Posts tagged Roy Clouser
3 Aug 2011
I've now reached the end of Roy Clouser's book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality. Normal service will now resume, with long periods of silence punctuated by assorted trivia, pictures, videos, and other musings.
But just in case you want to read it all over again, here's an index to my posts on the respective chapters, written as one very long sentence:
- All of life is religious, because
- religious belief is belief about what is unconditionally and non-dependently real
- (and there are different types of religious belief),
- and these religious beliefs affect all of our beliefs about all of life
- (and, by the way, there are other ways of understanding how religious beliefs relate to other beliefs)
- (including the fundamentalistic approach),
- for example, our religious beliefs affect our beliefs about mathematics
- and about physics
- and about psychology
- and this whole view of reality is closely linked in with our understanding of the nature of God,
- [11-13] so we should try to build a view of reality based on a Christian view of God.
3 Aug 2011
The final chapters (11-13) of Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) present a brief overview of Dooyeweerd's philosophy, applying it in particular to society and the state. I'll try to give the gist of it here.
This "law framework theory" starts off by recognizing that reality as we experience it has many different aspects, each with its own properties and laws. Then the theory asserts that these aspects cannot be reduced to each other (so psychology is not "nothing but" physics and biology, for example). Instead, each aspect of reality is directly created by God, and depends directly on him for its existence. Here's a provisional list, which is probably best read from bottom to top:
historical [or cultural or technological]
Next the theory talks about "the natures of things" (p.260). Every thing or entity that exists functions in all of the aspects, whether actively or passively, and is subject to the laws of each aspect. So a rock functions actively in the quantitative, spatial, kinetic and physical aspects, but also functions passively in the other aspects. For example, it might be a stone in an animal's den (biotic), or used in a religious ritual (fiduciary). As such, all entities are described by type laws, defined as "laws which range across aspects determining which properties of different aspects can combine in individuals, and thus determine the types of individuals that are possible" (p.268).
In particular, each type of thing is characterised by one of the aspects (its leading aspect or qualifying aspect), which governs the properties of the thing as a whole.
This is getting a bit abstract, so let's apply it to society.
There are many different communities in society, such as businesses (characterised by the economic aspect), families (characterised by the ethical aspect), religious communities (fiducial), orchestras (aesthetic) and the state (justitial). These communities cannot be reduced to each other, because they have fundamentally different purposes, as described by their leading aspect. Each community has authority to act within that aspect (as in Abraham Kuyper's principle of "sphere sovereignty"), and this authority is derived from God and is subject to the laws God has created for that aspect. So "on this view there is no institution which can rightfully claim to have supreme authority for the whole of human life" (p.291).
So what is the state? It is not the ultimate authority, not even when that authority is given by the majority vote or is restricted by some set of individual rights that the state cannot violate.
By contrast, the law framework theory sees the state as the bearer, not the creator, of the authority it wields in enforcing justice. The will of the majority decides who shall be the bearers of that authority, but the authority itself derives from the law framework of creation and thus, ultimately, from God (p.311).
And what is the state for? It is not for regulating every detail of our lives. Instead,
The state ... has its own distinct kind of authority, an authority qualified by justice — more specifically, public justice. Its ability to carry out justice must extend to the whole of the public within its territory, of course. Nevertheless, its authority is limited to but one aspect of that public. And let me emphasize that it is precisely because justice is an aspect of all individuals and communities, that the state need not subsume them all as its parts in order to exercise its proper authority with respect to them. In other words, state authority need not be elevated above all others on the excuse that it needs totalitarian authority to ensure justice to all individuals and communities (p.296).
It is this kind of approach to reality, based on belief in a God who created the many different aspects of reality that we experience, that can give the state a clear role in wider society, without dominating society, and without being weak and ineffective in operating within its sphere of influence.
23 Jul 2011
The first part of chapter 10 of Roy Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) covers some previous material in more depth. For example, why do our beliefs about the whole of reality necessarily control our beliefs about any part of reality? The answer is basically that it is impossible even to think about any part of reality in isolation. So when we think about (say) biology, we cannot do so without presupposing some way in which biotic properties relate to other kinds of properties.
But the meat of the chapter is a fascinating discussion about the nature of God.
First, we have the view developed by Augustine, Anselm and Thomas Aquinas (the "AAA view" for short). Under this view, "God's attributes all exist necessarily, and necessarily God has them all" (p.202). This view encourages reductionism in theories: trying to explain things in one aspect of reality in terms of their dependence on some other aspect of reality, for example, explaining psychology in terms of biology and physics. It encourages reductionism
precisely by holding that certain kinds of properties and laws found in the cosmos exist necessarily and are uncreated [in the sense of not being wholly dependent on God] while others are not. For if some properties and/or laws of the cosmos are created [dependent on God] while others are not, then what could make more sense than to theorize about creaturely reality by looking for the ways its contingent properties and laws depend on those that are uncreated? Indeed, how could it be avoided? (p.212)
The problem with the AAA view is how to explain how God's attributes (say, his justice) can exist necessarily without God thereby becoming dependent on them.
For if there is even one abstract property that (on the AAA view) would have to exist independently of God and which God would have to possess to be God, then not only is that property rendered divine per se, but God is thereby debarred from that status (p.210).
Another apparently insurmountable problem is that
according to the AAA position, God's attributes (goodness, justice, or power, e.g.) exist as necessarily and are as uncreated as He is and are shared (in a lesser degree) by humans. The difficulty with this is that humans are thereby made to be (partly) divine because the qualities humans share with God would have to be as uncreated in us as they are in God (p.210).
In contrast, the view of God that Clouser advocates is one which, apparently, "to this day  has no voice whatever in philosophy of religion in western Europe and North America" (p.223), but is one which "was elaborated by the Cappadocian Fathers of the Greek Orthodox tradition, rediscovered in the west by Luther and Calvin in the sixteenth century, and championed by Karl Barth in the twentieth century" (p.203), labelled as the Cappadocian and Reformational position (the "C/R view" for short).
Under the C/R view, "everything found in the cosmos [has been] created by God" (p.213). After a survey of relevant biblical passages, Clouser concludes:
So I find the evidence to be that the Bible is not silent on whether anything is uncreated other than God, including numbers, sets, properties, relations, laws, propositions, or any of the other denizens of Plato's barnyard. None can be regarded as uncreated (p.217).
But this goes further than theory-making, because
Bible writers simply do not allow for exceptions, not even for the attributes ascribed to God Himself (p.217).
So while this view affirms that God really has both the relations to creatures and the qualities that scripture ascribes to Him, it insists that He did not have to have them to exist. Rather, they are true of Him because he freely willed them to be, and to subject Himself to laws and norms He also called into being, all so as to accomodate himself to our creaturely limitations (p.218).
Having seen how these different approaches to theory making are tied in to different views of the nature of God, and having seen that the AAA view (and its associated reductionism in theory making) is less coherent and less biblical than the C/R view, the stage is now clear to begin to construct a non-reductionist view of reality, which is the subject of the remaining three chapters.
22 Jul 2011
What makes me who I am? Is it the laws of physics, operating on the cells in my body? Or is it the pressures of society, forcing me into its mould? (Nature or nurture?)
According to Roy Clouser, in The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), psychology has often tended to choose one or the other of these answers. In terms of Dooyeweerd's aspects (see here), if psychology is the study of the sensory aspect, then psychologists have tended to reduce the sensory aspect either onto the physical and biotic aspects, or onto the social aspect. This often reflects the psychologists' beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality (their religious beliefs). Let's treat each in turn, followed by a different perspective.
1. Psychology reduced to physics and biology. Clouser describes the "behaviourist" approaches of Watson, Thorndike and Skinner, with this summary:
Common to all these theories is the total rejection of allowing into psychology anything about human mental life and experiences that is prima facie non-behavioral such as thoughts, feelings, purposes, and even perceptions (p.166).
Why might these theorists take such an approach?
The reason is their materialist perspective on reality ... that sees all reality as restricted to, or dependent on, the physical aspect. That is, it holds either: (1) there exist only physical bodies and their actions, or (2) any non-physical factors involved are entirely generated by physical bodies and their actions. (p.167).
2. Psychology reduced to sociology. Under this heading would come the theories of Adler and the earlier theories of Fromm (who later moved towards a more pantheistic view of reality).
