Faith, Reason, and Culture: An Essay in Fundamental Theology [1st ed.] 9783030458140, 9783030458157

In this book, George Karuvelil seeks to establish the rationality of religion and theology in the contemporary world. Th

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Faith, Reason, and Culture: An Essay in Fundamental Theology [1st ed.]
 9783030458140, 9783030458157

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xvii
Reason: The Multi-Coloured Chameleon (George Karuvelil)....Pages 1-36
Front Matter ....Pages 37-44
Religious Diversity and Theology (George Karuvelil)....Pages 45-74
Science and Religion: Some Parables and Models (George Karuvelil)....Pages 75-101
Science and Religion: Autonomy and Conflict (George Karuvelil)....Pages 103-135
Front Matter ....Pages 137-149
Communication, Culture, and Fundamental Theology (George Karuvelil)....Pages 151-180
Justification: Beyond Uniformitarianism (George Karuvelil)....Pages 181-211
Perception: Its Nature and Justification (George Karuvelil)....Pages 213-244
Front Matter ....Pages 245-255
Mysticism (George Karuvelil)....Pages 257-283
Nature Mysticism and God (George Karuvelil)....Pages 285-316
Religious Diversity, Christian Faith, and Truth (George Karuvelil)....Pages 317-347
Pulling Together (George Karuvelil)....Pages 349-357
Back Matter ....Pages 359-402

Citation preview

Faith, Reason, and Culture An Essay in Fundamental Theology George Karuvelil

Faith, Reason, and Culture “There have been many books on faith and reason but none comes close to the erudition and comprehensiveness that characterize this book. Karuvelil’s resourcefulness in philosophy and his long experience in interreligious dialogue enable him to explore important theological themes in original and highly informative ways. Thoroughly researched and rigorously argued, this book will prove indispensable for both theologians and philosophers who want to explore new frontiers in in the area of faith, reason and culture.” —Louis Caruana SJ, Dean, Faculty of Philosophy, Pontifical Gregorian University, Italy “George Karuvelil’s Faith, Reason, and Culture: An Essay in Fundamental Theology is a real tour de force, which will delight those interested to explore the complex issue of the rationality of religious belief. Integrating Kierkegaard’s insistence on religious belief as existential concern and adroitly pressing into service Wittgenstein’s concepts of ‘language game’ and ‘grammar,’ Dr. Karuvelil has developed a convincing case to justify religious belief. In this process, he has built on the work of contemporary philosophers whose analyses he has found fertile while not mincing words in his critique of authors whose thinking he judges has gone astray, being particularly severe on those who are wedded to scientism as the last word in human rationality. Lucid writing, helpful introductions and summaries and numerous examples make this book intelligible to non-professionals while professionals will find the acute analysis and meticulous argumentation worth careful attention.” —Lisbert D’Souza, Emeritus Reader in Philosophy, Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth (Pontifical Athenaeum), Pune, India; former Assistant to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus “With skillful and patient archaeology of the divide between reason and faith, especially in modernity and Western thinkers, resulting in severe harm for both, George Karuvelil convincingly shows that to successfully meet the challenges of contemporary religious pluralism we must, as Pope John Paul II says, breathe with both lungs and fly with both wings, namely, reason and faith. With this work, Karuvelil establishes himself as a first-class authority on fundamental theology. At a time when truth is dismissed as ‘alternative facts,’ Karuvelil’s robust confidence in both reason and faith is all the more needed and urgent.” —Peter C. Phan, The Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J. Chair of Catholic Social Thought, Georgetown University, USA

“In its grand sweep of the history of philosophy, theology, and modernity, the book provides a remarkably open access to a theological project that is rationally based, and addressing the intellectual debates of our contemporary times. The author opens up a splendid panorama of reason and critically challenges its Procrustean curtailment by scientism and positivism. The book is deep, and at the same time, highly engaging and accessible to a wider readership, thanks to its clarity of thought, expression and cogency.” —Felix Wilfred, Emeritus Professor, University of Madras, India

George Karuvelil

Faith, Reason, and Culture An Essay in Fundamental Theology

George Karuvelil Faculty of Philosophy Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth Pune, India

ISBN 978-3-030-45814-0    ISBN 978-3-030-45815-7 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

To My Parents, Varkey and Rosamma, for teaching me the meaning of Faith


There is a story of an aspiring naturalist experimenting with a frog. He takes the frog and puts it on a white sheet of paper and yells: ‘JUMP!’ The frog jumps. Then the experimenter cuts off the legs of the creature and yells again, ‘JUMP!’ But this time the frog does not jump. Pleased with himself, the experimenter concludes: ‘After having its legs cut off, the frog became deaf!’ Such is the story of modern epistemology and its application to religion. A razor is a wonderful tool in the hands of a barber, a knife in the hands of a surgeon, and shears in the hands of gardener, as they know when and where to use their tool. Here I have in mind the famous tool known as ‘Ockham’s razor’, named after its inventor William of Ockham (1285–1347). Given the metaphysical exuberance of his times, he wisely suggested that we should not multiply entities unnecessarily. But subsequent moderns, infatuated with newly emerging disciplines, used the razor for pruning the sources of knowledge that did not pass the test of science. Thus God and the revelation of God, based on human testimony, were declared unacceptable unless backed up by empirical evidence. Habituated to centuries of arguments for God’s existence, theologians made repeated attempts to provide such a backing, but these efforts proved to be like asking the frog without legs to jump; theology remained in cultural exile. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) tried to circumvent the razor and make Christian faith acceptable to modern culture by introducing religious experience as a source of knowledge. In the twentieth century, theologians continued attempts to reach out to the modern world through what had come to be named ‘fundamental vii



theology’. However, this branch of theology reached a stage where it was being ‘threatened with non-existence’, although the need for such a discipline had not disappeared. These factors prompted Gerald O’Collins to write about the need to re-think fundamental theology. This monograph responds to that need and attempts to carry out the task systematically. It follows Schleiermacher in using religious experience to circumvent the modern use of Ockham’s razor. Time seems ripe for such an undertaking, as the harshness of the modern straightjacket has been loosened and the relativistic impact of the postmodern free-for-all has begun to be felt. Accordingly, this book attempts to seek truth in a pluralistic world. The work progresses in three stages. Since the heart of the modern challenge to religion is epistemological, the first part, ‘Science and Religion’, critiques the epistemology that is at work in thinking about religious diversity and about religion itself. It also marks the transition from the modern to the postmodern world. The second part, ‘Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth’, will bring together later developments in epistemology and philosophy of science, and so provide an alternative to the scientism of the moderns and to the wholesale pragmatism of the postmoderns. And the third part applies this alternative epistemology to religious experience. It uses well-known instances of nature mysticism (‘extrovertive’ mysticism of Walter Stace) to explicate a concept of the divine that is as faithful to the monotheism of Christianity as to the monism of Śankara. I end by going beyond the God of theism to point out the philosophical basis for the foundational Christian experience, leaving the more theological treatment of Christology to those in that field. Since the book is addressed to a wide variety of readers—ranging from scholars of philosophy and theology to anyone interested in the rationality of religion—I would suggest that those without philosophical and theological background go straight to Part III after Chap. 1. The main ideas of Part III would be sufficiently intelligible even without the background of philosophy or theology. They can then proceed to the other parts for knowing the rationality of what is done there. In many ways, this book has been almost writing itself. For a convinced theist, that is a way of talking about divine providence at work. Faced with numerous difficulties, a few and brief glimpses of the different kinds of ‘natural mysticism’ (mentioned in the third part) kept prodding me to give wings to those experiences. Therefore, my gratitude is, first and



foremost, to God for bringing to light something that has been in the making for decades. It got done, bit by bit, piece by piece, one issue at a time. My intellectual debts are numerous: first of all, to scholars whom I have encountered through their writings. Antony Flew sparked my quest. John Hick, Søren Kierkegaard, Ludwig Wittgenstein, W.V.  Quine, William James, Walter Stace, Steven Katz, and, the ever reliable guide, Thomas Aquinas, have helped me move ahead. Then there are Richard Rorty, Michael Williams, Hilary Putnam, William Alston, Alvin Plantinga, and others, whose insights have contributed to the making of the positions I have developed in this book. I am grateful to the editors and publishers of Theological Studies, Zygon: Journal of Religious & Science, Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, and Journal of Dharma, where I developed some of the ideas found in this book. Chapters 2 and 5 have been published earlier in Theological Studies and an earlier version of Chap. 4 was published in Zygon. I am grateful to them for permitting me to re-use the material. My immense spiritual and emotional debts shall go largely unrecorded. I cannot but mention my parents from whom I learned what it means to live religiously. It would also be a gross failure not to mention the pluralist ethos of my country (India) that stretches back several millennia, without which I would not have learned the harmonious blending of differences, an ethos that is presently under threat from the powerful forces of a post-­ truth world. I am grateful to the Society of Jesus that has given me the opportunities for pursuing this research. I am indebted in very special way to Gerald O’Collins. Although he came into the picture only at the last stage in the long journey of the book, that journey could not have made it to the final lap without his love and friendship, support, encouragement, and patient reading of the text. Finally, I am grateful to my students. When a person is on a constant search, his students are often enthused, and their enthusiasm, in turn, encourages the teacher. But students can also become unwitting guinea pigs for experimenting with new ideas. Therefore, along with my gratitude I also offer my apology to them. Pune, India November, 2019

George Karuvelil


1 Reason: The Multi-Coloured Chameleon  1 1 The Vision and Mission of Fides et Ratio  2 1.1 Pope Benedict XVI: Missionary of a Rationally Engaged Faith  2 1.2 A Vision for Future  4 1.3 Terms: Natural and Cultural  5 2 Role of Culture in Relating Faith and Reason  6 2.1 The First Twelve Centuries: Theology as Philosophy  6 2.2 Thomas Aquinas: Philosophy as a Bridge to Culture  7 2.3 Neo-Thomism: Philosophy as a Shield Against Culture  9 2.4 Impact of the Modern View of Reason 16 2.5 Vatican II: Dissolution of Philosophy and Its Aftermath  18 3 Aquinas as ‘Exemplar’ 22 3.1 Obligating Reasons? 22 3.2 Exercising Officium Sapientis Today 25 3.3 Faith and Reason in Non-Roman Catholic Christian Traditions 26 4 The Structure and the Argument of the Book 28 4.1 Part I Science and Religion 30 4.2 Part II Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth 32 4.3 Part III Reasoning About Faith: Fundamental Theology 35




Part I Science and Religion  37 2 Religious Diversity and Theology 45 1 Pluralists and Their Argument 47 2 Examining the Argument 51 2.1 Ptolemaic Theology and Conceptual Isolation 52 2.2 Data as Facts Interpreted in a Certain Way 55 2.3 Interim Conclusion 58 3 Tracing the Source of ‘Ptolemaic’ Theology 58 3.1 Superiority and Subjectivity 59 3.2 Theology as Existential 64 3.3 Implications 68 3.4 Towards a New Map 71 4 Conclusion 74 3 Science and Religion: Some Parables and Models 75 1 Theology and Falsification 76 1.1 Hare: Religion Is Not Science 78 1.2 Mitchell: Religion Does Not Violate Logic 80 1.3 The Task of Fundamental Theology: An Initial Statement 83 2 Science and Religion: The Prevalent Views 84 2.1 Science Versus Religion: The Conflict or Warfare Model  85 2.2 Science Is Religious: Holy Science Model 88 2.3 Naïve Metaphysical Realism (NMR): The Common Ground 90 2.4 Religion Is Not Science: The Autonomy Model 93 2.5 Science and Religion: The Experiential Model 94 3 Rejecting the Traditional Models 95 3.1 Contrary to Facts 96 3.2 Religious Ambiguity of the Universe 97 3.3 Rejecting NMR 98 3.4 Religious Reasons 99 4 Conclusion100 4 Science and Religion: Autonomy and Conflict103 1 Autonomy Model103 1.1 Wittgensteinian Language Games104 1.2 Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA106



2 Beyond Autonomy: Some Criticisms of the Model107 2.1 Nature of the Autonomy107 2.2 Intellectual Schizophrenia109 2.3 Problem of Justification110 2.4 Fideism?111 2.5 A False Conflict?112 3 Where the Conflict Really Lies114 3.1 The Existential Revolution: From ‘God’s Eye View’ to ‘Being-in-the-World’115 3.2 Secularism and Its Cohorts121 3.3 Faith Is Not Necessarily Religious122 3.4 Science and Theology: Differences125 3.5 The Real Source of Conflict: AMA Theory130 4 Conclusion134 Part II Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth 137 5 Communication, Culture, and Fundamental Theology151 1 Communication152 1.1 Fundamentals of Communication153 1.2 The Forces at Work in Communication156 1.3 Dynamics of Communication: The Hermeneutic Circle158 2 Theology and Fundamental Theology160 2.1 Fundamental Theology as Propaedeutic160 2.2 Fundamental Theology and Apologetics167 2.3 Interreligious Dialogue, Fundamental Theology, and Theology of Religions173 3 Conclusion179 6 Justification: Beyond Uniformitarianism181 1 The Wittgensteinian Contextualism of Michael Williams182 2 Some Chinks in the Armour of Contextualism185 2.1 Contextualism and Relativism186 2.2 Williams and Realism189 3 Pluralistic Realism192 3.1 Glock’s Wittgenstein192



3.2 Realism: Its Epistemological Components194 4 Tapping the Internal Resources200 4.1 The Natural and the Cultural200 4.2 Teaching, Learning, and Justification202 4.3 The Evidential Procedures205 5 Conclusion210 7 Perception: Its Nature and Justification213 1 Perception: Initial Considerations214 1.1 Perception: Experience, Consciousness, and Belief216 1.2 Perception: Direct or Indirect?219 2 Some Contemporary Theories of Perception220 2.1 Causal Theory220 2.2 Disjunctivism221 2.3 Belief Acquisition Theories222 2.4 More Contemporary Theories223 3 A Grammatical Approach to Perception225 3.1 Descriptions to Prescriptions: The Supervenience Principle226 3.2 Identifying the Grammar of Perception228 3.3 Using Grammar for Justification in the Default and Challenge Model234 4 Developmental Continuity: Perception to Modern Science235 4.1 Posing the Problem236 4.2 Responding to the Problem237 4.3 Some Implications239 5 Conclusion243 Part III Reasoning About Faith 245 8 Mysticism257 1 Walter Stace (1886–1967)258 1.1 Stace on Mysticism259 1.2 Some Critical Comments262 2 Steven T. Katz (1944–)266 2.1 Katz’s Epistemology of Mysticism266 2.2 Katz in the Light of the Imperatives269 2.3 Proudfoot’s Explanatory Reduction of Religion271



3 Other Voices274 3.1 R.C. Zaehner (1913–1974)274 3.2 John Hick on Mysticism276 3.3 Karl Rahner (1904–1984)278 4 Concluding Observations281 9 Nature Mysticism and God285 1 Nature Mysticism: Experience and Analyses287 1.1 Some Experiences288 1.2 Analyses291 2 Naming the Experienced Reality: Is It God?296 2.1 Noetic Quality: Real297 2.2 Drastic Contrast: Ineffability298 2.3 Drastic Contrast: Simplicity300 2.4 Positivity: Goodness301 2.5 Living Presence: Consciousness303 2.6 An Objection306 3 More on God307 3.1 God as Creator?307 3.2 Immanence and Transcendence309 3.3 Religious Naturalism?312 3.4 Conceiving Transcendence315 4 Conclusion316 10 Religious Diversity, Christian Faith, and Truth317 1 Natural Mysticism317 1.1 Event Mysticism318 1.2 Person-Mysticism321 1.3 Implications328 2 The Foundational Christian Experience329 2.1 Recalling Developmental Continuity330 2.2 The Jewish Milieu of the Christian Experience331 2.3 The Christ-Event333 3 Justification of Religious Beliefs and Practices335 3.1 Need for Justification335 3.2 Recalling the Justificatory Process338 3.3 Is Jesus Divine?340 3.4 Additional Grammatical Rule of Christian Faith342 3.5 Some Complexities of Justification344 4 Conclusion346



11 Pulling Together349 1 Summing Up349 2 Some Hints Towards Building a Map352 2.1 Resurrection353 2.2 Trinity355 3 Conclusion357 Bibliography359 Name Index387 Subject Index393

List of Figures

Fig. 3.1 Fig. 4.1 Fig. 4.2 Fig. 5.1 Fig. 5.2 Fig. 5.3 Fig. 5.4 Fig. 5.5

Two hierarchies of reality Science of religions: Its alleged neutrality Science of religions: The real picture Bullet theory of communication Communication as relational A and B situated within their horizons Overlap of two horizons Daisy Model of Communication

92 117 120 154 154 155 158 166



Reason: The Multi-Coloured Chameleon

The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) officially opened up the possibility of thinking independently of Scholastic philosophy and theology. One unintended consequence of this opening up was a decline among Roman Catholics in the study of philosophy, ‘not just of Scholastic philosophy but of philosophy itself’.1 This impacted its theology with ‘theologians … allow[ing] themselves to be swayed uncritically by assertions which have become part of current parlance and culture’ (55). This sense of being adrift was producing an equally problematic ‘fideism which fails to recognize the importance of …philosophical discourse for the understanding of faith’ (55). Under these circumstances, Pope John Paul II saw the need to reaffirm that ‘study of philosophy is fundamental and indispensable to the structure of theological studies’ (62). He did this with the encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998), which had been in the making for some 12 years, after closely observing the state of philosophy and theology for more than three decades after Council. The encylical’s insistence on the need for both the wings of faith and reason was followed up by the Congregation for Catholic Education in 2012 making a course on faith and reason as a requirement for obtaining

1  Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.html, no. 61. In order to avoid excessive footnotes, I will cite the number of the encyclical in brackets within the text.

© The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




a bachelor’s degree from its philosophy faculties.2 Both these documents are emphatic about the need to hold faith and reason together. Neither breaks any new ground nor provides any blueprint for accomplishing this task. Small wonder, therefore, that seminaries tend to meet the demand for teaching faith and reason by teaching Fides et Ratio. Such shortcut solutions forget that the encyclical involves a large vision for the future. In this introductory chapter I will spell out this vision and argue that following this vision calls for greater attention to the cultural entanglement of reason than what is recognized in the encyclical.

1   The Vision and Mission of Fides et Ratio To begin with, the encyclical does not see relating faith and reason as an internal affair of the Church. Rather, the faithful must rationally engage the larger culture outside the Church. This is seen in the recognition that philosophy is needed, ‘often the only ground’ (104) for ‘communicating the truth of the Gospel to those who do not yet know it’ (5). This is the missionary dimension of the vision. As a person who earnestly attempted to carry out this dimension of the vision, it will be instructive to look at Pope Benedict XVI’s efforts. 1.1  Pope Benedict XVI: Missionary of a Rationally Engaged Faith The extensive writings and engagements of Joseph Ratzinger (both as Pope and before) are pervaded by an urgency to re-evangelize the Western world that had become unhinged from its Christian moorings. He was anguished that, at two crucial moments in post-war Europe, Christianity failed to provide an anchor for those who were in search of meaningful alternatives. The first was the youth rebellion of 1968 and the second was the 1989 ‘collapse of the socialist regimes in Europe, which left behind a sorry legacy of ruined land and ruined souls’.3 This anguish prompted his 2  Congregation for Catholic Education, Decree on the Reform of Ecclesiastical Studies of Philosophy, (Decree, for short) ccatheduc/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_20110128_dec-rif-filosofia_en.html, 60.10 b. 3  John F.  Thornton and Susan B.  Varenne (eds.), The Essential Pope Benedict XVI: His Central Writings and Speeches (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 1.



attempts to reach out and present Christianity as a rational option to his European contemporaries. Three of his attempts to reach out to the outside world are well known: engaging with Jürgen Habermas, a leading public intellectual, in 2004; addressing the University of Regensburg in 2006; and addressing the German Parliament (Bundestag) in 2011. I shall consider only the last, which did not have the sort of violent aftermath his Regensburg address had,4 but still illustrates where his theological brilliance falls short in addressing the rationality of faith in the contemporary world. In his address, the Pope dealt with the foundations of law and the responsibility of politicians to safeguard those foundations, irrespective of their political affiliations. He observed: ‘Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society’. By this he was making it clear that although he was the head of the Catholic Church, he was not a theocrat; the state has its own autonomy. Then he went on to add that the ‘true source of law’ is ‘nature and reason’.5 The erudite pope showed that this tradition goes back not only to pre-­Christian times, especially to the Stoic philosophers and the teachers of Roman law, but also to juridical developments during the Enlightenment, climaxing in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. He did not hesitate to draw out the implication: politicians must go beyond the concern to secure a majority and do what is right and just. The speech was highly appreciated, with one newspaper (Frankfurter Rundschau) even saying that the ‘pope could have put all his critics to shame’.6 The autonomy of the laws of state from the laws of the Church or from similar laws like the Islamic Sharia is definitely good news—not only for countries that are multi-religious and multi-cultural, but also for countries with significant minority populations of the same religion as with Shias and Sunnis or with Protestants and Catholics. The pope was showing a way forward to the whole world. But criticism followed the adulation. Some criticized the speech for what they saw as overriding the majority principle as the basis of 4  This led to violent reactions from the Muslim world, including bombing of churches and even a killing. 5  Pope Benedict XVI, Visit to the Bundestag, Listening to the Heart: Foundations of Law hf_ben-xvi_spe_20110922_reichstag-berlin.html 6  Justus Leicht, Pope Benedict Speaks to German Parliament against Majority Rule and against ‘ungodly’ Laws,



democracy.7 I wonder if such critics would still maintain that view after witnessing how an unprincipled use of the majority principle can be turned into a majoritarianism that threatens the lives and livelihoods of minority populations of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural countries like India and the US. The more important criticism was that the Pope claimed ‘universal acceptance of a particular worldview by declaring a specific approach to be general’.8 As a firm believer in God, it was right for him to speak of ‘the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God’.9 But what about those who do not believe in God? After all, was that not the point of acknowledging the autonomy of the laws of state? Harmony of objective and subjective reason is deeply rooted in the history of Western philosophy and Christian theology. It is a tradition that owes a lot to Stoics and the metaphysical tradition of Christian Scholasticism. Unfortunately, it was these very same things that the modern world revolted against. The Pope’s outlook and his address were strong on history and tradition, but weak in showing the rationality of faith to the secularized Europe. If the Church is to reach out to the contemporary world, it needs to look beyond the readymade solutions of the past and engage in the ‘daunting’ philosophical task that Fides et Ratio has rightly described as ‘one of the tasks which Christian thought will have to take up through the next millennium of the Christian era’ (85). 1.2  A Vision for Future That brings me to the second dimension of the vision: it is a task for the future. The encyclical calls on Christian philosophers to ‘develop a reflection which will be both comprehensible and appealing to those who do not yet grasp the full truth which divine Revelation declares’ (104). This task is daunting as it requires a ‘unified and organic vision of knowledge’ in the face of a ‘splintered approach to truth and the consequent fragmentation of meaning’ (85). Here we have a clear indication that at the heart of the crisis to which Fides et Ratio responds is a theory of knowledge or  Ibid.  Wilhelm Guggenberger, ‘Democracy and Truth: Pope Benedict’s Speech in Berlin’, in Jose Thayil and Andreas Vonach (eds.), Democracy in an Age of Globalization (Innsbruck: Innsbruck University Press, 2015), 158. 9  Pope Benedict XVI, Visit to the Bundestag, Listening to the Heart: Foundations of Law. 7 8



epistemology. Against ‘widespread symptoms of lack of confidence in truth’ (5) the encyclical confidently affirms that ‘Truth can never be confined to time and culture’ (95). In keeping with the insistence on the human capacity for knowing truth, the word ‘truth’ appears no less than 365 times in the document, besides another 70 occurrences of ‘true’ and Aquinas is praised as an ‘apostle of the truth’ (44). This epistemological task is set before Christian philosophers as something to work towards in the new millennium. If this vision is to become a reality, we must begin by identifying the problem. The problem, I shall argue in the next section, is that reason is a multifaceted thing, a multi-coloured chameleon that changes its colours to suit the cultural environment. In order to show this I shall use the history of philosophy-theology relations from the encyclical, but adapting it to bring out the different responses of the Church to cultural change. 1.3  Terms: Natural and Cultural Before proceeding to history I must consider a possible objection to my claim about the nature of reason. It might be objected that beyond the culturally conditioned reason there is ‘natural’ reason, which all are obliged to assent to.10 I agree. That calls for clarifying the terms ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’. Natural reason in Thomas Aquinas is contrasted with reason informed by revelation. However, since revelation cannot be taken for granted these days, I contrast the ‘natural’ with the ‘cultural’, and not with the revealed. ‘Natural’ refers to those human capabilities, tendencies, and needs that are universal, such as the need for food and companionship. In the context of reason, it applies above all to those human cognitive capabilities that are innate and spontaneous, and therefore, common to all. Foremost among such abilities is the human capacity for sense experience. Aquinas goes further. For him, following Aristotle, natural reason begins with the senses. Its celebrated use is found in his Five Ways or arguments for the existence of God. While agreeing that sense experience is foremost among our common human capabilities, I am not convinced that natural reason must always begin with the senses. I consider some religious and mystical abilities to be as natural as sense perception. But this

10  Rudi A. Te Velde, ‘Natural Reason in the SummaContraGentiles’, Medieval Philosophy and Theology 4 (1994), 42–70.



does not matter as far as our understanding of ‘natural’ is concerned; it is that cognitive ability which is innate and spontaneous to human beings. As for the ‘cultural’, it refers to what we make through our natural capabilities, or what is built on the basis of the natural. The achievements of science and technology, art and architecture, music and literature, social and political organization of society, a good many philosophical and theological doctrines come under this category.11 ‘Natural’ is universal to human beings; cultural products change with time and place. Talking about the cultural embeddedness of reason, then, is not a denial of the natural; rather, it is a caution against confusing the two. This is important if Aquinas is to be the ‘authentic model’ for reconciling faith and reason (78). Let us proceed, then, to examine the role of culture in the history of the interaction between faith and reason.

2   Role of Culture in Relating Faith and Reason Fides et Ratio divides the history of the relationship between faith and reason into three parts: (1) from the beginning up to Anselm, (2) Thomas Aquinas, and (3) the modern period when faith and reason got separated. Since my focus is on the Church’s use of reason to respond to cultural changes, I shall divide the modern period into two. 2.1  The First Twelve Centuries: Theology as Philosophy The encyclical refers to the purification of the notion of divinity found in Greek mythology through rational analysis. This purification helped the Fathers of the Church to ‘enter into a fruitful dialogue’ and find ways of proclaiming the Gospel (36). But this was not an uncritical acceptance of the ‘cultural world of paganism’. This is most clearly seen in their unambiguous rejection of Gnosticism and its elitist outlook (37). In attempting to defend Christianity against its detractors like Celsus, Origen adopted ‘many elements of Platonic thought’ and thus emerges an ‘early form of Christian theology’ (39). Augustine of Hippo becomes the key figure in ‘Christianizing Plato and Neo-Platonic thought’ (40).

11  For a more elaborate treatment of culture and for bibliographical sources, see Paul O’Callaghan, ‘Cultural Challenges to Faith: A Reflection on the Dynamics of Modernity’, Church, Communication and Culture 2 (2017), 25–40.



The most important thing to note about this early engagement between Christian faith and Greek philosophy is that Christianity is presented as a philosophy,12 indeed, as ‘the true philosophy’ (38). There exists no distinction between philosophy and theology at this stage13; the only distinction is between true philosophy (Christian faith) and other philosophies. Various factors contributed to this lack of distinction between philosophy and theology. Chief among them was the ancient view of philosophy as a spiritual pursuit.14 This enabled the early Christian thinkers to proclaim their faith as a distinct philosophy that showed people how to live. The absence of the distinction between philosophy and theology was significant because in that situation theology engaged culture directly. For example, we see Anselm explaining the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation ‘as if nothing were known about Christ’.15 This situation would change when Aquinas emerged on the scene. 2.2  Thomas Aquinas: Philosophy as a Bridge to Culture The cultural situation of thirteenth century was drastically different from the time when theology functioned as philosophy and related directly to culture. Two changes are important for our purpose. The first is the coming of Christendom and its impact on philosophy. We saw that one of the reasons why Christianity could present itself as philosophy was that philosophy was taken as a spiritual pursuit. But in a Christian setting, spiritual pursuits were the responsibility of the Church and its theology. Theology became the queen of sciences, with philosophy playing a subsidiary role. By the time of Aquinas, however, philosophy had begun to show some independence, especially with the work of Peter Abelard and others.

12  Winrich Löhr, ‘Christianity as Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives of an Ancient Intellectual Project’, Vigiliae Christianae 64 (2010), 160–88. 13  This refers to ‘theology’ as understood today. As a matter of fact, the term ‘theology’ was not favoured by early Christians for the kind of discipline they were engaged in; instead they preferred the term ‘sacred doctrine’ for what came to be called ‘theology’. See Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin (eds.), Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 2 vols. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 6. 14  Pierre Hadot and Arnold I. Davidson, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, trans. Michael Chase (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1995). 15  St. Anselm, “Cur Deus Homo,” Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies,, preface.



Without having the responsibility for guiding people on how to live, philosophy was becoming an intellectual pursuit driven primarily by logic. The second major change was the re-discovery of the natural philosophy of Aristotle. In Plato’s scheme of things, since this material world is a shadow of a more perfect world, it carries the footprints of the other world. This becomes the Augustinian model for studying nature (Book of nature) under the guidance of the Bible (Book of scripture) to detect the imprints of God in nature.16 Such was not the case with Aristotle who studied nature on its own terms, independent of all considerations about God. God entered the picture not in Aristotle’s physics, but in his metaphysics, as an explanation for changes occurring in this world. This dissonance between the Aristotelian outlook and the Platonic mould of Augustinian synthesis posed a major challenge to Christian faith. The initial reaction was to ban the reading of Aristotle, but without success.17 It was the genius of Aquinas that turned matters around and made Aristotle look almost like a Christian. Aquinas had to handle two problems. The first was that of integrating the natural philosophy of Aristotle with the transcendent focus of Christian faith. This was comparatively easy, because Aristotle himself had provided a way of doing this by linking his physics with metaphysics and arguing from the observed world to a First Cause of the world. The second, more difficult, problem came from Aquinas’ realization (unlike Anselm) that some doctrines of Christian faith (e.g., the Trinity) cannot be explained in philosophical terms. Aquinas’ solution to this difficult problem consisted in making a sharp distinction between natural reason and supernatural revelation, or between philosophy and theology. Having made the distinction, Aquinas systematically linked the one to the other so that they complemented each other. Philosophy, especially in its theistic arguments, functioned as the preamble or propaedeutic to theology.18 ‘Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfilment, so faith builds upon and perfects reason’ (43). If philosophy is to function as a propaedeutic to Christian theology, not any philosophy that is prevalent in 16  Stephen Brown, ‘The Intellectual Context of Later Medieval Philosophy: Universities, Aristotle, Arts, Theology’, in John Marenbon (ed.), Medieval Philosophy: Routledge History of Philosophy, iii (New York: Routledge, 1998). 17  Wippel, Mediaeval Reactions, 11. 18  For a detailed account of Aquinas’ view of the preambles, see Ralph McInerny, Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2006).



a culture can do this job; only a philosophy that accords with the Christian faith can perform that function. This realization prompted Aquinas to reject or modify those elements of Aristotelian philosophy that did not accord with the Christian faith.19 In this he carried forward the tradition of the Fathers which set aside Gnosticism as unsuitable for Christian faith. In the process of making Aristotelian philosophy suitable for Christian faith, Aquinas also incorporated some Platonic insights into his system.20 What he achieved was a completely new synthesis that replaced the Augustinian synthesis, a new systematic philosophy on which he could base his theology. The relationship between philosophy, theology, and culture is entirely different in the Thomistic system from the Augustinian system where theology directly engaged culture. By making it a propaedeutic to theology, the philosophy of Aquinas functioned like a tightrope that bridged the chasm between faith and the surrounding culture, and his theology functioned like the balancing pole used by a tightrope walker.21 In other words his philosophy functioned as an immediate interface between Christian faith and the surrounding culture, theology being the more mediate interface. In this tightrope walk between Christianity and culture, theology could do its balancing act only as long as a philosophical rope is firmly tied to the Christian faith on the one end and the prevalent culture on the other. The philosophy of Aquinas managed to hold on to both without compromising either. The encyclical Fides et Ratio, therefore, praises Aquinas as a pioneer who reconciled ‘the secularity of the world and the radicality of the Gospel, thus avoiding the unnatural tendency to negate the world and its values, while at the same time keeping faith with the supreme and inexorable demands of the supernatural order’ (43). 2.3  Neo-Thomism: Philosophy as a Shield Against Culture The cultural change to which Aquinas responded was indeed a mighty one. But it was nothing compared to what emerged during the modern period. Modernity was the coming together of such diverse factors as the scientific revolution, the Renaissance, or the rebirth of the classical 19  For a list of Aristotelian teachings that were found to be incompatible with Christian faith, see Wippel, Mediaeval Reactions 14–18. 20  For the Platonic elements in Aquinas, see Patrick Quinn, Aquinas, Platonism and the Knowledge of God (Aldershot. Brookfield USA: Ashgate, 1996). 21  George Karuvelil, ‘Christian Faith, Philosophy, and Culture: The Triumphs and Failures of Wisdom’, Jnanadeepa: Pune Journal of Religious Studies 17 (2014), 113.



humanist-­cultural traditions of ancient Greece and Rome, the religious revolution that took the form of Reformation and counter-Reformation, the French revolution with its promise of fraternity, equality, and liberty in place of feudal monarchy and ecclesiastical hierarchy. Where the religious revolution and its aftermath in the form of extended religious wars in the name of the one true God undermined confidence in religious truth, the new scientific discoveries provided a domain that could be publicly discussed and debated without any bloodshed. Thus, science came to be seen as the citadel of reason. If the cultural changes in the thirteenth century prompted Aquinas to think of reason as a bridge to culture, the dominance of science during the modern period brought about a very different understanding of reason. The modern understanding of reason was entirely different from that of Aquinas, in its nature, scope, and significance. Regarding the nature of reason, Aquinas, following Aristotle, held that ‘Our natural knowledge begins from sense. Hence our natural knowledge can go as far as it can be led by sensible things’.22 For Aquinas, an important achievement of natural reason is proving God’s existence as from effects to cause. Further, Aquinas believed—like his ancient Greek predecessors—that ‘all men are forced to give their assent’ to the voice of natural reason.23 Most modern thinkers would agree with these views about the nature of reason, with significant exceptions like Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) who held that the ‘heart has its reasons of which reason knows not’.24 Pascal was a child prodigy who grew up to be not only a brilliant mathematician, physicist, and inventor, but also an ardent Christian, philosopher, theologian, mystic, and apologist rolled into one. Although Pascal’s views would be ignored at the time, history would prove him right. He was the first modern thinker to realize that reasoning to God’s existence does not have the kind of universally binding character that Aquinas and other Scholastics claimed. On the contrary, such reasoning works only with those who already believe in God. He could have been sympathetic to such arguments, Pascal said, if they were addressed only to believers, 22  Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (hereafter ST) I, q 12, a 12. See also On the Truth of the Catholic Faith Summa Contra Gentiles Book1: God, (hereafter SCG), trans. Anton C.  Pegis (Garden City, N.Y.,: Doubleday, 1955). 23  See SCG Bk.1 ch. 2; ST 1, q.1, a.8. 24  Blaise Pascal, Pensées, (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2002), 277.



because those ‘with a living faith’ ‘see at once that all existence is none other than the work of the God whom they adore. But [as far as unbelievers are concerned], I see by reason and experience that nothing is more calculated to arouse their contempt’ than such arguments.25 Indeed, it is only believers who see the world as an effect, not unbelievers. Therefore, at least as far as the arguments for God’s existence are concerned, reason does not have the obligatory character that Aquinas and others attributed to it. Pascal’s point about the non-obligatory nature of reasoning to God’s existence is best illustrated in the life of Jean Meslier (1664–1729) who was born only two years after Pascal’s death and who lived much before the other stalwarts of modern philosophy such as Hume and Kant. Meslier was a French Catholic priest who served as a parish priest for 30 long years. He is remembered today, not for his pastoral zeal but for the ‘secret knowledge’ he possessed that God’s existence is a lie! Given the dominance of the Church at that time, he did not dare to express his inner convictions to his parishioners. Thus, torn between his pastoral duties and his inner convictions, he spent all the time he could spare from his pastoral work composing arguments for not believing in God. In order to appease his conflicted conscience, he left his writings in the form of a manuscript addressed to his parishioners. It was published after his death as his Last Will and Testament.26 In it he bared his soul to his flock: It was necessary that I should acquit myself as a priest of my ministry, but how often have I not suffered within myself when I was forced to preach to you those pious lies which I despised in my heart. What a disdain I had for my ministry, and particularly for that superstitious Mass, and those ridiculous administrations of sacraments, especially if I was compelled to perform them with the solemnity which awakened all your piety and all your good faith. What remorse I had for exciting your credulity! A thousand times upon the point of bursting forth publicly, I was going to open your eyes, but a fear superior to my strength restrained me and forced me to silence until my death.

