God in the Age of Science?: A Critique of Religious Reason
Herman Philipse, God in the Age of Science?: A Critique of Religious Reason, Oxford University Press, 2012, 400pp., $75.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199697532.
Reviewed by Andrew Pinsent, University of Oxford
Any book with the title God in the Age of Science? risks appearing to beg the question of whether or not we still live in what used to be called the age of science and, if so, what kind of science. The cover image, a famous painting in 1768 by Joseph Wright, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, depicts an early scientific experiment in the reverential manner of a religious scene such as a nativity. The reader is presumably invited to draw the lesson that science supplanted religion sometime in the eighteenth century, but this painting also has surprisingly macabre overtones. The onlookers are not gathered religiously around the crib of Christ, but watching with curiosity and horror as a bird is slowly suffocated by an early air pump. Whether intended or not, the cover therefore raises fascinating moral and social questions about the scientific enterprise that would have been interesting to explore but unfortunately are not addressed within the book itself.
The subtitle, however, "A Critique of Religious Reason" communicates more clearly the author's intent, namely to provide a critique not just of one kind of religious reason, but all religious reason. By the end of the book, Philipse concludes that if we aim to be "reasonable and intellectually conscientious," we should become not just agnostic but "disjunctive strong" (343) or "strong disjunctive" universal atheists (346). By the latter he means we should conclude that:
Either religious believers have not succeeded in providing a meaningful characterization of their god(s), or the existence of this god or these gods is improbable given our scientific and scholarly background knowledge. (343)
Given this sweeping conclusion, the variety of religious beliefs, and the history of arguments about theism, one would therefore expect a massive volume covering a vast range of topics, but in practice much of this book is a more focused critique of the arguments offered by Richard Swinburne. Philipse argues that his general conclusion is warranted, however, since "natural or rational theology is indispensable for the conscientious religious believer" (4) and the natural theology developed by Swinburne is, he claims, "the 'toughest case' for the critical philosopher of religion" (91). To summarize metaphorically, it is as if the last chance to secure a foundation for the throne of God is to rest on the shoulders of the Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford and, if he has failed, as Philipse argues he has, the game is pretty much all over for God.
Philipse goes about this ambitious task in a series of commendably clear steps. In Part I, he argues that statements such as the assertion that God or some other god exists have to be interpreted as claims to truth, the only philosophically interesting option. Once Philipse has disposed of the challenge of the reformed objection of Alvin Plantinga et al. in chapters 3 and 4, he concludes that if assertions about God are claims to truth, they have to be backed up by positive apologetics (64). Given, however, that we are living in the age of science, Philipse argues that the natural theologian is faced with a dilemma he calls "The Tension" (89): either to justify theological claims in the manner of scientific methods and theories, which involves making empirical predictions with negligible chances of success, or risk being too dissimilar from scientific and scholarly rationality to be credible (90). As either option is unpalatable, he argues that the best option for the theist is to accept a probabilistic account of scientific and scholarly methods as consisting in rules of inference to the best explanation, "which enable us to assess how probable a hypothesis is in the light of an evidence-set," the approach he ascribes to Swinburne (91).
This conclusion sets up Part II, which considers the question of "whether theism really is an explanatory theory or hypothesis, which can be confirmed by empirical evidence" (341; 95-188). The beginning of this part is devoted to an attack on the "coherence of theism" (after Swinburne's book of the same title), a major theme being that "theists implicitly annul the very conditions for meaningfully applying psychological predicates to God by claiming that God is an incorporeal being" (341, 95-119). The following chapter then examines the question of the necessity of God. Philipse argues that there is a conflict between Swinburne's characterization of God as a bodiless person and the thesis that "God miniessentially is a personal ground of being" (134) and, since Swinburne himself has to resort to analogy, "we should conclude that theists do not succeed in giving any meaning to the word 'God'" (341). Nevertheless, assuming for the sake of argument that theism is a meaningful theory, Philipse devotes the rest of Part II to arguing that it lacks any "significant predictive power" (160), that specific evidence adduced to confirm theism inductively can be better explained by rival secular explanations and that other countermoves fail, notably an appeal to miracles such as the Resurrection and phenomena that are "too big" for science. Such phenomena include the cause of the Big Bang, the fundamental laws of nature being what they are and the fact that the universe appears 'fine-tuned' (161-188).
Part III considers the probability of theism assuming that it does have some predictive power and evaluating claims to be able to explain the state of the cosmos on this basis. This section offers critiques of cosmological arguments, arguments from design and an assortment of other arguments and their defenses, concluding with a chapter on religious experience that refutes the attempt to shift the burden of proof to the non-believer (191-337).
The number and complexity of these issues precludes making more than a few observations. In my judgment, many of the tactical steps of this book are well argued, notably chapters 3 and 4 on Reformed Theology, as well as the critique of the notion of the personhood of God (109-119) on the basis of natural reason and the discernment of anthropomorphically-oriented divine purpose on the basis of cosmic order (187, 278). Indeed, Philipse is at his best, I think, when he challenges claims belonging to revealed theology that have been appropriated and presented as natural theology. Cultural influences make it hard for many philosophers today to draw this distinction clearly, which is one reason I judge it is normally better practice to go to classical sources, such as Plato and Aristotle, if one wants genuinely to establish what might be known about God or the gods on the basis of natural reason alone. Nevertheless, it should also be pointed out that many theists would actually agree with Philipse's criticisms. Is natural theology inadequate to regard God as personal? Spaemann has already said as much. Can we discern purposeful action by God in the cosmos by natural reason (256-278)? Newman denied this. Aren't suffering and evil difficult to reconcile with God's existence and goodness (292-309)? The Book of Job raises the same issue and with great subtlety. Are our concepts inadequate for characterizing God? The Jewish people knew this nearly two and a half millennia ago, which is why they used circumlocutions to refer to God and forbade the holiest name to be spoken, and also why Christian theology is based on the understanding that the only word adequate for God is God, the Word made flesh. So although Philipse's arguments may help to purify the proper domain of natural theology from unwarranted claims influenced by revelation, his conclusions on these points are not precisely new. Considering Philipse's overall strategy, however, I have some serious concerns.
Read more here/Leia mais aqui: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews