort, I sponta- sense, therefore, to speak of sounds as the commonneously form the belief that my pain is caused by a cavity. objects of distinct auditory experiences or as existingWhile my pain is not noetic, the experience as a whole is, when unperceived. Talk of veridical experiences of objec-since it incorporates a causal judgment. But the experi- tive sounds would thus be out of place. A fortiori, talk ofence lacks “outness.” It thus differs from sense perception, veridical experiences would be out of place in a nonspa-which (because of this quality) seems to have an intrinsic tial and nontemporal world. Therefore, since no commonauthority that noetic experiences like my toothache lack. space (and, on some accounts, no common time) housesReligious experiences are also diverse. Some, like my God and the mystic, talk of veridical perceptions of Godtoothache, involve spontaneous causal attributions and is inappropriate.nothing more. Others, however, are perception-like and A few general observations about discussions of reli-have the same claim to intrinsic authority that sense per- gious experience since 1960 are in order. First, mostceptions do. defenses of religious experience’s cognitive validity have Richard Gale, on the other hand, argues that reli- been offered by theists. Stace is one of the few who hasgious experience lacks the authority of sense experience. attempted to establish the veridicality of pure conscious-The only way of establishing religious experience’s cogni- ness and other nontheistic experiences that lack inten-tivity is by showing that the tests for it are similar to those tional structure. Second, philosophical discussions offor sense experience. Arguments for religious experience’s religious experiences tend to abstract them from the waycognitive validity fail because the dissimilarities are too of life in which they occur and thereby impoverish ourgreat. Alston and Wainwright contend that these dissimi- understanding of them. Whether this penchant forlarities can be explained by differences in the experiences’ abstraction adversely affects the discussion of phenome-apparent objects. Gale objects that explaining the dis- nological and epistemological issues, however, is moreanalogies does not explain them away and that there is a doubtful. Finally, a philosopher’s assessment of the cogni- tive value of religious experience is affected by his or her“tension” or “inconsistency” in claiming that the tests are metaphysical predilections. For example, those whosimilar (as they must be if the defense of religious experi- assign a low antecedent probability to theism willence’s cognitivity is to be successful) and yet different in demand stronger arguments for theistic experiences’ cog-nature. The first point is dubious. Only relevant disanalo- nitive validity than those who do not. One’s assessment ofgies count. The point of Wainwright’s and Alston’s expla- religious experience cannot be separated from one’s gen-nations is to show that the disanalogies are not eral assessment of the relevant religious hypotheses.relevant—that is, that the features that tests for senseexperiences have and tests for religious experiences lack See also Alston, William P.; Berkeley, George; Construc-are not ones we would expect the latter to have if religious tivism and Conventionalism; Constructivism, Moral;experiences were veridical perceptions of their apparent Intuition; Memory; Mysticism, History of; Mysticism,objects. Nature and Assessment of; Perception; Philosophy of Gale’s most original (and controversial) contribution Religion; Rationality; Stace, Walter Terence; Strawson,is his contention that veridical experiences of God are Peter Frederick.conceptually impossible. The argument is roughly this:Talk of veridical experiences is in place only where it Bibliographymakes sense to speak of their objects as existing “when Alston, W. P. Perceiving God. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Universitynot actually perceived” and as being “the common object Press, 1991.of different” experiences of that type. Sense experiences Davis, C. F. The Evidential Force of Religious Experience.exhibit this feature because their objects are “housed in a Oxford: Clarendon Press, and time that includes both the object and the per- Forgie, W. J. “Pike’s Mystic Union and the Possibility of Theistic Experience.” Religious Studies 30 (1994): 231–242.ceiver.” Religious experiences do not exhibit this feature Forgie, W. J. “Theistic Experience and the Doctrine ofbecause there are no “analogous dimensions to space and Unanimity.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religiontime” that house both God and the perceiver. Gale 15 (1984): 13–30. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 403
  • 39. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE , ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GODForman, R. K. C. “Introduction: Mysticism, Constructivism, will in tension and conflict with his own will, the peace and Forgetting.” In The Problem of Pure Consciousness, that follows the acceptance of God’s command.” edited by R. K. C. Forman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. “Experiences of meeting God are self-authenticating:Gale, R. On the Nature and Existence of God. Cambridge, U.K.: They involve no precarious chain of inference, no sifting Cambridge University Press, 1991. Chap. 8. of rival hypotheses. They make unbelief logically absurd.”Gutting, G. Religious Belief and Religious Skepticism. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982. Chap. 5. “In itself, religious experience is neither theistic norHasker, W. “On Justifying the Christian Practice.” New pantheistic, Christian nor Buddhist. All these distinctions Scholasticism 60 (1986). are interpretations of the experience. By itself, religiousKatz, S. T. “Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism.” In experience testifies to something far less definite but still Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, edited by S. T. Katz. infinitely valuable—the insufficiency of all materialisms London: Sheldon Press, 1978.Perovitch, A. N., Jr. “Does the Philosophy of Mysticism Rest on and naturalisms.” a Mistake?” In The Problem of Pure Consciousness, edited by If we compare any of these arguments with the R. K. C. Forman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Ontological, Cosmological, and Teleological arguments,Pike, N. Mystic Union: An Essay in the Phenomenology of Mysticism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992. important differences in their logic and history can read-Proudfoot, W. Religious Experience. Berkeley: University of ily be shown. Arguments from Religious Experience are California Press, 1985. clearly not a priori, like the Ontological Argument, andSmart, N. “Interpretation and Mystical Experience.” Religious whereas the Cosmological and Teleological arguments Studies 1 (1965): 75–87. work from premises that affirm highly general facts aboutStace, W. T. Mysticism and Philosophy. Philadelphia: Lippincott, the world (that it exists, that it is purposefully ordered), 1960. Arguments from Religious Experience rely on far moreSwinburne, R. The Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979. Chap. 13. particularized and elusive premises than these. Not allWainwright, W. J. Mysticism: A Study of Its Nature, Cognitive men have (or are aware of having) distinctively religious Value, and Moral Implications. Madison: University of experiences, and to those that do have them religious Wisconsin Press, 1981. experiences are apt to be short-lived, fugitive sets ofYandell, K. E. The Epistemology of Religious Experience. events that are not publicly observable. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1993.Zaehner, R. C. Concordant Discord. Oxford: Clarendon Press, Despite this slipperiness, the Argument from Reli- 1970. gious Experience has attracted some theologians who William J. Wainwright (1996) have been skeptical about the more rationalistic “proofs.” In the course of the eighteenth century these proofs received formidable criticism from Immanuel Kant and David Hume. The Ontological Argument was shown toreligious experience, be radically confused over the logic of “existence,” and (in Kant’s account) the Cosmological and Teleological argu-argument for the ments themselves presuppose the Ontological. Even moreexistence of god important, Kant and Hume together produced a general weakening of confidence that any survey of the observ-Arguments from Religious Experience show remarkable able cosmos (including “the starry heavens above”) coulddiversity, (a) in the sorts of experience taken as data for yield premises powerful enough to argue to an infinite,the argument, (b) in the structure of the inference itself, unconditioned, all-good deity. Kant turned to “inner”and (c) in the alleged conclusion, whether to a vague experience, to our awareness of the moral law, and arguedPresence, an Infinite Being, or the God of traditional that the moral life is intelligible only if we postulate GodChristianity. and immortality. The following exemplify some versions of the argu-ment: Although a number of writers followed Kant in argu- ing from inner moral experience, many others, while “At very different times and places great numbers of accepting the shift from outer to inner, based their infer-men have claimed to experience God; it would be unrea- ence on a distinctive class of religious experiences. If wesonable to suppose that they must all have been deluded.” describe this shift, in general terms, as a move from objec- “The real argument to God is the individual tive to subjective, from surveying the world at large forbeliever’s sense of God’s presence, the awareness of God’s evidences of God to focusing attention on the personal ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY404 • 2nd edition
  • 40. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE , ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GODand existential, it clearly was a shift of the greatest God—being “pure” person, having nothing bodily ormoment and one that still helps to determine our con- thinglike in his nature—cannot be shown to exist in thetemporary climate of theological thought. We human way things can be shown to exist.beings are not stars or electrons—the argument goes— Suppose, again, we take the Argument from Reli-and we cannot experience or guess the role of star or elec- gious Experience as an explanatory hypothesis; then atron in the divine economy. But we are persons, and we skeptical critic may deny that the existence of God is theare directly aware (or some of us are) of a meeting of per- likeliest, or simplest, or most intelligible, explanation ofson with Person in religious experience. the experiences. We cannot be intellectually compelled to Thinking back, however, to the post-Humean, post- posit God if more economical and naturalistic explana-Kantian period, the centering upon inner experience can tions can be found—psychoanalytic accounts, it mightbe seen as one aspect of the romantic movement’s protest be, or accounts in terms of individual suggestibility or theagainst the Enlightenment, the new concern for subjec- influence of religious expectations or tradition.tivity, the life of the emotions and intuitions of the indi- Last, a critic may concentrate on the conceptual dif-vidual. The most important and most seminal single ficulties in the idea of God, for if the argument as a wholefigure here is Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), with is to be sound, its conclusion (“therefore God exists”)his bold insistence on the primacy of religious feeling— must be intelligible and free of inner contradictions. Thisparticularly the feeling of utter creaturely dependence— objection may bewilder and disappoint the arguer-from-and his distaste for religious doctrines or arguments experience. To him one of the chief apparent advantagesentertained in a purely intellectual manner, as mere ideas, in the argument is that its direct appeal to experiencelacking the life and authority of experience. bypasses logical or metaphysical complexities. But some element of interpretation, and therefore some applicationobjections to the argument of concepts, must take place when an experience is taken to be an encounter with God. Wherever concepts are han-Prima facie it seemed a reasonable and empirically sound dled, they can also be mishandled. Inner contradictionsenterprise to establish arguments for God upon claims to in the claim to experience God could invalidate the inter-have actually experienced him, to have “seen” him, “met” pretation of the experience.him, encountered him in a personal relation. But thereare in fact several directions from which it can be chal-lenged. nature of religious experiences Orthodox and neoorthodox theologians tend to What, more exactly, are religious experiences? Descrip-object that the content of religious experience is too inde- tions of religious experiences can be heavily loaded withterminate to yield clear knowledge of the God of Chris- doctrinal, even sectarian, interpretation or can be almosttianity. The case for Christianity must not be allowed to entirely free of it. Their impact may fix one’s attitudes andrest on the deceptive and elusive emotions of religious evaluations for a lifetime or for only a brief period. Theypeople. It rests on the revealed Word of God, on the Per- may not only be benign and optimistic, as we have so farson of Jesus Christ as disclosed in the Scriptures, not as assumed, but can also—with no less intensity—be pes-constructed out of the assorted emotions of the devout. simistic and grim. They may involve conversions to a reli-The working of the Holy Spirit cannot be correlated with gious orthodoxy or conversions away from one. Considerthe experiencing of peculiar feelings, even uplifting ones. the following experiences, neither of which is more than minimally interpreted, and both of which are certainly in A second familiar objection is that although we cer- an important sense religious. The first is from Lev Tol-tainly do have religious experience, we cannot employ it stoy’s War and Peace, at the point where Prince Andrewas the premise of an argument to God. The relationship has been wounded in the Battle of Austerlitz.between man and God—an I-Thou (in Martin Buber’s He opened his eyes, hoping to see how the strug-phrase), personal relationship—is maintained by faith gle of the Frenchmen with the gunners ended.…alone. The conception of superseding faith through a But he saw nothing. Above him there was nowproof of God’s existence forgets the irreducibly personal nothing but the sky—the lofty sky, not clear yetnature of encounter between man and God. still immeasurably lofty, with grey clouds gliding The objector may be making a religious claim, that it slowly across it. “How quiet, peaceful andis religiously improper to attempt to replace faith by solemn, not at all as I ran,” thought Princerational argument, or his point may be a logical one, that Andrew—“not as we ran shouting and fight- ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 405
  • 41. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE , ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD ing.… How was it I did not see that lofty sky Closer to the province of morality are experiences of before? And how happy I am to have found it at divine discontent, interpreted as intimations of God’s last! Yes! All is vanity, all falsehood except that existence and call to moral endeavor, the conviction of sin infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing but that. correlative to a sense of God’s own holiness, the sense of But even it does not exist, there is nothing but divine aid in the rectifying of one’s moral life, and, in quiet and peace. Thank God!” Christian evangelical terms, a sense that one has been redeemed or saved by God’s action on man’s behalf. The second is from Leonard Woolf ’s autobiographi-cal work, Sowing (1960). At the age of eight, the author The overall impression is of the immense diversity ofwas sitting in a garden enjoying the fresh air after a train religious experiences. They are indeed linked by complexjourney. He watched two newts basking in the sun. webs of “family resemblances” (to use Ludwig Wittgen- stein’s phrase)—resemblances of attitude, emotional I forgot everything, including time, as I sat there tone, alleged content—but if we ask what all of them have with those strange, beautiful creatures, sur- in common, the answer must be meager in content: per- rounded by blue sky, sunshine, and sparkling haps only a sense of momentous disclosure, the sense that sea. I do not know how long I had sat there, the world is being apprehended and responded to accord- when, all at once, I felt afraid. I looked up and ing to its true colors. What is actually being observed or saw that an enormous black thunder cloud had contemplated can never (logically) be the whole universe, crept up and now covered more than half of the yet the quality of religious experience is such that it does sky. It was just blotting out the sun, and, as it did seem to imply something about the whole. so, the newts scuttled back into their hole.… I felt something more powerful than fear, once epistemological status of more that sense of profound, passive, cosmic religious experiences despair, the melancholy of a human being eager for happiness and beauty, powerless in face of a Our sampling of religious experiences may help to deliver hostile universe. us from the dangers of oversimplification, but it cannot by itself determine whether arguments to God based Turning to theistic types of experience, we can start upon them are valid. Clearly, not all the experiences wefrom the very basic experience of wonderment, notably have mentioned could yield data with which a theisticwonderment at there being any world at all. This may argument could start. Some, such as that of Woolf quotedpass into the sense that the world owes its existence to, earlier, are decidedly antitheistic. But there is a further setand is maintained in existence by, something “beyond,” of differences among them that must be noted at this“outside” the world itself, a Being whose nature is utterly stage, differences of an epistemological kind.remote from the world, yet whose activity and energy are When someone speaks of his religious experience, heperceptible within the world, as a disturbing, awesome, may be using the word experience as it appears in suchand thrilling presence. Rudolf Otto’s concept of the phrases as “business experience,” “driving or teaching,“numinous” gathers together these ingredients of mys- etc., experience.” He has found the religious pattern of lifetery, dread, and fascination and emphasizes very properly viable; he has interpreted a multiplicity of events in itsthe qualitative distinctiveness and elusiveness of such categories, and these categories have proved durable.experience (The Idea of the Holy, passim). No set of cate- There is the suggestion that the person with religiousgories can neatly contain it: The person who has never experience in this sense has been confirming his faith byknown it can barely understand the claims of the person living it out over a substantial stretch of his life—furnish-who has. ing data for a pragmatic proof of God’s existence. Religious experiences can be generated by percep- In other cases the experiences are of much shortertions of individual objects (a grain of sand, a bird), by a duration, often judgments or quasi perceptions accompa-train of events, by actions—for instance, the memorable nied by certain religious emotions, alleged cognitive actsaccount of Jesus setting his face to go to Jerusalem to his or intuitions in which the necessity of God’s existence isPassion. Even a passage of philosophical reasoning may “seen” and an awesome emotive response is eliciteddo this, as when someone contemplates the incomplete- simultaneously. Again, the language used may be nearerness of all explanation, the intellectual opacity of space to that of perceiving—seeing God (not just seeing thatand time, and feels compelled—with a sense of mys- God exists). There is a claim to knowledge of God bytery—to posit a divine completeness and unity. “acquaintance,” rather than “description.” ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY406 • 2nd edition
  • 42. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE , ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD Some cases resemble the dawning of an aspect or and a certain other range of statements that are not pub-interpretation, as when we recognize a person in a poor licly testable—namely, psychological statements such aslight or make out a pattern in what looked like a maze of “I seem to hear a buzzing noise,” or “I seem to see a patchlines. It can be like a sudden reading of the expression on of purple.” If statements like these cannot be refuted, it isa face, the face, as it were, of the universe, or like a real- only because they make no assertions about what exists,ization of meaning, as when one sees the point of a poem beyond the experiences of the speaker at the moment hewith which one has long been verbally, but only verbally, speaks. But the person who says he has direct and certainfamiliar. In the light of this disclosure, a new orientation experience of God wishes to claim irrefutability and toand purposeful organization of life may take place. Ener- affirm at the same time something momentous aboutgies hitherto dissipated or in mutual conflict are rallied what exists. Can this be done? Or would it take a far moreand integrated. elaborate and many-stranded apologetic to give effective Feelings or emotions may predominate in religious backing to these claims—especially the claims to objec-experience, but even so, perception and judgment are tivity?almost always involved as well. Feelings are often “feelings One might try to obtain this support by compilingthat …,” surmises, and in that sense feelings involve judg- records of numerous experiences of the same generalment, have an essential component of belief. Part of what kind and treating them as cumulative evidence for theit is to have an emotion is to see and appraise one’s situa- truth of claims to experience God. Without doubt there istion in a particular way. (“I feel remorse for doing x,” for an impressive mass of such records within the Judeo-example, presupposes “I did x freely” and “x was morally Christian tradition. Other religious traditions, however,wrong.”) It is only with twinges, frissons, aches, and such can also produce their own very different records—of thelike that no appraisal of the situation need (logically) be various well-ordered phases in the quest for nirvana ormade; these, in any case, could furnish only very weak for mystical union with a pantheistic object of worship.premises for a theistic argument. Their occurrence can be Are these differences, however, real incompatibilities;due to a great variety of causes immanent in one’s own do they correspond to genuinely different sorts of reli-organism and one’s environment, and they can hardly, gious experience? Or are the experiences basically thewithout supplementation, force one to posit a transcen- same, though differently interpreted? On this it isdent cause. extremely hard to give any confident answer. Part of the Obviously the structure (and maybe the validity) of difficulty is that most of the developed religions containan Argument to God from Religious Experience will vary several strands in their conceptions of the divine. Chris-enormously according to what epistemological type of tianity, for instance, seeks to unite numinous and mysti-experience is taken as the starting point, and in the liter- cal views of God: God is “remote” and “other,” yet alsoature this is often hard to discern. mystically “near.” What can be said again is that any com- mon elements must be very indeterminate in content andverifiability of religious able to bear great variety of interpretation—to be taken,experience among other things, as the disclosure of a state or spiri-If someone claims to have discovered, perceived, become tual goal (nirvaña) or of a personal or suprapersonalaware of an ordinary sort of object, we usually know what God. We have seen how an experience may have a mini-to do about checking his claim. If we are told that there is mal—quite undoctrinal—interpretation and yet be reli-a frog in the garden pond, we know what it will be like to gious in a broad sense. But from such an experience aloneconfirm this or to find it untrue. We know how to inves- one can hardly infer anything so definite as the God oftigate whether it was Smith we saw in the dim light, theism. Unfortunately, the interpretations that supple-whether we did hit the right answer to a sum or cried ment the experience are conceptually intricate and“Eureka” too soon. But when someone claims to have involve all the uncertainty and fallibility of philosophicaldirect awareness of God, to encounter, see, or intuit the and theological speculation. In this region we are fardivine, we are not able to suggest a test performance of an removed from the ideals of immediacy, directness, andeven remotely analogous kind. The more developed and self-evidence.theologically sophisticated the conception of deity is, the Yet a critic who claimed that the Argument frommore it eludes and resists any such check. Religious Experience was thereby refuted would be miss- This being so, some critics have pointed out a dis- ing the mark. The theist could insist that a much tooturbing resemblance between claims to experience God crude notion of “interpretation” has so far been used, one ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 407
  • 43. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE , ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GODthat suggests, falsely, that there is a merely external and late a version of the Argument from Religious Experiencealmost arbitrary relation between having and interpret- that does not rely crucially on a sense of conviction. Evening an experience. when appeal is made to the pattern of development The full impressiveness of the theistic case appears toward theism, and thus to a far wider range of phenom-only when we survey the historical development of reli- ena than in any argument from the experience of an indi-gious experience in the direction of Christian monothe- vidual, still the issue of objectivity—that we are comingism. As the idea of deity evolves, from finite and local to know God, not simply an idea of God—seems to hangnumen to infinite and omnipresent Lord, from the god of upon the fallible, illusion-prone assurance of the subjects.a tribe or nation to the Ruler of all nature, from the deity On the other hand, to point this out is to draw attentionconcealed in holy tent or temple to the one God beyond only to the risk, not to the certainty, of being wrong. Aall phenomena whatever, religious experience is itself religious person may realize, and be prepared to accept,simultaneously transformed. It is transformed not hap- this measure of risk.hazardly but so as to produce a crescendo of numinous Could we escape the uncertainty, by claiming thatintensity, a constant refining away of merely superstitious genuine experience of God is necessarily followed by aand idolatrous awe at objects unworthy of worship, and godly life, whereas illusory experiences betray themselvesthe arrival of a distinctive, lofty note of adoration. Expe- by the absence of any practical fruits? Hardly; there mightrience and interpretation here advance in indissoluble well be a positive correlation between genuine experi-unity. It is argued that this historical development pro- ences and godliness, but in fact they are not necessarilyvides material for a more adequate argument to God— related. Lapses, moral failures, are always open to humanone in which the risks of fantasy and subjectivism are beings, and one cannot rule out by definition the possi-much reduced. bility of a man’s being both morally remarkable and athe- Impressive this is, and it may well be the truth of the istic.matter. We must notice, however, that we are now looking But, one might argue, is the situation vis-à-vis Godat a much more complex piece of argument than the any worse in principle than the situation vis-à-vis mate-claims of individuals to have direct experience of God. rial objects, such as tables and chairs? Our traffic withNew logical problems appear at several points. Can we be these consists in having actual experiences (visual, tac-confident, for instance, that an intensification of numi- tual, etc.) and ordered expectations of future and possiblenous experience is necessarily a sign that we have a more experiences. Where our experience has this sort of struc-adequate disclosure of God and not simply that we have ture and can thus be the subject of intelligible discourse,constructed a more adequate and awesome idea of God?(This is the question that also calls in doubt any purely we confer on it the status of objectivity without more ado.pragmatic philosophy of religion.) Again, sometimes an But theistic experience certainly occurs, and it too has itsartist, or a school of artists, succeeds in progressively clar- structure of expectations.ifying and intensifying an original vision or the expres- If we can bring out the difference between these casession of some distinctive emotion. But success in this (and the peculiar difficulty of the religious case), we shall(“now he has brought the theme to full explicitness,” for be showing more clearly than hitherto that the Argumentexample) is not necessarily correlated with a progress in from Religious Experience is most intimately involved indiscovery about the world. Can we be sure that the devel- problems of logic and meaning—problems that at firstopment of numinous awareness is different in this vital seem alien to its empirical appearance. With a materialrespect? object (say, a cube) there are quite intricate but intelligi- The person with theistic religious experience is ble ways in which we come to see it as a single object out-assured that it is different. But the sense of assurance, the in-the-world. It is given unity most obviously by“Aha!” experience, the penny dropping, the light dawn- possession of perceptible limits and boundaries and bying—these are very unreliable guides to truth, validity, or the manner in which its several surfaces can be seen andvalue. Not the most tempestuous sense of poetic inspira- felt to connect with one another. Moreover, we have mas-tion can guarantee that a good poem is being brought to tered the laws of perspective and so can anticipate andbirth, nor can any of these conviction-experiences by understand variations in our perceptions of the object,itself authenticate its related judgments. It is enough to owing to our own variable positions as observers. Suchrecall how often incompatible judgments are made with variations do not, therefore, impugn the assertion thatequal assurance on each side. Yet it is not easy to formu- the object exists in the world external to us. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY408 • 2nd edition
  • 44. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE , ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD With God, who is not a finite material object, there tions, such as that of ultimately seeing God “face to face”can be no inspecting of boundaries or surfaces. And if or of being received by him into glory. As we have morepart of what we mean by “God” is “an infinitely and eter- than once observed, the relation between experience andnally loving Being,” no conceivable experience or finite set what the experience is taken to be is a most intimate one;of experiences could by itself entitle us to claim that we the experiences of a Christian and those of a religioushad experienced such a being. We might well report expe- agnostic could both be valuable but could not be identi-riencing “a sense of immense benevolence toward us,” “a cal.sense of complete safety and well-being,” but from theirintensity alone one could not rigorously conclude, psychological explanations“Therefore I am in touch with an infinitely and eternally Is it not more enlightened, however, to deny that theseloving God.” From the intensity of a human love one can- experiences really disclose anything about the world? Psy-not infer, “This love will endure,” and without bringing in choanalytic research has, after all, revealed many situa-a supplementary doctrine of God’s attributes (not tions in which interior mental events are projected uponderived from experience) one could no more legitimately the world and are furnished with all the assurance ofdo so in the religious case. objectivity, the full sense of “givenness.” One does not Material objects, of course, are sometimes observed have to accept the entire Freudian account of religion toin unfavorable perceptual conditions—at a great dis- see plausibility in its central claim that early parent-childtance, half-concealed, and so on. Imagination must “fill relations of “creaturely” dependence and reverence, within” the perceptual gaps as best it can, until conditions their tensions between love and fear, can yield the uncon-improve. Analogous thought models are indeed scious material from which experiences of God-man rela-employed in theological discourse, but they are peculiarly tions are fashioned. To accept this claim is not necessarilydifficult to assess. The Christian theologian is normally to reduce all religion to neurosis or worse. For it is absurdmost ready to admit that we can neither perceive nor to class together the person who attains a stable religiousimagine how the various attributes of God unite in a sin- solution to his conflicts and the person who retreats togle being (if he is to be called “a being” at all). A fair meas- genuine neurosis, developing, say, obsessions, compul-ure of agnosticism here is compatible with full Christian sions, or delusions of persecution. Sigmund Freud cer-belief. But it may not be compatible with a reliance upon tainly went further in his naturalistic explanation ofan Argument to God from Religious Experience, if this is religious experience, being prepared to reduce God to anone’s chief apologetic instrument. Unless the principles illusory parent substitute. It may be possible, however, tothat confer unity and objectivity are able to be collected invert the Freudian account of religious experience and,from the experiences themselves (which seems not to be instead of seeing God as a father substitute, to see humanpossible), we have to look elsewhere for them, and the fathers as God substitutes and the human experience ofargument is in this respect shown to be inadequate. But it love as training for loving God. The close psychologicalis not, on that account, proved useless, for if it cannot relation between love of man and love of God would thusdemonstrate the existence of God unaided, it might still have its skeptical sting removed. It may be argued, again,function as a necessary auxiliary of other arguments—for that naturalistic and Christian explanations are compati-example, the Cosmological Argument. ble: God may elicit from us an effective response to his One might be forced to a deeper agnosticism than existence without making use of anything but our natu-that to which we have just alluded—deeper in that it ral human equipment of senses, desires, emotions. Evendares to affirm scarcely anything at all about the focus (or mechanisms of projection can be involved and the pro-focuses) of religious experience, whether personal or jected image of deity be yet a trustworthy symbol of aimpersonal. Yet with a minimal ontological commitment God who does in fact exist. It is clear from all this thatit might still set great value on certain religious experi- depth psychology does not provide a self-sufficient, deci-ences and seek after them. The attempt to work out a sive refutation of theism.coherent and systematic theological interpretation would Nonetheless, depth psychology troubles and disturbsbe quite abandoned. the Arguments from Religious Experience, and so do the This would save something, but assessing just how very attempts to reconcile it with Christian belief. Thesemuch to expect from a religious agnosticism like this virtually admit that the religious experiences might occurwould be a difficult task. The bigger the area of agnosti- much as they actually do occur—without there being acism, the smaller the area of legitimate religious expecta- God—in other words, that naturalistic explanations are ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 409