As for the scope of reason, Aquinas drew two conclusions about our knowledge of God from the view that all natural knowledge begins with  Ibid., 242.  This book is freely available at as Superstition in All Ages (1732). 25 26



the senses: (1) we cannot know God’s essence, as God is not sensible; (2) we can know his existence as sensible things are his effects. The basic pattern of this argument was taken from Aristotle and is elaborated in the famed Five Ways of Aquinas. Kerr provides a remarkably brief one-­sentence summary of those arguments: Beginning with features of any human experience of the world (change, causation, contingency, gradation, finality), all of which are to be non-­ religious, the arguments conclude to the existence of an unmoved mover, a first cause, some per se necessary existent, something which is most fully in being, and some guiding hand in nature  – which everyone takes to be ‘God’.27

Moderns question the ability of reason to pass from the physical to the metaphysical, including the legitimacy of the move from the sensible world to God. David Hume (1711–1776) was the key figure in this challenge. His arguments about the impossibility of metaphysics—including such an ordinary principle as causality that we take for granted in everyday life—would affect all subsequent thinkers. Shaken by Hume’s conclusions about the impossibility of metaphysics, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) set out to establish that metaphysics is possible. But his view of metaphysics was so severely circumscribed that, as far as knowledge of God is concerned, Hume’s conclusions remained. Metaphysics in the classical sense as ‘the study of the final, all determining and cohering foundations, wisdom about the oneness and wholeness of reality’28 was no longer acceptable. These modern limits on the scope of reason are at work in Kant’s Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone, published in 1793. This became the new orthodoxy in place of Aquinas and Scholasticism. Regarding the significance of natural reason, Aquinas held that God can be known in two different and complementary ways: through natural reason and through revelation. While Aquinas is very clear that natural reason can lead us to the knowledge of God, he is equally clear about the many limitations on such knowledge. Natural reason can teach us only about the existence of God and some attributes like oneness, but not about God as Trinitarian, which needs revelation. Further, even what can 27  Fergus Kerr, ‘Theology in Philosophy: Revisiting the Five Ways’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 50 (2001), 115. 28  Walter Kasper, Theology and Church, trans. Margaret Kohl (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 3.



be known about God through natural reason is deficient in three ways. Firstly, such knowledge is limited to some persons (the ‘wise’) who have the ability, the interest, and the leisure for the use of reason. Secondly, even those who attain such knowledge of God arrive at it only after a great deal of time. Thirdly, truths of reason are often mixed with falsity, as can be seen from the many reputed wise men, each ‘teaching his own brand of doctrine’.29 On account of these limitations, revelation is the best means of knowing even those truths that are accessible through natural reason. Aquinas’ severely circumscribed view of the significance of reason was made to stand on its head by Descartes (1596–1650), the father of modern philosophy. Faced with the pervasive scepticism of his times and the enormous confidence that was typical of the Enlightenment, Descartes set out to question everything until he could find something that is indubitable. In other words, everything he learned from his parents and teachers could have no validity until that was shown to be based on independent grounds. This scorched earth policy of Descartes had a twofold implication. Firstly, it implied that revelation, which is the foundation of theology, could have no standing until God’s existence is proved. Proving God’s existence becomes the new game in town. Thus Aquinas’ deficient means of knowing God now becomes the foundation stone without which no theology would be possible. Other modern thinkers would follow Descartes in this matter, with notable exceptions like Blaise Pascal. The second implication of the Cartesian revolution is that it would undermine the role of history, whether in the form of oral traditions passed on from one generation to the next, or in the form of written documents. This follows from undermining the validity of everything that has been learned unless it can be independently validated. In sum, modern thinking differed from Aquinas on the nature, scope, and significance of reason. The change from the medieval to the modern culture, and its changed understanding of reason brought about an unprecedented crisis, not only for Catholics but also for Christian faith itself. Consider the case of Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918), a Lutheran minister and well-known German biblical scholar. Given the cultural dominance of science during his time, he studied the Bible from a scientific point of view but eventually came to the realization that his life as a scholar was incompatible with his task of preparing students for ministry. This prompted him to resign from his

 Aquinas, SCG, I: 4.




teaching post at the University of Greifswald. In a letter of resignation he wrote: I became a theologian because I was interested in the scientific treatment of the Bible; it has only gradually dawned upon me that a professor of theology likewise has the practical task of preparing students for service in the Evangelical Church, and that I was not fulfilling this practical task, but rather, in spite of all reserve on my part, was incapacitating my hearers for their office.30

Wellhausen was honest enough to resign. This shows that the problem is not about the morality or the psychology of individuals. The problem faced by the Church was a deeper, systemic conflict. In the case of Wellhausen, the conflict is built into the two different ways of understanding ‘biblical theology’.31 One is a normative study of the Bible in accordance with the faith of the Church and the other is a scientific study, which came to be known as the historical-critical method. Different churches responded to this unprecedented crisis brought about by modernity in different ways. Movements arose among the Protestants to safeguard the normative study of the Bible. J.W. Rogerson mentions some of the institutional measures taken by the Protestants. Those measures included the founding of a seminary in 1817 to train clergy ‘in accordance with traditional beliefs’ and a whole series of commentaries on the Bible to combat its unorthodox interpretations.32 The response of the Catholic Church was equally, if not more, defensive. It felt a ‘grave pastoral urgency’ for protecting the faithful from the ill-effects of modern thinking.33 This was seen in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius of Vatican I promulgated in 1870. In 1879 Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical AeterniPatris, which sought a revival of the philosophy and theology of Aquinas. The resulting philosophy and theology came to be called Neo-Thomism, as it was significantly different from the 30  Cited by Philip Kitcher, ‘The Many-Sided Conflict between Science and Religion’, in William Mann (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, Blackwell Philosophy Guides (Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), 272. 31  Bernd Janowski, ‘Biblical Theology’, in J.  W. Rogerson and Judith Lieu (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 716. 32  J. W. Rogerson, ‘Historical Criticism and the Authority of the Bible’, in Rogerson and Lieu (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies, 841. 33  Fergus Kerr, ‘A Different World: Neoscholasticism and Its Discontents’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 8 (2006), 130.



original Thomism. After AeterniPatris came the encyclical of Pope Pius X in 1907 that condemned the modernist heresy, culminating in the anti-­ modernist oath (1910) which was binding on all seminary professors. The modernist heresy was really not a single heresy; it was called a ‘synthesis of all heresies’.34 There are three items that stand out. The first concerned history: historical study of the Bible as well as ‘the heretical invention of the evolution of dogmas’ or the view that doctrines are influenced by history.35 Another aspect of the modernist heresy concerned religious experience. This was condemned as it would make ‘every religion, even that of paganism’ true. ‘For on what ground’ asked the Pope, ‘could falsity be predicated of any religion, whatsoever?’36 The third error of modernism concerned reason. Dei Filius was ‘principally about reason’.37 Given that the secular world came to look on Catholics as ‘narrow minded dogmatists’,38 one might expect that the Church would have condemned reason. On the contrary, the anti-modernist oath extolled reason; Dei Filius declared confidently that ‘God … can be known with certitude by the natural light of human reason’.39 This was contrary to those modern trends that sought to base theology on faith alone (fideism) or on feeling and individual experience.40 While extolling reason, the Church condemned the ‘erroneous concepts of reason held especially by seminary professors and suchlike’.41 It might seem strange that erroneous concepts of reason were condemned rather than reasoned about. This ‘reason under oath’42 scheme that sought to enforce Aquinas’ view of reason totally ignored the fact that the cultural situation to which he responded was entirely different from modern culture. In this process, reason is no longer a bridge to culture as in Aquinas, but a shield to protect itself from the onslaught of modern 34  Pope Pius X, Pascendi Domini Gregis, encyclical letter 1907, html 39. 35  Kerr, ‘A Different World’, 135. 36  Pius X, Pascendi Domini Gregis, 14. 37  Kerr, ‘A Different World’, 129. 38  Gerard Hughes, ‘Do we still need Jesuit Philosophers?’ Jivan, July 2003, 4. 39  Pope Pius IX, Dei Filius1870, constitutio-dogmatica-dei-filius-24-aprilis-1870.html, 2. 40  Fergus Kerr, Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mysticism (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 2. 41  Kerr, ‘A Different World’, 130. 42  Kerr, Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians, 1.



culture. In other words, neo-Thomism was basically a holding operation, literally ‘a course of action designed to maintain status quo under difficult circumstances’.43 It did not face the real issue concerning the rationality of faith raised by the modern culture. It failed to notice that centuries before Dei Filius authoritatively proclaimed the capacity of natural reason to know God, Meslier had already used it to discredit God’s existence. 2.4  Impact of the Modern View of Reason In the post-Cartesian culture where establishing the existence of God on the basis of reason was crucial for the very possibility of theology, Meslier triggered a trend that would be followed by others. Most notable among these would be David Hume whose Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion showed the weakness of the arguments for the existence of God (especially the argument from design). The trend started by Meslier had such an impact that two centuries after him, his secret knowledge about the non-existence of God would become so public that Nietzsche (1844–1900) would castigate anyone who claimed ignorance of it. He said: we must know today that a theologian, a priest, a pope, not merely is wrong in every sentence he speaks, but lies – that he is no longer at liberty to lie from ‘innocence,’ or ‘ignorance.’ The priest knows as well as anybody else that there is no longer any ‘God,’ any ‘sinner,’ any ‘Redeemer’—that ‘free will,’ and ‘moral world-order’ are lies—seriousness, the profound self-­ overcoming of the spirit, no longer permits any one not to know about this.44

Seen from this perspective, Voltaire was not far off the mark in describing Meslier as ‘the most singular phenomenon ever seen among all the meteors fatal to the Christian religion’.45 Not only had the so-called secret knowledge of Meslier become public by now, but also this knowledge (i.e., atheism) came to be seen as a badge of honour. In the words of Michael Buckley, 43  English Oxford Living Dictionaries, s.v. ‘holding operation’, 44  Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Aaron Ridley, and Judith Norman, The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings, Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 38. 45  Ibid.



Within what is now called the modern period … there were men who judged themselves to be atheists, who called themselves atheists. In the ancient world, and even more in the medieval world, this was unheard of. ‘Atheist’ had been vituperative and polemic; now it became a signature and a boast… and [would] increasingly become the mark of an elite.46

Atheism became matter of boast because, when the centrality of reason in the post-Cartesian world is taken together with its obligatory character (ignoring the Pascalian caution), atheism was seen as the only rational option. And this goes to the heart of the modernist crisis. It is at this point that the Church started its holding operations with its condemnation of modernism and its promotion of Neo-Thomism, neither of which was able to counter atheism. Since it was giving a medieval solution to the modern problem, the failure of Neo-Thomism was written into its DNA. The modern understanding of history as an unreliable source of truth, unless it can be shown to be founded on something that is more reliable, meant that unless historical events can be shown to be based on scientific facts devoid of human interpretations, history could not be trusted. This view of history went along with a sharp dichotomizing of facts and values, value-neutral descriptions and value-laden expressions of preferences, cognitive meaning and non-cognitive meaning, and the like. Truth had to do with the former of these pairs; the laws of nature discovered by modern science were supposed to epitomize this kind of value-neutral knowledge. This view of history and its dichotomizing of facts and values also had its impact on the modern approach to religion. It led Protestants to look for the historical Jesus ‘as he really was’47 without the admixture of myth and later interpretations by the Church. The same quest to escape history encouraged the emergence of Neo-Scholasticism as an a-historical system of philosophy and theology. Its 24 theses covering ontology, cosmology, psychology, and theodicy made an abstract system of thought that its protagonists thought had timeless validity.48 According to Walter Kasper, ‘the

46  Michael Buckley, At the Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), 27 47  Daniel P. Fuller, ‘The Resurrection of Jesus and the Historical Method’, Journal of Bible and Religion 34 (1966), 18. For a more detailed account of the search for historical Jesus, see James D. G. Dunn and Scot McKnight, The Historical Jesus in Recent Research, Sources for Biblical and Theological Study (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2005). 48  For the list of the theses, see Kerr, ‘A Different World’, 32–4.



outstanding event in the Catholic theology of our [twentieth] century is the surmounting of Neo-Scholasticism’.49 This happened with Vatican II. 2.5  Vatican II: Dissolution of Philosophy and Its Aftermath There are various factors that led to the Second Vatican Council. The most important was the very nature of Christian faith. From the very beginning, it was a missionary religion, with a message of salvation meant for all. Inasmuch as reaching out to those outside its fold was intrinsic to its identity, the more successful the protective walls of Neo-Scholasticism became, the less successful the Church was in reaching out to its contemporaries outside the walls. As early as 1942, Henri de Lubac wrote about the weakening sense of the sacred in France. He traced this phenomenon to the inadequacy of the heresy obsessed, rationalistic Neo-Scholasticism.50 Thus, faith that was to be leaven in the dough had lost its leavening quality. If Christian theology was to carry out its mission in the changed world, it had to go beyond the neo-scholastic fortress and venture out into the new world that had emerged, especially in the traditional strongholds of the Church. Pope John XXIII made this need explicit in the opening address of to the Second Vatican Council when he said, ‘our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries’.51 Another factor that led to the collapse of the neo-scholastic system was the realization that the system of Aquinas, far from being the crown of a timeless achievement, was very much rooted in history. This historical reading of Aquinas was pioneered by the, then unorthodox, Dominican Marie-Dominique Chenu (1895–1990).52 Whatever the reasons for discarding the anti-modernist moves, it left the Church with those very problems which those moves were supposed to remedy. The condemnation of modernism and the abrupt turn-around  Kasper, Theology and Church, 1.  John McDade, ‘Epilogue: “Ressourcement” in Retrospect’, in Gabriel Flynn and Paul D.  Murray (eds.), Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 511–12. 51  Pope John XXIII, Pope John’s Opening Speech to the Council, http://vatican2voice. org/91docs/opening_speech.htm 52  Kerr, Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians, 17–33. 49 50



effectively meant accepting the very modern contentions that were condemned as heresy earlier. This created an existential crisis in the lives of its adherents where a sizable number of them, including Jesuit priests, would be blown away by the strong winds of change.53 The Council was seen as a ‘new Pentecost’.54 But unlike the first Pentecost where numerous members were added to the Church, huge numbers took leave of the Church, especially in the West. What went wrong? While historical events are seldom mono-causal, an important reason is the intellectual vacuum left behind by the Council. A Church that was used to the great Augustinian, and later, Thomistic syntheses of philosophy and theology, now did not have any philosophy worth the name to function as the catalyst in relation to culture. This dissolution of philosophy prompted Fides et Ratio, as we have seen. While removing the wrong (neo-Thomist) solution to the modern crisis, no alternative was put in place. The Council sought to renew the Church by returning to its sources (ressourcement), that is, study of Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. Study of Scripture in itself cannot provide a solution, as we saw in the case of Wellhausen. Engaging the Fathers meant direct theological engagement with culture, as theology at that time was no different from philosophy. This could not be said of theology in the twentieth century. In order to see the impact of the direct engagement of theology with culture in the post-Conciliar period, it suffices to examine the role of history. Accepting history in a culture that considered any humanly interpreted history as an invitation to falsehood merely threw the Church back to the dilemma faced by Wellhausen. This is illustrated in the publication of the Myth of God Incarnate (1977), and the attendant controversies. John Hick (1922–2012), the editor of the book told us: The main historical thesis of the book – that Jesus himself did not teach that he was God incarnate and that this momentous idea is a creation of the church – was of course in no way new. It had long been familiar and accepted in scholarly Christian circles on both sides of the Atlantic. What was new, in Britain, was that members of the theological establishment were now saying 53  One example is the reduced number of Jesuits from their peak number of more than 35,000 in 1965 to a little over 18,000 in 2010. See Patrick Howell, ‘The “New” Jesuits, The Response of the Society of Jesus to Vatican II: Some Alacrity, Some Resistance’ Conversations in Jesuit Higher Education, 42 (2012), 11. 54  Thomas Hughson, ‘Interpreting Vatican II: A “New Pentecost”’, Theological Studies 69 (2008), 3–37.



it publicly and concluding that the incarnation doctrine, instead of continuing to be regarded as sacrosanct, should be openly reconsidered.55

There are two points to be noted in this passage. The first is that, as far as historical facts are concerned, the book did not say anything new; it only made public what was already known in the scholarly circles. According to Hick, it ‘performed the necessary service of pulling down much of the curtain between what the scholars knew and what preachers have been accustomed to tell their congregations’.56 This is the democratization of the secret knowledge that the modern elites claimed to possess. The second point made in the cited passage concerns the significance of historical findings for the credibility of theological doctrines. Specifically, the impossibility of getting un-interpreted historical facts is said to be fatal for the doctrine of incarnation. This becomes explicit when Hick goes on to say that many readers of the Myth were indignant that the churches had so long encouraged them to go on innocently assuming, for example, that the historical Jesus had said ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10.30), ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14.9), rather than revealing the scholarly consensus that a writer some sixty or more years later, expressing the theology that had developed in his part of the church, put these famous words into Jesus’ mouth.57

The sharp dichotomy between ‘pure’ facts and values is seen when Hick concludes that ‘the real point and value of the incarnational doctrine is not indicative but expressive, not to assert a metaphysical fact but to express a valuation and evoke an attitude’.58 Hick would make it the mission of his life to follow up his conclusion about incarnation and extend it to other Christian doctrines like Trinity and uniqueness of Christ; they were historical accretions that must be discarded. We will see more of this in the next chapter. Though Hick was a Presbyterian, he was treated seriously by Catholics, and for two reasons. First, he had taken the call of Vatican II for 55  John Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age, 2nd ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 2. 56  Ibid., 3. 57  Ibid., 2. 58  John Hick, ‘Jesus and the World Religions’, in John Hick (ed.), The Myth of God Incarnate (London: SCM Press, 1977), 178.



interreligious dialogue earnestly. It is also the case that when the Catholic Church came to accept the importance of history, it had not yet realized the peculiar modern understanding of history. It was only with the epoch making work of Thomas Kuhn (1922–1996) and the coming of the post moderns that the limits of the modern understanding of history would come to light.59 Today the use of the historical-critical method in the study of the Bible is widely recognized as a ‘product of the Enlightenment that has become as suspect as the Enlightenment project itself’.60 But for the Catholics of his time, Hick seemed to be merely following the teachings of Vatican II to its logical conclusion. The unorthodox nature of Hick’s teaching, however, would not go unnoticed by those entrusted with the task of maintaining the orthodoxy of faith. Pope John Paul II published the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992, reaffirming the Catholic teachings. In 1997, the Vatican’s International Theological Commission accused Hick of relativizing Christian faith.61 The need to proclaim the Christian truth without falling prey to ‘different forms of agnosticism and relativism’ was also an important motif in Fides et Ratio (5). Then came the declaration Dominus Iesus from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2000.62 These documents are official acknowledgements that about half a century after Vatican II, the Church had begun to feel the bite of the intellectual vacuum left behind by its embrace of the modern world. The most fundamental problem with these Vatican documents was the same. They were clear about Christian faith, but utterly lost in responding to the dramatic changes in the thinking patterns brought about by the 59  Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). 60  Rogerson, ‘Historical Criticism and the Authority of the Bible’, 842. 61  International Theological Commission, Christianity and the World Religions, http:// Although the document does not mention Hick’s name, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, had criticized Hick by name the previous year. See It is likely that Ratzinger criticized the non-Catholic Hick (very unusual for the Vatican) because of Hick’s influence on Catholics. 62  Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration ‘Dominus Iesus’, http://www. doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html



modern, and later, postmodern thinking. This gap between the affirmation of Christian faith and the inability to engage others who think differently is nothing short of an ‘epistemic arrogance that privileges “our” faith’.63 This is far from showing the rationality of faith. It is in this context that the suggestion of the encyclical to take Aquinas as the ‘authentic model’ must be examined closely. Pope Benedict called him an ‘exemplar’ for the manner in which he placed ‘faith in a positive relation with the form of reason prevalent in his time’.64

3   Aquinas as ‘Exemplar’ In what sense can this thirteenth-century genius be an exemplar for the twenty-first century? There are some hints that suggest a return to Thomism. This suggestion is most clear in the advocacy of metaphysics.65 Not only is metaphysics considered ‘the path to be taken in order to move beyond the crisis’, but also metaphysics is specified as the ‘first philosophy [that] deals with being and its attributes, and, in this way, raises itself up to the knowledge of spiritual realities, seeking the First Cause of all’.66 It is hard to see how this differs from the Neo-Scholastic metaphysics whose overcoming was celebrated by Kasper as the outstanding event of the twentieth century. If the exemplarity of Aquinas means such a return, it would be turning a blind eye not only to the developments that took place after him, but also to the very problems that prompted Vatican II. The failure of Pope Benedict’s attempts to show the rationality of Christian faith to a secularized Europe vividly illustrates the limits of using the concept of reason borrowed from the past. Is this also the case with the arguments for God’s existence? 3.1  Obligating Reasons? If reason can be used to argue for God’s existence by Aquinas and to disprove the same by atheists, it clearly does not have the obligatory 63  Terrence W. Tilley, ‘“Christianity and World Religions,” a Recent Vatican Document’, Theological Studies 60 (1999), 333. 64  Pope Benedict XVI, Christmas Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2005, hf_ben_xvi_spe_20051222_roman-curia.html 65  Decree, no.3. 66  Ibid., no. 4.



character, which was given to it by Aquinas and was routinely taken for granted in Western philosophy. There are reasons to think that the obligatory character that Aquinas attributed to his theistic arguments is a cultural product. First of all, Aquinas lived at a time when Aristotle’s philosophy was coming to prominence, replacing the Platonic outlook.67 Inasmuch as the Aristotelian outlook was dominant at that time, and some of the arguments that Aquinas provided for God’s existence belonged to that outlook, it was not difficult to accept those arguments.68 Contrast this with the contemporary world where Hume’s critique of religion damaged the credibility of ‘religion in ways that have no philosophical antecedents and few successors’.69 Secondly, Aquinas lived in a world that was theist, and dominantly Christian. In that world, he had to look into the Scriptures (revelation) even to say that atheism was possible.70 Contrast this with the modern world where atheism became a ‘signature and a boast’! If the theistic culture of Aquinas gave his arguments their seeming obligatory character, the secularism, if not the atheism, of modern culture takes away their compelling character; they only evoke the contempt of real atheists, as Pascal realized. Thirdly, there is the modern shift from metaphysics to epistemology that has already been mentioned. When Plato’s philosophy was slowly being replaced by Aristotle’s philosophy, Aquinas saw that Christian faith could very well be crafted on to the Aristotelian outlook.71 But in spite of important differences between Plato and Aristotle, both were metaphysical in their outlook. The modern outlook, on the other hand, is a revolt not only against Aristotle,72 but also against the classical metaphysical 67  Anthony Kenny, Medieval Philosophy, New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), 54–74. 68  That all of Aquinas’ arguments do not originate in Aristotle does not invalidate this point. 69  J. C. A. Gaskin, ‘Hume on Religion’, in David Fate Norton and Jacqueline Anne Taylor (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Hume (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 480. 70  See Aquinas, ST I, q 2, a 1where he quotes Ps. 52:1 about the ‘fool’ who said in his heart, There is no God. 71  John F. Wippel, Mediaeval Reactions to the Encounter Between Faith and Reason, The Aquinas Lecture 1995 (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1995), 8–34. 72  Anthony Kenny, The Rise of Modern Philosophy, New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006), 68.



tradition. In the new culture, metaphysics can enter the arena only through the epistemological route. Fourthly, the arguments of natural theology, which had a very limited role in Aquinas, began to occupy a pivotal place after the Cartesian revolution. As Peter Byrne has observed, ‘natural theology’ in Hume and other modern thinkers enjoys an independence from ‘revealed theology’ that cannot be found in Aquinas.73 With the epistemological turn of modern philosophy the very possibility of revealed theology hung on the single thread of being able to prove God’s existence. Snap that thread and the whole basis of Christian theology (faith in a revealing God and his revealed truths) would come crashing down. It is little wonder, then, that, faced with the threat of modern atheism, theologians busied themselves with safeguarding this single thread by finding newer and newer philosophical arguments to prove the existence of God, though without success.74 All of this indicates that the seemingly obligatory nature of Aquinas’ arguments for God’s existence arose from the particular cultural setting of his time; what Aquinas considered ‘natural reason’ turns out to be really not natural but cultural. Therefore, if Aquinas is to be considered an exemplar for our times, this exemplarity must be understood differently. It will consist more in what he did than what he taught. What Aquinas did was to align Christian faith with the culture of his times. He did it by creating the ‘office of the wise’ (officiumsapientis). RuiTeVelde tells us that what Aquinas created was something new, as it differed from philosophy as well as theology. Aquinas responded to thirteenth-­century challenges to the truth of Christian beliefs. His task was to analyse how reason came under the sway of erroneous convictions, so that those convictions can be ‘set aside as unjustified and untrue’.75 Having met objections to Christian faith, he could proceed to consider the truth of Christian faith. The guiding principle of ‘the office of the wise’ was the conviction that there is objective truth and that error has to give way to truth.

73  Peter Byrne, Natural Religion and the Nature of Religion: The Legacy of Deism (London: Routledge, 1989), 2–3. 74  See, Buckley, At the Origins of Modern Atheism, 48–55.Although Buckley is right in making this observation, he fails to recognize that given their scholastic background and the pressure of modernity, they could not have done otherwise. 75  Velde, ‘Natural Reason in the Summa Contra Gentiles’, 50.



3.2  Exercising Officium Sapientis Today Aquinas can be considered an exemplar for our times, because our times are similar to his, except that the issues are even more complex than in the thirteenth century. Philosophy was no longer considered a spiritual pursuit in his times; nor is it today. Secondly, if Aristotelian philosophy was dissonant with Christian faith, because of which he had to build a bridge to it, today’s secular world is even more so. The time of Aquinas was religiously theistic and philosophically metaphysical. In contrast, the moderns considered atheism a matter of boast and have practically outlawed the kind of metaphysics done by the scholastics.76 It is with such a radically dissonant culture that Christian faith needs to build bridges today. Thirdly, the epistemological turn of modern philosophy retained Plato’s attempt to carve nature at its joints.77 His idea of a world with pre-fixed contours continued through Aristotle and the medieval thinkers into the Newtonian mechanics of the modern world, except that the structure to be discovered belonged to the empirical world (from Aristotle) and it was the task of science to discover this structure. But with the arrival of the post moderns, the idea of a readymade world has become questionable. This, however, rather than prompting a pluralistic epistemology, has led many philosophers to write premature obituaries of epistemology.78 For the post-Conciliar Church that was still struggling to cope with modernity, the postmodern turn was bewildering. While many were not happy with the ‘anything goes’ ideology of the postmodern world,79 the turn has given a sense of relief to many, especially to many passionately religious men and women who felt constrained by monolithic

76  For differences between the scholastic and modern ways of understanding metaphysics, see Jorge Secada, Cartesian Metaphysics: The Late Scholastic Origins of Modern Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 77  See Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O’Rourke, and Matthew H. Slater (eds.), Carving Nature at Its Joints: Natural Kinds in Metaphysics and Science, Topics in Contemporary Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011). 78  Susan Haack, ‘Recent Obituaries of Epistemology’, American Philosophical Quarterly 27 (1990), 199–212. 79  Paul Boghossian has called it as the ‘doctrine of equal validity’. Paul A. Boghossian, Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006). Cardinal Ratzinger, soon to become Pope Benedict, had called it the ‘dictatorship of relativism’. See his ‘Homily at the Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff’, in Thornton and Varenne Essential Pope Benedict XVI, 22.



modernity.80 But it has also created a world where ‘the most divergent systems of thought coexist with none of them managing to dominate the others’.81 It is a world of diverse religious faiths and ideological outlooks, the world of passionate believers and ardent non-believers, of militant atheists and violent religious fanatics, each claiming their own internal rationality. It is the neglect of this diversity that nullified Pope Benedict’s efforts to show the rationality of Christian faith to a secular Europe. One thing is clear: in the face of this multi-faceted dissonance between contemporary culture and Christian faith, theology cannot directly engage culture as in the initial period. Rather, it calls for a bridge between faith and culture, as Aquinas did. This calls for nothing short of a fresh exercise of the officiumsapientis. Exercising the office of the wise in a radically pluralist situation, with each group making its own claim to reason, calls for reasoning about reason before we may turn to the rationality of religious faith. Fortunately, the search for truth—the guiding principle of the officium—is still valued in philosophy, in spite of some contrary voices. I will use the same principle for bridging the gap between faith and contemporary culture. 3.3  Faith and Reason in Non-Roman Catholic Christian Traditions So far I have presented the matter of relating faith and reason from a Roman Catholic perspective. But the concern about the rationality of faith is not a Catholic monopoly. As a matter of fact even before the Catholics began responding to modernity by building the neo-scholastic shield, Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) had sought to show the rationality of Christian faith to his unbelieving contemporaries. Notable contributions have also come from prominent Lutheran theologians, such as Gerhard Ebeling (1912–2001), Wilfried Joest (1914–95), Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928–2014), and, most recently, from Ingolf Dalferth (b. 1948). The contributions of such non-Roman Catholics as William Alston (1921–2009), Alvin Plantinga (b. 1932), 80  This sense of relief is seen in the writings of John Caputo: for example, John D. Caputo, ‘Philosophy and Prophetic Postmodernism: Toward a Catholic Postmodernity’, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly LXXXIV (2000), 549–67. 81  René Latourelle, ‘Introduction to the English Language Edition’, in René Latourelle and Rino Fisichella (eds.), Dictionary of Fundamental Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1994), xiii.



David Brown (b. 1948) and Richard Swinburne (b. 1934) are also significant. On the other hand, in the light of what is said about pre-Thomistic theology engaging culture directly and Thomistic theology engaging it only through the mediation of a philosophical bridge between faith and culture, it might be said that there must be a distinction between those who take Aquinas as an exemplar for relating faith and reason and those Protestants who rely on pre-Thomistic Augustinian system for this purpose. Such difference is clear in the work of Plantinga. But this cannot be said about Pannenberg who has convincingly shown that a philosophical bridge to culture was present from the beginning when the early Fathers engaged their faith with Greek culture. He discerns this bridge in the purified concept of God that emerged with the Stoics. This helped the Fathers to present the God of Israel as one that corresponds to that idea of God.82 But a question that could be raised is the same that was raised about Pope Benedict earlier: is the Stoic idea of God a necessary or even a viable bridge between our contemporary world and Christian faith? It was right for the Fathers to use the Stoic idea of one God in the context of the many kinds of gods that populated ancient Greece. But how appropriate is it for our contemporary world that is characterized not only by many religions but also by vibrant secularism and atheism? Can a direct appeal to the Stoic idea be relevant to that context? Shouldn’t we in the twenty-first century be attempting to build a new bridge to contemporary culture using the resources that are available today? This book is such an attempt. In that process I will use any resource that is available in our culture irrespective of whether it comes from believers of unbelievers, Protestants or Catholics. Accordingly, although I address myself primarily to teachers and students of theology and religious studies, it is addressed as much also to any reader who might be interested in the rationality of religious faith. An important resource I would be using for building a bridge to contemporary culture is the study of religious experience, especially mysticism. We noted the priority accorded to sensory knowledge from the time of Aristotle and carried through the Scholastics into the modern empiricist tradition. This meant that any religious or mystical insights had to be fitted into the empirical. Schleiermacher tried to get out of this predicament by establishing the credibility of faith on the basis of religious experience. 82  Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 3 vols., vol. 1 (London; New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 76–80.



But this alternative route has been problematic from the beginning, even if often ignored. It was hardly ever thought that the real problem might lie not so much with religious experience as with the truncated understanding of experience that prevailed from the time of Aristotle to the modern age. As a result, natural knowledge came to be reduced to knowledge of nature and its derivatives. Plato, in contrast, had maintained a way of knowing that was utterly independent of the senses.83 When Aquinas borrowed the Aristotelian framework, he did not face any major difficulty for religious knowledge, because sense experience was supplemented by revelation as the more effective source of religious knowledge. When modern philosophy brought the idea of revelation under a cloud of suspicion, sense experience remained the sole source. Friedrich Schleiermacher’s attempt to introduce religious experience, therefore, must be seen as an attempt to bring back a long neglected source of human knowledge. With the weakening of modern epistemology, a forceful affirmation of the autonomy of religious knowledge has come from some Wittgensteinian philosophers and the Reformed epistemologists. Therefore, bridging the chasm between Christian faith and contemporary culture calls not only for reasoning about reason but also for using the resources of religious experience to explicate the most fundamental tenets of Christian faith. Such is the task I undertake in this book.

4   The Structure and the Argument of the Book As is appropriate for a book on faith and reason, there are two running themes in the book. One is epistemology (reason) and the other is religion (faith). And both are sought to be placed in the background of shifting cultural soil. Epistemology forms the core of this book, both in reasoning about reason, and in reasoning about faith in terms of religious experience. Going by the frequent use of words ‘epistemology’ or ‘theory of knowledge’ in the contemporary world, one would not suspect that the boundaries of this discipline remain ‘fuzzy and controversial’.84 No matter how fuzzy, epistemology has been at the centre of the debunking of 83  For a discussion of this kind of knowledge that Plato called anamnesis or recollection, see Gail Fine, Plato on Knowledge and Forms: Selected Essays (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), 54–57. Plato’s discussion of the knowledge of virtues implies an entirely different kind of knowledge than the knowledge of nature. 84  William P.  Alston, Beyond “Justification”: Dimensions of Epistemic Evaluation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 5.



religious knowledge. In much of that debunking, ‘epistemology’ has been used for a validation of truth claims that is more commonly called ‘justification’ of beliefs.85 Justification, in turn, is closely related to the method of validation on the one hand, and the basis or the ground of validation, on the other. Method, in the English-speaking philosophy of the twentieth century, has mostly meant scientific method, which was considered impersonal and objective, and the basis of validation has been sense experience. What has come to be called ‘continental epistemology’,86 on the other hand, did not make ‘justification’ central to its concern, and explored other, more subject-centred methods like hermeneutics (which focuses on interpretation and understanding) and phenomenology (which focuses on describing the contents of consciousness). The epistemology explored in this book will incorporate all the three dimensions—justification, method, and hermeneutics—in an integral fashion. The need to reason about reason before reasoning about faith should lead to a division of this book into two parts. For practical reasons, however, it is divided into three parts. Alternatively, the first two parts could be considered as two units of ‘Reasoning about Reason’. The first unit (or Part I of the book) explores the sustained attempts to apply an epistemology, arising from a certain understanding of science, to religion and theology. We have already had brief glimpses of such attempts in the cases of Wellhausen and Hick. Part I will provide a more detailed critique. Although the inadequacy of that approach to knowledge has been recognized, a viable alternative is yet to emerge. The second unit of ‘Reasoning about Reason’ (Part II of the book) explores an alternative epistemology. It begins with the concrete existential situation of the knower, and reasoning from an existential location proposes using diverse kinds of reason in an integral fashion. Therefore, this part is named ‘Existential Reasons’ in the plural. Its subtitle, ‘Conviction, Communication, and Truth’ expresses the three major concerns that it deals with. Varied convictions that people live by and from which they draw their energies, the need to communicate those convictions to others who may or may not share them, and doing so 85  Justification is considered so central to epistemology that the entry on the history of epistemology in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy is centred on justification. See George Pappas, ‘Epistemology, History of, in Edward Craig’, The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London; New York: Routledge, 2005), 227–37. 86  Linda Alcoff, ‘Continental Epistemology’, in Jonathan Dancy, Ernest Sosa, and Matthias Steup (eds.), A Companion to Epistemology, 2nd ed., Blackwell Companions to Philosophy (Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 287–92.



without relativizing truth will be major themes of this part. Part III will focus particularly on exploring the concept of God in terms of experiences that are universally acknowledged as mystical, but are not limited to any specific religious tradition. Let me elaborate these three parts a little further, more with a view to showing the argumentative structure of the book than presenting the details of different chapters. Details of chapters and their place in the overall scheme will be given in the separate introductions found at the beginning of each part. 4.1  Part I Science and Religion The kind of epistemology that is typical of the modern world is best described as ‘objectivism’. Objectivism is the soul mate of ‘scientism’, which refers not to science, but a certain valuation of science that has placed ‘too high a value on science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture’87 even to the extent of considering it as the only source of genuine knowledge. And within science, natural sciences have been considered paradigmatic, to which other disciplines had to approximate. The attendant epistemology of scientism is objectivism, according to which there is some ‘permanent, a-historical matrix or framework to which we can ultimately appeal in determining the nature of rationality, knowledge, truth, reality, goodness, or rightness’.88 A brief historical overview of the emergence of objectivism will be presented in the introduction to Part I. Important for our present purpose is the conception of this matrix as ‘permanent’ and ‘a-historical’. Being a-historical, it would provide standards of judgement that are independent of human perspectives, interests, and commitments. It is not hard to see that the modern understanding of history discussed above was objectivist. The three chapters of Part I (2, 3, and 4) examine some sustained efforts to apply scientism and objectivism to religion and theology. Since the modern identification of reason with scientific thinking forms the backdrop of Part I, it is titled ‘Science and Religion’.

87  Tom Sorell, Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science (London; New York: Routledge, 1991), x. 88  Richard J.  Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), 8.



The argument of this part proceeds in two stages. In the first stage I consider John Hick’s attempt to use objectivist thinking for theology, and for the theology of religious diversity in particular. His position is that theology should not be based on one’s own faith, but rather on the scientific study of religions. Critiquing his position, I argue that theology is necessarily existential in the sense that it is not merely a theoretical or intellectual exercise. Existentialist thinking sees reason as an activity undertaken by human beings who exist in the concrete situations of life, influenced by the particular social and cultural milieu of their times. In the second stage I argue that existentialist thinking is not a peculiarity of theologians; everyone lives by some fundamental convictions, although one may not be consciously aware of this, as was the case with Descartes and other mainstream modern thinkers. The inescapability of being existentially rooted has two implications. Firstly, it gives a much broader meaning to the term ‘faith’ than religious faith and includes such secular faiths as humanism and naturalism. Secondly, it makes theology a very different kind of inquiry than science; to confuse the two is tantamount to committing a ‘category mistake’ exactly in the sense in which Gilbert Ryle introduced that term. The existential rootedness of human reasoning brings epistemology down from the reified air of objectivism to the lived conditions in which reasoning takes place. Navigating the various difficulties that arise from the existentialization of epistemology will be discussed in Part II.  But there is an issue that arose in the aftermath of the symposium ‘Theology and Falsification’89 (discussed in Chap. 3) that sets the tone for the religious plot of the book. This is the availability of religious concepts, especially the theists’ idea of God, to the uninitiated, say to atheists like Antony Flew (1923–2010). This challenge of Flew will be further elaborated as one of the tasks of fundamental theology in Chap. 5 (Part II) and carried out in Part III.

89  Antony Flew, R.M.  Hare, and Basil Mitchell, ‘Theology and Falsification’, in Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre (eds.), New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London: S.C.M Press, 1955), 96–130.



4.2  Part II Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth While the task of Part I is largely the negative one of showing the limits of the objectivist epistemology, the goal of Part II is the more positive one of proposing an alternative. Rejection of objectivism and the necessity of existentialist thinking place us squarely in the postmodern world, with its emphasis on history, culture, and diversity. Embracing radical diversity throws up a number of related, but distinct problems. Different thinkers have tried in different ways to solve them. Richard Bernstein saw the need to go beyond objectivism and relativism.90 But his attempted solution by means of praxis is not of much help in a world that is characterized by the ‘fragmentation of knowledge and discontinuities of action’.91 Richard Rorty recognized the need for hermeneutics and conversation for overcoming fragmentation, but sought to replace justification and truth-­ seeking with pragmatic compromise. Others seek to naturalize epistemology by affirming the continuities between sciences and epistemology in place of radical discontinuities. Part II will bring these scattered insights into an integral whole. Resolutely seeking truth amid the cacophony of postmodern diversity, I blend them into the harmony of an integral epistemology. Seeking truth in an existentialist setting of diverse convictions involves different processes and different forms of reason that are in keeping with those processes. Thus, Chap. 5 focuses on conversational concerns emphasized by Rorty. This has special significance for discussing the rationality of religion because of the ‘enormous gulf’ that exists between a religious believer and non-believer that was noticed by Wittgenstein.92 But instead of replacing epistemology with hermeneutics, as Rorty suggested, I place hermeneutics in the context of communication. This leaves the question about the truth of the communicated message open. Thus, my treatment of communicative reason sets the stage for exploring epistemic or justificatory reason.

 Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism.  Stanley J. Weinstein, ‘Beyond Objectivism and Relativism’, review of Richard Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis in American Political Science Review 78 (2014), 1182. 92  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, &Religious Belief, ed. Cyril Barrett (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 53. 90 91



Regarding justification, since I consider the Wittgenstein-inspired contextual epistemology of Michael Williams (b. 1947) the best suited for a pluralistic world, I adopt its main argument and its structure of justification. His basic argument is that there is no one set of experiential beliefs that can function as evidence for our various disciplines, as modern epistemology assumed; the kind of evidence required in each discipline, say in archaeology or physics, requires specialized training. The structure of justification he adopts begins with the assumption that all claims to knowledge are fallible, and, therefore, can be challenged. But the challenger needs to provide reasons for making a challenge. Once challenged, the claimant needs to give reasons for the claim. Thus, Williams replaces the hierarchical, foundational structure of modern epistemology, not with a rootless coherentism, as is ordinarily done, but with a default and challenge model of justification. While accepting these positive outcomes of Williams’ epistemology, we note how its proneness to cultural relativism makes it fall short of getting at truth, the guiding principle of the officium. Understanding of truth is the heart of the matter. Truth links the world that exists independently of us to knowledge which is dependent on us. How are we to understand this link? Traditionally it has been understood in terms of correspondence, and correspondence ran into problems in the modern world. Faced with its problems, neo-pragmatists like Rorty and Williams discard correspondence in favour of some form of deflationary theory.93 So does Michael Devitt’s defence of realism.94 Deflationary theories contend that there exists no interesting distinction between saying something (‘p’) and saying something to be true (‘p is true’). This deflationary move leaves the link between mind-independent reality and mind-dependent claims to truth in the dark. I remedy this by defining truth in epistemic terms as that which yields evidence upon investigation. This makes it possible for diverse ways of conceiving the world to be true, just as various kinds of maps (political, geographical, etc.) could all be true of the same land. This makes conceptual relativism legitimate but not truth relativism.

93  Daniel Stoljar and Nic Damnjanovic, ‘The Deflationary Theory of Truth,’ The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL: https://plato. 94  Michael Devitt, ‘Realism without Truth: A Response to Bertolet’, Analysis 48 (1988), 198–203.



Having defined truth in evidential terms, I go on to spell out the procedures for obtaining evidence for our diverse ways of conceiving the world. Varied conceptual nets guide our search for evidence, but not the availability of evidence. Our conceptual frameworks and cultural acquisitions function like nets cast into the sea: they determine what kind of fish will be caught, not whether there is any fish to be caught at all, which is entirely independent of the net. Since the availability of evidence depends entirely on the mind-independent reality, truth is not held hostage to the cultural consensus of the day. In the process of the discussion, the much-­ maligned matter of theory-laden observations is shown to be ambiguous about theory-guided observation and theory-determined observation. The latter is rejected, and the former is whole-heartedly adopted as a necessary condition for obtaining evidence. As a result, the genetic empiricism of classical empiricists is laid to rest. The result is an epistemology that is thoroughly pluralist and contextual without being relativist about truth. Finally, there is justification of the outputs of our natural abilities like perception. Given that our perceptual claims are fallible and are occasionally challenged by others makes it imperative that evidential procedures be applied to them too. In place of the genetic empiricism that is based on ‘appearance’ in consciousness,95 I show that the evidential procedures spelt out earlier are applicable not only to cultural achievements of science but also to the outputs of our natural abilities like perception. The only difference is that the ‘theory’ which guides our search for evidence in this matter is the ‘grammar’ of perception, such that anyone who knows the concept of perception will know how to go about justifying disputed perceptual claims. In order to identify the grammar of perception I use a version of Roderick Chisholm’s methodological ‘particularism’,96 except that I use it only for identifying good examples of natural perceptual beliefs, and not for their justification. As far as justification is concerned, it follows the evidential procedures spelt out earlier. This places experiential evidence in the ‘logical space of reasons’97 and not in the causal chain of empirical inquiry.  See, for example, William P.  Alston, ‘Back to the Theory of Appearing’, Nous 33, Supplement: Philosophical Perspectives 13 (1999), 181–203. 96  Roderick M.  Chisholm, The Foundations of Knowing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 66–69. 97  The expression is taken from Wilfrid Sellars, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind, Intro. Richard Rorty, Study Guide Robert Brandom (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997). sec. 36. 95



4.3  Part III Reasoning About Faith: Fundamental Theology Having dealt with reasoning about reasons in the previous two parts, in Part III I will discuss the rationality of religious faith in terms of religious and mystical experience. Following William Alston and Alvin Plantinga, I see a parallel between the epistemology of perceptual beliefs and that of religious beliefs. However, inasmuch as the epistemology and the evidential procedures developed in Part II are entirely different from the foundationalist epistemology of these thinkers, my epistemology of religious experience will also be different. I will follow the grammatical approach adopted for the justification of perceptual beliefs also for beliefs based on religious experience. But there are some special problems that confront the epistemology of religious experience. Some familiarity with various studies of religious experience makes it abundantly clear that most religious experiences have a strong cultural component. Such cultural dependence puts question marks on whether religious experience can be considered natural at all. If it is not, then this brings us back to the problem about the availability of religious concepts to the non-religious, raised by Antony Flew in Chap. 3 and further elaborated in terms of Fundamental Theology in Chap. 5. Nature mysticism comes to our rescue in this matter. It performs the same role as natural perception in empirical knowledge; such experiences are accessible to all, including atheists, either directly or indirectly through the reports of others. Since there is no claim that these experiences are caused by God, atheists should not hesitate to acknowledge them. Using the same strategy used for discovering the grammar of our natural perceptual beliefs, I will explore the distinctive features of nature mysticism. When those features are spelt out, it is seen that they coincide with many of the features that theists attribute to God. Besides meeting Flew’s demand to make the idea of God intelligible to the atheists without using other religious concepts, this way of approaching the idea of God also overcomes the deistic idea of God that came to the fore during the modern period. Moreover, many of these features will be seen to be shared by other religious ultimates like Brahman and Nirvana (along with the God of monotheism). This makes room for interreligious understanding. This manner of understanding God will also be shown to be immune to some



of the objections raised about classical theism. Thus the first step required of a fundamental theology is already accomplished. A fundamental theology that is adequate for Christian theology requires a lot further work. It needs to deal with specifically Christian claims about Christ, Trinity, and Church. The final chapter takes the first step in this direction by pointing out the natural basis of the foundational Christian experience of Jesus Christ.


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Introduction The contemporary world is often characterized as ‘postmodern’, which is not merely going past the modern but is ‘the continuation of Modernism and its transcendence’.1 Inasmuch as the postmoderns have come to recognize the limits of modernist thinking, they have transcended modernism. But modernism still affects our thinking and in this sense there is continuation. ‘Modernism’ was introduced in the last chapter as a heresy condemned by the Catholic Church in the early twentieth century. But here it is understood more broadly as the kind of thinking typically characterized by scientism and objectivism. The impact of such thinking on formation for ordained ministry was introduced in the last chapter. The three chapters of this Part I will examine the continued impact of scientism on our thinking about religion and theology. Here in this introduction, I shall do two things: give a brief overview of Christianity’s engagement with reason from its beginning till the coming of contemporary postmodern period and, then, provide a summary view of the three chapters of this part.

1  Charles Jencks, ‘What Postmodernism?’, in Lawrence E. Cahoone (ed.), From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology (Cambridge, MA.: Blackwell, 1996), 472.


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The Historical Background When Christianity was born into the Greco-Roman world, it found that there were different philosophical schools in that world. We noted that philosophy was understood at the time as a way of life or better as an examined or scrutinized way of life.2 As a way of life, its task was to supply a guide-map to its followers for living their lives. In other words, philosophy had an existential character. This understanding of philosophy as a scrutinized way of life fitted perfectly with Christianity’s self-­understanding. Therefore, it was not difficult for Christian faith to become one philosophy among others,3 with its own distinctiveness. Moreover, as a guide-­ map for life, it is imperative that philosophy changes as life-situations change. This explains why Christianity has found it necessary to change with every major cultural change. The history of Christian faith, therefore, is a story of changes in the face of cultural shifts, without compromising faith’s distinctive identity.4 Given the diverse philosophies prevalent during the early period, how did they relate to each other? Did they remain isolated schools? Not really. There was at least one important tradition that was doxographical. Doxography, for our purpose, refers to the practice of critically examining other views and presenting one’s own as their culmination.5 Having inserted itself into the Greco-Roman world as one of the many philosophies, Christianity did something similar. The early Christian intellectuals engaged in a variation of the doxographical practice, though in a rather piecemeal fashion. This came to be known as ‘apologetics’. Justin Martyr (c.100–165), Tertullian (c.155–240), and Origen (c.184–253) are among 2  For details, see George Karuvelil, ‘Philosophy and Theology’, Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 24 (2013), 21–38. 3  Winrich Löhr, ‘Christianity as Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives of an Ancient Intellectual Project’, Vigiliae Christianae 64 (2010), 160–88. 4  See Larry W. Hurtado, Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016). This book provides an excellent historical view of the process that led Christianity from being a persecuted religion to the dominant force. 5  In the ancient world, Aristotle exemplified this practice. See Jaap Mansfeld, ‘Doxography of Ancient Philosophy’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N.  Zalta (ed.), URL = doxography-ancient/. While not using the term ‘doxography’, Amartya Sen argues that this has always been the practice in India. See Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture, and Identity (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).

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the prominent apologists of the time. They show us the first engagement of Christian faith with reason.6 Not only did they spend their energies on elaborating a Christian way of life but also on defending it against those who attacked its intellectual foundations. By the time of Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109), however, the cultural situation had changed. From being a small persecuted Jewish sect, Christianity had become the religion of the West. There was no longer any need for apologetics. Under these circumstances, the relationship between faith and reason took a new turn. The issue now became a question of how to explicate faith to oneself as well as to fellow believers. Two approaches would develop in this matter. One was that of meditating and praying over matters of faith.7 Practice of this approach by Anselm yielded what later philosophers, far removed from Anselm’s monastic tradition, came to call the Ontological Argument for the existence of God.8 The other approach was pioneered by Peter Abelard (1079–1142) who emphasized the logical scrutiny of faith. Typical was his approach to the doctrine of the Trinity, which he saw as a problem of logic.9 Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) was horrified by this dialectical approach to faith and emphasized the existential aspect of living the faith through prayer and contemplation as a pre-condition for reasoning about faith.10 Abelard’s dialectical approach influenced the synthetic efforts of Peter Lombard (1100–1160), setting in motion the philosophico-theological systems that would emerge later. 6  For a view on these exchanges, from the perspective of the opponents of Christianity, see Robert Louis Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984). 7  Augustine stressed this approach when he said, ‘nemo nisi per amicitiam cognoscitur’. Gerald O’Collins paraphrases it as ‘you need to be a friend of someone before you truly know him or her’, Gerald O’Collins, Revelation: Towards a Christian Theology of God’s SelfRevelation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 89–90. 8  A simplified version of the argument can be found in Gareth B. Matthews and Lynne Rudder Baker, ‘The Ontological Argument Simplified’, Analysis 70 (2010), 210–12. Matthews and Baker present it in the form of a short dialogue between Anselm and an atheist. In the dialogue Anselm proves to the atheist that the very idea of God as ‘something than which nothing greater can be conceived’ exists in reality. Often the argument is taken in this way. But it is important to remember that the original context of the ‘argument’ is not a dialectical engagement with atheists but Anselm speaking to God in prayer. 9  Jeffrey Brower, ‘Trinity’, in Jeffrey E. Brower and Kevin Guilfoy (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Abelard, Cambridge Companions to Philosophy (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 224. 10  Kilian McDonnell, ‘Spirit and Experience in Bernard of Clairvaux’, Theological Studies 58 (1997), 3–18.


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In spite of the tussle between the dialecticians and their opponents, there was still no clear distinction between philosophy and theology. This situation changed in the thirteenth century with Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), as we saw in the last chapter. He clearly distinguished the two, without separating them. Since neither philosophy nor theology can substitute for the other, both Abelard’s dialectical approach and Bernard’s contemplative approach find their due role in Aquinas. Philosophy and theology are held together by the conviction that one truth cannot contradict another. The most dramatic cultural changes occurred during the modern period. Everyday experience of the rising sun was found to be ‘false’ on the new scientific discovery of a helio-centric universe. Given the metaphysical heritage of a world with fixed contours, both could not be true. Similarly, the familiar world of Christian faith gave way to fragmentation and sectarian strife after the Reformation. These developments gave birth to a pervasive scepticism. We have already seen (last chapter) how modern thinkers, beginning with Descartes, responded to the cultural change and their response impacted religion. A very important part of that story which was hinted at but not elaborated was the emergence of deism and objectivism. Deism is a particular understanding of God that would exercise a greater influence on Western discourse about God than warranted by the numerical strength of its exponents.11 We noted that Aquinas’ innocuous adoption of the Aristotelian argument for a First Cause of the world took a larger-than-life role when revelation became suspect during the modern period. With the Newtonian understanding of the world as a machine that functions on its own laws—a view that was further perfected by Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827)—any intervention of God in the world became superfluous. But a mechanical device still needed a mechanic who devised it, a First Cause. Thus came about the idea of a God who created the world, with its natural laws, does not intervene in the world either through special revelation—as claimed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims—or through miracles. This God is transcendent, but not immanent in the world, contrary to the theistic understanding of a personal God who not only created the world but is also intimately involved in the world and infinitely interested in the lives of all people. Since a deist God can be known by anyone through 11  Peter Byrne, Natural Religion and the Nature of Religion: The Legacy of Deism (London: Routledge, 1989).

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reason without any special revelation, there emerged the idea of natural religion that dispenses with the idea of revealed religion. Another dimension of deism was its reduction of religion to morality. Just as God had created the laws of nature, so had he created the laws of morality. Thus the deist God was the creator of the world and the giver of moral laws to human beings. A mechanical philosophy of nature also goes along with objectivism or the permanent, a-historical matrix for judging truth. It is as if the permanence of Plato’s other-worldly Forms and the Christian God were now replaced by the Newton’s mechanical laws of nature, except that unlike those metaphysical entities, laws of nature had to be obtained through scientific enquiry. The philosophical journey from the ancients to the moderns can, thus, be summarized as a journey from the doxographical tradition to ‘objectivism’. While both doxographies and objectivism held truth to be universal, doxographies make room for subjectivity. The idea of subjectivity will be seen in more detail in Chap. 2. For the present it suffices to say that ‘subjectivity’ stands for the perspectives and historical particularities of human knowers. The wisdom of the doxographical tradition made room for subjectivity, as can be seen in Aquinas’ saying that the ‘thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower’.12 But for objectivism subjectivity becomes illegitimate; it will be counted as merely subjective, a hindrance to truth and objectivity. Applied to religion, objectivism means that the historical particularities of religions, including the Christian claims of special revelation in Jesus Christ, have no place; these claims give way to natural religion (common to all human beings) and its deist God. The change from the modern to the postmodern has not been as dramatic, but no less traumatic. The two world wars shook the overly optimistic view of human progress to be achieved with the help of sciences. Doubts were also cropping up about the viability of studying human beings merely on the model of physical sciences. Marxism still offered hopes of a utopian future to many. But the collapse of Soviet Union was as traumatic for them as the ‘death of God’ was to an earlier generation.13 The coming of quantum physics and the undoing of a deterministic

 Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, Q.12. art.4  Cahoone, From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology, 10.

12 13


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universe contributed to the crisis of modernity.14 Postmodern philosophy and its epistemology reflect this sense of loss and the resulting disorientation that began with modernity. Charles Jencks’ definition of postmodernism as ‘the continuation of Modernism and its transcendence’, therefore, is appropriate for our purpose. A sense of loss remains, and it is deepened by the recognition that the modern objectivist solution is not viable. That brings us to the present context within which we need to seek the rationality of religious faith. The three chapters of Part I (2, 3, and 4) deal with the twentieth-century impact of scientism and objectivism in relation to religious faith and theology, and the transitioning from the modern to the postmodern.

The Chapters In keeping with the a-historical character of objectivism, John Hick’s concerted attempt to discard the historical particularities of religions in favour of some abstract, timeless ‘Real’ will be seen in his treatment of religious diversity. Chapter 2 deals with this. The scientistic orientation of Hick’s epistemology emerges in his attempt to remodel theological method. Traditionally, theology is rooted in the sacred texts and traditions of a faith community; these function as the polestar with reference to which theology guides the wayfarers on their journey to God.15 Hick sought to discard this traditional method and sought to base theology on the empirical study of religions. While Hick is not a deist, deist influence can be seen in his attempts to judge religious truth solely on the basis of morality. Hick’s desire to base himself on empirical data proves to be his undoing, as his claims turn out to be not in keeping with actual practice of religions. Every religious tradition and every philosophy that has an existential character holds its own position to be the ultimate standpoint. This applies as much to Hick’s position as to others. This finding is bolstered by the existentialist critique of modern epistemology mounted by Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) in the nineteenth century, and ardently

14  Typical is the work of Hanson who explicitly acknowledges that he was trying to ‘make intelligible the disagreements about the interpretation’ of quantum theory. Norwood Russell Hanson, Patterns of Discovery; an Inquiry into the Conceptual Foundations of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958), 3. 15  Karuvelil, ‘Philosophy and Theology’, 234–35.

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pursued by Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002), and others in the twentieth century. Where Chap. 2 deals with the impact of objectivist epistemology on thinking about religious diversity, Chap. 3 will examine the objectivist approach to religious knowledge. This will be done with the help of the falsifiability challenge issued by Antony Flew. His fundamental assumption was that religious truth claims must be like scientific claims. Since scientific claims are falsifiable and religious claims are not, the latter should not be considered truth-stating. The importance of this debate is that it provides, in a seminal and easily accessible form, four prevalent views regarding science-­religion relations. They are: (1) science and religion are engaged in a mortal combat, the favourite view of those who are not inclined towards religion. This is typically a modern view, coming from scientism and objectivism. (2) Science is essentially a religious pursuit, as the study of the world would lead us to God, the favourite view of religiously minded scientists. This continues the ancient and medieval view of the world as having the footprints of God. (3) Science and religion are independent of each other and therefore, they do not conflict. This is typical of the postmodern view and its ‘New Age spirituality’,16 which is best seen as seeking refuge from ‘the multiple tyrannies of both tradition and modernity’.17 (4) Just as empirical experience is the basis of scientific knowledge, religious experience is the basis of religious knowledge. While the view of science and religion not being in conflict seems eminently sensible, it suffers from a serious flaw: it does not spell out the nature of the autonomy of these disciplines. Chapter 4 will attempt to overcome this failing by utilizing the insights gained in the process of examining Hick’s argument in Chap. 2, especially the existential character of theology. Spelling out the differences between science and theology results in a different view of science-religion relations, where religion and science are neither in mortal combat nor necessarily without conflicts. But the source of conflict, when it arises, will be shown to be neither science nor religion but the underlying ideological or faith commitments of the interlocutors. It will also be seen that naturalism, humanism, and other 16  For an introduction to New Age spirituality, see Wouter J.  Hanegraaff, ‘New Age Religion and Secularization’, Numen 47 (2000), 288–312. 17  Harvey Cox, ‘The Myth of the Twentieth Century: The Rise and Fall of “Secularization”‘, in The Twentieth Century: A Theological Overview, ed. by Gregory Baum (Ottawa: Novalis, 1999), 141.


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ultimate standpoints are as much a faith commitment as religion. This marks the transition to the postmodern world, whose characteristic feature is its diversity, as I noted in the last chapter. Transition to postmodern thinking raises serious epistemological concerns, especially the problem of relativism, which will be dealt with in Part II.


Religious Diversity and Theology

An important part of the diversity found in the contemporary world is religious. A particular way of thinking about religious diversity is known as ‘pluralism’. In keeping with the Enlightenment idea of progress, pluralists, led by John Hick, considered themselves to be the most progressive and others either conservatives or on the way to becoming progressives. Masked under the rhetoric of progress and its ‘Copernican revolution’ in theological method was a full-blown, objectivist epistemology that sought to dismiss the unique and particular features of different religions as dispensable historical accretions. This approach illustrates the manner in which the scientistic overvaluation of science and its epistemological counterpart, objectivism, was applied to theological thinking. Therefore, we shall explore ‘pluralism’ in this chapter, with a view to exposing its objectivist epistemology. Let us begin with a little background. Having to live with men and women of different religious persuasions is a comparatively new situation for many, especially in the West. People who lived under one religion (Christianity) for centuries and were accustomed to dealing with religious differences through violence and war (whether the crusades, inquisition, or the bloodshed in the wake of the Reformation) faced a new situation where they had to find a new way of dealing with religious differences. Unlike the ancient and the medieval world, when practically everyone was

© The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




a religious believer1 and religion attracted some of the most gifted thinkers of their times,2 the best intellectual talents of the modern world were perceived to be in science. The recalculation of Newtonian equations by Pierre-Simon Laplace had made the intervention of God for the functioning of a mechanical world superfluous. Atheism had moved from its hidden existence with Meslier into becoming ‘a signature and a boast’, as seen in Chap. 1.3 More than the spread of atheism, secularism4 had replaced religion as the organizing principle of social and political institutions, thereby making room for the co-existence of different religions. Moreover, people of different religious persuasions with whom one rubbed shoulders in the neighbourhoods and workplaces did not seem any less human or threatening. It is against this background of the relegation of religion to the intellectual backwaters of culture and the forceful emergence of religious diversity as a fact of life that we should understand the particular way of thinking about religious diversity that goes by the name ‘pluralism’. I shall briefly present the pluralists’ argument in favour of their position. Since the core of their argument is the need to take the data of different religions seriously, we examine the data from the Indian subcontinent which has a very long tradition of taking other traditions seriously. Upon examining such data, we will see that theologians of the subcontinent, in spite of taking other traditions seriously, follow very much the same theological method that the pluralists vehemently reject. Indians have preferred the doxographical approach to diversity, and not objectivism. Confronted with this fact, the latter half of the chapter will explore the reasons for this preference, and the reasons will be found in the existential character of theology.

1  Robert Bellah, ‘The Historical Background of Unbelief’, in The Culture of Unbelief, ed. Rocco Caporale and Antonio Grumelli (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971), 40. 2  Robert Louis Wilken, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (New Haven: Yale University, 2012), 183. This observation about Christianity seems equally true of other religions. 3  Michael Buckley, At the Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), 27. 4  Secularism is a word with different meanings. See George Karuvelil, ‘Secularism’, in ACPI Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Johnson Puthenpurackal (Bangalore: Asian Trading, 2010), 1266–69. Here it means an a-religious approach that keeps all religions at an equal distance in public affairs. More will be said about secularism in Chap. 4.



1   Pluralists and Their Argument The chief concern of the pluralists was interreligious dialogue. Dialogue calls for a ‘level playing field’5 where no religion would approach another with a sense of superiority. Call it the dialogical imperative. Pluralists like John Hick and Paul Knitter rightly thought that it will be impossible to fulfil this dialogical imperative if theologians consider their own religion superior to those of others. But when their zeal for dialogue was combined with their urge to be the torchbearers of theological progress, the result was intensely polemical.6 They saw traditional theologies to be steeped in what they called an ‘absolutism’ that is harmful for dialogue. Absolutism is the view that one’s own religion is the final standard of truth or value in terms of which other religions are judged.7 Absolutism is supposed to have appeared first in its severest form, exclusivism, held by ‘conservatives’. Exclusivists hold that truth and salvation are to be found only in one’s own religion; other religions are false and do not lead to salvation. A milder version of absolutism is called ‘inclusivism’, which holds that other religions have some element of truth (or value), but that the fullness of truth (or value) is found in one’s own religion. This is said to be more ‘liberal’ than exclusivism.8 Though it is a mitigated form of absolutism, it still remains problematic for interreligious dialogue, as it does not provide a level playing field for different religions to engage in dialogue.9 Therefore, the argument goes, it is time to uproot the malady of absolutism of both kinds from the whole eco-cultural system of the human race. 5  Paul Knitter, Introducing Theologies of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 110. Hick agrees with this. See John Hick, Dialogues in the Philosophy of Religion (Basingstoke, Hampshire, New York: Palgrave, 2001), 204. 6  Hick acknowledged its polemical character later. See John Hick, The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age, 2nd ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 2. But he did not recognize that pluralism served more the modern ideology of progress than theology. 7  This definition is based primarily on Hick’s use in ‘The Non-Absoluteness of Christianity’, in John Hick and Paul Knitter (eds.), The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987), 16–36. 8  According to Hick, exclusivism is held by ‘ultra-conservatives’ and inclusivism by ‘conservatives’. See John Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions: The Rainbow of Faiths (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 19–20. 9  Hick, Dialogues in the Philosophy of Religion, 185. This concern is expressed very well by Sri Lankan theologian Aloysius Pieris; see Pieris, ‘Christianity in a Core-to-Core Dialogue with Buddhism’, Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection 51 (1987) 575–88.



