Critical realists would have us believe that representations have a connection to the world, that of truth or reference for example, which is independent of their usefulness to us. They would have us believe further that knowledge about this connection serves to put religion and science in their proper places with respect to one another. This essay raises pragmatic objections to these belief's.
Alvin Plantinga titles the closing chapter of his book Warrant and Proper Function "Is Naturalism Irrational?" He answers that it is. More precisely, he claims that anyone who is aware of the epistemological argument that he presents in this chapter has an unavoidable reason to doubt the combination of naturalism (according to which there is no God as conceived of in traditional theism) and evolutionary theory (according to which our cognitive capabilities are the products of blind processes operating on genetic (...) variations). But then, he says, anyone who still accepts these propositions is irrational because it is irrational to accept a belief for which one knows there are unavoidable reasons to doubt. (shrink)
Pragmatism and critical realism are different vocabularies for talking about the cognitive value of religion and science. Each can be, and has been, used to make the case for cognitive parity between religious and scientific discourse. Critical realism presupposes a particular form of cognitive psychology that entails general skepticism about the external world and forecloses scientific inquiry in the name of a preconceived idea of what the nature of human cognition must be. Thus, of the two, pragmatism is the better (...) vocabulary for fostering mutual understanding between religion and science. (shrink)
Nancey Murphy claims that a shift in “thinking strategy” from modern to postmodern modes of thought makes it easier to exhibit the intellectual respectability of theology vis‐à‐vis the sciences. Her case for this proposition depends on modernist interests, most notably in systematizing the sciences for reasons that have their origin in Plato's divided line.
While reading, and thinking about how to respond to, Willem Drees’s Religion, Science and Naturalism, I was reminded of an earlier dispute between George Santayana and John Dewey about, among other things, how to incorporate religion into a naturalistic world view. Dewey described Santayana’s naturalism as "broken backed" because of his dualistic distinction between the mechanism of nature and the life of the mind and his relegation of religion to the latter, epiphenomenal realm.
The philosopher Michael Ruse accounts for the difference between hypothetical and categorical imperatives, and thus the origin of distinctively moral obligations like that of altruism, in genetic terms. This is part of an attempt to develop a philosophy that takes Darwin seriously by substituting respectable scientific entities, specifically those of evolutionary biology, for suspect theological or philosophical ones, like God or the transcendental ego, as a basis for addressing philosophical questions. Pragmatists take Darwin seriously, but in a very different way (...) from that proposed by Ruse. Darwin introduced a "logic" into the study of living things-including human beings, the human mind, and culture-that leads philosophers to ask new and different questions about morality rather than trying to supply new answers to the same old questions. This essay contrasts these two different ways of taking Darwin seriously for purposes of philosophy and claims certain advantages for the pragmatist way over Ruse's. (shrink)
William Dean is a tireless proponent of a public role for religion in American society, most recently in his American Academy of Religion award winning book The Religious Critic in American Culture . He writes there about the importance of, and need for, both a common American spiritual culture and public intellectuals who would understand, criticize, and innovatively rework that shared American religion. Dean represents a metaphysical strand of American pragmatism. His thought is rooted in William James’s radical empiricism, Bernard (...) Meland’s and Bernard Loomer’s empirical theology, and Alfred North Whitehead’s process metaphysics. He takes seriously what I will call the problem of cosmic estrangement. The American public religion that he advocates, among other things, is supposed to resolve that problem. Its theoretical core is Dean’s version of Whiteheadian panpsychism, which he calls ontological conventionalism. (shrink)
I will, first, describe my brand of pragmatism. Then, second, I will use it to discuss two beliefs that have played an important role in American religious history, the belief that America is a Christian nation and the belief in religious freedom.
Sheila Davaney’s Pragmatic Historicism provides yet another opportunity for us to discuss disagreements between two kinds of pragmatism. One, which I espouse, is a non-metaphysical pragmatism. It is rooted in James’s and Dewey’s appropriation of Darwinian biology for philosophical purposes and, more recently, Donald Davidson’s philosophy of language. Richard Rorty is its most influential contemporary spokesman. The other is a metaphysical pragmatism. It is rooted in James’s radical empiricism and Whitehead’s process philosophy. In the Highlands Institute, William Dean and now (...) Davaney, among others, advocate versions of metaphysical pragmatism. (shrink)
John Dewey's A Common Faith is an exercise in cultural innovation. In those lectures Dewey re-works some of the key words from traditional Christianity into vocabulary for what amounts to a new, humanistic, religion. Faith is made to be a matter of devotion to ideals that are imaginatively projected out of goods currently enjoyed. Divinity becomes a function, that of uniting ideals with one another and with actual conditions.
We Americans put a lot of stock in ingenuity. We admire people who come up with better mousetraps or with better ways to predict economic cycles. William James, in his early essay "Great Men and Their Environment," was the first American pragmatist to suggest that there are interesting analogies between the roles that ingenious people play in social change and bearers of genetic variations play in biological evolution.(1) He proposed that the categories in terms of which we conduct various cultural (...) activities start as idiosyncratic "brainstorms" in the heads of individual human beings, much as Darwin theorized that species start as genetic variations in ancestral organisms. When these mental variations occur in a suitable environment, they may end as new forms of science, morality, art, or religion. Such new ideas enable their bearers to cope with the world differently, and perhaps more profitably, than their ancestors did before them. Social progress when it occurs is a function of the meliorative power of this fortuitous human creativity, not of anything preprogrammed with its own logic or method. (shrink)
The organizers of the 1992 Highlands Institute seminar were kind enough to invite me to comment as a neo-pragmatist on John E. Smith's keynote paper "Experience, God, and Classical American Philosophy." It is my pleasure to do so. I read portions of both GOD AND EXPERIENCE and THE ANALOGY OF EXPERIENCE when they were published. I was impressed then, and continue to be impressed, with Professor Smith's intellectually responsible and powerful defense of Christianity, carried out, as it was, in a (...) philosophical environment where that was not the most popular thing to do. More recently, in preparation for this event, I have profited from reading THE SPIRIT OF AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY, particularly the chapters on James and Dewey. And, I can only second his presidential call in "The New Need for a Recovery of Philosophy" for a live-and-let-live attitude amongst the cacophonous multitude of those of us who call ourselves "philosophers.". (shrink)
Pragmatism is first and foremost an intellectual self-image. It is a unique way of understanding the mental abilities that distinguish we humans from other living things on earth. The pragmatist description of our mind and its relationship to the rest of the world is a relatively new one. It has its roots in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century work of Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. These philosophers, influenced by Darwinian biology among other things, redefined the (...) human mind. (shrink)