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A pragmatic critique of three kinds of religious naturalism

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

This paper takes a critical look at a number of recent attempts to reconcile religious and scientifi c ways of thinking. Three basic programs of what I call "religious naturalism" are discussed: (1) attempts to synthesize science and religion by defending a combination of (Christian) theism and naturalism by means of the concept of emergence; (2) "demythologized" interpretations of religious statements, allegedly rendering them compatible with science (for example, in John Dewey's pragmatic naturalism or in the religious naturalism inherited from the Chicago School of liberal theology); and (3) a form of naturalism analogous to Arthur Fine's "natural ontological attitude" (NOA), debated in the philosophy of science over the past two decades. I suggest that (1) amounts to a nonreductively naturalist metaphysics, whereas (2) is a nonmetaphysical and (3) a postmetaphysical program in the philosophy of religion. It is argued, among other things, that while the concept of emergence has become increasingly relevant in the philosophy of mind and science, its place in the philosophy of religion remains obscure. Similarly, nonmetaphysical discussions of religious experiences or "the religious" à la Dewey and his followers are difficult to combine with genuinely religious views. Further, it is hard to see how postmetaphysical naturalism (NOA) could be part of a philosophically responsible program at all, because of its diffi culties in accounting for the normativity of ontological commitments. It is proposed that, instead of elaborating on these pseudo-solutions, the problem of the relation between science and religion should be subordinated to a pragmatist re-evaluation.


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