To uproot something, we must first find the root. It is found in the uniqueness claims of religions, which are seen to be closely linked to superiority claims. But where do the uniqueness claims come from? Pluralists trace them to an a priori, dogmatic procedure centred on one’s own religion.10 The result is a ‘Ptolemaic’ theology and its uniqueness claims. Hick and Knitter acknowledge that the ordinary way of understanding uniqueness is not a problem.11 But when it comes to religions, uniqueness is a problem because claims to religious uniqueness go hand in hand with claims to superiority. Hick and Knitter point to the example of Christianity, where uniqueness ‘has come to signify the unique definitiveness, absoluteness, normativeness, superiority of Christianity in comparison with other religions of the world’.12 It is this sense of uniqueness, the sense of being superior, that needs to be rooted out. In short, although uniqueness is ordinarily not a problem, religious uniqueness is. In the case of religions, words like ‘uniqueness’, ‘superiority’, ‘absoluteness’, and ‘normativeness’ are interchangeable. Therefore, uprooting the malady of absolutism and superiority turns out to be a fight against religious uniqueness.13 The antidote to superiority, for Hick and Knitter, is to be found in the science of religions. We are told that ‘if any religion is going to make claims of superiority, it will have to do so on the basis of an “examination of facts”—i.e., some form of empirical or experiential data available to all’.14 Administering the antidote involves abandoning the old confessional approach to theology done in terms of one’s own tradition. What is required is a ‘Copernican revolution’ in theology, a shift from the old Ptolemaic theology that placed one’s own religion at the centre.15 The new theology will have to go ‘beyond the self-understanding of each [religious] tradition where each … regarded itself uniquely superior to others’ and accept judging the matter of superiority ‘on impartial grounds’.16  Hick, Dialogues in the Philosophy of Religion, 180.  Hick and Knitter (eds.), The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, vii. 12  Ibid. 13  Though I am unaware of any explicit claim by pluralists that religious uniqueness is the cause of religious superiority, pluralists’ conflation of these notions and their zeal for denying the uniqueness of religions clearly indicate their thinking in this matter. 14  Hick and Knitter, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, ix; see also Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions, 15. 15  John Hick, God and the Universe of Faiths: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Oneworld, 1993), x, 120–32. 16  Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 2. 10 11



Ptolemaic theology, like its astronomical counterpart, is a historical accident that is to be remedied with more up-to-date knowledge. The needed knowledge is to come from the scientific study of religions.17 Any ‘comprehensive interpretation of religion must take account of all the major [religious] traditions, and not just of one’s own’.18 One’s own religion now becomes ‘one among many’.19 When theology is done in this manner, and the data from religions are examined impartially, absolutism in any form loses its support. Therefore, abandoning absolutist positions, the revolutionaries boldly adopt pluralism, which sees all religions as more or less on a par, and all as ‘different human responses to the same ultimate transcendent reality’.20 The argument is developed primarily in terms of Christianity and is then extended to all religions. In his earlier writings Hick described the Copernican revolution in theology in terms of ‘a shift from the dogma that Christianity is at the center to the thought that it is God who is at the center and that all the religions of mankind, including our own, serve and revolve around him’.21 Later, as the realization dawns more clearly that ‘God’ is not the center of all religions, he uses the term ‘Real’ (‘Ultimate’, ‘Transcendent’) instead of ‘God’. Having convinced himself of the need for such a tectonic shift in theological thinking, Hick goes about implementing it. As the change of terminology from ‘God’ to ‘Real’ indicates, Hick sees the need for a ‘considerable restructuring of Christian theology’.22 This restructuring 17   Various names like ‘Science of Religions’, ‘Religious Studies’, and ‘Comparative Religion’ are used for this field of study. In its early years, it was known as Comparative Religion or the Science of Religion, the latter being the favourite of Ninian Smart. See, Ninian Smart, The Science of Religion and the Sociology of Knowledge (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973). In the United States, this field of study is also known as History of Religions. Since the differences between them is not important for my purpose, I use ‘scientific study of religion’ broadly to refer to the study of religion as an object. This will become clearer in the third section of this chapter where I distinguish between a ‘horizon’ and objects that appear within a horizon. For a brief overview of the various approaches to studying religion, see Robert Alan Segal (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion, Blackwell Companions to Religion (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006), 1–210. 18  Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions, 62. 19  Hick, An Interpretation of Religion, 3. 20  John Hick, The Fifth Dimension: An Exploration of the Spiritual Realm, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oneworld, 2004); emphasis added. 21  John Hick, God Has Many Names (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 36; emphasis added. 22  Hick, Dialogues in the Philosophy of Religion, 179.



involves all those aspects of Christianity that are unique to it, such as the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. They are to be ‘de-­ emphasize[d] and eventually filter[ed] out’.23 And when ‘each of the world’s religions … [begins] to deemphasize its own absolute and exclusive claim’, such claims would ‘fall into the background and eventually … become absorbed into its past history’.24 Thus will the great cohabitation of all religions come about. Although this proposal amounts to what one critic called a ‘monstrous shift’,25 it is a bitter pill that needs to be swallowed. Having made the ‘paradigm shift’, pluralists call upon other theologians to cross ‘a theological Rubicon’.26 In brief, then, pluralists see contemporary theology as analogous to a medical situation. The name of the patient is interreligious dialogue, showing symptoms like religious uniqueness, superiority, and theological absolutism. These symptoms are due to an ailment called Ptolemaic theology, a condition that threatens the life of dialogue. The source of this ailment is traced to the a priori, dogmatic procedure of traditional theology. The remedy for Ptolemaic theology and religious superiority, then, consists in opening one’s eyes and looking at the fact of other religions. Science of Religions, therefore, will help theologians make the needed Copernican revolution. Administering this medicine will result in some dramatic weight loss to Christian theology; to observers it might even appear life threatening. Nevertheless, Hick boldly administers this bitter pill and consciously attempts to downsize the unique features of Christianity. Needless to say, it is this flattening out of differences that is the most controversial and problematic part of the pluralistic proposal. This lies at the heart of the conflict between pluralists like Hick and their critics like Gavin D’Costa and Mark Heim. Although the pluralists would like to portray their critics as conservatives, I shall use the more neutral term ‘particularists’ borrowed from Yong Huang27 to describe their position, as it goes straight to the heart of the matter on which they differ from the pluralists. Pluralists seek to downplay the particularities and uniqueness of  Ibid., 17.  Hick, An Interpretation of Religion, 2–3. 25  Gavin D’Costa, John Hick’s Theology of Religions: A Critical Evaluation (Lanham-New York-London: University Press of America, 1987), viii. 26  Hick and Knitter, The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, viii. 27  Yong Huang, ‘Religious Pluralism and Interfaith Dialogue: Beyond Universalism and Particularism’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 37 (1995), 127–44. 23 24



different religions and change one’s own religion into ‘one among many’; ‘particularists’ see the particular and often unique features of a religious tradition, especially of one’s own religion, as irreducibly important. It is not that these particularists are not concerned about dialogue. It is that they are not willing to filter out their deeply held convictions that are unique to their religious traditions for the sake of dialogue. It is in this context that I must ask some probing questions about pluralists’ argument: Is it correct to say that the ‘ailment’ identified as Ptolemaic theology, with its symptoms of absoluteness and superiority, comes about from not taking the data of other religions seriously? Is religious uniqueness the source of superiority such that the uniqueness of religions needs to be deemphasized? If uniqueness is not the source of superiority, how is it that they are always seen together?

2   Examining the Argument We shall examine the pluralists’ diagnosis of the ‘ailment’ without entering into their polemics. It is possible to do this because, fortunately, the claim that absolutism results from not taking the data of other religions seriously is a verifiable claim. Therefore, focusing primarily on Hick’s arguments for pluralism, I hope to show that the real issue between the two sides is not dogmatism or openness but the existential character of theology. Data from the Indian subcontinent is important for this purpose because of its long tradition of theorizing on religious diversity. It will show that doxography, rather than objectivism, was their preferred approach to diversity. This realization, in turn, helps us appreciate the distinction between the empirical study of religions and theology. It also helps us see that the lumping together of theological ultimacy, religious uniqueness, and claims to superiority is unwarranted. Keeping them distinct enables us to appreciate the uniqueness of religions without claims to superiority, to acknowledge ultimacy, and to repudiate absolutism. Since I hope to show that religious uniqueness need not imply superiority, I shall use uniqueness in its ordinary sense (being the only one of a kind) and use ‘absolutism’ as a general term to include both versions of superiority (inclusivism and exclusivism). I begin by specifying the different ways Hick phrases what he means by ‘empirical or experiential data’. When speaking about the need to take other religions and belief systems seriously, Hick specifies this as ‘the data



of the history of religions’.28 Understood in this sense, such data have undoubtedly helped replace ‘ill-informed and hostile stereotypes of other faith communities’ with ‘more accurate knowledge and more sympathetic understanding’.29 But beyond that, Hick could not mean that other thinkers such as David Tracy, Steven Katz, Ninian Smart, and Francis Clooney, who do not favour levelling off the uniqueness of religions and who refuse to consider their own religion as ‘one among many’, fail to take the history of religions seriously. If anything, empirical data led Katz to a greater appreciation of differences.30 Since Hick could not be making such an implausible claim, let me consider other possibilities for what he means. 2.1  Ptolemaic Theology and Conceptual Isolation In another place Hick traces the origins of Ptolemaic theology to the conceptual isolation of different theologies. If no religion has seen itself ‘as constituting one way amongst others of perceiving the divine’, he writes, ‘this is because what each religion says about the Ultimate, the Real, has been developed within its own conceptual world’.31 Chester Gillis expands on this: ‘For virtually all of the first twenty centuries of Christianity, its theology has been constructed within the exclusive framework of its own sense of revelation and its unity with Western civilization’.32 To substantiate his point Gillis goes on to give a very questionable reading of the various stages of Christianity’s development. Perhaps the best way to examine the truth of the claim that the Ptolemaic theology found in different religions results from conceptual isolation is found by turning to the Indian subcontinent, where philosophical and religious diversity is not a newcomer. In India, ‘though there were many different schools and their views differed sometimes very widely, yet each school took care to learn the views of all the others and did not come to any conclusion before considering thoroughly what

28  John Hick, ‘The Possibility of Religious Pluralism: A Reply to Gavin D’Costa’, Religious Studies 33 (1997), 163. 29  Hick, ‘The Non-Absoluteness of Christianity’, 17. 30  Steven T. Katz, ‘Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism’, in Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, ed. Steven T. Katz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 45–46. 31  Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions, 47. 32  Chester Gillis, Pluralism: A New Paradigm for Theology, Louvain Theological and Pastoral Monographs (Louvain: Peeters Press, 1993), 164.



others had to say and how their points could be met’.33 Even if this is an overstatement, the fact remains that a good number of schools did take into account other religions and points of view. An excellent example is that of Mādhavācār ya (not to be confused with Madhvācār ya), who though himself an Advaitin, wrote Sarva-darśana-saṅgraha, a compendium of all schools of thought known at the time. ‘It begins by presenting the school of Materialism, criticizes it, and advances from school to school, theory by theory, until finally present[ing] Śaṃ kara’s Advaita as the conclusion and crown of all philosophical systems’.34 This, we have seen, is the ancient doxographical tradition, even in the West. Not only did the different Indian systems interact with one another, they even borrowed terms from one another. Where various competing philosophies coexisted in this manner, there is hardly any room for developing one’s own system in isolation from others. In the light of this, if Hick’s claim has any force, one would expect absolutism to be absent from Indian thinking. But that is not the reality; both inclusivism and exclusivism are found there too. Take the teaching of Sri Vallabhāchār ya who propounded the Śuddha Advaita (pure non-dualism) in the fifteenth century. He says: ‘In the early part [of the Veda] Kṛsn ̣ ̣a appears as the sacrifice, in the later [Upaniṣadic portion] he appears as brahman; [in the Bhagavad Gı̄tā] he is the avatārin [god in human form], but in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa Kṛsn ̣ ̣a appears clearly [as himself]’.35 No prizes for guessing Vallabha’s own belonging! He was a devotee of Kṛsn ̣ ̣a and his devotion to Kṛsn ̣ ̣a was based, obviously, on Bhāgavata Purāṇa. It is clear that Vallabhāchār ya looked at other systems and scriptures only in terms of the presence or absence of Kṛsn ̣ ̣a there. Is this any different from the inclusivist Christian theologians who see the presence of Christ in other religions and speak of ‘anonymous Christians’? This is classical inclusivism, if we follow the terminology of pluralists. Take the case of Udayana, the great Naiyāyika. Expounding the Nyāya system, he presents his work (Atmatattvaviveka) as the ‘ultimate Vedānta’ (caramavēdānta) wherein all the other systems of thought, including

33   Satischandra Chatterjee and Dhirendramohan Datta, An Introduction to Indian Philosophy 7th ed. (Calcutta: University of Calcutta Press, 1968), 4. 34  John Grimes, ‘Darśana’, in Sushil Mittal and G. R. Thursby (eds.), The Hindu World, The Routledge Worlds (New York: Routledge, 2004), 539. 35  Tattvār thadı̄panibandha 38, cited in Julius Lipner, ‘On Hinduism and Hinduisms’, in Mittal and Thursby (eds.), The Hindu World, 28.



Advaita Vēdānta, are subsumed as preliminary stages of it.36 Even among the Advaitins who accept Brahman as the Ultimate Reality, we see the followers of Śankara claiming nirguṇa Brahman (Brahman without attributes, sometimes understood as impersonal Brahman) as the Ultimate Reality, whereas for theologians of the Vaiṣṇava school (like Rāmānuja) saguṇa Brahman (Brahman with attributes) is the ultimate. Let me turn from classical to modern Hinduism. Swami Vivekananda is known to many Westerners as one of the original proponents of the kind of pluralism advocated by Hick. But this proponent of pluralism had absolutely no hesitation in declaring Buddhism a sect of Hinduism, in fact ‘the first sect in India’.37 The way many of the Buddhist teachings flatly contradict Vivekananda’s neo-Vēdāntic teachings did not seem to matter to him at all. Elsewhere he says about his ‘all-tolerant’ Hinduism: ‘Ours is a religion of which Buddhism, with all its greatness is a rebel child and of which Christianity is a very patchy imitation’.38 By no means could that be considered an impartial statement where one’s own religion is considered one among others. If these are clear examples of inclusivism in Indian thought, exclusivism is not absent in the Indian thinking, either. This is seen in those situations where other religions and schools of thought cannot be assimilated into one’s own home ground. Śankara, who set out to harmonize the different schools of Indian thought under his theological scheme, was compelled to exclude some. Wilhelm Halbfass observes that for Śankara, the ‘teachings which appear outside the Veda or side by side with it do not have to be harmonized and reconciled with it; they have to be measured against it, and if they are incompatible, they have to be rejected. Śankara’s treatment of the traditions of the Bhāgavatas or Pāncarātrins leaves no doubt in this respect’.39 The same is true of the contemporary neo-Hindu strategy with regard to Muslims and Christians: they are considered aliens, because they refuse to be assimilated into the neo-Hindu scheme of things. Similar 36  Wilhelm Halbfass, Tradition and Reflection: Explorations in Indian Thought (Delhi: Sri Satguru, 1992), 56. 37  Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 8 vols., Mayavati memorial ed. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1970–1973) 3:536, cited in Halbfass, Tradition and Reflection, 52. 38  Ibid. 275, cited in Richard King, ‘Orientalism and the Modern Myth of “Hinduism”’, Numen 46 (1999), 161. 39  Halbfass, Tradition and Reflection, 59.



observations about the absolutist character of Buddhism have also been made by scholars.40 2.2   Data as Facts Interpreted in a Certain Way What Hick means by data, then, turns out to be something other than the awareness of different belief systems, modes of worship, codes of conduct, and so on, that we gain from the history of religions. Two such alleged facts that he repeatedly brings to our attention are that the majority of religious believers belong to the religions of their birth, and that all religions are soteriologically effective. I have qualified them as ‘alleged’ facts because, more than acknowledged data from the study of religions, these are best considered as Hick’s take on certain facts. I consider them in turn. 2.2.1 Religion Is a Matter of Birth It is indeed an observable fact that the majority of religious believers belong to the religion of their birth. But this empirical fact carries little philosophical weight unless one considers truth to be a matter of head counting. Hick does not do that. He moves from this data to offer a psychological explanation for the prevalence of Ptolemaic theology. Having been born and brought up in a given religion that has created us ‘in its own image’, it is only natural that we should think of our own religion as superior to all others.41 Although this looks like an explanation, Hick also suggests that this notion be taken only as an invitation extended to religious believers to engage in a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’,42 that is, to examine the possibility that superiority claims may be due to upbringing in a particular religious tradition. Considered in this manner, Hick’s assumption turns out to be unfounded. Many, if not most, theological writers, especially in the formative periods of different religions (when superiority claims are unmistakable), were not conventional, run-of-the mill believers who took an 40  Jamie Hubbard, ‘Buddhist-Buddhist Dialogue? The “Lotus Sutra” and the Polemic of Accommodation’, Buddhist-Christian Studies 15 (1995), 119–36; Jane Compson, ‘The Dalai Lama and the World Religions: A False Friend?’, Religious Studies 32 (1996), 271–79. 41  ‘The religion creates us in its own image, so that naturally it fits us and we fit it as no other can. And having been thus formed by one of these traditions it seems obvious to us that it is right/true/normative/superior to all others’ (Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions, 7–8). 42  Ibid., 8, f.n.2.



uncritical stand on a received faith; some were not even born into the religions about which they taught (e.g., St Paul, the Buddha). On the contrary, these were people whom William James called ‘“geniuses” in the religious line’ who knew religion first hand.43 The great Indian āchār yas like Vallabha and Śankara mentioned above also belong clearly to this category. Therefore, a hermeneutics of suspicion seems clearly unwarranted in such cases.44 2.2.2 Soteriological Parity The other ‘fact’ that drives the engine of the Copernican revolution is soteriological parity or the ability of religions to effect human ‘transformation from self-centeredness to Reality centeredness’. When the data relevant to such transformation are examined, ‘world religions seem to be more or less on par with each other. None can be singled out as manifestly superior’45; ‘it is not possible to establish the unique moral superiority of any one of the great world faiths’.46 A closer examination of this ‘data’, however, throws up difficulties. There are theologians who dispute Hick’s formulation of the richly varied concepts of salvation and liberation found in different religions solely in ethical terms or in such abstract terms as transformation of life from self- centredness to Reality-centredness.47 For those familiar with the tendency of modern philosophy, especially deism, to see religion as morality by other means,48 the resemblance is too close to be missed. Leaving such issues aside, let me focus only on the nature of the criterion. Apart from this criterion being ‘pretty squashy’,49 if all religions are considered equal on this moral basis, should not that be extended 43  William James, Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, Centenary ed. (London/New York: Routledge, 2002), 11. 44  Hick also uses the fact that most religious believers were born into their religion for a theological argument to support his view that no religion is to be given a uniquely superior position over the others. If God is indeed loving, Hick argues, God could not make the accident of birth a reason for favouring some persons over others. Since this is not directly an argument from empirical data, I do not discuss it. 45  Hick, ‘The Non-Absoluteness of Christianity’, 30. 46  Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions: The Rainbow of Faiths, 15. 47  This can be seen in the plural form used in the very title of Mark Heim’s book, Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995). 48  Peter Byrne, ‘Mysticism, Identity and Realism: A Debate Reviewed’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 16 (1984), 4. 49  Ninian Smart, in Arvind Sharma (ed.), God, Truth, and Reality: Essays in Honour of John Hick, (London: MacMillan, 1993) cited in Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions, 76.



also to non-religious worldviews? Atheists and materialists, considered as a whole, do not seem any less moral than the religious. Therefore, applying Hick’s criterion will lead to the conclusion that non-religious worldviews have as much soteriological efficacy as the religious ones. In other words, using the soteriological criterion, not only are all religions equal, but being religious or not religious is also equal. It makes little difference whether one is a religious believer or not. Hick seems to accept this conclusion. He says: People of other faiths are not on average noticeably better human beings than Christians, but nor on the other hand are they on average noticeably worse human beings. We find that both the virtues and the vices are, so far as we can tell, more or less equally spread among the population, of whatever major faith—and here I include Humanism and Marxism as major (though secular rather than religious) faiths.50

But Hick seems to refuse the implication that if morality is the criterion of religious truth, the truth value of religions is zero, as morality rules out not only superiority of one religion over another (as Hick argues) but also the superiority of religion itself. This would undermine his religious realism, according to which the religious view of the world is superior (true), although it cannot be shown to be so. But ‘if the humanist ‘faith’ in toto is salvifically effective, why insist that its tenets are false and Hick’s are true?’51 All are on a par. It seems to me that Hick’s refusal to accept this consequence is at work when he responds to a criticism by Roger Trigg. Hick puts the criticism in these terms: ‘Roger Trigg has objected on the ground that it is equally true that someone brought up by atheist parents may well become an atheist, so that the relativity of belief to upbringing does not necessarily support a religious as distinguished from a naturalistic philosophy’.52 Then he responds by saying, ‘But of course it is not intended to do that’. Yet Trigg’s criticism, as I understand it, is not that the relativity of belief to upbringing does not support a religious philosophy, but that the value of morality (transition from self-centredness to Reality-centredness) as a criterion of religious truth is zero because ‘it proves too much’.53 Hick  Ibid., 13; emphasis added.  Heim, Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion, 29. 52  Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions, 8 n.2. 53  Roger Trigg, ‘Religion and the Threat of Relativism’, Religious Studies 19 (1983), 298. 50 51



cannot claim that morality is not meant to be a criterion of religious truth, in as much as he is using it to judge all religions to be on par. 2.3  Interim Conclusion Having examined different versions of the argument that Ptolemaic theology comes from not taking the data of religions seriously, I have to conclude that the diagnosis is clearly wrong. It seems appropriate at this point to generalize my finding and conclude that theologies, as a rule, tend to be Ptolemaic, such that the standard by which other religions are judged turn out to be based on one’s own religious tradition. Other religions are given a place in our theological scheme insofar as they conform to the criterion so derived; if they cannot be accommodated, they are excluded as ‘pagans’, ‘kafirs’, or ‘mlecchas’.54 But this is not due to lack of knowledge about other religions or to any sort of conceptual isolation. This conclusion leads to the question: If it is not the lack of awareness of other religions that leads to Ptolemaic theology, what is its real source?

3   Tracing the Source of ‘Ptolemaic’ Theology This question is important because the remedy of the Copernican revolution was based on an unstated assumption that Ptolemaic theology with its assumed superiority is an aberration, a curable disease. Once Ptolemaic theology is seen as an aberration arising from a neglect of religious diversity, the conclusion follows that this aberration is to be overcome by a more enlightened pluralistic theology. The realization that the diagnosis is wrong makes one suspect that the basic assumption itself may not be correct. If this assumption turns out to be false, it may be that pluralistic theology with its attempts to slay the dragons of absolutism and uniqueness has led us on a wild-goose chase, diverting our energies from pressing on with the important task pluralists set out to do, namely, construct a theology that is suitable for our pluralistic age. Let me explore, therefore, an alternative source that could be the source of absolutism and superiority. A beginning in that direction can be made by examining a suggestion made by Heim.

54  ‘Kafir’ (infidel) is the term used by Muslims for non-Muslims; ‘mlecha’ (derogatory term used for non-Vedic people) were the outcastes who were not permitted to read the scriptures.



3.1  Superiority and Subjectivity Heim finds the source of superiority in the nature of philosophical judgements: Philosophical positions are not opinions but judgments. And … we are not in a position to concede that someone else’s basis of judgment is superior to ours. Someone else’s expertise or information may well be so. Such data enriches and expands the basis for our evaluation. But to acknowledge that others have better values or beliefs by which to judge is in effect to adopt their perspective and drop any other.55

Heim goes on to add that philosophical positions are definite perspectives, and perspectives cannot be combined; they come one at a time to a customer.56 In other words, one’s philosophical position is bound to be treated as superior. While Heim seems to be on the right track, I would offer one qualification. Only a lived philosophy, and not just any speculation, has this Ptolemaic character. Practically all ancient philosophies are of this kind. Chatterjee and Datta vouch for this character of Indian philosophies. According to them, the followers of a philosophical school in India ‘lived the philosophy and handed it down to succeeding generations of followers who were attracted to them through their lives and thoughts’.57 This needs to be said because, while Pierre Hadot makes us aware of this characteristic of ancient Western philosophy, this can hardly be said of modern Western philosophy, as indicated earlier. One thinks of issues like the existence of the external world, or the problem of other minds. While these have been extensively discussed, it is equally clear that no one has seriously doubted these things outside of their philosophical exertions. One also thinks of the alleged medieval discussions about the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin. When philosophy is understood in this manner as an activity divorced from the philosopher’s life, it need not be considered superior or singular; it could be a great tool for the sharpening of the mind, but not something that one lives by. On the other hand, when philosophy is understood in the sense of lived thought, it will always possess a singularity, and it will be the standard by which others are judged.  Heim, Salvations, 137; emphasis original.  Ibid., 134. 57  Chatterjee and Datta, An Introduction to Indian Philosophy, 9. 55 56



It was the same impulse to have one’s thinking attuned to life that made Søren Kierkegaard revolt against ‘objective’ thinkers like Hegel. He compared such speculative thinking to the work of a clerk who writes what he himself cannot read.58 Consumed as he was with the all-important question of living a Christian life, Kierkegaard had no time for such thinking. His own ‘subjective’ thinking offered a contrast to such thinking. Kierkegaard’s ‘subjective’ thinking emphasizes the inwardness of individuals qua individuals and their struggles irrespective of the utter insignificance this thinking might have in an objective system (like Hegel’s). This is best illustrated by Kierkegaard’s example of two people praying: one prays to the true God but in a false spirit; the other prays to an idol but with the entire passion of his or her inwardness. Of the two, Kierkegaard tells us, it is the ‘idolater’ who is really in truth.59 Another feature of ‘subjective’ thinking is that the inward passion, that nudging personal quest, gives a sense of urgency to one’s thinking. It is the kind of thinking we find in ancient Greek philosophy where even the most abstract thinking like that of Platonic forms is rooted in concerns arising from the concrete, lived conditions of the time (which, in this case is the ethical elasticity of the sophists and the danger it posed to society). The inward passion of existential thinking is the energizing source that gives dynamism to human living. Kierkegaard’s own passion was that of living a Christian life. From that sense of urgency arises a certain antipathy towards theoretical thinking that is divorced from the concerns of life. I have already referred to the modern pre-occupation with questions about the existence of the external world. Hume’s analysis of causality also serves as an excellent example of the kind of intellectual exercise that existentialist thinking resists. His analysis could be illustrated in a simple way. When we strike a match and fire appears, ordinarily we tend to believe that the appearance of fire (the consequent) is caused by the antecedent action of striking the match. But Hume would say that no such connection can be found because, although the match-striking event and the fire-appearing event have been found to come together in the past, we cannot be sure if nature would continue to behave in the same way in the future. This is his 58  Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, in Alastair Hannay (ed.),Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs, Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy (Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 161. 59  Ibid., 169.



theoretical life. But when he relaxes after his theoretical exertions by playing a game of backgammon, he has no choice but to take for granted the very principle that he denied in his theoretical life. It is this kind of thinking that is cut off from one’s lived conditions, attempting to look at the world from the outside, that Kierkegaard called ‘objective’. He saw it as taking us away from the concrete situations of life. ‘The only actuality that one who exists has more than a knowledge of is his own actuality, the fact that he is there, and this actuality is his absolute interest. What abstraction demands of him is that he become disinterested in order to have something to know’.60 Unless understood against this background, Kierkegaard’s subjectivity is easily misunderstood as a lack of concern with objectivity and truth.61 A third feature of subjectivity is that the inward passion of the individual provides not only a dynamism to life, but also a unifying structure to one’s existence. It is a secret known to every lover that whether eating or drinking, sleeping or waking, the beloved is ever present, and it is in terms of the beloved that every other activity and relationship of one’s life comes to be organized. Such is the case with Kierkegaardian subjectivity. Existential thinking, therefore, comes to have an encompassing character where one’s whole life (thinking, feeling, and willing) comes into play and not merely thinking. This is very different from the kind of theoretical unity achieved by Hegelian philosophy. For Kierkegaard, existence is a dynamic process of becoming and not a state of being. The unity brought about by subjectivity is not a matter of building a philosophical system, because Kierkegaard is very clear that an existential system is impossible: ‘system and finality correspond to each another, but existence is precisely the opposite [of finality]’.62 The kind of unity achieved in existential thinking is not a static unity, but a dynamic one; it changes as one moves along in life. It is like two old lovers who do not remain the same as they were when they first fell in love.  Ibid., 264.  For an elaboration of Kierkegaard’s use of ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ see Michael J.  Matthis, ‘Becoming Subjective: Kierkegaard’s Existential Revolution’, Philosophy Today (2006), 272–83. My reading of what Kierkegaard means by ‘subjectivity’ differs from that of D. Z. Phillips who contrasts subjectivity with the ‘world-historical’, whereas my understanding of the Kierkegaard’s existential revolution consists in being within the ‘world-historical’ as against the ‘permanent, a-historical’. See D. Z. Phillips, Faith and Philosophical Enquiry (New York: Schocken, 1971), 204–09. 62  Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 100. 60 61



These features of unity and dynamism come together in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s notion of horizon.63 A horizon is an encompassing unity, but not static, as it moves with the perceiver.64 The imagery of the horizon helps us visualize Kierkegaard’s distinction between ‘objective’ thinking and ‘subjective’ or existential thinking. The distinction is comparable to that between objects and the horizon within which objects are seen. Objects come into view within a horizon, but the horizon itself is not another seen object. Horizon is the background, the ‘range of vision’65 within which objects come into view. Objects are many and distinct; the horizon is singular and encompasses all objects. Objects are independent of the subject, but there can be no horizon that is independent of the perceiver. Further, horizon is the basis on which the value of objects is judged, as they show us the ‘relative significance of everything within the horizon’.66 This visual imagery of the horizon, though helpful to understand the dynamic unity of subjective thinking, is not very helpful towards understanding another dimension of subjectivity: namely, its emphasis on the unity of being and knowing. But this unity is not to be understood as the identity of thought and reality (as in Hegel), which Kierkegaard considered ‘a chimera of abstraction’, an impossibility for any existing individual. Kierkegaardian unity of being and knowing is a matter of being the truth, rather than an indifferent knowing at a distance: Truth consists not in knowing the truth but in being the truth. … For knowing the truth is something which follows as a matter of course from being the truth, and not conversely; and precisely for this reason it becomes untruth when knowing the truth is separated from being the truth, or when knowing the truth is treated as one and the same thing as being the truth, since the true relation is the converse of this: to be the truth is one and the same thing as knowing the truth.67

63  Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, second, revised ed. (New York: Continuum, 2002), 301–04. While I am unaware of anyone else using Gadamer’s notion of horizon to understand Kierkegaard’s subjectivity, a parallel can be found in Michael Watts, Kierkegaard, Oneworld Philosophers (Oxford: Oneworld, 2003), 86. 64  Gadamer, Truth and Method, 303. 65  Ibid., 301. 66  Ibid. 67  Søren Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity and the Edifying Discourse Which ‘Accompanied’ It, tr. by Walter Lowrie (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 1944), 201.



To revert to the example of the old lovers, to the extent they remain in love after many years, there is a deepening of their relationship and they have changed in the process. It is a process that Kierkegaard called appropriation of truth rather than approximating to truth. Approximation is a purely intellectual process, whereas appropriation is a process of self-transformation. Kierkegaard’s subjectivity was a feeble shoot of protest planted in the arid lands of modern philosophy that paid no attention to the inner life of the thinker. But in the twentieth century it has grown into a mighty forest, giving birth to the ‘existential revolution’.68 It illuminates the very nature of human existence as in Martin Heidegger’s discussion of ‘being-in-the-­ world’, the numerous critiques of the ‘myth of the given’, and the impossibility of a ‘view from nowhere’.69 They expose the bankruptcy of the objectivist epistemology. By using the hyphenated expression ‘being-in-­ the-world’, Heidegger introduced a necessary corrective to how modern philosophy understands human existence. Human beings were taken to be world-less egos standing apart from the world as subjects attempting to gaze at objects in the world. As everyone knows, removing the knower from the world introduced the problem of the knowability of the external world, a problem that cannot be solved because it misconstrues the very nature of the being who seeks to know. As opposed to this spectator view, Heidegger tells us that we are constituted by our engagement, our concern. ‘Being-in-the-world’, therefore, is not a matter of being contained like water in a glass or like a tree in the garden. For Heidegger, to be is to be at home: to be related and related necessarily. It is in that process of relating and caring that we constitute ourselves and our world. To say that the world is constituted in the process does not mean that we create the world, but that whatever we find there would not make any sense except through our manner of relating to it. We will know a hammer as hammer only by relating to it in that manner, that is, by using it to hammer. So too we would not be what we are except through our relating to the world. This infusion of subjectivity into knowing makes epistemology an existential process.70 An immediate implication of this is that the human  Matthis, ‘Becoming Subjective’, 272–83.  Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). 70  On the application of ‘existential’ to Heidegger’s epistemology, see John Richardson, Existential Epistemology: A Heideggerian Critique of the Cartesian Project (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986). 68 69



knower does not have a neutral vantage point or a cosmic location from which to view the world in a detached manner. As the world is constituted by our subjectivity, we would always be at its centre. ‘The world as I live in it has myself as an absolute center of coordinates because I am involved in it’.71 This location of ‘I’ at the centre of the world brings us back to my original point: that the source of superiority is our philosophical standpoint, when philosophy is understood in an existential sense, as lived philosophy, a lived horizon within which all that one views gains significance. Having this horizon, instead of the other one, is possible. But it is impossible to be outside all horizons, taking an impartial, equidistant view of all. Objectivity is possible with regard to objects, but the horizon is not an object. And whatever one’s horizon, it encompasses everything else. My lived horizon, together with the objects that appear within it, makes up my world. If an existential horizon has this all-encompassing, singular character, it cannot but be at the centre; it is an imperative of any lived horizon, an existential imperative. There is also a further implication: if it can be shown that theology is first and foremost an existential enterprise, we would have found the real source of theological absolutism and superiority. If the real source of absolutism is the existential character of theology (and not the uniqueness of religions), it would be a pointless exercise to undermine the uniqueness of religions. Then we would be able to maintain the uniqueness of religions without superiority, or at least with only that kind of superiority that is unavoidable in having any lived horizon.72 3.2  Theology as Existential If it was his all-consuming passion for living his faith that led Kierkegaard to discover the importance of subjectivity, more recent thinkers have come 71  Mikel Dufrenne, ‘Existentialism and Existentialisms’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 26 (1965), 54. But ‘being at the centre’ is obviously not used in a mathematical sense: ‘the friend I see across the road is nearer to me than the pavement under my feet’ (Stephen Mulhall, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Heidegger and Being and Time [London: Routledge, 1996], 52). 72  The ‘unavoidable superiority’ here is not a matter of any individual’s attitude to others; a believer may be the humblest of persons. At stake here is the inescapability of an existential horizon. A good example of such ‘humility-superiority’ combination is the Apostle Paul. See Caputo’s interesting observation in John D. Caputo and Linda Alcoff (eds.), St. Paul among the Philosophers (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 2.



to the same conclusion by closely observing and analysing the manner in which believers use religious language. One such person is Ludwig Wittgenstein. He recognized the existential character of religious discourse and extensively elaborated on it. For example: Suppose someone were a believer and said: ‘I believe in a Last Judgment,’ and I said: ‘Well, I’m not so sure. Possibly’. You would say that there is an enormous gulf between us. If he said, ‘There is a German aeroplane overhead,’ and I said, ‘Possibly. I’m not so sure,’ you would say we were fairly near.73

He went on to say that in the first case the two were ‘on an entirely different plane’.74 What does this enormous gulf between the two kinds of beliefs—an objective or ordinary matter-of-fact belief like the German airplane being overhead, and a religious one like belief in the Last Judgement—consist in? The difference is that religious truth-claims constitute a way of life. According to Vincent Brümmer, they are ‘existential’ in a way that the truth claims of science are not. It might make sense to say: ‘It is true that the planet Jupiter exists and is the largest planet of our solar system, but I don’t really care much about that’. It is however, absurd to say that God exists and is the personal creator of the universe, but I don’t really care much about that.75

One can truly believe that the airplane overhead is a German one without that belief affecting one’s way of life in any way; so too with the planet Jupiter. But if one truly believes in the last judgement or in a personal creator, such beliefs cannot but affect the way one lives. Such beliefs are not just one more belief among others; rather, they guide everything else. More recently Charles Taylor observed that religious faiths need to be understood as ‘lived conditions, not just as theories or sets of beliefs subscribed to’.76

73  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, & Religious Belief, ed. Cyril Barrett (Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967), 53. 74  Ibid. 75  Vincent Brümmer, Model of Love: A Study in Philosophical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 18. 76  Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), 8.



