Religion as Communication: Gods Talk

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Divinely-inspired websites already exist, written in the name of all kinds of gods, with all kinds of beliefs as their basis. Some talk about the Internet in religious terms already; technomancy may be a counter-cultural idea mostly concerned with social engineering, but, were not many religions also founded upon counter-cultural mores? In the future we will see religions that not only accept the Internet, and which are not only spread by the Internet, but which claim nothing else as their founding than the Internet.

Although it also seems likely that as we, as a species, now have much greater understanding about the world, hopefully technology-based religion will produce too much skepticism to ever arise! What an outdated concept! A book?! Surely, God has an indestructible and eternal website in heaven waiting to be beamed down on to a server, at the right time?

It is no less ridiculous an idea that the 10 Commandments being inscribed on to slabs of stone for Moses. It is daft to limit any important message to one language, delivered to one tribe. Not only that, but Muhammad was illiterate and Jesus didn't write anything himself: this type of thinking has everything to do with limited human imagination and tribal power-games who wouldn't want to be part of the people who the creator of billions of galaxies chooses as the recipients of an important message?

God's website, beamed down from heaven, will be a much more competent attempt at communication that the use of ancient languages transmitted to people who don't write. For when viewed by anyone, God's website will automatically appear in the language that the reader is most competent in. Gone will be errors and mistranslations.

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Gone will be doubt as to whether God really sent those archaic messages to those tribespeople. However better this method would be, I do not really think that an all-powerful God would impart its message through any mass media, be it paper or electronic. No, Internet-based religion makes as little sense as Bible-based religion for an all-powerful creator-god.

If God is good in nature and its message is true , and the message of god is important for us, then it holds to reason that a good god would want human beings to know that message God in its omnipotence can immediately impart the correct knowledge directly into our consciousness. I am sure it also has the know-how to do it in a non-harmful way given that it designed our brains down to the functioning of millions of neuronal connections and neurotransmitters, etc. Put another way: It must be true that we all already know the most-important things that God wants us to know.

Whatever various religions, prophets, seekers, mystics and holy spokespeople say is not exactly what God wants us to know. There is no reason for a good god, which wants the truth to be known, to convey important messages to individual human beings, in specific human languages, and allow us to spread the message using our own imperfect communication methods. However, we will suggest later that this does not necessarily need to be so. Perhaps philosophers of religion could contribute to the sciences by providing claims and perhaps even theories that could be tested and assessed in the scientific study of religion or even experimental philosophy.

In the second form of engagement, philosophers can bring insights from philosophy of science, analyse background assumptions and metaphysical commitments of different theories. By assuming this role, the philosopher clarifies critical concepts thereby contributing to possible novel empirical questions and theoretical innovation in the target field. We think this kind of engagement could also include the interpretation of scientific results: what kinds of conclusions can be drawn from them given their methodological assumptions?

This, we suggest, can also include engaging with popular science material, since oftentimes the most important interpretations of scientific results appear in popularised works rather than in scientific papers themselves. This form of engagement has been more popular among philosophers of religion. They have debated interpretations of the aforementioned evolutionary biology and physical cosmology, for instance Holder, However, more positive contributions via methodological criticism and analysis have been surprisingly rare. We think that there could be multiple scientific fields where philosophers of religion could make a distinctive contribution.

The authors of this paper have worked on the scientific study of religion Visala, , interdisciplinary models of human nature, and the psychology of disagreement Vainio, just to mention a few. The most natural domain for the philosophers of religion to engage in this way would be religious studies and the scientific study of religion.

Various approaches in the study of religion have their own distinctive philosophical questions that have overlapped somewhat with philosophy of religion. Coming back to Goldman, there is a third way in which he sees the relationship of philosophy and the sciences playing out. Instead of contributing to the cognitive sciences, philosophers can apply the results and theories from this field to reformulate or answer philosophical problems.