  • 45. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE , ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GODpossible. There seems no way, at the experiential level, of Buber, Martin. Ich und Du. Leipzig, 1923. Translated by R.settling the really urgent questions, most of all the fol- Gregor Smith as I and Thou. Edinburgh, 1937.lowing: Do we have in theistic experience mere projec- Campbell, C. A. On Selfhood and Godhood. London: Allen and Unwin, 1957. On Rudolf Otto see Lecture 16.tion? Or do we have a projection matched by an Hick, John, ed. Faith and the Philosophers. New York: St.objectively existing God? Martin’s Press, 1964. Holland, R. F., and J. M. Cameron. “Religious Discourse andSee also Agnosticism; Buber, Martin; Cosmological Argu- Theological Discourse.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 34 ment for the Existence of God; Enlightenment; Hume, (1956): 147–163, 203–207. David; Kant, Immanuel; Mysticism, Nature and Assess- Hook, Sidney, ed. Religious Experience and Truth. New York: New York University Press, 1961. ment of; Ontological Argument for the Existence of Lewis, H. D. Our Experience of God. London: Allen and Unwin, God; Otto, Rudolf; Popular Arguments for the Exis- 1959. tence of God; Religious Experience; Schleiermacher, Lewis, H. D., and C. H. Whiteley. “The Cognitive Factor in Friedrich Daniel Ernst; Teleological Argument for the Religious Experience.” PAS, Supp. 29 (1955): 59–92. Existence of God. Martin, C. B. Religious Belief. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1959. Otto, Rudolf. Das Heilige. Breslau: Trewendt and Granier, 1917.Bibliography Translated by John W. Harvey as The Idea of the Holy, 2nd ed. London, 1950.WORKS ON THE PSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGION Smart, Ninian. Reasons and Faiths. London: Routledge andThe following works have important implications for the Paul, 1958. Argument from Religious Experience: Smith, N. Kemp. “Is Divine Existence Credible?” Proceedings ofFreud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion (1927). Translated the British Academy 17 (1931). by W. D. Robson-Scott. London: Hogarth Press, 1928; paperback ed., Garden City, NY, 1957. OTHER RECOMMENDED TITLESFreud, Sigmund. “Obsessive Acts and Religious Practices” Alston, William. Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious (1907). In The Standard Edition of the Complete Experience. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991. Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, translated by James Bagger, Matthew. Religious Experience, Justification, and Strachey, ed., in collaboration with Anna Freud. 24 vols. History. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999. New York: Macmillan, 1953–1963. Clouser, Roy. Knowing with the Heart: Religious Experience andFreud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo (1913). Translated by A. A. Belief in God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999. Brill. New York: New Republic, 1927. Also translated by Davis, Caroline. The Evidential Force of Religious Experience. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1952. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.James, William. Varieties of Religious Experience. London: Ellwood, Robert. Mysticism and Religion. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Longman, 1902. Prentice Hall, 1980.Jung, C. G. Psychology and Religion. New Haven, CT: Yale Forsthoefel, Thomas. Knowing beyond Knowledge: University Press, 1938; paperback ed., 1960. Epistemologies of Religious Experience in Classical andPhilp, H. L. Freud and Religious Belief. London: Rockliff, 1956. Modern Advaita. Burlington: Ashgate, 2002.Thouless, R. H. An Introduction to the Psychology of Religion. Gellman, Jerome. Experience of God and the Rationality of Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1923; Theistic Belief. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997. reprinted, 1936. Griffith-Dickson, Gwen. Human and Divine: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religious Experience. London:RELEVANT THEOLOGICAL WORKS Duckworth, 2000.Raven, C. E. Natural Religion and Christian Theology. Vol. II. Gutting, Gary. Religious Belief and Religious Skepticism. Notre Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1953. Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982.Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Der christliche Glaube. Berlin, Mackie, J. L. The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1821–1822. 2nd ed. translated by H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. 1982. Stewart as Christian Faith. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1928. Miles, Thomas. Religious Experience. London: Macmillan,Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Die Religion. Reden an die 1972. Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern. Berlin, 1799. Translated Pine, Nelson. Mystic Union: An Essay in the Phenomenology of by John Oman as On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Mysticism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992. Despisers. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1893; reprinted, Proudfoot, Wayne. Religious Experience. Berkeley: University of Gloucester, MA, 1958; paperback ed., New York: Harper, California Press, 1985. 1958. Rowe, William. “Religious Experience and the Principle ofTennant, F. R. Philosophical Theology. Vol. I. Cambridge, U.K.: Credulity.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 13 Cambridge University Press, 1928. (1982): 85–92.PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES Smith, John. Experience and God. New York: Oxford UniversityThe following works explore the relation between religious Press, 1968. experience and religious belief or contain relevant ideas and Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon arguments: Press, 1979. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY410 • 2nd edition
  • 46. RELIGIOUS LANGUAGEWainwright, William. Mysticism. Brighton: Harvester Press, institution if and only if we are warranted in accepting 1981. the proposition that the world is created and governed byYandell, Keith. The Epistemology of Religious Experience. an omnipotent, perfectly good personal deity who has Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. revealed himself to men in the Bible. Thus the philosophy Ronald W. Hepburn (1967) of religion is largely taken up with examining the grounds Bibliography updated by Christian B. Miller (2005) of religious statements. And it is when we do this that we become most acutely aware of the puzzling aspects of religious language. When we make a determined effort toreligious instinct decide whether it is true that God created the physical See Common Consent Arguments for the Existence of universe, it is difficult to avoid realizing how unclear what God we are saying is, what implications it has, what it logically excludes, and what would count for or against it. Thus the philosophical investigation of religious language focuses on those indeterminacies in theological statements thatreligious language hamper attempts to find rational grounds for acceptance or rejection.Utterances made in religious contexts are of many sorts.In the performance of public and private worship menengage in acts of praise, petition, thanks, confession, and meaning of theologicalexhortation. In sacred writings we find historical records, predicatesdramatic narratives, proclamations of law, predictions, Most philosophers who have concerned themselves withadmonitions, evaluations, cosmological speculations, and the problem have located the difficulties of religious lan-theological pronouncements. In devotional literature guage in the predicates of theological statements. (Whatthere are rules of conduct, biographical narratives, and does “good” mean in “God is good”?) It may seem that weintrospective descriptions of religious experience. Philo- should start with the subject of the statement, with thesophical discussions of religious language have concen- concept of God. But there is really no alternative to start-trated on a restricted segment of this enormous diversity, ing with the predicates. For the only way to make clearnamely, theological statements, that is, assertions of the what one means by “God” is to provide an identifyingexistence, nature, and doings of supernatural personal description, such as “the creator of the universe”; and tobeings. understand that phrase one must understand the predi- There are two reasons for this emphasis. First, the cate “created the universe” as applied to God. Theologicalcrucial problems about religious language appear in their predicates can be divided into negative (infinite, nontem-purest form in theological statements. If we consider a poral, incorporeal) and positive. The positive predicatespetitionary prayer or a confession, what is puzzling about can be concerned either with attributes (good, wise,it is not the act of petition or confession, but the idea of omniscient) or with actions (makes, forgives, speaks,addressing it to God, and God answering it. It is the con- watches over). Negative predicates present no special dif-cept of communication with a supernatural incorporeal ficulty, but in themselves they are clearly insufficient toperson that seems unclear. And this lack of clarity is most give any positive conception of the deity. Of the positiveapparent in the statement that there exists a God who attributes we shall concentrate on attributions of action,communicates with men in various ways. We may say that partly because action terms pose more severe problems,the difficulties in understanding other forms of religious partly because other attributes are dependent on them.language all stem from obscurities in statements about (To say that God is wise is to say that he acts wisely; if weGod. cannot understand what it is for him to perform one or The second reason for philosophical concentration another action, we cannot understand the attribution ofon theological statements lies in the fact that the philoso- wisdom to him.)phy of religion is primarily concerned with questions ofjustifiability, significance, and value. And it has generally DERIVATION AND APPLICATION. When one reflectsbeen supposed that whether religion is a justifiable form on the use of predicates in theological statements oneof human activity largely depends on whether there are comes to realize two fundamental facts: (1) this use issufficient grounds for accepting the theological state- necessarily derivative from the application of the predi-ments on which it is based. Christianity is a justifiable cates to human beings and other observable entities; (2) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 411
  • 47. RELIGIOUS LANGUAGEthe theological use of predicates is markedly different “something” is deliberately left vague. Since God is a purefrom the application of predicates to human beings. spirit, it will presumably be some conscious mental act; Theological predicates are derivative primarily perhaps an act of will to the effect that the addressee shallbecause it is impossible to teach theological language have the experience of being told such-and-such. Morefrom scratch. How would one teach a child what it means generally, to attribute any interpersonal action to God isto say “God has spoken to me” without first making sure to attribute to him a purely mental act that has as itsthat the child knows what it is for a human being to speak intended result a certain experience, like the one thatto him? In order to do so one would have to have some would result from such an action on the part of a human being.reliable way of determining when God was speaking tohim, so that when this happens one could say to him, This account may throw some light on the content of“That is what it is for God to speak to you.” And even if statements about God, but religious thinkers havewe admit that God does speak to people from time to become increasingly dissatisfied with it. For one thing, ittime, there is no way for one person to tell when God is represents theological statements as metaphysical specu-speaking to another person unless the other person tells lations and does little to illuminate the ways they fit intohim, which would require that the other person have religious activity. Having postulated a pure immaterialalready mastered the theological use of language. Hence substance performing mental acts that, miraculously,there is no alternative to the usual procedure of teaching have effects in human experience, how do we go aboutthe theological use of terms by extension from their getting into communication with this immaterial sub-application to empirically observable objects. stance? Why should it be worshiped at all, and if it should, why in one way rather than another? Moreover, this line As for the difference in the use of predicates as of reasoning is not helpful in our efforts to verify theo-applied to God and to human beings, there are many logical statements. It offers no hints on how we mightways of seeing that the terms cannot have quite the same determine whether our statements are true, or evenmeaning in both cases. If, as in classical Christian theol- whether there is such a being that performs the actions inogy, God is conceived of as not in time, then it is clear that question.God’s performance of actions like speaking, making, orcomforting is something radically different from the tem-porally sequential performance of actions by human verifiability of theologicalbeings. St. Thomas Aquinas in his famous discussion of statementsthis problem based the distinction between the applica- Recent discussions have concentrated on the problem oftion of predicates to human beings and the application of verifiability. In the last few decades a great many philoso-predicates to God on the principle that God is an absolute phers have come to accept some form of the “verifiabilityunity and that, therefore, various attributes and activities theory of meaning,” according to which one is making aare not distinguishable in God as they are in men. But genuine factual assertion, a real claim as to the way theeven if we allow God to be temporal and straightfor- world is, only if it is possible to conceive of some way inwardly multifaceted, we are left with the corporeal-incor- which what he is saying can be shown to be true or falseporeal difference. If God does not have a body, it is clear by empirical observation. Applying this theory to theol-that speaking, making, or comforting cannot be the same ogy, it has been argued that since an empirical test is inthing for God as for man. principle impossible to carry out for statements about a This leaves us with a serious problem. We must show supernatural incorporeal personal deity, these statementshow the theological use of these terms is derived from cannot be regarded as straightforward factual assertions,their nontheological use. Until we do, it will be unclear but must be interpreted in some other way.just what we are saying about God in such utterances. The John Wisdom in his influential essay, “Gods,” analo-usual way of dealing with this problem is by cutting out gizes the function of theology to the following situation.the inapplicable portions of the original meaning of the Two people return to a long-neglected garden and findterms, leaving the remainder for theology. Thus, since some of the old flowers still surviving among the weeds.God is incorporeal, his speaking cannot involve produc- One suggests that some gardener has been caring for theing sounds by expelling air over vocal cords. What is left plot, and the other expresses doubt about this. On inves-is that God does something that results in the addressee tigation, it turns out that no one in the vicinity has everhaving an experience of the sort he would have if some noticed anyone working on the garden. Moreover theyhuman being were speaking to him. The nature of the discover that gardens left to their own devices often take ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY412 • 2nd edition
  • 48. RELIGIOUS LANGUAGEthis form. But the first man does not abandon his One thing that makes this problem difficult is thehypothesis. Instead he expresses his belief that someone fact that on this point religious belief differs at differentwho is not discernible by the senses comes and cares for times and places. Supernatural deities have often beenthe garden, carrying out designs he and his companion thought of as dealing in a fairly predictable way with con-do not fully grasp. At this point the first man has modi- tingencies in the natural world and human society. Thusfied his “gardener” hypothesis to the point at which it is in many primitive religions it is believed that the gods willno longer susceptible to empirical confirmation or refu- bring abundant crops or victory in battle if they aretation. No matter what is or is not discovered empirically, approached in certain ways through prayer and ritual.he will continue to hold it. In this case it seems plausible Even in as advanced a religious tradition as the Judeo-to say that he is no longer expressing a belief about actual Christian, it is believed that God has certain fixed inten-objective events. If he were, he would be able to imagine, tions that will result in prayers being answered (whenhowever inadequately, some way in which the existence or made in the right spirit and under proper conditions)nonexistence of these events would be revealed to our and will result in the final victory of the church on earth.experience. He is, rather, expressing a “picture prefer- It would seem that such expectations provide a basisence.” It is rewarding to him to think of the situation as if for empirical test. Insofar as they are fulfilled, the theol-a gardener were coming to take care of the flowers. If ogy is confirmed; insofar as they are frustrated it is dis-beliefs about God are equally refractory to empirical test, proved. However, things are not that simple. Even init would seem to follow that they too must be interpreted primitive communities such tests are rarely allowed to beotherwise than as straightforward matters of fact. (Wis- decisive; the empirical implications are hedged arounddom, however, does not commit himself to this conclu- with a variety of escape clauses. If the ritual dances aresion.) held and still the crops fail, there are several alternatives to abandoning traditional beliefs about the gods. Perhaps In considering the “verificationist” challenge to the- there was an unnoticed slip somewhere in the ritual; per-ology, we must scrutinize both premises of the argument: haps devils were conducting counterrituals. More sophis-(1) theological statements are not susceptible to empiri- ticated explanations are employed in the more advancedcal test; (2) if they are not empirically testable they can- religions. For example, God will answer prayers, but onlynot be construed as factual assertions that can be assessed when doing so would be for the true good of the suppli-as true or false. cant. Moreover, as science develops, religion comes to beARE THEY EMPIRICALLY TESTABLE? The question of more concerned with the personal life of the worshiperwhether theological statements are subject to empirical and less concerned with prediction and control of thetest is quite complicated. If we rule out mystical experi- course of events. Among religious intellectuals today suchence as a means of observation, then it is clear that state- predictions as are still made are clearly not testable inments about God cannot be tested directly. But science is practice, because of their lack of specificity (“all thingsfull of hypotheses about unobservable entities—electro- will work together for the good for those who love God”),magnetic fields, social structures, instincts—which verifi- their enormous scope (“everything in the world con-cationists accept as meaningful because they can be tested tributes to the development of moral personality”), orindirectly. That is, from these hypotheses we can draw their inaccessibility (“after death we shall see God face toimplications that can themselves be tested by observa- face”). Nevertheless, it seems that within religion theretion. The question is whether directly testable conse- are strong barriers to completely divorcing belief in Godquences can be drawn from theological statements. We from the expectation of one event rather than another;can phrase this question as follows: Would we expect any and so long as there is some connection of belief withpossible observations to differ according to whether there testable predictions, however tenuous, it would be a mis-is or is not a God? It would clearly be unreasonable to take to think of religious statements as absolutely unveri-require of the theologian that he specify a set of observa- fiable in principle.tions that would conclusively prove or disprove his asser-tions. Few, if any, scientific hypotheses could meet that ARE THEY ASSERTIONS OF FACT? As to whether arequirement. The most that could reasonably be statement that cannot be empirically tested must not bedemanded is that he specify some observable states of construed as an assertion of fact, a theologian might wellaffairs that would count for or against his assertions. challenge the application of the verifiability theory to the- ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 413
  • 49. RELIGIOUS LANGUAGEology. If God is supernatural, we should not expect his (1) expressions of feelings of various sorts; (2) symbolicbehavior to be governed by any laws or regularities we presentations of a variety of vital aspects of experience,could hope to discover. But then we could never be cer- from natural facts to moral ideals; (3) integral elements intain that, for example, the statement that God loves his ritualistic worship; (4) a unique kind of “mythical” orcreatures would ever imply that a war should have one “symbolic” expression, not reducible to any other use ofoutcome rather than another. This would mean that, language.according to the verifiability theory, it would be impossi-ble for us to make any statements, even false ones, about EXPRESSIONS OF FEELING. Theological utterancessuch a being. But a theory that would prevent us from have been interpreted as expressions of feelings that ariserecognizing the existence of a certain kind of entity, if it in connection with religious belief and activity. Thus wedid exist, would be an unreasonable theory. might think of “God made the heavens and the earth” as an expression of the sense of awe and mystery evoked bynonassertive interpretations grandeurs of nature; of “God has predestined every man to salvation or damnation” as an expression of a pervasiveBe that as it may, a number of philosophers have been so sense of helplessness; and of “God watches over the affairsimpressed by these difficulties over verifiability that they of men” as an expression of a sense of peace, security, at-have tried to construe theological utterances as some- homeness in the world. This is “poetic” expression ratherthing other than straightforward factual assertions. than expression by expletives. It is like expressing a senseAttachment to the verifiability theory is not the only of futility by saying “life’s a walking shadow” rather thanmotivation behind the development of such theories. like expressing futility by saying “Ah, me.” That is, theThere are those, like George Santayana, who, without feeling is