It is the same existential impulse that led Paul Tillich to his discussion of religion as ‘ultimate concern’.77 Heim refers to this same existential character of religion when he talks about the ‘encompassing nature of faith’: The extent to which I know my religious convictions and experience condition my approach to virtually every question is the same extent to which I can recognize the depth of an alternative. I have no resource so crucial for grasping the encompassing nature of a neighbour’s faith as the encompassing nature of my own.78

A living faith is indeed one that conditions the believer’s approach to everything else; it has an all-encompassing nature. To be noted is that none of these various thinkers, except Kierkegaard and Tillich, would be considered existentialists. But when it comes to religious faith and theology, they recognize their existential character, indicating that here we are face to face, not so much with the character of the thinkers as with the character of theological thinking itself. But is not existentialist thinking a latecomer in considering this to be a defining feature of theology? This question can be settled by looking at the older ways of understanding and doing theology. The presence of subjectivity in all the dimensions I have examined can be seen in the theologies of the past. To begin with, the inner struggles of the believer and attempts to get those struggles illuminated in the light of faith will find an echo in theology. This is the reason why very often theologies are found to have an autobiographical dimension. One has only to consider the writings of Augustine to see this point. The other dimensions of subjectivity are also easily noticeable in theologies. The classical definition of theology, coming from Anselm as ‘faith seeking understanding’, itself indicates its encompassing character. It operates within a faith horizon. This is what makes theology a very different kind of discipline from the sciences of religions (like sociology or psychology of religion, or history of religions). Sciences seek to describe and explain the observable, objective facts about religions; theology seeks to explicate the horizon of faith within which one already dwells. We shall see the distinction between scientific explanation and theological explication  Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (London: Nisbet & Co., 1953), 3:14–15.  Heim, Salvations, 1.

77 78



in more detail in Chap. 4. As a detailed description of something already taken for granted, theological explication is a committed inquiry, and it uses reason within that commitment. Whenever such commitment is not manifest, it will result in the said antipathy towards such thinking. We have already mentioned the case of Bernard of Clairvaux’s hostility towards Abelard, because he saw the latter’s use of logic as inappropriate in matters of faith. Even before that, there is Tertullian who considered philosophy as antithetical for Christian life. But perhaps the most hostile reaction to the scholastic theology that developed in its aftermath came from Martin Luther who proclaimed philosophy as the ‘devil’s whore’.79 The same tendency is seen in the Indian theologian Śankara who did not consider the use of what he called ‘dry reason’ (śuṣkatarka) appropriate for his work; to use Kierkegaard’s language, that would have been ‘objective’ thinking. Theological reasoning, for Śankara, had to be in accord with the scriptures (śrutyanugrhı̄ta tarka), within the faith-horizon.80 In the words of Raimon Panikkar, theologies— whether Eastern or Western—‘have a given basis: They are efforts at intelligibility of a given religious tradition and generally within that tradition itself’.81 It is such rootedness within a faith horizon that gives theology unity, a certain conceptual frame, within which reason is used. This distinguishes theological reason from other forms of reason, say, the use of reason in science. This gives to theology its existential character. The unity of being and knowing, the other dimension of subjectivity, is also a characteristic mark of theology. The kind of unity sought by theology is the unity of the whole human existence in the manner of a lover with the beloved, where a deepening in love is simultaneously a transformation of the lovers. ‘One who knows Brahman becomes Brahman itself (Brahamavid Brahmaiva Bhavati)’, says the Mundaka Upanishad (3.2.9). It is for this reason that theological giants have always insisted that ‘theology is to be done on one’s knees’,82 emphasizing the integration of the theologian’s heart and head, spiritual input and intellectual output 79  For an extended, historical treatment of Luther’s view and influence, see Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth, The Devil’s Whore: Reason and Philosophy in the Lutheran Tradition, Studies in Lutheran History and Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011). 80  Brahma Sūtra Bhāshya II.1.6, cited in Halbfass, Tradition and Reflection, 156. 81  Raimon Panikkar, The Intra-Religious Dialogue (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 34. 82  This tradition can be traced to St. Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana, (3.56). In more recent times it is emphasized by Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar, among others. See John Mctavish, ‘Theology on One’s Knees: Karl Barth’s Proofs of the Existence of God’,



(theology). The same is true of Śankara’s theological method, which involves the three steps of śravana (listening to the Scriptures), manana (cogitating), and nidhidhyāsana (meditating over and over on a passage in the Scriptures so that it becomes personalized). To be sure, there have been times when knowing and being (theology and spirituality) have tended to go their separate ways, but theology—both in principle and in the practice of its stalwarts—has always insisted on the unity of knowing and being. We can conclude, then, that theology is existential by its very nature. 3.3  Implications That theology is by nature existential is a momentous conclusion with important consequences. First, it enables us to see clearly the crucial distinction between an objective study of religion and a theological study of religion, between objectivist thinking and existentialist thinking, between what Śankara calls ‘dry reasoning’ and reasoning that accords with revelation. The distinction corresponds to the way that theology is constituted by the fourfold subjectivity I have examined above. This leads to the further conclusion that the so-called absolutism in theology is inescapable, although ‘absolutism’ does not seem the right name for it. But for the moment I will continue to use this terminology. Second, whether one calls it ‘theological absolutism’ or uses some other name, the point is that theology, if it is theology—that is, if it is an attempt to articulate an encompassing horizon—will always be Ptolemaic. But this expression is a complete misfit because the supposed astronomical parallel does not hold in theology at all. Unlike the case of astronomy, the source of the so-called Ptolemaic theology is not lack of knowledge, but its existential or earth-bound character. This conclusion about the earth-bound character of theology is momentous because it undermines the most basic assumption behind the attempts to replace the so-called Ptolemaic theology: namely, the assumption that theological absolutism or home-centredness is a historical accident or a rectifiable moral flaw. For Hick, theological absolutism is something that has accidently happened over the centuries, a historical accretion that is to be chipped away, a harmful sedimentation that he is Theology Today 66 (2010), 487–98; Hans Urs von Balthasar, ‘Theology and Sanctity’, in Word and Redemption: Essays in Theology 2 (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965) 49–86.



fond of linking to such evils as imperialism and colonialism. Similarly, although Knitter has come to explicitly acknowledge that historically all religious traditions have been absolutist, he still considers absolutism a matter of ‘cultural and geo-political development’ that can be overcome.83 It is this basic assumption that is being undermined when the source of absolutism is recognized as the existential character of theology. This is a third implication. What is more, such subjectivity is found not only in theology but also in any lived philosophy or existential horizon. It exposes the ‘myth of the neutral observer’.84 I will have more to say about this myth later while discussing that ‘faith’ need not necessarily be religious, in Chap. 4. For the present, it is enough to say that if any lived philosophy is absolutist in this manner, it should come as no surprise that the pluralistic position is itself absolutist. This is a fourth implication, and this point has been made by critics like Heim; he charges pluralists with assuming the same superiority vis-à-vis other positions that they disapprove in theology: It is clearly stated that those without a pluralistic understanding of their faith stand urgently in need of fulfilment and enlightenment. Without such conversion they and their traditions are at least latent threats to world peace and justice, morally dangerous as well as theologically wrong. Oddly enough, these opponents of religious claims to superiority see no hope, not only for the Christian tradition but for all other religions and the world itself, unless their [i.e., the pluralists’] views prevail.85

Further, ‘pluralism repeats the dynamic of the strong exclusivism it opposes: those who disagree are not rational or not worthy or both’.86 In other words, pluralists do not tolerate opposition to their view. Hick responds to this kind of criticism by saying that his pluralism is ‘not another historical religion making an exclusive religious claim, but a meta-theory about the relation between the historical religions. Its logical status as a second-order philosophical theory or hypothesis is different in kind from that of a first-order religious creed or gospel. And so the 83  Paul Knitter (ed.), The Myth of Religious Superiority: A Multifaith Exploration, Faith Meets Faith Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2005), vii. 84  Eric O. Springsted, ‘Conditions of Dialogue: John Hick and Simone Weil’, The Journal of Religion 72 (1992), 19. 85  Heim, Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion, 102. 86  Ibid., 143.



religious pluralist does not, like the traditional religious exclusivist, consign non-believers to perdition.87 One is ‘a self-committing affirmation of faith and the other a philosophical hypothesis’.88 Knitter makes a similar distinction between ‘first-order theology’ and ‘second-order theory of dialogue’.89 It is legitimate and useful to make such a distinction. But it misses the point of the discussion. The issue is not whether the pluralists consign their opponents to hell, but whether one can stand outside all lived horizons and have a neutral vantage point from which to judge other standpoints. If absolutism is understood as meaning that one’s own position is the ultimate standard by which everything else is judged, then pluralism is as absolutist as any other position. If exclusivism is understood as the view that one’s own stand is right and others’ wrong, then pluralism is as exclusivist as any other view. Of course, they differ on what they are exclusive about. But the differences are not so glaring as to make the term appropriate for labelling only one group and not others. All are exclusive about what each thinks is best for human beings. Pluralists like Hick think that the unique features of Christianity (and other religions) have nothing to contribute to human well-being, whereas particularists like Heim think otherwise. The two cannot but exclude each other. It is understandable that Hick did not address the real issue, because he made the logical distinction between first-order theology and second-­ order philosophical theory in response to D’Costa’s criticism that concerned the logical impossibility of pluralism.90 Although understandable, the pluralist response raises further issues. First of all, in making the distinction between first order theology and second order philosophical theory, the pluralists seem to be a backtracking on the initial pluralist push that called for a ‘Copernican revolution’ in theological method. Moreover, the distinction raises the question as to how first order theology and 87  Hick, ‘The Possibility of Religious Pluralism, 163. See also ‘Religious Pluralism and the Divine: A Response to Paul Eddy’, Religious Studies 31 (1995), 418. 88  Hick, ‘The Possibility of Religious Pluralism, 163. 89   Paul Knitter, ‘Theocentric Christology: Defended and Transcended’, Journal of Ecumenical Studies 24 (1987), 45. 90  What is more disappointing is the lack of response from Perry Schmidt-Leukel to the criticism of Heim that comes close to recognizing the existential character of theology. See Perry Schmidt-Leukel, ‘Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Pluralism: The Tripoloar Typology  – Clarified and Reaffirmed’, in Paul Knitter (ed.), The Myth of Religious Superiority: A Multifaith Exploration Faith Meets Faith Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2005), 13–27.



second order philosophical theory are related. This is nowhere clarified, but the pluralists continue to claim their view is a theology of religions. Here too, the pluralists should not be solely held accountable for this shortcoming, as the relationship between philosophy and theology has remained rather hazy. Later in the book (Chap. 5) I will propose the name appropriate to the second order theory of dialogue as a ‘fundamental theology of religions’, rather than ‘theology of religions’, and deal with their relations. 3.4  Towards a New Map This exchange between Hick and D’Costa reveals the polemical character of the very terms in which the discussion is carried out. Having misunderstood the source of theological absolutism, not only have pluralists deluded themselves into thinking that it is a curable disease; they have also drawn a map of the whole terrain of the relationship between religions in such a misleading manner that discussion reaches the kind of dead-end where pluralists and their particularist opponents find themselves today. This is reflected in Hick’s lament that the academic community does not conduct its controversies well.91 But the realization that the source of theological absolutism is its unavoidable existential character (call it ‘the existential imperative’) enables us to redraw the map in a way that can lead us beyond the present impasse and reengage the real issues, rather than attempt the undesirable and impossible task of trying to change the existential character of theology. A first step in the direction of redrawing the map consists in replacing misleading signboards like ‘absolutism’, ‘inclusivism’, and ‘exclusivism’. I have been using ‘absolutism’ as shorthand for what pluralists have labelled ‘inclusivism’ and ‘exclusivism’, labels that they use for all theological positions other than their own. Such labels are inappropriate, because pluralists, as we have seen, are exclusivists in their own way. ‘Absolutism’ is also inappropriate for other reasons: it carries unsavoury political connotations that are unsuitable for a theological position. It also has the philosophical connotation of a fixed, unchanging point of reference that is not called for in theology. What theology requires is merely an existential home, a dynamic horizon, not a fixed, mathematical Archimedean point of reference. ‘Ultimacy’ is better suited for this purpose than ‘absolutism’. Using  Hick, A Christian Theology of Religions, 2.




this term would enable us to acknowledge, without adopting a polemical tone, the ultimacy of pluralists’ own position as well as that of particularists. A further reason for considering the use of ‘absolutism’ inappropriate comes from its adversarial overtones; it prevents us from appreciating what is positive about so-called exclusivism and inclusivism (from which pluralists seek to distance themselves). Once the polemics are undermined, we begin to see that the so-called exclusivism may be merely a manifestation of the inescapability of an existential horizon. Exclusivism, understood in this sense, reflects one’s conviction regarding the efficacy of the path one has found (in the case of particularists) or the truth of one’s stand (in the case of pluralists), a conviction that leads to the affirmation that one’s path is also good for others, that without it others would be missing something very important.92 Not only pluralists and particularists, but also anyone who becomes aware of the singularity of a lived horizon should have no difficulty acknowledging this kind of exclusivism. While this kind of exclusiveness is built into the very notion of an existential horizon, the horizon itself need not be static. Seen in terms of the existential imperative, so-called inclusivism is a kind of enlightened ignorance or mysterious enlightenment. It is enlightened in as much as it knows the efficacy (or truth) of one’s path. But it knows not only the efficacy of one’s path but also that the nature of the religious reality (God, nirvana) is so good that no one is to be deprived of it. It even sees in the lives of some who do not follow my path, fruits similar to what I would normally expect to find in those who do follow my path. This leads to a puzzlement, which is then overcome by postulating that the same divine reality is active in ways unknown to me or, perhaps, even to them. In this sense inclusivism is a profession of the mysterious ways of the divine.93 This way of understanding inclusivism explains why Vallabhāchār ya sees the presence Kṛsn ̣ ̣a in the Vēdas and the Vēdānta in the Gı̄ta and the Purāṇas; this explains why Rahner finds anonymous Christians in other religions. The enlightened ignorance of inclusivism is an honest way of keeping the integrity of one’s existential horizon (which is a religious one) together with the recognition of the other as other, an acknowledgement 92  This positive take on exclusivism ignores those fringe groups that arrogantly condemn other religions. I thank Daniel Madigan for pointing this out. 93  I thank John Borelli for helping me arrive at this view of inclusivism.



that there are others with existential horizons different from my own. As a result, inclusivism has a built-in tension. To the extent that one’s lived horizon is always ultimate, Vallabhāchār ya cannot but find the manifestation of Kṛsn ̣ ̣a in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and the New Testament writers cannot but find their testament as going beyond the ‘Old’. It is this logic that we find in an exchange between a Buddhist philosopher Keiji Nishitani and Karl Rahner. Rahner was asked whether the logic of calling Buddhists ‘anonymous Christians’ would not also permit him to call Rahner an ‘anonymous Buddhist’. Rahner responded: ‘You must call me an anonymous Buddhist, otherwise you would not be true to your Buddhism’.94 But to the extent that horizons are dynamic, they are not absolutist; they remain profoundly open to others. Once we begin to differentiate ultimacy from absoluteness and recognize the source of theological ultimacy as its existential character and not religious uniqueness, it also becomes possible to uncouple uniqueness from superiority. Recall that the need to deal with other religions without superiority was the original motive that led pluralists to question uniqueness. This concern is indeed legitimate and praiseworthy. But undermining uniqueness will not be needed to achieve that goal, if uniqueness is disentangled from superiority. One is then left free to appreciate the uniqueness of religions without having to eliminate it in order to gain parity with other religions. But this will be a uniqueness that is discovered rather than dogmatically postulated. It is in discovering the uniqueness of religions that the history of religions, with its scholarly and comparative approach, can play an invaluable role. There is a question that could arise at this point. If theology is necessarily existential, how could brilliant and humane thinkers like Hick and Knitter have missed it? This has a lot to do with the secularization of Western society, which will be seen in Chap. 4. But at least part of the reason for the pluralists’ rage against uniqueness and their urge to equate uniqueness with superiority can be found in some of the reasons Hick gives for his theory. This has to do with some typical developments in the West, such as the alliance between colonialism and Christianity.95 This 94  This is narrated by the Christian Zen master Ama Samy in ‘Two Ways of Relating One Religion to Another’, in Jivan: News and Views of Jesuits in India, April 2017, 15. 95  For a study of how this alliance played out in India, see A.  Copley, ‘The Conversion Experience of India’s Christian Elite in the Mid-Nineteenth Century’, Journal of Religious History 18 (1994), 52–74.



explains, at least in part, why pluralists should think of Christian uniqueness in terms of superiority, which they extend to other religions as well.

4   Conclusion The so-called Ptolemaic character of Christian theology, I have shown, is not a dark spot that can be illumined by the empirical knowledge of other religions; it comes from the very nature of theology. Since theology is necessarily existential, it cannot but treat its existential horizon as ultimate. If the classification of interreligious relations into exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism was a rhetorical device meant to show the superiority of pluralism, then showing the untenability of the pluralist argument and providing a positive understanding and appreciation of all three positions should enable us to go beyond that classification and look for more tenable and suitable ways of meeting pluralists’ concern for a ‘level playing field’ in interreligious dialogue. I will turn to this task in Part III, after spelling out an epistemology that is adequate for a pluralistic world in Part II. The purpose of this chapter was to demonstrate the inadequacy of the objectivist epistemology at work in the pluralists’ treatment of religious diversity and show that it is not suitable for theology. Having done that, we shall turn in the next chapter to see objectivism at work in questioning religious knowledge itself.


Science and Religion: Some Parables and Models

Having seen how the modern overvaluation of science and its objectivist epistemology was put to work by the pluralists in their thinking about religious diversity, I shall explore, in this chapter, the impact of scientism on thinking about religion itself. I shall use the famous symposium ‘Theology and Falsification’1 for the purpose; it will also provide a template for introducing the different positions regarding the relationship between the two constellations of academic disciplines that go by the name of ‘science’ and ‘theology’. The word ‘science’ could be used in various ways, as when the ancient and medieval philosophers talked about metaphysics as science or when theologians considered theology the queen of sciences in the middle ages. But in the context of science-religion relations, it is used in the more restricted sense for referring to disciplines like physics, chemistry, psychology, sociology, and the like, including that compound discipline called ‘science of religion’ seen in Chap. 2. After introducing the different views on science-religion relations I shall proceed to reject the two traditional models (Conflict Model and Holy Science Model) so that the remaining two (Autonomy Model and the Experiential Model) can be explored and perfected in the coming chapters.

1  Antony Flew, R.M.  Hare, and Basil Mitchell, ‘Theology and Falsification’, in Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre (eds.), New Essays in Philosophical Theology (London: SCM Press, 1955), 96–108.

© The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




1   Theology and Falsification This symposium had its roots in one of the weekly meetings of the Socratic Club at Oxford. The club was founded by C.S.  Lewis (1898–1960) to discuss religion in a philosophical setting. The relevant discussion took place in 1950. Apart from being ‘the most widely read philosophical publication of the second half of the twentieth century’,2 this discussion presents science-religion relations from an epistemological point of view in a simple and accessible manner. Antony Flew opened the debate by narrating a parable. Two explorers, in the course of their explorations, come to an open field in a jungle with some beautiful flowers as well as some weeds. Seeing the flowers one of them says, ‘There must be a gardener who tends this garden here’. The other explorer doubts it and the two of them agree to check out who of them is right. So they keep watch day and night to see if anyone comes to tend the plants. No one is seen. To make sure that they have not missed out on his appearance, they keep excellent watchdogs. But still no one was spotted. Then the defender of the gardener thesis qualifies his statement that it may be an invisible gardener. So they secure the place with an electric fence so that even an invisible intruder can be spotted. But when no evidence is forthcoming, he further qualifies his claim and says that this gardener is invisible, intangible, and so on. Finally the exasperated sceptic asks: ‘Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?’3 The question is made sharper by referring to a commonplace point in logic that any assertion, must deny its own negation. By repeatedly qualifying an assertion, the original assertion no longer seems to deny anything. If so, it is no longer an assertion; it dies a ‘death by a thousand qualifications’.4 Let me illustrate this point of logic. Suppose I tell you, ‘X is intelligent’. You take this at its face value and check out the performance of X in studies, only to find that he has failed in most subjects. Armed with this data you confront me and I respond by saying that in talking of X’s intelligence I did not mean his being good in studies. But since I do not specify what exactly I meant, you assume that perhaps by describing X as ‘intelligent’ I 2  Preface to the 50th anniversary reprint of the article in Philosophy Now (Oct–Nov 2000), 28–29. 3  Flew, Hare, and Mitchell, ‘Theology and Falsification’, 96. 4  Ibid., 97.



was saying that X is a good organizer. So you go and look for evidence of this and again the results are negative. Again when you confront me with this result, I try to escape again by saying, ‘In saying that X is intelligent, I did not mean that he is a good organizer’. Then you give a third meaning to the term ‘intelligent’, and this process goes on and on. Each time you confront me with the data of your observations, I keep qualifying the original statement and take away something from the original meaning of the assertion that ‘X is intelligent’. If this process goes on for a while, we reach a point where the original assertion is qualified so much that it seems to deny nothing. It has been killed by a thousand qualifications. Any seeming assertion that does not deny its own negation cannot be an assertion; it may be considered a picture preference. Flew gives an example of what he means by ‘picture preference’: one man talks of sexual behaviour, and another talks of the Aphrodite, knowing well that there is no superhuman person, in addition to, and responsible for human sexual behaviour. Flew moves from the logical point about the possibility of an assertion dying a death by thousand qualifications to its application. Theologians, he says, make numerous statements like ‘God has a plan’, ‘He loves us like a father loves his children’, and ‘God is merciful’. On the face of it, they look like assertions, indeed vast cosmological assertions. Now if they are assertions, they must deny something. Take the statement ‘God loves as a father loves his children’. Here is this child dying of cancer. His earthly father is frantic doing all he can to save the child, whereas the heavenly father does not seem concerned at all. Then some qualifications are made to the effect that ‘God’s love is not merely human love’, ‘it is inscrutable’, and the like. Then Flew asks, if nothing that happens to us can really be taken as a denial of God’s love, how can it be an assertion? What, exactly, would have to happen that would logically entitle one to say that ‘God does not love us’, or that ‘God does not exist’? Religious statements may be many things to many people: crypto-commands, expression of one’s wishes, concealed ethics, and so on. But are they assertions? If they are assertions, they must be shown to logically deny something. But religious statements do not seem to deny anything; if they do deny something, what do they deny? This, in short, is the challenge posed by Flew to the believers. Although he does not mention science explicitly, Flew is applying the falsifiability criterion for demarcating science and metaphysics as found in the early philosophy of Karl Popper (1902–1994). The idea is that the characteristic mark of science is falsifiability, that is, statements of science



can be falsified by finding counter-instances; such is not the case with metaphysical statements.5 For example, a hypothesis ‘All crows are black’ is checked not by surveying all the crows (past, present, and future), which is impossible, but by looking for counter-instances. While this seems possible in science, metaphysical statements (according to this view) cannot be falsified. Such is also the case of religious statements, as Flew presents it. This view is scientistic inasmuch as science is seen as the sole custodian of truth and knowledge; the method of science is the only way of acquiring genuine knowledge. If science proceeds by falsification, religion must proceed the same way. Since religion does not follow this procedure, it is not cognitive; it is, at best, outdated science or at least based on an outdated science. The objectivism involved in the challenge of falsifiability is seen in the utter indifference with which Flew’s explorers treat their belief about the gardener. It is treated as a hypothesis to be adopted or rejected on the basis of evidence. Their objectivism is exposed by R.M. Hare’s response to Flew. 1.1  Hare: Religion Is Not Science Hare (1919–2002) begins by making a clarification. He draws attention to the fact that the challenge is phrased in Christian terminology and that we ‘cannot know what Christianity is until you understand what religion is’.6 He attempts, therefore, to elucidate the nature of religion as distinct from science. He does it by showing that not all beliefs, even in the empirical realm, are falsifiable. As a prelude, he grants that on the grounds marked out by Flew, Flew is completely victorious. Accordingly, he shifts the grounds of the discussion by narrating another parable. Hare’s parable is of a lunatic who is convinced that all the dons in the university are out to murder him. No attempt to convince him otherwise by bringing the kindliest of persons to talk to him succeeds. In this sense experience makes no difference to his conviction. And so, it would seem, is the case of religious believers. Their convictions are quite unlike scientific beliefs; unlike scientists, religious believers do not treat faith as matter of a hypothesis to be accepted or abandoned on the basis of proof and evidence. Thus, Hare would seem to be saying that religious statements 5  Karl R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965). 6  Flew, Hare, and Mitchell, ‘Theology and Falsification’, 99.



are not cognitive. But he is doing something more subtle: showing that religious statements operate at a more fundamental level than the level of experiment and evidence. Beliefs at this more fundamental level he calls bliks. Bliks are not falsifiable by experience. There are three points that he makes with his theory of bliks. The first is to note their existential character, and thereby expose the objectivism of Flew. Lest anyone miss this point, Hare contrasts the detached, objectivist attitude of Flew’s explorers with that of his lunatic: There is an important difference between Flew’s parable and my own which we have not yet noticed. The explorers do not mind about their garden; they discuss it with interest, but not with concern. But my lunatic, poor fellow, minds about dons; and I mind about the steering of my car; it often has people in it that I care for. It is because I mind very much about what goes on in the garden in which I find myself, that I am unable to share the explorers’ detachment.7

An objectivist epistemology, in other words, is impossible in these situations. Hare does not stop there but moves on to the second point. He makes it clear that bliks are not peculiar to his poor lunatic or to religious believers; everyone has some blik or other. Of course, we normal people have sane bliks and lunatics have insane bliks; but no one is without bliks. ‘It is important to realize that we have a sane one, not no blik at all’.8 He goes on to give everyday examples of sane bliks. When I am driving my car, it sometimes occurs to me to wonder whether my movements of the steering-wheel will always continue to be followed by corresponding alterations in the direction of the car. I have never had a steering failure, though I have had skids, which must be similar. Moreover, I know enough about how the steering of my car is made, to know the sort of thing that would have to go wrong for the steering to fail—steel joints would have to part, or steel rods break, or something—but how do I know that this won’t happen ? The truth is, I don’t know: I just have a blik about steel and its properties, so that normally I trust the steering of my car; but I find it not at all difficult to imagine what it would be like to lose this blik and acquire the opposite one.9

 Ibid., 103; italics original.  Ibid., 100. 9  Ibid. 7 8



A third point Hare makes about bliks is that rather than being falsified by experience, bliks make experience possible. He refers to Hume ‘who taught us that our whole commerce with the world depends upon our blik about the world’.10 We have seen that Hume, who doubted the principle of causality in his philosophical pursuit, has to take this very principle for granted in his everyday life (Chap. 2). In other words, the principle of causality that Hume doubted, but cannot do without, is also a blik; it operates at a more fundamental level than those beliefs that can be justified on the basis of experience and evidence. A blik, like the principle of causality, indeed, makes experience possible. In generalizing his point from the lunatic to our everyday lives, Hare is making the point that an existentialist perspective is not a peculiarity of lunatics; we shall see this in more detail in the next chapter. 1.2   Mitchell: Religion Does Not Violate Logic While Hare has managed to expose the implied scientism and objectivism of Flew’s challenge of falsifiability, he has hardly said anything about the explicit challenge that religious assertions do not seem to negate their own logical negation. It is this challenge that Basil Mitchell (1917–2011), the third symposiast, directly takes on. He begins by observing that Flew’s conduct of the theologian’s case is rather odd, as the theologian does concede that the fact of evil counts against the assertion of God’s love. Mitchell goes on: This very incompatibility generates the most intractable of theological problems—the problem of evil … But it is true that he [the theologian] will not allow it–or anything—to count decisively against it; for he is committed by his faith to trust in God. His attitude is not that of the detached observer, but of the believer.11

In drawing attention to commitment, Mitchell furthers the existential character of religious statements made by Hare. But the key point of logic he makes is the distinction between ‘counting against’ and counting ‘decisively against’. In order to bring home this point, he also narrates a parable, a parable that presents the believers’ case much more faithfully than  Ibid., 101.  Ibid., 103.

10 11



Hare’s. His story is that of a resistance movement, an underground war for overthrowing an occupying force. A member of this movement, a partisan, meets a Stranger one night. The Stranger makes a deep impression on the partisan and they spend the night together conversing with each other. In the course of the conversation the Stranger tells the partisan not only that he is too on the side of the resistance but also that he is its chief. He urges the partisan to keep this in mind and have faith in him, no matter what happens. They part at dawn and never again meet each other in such intimate conditions. In the aftermath of this meeting, sometimes the Stranger is seen to be helping the members of the resistance and the partisan proudly says to his friends that he knows the Stranger, and that he is on their side. At other times the Stranger is seen in the police uniform handing over patriots to the occupying forces. The partisan is dismayed, though he continues to insist that the Stranger is on their side. But he has no convincing explanation for the perplexing behaviour of the Stranger; he can only say that the Stranger knows best. His exasperated friends ask him sometimes, ‘Well, what would he have to do for you to admit that you were wrong and that he is not on our side?’12 In asking this question, the friends of the partisan are not merely asking him what counts against his claim. The partisan already knows that the Stranger’s ambiguous behaviour counts against it. Their question is what would count decisively against the claim. That is responding to the question of logic: what would be the logical negation of ‘God loves us’? I.M. Crombie makes this point very clearly. He says, Does anything count against the assertion that God is merciful? Yes, suffering. Does anything count decisively against it? No, we reply, because it is true. Could anything count decisively against it? Yes, suffering which was utterly, eternally and irredeemably pointless. Can we then design a crucial experiment? No, because we can never see all of the picture. Two things at least are hidden from us: what goes on in the recesses of the personality of the sufferer, and what shall happen hereafter.13

Crombie is building on Mitchell’s parable here. Just as the partisan and other members of the movement have no way of definitively knowing  Ibid., 104.  Ibid., 124–25.

12 13



whether the Stranger is on their side until the end of the war, so too Crombie is saying that the truth of religious statements will be definitively known only when we have the whole picture, which we are not in a position to have now. John Hick developed the idea of full picture further in terms of eschatological verification.14 The idea of eschatological verification, in his own words, is that ‘the theistic conception of the universe, and of what is going on in human life, is capable of experiential verification, although according to Christianity the verifying situation lies in the final fulfilment of God’s purpose for us beyond this present life’.15 As a response to the logical challenge, this is right. The logical negation of ‘God loves human beings’ is ‘God does not love human beings’; not ‘there is suffering in the world’. Evil and suffering count against the assertion, but the only thing that can count decisively against it is some instance of utterly pointless suffering, which we are not in a position to decide now. Flew’s emotive appeal to the child dying of cancer is not a logical negation of ‘God loves us’, because in the Christian scheme of things, God’s love finds its complete manifestation in the beatific vision of God. Thus, Flew’s challenge in terms of formal logic has received an adequate response. In the meanwhile, the symposium that started as a clarification of the logic of theological statements gets rooted in the concrete existential situation of the believer. The progression here is similar to what we encountered in the last chapter—from the objectivism of the pluralists to the realization that theology is necessarily existential. In the present case, the question is not that of religious diversity, but the cognitive character of theological statements. Flew’s case is that if theological statements are cognitive, they must behave in the same way as scientific statements do. He assumes that religious statements are like scientific hypotheses. This view is rejected by Hare and Mitchell. Hare, in a very unconventional way, points out that the nature of theological statements are very different from scientific hypotheses. Moreover, he provides strong hints that this is not merely the predicament of theology, but that human life itself is not possible on objectivist grounds. The partisan of Mitchell’s parable resembles Hare’s lunatic in one respect: both do not treat their beliefs as hypotheses; both are committed to their beliefs in spite of contrary evidence. But there 14  John Hick, ‘Theology and Verification’, Theology Today 17 (1960), 12–31; ‘Eschatological Verification Reconsidered’, Religious Studies 13 (1977), 189–202. 15  Hick, ‘Eschatological Verification Reconsidered’, 190; italics original.



is a crucial difference: in the case of Hare’s lunatic, experience makes no difference to his stand, but Mitchell’s partisan knows well that a certain sort of behaviour on the part of the Stranger (like handing over his friends to the occupying forces) really counts against his stand, although it is not decisive. Thus, Mitchell responds to the point of logic raised by Flew. This is further elaborated by Crombie and Hick. Thus the logical challenge against the cognitive character of religious statements has been neutralized. 1.3  The Task of Fundamental Theology: An Initial Statement Meeting the challenge of formal logic, however, creates a different kind of problem, or rather, it brings the real problem of religious statements to the fore: they operate within a network of other religious concepts. In this instance, the logic of God’s love is enmeshed in the ideas of God’s purpose, life beyond this world, and so on. Commenting on Hick’s proposal of eschatological verification, Michael Tooley asks: Could a person understand what experiences Hick has in mind here if he did not understand theological language? If not, reference to these purportedly verifying experiences will not explain the meaning of theological statements to one who does not already understand them.16

Hick responds by denying that eschatological verification was ever meant to serve that purpose.17 This is true; eschatological verification was making a logical point. However, it also raises the fundamental question about the intelligibility of Christian concepts to those outside their circle. Flew brings this issue to the forefront in his book, God: A Critical Enquiry. In the preface to that book Flew changes the focus of his challenge from the logic of religious statements to their intelligibility. He demands that any would-be apologist of theism begin by giving an account of the desired 16  Michael Tooley, ‘John Hick and the Concept of Eschatological Verification’, Religious Studies (1976), 188; cited by Hick in ‘Eschatological Verification Reconsidered’, 200, fn. 2. 17  He says: ‘I have not suggested that the eschatological situation will explain the meaning of theological statements to one who does not already understand them. I begin from the fact that there is already, in this present life, a putative awareness of God, expressed in religious statements which the religious believer understands. ... These statements are part of a unitary body of beliefs which include eschatological beliefs, and it is these latter that give factual-assertion status to the system as a whole’ (ibid.).



sense of the term ‘God’ from the beginning. Emphasizing the need to begin at the beginning, he asks that it be addressed ‘as if to a person who, though as intelligent and sympathetic as could be wished, has never even heard tell of God’.18 This, we shall see in Chap. 5, is the most fundamental task of fundamental theology. While the discussion of falsifiability has shown that the cognitive character of religious statements cannot be ruled out on logical grounds, it does nothing to positively show their cognitive worth. Much worse is that we do not even know how to go about examining the cognitive worth of religious statements. The postmodern world has recognized the limits of scientism and objectivism. But where do we go from here? I shall explore this in Part II and develop an epistemology that is at once continuous and discontinuous with the sciences. In the remaining part of this chapter and the next, I want to use the symposium on falsification to examine prevalent views on science-religion relations. Since this symposium contains all the available positions in a seminal form, I shall spell them out, and go on to discard two of those views.

