How should we study religion?

A representative for each look

Debate in 2006 between philosophers Daniel Dennett and Richard Swinburne on the best way to study God and religions. Dennett is a naturalist philosopher. He favors ontological reality but is not a reductive materialist; he does not think that science should always impose itself on introspection and common sense. Swinburne is a religious philosopher. On the contrary, he favors the teleological approach and seeks to demonstrate the existence of God. But he is aware that he cannot summarily delete the data of science and seeks to reconcile it with his views.

You immediately understand why they can trade but never agree. Each favors an opposite direction of the double look. They consider the same thing, understand the look of the other, but both refuse that one direction dominates the other. These two looks are complementary and it is indeed sterile that one is eliminated. Does this mean that they balance each other? Not if we recognize that causality is ontological. This is Swinburne’s mistake. By situating divine causality in religion, it is in his own mind that he lodges it. The spirit is seen as a divine artifact and not a natural production. The mind seeks at all costs to see itself in the world, for this is its role, but that of Swinburne fails to observe itself in this desire. It merges with the world. Religion is a solipsism.

Putting science into God takes away his human closeness

The two-way approach, looking downward and upward on God, is an unavoidable necessity. But this back and forth involves departure and arrival. The beginning of science does contain a god, called ‘natural laws’, which is not that of religions. Science places religions on arrival. It is the opposite for religion, which places the beginning in a humanist God, of which we are the pale reflection. This immeasurable intention has created the fine workings of the world to make humanity appear. Without saying how. While science does.

Finally, to accept to put science in religion is to automatically place God at the ontological start of the world, from which the human being is separated by an eternity. It is implicitly to emancipate God from his earthly Scriptures and to restore to Him his full mystery, rid of our too human desires.


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