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When philosophers of religion have engaged the sciences in this way, the motivation has mainly been apologetic, but it need not be so. Philosophers of religion should use a wide variety of scientific results, since their own interests span from moral and religious knowledge to metaphysics. This variety of interest beyond the apologetic motivation can be seen in a recent edited volume on scientific approaches to philosophy of religion Nagasawa, Essays in the volume cover many different topics and seek to employ theories from the natural and behavioural sciences to problems in philosophy of religion.

There are essays on psychology of counterfactual thinking, multiverse cosmology, the cognition of religious disagreement, as well as the psychology of character formation and responsibility. In philosophy of religion, there has been a long-standing debate on what role naturalistic explanations of religion have in the atheism vs. It is clear that simply offering a naturalistic explanation of belief in God or gods does not show that these beliefs are false.

Nevertheless, such explanations might cast doubt upon religious claims in some other way. In the current scene, these issues are discussed in the context of so called debunking arguments of ethics, morality and religion. The main issue here is whether the epistemic status of our value-beliefs, moral beliefs and religious beliefs changes after we take into account evolutionary and cognitive explanations of these beliefs. We will return to this issue in more detail later. The question is how exactly philosophers of religion should engage with the sciences.

In what follows, we want to suggest that we need not enforce one single methodology for such engagements. It seems that many theological postfoundationalists have attempted to formulate an overarching methodology for theology and science engagements. Against this, we want to suggest that philosophers of religion can proceed successfully without strongly committing themselves to some overarching methodological stance.

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Something similar is also acknowledged in general philosophical methodology, so our argument does not constitute any kind of special pleading Cappelen, Although the dialogue began in the s in the English-speaking world, mainly in the UK, it has since been taken up in continental Europe, as well as in the US. The dialogue was originally an attempt to form a workable theological position between two extremes: science inspired naturalism that rejects central theological claims the existence of God and the possibility of revelation, for instance and entails a large-scale conflict between science and theology, and creationism or various forms of intelligent design theory that reject the validity of large parts of contemporary science, especially biology.

Furthermore, this view was supposed to be disseminated amongst both scientists and theologians: from now on, both could work together in solving the great mysteries of life and cosmos. So, the aim was to make both academic theology and actual religious communities adopt a more positive attitude towards the sciences and to convince the sceptical scientists to adopt a friendlier attitude towards religion and theology.

The field has enjoyed steady growth since the early days and it has established itself as a kind of sub-discipline of theology. The enquiry so far has produced constructive theological proposals that seek to integrate scientific insights into theology e. The intellectual development of the field is summarised in numerous textbooks and handbooks published in the last few years e. Regardless of the steady growth of the field both academically and intellectually, there are dissenting voices.

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Apart from occasional knee-jerks towards biological evolution, Western theology, for the most part, has proceeded without taking into account what the sciences say about important theological issues, such as the nature of human beings. The same is true of actual religious communities, which oftentimes exhibit a hostile attitude towards science.

Finally, the science and theology dialogue has had very little impact on the academia at large. It is surprising to note that there are very few critical assessments of the science and theology dialogue from the theological side. Most textbooks and handbooks only mention the rapid development of the field but do not provide a general assessment as to whether the field has achieved its goals. So far, many have turned to postfoundationalism as methodological tool to achieve the original goals set for the debate e.

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The underlying assumption was that if the right method were to be found, the dialogue would subsequently sort itself out. However, it is clear that the science and religion dialogue has not achieved methodological unity or consensus. According to Drees, , the failure to reach the original aims stems from the fragmentation endemic to the field. The fragmentation is most likely produced by the mutually exclusive philosophical assumptions and interests of the participants: most participants operate on the basis of their own and mutually incompatible religious or non-religious assumptions and, thus, understand the nature of science, religion and theology differently than others.