2   Science and Religion: The Prevalent Views As is typical of the postmodern situation, diverse views of science-religion relations exist side by side in the contemporary world. Moreover, even the classification of these views differs. In a way, this reflects the plight of our times where the traditional beacons have failed us and we continue to grope for new lights. The original classification, which others have tried to improve upon, came from Ian Barbour (1923–2013). He saw four Models for relating the science and religion: Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, and Integration.19 I will not follow this classification and others based on this. Instead, I shall follow an alternative, though overlapping classification arising from ‘Theology and Falsification’ that we have just seen. There are four models that emerge from the symposium: (1) the anti-religious view that science conflicts with religion, (2) the traditional Christian view that scientific study is basically a religious endeavour, (3) the more recent  Antony Flew, God: A Critical Enquiry (La Salle, Ill: Open Court, 1984), x–xi.  Ian G.  Barbour, When Science Meets Religion, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000); he summarizes other major classificatory schemes (4–5). For a later classification by Stenmark, see Mikael Stenmark, ‘Ways of Relating Science and Religion’, in Peter Harrison (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 278–95. 18 19



view that science and religion cannot conflict as they deal with different subjects, and (4) the equally recent view that, just as sciences are based on empirical or sense experience, so too religion is based on religious experience. It will be seen that the first two have much in common; and so do the last two. 2.1  Science Versus Religion: The Conflict or Warfare Model The Conflict Model of science-religion relations is most clearly stated by John Worrall, a philosopher of science: ‘Science and religion are in irreconcilable conflict… There is no way in which you can be both properly scientifically minded and a true religious believer’.20 Though some trace the antecedents of the view that science is inherently antireligious to ancient writers like Tertullian,21 it is best considered a typically modern view. For the ancients and the medievals, the conflict was not so much between science (taken broadly as knowledge of this world) and religion but between philosophies that accorded with their religious faith, and those that did not. We saw Aquinas do it (in Chap. 1) and Indian thinkers doing the same in Chap. 2. The idea that science and religion are in conflict is particularly strange in the context of medieval Europe where the Church patronized much scientific work, and pioneered many a scientific breakthrough in its monasteries.22 But it is not surprising in the context of the changes that occurred in the modern world, especially with the emergence of scientism (see Chap. 1). The Conflict Model is scientistic inasmuch as science is seen as the sole custodian of truth and knowledge. If science proceeds by falsification, religion must proceed the same way. Since religion does not follow this procedure, it is not cognitive; it is, at best, outdated science or at least based on outdated science. Antony Flew’s challenge of falsification can be considered a mild form of the Conflict Model.

20  John Worrall, ‘Science Discredits Religion’, in M.L.  Peterson and R.J.  Vanarragon (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 60; cited in Stenmark, ‘Ways of Relating Science and Religion’, 278. 21   See Richard Olson, ‘A Dynamic Model for “Science and Religion”: Interacting Subcultures’, Zygon 46 (2011), 65–83. 22  James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2011); it is published as God’s Philosophers in UK. (London: Icon Books, 2010).



The Conflict Model comes in two different versions. One is a historiographical version according to which religion and science have been always in conflict. Because it was originally articulated by William Draper (1811–82) and Andrew White (1832–1918), this version also goes by the name ‘Draper-White thesis’. This is an empirical claim that can be refuted by the same method of falsification advocated by Flew. It can be shown to be false, either by pointing to cases where no conflict was present or by giving instances where the two disciplines were in collaboration. This task has already been done by historians.23 The second version of the Conflict Model is an epistemological claim about the conflicting methods of science and theology. Although many do not yet distinguish these two versions of the Conflict Model, it is clear that one is a falsifiable empirical claim while the other is a philosophical claim, an epistemological issue. It is this epistemological version that I shall be concerned with. As an epistemological thesis, the Conflict Model tells us that the conflict between the empirical sciences and theology is built into the methodological genes of these disciplines. As ‘faith seeking understanding’ theology begins with faith, it is a committed inquiry; its approach is a priori and dogmatic, whereas science is an objective, open-ended inquiry that proceeds on the basis of evidence. The only commitment of science is to truth, and therefore it goes wherever the evidence leads. This is how Bertrand Russell spelt out the Conflict thesis: The conflict between theology and science was quite as much a conflict between authority and observation. The men of science did not ask that propositions should be believed because some important authority had said they were true; on the contrary they appealed to the evidence of the senses, and maintained such doctrines as they believed to be based on facts which were patent to all who chose to make the necessary observations.24

It is this view that led Russell to dismiss the monumental work of Thomas Aquinas as an instance of ‘special pleading’ and his appeal to reason as insincere.25 Given such different methodological genes, conflict between 23  See Frank M. Turner, Between Science and Religion: the Reaction to Scientific Naturalism in Late Victorian England, Yale Historical Publications, Miscellany, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974). 24  Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1935), 16. 25  Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy and Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (London: Allen and Unwin, 1946), 484–5.



science and theology is inevitable. They are engaged in a mortal combat from which only one can (or should) emerge alive.26 Thus arose the secularization thesis that as science advances and societies get modernized, religion is bound to disappear. (More on secularization will be seen in the next chapter.) Almost three quarters of a century after Russell’s statement about the cause of conflict between science and religion, Victor Stenger (1935–2014), a physicist turned atheist, uses the same words to describe the conflict: science is ‘based on observations rather than authority’.27 But there is an important difference. Russell merely asserted the inevitability of science triumphing over religion; for Stenger it is already an accomplished fact. This can be seen in the very title of his book, God: the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist. Another point that is not explicit in Russell but manifest in Stenger’s title is the idea that God is a hypothesis—a failed one to be sure, but nevertheless a hypothesis that is rejected for lack of evidence. Let us consider each of these points. If one goes by the proliferation of bestselling books published in recent times by the so-called new atheists,28 Stenger may be right in claiming that the case for religion is already lost.29 Although ‘new atheists’ is a label that tends to get identified with the quartet of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris (they are also known as ‘four horsemen’),30 Stenger himself was a fresh addition to the group. So is Ayyan Hirsi Ali, a Somalia-born Muslim who was once a devout believer. 26  Russell’s position seems to be that only one should emerge alive, so that true wisdom (based on science) becomes possible. See Russell, Religion and Science, 18. 27  Victor J. Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007), 10. 28  Such books include: Daniel C.  Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking, 2006); Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, (London: Atlantic Books, 2008); Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W.W.  Norton, 2005); Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London, Toronto: Bantam Press, 2006). Although all four are atheists, there are differences. Harris’ atheism, for example, is suffused with Buddhist spirituality. See Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014). 29  A similar conclusion can be found in Christopher C.  Knight, The God of Nature: Incarnation and Contemporary Science, Theology and the Sciences (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 3. 30  ‘Four horsemen’ is the title of the CD brought out (2008) by these men about their atheistic convictions. It is freely available on YouTube.



Philip Kitcher is not a crusader for atheism, but he is a recent convert to the Conflict Model.31 What should be a matter of concern for the believers is that if one goes by the popularity of the books authored the new atheists, believers have already lost the battle. The second point to be noted about the Conflict Model is that it takes religion to be engaged in the same sort of activity as science: the task of explaining the world. Science does it successfully whereas religion fails in the task. This, too, is obvious in the title of Stenger’s book: God is a scientific hypothesis. God may be a failed hypothesis, but there is not the least doubt that it is a hypothesis, to be accepted or rejected on the basis of evidence. To realize that 57 years after ‘Theology and Falsification’ and the unequivocal rejection of God as a hypothesis by Hare and Mitchell, it is amazing that this rejection (of God as a hypothesis) is not even taken into account by the new atheists. On the other hand, it is not surprising, given the centuries-long habit of arguing for God’s existence rather than speaking about God who is directly encountered.32 That brings me to the traditional model of relating science and religion, which I shall call the Holy Science Model. 2.2   Science Is Religious: Holy Science Model In Flew’s parable, there is the person who sees some flowers growing and claims that there must be a gardener tending to the plot. The idea is that if we look at the world carefully we will find evidence for the existence of God. It does not require much of an effort to see that this idea reflects the traditional arguments for the existence of God. From some observed feature of the world (change, causation, contingency, gradation, and purposiveness), it is argued that God is required to explain that feature. In terms of science-religion relations, it would mean that doing science well, observing the world carefully, and explaining its features would lead us to

31  Philip Kitcher, ‘The Many-Sided Conflict Between Science and Religion’, in William Mann (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, Blackwell Philosophy Guides (Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), 266–82. For a more complete statement of his ‘soft atheism’, see Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism, The Terry Lectures (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014). 32   See, George Karuvelil, ‘Religious Experience: Reframing the Question’, Forum Philosophicum: International Journal for Philosophy 16 (2011), 139–55.



God. Science, therefore, is basically a religious enterprise. It is for this reason that I call it the Holy Science Model.33 The Holy Science Model is best captured in a character from the famous novel of Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman. The character Jean is Telemond, a Jesuit priest, who is also a scientist. At one point in the novel, Telemond says: Every discovery I make points in the same direction. No matter how contradictory the fragments of knowledge may appear, they can never truly contradict one another. I have spent a lifetime in one small branch of science, palaeontology. But I am committed to all sciences, to biology, to physics, to the chemistry of inorganic matter, to philosophy and to theology, because all are branches of the same tree and the tree grows upwards towards the same sun.34

It must be pretty clear from this quotation that Telemond is really a fictitious clone of the Jesuit priest-scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955). Besides the reference to palaeontology that was Teilhard’s area of scientific work, there are two substantial points in the above quote, both of which are Teilhardian. One is that any contradiction between different kinds of knowledge, and by extension, any opposition between science and religion, is only apparent and not real. Teilhard, as is well known, tried to reconcile Darwin’s theory of evolution with Christian faith, and thereby show that there is no conflict between the two. In other words, unlike the Conflict Model, Teilhard rejected any methodological conflict between scientific and religious explorations. The second point made in the above quote is that all scientific exploration and every bit of scientific discovery represent a progress, a growing upwards towards the sun. For Teilhard, the sun is the Omega point, the Cosmic Christ, the endpoint of the evolutionary process.35 In other words, all scientific discoveries ultimately lead to God. A proper study of the world is bound to take us to the knowledge of the divine. There is a related point that needs to be spelt out. The relationship between science and religion, on this view, is that between fragments and 33  Elsewhere I have called it Religion-in-Science view. See George Karuvelil, ‘The ScienceReligion Dialogue: The Cognitive Issues’, Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection 68 (2004), 799–812. 34  Morris West, Shoes of the Fisherman (New York: Dell, 1963), 188–89. 35  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper, 1959).



the whole. Sciences give us knowledge in fragments, bit by bit. God is related to these fragments, as the whole is related to parts. God is the whole and sciences are the fragments. To know the world as a whole is to know God. In Teilhard’s own words, ‘to begin to know a thing in its entirety is to move from material to the spiritual’.36 If this view is correct, then, any study of the world takes us closer and closer to God; science is indeed holy! 2.3  Naïve Metaphysical Realism (NMR): The Common Ground We might think that the Conflict Model and the Holy Science Model are diametrically opposed to each other. In a sense they are: the former is typically modern while the latter is typically pre-modern in outlook. However, both positions are more alike than unlike in their epistemology and metaphysics. Epistemologically, the God of natural theology is known through inference from sense experience as from effects to cause. Atheists would deny the viability of any such inference, but the method of knowing God remains the same. God, in other words, is not a reality that is directly encountered for either side, as mystics of various religious traditions would hold. Ontologically, God is the totality of the world, as we saw in connection with Fr. Telemond and the Holy Science Model. This idea is so prevalent in the Western world that even a non-believer like Stephen Hawking did not hesitate to say that to discover the mystery of the world in its totality is to know the mind of God.37 This understanding of God is closely linked to the idea of a pre-fabricated or readymade world, a world that can be described exhaustively to give us a unified understanding of the universe. Thus, we can have ‘exactly one true and complete description of “the way the world is”’,38 as Hilary Putnam put it. Although he called it 36  Claude Cuenot, Teilhard de Chardin: A Biographical Study (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1965), 251; cited in Michael J. Latzer, ‘The Marcel-Teilhard Debate’, New Blackfriars 82 (2001), 132. 37  Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (Toronto; New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 193. 38  Hilary Putnam, Reason, Truth, and History (Cambridge; New  York: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 49. Horgan and Timmons’s attempt to defend metaphysical realism against Putnam’s view neglects this specific definition and takes it merely in terms of mindindependent existence or the metaphysical thesis of realism, which we shall see in Chap. 6.



‘metaphysical realism’,39 I shall call it ‘naïve metaphysical realism’ (NMR) so as not to confuse the idea of a readymade world with the metaphysical thesis of realism to be discussed in Chap. 6. Where do these epistemological and ontological assumptions of NMR come from? Historically, both can be traced to Aristotle and the modification he brought to Plato’s philosophy. We have already noted the difference between Plato and Aristotle in this matter (Chap. 1). In Plato’s scheme of things this imperfect world carries the footprints of God and these footprints are known directly. In the Aristotelian scheme of things, since all knowledge begins with the senses, there is no possibility of knowing God directly; God is accessed indirectly through arguments from premises based on our sensory experience. One is a direct, intuitive access and the other is an indirect, discursive access. Both the Conflict Model and the Holy Science Model are built on indirect access, the idea that all knowledge must be based ultimately on sense experience. The idea that God is a totality of the world can be traced to what might be termed Aristotle’s ‘logicization’ of reality. In order to understand this, let us begin with his teacher Plato’s view of reality. Plato maintained a hierarchy of beings, but his was a hierarchy of perfection where the imperfect forms in this world get their reality by participating in the forms of the other world. Aristotle turned Plato’s hierarchy of perfection into a hierarchy of logical genus and species. There are two factors that brought about this result. The first is that Aristotle had done away with the twoworld theory of Plato. Therefore, he had only one world to deal with. The second is the logical unification of this one world. In order to understand this unification, it is important to remember that Aristotle had discovered formal logic and the laws of thinking: identity, (non-) contradiction and excluded middle. An important question in this context concerns the status of these laws: do they apply only to thinking (we cannot do without them), or do they also apply to reality? Take the law of contradiction. It is the principle that a statement cannot be true and false at the same time in the same sense. Although Aristotle spells out this principle in three different ways, it is not entirely clear as to whether it is a law only of thought or also of reality. But he is often taken to mean that laws of thought apply to reality. Mortimer Adler is explicit that ‘the law of Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons, ‘Conceptual Relativity and Metaphysical Realism’, Philosophical Issues 12 (2002), 74. 39  Putnam, Reason, Truth, and History, 49.



contradiction is not only a rule of thought but also a statement about the world itself – about the realities we try to think about’.40 Once this view is accepted, then the ‘genera and the species in terms of which we order phenomena follow the ideal order of things themselves’.41 Add to the genus and species of creatures encountered in the world, a fixed heaven above and earth below, and we get Aristotle’s understanding of the world. Figure 3.1 illustrates the contrast between the hierarchies of Plato and Aristotle. This view of the relationship between mind and reality reaches its culmination in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus where the limits of thinking and language mark the limits of reality as the former pictures the latter.42 We have a tendency to think, for example, that the word ‘cat’ means the

Fig. 3.1  Two hierarchies of reality

 Mortimer Adler, Aristotle for Everybody (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), 140.  Jürgen Habermas, Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays, trans. William M.  Hohengarten, Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), 30. 42  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D.  F. Pears & B. F. McGuinness, with an introduction by Bertrand Russell, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), 2.12. 40 41



four-legged animal called cat and then generalize this idea to all language. Wittgenstein came to realize that this is a very naïve view of understanding word-world relations and developed a more complex view known as ‘language games’. We shall see this in the next chapter. As the culmination of the logicization of reality, Aristotle’s final category of Being includes all other categories or forms of other entities. Thus, it is the Form of all forms. However, this final category is not merely logical; it also carries ontological weight, as it exists in its own right, just as particular sensible entities exist. Aristotle argues that in order to explain some features of the observed world, for instance, change, such a Being must exist. It is thus that ‘Being’ gets qualified as ‘Prime Mover’, ‘Final Cause’, and so on. I shall argue in the next section that NMR is not in keeping with our contemporary understanding of the world, and therefore, needs to be abandoned. Prior to that let us turn to the other two models that have emerged in the falsification debate, both of which reject NMR. 2.4  Religion Is Not Science: The Autonomy Model With the waning of scientism and the realization that God was not disappearing as expected,43 attempts to reconcile science and religion began. This trend picked up momentum from the 1960s,44 in the form of regular national and international conferences, learned articles in journals of philosophy and theology, and journals dedicated exclusively45 to discussing science-religion relations. There are also numerous books, full-fledged

43  Typical of this realization is Harvey Cox. His immensely popular The Secular City (1965) was premised on the disappearance of religion, but he had changed his view by1999. Harvey Cox, ‘The Myth of the Twentieth Century: The Rise and Fall of “Secularization”’, in Gregory Baum (ed.), The Twentieth Century: A Theological Overview, (Ottawa/New York: Novalis/ Orbis Books, 1999), 135–43. 44  C.A.  Russell, ‘Science and Religion’, in Neil J.  Smelser and Paul B.  Baltes (eds.), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Amsterdam; New  York: Elsevier, 2001), 13,621–25. 45  Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science is perhaps the best known of these.



encyclopaedias,46 and other publications of encyclopaedic proportions47 devoted to the subject. At the heart of these attempts to reconcile science and religion is the realization that religion is not science and that God is not a scientific hypothesis. This is the basic claim of the Autonomy Model. In the words of Mikael Stenmark, this model holds that ‘Science and religion are compatible because today they are two completely separate but legitimate practices with no overlap at all’.48 He cites Stephen Jay Gould as a good example of this model. From a philosophical perspective, Wittgensteinian philosophers of religion, like Norman Malcolm, Peter Winch, D.Z. Philips, and others, are the ardent advocates of this model. In the debate on falsification, the position of Hare can be taken to stand for the Autonomy Model. Since I will be examining this model more closely in the next chapter, I shall leave it aside for now. 2.5  Science and Religion: The Experiential Model This model agrees with the Autonomy Model that religion is not science and God is not a scientific hypothesis. It can also be considered a more positive version of the Autonomy Model, as it goes beyond the negative thesis of autonomy to a positive claim about religious knowing. It agrees with the Holy Science Model that the world carries the footprints of God, but unlike that model claims that our knowledge of God is not discursive or mediated through sensory knowledge. It is not a matter of arguing for God’s existence on the basis of sense experience, but a matter of direct experience. Since it brings in a totally different kind of human experience, I call it the ‘Experiential Model’. The basic contention of the Experiential Model is that just as empirical knowledge is based on sense experience, religious knowledge is based on religious experience. This claim is incipient in Mitchell’s parable of the partisan. The partisan does not allow the contrary behaviour of the Stranger to count decisively against his belief because of his unforgettable 46  J.  Wentzel Van Huyssteen (ed.), Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, 2nd ed. (New York; Detroit, Mich.: Macmillan Reference; Thomson Gale, 2003); Neil J. Smelser and Paul B.  Baltes, International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Amsterdam; New York: Elsevier, 2001). 47  See Melville Y. Stewart (ed.), Science and Religion in Dialogue, 2 vols. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). 48  Stenmark, ‘Ways of Relating Science and Religion’, 279.



encounter with the Stranger. Unlike Flew’s explorers and unlike the friends of the partisan who rely on the experience of common observation, this partisan is privy to a different experience that is not available to them. This enables the partisan to commit himself to the Stranger. This model is similar to the Autonomy Model in maintaining the autonomy of religious experience. But unlike the Autonomy Model that does not engage in justification of religious beliefs, the Experiential Model develops a distinct epistemology that aims at justifying religious beliefs on the basis of religious experience.49 Although the turn to religious experience was pioneered by Schleiermacher in the nineteenth century, it developed into an epistemology only in the twentieth century. William Alston (1921–2009) and Alvin Plantinga (b.1932) are the best known for their epistemology of religious experience. Alston has extensively drawn the parallel between perceptual beliefs and religious beliefs based on religious experience, and Plantinga has developed an independent account in terms of warrant for belief.50 The difficulties that arise from their epistemology will be treated in the last part of the book. In the remainder of this chapter I shall focus on the need to abandon the first two models, and their underlying epistemology and metaphysics.

3   Rejecting the Traditional Models Both the Conflict Model and the Holy Science Model are problematic for philosophical and religious reasons. Philosophically, these models are (1) contrary to facts; (2) not in keeping with the scholarly consensus on the religious ambiguity of the universe; and (3) non-viability of NMR. Religiously, (4) theistic God is not a totality of the world, and (5) theistic arguments prepare the way for atheism.

49  For the differences between experientialism and other positions, see William Hasker, ‘Evidentialism’, in Robert Audi (ed.), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (Cambridge/ New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Richard Askew, ‘On Fideism and Alvin Plantinga’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 23 (1988), 3–16. 50  Alston’s most elaborate work in the field is Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991). Plantinga’s mature epistemology of religious experience is found in Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). This comes as the culmination of his ‘Warrant’ trilogy. He published a simplified, less technical, version of Warranted Christian Belief in 2015 as Knowledge and Christian Belief (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2015).



3.1  Contrary to Facts Factually, if sciences were to be intrinsically anti-religious, as the Conflict Model claims, good scientists could not be religious. This is not true. There have been, and there are, deeply religious scientists like Teilhard and Francis Collins (famous for his work in Human Genome Project who is also a devout Christian).51 On the other hand, if sciences were to be inherently religious, the opposite would be the case: all—or at least an overwhelming majority of—leading scientists of the world should have been believers, which is clearly not the case. Many of the intellectual giants who study science do not feel the least bit compelled by their explorations to believe in God. Those like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg are convinced atheists; Dawkins is even a zealous missionary of atheism! And there is no reason to consider any of them intellectually dishonest. Going by this evidence alone, then, it seems right to say that science in itself is neither religious nor anti-religious. Teilhard the mystic may not necessarily be related to Teilhard the palaeontologist and Dawkins the atheist may not necessarily be related to Dawkins the biologist. In Teilhard’s own lifetime, fellow Catholic thinker Gabriel Marcel had recognized this about Teilhard.52 In the other camp, Dawkins’ reasoning for atheism is so weak that long-time atheist Antony Flew considers Dawkins’ bestseller ‘an audacious exercise in superstition’!53 Similarly atheist philosopher Michael Ruse finds Dawkins’ book embarrassing.54 John Haught has shown that the new atheists are a mirror image of the creationists and the religious fundamentalists.55 Dan Barker reinforces this point when he takes a biblical literalist ‘convicted of second-degree reckless homicide (and who remains unrepentant)’ to represent the believer!56 51  Francis S.  Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006). 52  This is found in the Marcel-Teilhard debate of 1947. A brief account of this debate is to be found in Latzer, ‘The Marcel-Teilhard Debate’, 132–37. 53  Antony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, 1st ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2007), 173. 54  Alister E. McGrath and Joanna McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2007), cover page. 55  John F. Haught, God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), xi, 12. 56  Dan Barker, ‘Forward’ to Victor J. Stenger, God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2012). EPUB file.



3.2  Religious Ambiguity of the Universe Hick, whom we encountered in the last chapter as championing religious pluralism, is also an outstanding philosopher of religion, who has examined various arguments that have been advanced for and against God’s existence. Based on that study he concludes: The universe is religiously ambiguous in that it is possible to interpret it, intellectually and experientially, both religiously and naturalistically. The theistic and anti-theistic arguments are all inconclusive, for the special evidences to which they appeal are also capable of being understood in terms of the contrary worldview. Further, the opposing sets of evidences cannot be given objectively quantifiable values.57

More recently, Robert McKim has reinforced this conclusion.58 It is this ambiguity that is captured by Flew when he describes the place found by the explorers in his parable as ‘a clearing with many flowers and many weeds’.59 I emphasize the word ‘and’ to show that both are present; there is not enough evidence either to prove or to disprove a religious view of the world (in this case, the reality of God’s existence). At best, the arguments for God’s existence could be ‘natural signs’ which will have no meaning, unless one knows how to read those signs.60 It is not surprising, therefore, that many are inclined to see natural theology as ‘an empty intellectual enterprise’.61 Given the religious ambiguity of the universe, it is small wonder that scientists who are ardent religious believers, like Teilhard or Collins, not only do not see any conflict between their scientific and religious beliefs, but go on to show how the two sets come together. On the other hand, if they are atheists, like Dawkins or Dennett, they take the two sets as conflicting.

57  John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1989), 12. 58  Robert McKim, ‘On Religious Ambiguity’, Religious Studies 44 (2008), 373–92. 59  Flew, Hare, and Mitchell, ‘Theology and Falsification’, 96. 60  C.  Stephen Evans, Natural Signs and Knowledge of God: A New Look at Theistic Arguments (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). 61  Daniel Garber, interview with Garry Gutting, New York Times, October 5, 2014.



3.3  Rejecting NMR I spoke of Wittgenstein abandoning his earlier view of word-world relations. This was wise because NMR has turned out to be contrary to later developments in logic and in our understanding of the world. Logically, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem has shown that ‘any adequate consistent mathematical logic is incomplete: if the logic is adequate to express a full range of arithmetical statements and consistent in that it does not allow the deduction of any contradictions, then it is incomplete in that there are true statements about arithmetic that can neither be proved nor disproved using the axioms and rules of that logic’.62 This implies that we are not in a position to have one true and complete description of the world, as demanded by NMR. Admittedly, NMR is suited to our ordinary, common sense understanding of the world as made up of perceptual objects. It is a world of cats and dogs, apples and oranges, sun and moon, and a host of other things, whose existence seemingly owes nothing to the knowing agents; they come readymade. This prompted Plato to talk about the natural joints of nature (see Chap. 1). Aristotle did a marvellous job of observing, classifying, and systematizing our perceptual world into a hierarchy of genus and species. But that world changed with the coming of modern science. If we, human beings, were to be guided purely by reason (understood as objectivism), uninfluenced by historical and cultural factors, we would have given up NMR with the coming of modern science and the finding that the structure of the world differed from our common sense understanding. But given the supreme confidence of the moderns in their science and their view of the world as a pre-fabricated machine, NMR continued to be maintained by the moderns. They thought that modern science had given us a better and fuller description of the world than that of common sense. The possibility of being able to describe the world in one true and complete manner disappeared with the findings of contemporary physics. For example, light is now understood as both wave and particles; the physicists’ understanding of a table (as made up of mostly empty space where numerous sparsely scattered electric charges rush about at great speed) is 62  K. Gödel, On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems (1931), trans. B.  Meltzer (New York: Basic Books), 1962. My statement of the incompleteness theorem is from Michael A.  Arbib and Mary Hesse, The Construction of Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 31–32; italics original.



no substitute for the common sense understanding of the table as a solid entity.63 These are different ways of describing the same world, where the truth of the one does not cancel out the truth of the other. Since we live in an inescapably pluralistic world, NMR is no longer a viable option. 3.4  Religious Reasons There are also religious reasons for rejecting NMR. The God of theism is utterly different from what NMR claims, that is, totality of the world. In the Aristotelian scheme, the ontological weight of the final category ‘Being’ comes from its explanatory character. It is not surprising, therefore, that ‘many early [modern] scientists believed that in their work they were “thinking God’s thoughts after him”’.64 Hawking’s Theory of Everything was meant to be an alternative explanation, which is a continuation of Aristotle’s ultimate Form that includes all other forms. Apparently, Hawking has now given up the idea of a Theory of Everything.65 But for atheists nothing is crucially dependent on NMR. They can be as much at home with an incomplete understanding of the world as with a Theory of Everything. But for the Holy Science Model, to give up the idea of God as an explanation for everything is to give up that model itself. The more important reason for religious believers to discard the Holy Science Model is that it helps the growth of atheism. Calling the approach of arguing from the world to God ‘physico-theologies’, Michael Buckley has given a detailed account of how the stalwarts of religion adopted this approach at the dawn of the modern period by using the latest findings in science to prove God’s existence. His book, At the Origins of Modern Atheism, is an authoritative work that shows the failure of the physico-­ theologies, which helped the eventual triumph of atheism in the intellectual circles.66 I have also pointed to the growing numbers of the militant atheists in the twenty-first century and the conversion of Kitcher to the Conflict Model. This is not surprising, given that the two traditional 63  This example comes from Arthur Eddington, Nature of the Physical World, Introduction, cited in J.W.  Cornman, “Can Eddington’s Two Tables Be Identical?” in Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 52/1 (1974), 1. 64  Barbour, When Science Meets Religion, 23. 65  See Craig Callender,; accessed 4 September 2017. 66  Michael Buckley, At the Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990).



models are mirror images of each other. The Holy Science Model brings a particular epistemology and an understanding of God to the table and the atheists outplay them. Both models follow the Aristotelian epistemology where all knowledge begins with the senses. And this brings me to the final, and the most important, reason for abandoning the Holy Science Model: the God of theism is not a hypothesis postulated for explaining the observed features of the world, as it was for Aristotle. Epistemologically, God is a matter of direct experience, as I have mentioned before, and is attested to by mystics of all ages and religions. This epistemological autonomy is maintained in India by claiming that ‘revealed truth should be new or extra-empirical (alaukika), i.e. otherwise unattained and unattainable’.67

4   Conclusion Neither the inability of the theistic proofs to withstand atheism in the initial stages nor the growth of atheism at present is accidental. Rather, seeds of atheism are built into the traditional arguments for God’s existence. In the Introductory chapter I argued that the success of Aquinas’ Five Ways arose more from the particular cultural conditions of his time than from their logical force. I also argued that in the theistic culture of Aquinas, the inadequacy of those proofs did not matter, but in the postCartesian world where the very possibility of revelation and theology depended on the single thread of being able to prove God’s existence, any failure would be fatal. I have argued in this chapter that the Holy Science Model prepares the tools—a particular kind of epistemology and ontology—which the atheists use to their advantage. Atheists get their idea of God and the manner of knowing that God from those who strenuously try to prove God’s existence from the observed facts about the world. The only difference is that the Holy Science Model (believers) claims to find evidence and the Conflict Model (atheists) finds no evidence or claims to find contrary evidence. But their ontological and epistemological assumptions hardly differ. This does not mean that there is no conflict between science and religion; we noted the fact of conflict in Chap. 1. All that has been shown in this chapter is that the source of conflict which Russell and contemporary atheists like Stenger have alleged cannot be maintained.  Mysore Hiriyanna, Outlines of Indian Philosophy (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993), 180.




The real source of conflict, then, seems to be something other than science or religion. We shall explore this in the next chapter that deals with the Autonomy Model.


Science and Religion: Autonomy and Conflict

We have seen in the last chapter that the basic insight of the Autonomy Model is that religion (theology) is not science. In this chapter we shall explore this model in some detail primarily with a view to explicating the difference between the two disciplines. The insight from Chap. 2 that theology is necessarily existential will be used for the purpose. I will argue that existential rootedness is not a luxury reserved for theologians, but an inescapable human condition. In that process we will also discover that although there is no necessary conflict between science and theology, conflicts do occur and the source of those conflicts is neither science nor theology but rival existential commitments.

1   Autonomy Model Faced with the modern dogma about the impossibility of religious knowledge (codified in the philosophy of Kant), Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), Rudolf Otto (1869–1937), and others emphasized religious experience as a distinct source of knowledge. In this chapter, however, I shall restrict myself to the Autonomy Model as it developed in the late twentieth century. There are two different sources for this development. The first is Wittgenstein and those philosophers of religion influenced by his later philosophy, like Norman Malcolm (1911–1990), Peter Winch (1926–1997), and D.Z.  Phillips (1934–2006). The second and more recent source is the late American palaeontologist and evolutionary © The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




biologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002). It will be seen that, irrespective of which version is used, they suffer from the same ailments. 1.1  Wittgensteinian Language Games I mentioned in the last chapter that Wittgenstein abandoned his earlier view, according to which language pictures reality, and adopted a more complex view in his idea of ‘language-games’. This view was built on a fundamental analogy between games and language. The basic idea of language games is that the meaning of linguistic expressions does not depend on the world. Language is autonomous in a twofold way. First, it is autonomous in the sense that meaning is not directly anchored to the world outside language. The meaning of ‘king’ in a game of chess is not learned by looking at that particular piece on the board but by knowing the rules by which it moves in the game.1 Here is a summary of the idea by Gertrude Conway: The phrase ‘language-game’ signifies a specific context within which words and propositions move. Words cannot be taken out of context or examined in isolation. In themselves, independent of all contextual reference, removed from their particular sprachlicher Verkehr, words have no meaning. They derive their sense from such linguistic contexts. Words do not stand alone in relation to objects. They are mutually dependent, interrelated; they form linguistic matrixes. ‘The concept is at home in the language game’.2

Second, different language games are autonomous from one another. Just as different games are not played by the same set of rules, so too, there is no one way in which words gain meaning. Each game is played by its own rules, and words gain meaning from the contexts in which they are used. If we forget this and attempt to play one game according to the rules of another, there would be confusion. The autonomy of different language

1  An overview of the idea of language games, coming from Wittgenstein’s own works, can be found in Hans-Johann Glock (ed.), A Wittgenstein Dictionary, The Blackwell Philosopher Dictionaries (Oxford/Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996), 193–98. 2  Gertrude D. Conway, Wittgenstein on Foundations (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities, 1989), 33.



games demands that the rules of one language game not be used for judging another.3 That language is not anchored to the world does not mean that it is a free-floating balloon. Use of the word game, Wittgenstein tells us, is meant ‘to emphasize the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life’.4 Wittgenstein’s use of ‘form of life’ is not unambiguous.5 It could refer to the changing, contingent, and historical dimension of life which has relativistic implications. He also refers to the universal or ‘shared human behaviour’.6 But the general idea is that different language games are rooted in human life. Is religious language autonomous? Wittgenstein thought so. This is seen most clearly in the notes of his students, later published as Lectures and Conversations.7 His remarks on beliefs such as the Resurrection and the Last Judgement provide good examples. He tells us that there is an ‘enormous gulf’ between the one who believes in the Last Judgement and another who denies it, a gulf as great as ‘missing the entire point’.8 This idea is driven home by contrasting it with an ordinary empirical statement like ‘There is a German aeroplane overhead’, where the gulf between the one who says this and another who denies it is not as great; rather, they are ‘fairly near’. Many followers of Wittgenstein have developed further the idea of religion as an autonomous language game.9 Phillips makes a direct reference to the falsification debate as ‘an example of religion at the mercy of a 3  Discussing whether people who consulted oracles instead of a physicist would be wrong, Wittgenstein asked: ‘If we call this “wrong” aren’t we using our language-game as a base to combat theirs?’ Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. Denis Paul and G. E. M. Anscombe (New York,: Harper, 1969), 609. 4  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.  E. M.  Anscombe, P. M. S. Hacker, and Joachim Schulte, rev. 4th ed. (Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 23. 5  J.  F. M.  Hunter, ‘“Forms of Life” in Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations”’, American Philosophical Quarterly 5 (1968), 233–43. 6  Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 206. 7  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, & Religious Belief, Cyril Barrett (ed.), (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967). 8  Ibid., 53. 9  Peter Winch, ‘Understanding a Primitive Society’, American Philosophical Quarterly 1 (1964). ‘Meaning and Religious Language’, in Stuart C. Brown (ed.), Reason and Religion (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977). Phillips has developed a philosophy of religion based on the insights of Wittgenstein; see D. Z. Phillips, Wittgenstein and Religion (New York: St. Martin’s, 1993).



method which claimed to possess the logic of ordinary discourse’.10 Wittgensteinians flatly deny that religion is playing in the same league as science. It is an autonomous language game. Phillips says: Are two people, one of whom says there is a God and the other of whom says he does not believe in God, like two people who disagree about the existence of unicorns? Wittgenstein shows that they are not. The main reason for the difference is that God's reality is not one of a kind; He is not a being among beings. The word ‘God’ is not the name of a thing.11

Although it might seem that the autonomy of religious language is a ploy to escape attacks from modern science, it is not; religious people have always known it. Consider Buddha’s response to Vacchagotta, a Brahmin student who found Buddha’s teaching on soul confusing. Buddha asks him: ‘But if somebody should ask you, Vaccha: “This fire in front of you that is extinguished, in what direction has that fire gone from here, east, west, north, or south?”’ The student gives the obvious answer that such a question does not apply.12 1.2  Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA Gould’s version of the Autonomy Model is called NOMA, short for non-­ overlapping magisteria. Magister in Latin means teacher, and is regularly used by Catholics to refer to the teaching authority of the Church. In the preamble to his book, Gould, who calls himself a ‘Jewish agnostic’, explains why he considers the term so very appropriate for his view.13 Unlike the Conflict Model that sees conflict built into the methodological genes of science and theology (a la Russell and Stenger), Gould does not see anything in the genes of either discipline to suggest that they are necessarily at war with each other. The reason is that the two are, in principle, distinct and non-overlapping domains of inquiry. Here is how he differentiates them: 10  D. Z. Phillips, Recovering Religious Concepts: Closing Epistemic Divides, Swansea Studies in Philosophy (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000), 2; italics original. 11  Phillips, Faith and Philosophical Enquiry, 85. 12  From Aggi-Vacchargotta-stutta, cited in David J.  Kalupahana, Buddhist Philosophy: A Historical Analysis (Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1976), 79. 13  Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, The Library of Contemporary Thought (New York: Ballantine, 1999).