Adler insisted that psychology is a social science. He held that the goal of psychology "is not to comprehend causal factors, as in physiology, but the direction-giving ... [social] forces and goals that guide all other psychological movements" (p.171).
3. Non-reductionist psychology. The Christian perspective on reality that Clouser presents in his book is one in which God has made creation with its various aspects, and the different aspects cannot be reduced to each other. This view of the whole of creation reflects the biblical view of human nature, in which "each human is ... seen as an essential unity, no matter how many diverse kinds of functions an individual may display in the various aspects of creation" (p.180). Importantly, "this view is at odds with the notion popular among theists that a human is not an essential unity but a duality of two entities—a soul and a body" (p.181). What such a non-reductionist theory might look like in practice will the subject of later chapters.
16 Jul 2011
We're continuing our "Casebook" in the middle of Roy Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), looking at how religious beliefs influence beliefs in particular areas. Last time it was mathematics; this time: physics.
But first, a few of my own ruminations. If in a particular area of study we are aiming to focus on a particular set of related properties that things possess, and to identify and explain the ways in which those properties relate to each other, then I suppose that our religious beliefs (our beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality) could affect what we think about the following:
- The properties themselves. If our beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality lead us to believe that certain properties that things appear to possess are merely illusions, then we're not likely to bother to study those properties in great detail. In other words, our religious beliefs could influence what we think are the legitimate boundaries for a discipline.
- The laws relating those properties. If properties appear to relate to each other according to some law, then we might not believe that to be the case if our religious beliefs contradict that. (I suppose this would only happen in the scholastic or fundamentalist ways of relating religious beliefs to other beliefs.)
- The explanations for the laws. It is not enough simply to identify the laws relating different properties. Far more important is to explain those laws. This is something that Clouser emphasises. We tend to explain laws by proposing the existence of some entity: an entity hypothesis. But what is the nature of that entity? Does it possess properties that would have relevance for other areas of study? Do my beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality allow me to believe that such an entity could exist? This was dealt with in Chapter 4 (and I think it's going to feature quite heavily in the monster-chapter 10).
- The purpose of the discipline. This point and the previous point both touch on how the discipline relates to the rest of reality. Why would I bother spending my time researching a particular area? Which particular questions are interesting to me? Why should people give their money to fund research into that area? What is important for people to do with their lives? What are human beings for? While this might not influence the details of the discipline itself, it clearly has a large effect on the broader features of the discipline and its place in society.
Anyway, back to physics. Atomic theory, to be more specific. Clouser takes us through three major theories about atoms, from the twentieth century, showing how the religious beliefs of their proponents guided them in formulating their views. Note that the differences are all of kinds (3) and (4) above, in that religious beliefs constrain the kinds of entities proposed to explain the laws (about which there was general agreement), and in that they guide the interpretation of physics as a whole.
1. The theory of Mach, who "did not believe that atoms exist", seeing them rather as "useful fictions" (p.149). He and others took so seriously the distinction between the world as it is and the world as we experience it that they "concluded that so far as we can ever know from our experience, reality is made of sensations" (p.150). This reflected Mach's own beliefs about what is fundamentally real. In his own words: "The assertion, then, is correct that the world consists only of our sensations" (p.157). In collapsing all of reality onto the sensory aspect, he was taking the same approach as that of John Stuart Mill towards mathematics, which we saw last time.
2. The theory of Einstein, who "believed that we are entitled to say there are (purely) physical objects outside our minds which cause our sensations, while Mach denied it" (p.152). In terms of Dooyeweerd's aspects (see last time), "he attributed independent reality to the logical and mathematical properties and laws" (p.152). And belief about what is independently real constitutes religious belief.
3. The theory of Heisenberg, who asserted, contrary to Mach and Einstein, "not only that elementary particles lack any sensory qualities, but that it is not even accurate to say they have being". "Instead, he holds the view that they are essentially mathematical possibilities" (p.154). "For Heisenberg [atomic theory] meant postulating micro-entities that comprise reality and that, while composed of physical energy, are essentially mathematical in nature" (p.157).
So what difference does this make? As in (4) above, religious beliefs help researchers to decide which questions are worth addressing. "For example, on Mach's view it would make no sense to attempt to confirm the existence of entities such as atoms and subatomic particles" (p.156). It would probably be fair to say that the neutrino would not have been discovered if physicists had generally held the religious belief that all of reality is purely sensory.