Some might be critical of the sciences and unwilling to modify their theologies, whereas others are willing to make large-scale theological revisions to accommodate even the most thoroughgoing versions of scientific naturalism. Another methodological issue is the analytic-continental divide: the area is torn between continental style theology and postmodern philosophy in Europe and more analytically and science-oriented approaches in the English-speaking world.

Although we do not see much progress in the distinctly theological part of the dialogue, other parts of the discipline have progressed well. Here we have in mind the research conducted into the history of the relationship between religions and the sciences. Indeed, the work done here has successfully debunked the very popular conflict narrative or conflict myth of science and religion Numbers, Significant work has been done on the Galileo case, the birth of the scientific method in the late medieval and renaissance Europe, as well as the 19th century debates on Darwinism just to mention a few topics Harrison, , ; Brooke, We can draw an important moral from this: when the science and religion dialogue has made progress, the progress has come about through scholars working on methods they know well in this case historical ones and focusing on specific claims the conflict myth, for instance.

We think that this should be also the model for the future of scholarship.

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This is also part of a discomfort of studying religion in general, where the social scientist fears overstepping invisible boundaries and being seen as intrusive, particularly with the background knowledge that it will be written about and analysed in a public forum. Then Jesus said: 'Ephphata' [be opened]. This book explores the profound transformations that prisons and offender rehabilitation programmes in Eastern Germany have undergone with respect to religion. Get Citation. Scholars will always have different approaches in their theological reflection. Depending on religious background, people with different spiritual beliefs and practices may approach public communication in a work setting differently as well.

Instead of formulating the supposedly correct overall method for the engagement, like the postfoundationalists suggest, scholars should localise their approach and concentrate, for example, on particular instances where scientific theories or results seem to be relevant to religious views and use the methods that seem to be appropriate for this specific task. We now move from the methodological discussion towards the topical.

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More specifically, we want to highlight one area where philosophers of religion have successfully engaged with ethicists, epistemologists and scientists. This is the debate about psychological or evolutionary debunking arguments. Given the progress of offering evolutionary and cognitive accounts of the emergence of moral and religious beliefs, there have been suggestions that such accounts undermine the rationality or justification of such beliefs or preclude moral and religious knowledge altogether.

This debate, we suggest, is a point where philosophers of religion can engage with the sciences in all aforementioned ways. First, they can provide hypotheses to be tested by the scientists could there be a specific cognitive mechanism for religious experiences, for instance.

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Second, they can engage in methodological analysis and clarification of the work in cognitive science and evolutionary biology. What are evolutionary debunking arguments? The discussion has heated up as a result of the increasingly detailed evolutionary and cognitive explanations of our value-beliefs, moral beliefs Joyce, ; Griffiths and Wilkins, and god-beliefs Leech and Visala, Debunking arguments can be aimed at undermining the truth of these beliefs or the basis of which we come to believe them.

Consider god-beliefs and the archaeologist Steven Mithen, for example.

According to Mithen, religion is a human universal: it can be found in almost all cultures and societies. This fact, he continues, can be explained by positing the existence of a supernatural realm where gods reside or by providing evidence that the human mind itself creates these ideas about the supernatural.

He concludes that. Religious thought is uniquely associated with Homo sapiens and arose as a consequence of cognitive fluidity, which was in turn a consequence of the origin of language. In this regard, there appears to be no need to invoke a moment of divine intervention that initiated the start of a revelation.

For me, therefore, there is no supernatural, no God to be revealed. Mithen, As far as we see it, the argument can be characterised as follows. The fact that there is a plausible naturalistic explanation for the emergence of belief in gods, demonstrates that god-beliefs and supernatural belief in general is false. To be more precise, the deductive version of the argument would be this:. If there is a complete or sufficiently complete causal explanation of how belief in God came about and this explanation does not include God as a causal factor, then there is no God.

Current cognitive and evolutionary accounts of religion provide a complete or sufficiently complete causal explanation of this kind and they do not include God as a causal factor. Such an argument has a number of problems.