Science covers the empirical realm: what the universe is made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value ... .Science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven.14

Being ‘logically distinct and fully separate’ domains of inquiry, they ‘do not glower at each other’.15 There can be no battle between science and religion, as long as ‘they stay on their turf, [and] develop their best solutions to designated parts of life’s totality’.16 Therefore, NOMA recommends dialogue between them. Beyond the denial of any built-in warfare between the two, Gould gives alternative explanations for some actual cases of conflict. He traces them to contingent ‘artifacts of history or consequences of psychology’.17

2   Beyond Autonomy: Some Criticisms of the Model Criticism of the Autonomy Model comes under three categories: lack of clarity about the nature of the autonomy, neglect of continuities between science and religion, and a tendency to downplay, if not deny, conflict altogether. 2.1  Nature of the Autonomy What is the nature of the autonomy or the discontinuity between science and theology? This issue is quite pronounced in the case of Gould. He says that sciences deal with the empirical world and religion with meaning and morality. If we leave out ‘meaning’, he seems to be saying that these disciplines deal with different subjects. If so, it is a material difference. Just as Australia and Asia are different continents of the same planet Earth, so too are science and theology two different disciplines dealing with different parts of human life; just as these continents do not overlap with one another, these disciplines do not either. Gould’s own analogies of oil and  Ibid., 6.  Ibid., 59, 65. 16  Ibid., 211. 17  Ibid., 104. 14 15



water, oranges and apples, chalk and cheese support this construal. So does his leading imagery of non-overlapping magisteria. On the other hand, he says the difference is logical. Understood as a logical difference, these are not like two continents that remain apart. Rather, ‘the contact between magisteria could not be more intimate and pressing over every square micrometre (or upon every jot and tittle)’.18 It is not obvious that these two ways of demarcating the two disciplines can be easily reconciled, and this has led to accusations of self-contradiction.19 Ursula Goodenough has also pointed out that while Gould has no difficulty in describing the magisterium of science, this cannot be said about his description of theology.20 Gould’s different ways of construing the realms of science and religion lead to different sets of problems. Even if we ignore the difficulties involved in assigning morality to the domain of religion,21 there is no evidence to suggest that the empirical and the religious realms are anything like two sovereign kingdoms. Goodenough rightly points out that, ‘if there is a membrane separating the magisteria of science and religion, it is decidedly semipermeable’.22 If Gould’s demarcation between science and religion is not material but logical, it leads to puzzlement: How is it possible for two separate domains to be so close as to press over every square micrometre of each other’s domain? Gould does not explain. All that we are given are  Ibid., 65.  Ursula Goodenough, ‘The Holes in Gould’s Semipermeable Membrane Between Science and Religion’, American Scientist (1999), 267. bio_facpubs/101 20  Goodenough, ‘The Holes in Gould’s Semipermeable Membrane Between Science and Religion’, 264. 21  The problem is not that believers engage in immoral practices under the garb of religion, as do Islamic terrorists, predatory Catholic priests, and unscrupulous godmen of every hue. The deeper problem is that the link between religion and morality is not as close as it is made out to be, even in principle. While Jewish and Christian traditions have always considered the moral dimension inalienable to their traditions, as far as divinity is concerned, the numerous Greek or Indian gods have little to do with morality. Some, like Kierkegaard, would see the God of the Hebrew Bible issuing unethical commands. Advaita Vedanta goes a step further when it exempts not only the divine but anyone who has attained nirvana from morality. The identification of morality and religion seems to be of more recent vintage coming from the deists. See R.C. Zaehner, Our Savage God (London: Collins, 1974). See also his ‘Mysticism Without Love’, Religious Studies 10 (1974), 257–64. William J. Wainwright, ‘Morality and Mysticism’, The Journal of Religious Ethics 4 (1976), 29–36. 22  Goodenough, ‘The Holes in Gould’s Semipermeable Membrane Between Science and Religion’, 264. 18 19



metaphorical allusions like Mutt and Jeff, and yin and yang. Although these metaphors may point to something that is insightful, the intellectual puzzle regarding the relationship between the two remains. We shall see in Sect. 3 that the difference is logical. 2.2   Intellectual Schizophrenia Although the Wittgensteinian claim about autonomy is in terms of meaning, given the necessarily existential character of theology (Chap. 2), claims of autonomy raise difficulties. Inasmuch as existentialist thinking needs to unify all of one’s life under some ultimate concern, bland claims about the autonomy of the religious realm lead to a kind of intellectual schizophrenia that is often attributed to Michael Faraday. He is supposed to have said that when he entered his laboratory he closed the doors of his oratory, and vice versa, when he entered the oratory he closed the doors of his laboratory.23 Such an attitude may be tolerable in a scientist but not in a theologian; theology seeks unification or integration of life, not its compartmentalization. Faraday’s case is not unique. Ursula Goodenough, one of the leading lights of science-religion dialogue, mentions the case of her father: Dad began his famous undergraduate course, The Psychology of Religion, by announcing “I do not believe in God.” He ended one of his last books by admitting “I still pray devoutly, and when I do I forget my qualifications and quibbles and call upon Jesus—and he comes to me”.24

The insight of the Holy Science Model is that intellectual schizophrenia must be kept at bay. It is small wonder, therefore, that those who are deeply religious and possess scientific credibility at the same time tend to adopt the Holy Science Model, which we have rejected in the last chapter. Wittgensteinians have come to recognize this problem. This can be seen in the second edition of Peter Winch’s classic, The Idea of Social 23  I do not know if Faraday actually said this, but it is in keeping with the spirit of his thinking. He says, ‘I do not think it at all necessary to tie the study of the natural sciences and religion together, and, in my intercourse with my fellow creatures, that which is religious and that which is philosophical have ever been two distinct things’. Bence Jones, The Life and Letters of Faraday, ii (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1870), 196. 24  Ursula Goodenough, The Sacred Depths of Nature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), ix.



Science.25 Similarly, Phillips has come to admit that ‘we participate in different language games in the same language’.26 He goes on to say that this enables us to converse with each other as well as to increase our understanding of another. While this is indeed an improvement over mere affirmation of autonomy, there is still no positive account of the kind of continuity or continuities involved. I shall take this up in Part II. 2.3  Problem of Justification A third problem for the Autonomy Model has to with epistemic justification. Wittgenstein rightly recognized that all testing, justification, and evidence come within a system of unquestioned beliefs. He concluded that ‘the system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which arguments have their life’.27 Norman Malcolm follows up this idea with the following comment: A “system” provides the boundaries within which we ask questions, carry out investigations, and make judgments. Hypotheses are put forth, and challenged, within a system. Verification, justification, the search for evidence, occur within a system. The framework propositions of the system are not put to the test, not backed up by evidence. This is what Wittgenstein means when he says: “Of course there is justification; but justification comes to an end”.28

He goes on to apply the comment to religion: ‘In this sense religion is groundless; and so is chemistry. Within each of these two systems of thought and action there is controversy and argument… Within the framework of each system there is criticism, explanation, justification. But we should not expect that there might be some sort of rational justification of the framework itself’.29 Malcolm considers it a pathology of modern philosophy to think that we must justify our language games.

25  Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1990), xi–xii. 26  Phillips, Wittgenstein and Religion, xii; italics original. 27  Wittgenstein, On Certainty, 105. 28  Norman Malcolm, ‘The Groundlessness of Belief’, in Stuart C. Brown (ed.), Reason and Religion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), 143–57. 29  Ibid., 152.



Although it goes against the grain of modern epistemology, it must be granted that all justification takes place within a system of beliefs. But the problem is that we know how to justify disputed claims in chemistry. There seems to be nothing comparable in religion. It might also be granted that the justification of the framework cannot be made on the same grounds as the justification of beliefs within the system. However, is it the case that systems are adopted without reasons? According to Phillips, those who ask for a general justification of religious utterances are like those who ask for a general justification of science.30 This seems correct. But Patrick Sherry has a counter: ‘Although the question “Is science true?” is absurd, the question “Why pursue science?” is not’.31 Nor is the question ‘Why be religious?’ absurd. If the rationality of pursuing religion were absurd, there would be no place for theological apologetics. Stig Børsen Hanson has rightly observed: ‘Believers have tried to sway non-believers by appeal to values and premises the non-believer can accept without being immersed in religious language games’.32 Therefore, in spite of granting that justification is normally an internal affair of the system, there is something odd about making it entirely internal. 2.4  Fideism? Responding to Sherry’s poser is critical for shaking off the accusation that the Autonomy Model is a kind of fideism, that is, the view that religion is a matter of faith to which reason cannot be applied.33 Phillips claims to have shown the irrelevance of the fideistic charge in Belief, Change, and Forms of Life.34 But later interactions between Phillips and Kai Nielsen (b.1926) on the issue show that the issue is far from resolved. Nielsen says, The claim… is that religious concepts, while not being cut off from other concepts of everyday life, are distinctive, having criteria of significance, truth and reasonability that are principally determined by the distinctive form of

 D. Z. Phillips, Faith and Philosophical Enquiry (New York,: Schocken, 1971), 124.  Patrick Sherry, Religion, Truth and Language-Games (London: Macmillan, 1977), 30. 32  Stig Børsen Hansen, ‘The Later Wittgenstein and the Philosophy of Religion’, Philosophy Compass 5 (2010), 1018. 33  Kai Nielsen, ‘Wittgensteinian Fideism’, Philosophy 42 (1967), 191–209. 34  Phillips, Wittgenstein and Religion, xii. 30 31



life or mode of discourse that is religious… In this way religious discourse is a kind of protected discourse; it is sui generis.35

Making religion into a kind of ‘protected discourse’ is at the heart of the charge of fideism. Phillips is explicit that ‘belief in God cannot be justified by external considerations’. He draws a parallel with absolute value, as against relative values. The value of being a good tennis player is very different from the value of being good; the former is a relative value, not the latter. Phillips draws the conclusion: ‘We cannot give a man reasons why he should be good. Similarly, if a man urges someone to come to God, and he asks “What if I don’t?”, what more is there to say?’36 The demand for external justification of religious claims, according to Phillips, is similar. There can be no doubt that Phillips has a point here. But he himself seems to recognize that this response is not satisfactory, because he goes on to say that the fideistic charge is ‘here to stay’.37 The fideistic accusation and Phillips’ response to it reveal the real predicament of the believer. Believers can neither say that religious beliefs are cognitive in the sense in which scientific beliefs are cognitive, nor can they say that the two are so totally unlike so as to make the religious beliefs non-cognitive. If this predicament is to be resolved and the fideistic charge is to be met, one will have go beyond claims of autonomy and show that there are also continuities of reason between science and religion. 2.5  A False Conflict? One of motivating factors for the Autonomy Model is the realization that the conflict between science and religion cannot be understood as a conflict within science. Therefore, to argue that, since religion does not follow the method of science, it must be non-cognitive is to beg the question. However, some advocates of the Autonomy Model go further and suggest that there is no conflict between science and religion, or downplay the conflict. Gould, for example, calls it ‘false conflict’,38 a ‘nonproblem of

35  Kai Nielsen and D.  Z. Phillips, Wittgensteinian Fideism? (London: SCM, 2005), 56; italics original. 36  Phillips, Faith and Philosophical Enquiry. 81 37  Phillips, Belief, Change and Forms of Life (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1986), 4. 38  Gould, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, 6.



supposed conflict’.39 Given the history of conflicts from Julius Wellhausen to the present, downplaying the conflict is really not convincing. How unconvincing it is can be seen from the frustrating experience narrated by Richard Olson who has been teaching courses in science and religion over 30  years. Invariably, he says, most students come to the course with ‘some version of the conflict thesis’. He attempts to remedy the inadequacy of this view with an extended critique of the Conflict Model. At the end of the course, the students are required to write a research paper. Frustration comes when he goes through the papers and finds that a majority of the students has gone back to the Conflict Model that he had spent so much time controverting.40 It seems clear that if, after the strenuous and prolonged efforts of a learned professor, his students are not convinced of there being no conflict between science and religion, it is because, in many cases, their own experience is better explained by the conflict thesis. I am making a distinction here between the experience of conflict and the explanation of the same. The epistemological version of the conflict thesis (seen in Chap. 3) is an explanation of why science and religion conflict. It is traced to the diametrically opposed methods of the two disciplines: one is based on observation and the other on authority. The point of the experience-explanation distinction is that before conflict becomes an explanation, a ‘thesis’, a ‘theory’, or a ‘model’ of the interactions between science and religion, it is a matter of lived experience. Let me illustrate. Though I cannot really speak for Olson’s students, I want to suggest that many of his students reverted back to the conflict thesis because for them the conflict is a matter of their experience. In Chap. 1, I have already pointed out the conflict experienced by Wellhausen and others. Let us take here an example from everyday life. Consider a student of theology studying the book of Exodus. He or she is typically brought up in a cultural milieu in which films like DeMille’s The Ten Commandments are watched and admired. In the film, Moses literally parts the Red Sea and the Israelites pass through to the other side, whereas the Egyptians who follow them are destroyed as the waters return to their normal state. In the course of theological studies, our student is taught that the ‘Red Sea’ of the Bible may have been a ‘Reed Sea’, and the parting  Ibid., 175.  Richard Olson, ‘A Dynamic Model for “Science and Religion”: Interacting Subcultures’, Zygon 46 (2011), 69. 39 40



of the waters may have been an entirely natural event.41 Under such circumstances, it is no surprise that students begin to wonder whether one’s transition from a simple pre-theological faith to the ‘adult faith’ of theology does not require them to sacrifice a major part of their belief system, just as they had to come to terms with accepting that there is no Santa Claus. This is the experience of conflict. To think of the conflict only as a theory does not do justice to the experienced nature of the conflict. Something that is felt deeply at the gut level cannot be refuted. Theories can be refuted; not experience. In this sense, experiences are like genuine facts.42 Both call for explanation, not refutation. Theories can be better or worse, capable or incapable of adequately explaining experiences and historical events; facts and experiences are neither adequate nor inadequate; they just are. It is the task of theories of science-religion relations to explain such irrefutable experiences. The conflict thesis is one such explanatory theory that has been found to be inadequate. It is inadequate to the extent that competent scientists, who are also deeply religious, find no conflict at all between the two disciplines. The Autonomy Model is another theory for explaining science-religion relations and it also turns out to be inadequate. Among its inadequacies is its inability to account for the experience of conflict. Let us proceed, then, to explore the real source of the conflict (where there is conflict) between science and religion.

3   Where the Conflict Really Lies In order to explore the real source of conflict, I will focus primarily on the science of religion introduced in Chap. 2. This is likely to evoke a cold response from those who see the conflict to be occurring between the so-­ called hard sciences like physics, cosmology, and genetics and theology. But such an attitude is based on the assumption that science and religion are doing the same sort of thing. Upon this assumption the cosmological theory of Big Bang conflicts with the biblical story of creation, neuro-­ science conflicts with the existence of any extra-neural God, and so on. When the conflict is seen in these terms, religious minded scientists like 41  For examples of such theories, see Stanislav Segert, ‘Crossing the Waters: Moses and Hamilcar’, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 53 (1994), 195–203. 42  Living in a ‘post-truth’ era of ‘alternative’ facts manufactured to suit the interests of their producers, we need to qualify the facts that cannot be refuted as ‘genuine’.



Pierre Teilhard de Chardin or Francis Collins have their task cut out for them. They can show how these conflicts may be reconciled, and their opponents, who share the same assumption as their adversaries, can argue that those are attempts to reconcile the irreconcilable.43 Thus the merry-­ go-­round can go on without either side being able to put their finger on the real source of conflict. This is inevitable, because as I have said in the last chapter both these models are mirror images of each other. Since the Autonomy Model repudiates the common assumption of these models, it hardly matters whether we deal with the so-called hard sciences or the science of religion. Moreover, after identifying the real source of conflict, I will show the validity of this finding in the light of the New Atheism, whose members come from the hard sciences. The basic argument is this. I showed in Chap. 2 that theology is existential by its very nature. Existentialist thinking is not a luxury reserved for theologians, an option that non-theologians can ignore, but an inescapable human condition. Non-theologians who take the side of science have their own existential commitments, some inward passion that conflicts with the passion of the theologian. The conflict is not between science and religion but between the rival commitments of secular and religious outlooks. 3.1  The Existential Revolution: From ‘God’s Eye View’ to ‘Being-in-the-World’ The pluralists we met in Chap. 2 were objectivists to the extent that they were relying on the scientific study of religion, which they considered as providing data based ‘on impartial grounds’.44 In other words, they thought of the science of religion as devoid of all existential horizons. This idea of objectivity as devoid of subjectivity (‘objectivism’ in our terminology) is really a lack of awareness of the subjectivity underlying their thinking. The modern view of objectivity, the idea of the neutral observer who can look around the world from somewhere outside the world, entered Western philosophy when Descartes decided to question all the prior 43  Victor J. Stenger, God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2012). EPUB file. 44  John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1989), 2.



beliefs he held (the reliability of sense experience, tradition he had inherited, etc.) until he could find something that was absolutely indubitable. But today when we look at his work we come to realize that though he thought he was putting everything in doubt, in reality he could not do so. John Caputo illustrates: when Descartes wrote the Meditations … one of the presuppositions that escaped Descartes’ notice … was that … By using a word that he had borrowed from his Jesuit teachers, “meditations,” he was trying to suggest a kind of inner soliloquy of the soul with itself… But of course, everything he said …every last word of it, was deeply embedded in the words he used that he had inherited from the Jesuits, and from the scholastic philosophers before them, and from his mother and father, and from the books he had read in school, and so on.45

It is like the story of the young fish swimming in the sea complaining that although it can see other fish and crabs and weeds, there is no water anywhere to be seen! It is to the credit of Heidegger and the hermeneutic tradition to have brought the modern forgetfulness of subjectivity into our consciousness. There can be no data or pure un-interpreted facts, as anything which becomes data—that is, something that has significance to the inquirer—does so only within a larger horizon. To use a homely analogy of Caputo, without a horizon that forms the background to the objects perceived, we would be as lost as those students who come to their professors to discuss a topic for their research ‘with that deer-caught- in-the-­ headlights look on their faces’, because although they have read the material, they lack a perspective, a stance that enables them to make sense of what they have read.46 Like those students who have read the material, the moderns saw the objects before their eyes but were unaware of the implicit horizon within which these objects gain significance.47 The modern myth of objectivity coming from Descartes, then, is the forgetfulness of its own subjectivity. There is neutrality to the extent one’s lived horizon remains hidden from consciousness. Call the realization that we can have no facts devoid of subjectivity the existential revolution. 45  John D.  Caputo, Philosophy and Theology, Horizons in Theology (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2006), 64–65. 46  Ibid., 45. 47  Peter Childs, Modernism: The New Critical Idiom, 2nd special Indian ed. (London/New York: Routledge, 2008), 18.



Is such forgetfulness at work in the science of religions, too? Everyone knows that there was a time when Christianity was the only socially available, existential horizon in medieval Europe. Christianity was not ‘a religion within the more general context of western culture’ but that culture as a whole was Christian.48 But with secularization—that is, the ‘process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols’—this ‘sacred canopy’ was torn asunder.49 In its place we have many canopies—both sacred and secular. Some live under a Hindu horizon, some under an Islamic one, some under a naturalistic horizon, and so on. Upon this view, the emergence of multiple canopies during the modern period would look like Fig. 4.1. If Fig. 4.1 is right, we are in the privileged position of being able to look at the existential horizons of different groups of people from a neutral standpoint. This is the scientific study of religion. But this picture is misleading because it gives the impression that the scientific study of religion has no horizon of its own. Standing outside of all lived horizons, it observes them all from a ‘God’s Eye point of view’.50 What is forgotten is that the secularism which gave birth to the scientific study of religion is itself an existential horizon. Let us consider the features of modern thinking whose by-product secularism is, and measure

Fig. 4.1  Science of religions: Its alleged neutrality  Wouter J. Hanegraaff, ‘New Age Religion and Secularization’, Numen 47 (2000), 303.  Peter L. Berger, The Social Reality of Religion (Hammondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1973), 113; Sacred Canopy was the title of the earlier edition of this book. 50  Hilary Putnam, Reason, Truth, and History (Cambridge; New  York: Cambridge University, 1981), 49. 48 49



it against the characteristic features of existentialist thinking seen in Chap. 2. The first thing we noted about existentialist thinking is that it was a protest against theoretical thinking which was cut off from the concrete lived situations. This is also true of secularism: its emergence was not the result of theoretical speculation that was cut off from lived conditions. Rather, it was a response to the lived conditions of the time. It was a time when the morale of Europe was at its lowest ebb. Natural calamities like earthquakes and plagues had taken their horrendous human toll. Wars between Protestants and Catholics in the name of God had extracted their pound of flesh. It is a matter of dispute as to whether the villain of these wars was indeed religion or the newly emerging nation states.51 Either way, religion provided at least the fig leaf for covering the nakedness of the bloodshed. And religion was seen as the villain by the intellectuals who played a dominant role in the emergence of the secular culture. Thus, the stage was set for freeing sectors of society from religious dominance. If such freeing is what secularization is about, as Peter Berger tells us, then it was rooted in the lived conditions of the time. The lived conditions that gave birth to secularism do not end there. It was a time when Europeans took to travelling widely beyond their continent. New lands were discovered; strange customs and religious observances of these newly found people were noted. Combined with the antipathy many felt towards the religion they knew (versions of European Christianity) the discovery of these new religions brought home the possibility of other religious options. If the secular age is defined as having options regarding one’s lived horizon, as Charles Taylor does,52 then this was rooted in the lived conditions of Europe at the dawn of the modern era. The second feature of existential thinking is an inward passion that functions as the energizing source of the thinker’s life and actions. Was there an inward passion that guided the architects of modernity and functioned as their energizing source? This very thought would have been heretical at that time, but when the critics of modernity began to probe this question they found the passion. The energizing source of modern thinking was an unbounded confidence in the human ability to bring about unlimited progress and well-being with the help of science. The confidence that had hitherto been put in God alone was now transferred 51  Gavin D’Costa, Christianity and World Religions: Disputed Questions in the Theology of Religions (Chichester, U.K./ Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 57–102. 52  Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 3.



to human beings.53 Human control and the remaking of one’s entire environment to serve human ends was the goal.54 The newly emerging sciences would be the means for achieving this goal. This should cause no surprise when we recall that modern science made its entry at a time when European morale was very low. Into their existential turmoil enters modern science as an enterprise characterized by rational discussion in which intellectuals could engage without violence. It offered the much needed hope that the new sciences would enable human beings to take control of the natural and the social worlds and direct them in a way that was beneficial to all. ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding’ became the war cry of the emerging new culture.55 The third feature of existentialist thinking is the inward passion functioning as the unifying factor around which the rest of life comes to be organized. If the remaking of one’s environment to serve human ends was the energizing passion of modern thinking, an important part of the socio-­ cultural environment that needed remaking was the realm of religion. All-­ out attempts were made to achieve this. In politics it led to the separation of church and state; in education religion was to be kept away from schools; in economics religious injunctions against usury, greed, and avarice gave way to a profit orientation, and so on. The most important manifestation of this secularizing process, for our purpose, is the emergence of the scientific study of religions. The discovery of religious diversity by the European explorers and missionaries supported the process. It helped to change the perspective where religion (Christianity) functioned as the singular horizon that unified everything else under its canopy, to religion being one of the many objects. Rather than being a singular horizon, religion now became a type with many tokens or instances.56 Just as euros and dollars and rupees are tokens of a type called currency, religion has morphed into a type that has many 53  Frank B.  Farrell, Subjectivity, Realism and Postmodernism: The Recovery of the World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 1. 54  Childs, Modernism: The New Critical Idiom, 17–18. George Karuvelil, ‘The Contemporary Ecological Crisis: Tracing Its Emergence’, Jnanadeepa: Pune Journal of Religious Studies 9 (2006), 12–13. 55  Immanuel Kant and Hans Siegbert Reiss, Kant: Political Writings, 2nd ed., Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University, 1991), 54. 56  Paul J. Griffiths, Problems of Religious Diversity, ed. Michael L. Peterson, Exploring the Philosophy of Religion (Malden, MA/Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 4.



instances. As well as suffering from the aforementioned antipathy, religion, rather than remaining a lived reality, now turned into a matter of curiosity, an object like other objects such as stars and planets, mountains and oceans. Just as the other objects were studied, religion too now becomes an object to be studied. Thus were born various scientific studies of religions, including the science of religion that forms the basis of pluralistic thinking. What is important is that this was part of a process of organizing all dimensions of life in accordance with the energizing passion that guided modern thinking. Secularization, then, was not merely the negative process of removing religion as the principle of social and cultural organization but replacing it with a new principle; not merely the removal of the Christian canopy, but putting another canopy in its place. A correct picture of the secular change, then, would be the one in Fig. 4.2, which has its own overarching horizon, and not the one in Fig. 4.1. We can conclude, therefore, that the birth of the scientific study of religion does not undermine the claim about the impossibility of purely objective, un-interpreted data. The existential revolution has implications not only for understanding science-religion relations that is our immediate topic but also for understanding the contemporary world and its struggles with faith, reason, secularism, atheism, and the like. In order to show this, however, I must make a clarification about secularism that provided the overarching horizon within which different religions appear as objects to be studied (Fig. 4.2).

Fig. 4.2  Science of religions: The real picture



3.2  Secularism and Its Cohorts The word ‘secularism’ does not have any one meaning,57 as I had hinted in Chap. 2 (note 4). Although the emergence of secularism has a long history, the first one to use that word was George Holyoake (1817–1906). He defined it thus: Secularism is a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable. Its essential principles are three: (1) improvement of this life by material means. (2) That science is the available Providence of man. (3) That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good.58

This definition is rather ambiguous, as it could be seen in terms of either what it excludes or what it includes. It excludes anything more than ‘purely human’, more than this ‘present life’ and ‘theology’. From this exclusionary view emerges the following definition of secularism: a ‘view of life that limits itself not to the material in exclusion of the spiritual, but to the human here and now in exclusion of man’s relation to God here and the hereafter’.59 Call it minimal secularism. When the exclusion required by minimal secularism is spelt out concretely, it would mean the exclusion of the political, the economic, the educational, and other public matters from the religious realm. Berger’s definition of secularization we adopted was in such terms. Its political expression is the separation of church and state; in economics market forces are given a free run; in education, state-­ funded schools are forbidden to teach religion, and so on. Minimal secularism, however, is not capable of sustaining itself in terms of the unity and dynamism needed for an existential horizon; it has an instability built into it. It is for this reason that secularism is always found in the company of a more positive commitment like humanism, materialism, naturalism, nationalism, or some form of religion. Is it any wonder, then, that the US and India, both with strict separation of church and 57   See, George Karuvelil, ‘Indian Secularism and Hinduism’, Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection 78 (2014), 8–25. 58  George Holyoake, English Secularism (Chicago: Open Court, 1896), 35. 59  T.F.  Macmahon, ‘Secularism’, in Berard L.  Marthaler and Gregory F.  LaNave (eds.) New Catholic Encyclopedia,xii, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: Thomson Gale, Catholic University of America, 2003), 863–4.



state, not only constantly have to decide where to draw the line between the two but also presently face attempts to replace religion with the hyper-­ nationalism of President Trump and Prime Minister Modi? Is it any wonder that the French tradition of secularism borders on the anti-religious venom of Charlie Hebdo, resisted by Islamic fundamentalists? France also came to the verge of hyper-nationalism in its national elections of 2017. My purpose here is not to provide an analysis of world affairs, but to point out that because of its inherent instability, minimal secularism will always stand in need of being stabilized by a more positive commitment that is capable of energizing and unifying the lives of its adherents. Secularism in the economic sphere was always more than minimal secularism, as it amounted to a positive commitment to the pursuit of wealth, unbridled by religious restrictions. This has led to what Pope Francis has called the ‘magical conception of the market’,60 absolutely unconcerned about its impact on society or the environment. 3.3  Faith Is Not Necessarily Religious In discussions of faith and reason, ‘faith’ is almost invariably understood as religious faiths like Christianity and Islam. But the inevitability of some existential horizon or other enables us to see that faith is not necessarily religious. This is the significance of recognizing the inadequacy of minimal secularism, which always needs to be complemented by a positive commitment. Therefore, just as a Christian lives by the Christian faith, a secular humanist lives by faith in the goodness of humanity, a materialist lives by the faith that matter is the only reality that exists. This point is brought home by Terrence Tilley61; following Michael Polanyi, Avery Dulles had pointed out this even earlier.62 But why call these varied commitments ‘faith’? There are at least three reasons for considering these varied commitments on a par with religious faith. The first is what Tilley calls ‘final fact parity’. By this he means that what each considers as the final or ultimate fact is not decided on rational grounds. For example, a theist traces all facts in the universe ultimately to 60  Pope Francis, Laudato Si, 190. papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html 61  Terrence W.  Tilley, Faith: What It Is and What It Isn’t (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2010), 60–63. 62  See, See, Avery Dulles, ‘Faith, Church, and God: Insights from Michael Polanyi’, Theological Studies 45 (1984).



God as the source; a materialist considers the universe itself as the final fact. According to Tilley, it would make no sense to ask a theist about the source of God, or the materialist about the source of the material universe. As far as their respective adherents are concerned, these are just there as the final facts that need no further explanation. A second feature of all forms of genuine faith is that they are lived conditions, resembling what Taylor describes as religious faith. Wittgenstein makes the more general point that all our activities (like doing an experiment in science or doing a calculation) are done within a system of unquestioned beliefs.63 This was also the point made by Hare in talking about bliks. That brings us to the third reason for considering the lived commitments of diverse horizons to be faith: they are often hidden from view. They remain in the background, energizing and unifying our lives that are lived in the foreground. Michael Polanyi rightly called such knowledge ‘tacit’.64 With regard to faith, we are often exactly in the position of the young fish that is unaware of the water which surrounds it. Tilley uses this story to illustrate that everyone lives by some kind of faith. The point of drawing attention to these universal dimensions of faith is to become aware that there are various faith horizons which are available in the contemporary world. It could be a secular one where religion becomes one option among others, or it could be a naturalistic one where the religious option is ruled out, or it could be a religious one like the Christian or Islamic horizon. These profound similarities between religious faiths and other ideologies prompted Ninian Smart to advocate replacing the philosophy of religion with a philosophy of worldviews.65 The diverse existential horizons that are available in the contemporary world can be understood better if we pay attention to a fourth feature of existential thinking—that is, its dynamic character. Although secularization is typical of the modern world, as a dynamic, ongoing process, secularization is never complete. The emergence of the secular horizon did not make secularism the only available horizon in the modern world. Except for a few thinkers who had adopted a naturalistic or a humanistic outlook, Christianity (and increasingly, some other religion like Buddhism),  Wittgenstein, On Certainty, 337.  Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (London: Routledge & Kegan. Paul, 1967). 65   Ninian Smart, ‘The Philosophy of Worldviews, or the Philosophy of Religion Transformed’, in Thomas Dean (ed.), Religious Pluralism and Truth: Essays on CrossCultural Philosophy of Religion (Delhi: Sri Satguru, 1997), 17–33. 63 64



continued to function as lived horizons for people. For this reason, historians have begun to claim that the ‘Age of Reason’ was really an ‘Age of Faiths’—in the plural.66 All that the arrival of the secular horizon did was to make it the dominant principle of socio-cultural organization in place of Christianity. It is the structure of modern society that became secular and not necessarily the population.67 This explains why sociologists like David Martin and Andrew Greeley can question whether it is correct to characterize our age as secular.68 They confirm the point that there are diverse faith horizons available in the contemporary world. And some of these faiths are not religious. It is worth noting that Kai Nielsen, who accused the Wittgensteinians of fideism, has himself been accused becoming a fideist about his naturalism.69 That the existential revolution and the implied inescapability of faith is not a theoretical sleight of hand can be illustrated from the example of the new atheists. The new atheists, unlike the earlier ones like Flew, seek to demolish the religious demon with all the power they can muster. The earlier atheists, with their scientistic faith that religion would disappear with the progress of science, had no reason to aggressively attack religion. Two major changes took place since then. The first was a realization that religion was not disappearing. The second, and perhaps more important factor at work in their visceral hatred of religion, comes from what the new atheists see as the evils perpetrated by religion, the violence and terror exemplified in 9/11 and its aftermath. Like all lived philosophy, new atheism is a response to the concrete situation of life as found at the dawn of the new millennium, ravaged by terrorist violence in the name of religion. Dawkins acknowledges as much.70 If the quote ‘science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings’, attributed to Stenger, is true, then his reference to 9/11is even more explicit. It is this existential situation 66  Jeremy Gregory, ‘Introduction: Transforming “the Age of Reason” into “an Age of Faiths”: Or, Putting Religions and Beliefs (Back) into the Eighteenth Century’, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 32 (2009), 287–305. 67  Bryan Wilson, ‘Aspects of Secularization in the West’, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 3 (1976), 259. 68  David Martin, The Religious and the Secular: Studies in Secularization (London: Routledge & Kegan. Paul, 1969). Andrew M. Greeley, Religious Change in America, Social Trends in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989). 69  Colin Grant, ‘Is Kai Nielsen Becoming a Wittgensteinian Fideist?’, Studies in Religion/ Sciences Religieuses 30 (2001), 365–79. 70  Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (London/Toronto: Bantam, 2006), 282.



that provides energy and passion to the new atheists. Dawkins talks of ‘atheist’s commitment to naturalism’,71 and thereby revealing that it is as much a faith as a theist’s commitment to God. And the core of his naturalistic faith is the belief that ‘there is only one kind of stuff in the universe, and it is physical’.72 3.4  Science and Theology: Differences Recognizing the existential revolution enables us to overcome some of the difficulties of the Autonomy Model. The coming of secularism makes us realize that religion (any faith, for that matter) could be understood in two different ways: (1) as an object that appears in a secular horizon, or (2) as a lived horizon. In accordance with these two ways of understanding religion, there also comes about two different ways of studying religion—the sciences of religion and theologies. They are linked to very different horizons. The horizon of the former is secularism, suitably fortified with humanism, materialism, scientism, and the like, whereas the horizon of the latter is that of a particular religious tradition. Irrespective of which horizon (secular or religious) is adopted, the other horizons that are not adopted appear as objects within the chosen horizon. For the one who has adopted the secular horizon, different religions appear as objects within that horizon (see Fig. 4.2); for the theologian who has made a religious faith as the encompassing horizon, all other religions and faiths appear as objects within this faith horizon. The distinction between objects and the horizon within which objects appear, that which is in the focal point of vision and that which is in the background, applies not only to the science of religions and theology but also to science and theology (or to any lived philosophy) generally. This helps us to overcome one of the shortcomings of the NOMA theory. One of the difficulties with the NOMA theory, we noted, is the lack of clarity surrounding the demarcation of science and religion. Upon one construal of NOMA, we saw that the difference between science and religion is a difference of subject matter. By treating the difference in this way, we are misled into thinking that the two are on par; both are objects within a larger horizon. It is as if the two are different kinds of trees (say, teak and sandalwood) within the same forest. Upon a logical construal of the  Ibid., 23; italics added.  Ibid., 14.