The great expense and effort highlights the motive which drove the physicists involved. Clearly, the motive was the belief that theories are attempts to know reality; that is, theories try to discover what exists and to know its nature. My point it that this belief presupposes a philosophical perspective which would have to accept (minimally) the logical, mathematical, spatial, physical, and sensory aspects of experience as (at least part of) the nature of reality. So whether that view was consciously adopted by those thinkers or not, it is the sort of perspective on reality that science needs. It needs, and is most benefited by, a view of reality that openly accepts its multi-faceted nature (p.157).
29 Jun 2011
What a strange question, I hear you say!
But if everyone's beliefs about everything are shaped by their own religious beliefs, as has been claimed, then that must include mathematics.
You (both of you) may recall the basic shape of the argument. Religious beliefs are beliefs about what is independently and unconditionally real (Chapter 2). And our beliefs about what is fundamental about reality will affect the kinds of hypotheses we will entertain when we are thinking about any particular area of reality, including mathematics (Chapter 4).
Here are some examples.
1. The Number-World Theory (Pythagoras, Plato, Leibniz). In this theory,
the numerals and other markings of mathematics stand for real entities in another world or dimension of reality (p.133).
In order for this to be true,
it would have to be the case that the quantitativeness of things relates to the other kinds of properties and laws true of them by being utterly independent of them all. Thus, the quantitative aspect is (at least part of) what things and their other kinds of properties depend on for existence (p.134).
The quantitative aspect as one of the aspects of our experience mentioned in Chapter 4, and is one of fifteen aspects identified by Herman Dooyeweerd. (The full list given in Clouser's book is: fiduciary, ethical, justitial, aesthetic, economic, social, linguistic, historical, logical, sensory, biotic, physical, kinetic, spatial and quantitative.)
Examples of the practical difference these religious beliefs have had on mathematics have been the resistance of the Pythagoreans to the idea of irrational numbers, and that of Leibniz to the idea of negative numbers.
There are more practical differences when we consider the intuitionists (Brouwer, Weyl, Poincaré), who make even the logical aspect to be dependent on the quantitative aspect. This forces them to deny "the existence of actual infinite sets" and therefore to "reject an entire branch of mathematics, the theory of transfinite numbers developed by Georg Cantor" (p.141).
2. John Stuart Mill, whose "theory was that numerals symbolise sensory perceptions" (p.134).
Mill defended this view of math[s] by arguing that not only the quantitative aspect, but all other aspects of our pre-theoretical experience are actually identical with its sensory aspect. That is, Mill's theory was that the nature of all reality is sensory (p.134).
This approach is similar to the number-world theory in selecting one (or two) of the aspects, and asserting that it is the non-dependent reality on which all of the other aspects depend.
3. Bertrand Russell, who took the logical aspect to be non-dependently and unconditionally real:
The logical laws, he says, are not only those to which all reality — actual or possible — must conform, but they are "the heart and immutable essence" of all things (p.144).
Thus mathematics "is nothing other than a short-cut way of doing logic" (p.135).
4. Instrumentalism, e.g., John Dewey, for whom the physical-biological aspect(s) have the non-dependent and unconditional reality:
through all his theorizing, he regards all other aspects as dependent on the physical-biological and never regards them, in turn, as dependent on anything else (p.144).
Under his theory, "humans are to be understood as essentially biological beings struggling to survive in a certain environment", and thus "all human cultural products are instruments" (p.136), helping us to survive.
Just as it is inappropriate to ask whether a hammer is true or false, it is equally inappropriate to ask that of mathematical tools. 1 + 1 = 2 is thus neither true or false, says Dewey, though it performs certain tasks well (137).
5. Belief in God, "which should lead us to the view that no aspect of creation is self-existent, nor does any generate any other since all are dependent on God alone" (p.145). Under this view of mathematics,
the abstractions we arrive at, numbers, sets, etc., will never be seen as independently existing realities. The are never more — or less — than the properties, relations, functions, etc., of the quantitative aspect true of the things and events of ordinary experience (p.146).