expressed by depicting a situation that mightholding that theological sentences are factually meaning- naturally evoke it; a sense of security, for instance, isless, are convinced that as factual assertions they are false, evoked by some powerful person looking after one.but still are unwilling to abandon traditional religiousdiscourse. They feel that somehow it has a valuable func- SYMBOLIC PRESENTATIONS. Symbolic interpretationstion in human life, and in order to preserve it they are of religious doctrines have been common for a long time.forced to reinterpret it so that the unwarranted factual The story of Noah and the Flood has been regarded byclaims are expunged. Still another motivation is the hope many Christian thinkers not as an account of actual his-that this will contribute to the resolution of the problem torical occurrences, but rather as a symbolic way of pre-mentioned earlier, that of specifying the way predicates senting certain religiously important points—that Godare used when they are applied to God. As we saw, will punish the wicked, but will also, under certain condi-attempts to give an illuminating definition of theological tions, show mercy. Many of the traditional ways of speak-predicates have not been wholly successful, and this can ing about God have to be taken as symbolic. God cannotbe taken to indicate that a different sort of approach is literally be a shepherd or a rock. The shepherd functionsneeded. as a symbol of providence and the rock as a symbol for One such line of investigation takes sentences as its God’s role as a refuge and protection in time of trouble. Aunits rather than words. It focuses on the kind of linguis- symbol in this sense is some (relatively) concrete object,tic act performed when theological sentences are uttered, situation, or activity that can be taken to stand for therather than on the meaning of words in theological con- ultimate object of discourse through some kind of asso-texts. Instead of asking what “forgives” means when ciation, usually on the basis of similarity. We speak sym-applied to God, we ask what linguistic action is per- bolically when what we literally refer to is something thatformed when one uses the sentence “God forgives the sins functions as a symbol.of those who truly turn unto him.” It is this sort of ques- In the traditional use of symbolic interpretation it is,tion one is asking when one wonders whether theological necessarily, only a part of theological discourse that issentences make factual assertions and, if not, what they taken as symbolic. For if we are to hold that the symbolicare used to do. If we could answer this question we would utterances are symbolizing facts about God, we will havehave made sufficiently clear how words are being used in to have some way of saying what those facts are; and wetheological sentences without having to define special cannot make that specification in symbolic terms, onsenses for constituent words. pain of an infinite regress. But we are now considering Nonassertive interpretations can be divided into four views according to which all theological discourse is sym-groups. Statements about God have been interpreted as bolic, which means that if we are to say what is being ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY414 • 2nd edition
  • 50. RELIGIOUS LANGUAGEsymbolized it will have to be something in the natural by citing the reply of an intellectually sophisticated high-world that can be specified in nontheological terms. The church Anglican to a question from an agnostic friend.most common version of such a view is that theological The question was, “How can you go to church and say allutterances are symbolic presentations of moral ideals, those things in the creed?” The reply: “I don’t say them; Iattitudes, or values. This position has been set forth most sing them.” In the view under consideration, the corpo-fully and persuasively by George Santayana, and in a rate practice of worship is the native soil from which talkmore up-to-date form by R. B. Braithwaite. According to about God springs. Talk about the attributes, doings, andSantayana every religious doctrine involves two compo- intentions of a supernatural personal being has meaningnents: a kernel of moral or valuational insight, and a as a part of the practice of worship and is puzzling onlypoetic or pictorial rendering of it. Thus the doctrine that when it is separated from that context. If we think of anthe physical universe is the creation of a supremely good utterance like “God made the heavens and the earth” aspersonal deity is a pictorial rendering of the insight that the expression of a belief about the way things in facteverything in the world is potentially usable for the originated and then wonder whether it is true or false, weenrichment of human life. The Christian story of the will be at a loss. To understand it we have to put it backincarnation, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus into the setting where it (or rather a second-person cor-Christ is a way of making the point that self-sacrifice for relate, such as “Thou, who hast made the heavens and theothers is of supreme moral value. It is worthwhile earth”) does its work. In that setting, these words are notembodying these moral insights in theological doctrine being used to explain anything, but to do something quitebecause this vivid presentation, together with the system- different.atic cultivation of feelings and attitudes that accompanies Unfortunately, proponents of this view have neverit, provides a more effective way of getting across the been very clear about what this “something different” is.insights than would a bald statement. The clearest suggestion they give is that the talk about The way in which interpretations of the first two God serves to provide an imaginative framework for thekinds throw light on the theological use of predicates is conduct of worship. It articulates one’s sense that some-analogous to the way in which one explicates the use of thing important is going on, and it helps to indicate thewords in poetic metaphors. If we consider the metaphor appropriateness of one response rather than another. Inin “sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care,” it is clear speaking of the sacrament of communion as the reenact-that “knit” is not used simply to refer to a certain kind of ment of the self-sacrifice of an omnipotent personal deityphysical operation. This utterance has quite different who took on human form, and in conceiving of it as akinds of implications from “she knit me a sweater,” in cleansing and renewing incorporation of the substance of such a deity, one provides for the activity a pictorialwhich knit does have its usual sense. In the metaphoric framework that records and nurtures the felt solemnity ofstatement, knit is used in its usual sense to depict a certain the occasion and the attitudes and aspirations kindled bykind of situation that, as a whole, is presented as an ana- the ceremony. This position presupposes, contrary to thelogue of the effect of sleep on care. The only way of effec- usual view, that ritual worship has an autonomous value,tively getting at the function of the word knit is by seeing apart from any theological foundation. It is generally sup-how the whole phrase “knits up the raveled sleeve” is used posed that a given ritual has a point only if certain theo-to say something indirectly about sleep. logical doctrines are objectively true. But in the ritualistic In the first two of the four kinds of nonassertive interpretation, theological doctrines are not regarded asinterpretation we are examining, theological statements statements about which questions of truth or falsity areare essentially metaphors. And if they are correctly so properly raised. Since these doctrines depend for theirregarded, we get nowhere if we extract the word made significance on the ritual, it is supposed that the ritual hasfrom the sentence “God made the heavens and the earth” some intrinsic value in forming and giving expression toand try to say what it means by itself. What we have to do valuable sentiments, feelings, and take the picture presented by the whole sentence andsee how it functions as a way of expressing a feeling of MYTHS. Ernst Cassirer has developed the notion that thesecurity, or as a way of presenting the insight that every- basis of religious discourse lies in a unique “symbolicthing in the world can be used to enrich human life. form” that he terms “mythical.” He maintains that it is found in purest form in the myths of primitive peoplesRITUALISTIC INTERPRETATION. The ritualistic inter- and is based on a way of perceiving and thinking aboutpretation of theological discourse can best be introduced the world that is radically different from our accustomed ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 415
  • 51. RELIGIOUS LANGUAGEmode. In the “mythical consciousness” there is no sharp In recent years two interesting attempts have beendistinction between the subjective and the objective. No made to develop this position further. W. T. Stace, in hisclear line is drawn between symbol and object, between book Time and Eternity (1952), considers the chief func-wish and fulfillment, between perception and fantasy. tion of religious language to be the evocation of mysticalAgain, no sharp distinction is made between the object experience, or faint echoes thereof. This seems at first toitself and the emotional reaction it evokes; emotional be a subjectivist account, with the deity omitted, but, asresponse is taken to be an integral part of the environ- Stace correctly points out, it is an axiom in the mysticalment. As a result none of our familiar standards of truth tradition that no difference can be found in mysticalor objectivity are applicable. What is most real is what experience between subject and object, and on thesearouses the greatest intensity of emotional response and, grounds Stace refuses to make the distinction. Althoughparticularly, what is felt as most sacred. (The sacred-pro- Stace goes along with the mystical tradition in regardingfane distinction is the fundamental contrast.) The myth- mystical experience as ineffable, he departs from this offi-ical consciousness carries its own special organizations of cial position to the extent of giving some indications ofspace and time. For example, there is no distinction made the aspects of this experience that different theologicalbetween a position and what occupies it; every spatial utterances evoke. “God is truth” evokes the sense of reve-position is endowed with a qualitative character and latoriness, “God is infinite” the sense of all-inclusiveness,exerts influence as such. “God is love” the blissful, rapturous character of the expe- It is the view of Cassirer, and of followers such as rience, and “God is one” the absolute unity of the experi-Susanne Langer, that sophisticated theology represents an ence and the sense of the dissolution of all distinctions.uneasy compromise between mythical and scientific Paul Tillich, although not squarely in the mysticalmodes of thought, and as such cannot be understood tradition, is faced with similar problems in the interpre-without seeing how it has developed from its origins. It is tation of religious language. He holds that theologicalbasically a mythical view of the world, given a “secondary doctrines “symbolize” an ultimate reality, “being-itself,”elaboration” in a vain attempt to make it acceptable to the about which nothing can be said literally except that it isrationalistic consciousness; judged by rationalistic stan- metaphysically ultimate. In attempting to clarify thedards it is not only groundless, but meaningless. function of religious language, Tillich develops the Mysticism. Philosophers and theologians in the mys- notion that it is an expression of “ultimate concern,” atical tradition have put forward versions of this fourth complex of devotion, commitment, and orientation,kind of interpretation that do not regard theology as a focused on something nonultimate—a human