Herman Philipse's new book God in the Age of Science?

Just picked this up at the library today:

God in the Age of Science? is a critical examination of strategies for the philosophical defense of religious belief. The main options may be presented as the end nodes of a decision tree for religious believers. The faithful can interpret a creedal statement (e.g. “God exists”) either as a truth claim, or otherwise. If it is a truth claim, they can either be warranted to endorse it without evidence, or not. Finally, if evidence is needed, should its evidential support be assessed by the same logical criteria that we use in evaluating evidence in science, or not? Each of these options has been defended by prominent analytic philosophers of religion.

In part I Herman Philipse assesses these options and argues that the most promising for believers who want to be justified in accepting their creed in our scientific age is the Bayesian cumulative case strategy developed by Richard Swinburne. Parts II and III are devoted to an in-depth analysis of this case for theism. Using a “strategy of subsidiary arguments,” Philipse concludes (1) that theism cannot be stated meaningfully; (2) that if theism were meaningful, it would have no predictive power concerning existing evidence, so that Bayesian arguments cannot get started; and (3) that if the Bayesian cumulative case strategy did work, one should conclude that atheism is more probable than theism. Philipse provides a careful, rigorous, and original critique of theism in the world today.”

amazon link 

I’m really exited to read this one. At least in regards to  Heideggerian scholarship, Philipse is a careful and diligent scholar. I expect nothing less from his new critique of theism.



Filed under Random, Theology

4 responses to “Herman Philipse's new book God in the Age of Science?

  1. I am of two minds about this book, as I was long ago with Dawkins. When I first read Dawkins I thought what dogmatic positivism, does this still exist? Then I read the Intelligent Design people and I understood the need for scientific refutations of religious claims. But it seems that Philipse, like Dawkins, goes too far and ends up applying a scientistic reductivism which reduces all language-games or truth-régimes to the scientific régime, as understood itself in “scientistic” terms. I fear that even Philipse’s vision of science may be too simplistic, and his vision of religion even more so. I am not for relativist strategies that protect religion by giving it some sort of “epistemological immunity”, and I think that Feyerabend’s pluralism is sometimes invoked in this sense, whereas he made it clear that he did not want to make things easier for everyone religionists included but rather tougher for everyone, scientists included.
    By the way, I am grateful for references you give to the books you are reading, and you have made me discover interesting authors, and the book sounds interesting, but $60 is a bit steep for a scientistic (but perhaps I am being unfair to Philipse) critique of religion.
    For some further thoughts see:

    • Gary Williams

      Hi Terence,

      From what I have read, I don’t think you can lump Philipse into the same camp as Dawkins. In the beginning of the book Philipse explicitly says he is trying to respond to critics of New Atheism who say that Dawkin’s failed to deal with the strongest arguments for theism. So Philipse’s strategy is to engage with well-known theologians on their own terms. And I don’t think his strategy is really ultra reductionistic either. His point, from what I have read, is this: in the age of modern science, “revealed” theology cannot be taken seriously from an epistemological perspective. So the only other option is “natural” or “rational” theology, which argues for theism on the basis of evidence available to both believers and secularists. But Philipse argues in the book that such strategies also fail. Like I said, I’ve only read a little bit, but I see nothing overly “scientistic” about Philipse. All he is doing is demanding that theists provide arguments and evidence for their beliefs. And he also doesn’t ignore the reformed epistemology of Plantinga. From what I understand, he doesn’t think these reformed strategies succeed in negating the need for evidence and argument. If Philipse is critiquing theism, he does so from the perspective of the philosophy of religion, not “scientism”.

      • Gary Williams

        Also, I should add the part of what it means to live in an “age of science” is to be exposed to globalization and the diversity of religion as made available through technologies like the internet. This global exposure to diverse religions undercuts the epistemological force of revealed theology, since ALL religions make similar claims about their holy texts. Living in the modern world forces you, upon reflection, to ask “If I had been born in other country, would I still believe what I believe now?” Since you can no longer appeal to “subjective experience”, since all other religions do so as well, this forces you to appeal to natural theology. But once you get to natural theology, the playing field is open with atheism and agnosticism and you must use rational argument and evidence to back up your beliefs. And as I said, Philipse doesn’t ignore neo-Wittgensteinian Quietism either, but has some arguments against it.

  2. Mysecond comment seems never to have been posted, so here it is again:
    But the reduction lies in treating religion as a matter of belief, and as submitted to the same truth-régime as referential domains like science. Latour is quite explicit that for him, and I think for many other religious people, religion is not a question of belief at all, not a question of reference to the physical world, but one of a transformative message. You get this in the movement of demythologisation, you get it in ALL THINGS SHINING, you get it in post-Wittgensteinian philosophers of religion, hell you even get it in Zizek! It may be a minority position compared to the number of fundamentalists, but it is not negligeable. So the interest of a book refuting what many religious people consider a distortion of religion is moot. It seems this “transformative” or “performative” understanding of religion has something good and something bad too it. The bad part is that it looks suspiciously like trying to have your cake and eat it too, making seeming claims about the world and then dancing back and saying that you are in fact doing something else. In that case I am all for Dawkins, and Victor Stenger, and Philipse and bravo if he is more sophisticated. But the good part is that it preserves an important use for religious language. I don’t know about you, I am not indifferent to this language if it is used “poetically”, that is to say to express transformative experiences. But I would argue here that the religious person would have to accept that this transformative language is becoming in itself more pluralist. So the brute fact of finding that one is moved by certain words and image and rituals that are closely tied to profound experiences and insights becomes a little suspicious when it conveniently conforms to a pre-constituted faith, let us say Catholicism in Latour’s case. This is too convenient by far! I practiced tai chi for many years, and now I practice yoga, and I did a jungian analysis, where religious language came up in my dreams or in analysing them and it seemed to apply to my life, as does yoga and tai chi talk. Yet I consider myself a total atheist, and not at all a “seeker” in Charles Taylor’s sense. And I do not think I’m alone in this. So I think that there is more to religion than referential claims about the physical universe, and that fundamentalism is a reductionist approach to religion. I think maybe Philipse is reductionist in another way, in that he is taking science as resultant theory and not the practice of science as his measure of a scientific age and world view. I think that once you leave the stable boundaries of normal science you find that there are many strange ideas that go into the research process. Wolfgang Pauli was analysed by Jung and collaborated with him for many years. This collaboration was often couched in religious language given a “psychological”, that is to say existential, interpretation. Pauli was not satisfied with this, nor was Jung, and they wanted to create a unified theory that synthesised physical and (psychological, existential) religious concepts. This had real consequences for Pauli’s physical hypotheses, leading to insights that were later confirmed experimentaly, but also to silly blunders (such as refusing the idea of parity violation for example). I think this heuristic use of religious belief is more common than one might think both in the sciences and in everyday life, and I doubt that Philipse’s vision of science has room for such things. But I don’t have the book, so maybe I’m just fantasising.

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