In summary, it would have been good to explore the practical implications of these different views more fully. While all of the views differ greatly on their understanding of the nature of mathematics, it is so far clear only in the cases of the number-world theory and of intuitionism that any specific theories of mathematics are affected by one's religious beliefs. But, for example, if I switch between the theories of Mill and of Russell, would I then be forced to change my beliefs about any specific theories of mathematics?
But I think enough has been said to demonstrate the point: that religious beliefs do indeed exert a controlling influence on mathematical theories.
25 Jun 2011
If I believe something because it is in the Bible, then how might that affect my beliefs about some other area of reality, such as geology or history?
First, I might take a scholastic approach (see yesterday's episode), by which I formulate my theories of geology just as any other geologist would, but at the end of the process I whip out my Bible and check for any inconsistencies. If necessary, I do some more digging and some more theologising until those inconsistencies disappear (which hopefully they will).
Or, second, I might take a fundamentalist approach. This is the subject of Chapter 6 of Roy Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). In this approach, I scour the Bible for anything it might say about geology, and explicitly include that information in my theories.
Despite some rather strong language, Clouser doesn't seem to have a fundamental problem with either of those approaches, per se. (His main problem with the fundamentalist approach is when the Bible is misinterpreted, and forced to speak on matters about which it doesn't actually speak.) These two approaches
[focus] on either the logical compatibility of specific religious beliefs and specific theories [the scholastic approach], or on the inclusion of biblical teachings in the content or confirmation of theories [the fundamentalist approach]. But while not denying that revealed truth can, at times, act as "control beliefs" for theories in those ways, this position [see below] denies that those are the only or most important ways divinity beliefs impact theories (p.127).
This third position is the radically biblical position, which we encountered last time. In this, the religious beliefs control other beliefs by acting as presuppositions:
By acting as a presupposition to all theory making, rather than by being part of, or by confirming part of, the content of any particular theory, belief in God can guide every theory and do it in a more pervasive and important way (p.121).
The next chapters form a "casebook", giving examples of how this works in mathematics, physics and psychology. So watch this space...
24 Jun 2011
1. Religious belief controlling theoretical reason
- guides and directs the use of reason in all of life
Theoretical Reason is:
- not neutral because controlled by religious belief
- not final court of appeal
- not able to decide all matters
In Chapter 5 he now labels this as the radically biblical position, saying
The position is this: there is no knowledge or truth that is neutral with respect to belief in God. The [Bible] writers who assert this do not also specify exactly how belief in God impacts "knowledge of all kinds" or "all truth," but they are clear that they regard beliefs in other (putative) divinities as partially falsifying all that is taken to be truth or knowledge, and that knowing God enables us, in principle, to avoid that partial falsehood (p.94).
He then quotes some biblical texts and concludes
that the cumulative effect of these texts is to teach that no sort of knowledge is religiously neutral (p.95).
However, most people throughout the history of thought have taken different views on the relation between religious belief and theoretical reason.
2. Theoretical reason controlling religious belief
First, there is the view that reason is autonomous and "trumps" religious belief. This may be religious rationalism, which "was the dominant influence in ancient Greco-Roman culture" (p.94). In this view, reason can be used either to justify or to refute religious beliefs. In some ways this may be seen as the reverse of the radically biblical position (p.93):
Theoretical Reason is:
- neutral respecting all matters
- final court of appeal in all matters
- able to decide all matters (?)
Religious Belief is:
- a theory or conclusion of reason
(Closely related to this is religious irrationalism, which states that religious belief is completely isolated from theoretical reason.)
3. Religious belief and theoretical reason in harmony
When the radically biblical position clashed with religious rationalism, religious scholasticism emerged, which
devised a compromise between the all-encompassing claim pagan rationalism made for reason, and the equally all-encompassing biblical claim that right faith is a necessary prerequisite for knowledge of every sort. This was done by limiting the scope of each claim (p.99).
This position "had permeated the whole of European thought by the sixth century" (p.104), and "Among thinkers who believe in God, [it] is still by far the most popular position in the world today" (p.105). Diagrammatically, it looks something like this (p.101):
Realm of Supernature or Grace
Faith accepts revelation as supreme authority concerning God and the soul and related matters.
- Reason is neutral and final authority concerning nature;
- Reason harmonizes religion with the theories of science and philosophy;
- Reason proves the existence of the supernatural and systematizes revealed doctrines.
4. Faith and reason post-1500
The change in Western thought came
in the sixteenth century when scholasticism was simultaneously challenged by two movements. One of these, the Renaissance, advocated a return to pagan rationalism by insisting on the autonomy and neutrality of reason in all matters, so that it dispensed with faith imposing any limit to reason. The other was the Reformation, which rejected limiting faith to only supernatural matters and argued that reason is intrinsically guided by faith in all matters (p.105).
Calvin was strongest on the latter point, taking "the view that human reason is not neutral because it is affected by sin, where sin is understood as false divinity belief which produces deleterious effects on reason's attempts to interpret reality" (p.106).
However, the Protestant church soon sank back into scholasticism, having a "general view of the relation of faith and reason [that] was largely the same" as that of the Catholic church.
Their main difference over faith and reason came to be that while Catholic thinkers tended to harmonize their faith with theories about nature derived from Aristotle (due to the influence of Thomas Aquinas), Protestant thinkers felt free to harmonize their faith with whatever theories about nature were currently fashionable (p.107).
So where is the radically biblical position today? It does have its adherents, but generally doesn't have a good press, "owing to the specific interpretation of it which has been advocated by the largest single group of its adherents, the fundamentalists" (pp.108f), to whom (or against whom) the next chapter will be devoted.
10 Jun 2011
Roy Clouser's contention in The Myth of Religious Neutrality is that anyone's understanding of anything is strongly affected by their religious beliefs.
Chapter 4 of the book unpacks this by looking at the connection between our theories about any specific aspect of reality and our theories about the whole of reality (which are closely linked with our religious beliefs).
It gets a bit technical, but the essence is this:
- When we formulate a theory to explain something specific, we do so by focusing on a narrow set of related properties possessed by the things we are trying to understand. This involves making hypotheses: guesses about some entity that might exist, or some way in which different properties relate.
- The sorts of hypotheses we are willing to consider will be strongly dependent on the bigger theories we have: theories not about just one or two sets of properties that things might have (such as physical properties or aesthetic properties), but theories about how all of the different sets of related properties relate to each other. (A set of related properties is also known as an aspect of experience, or simply an aspect.) These bigger (philosophical) theories are expressions of what we believe about what is "unconditionally and non-dependently real". That is, they are expressions of our religious beliefs.
The rest of the book will develop this further (and I'm looking forward to seeing how it works in practice). But if the above points are correct, it can be seen that religious beliefs (which we all have) will always have a strong influence on what we believe about any area of reality.
1 May 2011
The common factor shared by all religions, according to Roy Clouser, is belief in something that is "divine per se", that is, something that is "unconditionally and non-dependently real". Chapter 3 of his book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality, looks at this definition in some more detail. Two things are worth noting.
First, a consequence of the definition is that something that is "divine per se" (or simply "divine") must necessarily exist.
The sum total of reality, no matter how that is understood, would have to be divine either in part or whole just because there'd be nothing else for it to depend on (p.57).
This means that any coherent understanding of the whole of reality is "religious", in the sense that it involves belief in something that is "unconditionally and non-dependently real".
The second thing to note is that there are various ways in which the divine and the non-divine might relate to each other. It might be the pagan dependency arrangement, under which
there is only one continuous reality, a part of which is the per se divine on which all the rest depends (p.44).
Examples of this would be nature religions, most polytheistic religions, and materialism (the belief that matter and energy are "just there" and that everything else in reality depends on them). Or the divine and the non-divine might relate through the pantheistic dependency arrangement:
Instead of locating the divine as a subdivision of the one continuous reality, the pantheistic belief is that whatever we experience as non-divine reality is in fact a subdivision of the divine reality, which is both infinite and all-encompassing (p.48).
Examples would be Hinduism and Buddhism. Or the third way in which the divine and non-divine relate could be termed the biblical dependency arrangement, under which
the divine per se is not part of the universe nor is the universe part of the divine; there is a fundamental discontinuity between the creator and all else which is his creation (p.50).
Examples of this would be Christianity and Islam.