being, amanifestation of cultural lag. To the mystic the only way nation, or a supernatural deity. Religious statements,to communicate with God is through mystical experi- which literally refer to such relatively concrete focuses ofence, and this experience reveals God to be an ineffable ultimate concern, express the sense of the sacredness suchunity. He can be directly intuited in mystical experience, objects have as “manifestations” of being-itself. But justbut since there are no distinctions within the absolute what it is for such an object to be taken as a “manifesta-unity of his being, and since any statement we can make tion” or “symbol” of being-itself, Tillich never makespredicates of him one thing rather than another, for clear.example, wisdom as distinguishable from power, no The basic weakness in these mythical and mysticalstatement can be true of him. The most we can do in lan- interpretations is the failure to present any clear hypoth-guage is to direct our hearers to the mode of experience esis concerning the function of religious language. Eventhat constitutes the sole means of access. Proponents of Cassirer’s ideas on “mythical thought” have never beenthis view sometimes speak of theological language as developed to the point of clarifying what contemporary“symbolic,” but this differs from our second type of the- religious believers mean when they talk about God. Theory in that here there is no way to make explicit what it is other positions are more intelligible, and they all basethat the theological utterances symbolize, and it is there- themselves on important aspects of the use of language infore questionable whether we should use the term symbol. religion. But it seems that each, by inflating its chosenA symbol is always a symbol of something. In fact it is dif- aspect to sole authority, has killed the goose that lays theficult to make clear just what, on this view, religious utter- golden eggs. There is no doubt that in talking about God,ances are supposed to be doing. They are said to “point religious people express feelings of various sorts, presentto,” “adumbrate,” or “indicate” the ineffable divine reality, moral ideals, and articulate what is going on in ritual. Butbut all too often these expressions remain uninterpreted. it is not at all clear that they would be using this kind of ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY416 • 2nd edition
  • 52. RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE [ ADDENDUM ]language if they were not convinced of the truth of the Mascall, Existence and Analogy (London, 1949). Recentstatements they make. Why should I express a feeling of discussions by practitioners of analytical philosophy are to be found in Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre, eds., Newsecurity by saying “God made the heavens and the earth” Essays in Philosophical Theology (New York: Macmillan,unless I believe, or at least have some tendency to believe, 1964), and in Basil Mitchell, ed., Faith and Logic (London:that as a matter of objective fact the physical universe Allen and Unwin, 1957). See also Alasdair MacIntyre, “Theowes its existence to the creative activity of a supernatu- Logical Status of Religious Belief,” in Metaphysical Beliefsral personal deity? Still more, why should I take on the (London: SCM Press, 1957); John Wisdom, “Gods,” in Essays in Logic and Language, edited by Antony Flew, first seriescomplex of attitudes and activities that goes along with (Oxford, 1951); C. B. Martin, Religious Belief (Ithaca, NY:this assertion unless I believe it to be true? Cornell University Press, 1959); and I. T. Ramsey, Religious Language (London: SCM Press, 1957). Various kinds of The statement-making function is the cornerstone symbolic interpretations of religious statements areon which all the other functions depend. And if one is presented in George Santayana, Reason in Religion (Newconvinced that theological statements are either false or York: Scribners, 1905); R. B. Braithwaite, An Empiricist’smeaningless and still wants to hold to traditional reli- View of the Nature of Religious Belief (Cambridge, U.K.,gious formulations, one may propose a reinterpretation of 1955); W. M. Urban, Language and Reality (New York, 1939); Edwin Bevan, Symbolism and Belief (Boston: Beacontheological utterances as expressions of feeling or sym- Press, 1957); and Philip Wheelwright, The Burning Fountainbolizations of natural facts. But a proposal for adopting a (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1954). Ernstcertain interpretation must be distinguished from a claim Cassirer’s views on mythical language are set forth mostthat the proposed interpretation correctly reflects the way completely in Vol. II of Philosophie der symbolischen Formen, 3 vols. (Berlin: Cassirer, 1923, 1925, 1929), translated as Thedoctrines are commonly understood. Philosophy of Symbolic Forms by Ralph Manheim (New It would seem that talk about God is much more Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1952, 1955, 1957); and incomplex than is recognized by any of the existing theo- more concentrated form in Sprache und Mythos (Leipzig: Teubner, 1925), translated as Language and Myth by S. K.ries. The brief discussion given above of empirically Langer (New York: Harper, 1946). For other versions of thetestable implications illustrates this point. Theological view that religious language constitutes an autonomoussentences perform a great many closely interrelated lin- mode of discourse, see W. T. Stace’s Time and Eternityguistic functions. In saying “God, who created the world, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952) and Paulwatches over the affairs of men,” the believer is commit- Tillich’s Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951–1963) and Dynamics of Faith (New York:ting himself to a certain general view of the ultimate basis Harper, 1957).of the world, giving voice to certain, perhaps very indefi-nitely specified, expectations as to how things will ulti- William P. Alston (1967)mately turn out, expressing a basic sense of security inlife, committing himself to approach God in prayer andritual in one way rather than another. And these func- religious languagetions are intimately dependent on each other. What isneeded is a description of the relationships among these [addendum]functions, one sufficiently complex to match the com- Two significant contributions to recent discussions ofplexity of the subject matter. religious language are offered by Janet Soskice andSee also Braithwaite, Richard Bevan; Cassirer, Ernst; Mys- William P. Alston. In Metaphor and Religious Language ticism, History of; Philosophy of Religion, Problems of; (1985) Soskice offers as a working definition “metaphor is Propositions, Judgments, Sentences, and Statements; that figure of speech whereby we speak about one thing Santayana, George; Stace, Walter Terence; Subject and in terms which are seen to be suggestive of another” Predicate; Tillich, Paul; Verifiability Principle; Wisdom, (p.15). The minimum unit in which a metaphor is estab- (Arthur) John Terence Dibben. lished is semantic. A satisfactory theory of metaphors “should regard metaphors neither as a simple substitu- tion for literal speech nor as strictly emotive. MetaphorsBibliography should be treated as fully cognitive and capable of sayingSt. Thomas Aquinas’s historically important discussion of the that which may be said in no other way. It should explain “analogical” character of theological terms is found in how metaphor gives us “two ideas for one,” yet do so Question XIII of Part I of the Summa Theologiae. For further discussions in the Thomist tradition see Cajetan, without lapsing into a comparison theory” (p.44). The Analogy of Names, translated by E. A. Bushinski and H. Noncognitive accounts of metaphor are rejected because J. Koren (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University, 1953), and E. L. “we cannot conceive of emotive ‘import’ apart from a ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 417
  • 53. RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE [ ADDENDUM ]cognitive content which elicits it” (p. 27). The “two ideas ing the golden is defeasible, certainty about it is unavail-for one” feature involves a metaphor having a “unity of able, and we may have to revise our concept thereof. Butsubject matter” that “draws upon two (or more) sets of it is not beyond literal description. Further, God can beassociations, … characteristically, by involving the con- misdescribed (e.g., “God is a cantaloupe”), which evensideration of a model or models” (p. 49). A model is “an the most deluded of empiricist positivists presumablyobject or a state of affairs … viewed in terms of its resem- will recognize as false. But then what, in principle, pre-blance, real or hypothetical, to some other object or state cludes God from being correctly described?of affairs” (p. 100). William P. Alston’s major essays concerning religious Models come in two types: paramorphic (the source language are collected in Divine Nature and Human Lan-and subject differ, as in billiard ball movement serving as guage (1989). In “Irreducible Metaphors in Theology” hea model for the properties of gases); or homeomorphic, says that “in the typical metaphorical statement thewhere the subject is the source (e.g., a dummy used to speaker is ‘building on’ the relevant meaning of the pred-teach lifesaving skills). Models, in both theology and sci- icate term in two ways … he is presenting the thing toence, are essential to theories because they carry their which the term literally applies as a model of the subjectexplanatory force. “The fertility of a theory lies in its abil- [and] … he has in mind one or more resemblancesity to suggest possibilities of explanation which, while not between model and subject and he abstracts from theseinconsistent with, are more than simply the logical exten- resemblances what he means to be attributing to the sub-sions of mathematical formulas … this suggestive capac- ject” (1989, p. 23). The resemblance may be either generality … constitutes the fruitfulness of a theory, and gives or specific. Everything resembles everything else in somethe theory the predictive nature which is its raison d’etre” way. Any metaphor based on this fact corresponds to a lit-(p. 114). We do not describe God but point to God eral way of expressing the similarity. Regardingthrough effects, and beyond them to him. We refer with- metaphors intended to express truths, he writes: “Thoughout defining. “This is the fine edge at which negative the- irreducible metaphors seem to promise a way of combin-ology and positive theology meet, for the apophatic ing the denial of predication in theology with the preser-insight that we say nothing of God, but only point to Him vation of significant theological truth claims, this fair… this separation of referring and defining is at the very promise dissipates on scrutiny like mist before the morn-heart of metaphorical speaking.…” (p. 140). ing sun. Either the panmetaphoricist abandons the aspi- Nothing in Soskice’s account of metaphor entails ration to significant truth claims or he revokes the ban onthat language about God must be nonliteral. The claim literal predication” (p. 37).All language about God is metaphorical is not metaphori- “Can We Speak Literally of God?” considers predi-cal. The idea that no metaphor can be translated into or cates that apply to personal agents (“P-predicates”) inreplaced by literal terms is false. Consider Soskice’s exam- their application to God. These include mental andple of an expression of hope that a soldier will be par- action predicates. These have been understood on a pri-doned eliciting, “That’s blowing on cold coals.” “There’s vate paradigm model (one knows what “depression”no chance of that” is a literal translation. ”God is a rock” means by being depressed) and functionally (“beingseems replaceable by “God is utterly reliable.” If it is not, depressed” refers to a state that functions efficaciously inthis is a matter of the associations of “rock” in biblical and a causal system to yield a distinctive range of behavior).theistic literature being multiple. It does not follow that The idea of basic actions that involve no bodily move-any of the things that “rock” suggests are nonliteral. It just ments, and of nonbasic actions that involve only mentalsuggests that there are a variety of possibilities, more per- actions that bring about effects, are both intelligible andhaps than we can list, each of which may be perfectly applicable to incorporeal beings. “Literal” does not meanexpressible without remainder in literal fashion. “empirical.” A basic assumption is that no literal description can “Functionalism and Theological Language” andbe true of God. As is typical, we are referred to certain “Divine and Human Action” consider functionalideas: We cannot comprehend (know all there is to know) accounts of mental concepts to argue that these conceptsabout God; descriptions of God based on religious expe- can apply to God. We can “form the conception of a beingrience are defeasible; certainty about claims concerning (a ‘system’) in which some factors depend on their rela-God is unattainable; and it is always possible that we will tions to others for being what they are, even though therehave to modify our concept of God. But there are an infi- are no temporally successive processes for formation ofnite number of truths concerning a golden retriever, see- any subjection to laws. More specifically, we are to think ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY418 • 2nd edition