Having now established that all coherent belief systems about reality are "religious", the next step in establishing his thesis that all of life is religious is to show precisely how it is that religious beliefs shape how people understand anything and everything. This is the subject of chapters 4-6, on "Theories".
21 Apr 2011
The claim made in Roy Clouser's book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality, is that all of life is religious, that is, that for every person, every part of their lives is affected by their own religious beliefs. In other words, there is no such thing as religious neutrality, as everyone has religious beliefs (whether they realise it or not), and those beliefs touch every area of life.
Now, such a claim, in addition to being somewhat ambitious, would also be vacuous and meaningless if – as many have argued – no clear definition can be formulated as to what constitutes a "religious belief".
Finding such a definition is the goal of Chapter 2 of the book, What is Religion?
In essence the definition is as follows: a religious belief is a belief about what is unconditionally and non-dependently real. This may be a "primary religious belief", about the unconditional and non-dependent reality itself, or a "secondary religious belief", about how other realities (including ourselves) relate to this unconditional and non-dependent reality.
This idea of something being "unconditionally and non-dependently real" (what Clouser also calls "divinity per se") seems to be present in all religious belief systems, covering
God, Brahman-Atman, the Dharmakaya, and the Tao ... the Nam in Sikhism, Ahura Mazda (Ohrmazd) in early Zoroastrianism or Zurvan in its laver development, the soul/matter dualism of the Jains, the high god of the Dieri Aborigines, the belief in Mana among Trobriand Islanders, Kami in the Shinto tradition, the Raluvhimba of the Bantu religion, the Void, Suchness, or Nothingness found in various forms of Buddhism, and the idea of Wakan or Orenda found among various tribes of North and South America. It also holds for the ancient Roman idea of Numen, for Okeanos in the myths of Homer, and for a host of other ideas (p.20).
Clouser's definition of a religious belief seems coherent to me (and he defends it at great length): it is simple, precise and seems to trace out a fairly tight circle around everything we would intuitively term a "religious belief". It does, however, include some beliefs we would not usually think of as "religious" (such as philosophical materialism). But as long as we are clear what is meant by the term, I don't think that should be too much of an issue (and if philosophical materialism possesses the core characteristic of all religious beliefs, then calling it a "religious belief" itself doesn't seem too outrageous).
Chapter 3 will look more closely at types of religious belief, before the substantial part of the book, attempting to demonstrate that all people have religious beliefs (that is, that all people hold to a belief in something that is unconditionally and non-dependently real) and that these religious beliefs have "the single most decisive influence on everyone's understanding of the major issues of life ranging across the entire spectrum of human experience" (p.4).
8 Apr 2011
How much of your life is affected by your religious beliefs? Not much, surely? For a start, many people are not religious at all, so the answer for them would be, "None of my life is affected by my religious beliefs, because I don't have any religious beliefs." And for those that are religious, there are only certain areas of life that are affected: some areas of ethics, involvement in a religious community, prayer and the like. Okay, there are some people who are religious and completely barmy, for whom everything seems to be about religion, but that's a different case. But for the majority of people, most or all of their life is untouched by their religious beliefs, right?
No, not at all! At least, not according to Roy Clouser, whose book, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories I've just started to read.
His claim is that "religious belief has the single most decisive influence on everyone's understanding of the major issues of life ranging across the entire spectrum of human experience" and that "it exercises such influence upon all people independently of their conscious acceptance or rejection of the religious traditions with which they are acquainted" (p.1, emphasis added). Or, more precisely, "What will be demonstrated is that no abstract explanatory theory can fail to include or presuppose a religious belief" (p.4).
This is quite a bold claim, which first of all begs the question of what a "religious" belief is. That is the subject of the next chapter.
But for now, it is tempting for me, as a Christian, to assume the primary intent of the book is "to convert readers to belief in God, or to refute atheism, agnosticism, secular humanism, or any other 'ism'" (p.5). You see, Mr Atheist, you are just as religious as I am, etc. ... No, the main purpose of the book is for people like myself, to be persuaded
that our belief in a transcendent Creator mandates a distinct perspective for the interpretation of every aspect of life. And this distinct perspective extends to the construction and interpretation of philosophical, scientific, and all other theories because there is no area or issue of life which is neutral with respect to belief in God (p.5).