  • 54. RELIGIOUS PLURALISMof God as realizing a complex structure of attitudes, Bibliographyknowledge, tendencies, executive intentions, and voli- Alston, William P. Divine Nature and Human Language: Essaystions in the ‘eternal now’ …” (p. 99). The stability of this in Philosophical Theology. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.system is to be understood, not by way of there being laws Alston, William P. Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning.that hold regarding it, but by way of essential properties Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.of the system. But this gives us only a description of God Soskice, Janet M. Metaphor and Religious Language. Oxford:as a system of items that bear various dependence or Oxford University Press, 1985.causal relationships, not of a personal agent. Insofar as Keith E. Yandell (2005)the relevant concepts are strictly functionalist, they donot entail even consciousness. When we turn to religiousdiscourse about God, the functionalist account is notnearly enough: “For the religious life, we need to go religious pluralismbeyond that in ways that launch us into the still not suffi-ciently charted seas of the figurative and the symbolic” (p. The fact that there is a plurality of religions is significant103). in different ways from different points of view. From a skeptical point of view their different and often incom- “Referring to God” distinguishes between direct ref- patible beliefs confirm the understanding of religion aserence and reference by description. Reference by delusion. Thus, Bertrand Russell wrote that “It is evidentdescription offers a description that is true only of the as a matter of logic that, since [the great religions of thereferent; direct reference names an object of one’s experi- world] disagree, not more than one of them can be true”ence. Direct reference to God can occur only if someone (1957, xi). From the point of view of an exclusive andexperiences God (Alston takes it that some people do). unqualified commitment to any one religion the fact ofOthers who do not themselves experience God can then religious plurality is readily coped with by holding that allrefer to the being that others have referred to; reference religions other than one’s own are false, or false insofar asthus spreads throughout a religious community. Direct their belief systems differ from one’s own. But from areference is more basic than descriptive, because if one point of view that sees religion as a worldwide phenome-refers to a being both descriptively and directly, and one non that is not to be dismissed in toto as delusion but aslearns that the description is false of the being directly the human response to a divine/transcendent/ultimatereferred to, it is the latter that determines what was the reality, the fact of plurality poses a major philosophicalactual object of reference. Nonetheless, Alston admits problem. On the one hand, the “great world religions”that “reference could always take place via a description seem—to many impartial observers, at any rate—to affect(p. 107). A consequence is that it is possible that someone human life for both good and ill to more or less the samewho thinks of God as an omnipotent, omniscient spirit, extent. But on the other hand their respective belief sys-and one who thinks of God as an impersonal force, may tems, although having important similarities, also includerefer to the same being. Alston says that it may be that starkly incompatible elements. According to some theboth are “worshiping the one true God” (p. 116). If so, Real (a term at home in the Judeo-Christian tradition andworship does not require much by way of actual knowl- corresponding to the Sanskrit sat and the Arabic al-Haqq)edge of God. is personal but according to others not personal. And There was never any reason to think that a causal within each group of religions there are wide differences.theory of reference wedded to a functionalist account of Is the ultimate Person the Christian Trinity or theP-predicates would yield significantly positive results Qur$anic Allah, or the Adonai of Judaism, or Vishnu, orregarding description of God. It seems fair to say that in Shiva? Is the nonpersonal Ultimate the Brahman of advaitic Hinduism, or the Dao, or the Dharmakaya orspite of the sophisticated and helpful discussions pro- Void or Nirvaña of the Buddhist traditions? And howvided by Soskice and Alston, accounts of religious lan- could the Real be all of these at once? The logic of reli-guage that are philosophically articulate and allow for gious difference here is in fact very complex, as is shownseriously realistic accounts in theology remain more mat- by William Christian’s analysis (1987).ters on the agenda than they are accomplishments of cur-rent work in the field. The problem is particularly acute for a major form of religious apologetic that became prominent in the 1980sSee also Alston, William P.; Metaphor; Subject and Pred- and 1990s. This holds that the basic empiricist principle icate. that it is rational, in the absence of specific overriding ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY 2nd edition • 419
  • 55. RELIGIOUS PLURALISMconsiderations, to base beliefs on experience should be knower differs from religion to religion. From this pointapplied impartially to all forms of putatively cognitive of view the fact of religious diversity does not constituteexperience, including religious experience—unless, a challenge to the experiential apologetic but rather aagain, there are specific overriding considerations to the series of examples of its valid application.contrary. This has been argued directly by William Alston Other philosophical responses to the fact of religious(1991) and others and indirectly by Alvin Plantinga (in plurality, not specifically related to the experiential apolo-Plantinga and Wolterstorff 1983), whose defense of the getic, include the “perennial philosophy” (e.g. Schuonrationality of holding “properly basic” religious beliefs 1975, Smith 1976), which distinguishes between thepresupposes religious experience as their ground. essence (or esoteric core) of religion and its accidental (or Most of the philosophers who employ this kind of exoteric) historical forms. In their esoteric essence all theapologetic have applied it only to specifically Christian great traditions converge in a transcendental unity, thebeliefs. But it is evident that precisely the same argument Absolute Unity that is called God. Experientially, this seesis available for the belief systems of other religions. If the mystics of the different religions as participating in anChristian religious experience renders it epistemically identical experience, although they articulate it in the dif-justifiable (subject to the possibility of specific reasons to ferent ways provided by their traditions. This view isthe contrary) to hold Christian beliefs, then Buddhist opposed by those (e.g., Katz 1978) who hold that all expe-religious experience renders it epistemically justifiable, rience is concept laden and that mystical experiencewith the same qualification, to hold Buddhist beliefs, accordingly takes different forms within the different tra-Muslim religious experience to hold Muslim beliefs, and on. Thus, anyone who maintains that the Christian There is also the view of John Cobb (in Kellenbergerbelief system is true, but that the belief systems of Bud- 1993) that the religions are directed toward different ulti-dhists, Muslims, and so on are false insofar as they differ mates, particularly the personal reality worshiped in thefrom it, has implicitly reversed the original apologetic theistic religions and the nonpersonal process of the uni-and is presenting Christian religious experience as the verse experienced in Buddhism. Yet other constructivesole exception to the general rule that religious experi- suggestions include those of Joseph Runzo (1986), Jamesence gives rise to false beliefs! Kellenberger (1989), and the authors included in the Alston, recognizing the challenge posed by the fact of symposium Inter-Religious Models and Criteria (Kellen-religious diversity to the experiential apologetic, has berger 1993).responded by saying that in this situation it is proper for See also Philosophy of Religion; Philosophy of Religion,the Christian to continue within her own belief system, History of; Philosophy of Religion, Problems of; Reli-despite the existence of other equally well-justified alter- gious Experience; Russell, Bertrand Arthur William;natives, while, however, she seeks “a way to show in a non- Thomas Aquinas, St.circular way which of the contenders is correct” (1991, p.278). An alternative use of the experiential apologetic Bibliography Alston, W. P. Perceiving God. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Universityrejects the assumption that only one of the different reli- Press, 1991.gious belief systems can be true. This approach (Hick Basinger, David. Religious Diversity: A Philosophical Assessment.1989) distinguishes between, on the one hand, the ulti- Burlington: Ashgate, 2002.mate religious reality, the Real, beyond the scope of our Christian, W. A. Doctrines of Religious Communities. New(other than purely formal) human conceptualities, and, Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.on the other hand, the range of ways in which that reality Godlove, T. F. Religion, Interpretation, and Diversity of Belief. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, humanly conceived, and therefore humanly experi- Griffiths, Paul. Problems of Religious Diversity. Oxford:enced, and therefore humanly responded to within the Blackwell, 2001.different religiocultural ways of being human. The episte- Hick, J. An Interpretation of Religion. New Haven, CT: Yalemology operating here is one that, in the Kantian tradi- University Press, 1989.tion, recognizes an important contribution by the Katz, S. T., ed. Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis. London: Sheldon Press, 1978.perceiver to the form a reality is perceived to have. As Kellenberger, J. God: Relationships with and without God. NewThomas Aquinas wrote, “Things known are in the knower York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.according to the mode of the knower” (Summa Theolo- Kellenberger, J., ed. Inter-Religious Models and Criteria. Newgiae, II/II, 1, 2). And in religious knowing the mode of the York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY420 • 2nd edition