71 72



difference, we were left with a puzzle as to how two ‘non-overlapping’ and ‘separate’ domains could be pressing on each other at every ‘jot and tittle’. This puzzle can now be solved by accepting the logical construal and spelling out the difference. On the one hand, these disciplines are logically as different as the woods are from the trees. Not to make this logical distinction would be to commit a ‘category mistake’ as Gilbert Ryle has taught us.73 On the other hand, this logical difference does not amount to a material difference. There can be no woods without the trees. This explains why science and religion are so completely different and yet cannot be separated from one another; they remain ‘semi-permeable’ as Goodenough correctly saw. Whether there is also a difference of subject-­ matter will be explored in Part III. Though the analogy of wood and trees helps to make the logical distinction clear, it is also misleading. Trees make woods, but objects do not make a horizon; it is a horizon that makes objects (significant). The horizon-­ object relationship is best seen in terms of Wittgenstein’s grammatical-­ empirical distinction. To say ‘this table is one metre’ is entirely different from saying ‘100 centimetres is one metre’. The first is empirical; the second is grammatical. The first tells us about the length of this table (that it is one metre); the second tells us what it means for anything to be one metre. Although it is not Wittgenstein’s terminology, we could say that the empirical belongs to the first order inquiry, whereas the grammatical belongs to the second order inquiry. For Wittgenstein, ‘grammar tells us what kind of object anything is’74; it expresses the essence of a thing.75 It is completely different, logically different, from any particular use of grammar. Wittgenstein does not tire of telling us that ‘grammar ... has somewhat the same relation to the language as ... the rules of a game have to the game’.76 73  One of Ryle’s own examples of a category mistake is that of a visitor to a university. After being given an exhaustive tour of the various colleges, libraries, administrative offices, and so on of the university, if the visitor still asks where the university is, he commits a category mistake because he takes university to be one more institution like the ones he has been shown. Such a mistake can only be corrected when the visitor realizes that university is a completely different category; it is not one more physical structure to be seen but ‘the way in which all that he has seen is organized’ Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind, 60th anniversary ed. (New York: Routledge, 2009), 6. 74  Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 373. 75  Ibid., 371. 76  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Grammar, ed. Rush Rhees, trans. Anthony Kenny (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974), 60.



It must be noted that this grammatical-empirical or horizon-object distinction applies across the board to all objects and all horizons. It applies to all objects irrespective of whether the objects concerned are atoms, galaxies, social hierarchy, mental depression, or the religious practices of different groups. Similarly, the distinction applies across the board to all horizons irrespective of whether the horizon in question is Christian, Islamic, humanist, or naturalistic. In other words, the distinction applies to both natural sciences and human sciences on the one hand, and to all philosophies, theologies, and ideological formations on the other. Earlier I drew attention to Gould’s failure to describe the magisterium of theology. Although we are still not in a position to spell out the magisterium in great detail, the contours of this teaching authority have begun to emerge. The realization that theology is necessarily existential implies that theology must be ruled by the fourfold features of existentialist thinking—rootedness in lived conditions, driven by an inward passion, this passion functioning as the source of unity, and this unity remaining a dynamic one that is open to change. Further features of the theological magisterium begin to emerge when we reflect upon the distinction between a horizon that gives meaning to objects, and the objects themselves. It would enable us to distinguish between science and theology in a manner that retains the insights of NOMA without many of its pitfalls. The distinction between horizon and the objects within some horizon, or between grammar and the items to which grammar is applied, is indeed a major one. Not to recognize this distinction is to be a victim of an unacknowledged ideology. Wayne Proudfoot’s explanatory reduction of religious experience is a good example.77 His treatment of religious experience recognizes the objects (the trees of individual religious experience), but does not recognize the larger horizon of religion that gives meaning to these objects.78 To miss this difference is to turn the dialogue between the different horizons of science and religion into an in-house conversation within the magisterium of science. To recognize the difference, on the other hand, is to recognize that the sciences (especially psychology that forms the basis of Proudfoot’s reduction) function within a secular horizon, whereas theology functions from a religious horizon. Similarly, 77  Wayne Proudfoot, Religious Experience (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985). 78  See George Karuvelil, ‘Missing the Wood for the Trees: A Critique of Proudfoot’s Explanatory Reduction of Religious Experience’, The Heythrop Journal 50 (2009), 31–43.



the scientific study of religion functions within a secular horizon whereas theology is linked to a religious horizon. Apart from being associated with alternative existential horizons with their different energizing passions, there are other important differences. The disciplines of science and theology look in different directions and do different things. Science looks at the objects or the observable phenomena and not at the horizon within which they appear. When Hick tells us that Christianity is one religion among many, for example, his gaze is directed not at the Christian horizon but at the object called Christianity as it appears within a secular horizon. The gaze of theology, on the other hand, is directed at the horizon. This difference regarding the focus of their attention is also a major one. Wittgenstein’s eagle eyes spotted this difference correctly when he characterized theology as grammar.79 Although science uses a grammar without paying special attention to the nature of the grammar used, theology examines the grammar it uses. It is completely different, logically different, from any particular use of grammar. Having their eyes fixed in different directions, what they do with their find is also different. Theology looks at the religious horizon that is lived by the theologian’s faith-community and attempts to explicate it. That is why it is defined as ‘faith seeking understanding’; its focus is on explicating the horizon. Empirical science looks at the objects or the phenomena and attempts to explain them. These tasks are quite different. Explanation looks at the many items or objects (whose horizon may be totally hidden from view) and attempts to bring them under a unifying scheme.80 These various items are known, but they typically lack a unified understanding. For example, a variety of objects fall to the ground: ripe fruits, dead leaves, thrown stones, and so on. This was a fact known to all, but there was no unified understanding of these falling bodies until Newton came up with the theory of gravity. Scientific explanation often involves introducing new ideas of this kind. Something similar can be seen in Hick’s theory of pluralism where he looks at the different postaxial religions of the world and comes to the conclusion that salvation/liberation is a unifying factor of

79  Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 373. See also, W.  Brenner, ‘Theology as Grammar’, Southern Journal of Philosophy 34 (1996), 439–54. 80  Philip Kitcher, ‘Explanation’, in Edward Craig (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London/New York: Routledge, 1998), 521–25; Kitcher, ‘Explanatory Unification’, Philosophy of Science 48 (1981), 507–31.



these religions. Whether adequate or not, it remains an attempted explanation. An explication, in contrast, is a matter of making known in detail something already known and is implicitly taken for granted. Theological writings provide us with plenty of examples. I shall refer to Sri Vallabhāchār ya whom I quoted in Chap. 2 for illustrating how explication differs from explanation of the kind attempted by Hick. The underlying passion of Vallabhāchār ya’s existential horizon was his devotion to Kṛsn ̣ ̣a based on that part of the scriptures known as Bhāgavata Purāna. But he is faced with the problem that this text appears rather late in history and the earlier texts make no reference to Kṛsn ̣ ̣a. This is a theological problem that needs explication, not a scientific problem that needs explanation. His solution, we have seen, is to harmonize the earlier texts with his underlying passion by making Kṛsn ̣ ̣a present in those texts, though in a hidden way. This is an instance of what pluralists like Hick consider a version of superiority they called ‘inclusivism’. Judging it a matter of superiority comes from the failure to distinguish explanation from explication, empirical inquiry from grammatical inquiry. Empirical explanation builds a forest out of trees; grammatical explication elucidates how objects hang together in a horizon. Pluralists look at the objects called ‘religions’, see a pattern, and call it superiority; they are not looking at a lived horizon and attempting to make sense of it. Explication may also be understood as an explanation, but in a different sense from what is understood in science. One of the ordinary meanings of the word explain is to make known in detail, as when we explain the workings of a machine by detailing its components and their functions.81 If theological explication is understood as explanation, it would be an explanation in this sense. As a detailed description of something already taken for granted and implicitly understood, theological explanation is a committed inquiry. Theological use of reason, therefore, remains within that commitment. It is this feature that prompted the Indian theologian Śaṇkara to speak of ‘dry reason’, by which he meant reasoning that is not guided by revelation or one’s faith commitment. Thus, though a Christian theologian may speculate on whether there are other gods than the Father of Jesus Christ, the conclusion is unlikely to be in the affirmative. But this is not

81  Peter Clarke and Peter Byrne, Religion Defined and Explained (New York: St. Martin’s, 1993), 30.



necessarily because of the ‘fear of undesirable consequences’,82 nor is it insincerity as Russell assumed about the Aquinas’ use of reason. If theological reasoning is done within a commitment, it is because of its existential character. If the explication of one’s lived horizon is to be considered insincere, all second order inquiries or philosophies that have an existential commitment should be considered insincere. And this would apply as much to Russell’s repudiation of Christianity as to Aquinas’ philosophy. Being a victim of the modern myth of the neutral observer, Russell did not realize that what he called a ‘scaffolding of truths’ (referring to the futility of human existence in a scientific world) was merely an elucidation of his own scientistic faith83; nor does Hick realize that what he calls ‘impartial grounds’ forms a space within the secular horizon. Reliance on science as the sole model for all legitimate knowledge adopted by Russell (and other adherents of scientism) leads us to a further difference between theology and the empirical sciences. Empirical sciences are theoretical exercises oriented to intellectual understanding, whereas theology is existential by its very nature, as we have seen. To use the Kierkegaardian terminology, empirical sciences approximate to truth by attempting to build more and more comprehensive theories; a theory of everything (ToE) would be the ultimate triumph of science (if it were to happen at all). As faith seeking understanding, theology, no doubt, has also a theoretical dimension, but a theoretical understanding devoid of existential roots would cease to be theology. Theology aims at unifying knowing and being (of the knower) and not merely at theoretical unification. The kind of unity sought by theology is the unity of the whole human existence in the manner of a lover with the beloved, where a deepening in love is simultaneously a transformation of the lovers, as seen in Chap. 2. 3.5  The Real Source of Conflict: AMA Theory It must be becoming clear by now that the real source of conflict, where there is conflict, is neither science nor theology but the underlying passion of the respective horizons. Let us consider examples. We have already seen 82  Hillary Rodrigues and John S. Harding, Introduction to the Study of Religion (London/ New York: Routledge, 2009), 10. 83  For details, see Tilley, Faith: What It Is and What It Isn’t, 79. Mary Midgley, Wisdom, Information and Wonder: What Knowledge Is For? (London/New York: Routledge, 1989; repr., 1995), 110–14.



Dawkins’ core faith commitment. His naturalistic faith is surely in conflict with the theistic faith that God is the ultimate reality in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17: 28). Moreover, Stenger’s understanding of God as hypothesis is not the God of theists. Of course, everyone is free to set up straw men and attack them, but that cannot be a conflict of science and religion. Similarly the faith that science is the only means of human knowledge is at odds with the conviction of religious believers who believe in divine revelation or religious experience as a distinct source of knowledge. Thus, secular faiths are bound to conflict with religious faiths. But these are conflicts of alternative faiths, not of science and religion. Scientism and religion are in conflict, not science and religion. Haught even formulates the faith of Sam Harris and other ‘new atheists’ in terms of four ‘evident truths’ in the manner of Buddha’s four noble truths!84 They conflict because they are alternative magisteria or teaching authorities that offer guidance to life. Let us speak of it as AMA, for Alternative Magisteria, in the manner of Gould’s NOMA. Alvin Plantinga comes close to realizing that the so-called conflict between science and religion is really a conflict of rival faiths. But rather than see it a conflict between secular and religious faiths, he makes it into a conflict between naturalism (one version of secular faith) and evolutionary theory.85 His argument is that evolutionary survival requires only fitness, not truth. While his argument cannot be faulted on logical grounds, it seems very unlikely that an organism that does not track truth will survive in the long run, as pointed out by Dennett.86 Yet my basic objection to Plantinga is not this. The problem is that he pits science (evolutionary theory) against naturalism (faith). To do so, I have argued, is to commit a category mistake. This, of course, assumes that evolution is kept at the level of science and not made into an overarching horizon, and religion is not reduced to science. To do either would be to disregard the autonomy of the two disciplines.

84  John F. Haught, God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 2–12. 85  Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). 86  D. C. Dennett and Alvin Plantinga, Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, Point/ Counterpoint Series (New York/Oxford: Oxford University, 2011), 51–52. See also Maarten Boudry and Michael Vlerick, ‘Natural Selection Does Care About Truth’, International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 28 (2014), 65–77.



When does the scientific theory of evolution stop being science and become a faith? In order to answer that we must be clear about the facts for which this theory is an explanation. As far as I can see, the facts of the matter are these: plants, animals, and other organisms change; species are not completely fixed and permanent, as it was once thought. Some species have become extinct, and others come to flourish. The evolutionary theory is an explanation for these facts: organisms adapt to suit the environment, where ‘environment’ is understood as the living and the non-living surroundings. An organism has a habitat, a home, where it flourishes and another where it declines. As a habitat changes, life changes; one species evolves into another. This is natural selection. Natural selection makes all life related.87 This core explanation of natural selection could be further expanded by exploring the role of genetics in the process of adaptation (done by evolutionary biologists like Gould) or by exploring the role of external factors, such as the extinction of dinosaurs under the impact of a huge meteor hitting the Caribbean basin. Those are the details. All of these are within the scope of evolution, a scientific theory for explaining change, extinction, and the emergence of new species. What is the driving force of natural selection? Enter the Malthusian ideology of limited resources and the rat race to secure a larger slice of the cake for oneself and one’s kin, in the process of which the weaker ones are damned to perish unmourned. When natural selection is combined with Malthus, we get the worst form of a faith that goes by the same name as evolution.88 It was this faith that led Nietzsche to rage against the Judeo-­ Christian morality and its concern for the weak. For him such morality ‘thwarts the law of evolution, which is the law of selection’ by defending

87  Two billion years ago, about the half of the Earth’s life was bacterial. The bacteria prepared the way for the evolution of the other forms of life, and today there are six kingdoms of organisms. See Elisabet Sahtouris, Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution (Santa Barbara, CA: Metalog, 1996). 88  Darwin himself was so ambiguous on this point that his followers could use it for legitimizing any view they favoured, ranging from colonial conquests to anti-imperialism. See Diane B. Paul, ‘Darwin, Social Darwinism, and Eugenics’, in M. J. S. Hodge and Gregory Radick (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Darwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 220. For some critiques of the Malthusian element in the evolutionary theory, see Ashley Montagu, Darwin: Competition & Cooperation (New York: Henry Schuman, 1952); Daniel Philip Todes, Darwin Without Malthus: The Struggle for Existence in Russian Evolutionary Thought (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).



the indefensible: ‘life’s disinherited and condemned’.89 It was the same faith that manifested itself in the eugenic experiments of the Nazis. It is at work in various ways in the contemporary world, most of all in the economic colonization that is legitimized in the name of development, uprooting local cultures and disinheriting the aboriginal people all over the world. It is important to realize that this version of evolution is faith, not science. This faith is, indeed, in conflict with religious faith. Natural selection, as science, has room for fierce competition as well as for altruistic cooperation that is not kinship related; it has a place for the ‘Selfish Gene’ as well as ‘selfless genes’.90 As long as evolution remains a scientific theory, it has nothing of the acidic quality to corrode religion that Dennett attributes to it.91 It can, at best, blunt the design argument for God’s existence. Argument from design or purpose has been a stock-in-trade tool of natural theology. The apparent design in nature can be explained equally well by the theory of evolution, as by a creator God. The fitness of our fingers to grip things, for example, is explained equally well by an intelligent designer and the necessity of that feature for survival. But this can impact religion only of those who consider God as a hypothesis to be proved or disproved. It applies to the Holy Science Model, which we have already discarded in the last chapter. The science of evolution, therefore, has little impact on the Autonomy Model. If the new atheists are indeed driven by their existential concern, as I have argued, there is still hope beyond polemics because most religious believers, I think, share their concern. They hate as much the evil done under the cover of religion as the new atheists do. But if this hope beyond polemics is to be realized, secular and religious faiths must stop fighting strawmen and start addressing real issues. This calls for listening to the real 89  Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ in Twilight of the Idols, and, the Anti-Christ, trans. by R. J. Hollingdale (London: Penguin, 2003), par. 7.; italics original. 90  ‘Selfish Gene’ is the title of Dawkins’ popular book on evolution. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976). ‘Selfless genes’ is the title for a review of a book on the life of George Price. The point of that title is that the work of Price, especially what is known as the ‘Price equation’ makes room for altruism between non-relatives. See, Tom Baily, ‘Selfless genes’, Times Literary Supplement, October 1, 2010. For an accessible account of the Price equation and its relation to evolution, see Andy Gardner, ‘The Price Equation’, Current Biology 18 (2008), R198-R202. 91  Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life (London/ New York: Penguin, 1996).



claims of the other side. Important among the claims of believers is that religion is not science and science is not religion. On the other hand, while asking the new atheists not to fight the strawman called ‘God-hypothesis’, it must be kept in mind that they did not invent this idea. They found it in a culture where the defenders of God pile up arguments to prove his existence as an explanation for the world. Therefore, if their venomous attacks succeed in giving a fresh fillip to the new orientation given by Schleiermacher for rethinking religious faith in terms of human experience, then these attacks would have served a purpose.

4   Conclusion The argument of this chapter has been that the Autonomy Model is not satisfactory as it stands. But the way forward will come not by denying autonomy and making religion into science (‘God hypothesis’) or science into religion (‘holy science’) but by spelling out the nature of the autonomy, as I have done in this chapter. An important step in that process involves undermining the idea that faith commitment is peculiar to theologians, which ‘tough minded’ secularists can do without. Once it is recognized that everyone lives by faith, it is also easy to see that the real conflict is not between science and religion but between the different faith-horizons and the conflicting passions underlying various secular and religious faiths. I have called this way of understanding science-religion relations, AMA.  Science is not faith, until it is made into scientism, an overarching worldview for the conduct of human life. Qualifying the materialism and naturalism of the new atheists as ‘scientific’,92 therefore, must be considered totally inappropriate; they are as scientific as the Marxist claim that dialectical materialism is scientific! The believers who share the existential concern of the new atheists will have to move beyond finding fault with their arguments (which is easy to do) and positively show how religious truth is to be measured. ‘Why be religious?’ is a question that needs to be vigorously pursued. ‘Why pursue science?’ is equally important, but the cultural dominance of science makes it seem less urgent. Ultimately, the one cannot be answered without 92  Haught seems to be influenced in this matter by Barbour who borrowed it from E. O. Wilson. Haught, God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, x, xiii, etc. Ian G. Barbour, When Science Meets Religion, 1st ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 13.



answering the other. A helpful suggestion, in this connection, comes from Victor Stenger who distinguishes methodological naturalism from metaphysical naturalism. He acknowledges that the latter (that reality is solely made up of matter) is not a scientific issue, though many scientists assume it.93 I have called it naturalistic faith. While many see Stenger’s point about methodological naturalism, an alternative methodology that seeks truth without neglecting the inevitable subjectivity is yet to emerge. The task of Part II, therefore, is to spell out a methodology (literally, a system of methods) for obtaining objective knowledge without going the objectivist way, so that the autonomy of religion does not make it into a ‘protected discourse’.

93  Victor J. Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2007), 15.


Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth

Introduction The process of undermining the modern objectivist epistemology that started in Chap. 2 reached its culmination in Chap. 4 with the realization that no one lives without some kind of faith. Faith is the ultimate conviction one lives by, whether religious or non-religious. The existence of diverse faith perspectives brings us right into the postmodern condition whose characteristic mark is diversity: diverse ideologies, religions, ethnicities, nationalities, languages. Although diversity is not new, people of such diverse backgrounds having to live side by side is typical of the postmodern condition. Its epistemological implications will be explored in Part II: is it possible to seek truth while living in the midst of people with different convictions? Can we find a way to appreciate diversity without succumbing to relativism of truth? These are the concerns of this Part.

Historical Background Let us begin with the historical setting. Imagine a boat firmly tethered to the shore. As long as it is firmly tethered, the boat remains secure from the turbulence of the waters, no matter how strong the currents in the air and the water. Then comes the realization that the ropes holding the boat to the shore are quite fragile, and there is no alternative to putting the boat out into the waters and start sailing. Although forced by unavoidable circumstances to do so, those who get into the boat begin to appreciate the new situation. Magnificent as the static view from the shore is, the variety


Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth

of sights and sounds offered by the journey is exhilarating. Then comes a time when the boatmen realize that they are in a precarious situation, not only because of the turbulence of the waters but also because their boat is in a bad shape. It is too weak to weather the storm, and needs repairs. But having left the shore behind, they have no choice but to make do with whatever is available within the boat; there is no way to get help from the shore. But they long to enjoy the comforts of the shore without giving up the freedom of being out at the sea. Eventually those in the boat begin a great dispute. Some say: ‘we are doomed if we don’t get help from the outside’. Others say: ‘it is futile even to think of such a thing. We must continue to rely on our own resources’. Then comes a time when the poor boatmen realize they are not alone at sea; there are other boatmen, too. They start shouting out for help to the other boatmen, but they cannot understand each other as they speak different languages. To make matters worse, some of the other boats are rumoured to belong to pirates. By now many of the travellers are fatigued to the extreme and some even disoriented. Some resign themselves to dying at sea; others keep doing whatever they think fit, all different things. Such is the story of modern and contemporary epistemology. The story develops in different stages. Descartes and his successors undertook the task of tethering the boat, though their preferred metaphor was not of tethering the boat but of laying firm foundations for knowledge. They were supremely confident about the strength of their foundations to withstand all adverse conditions. Knowledge was protected from the roaring waters, the flux of history. This is the objectivist path where there was no need to seek objectivity; objectivity was assured on account of being tethered to the shore. Discovering the frailty of the foundations led to coherentism. This is the second stage. Coherentism was to be the alternative to foundationalism. Otto Neurath (1882–1945) replaced the metaphor of foundations by the metaphor of sailors at sea: ‘We are like sailors who have to rebuild their ship on the open sea, without ever being able to dismantle it in dry-dock and reconstruct it from its best components’.1 The marine metaphor was popularized by W.V.  Quine (1908–2000). Karl Popper (1902–1994) 1  Cited in Jordi Cat, ‘Otto Neurath’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

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came up with the metaphor of piles driven into the swamp: we stop driving piles any deeper ‘not because we have reached firm ground. We simply stop when we are satisfied that the piles are firm enough to carry the structure, at least for the time being’.2 Upon either metaphor (boat or piles), the objectivist route to objectivity proved impossible. Foundationalism was dead, or at least it was thought dead. That prompted the move from foundationalism to coherentism. Objectivity now depended on coherence with the other beliefs one holds: resources within the boat. But coherentism has a basic problem. Everyone knows that good novels are as coherent as they can get. But they remain fiction, not knowledge, which by definition, needs to be true. The realization that neither foundationalism nor coherentism is a viable option can be seen in the foundherentism of Susan Haack (b.1945).3 It tries to combine the best of foundationalism and coherentism, remaining within the boat and attempting to secure help from the shore. But this option did not pick up momentum and remained more a longing, in spite of the third metaphor offered by her, that is, a crossword puzzle. The next stage concerns the great dispute that arose in the boat. It refers to the conflict between internalism and externalism. Internalism is intrinsic to modern epistemology, whether foundationalist or coherentist. It says that in justifying beliefs, a person can rely only on the resources that are internally available in consciousness; they can be accessed merely by reflecting or looking within. Those who recognized the limitations of internalism advocated externalism, so that at least some of the factors involved in knowledge are permissible from the outside. The most prominent version of externalism is known as reliabilism, which holds that for a belief to be justified, it must be produced in a reliable manner, where ‘reliable’ means a process whose outputs include more true beliefs than false ones. Perception, memory, and the like are considered reliable mechanisms. Laurence Bonjour, himself an internalist, has noted that though ‘the internalism–externalism issue has remained the main focus of epistemological discussion in the past dozen years or so, it is far from clear that any real progress has been made towards a resolution’.4 This is not 2  Karl R.  Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London/New York: Routledge, 1992), 94. 3  Susan Haack, Evidence and Inquiry: Towards Reconstruction in Epistemology (Oxford/ Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993). 4  Laurence Bonjour, ‘Recent Work on the Internalism-Externalism Controversy’, in Jonathan Dancy, Ernest Sosa, and Matthias Steup (eds.), A Companion to Epistemology, 2nd


Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth

s­ urprising because just as coherentism emerged more as a logical alternative to foundationalism than a real alternative, so too externalism is merely a logical (and no real) alternative to internalism. The key problem with internalism is the monadic character of the knower, cut off from the real world in which knowledge is sought and attained. This is the direct result of Descartes’ decision to doubt everything, including the existence of the external world and other persons. One way of getting out of the monadic starting point of modern epistemology is by socializing it. This is the next stage: the discovery of other boats in the sea. Social epistemology focuses on ‘the production, flow, integration, and consumption of all forms of communicated thought throughout the entire social fabric’.5 Sociology of knowledge became the new rage.6 The best account of this dimension of epistemology, in the hard sciences, came from Thomas Kuhn who explored the history of science only to find that science is not a view from nowhere.7 One of the conclusions he drew was that of ‘incommensurability’, the idea that it is not possible to communicate across radically different paradigms of science. Incommensurability makes social epistemology coherentist in varying degrees, this time empirically reinforced by studies in history, sociology, and so forth. History, society, and culture become the new matrix of objectivity. These might also be considered the new foundations, but unlike the unvarying foundations of the moderns, the new foundations vary from one social setting to another. The boat is now under the full sway of the turbulent waters. Diving into that turbulence, Michel Foucault (1926–1984) soon demonstrated that what counted as knowledge is a hidden exercise of power ed., Blackwell Companions to Philosophy (Chichester, West Sussex/Malden, MA: WileyBlackwell, 2010), 33. See also Laurence BonJour and Ernest Sosa, Epistemic Justification: Internalism vs. Externalism, Foundations vs. Virtues, Great Debates in Philosophy (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003). For an extended, though problematic, attempt at resolution, see Clayton Littlejohn, Justification and the Truth-Connection (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012). 5  Cited in Alvin Goldman, ‘Social Epistemology, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2008 Edition), Edward N.  Zalta (ed.), URL = archives/sum2008/entries/epistemology-social/ 6  Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (London: Penguin, 1967). 7  Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

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and manipulation; even what is ordinarily considered as natural, such as the classification of animals, is a human construct based on power relations.8 The story represents this stage as rumours of piracy. Modern epistemology was finally made to stand on its head. Power and money replace reality and truth. The epistemic boat is now totally thrust into the midst of cultural currents; postmodernism is having its full effect. The autonomous language games we have seen in Chap. 4 can be considered a variation of this, although by sticking to Wittgenstein, they avoid the Foucauldian conclusions. The final stage is when the fatigued boaters go in different directions, each unto oneself. This is the present, when we have a wide variety of epistemologies ranging from naturalized epistemology, virtue epistemology, feminist epistemology, and contextual epistemology, just to name a few.9 I have, obviously, left out much in this simplified presentation of the history of modern epistemology.10 The purpose is not so much to present an exhaustive history of the evolution of epistemology from Descartes to the present, as to frame the issues to be taken up. What are we to make of this bewildering diversity of epistemologies? Is it possible to seek truth in the midst of this epistemological Babel? This is the focus of Part II. I will argue that though it is impossible to get out of our existential boats, there are enough resources within the boats to send distress signals to the shore of reality and receive the needed help. Part I culminated in the recognition of different language games where autonomy and discontinuities threaten to turn them into ‘protected discourse’ by neglecting continuities. This part deals with the continuities between autonomous language games. The focus on discontinuity and autonomy makes the epistemology developed here a version of contextualism, and the emphasis on continuity makes it a version of naturalized epistemology. 8  Many of his books deal with the inextricable link between knowledge and power. The example of animal classification comes from Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Routledge Classics (London: Routledge, 2002), xvi. 9  For a more comprehensive view of the different epistemological positions today, see Ernest Sosa et al. (eds.), Epistemology: An Anthology, 2nd ed., (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008). 10  For a more comprehensive history of epistemology that still focuses mostly on modern philosophy, see Jan Woleński, ‘History of Epistemology’, in Ilkka Niniluoto, Matti Sintonen, and Jan Woleński (eds.), Handbook of Epistemology (Dordrecht/Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), 3–54.


Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth

Whither Epistemology? The heart of naturalized epistemology is the revolt against a cardinal principle of modern epistemology: namely, that epistemology owes nothing to the sciences. Science is empirical whereas epistemology is a priori; the former deals with facts or what is the case, and the latter with norms or what one ought (or ought not) to believe. Epistemology provides the foundations for the sciences, without being indebted to them in any way. As against this modern view, naturalized epistemology holds that epistemology is continuous with the sciences.11 But there is no agreement on the nature of continuity. It can vary from the extreme view that sciences replace epistemology (‘replacement naturalism’) to the milder view that epistemology must take scientific findings seriously in its work (‘cooperative naturalism’).12 I adopt this milder view. The fact that naturalized epistemology concerns continuities between sciences and epistemology suits the argument of this book where we are looking for ways of going beyond discontinuities. There are different kinds of continuity between the sciences and epistemology. One is contextual continuity, which rejects the idea of epistemology as an entirely a priori discipline that proceeds without any presuppositions. Contextual continuity holds that the ‘epistemologist and scientist alike stand aboard Neurath’s boat’.13 We have already accepted this by accepting autonomous language games. Although there are varieties of contextual epistemologies,14 I shall focus on the Wittgenstein-­ inspired contextualism of Michael Williams (b. 1947). Its core contention is that knowledge and justification vary with context. I shall adopt it and develop it further. Before proceeding with other continuities between sciences and epistemology, we must dwell a little more on social epistemology.15 Although there has been some dispute as to whether social epistemology is real 11  James Maffie, ‘Recent Work on Naturalized Epistemology’, American Philosophical Quarterly 27 (1990), 283–93. 12  Richard Feldman, ‘Naturalized Epistemology, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2001), Edward N.  Zalta (ed.), URL = 13  Maffie, ‘Recent Work on Naturalized Epistemology’, 282. 14   For varieties of contextualism, see Elke Brendel and Christoph Jäger (eds.), Contextualisms in Epistemology (Dordrecht/Norwell, MA: Springer, 2005). 15  For a brief history of social epistemology, see Frederick F. Schmitt and Oliver R. Scholz, ‘Introduction: The History of Social Epistemology’, Episteme 7 (2010), 1–6.

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epistemology,16 I consider social epistemology a necessary corrective to the individualistic focus of modern epistemology. Its fundamental insight is that human knowers are not epistemological monads, which Descartes and successors took as their starting point. Human knowers exist in society, where individuals influence one another. Once we leave behind our imprisonment in the Cartesian ivory tower and get down to the inescapable existential grounds, we will have to develop an integral epistemology that befits this reality. It is a paradox of the social epistemology that, while it has helped bring to light the unconscious forces (power and domination) at work in the name of truth and objectivity, it has done very little to channel the conscious forces at work. It has precious little to say, for example, about the cognitive disagreements between the secular and religious faiths that are being played out in the open. This topic falls under ‘peer disagreement’ in social epistemology.17 Consider a case presented by Richard Feldman. Some students in his class believed that God does not exist, whereas most believed that God exists. It is not possible for both sides to be right; one must be mistaken. Yet a majority of the believing students did not think that the other group was any less reasonable than themselves. Then Feldman poses the question: Can epistemic peers who have shared their evidence continue to maintain one’s belief and still hold that the other is also reasonable?18 He does not think so, and he is puzzled that his religious students think otherwise. The source of his puzzlement is not hard to find. He thinks that just because both groups of students are ‘not isolated’ (they share the environs of the same university), they are epistemic peers. He does not even consider the possibility that the two groups may be playing different language games and that physical proximity is not enough to make them epistemic peers. Do Kai Nielsen and D.Z.  Phillips who met together to discuss Wittgensteinian fideism but talked past each other (Chap. 4), for example, make epistemic peers? Feldman’s examples (all of them empirical) and his 16  Alvin I. Goldman, ‘Why Social Epistemology Is Real Epistemology’, in Adrian Haddock, Alan Millar, and Duncan Pritchard (eds.), Social Epistemology (Oxford: Oxford University, 2010). 17  Richard Feldman and Ted A.  Warfield, Disagreement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). 18  Richard Feldman, ‘Reasonable Religious Disagreements’, in Alvin I.  Goldman and Dennis Whitcomb (eds.), Social Epistemology: Essential Readings (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 144.


Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth

easy dismissal of the believers’ case as ‘appeal to the authority of the difficult to interpret words in an ancient text’19 (presumably referring to the Bible) clearly indicate that his talk about shared evidence makes no room for the Wittgensteinian insight that all evidence is within a system of beliefs. If evidence depends on a system of beliefs, Feldman’s disagreeing students are not sharing the same evidence at all. When this insight is taken into account, we come to disagreement that lies far beneath the surface. Call it deep disagreement. Clearly the disagreement between theists and atheists is not merely disagreement, but deep disagreement. Deep disagreement gives a biting edge to the postmodern condition, making it very different from the modern. In the postmodern world, we can no longer proceed with justification as if the evidence needed for justification is independent of all systems, as Feldman does. How, then, are we to seek truth in the face of deep disagreement? The answer, as is said, is blowing in the wind. We need to whiff out the answers in the wind and resolutely go forward to find truth. An important part of the answer has come from Richard Rorty (1931–2007). He saw that we who journey in different existential boats need to engage in conversation with each other. Call it conversational continuity or communicative reason. It seems clear to me that seeking truth and objectivity in the face of deep disagreement calls for understanding the nature of the disagreement. This demands dialogue and conversation between the disagreeing parties, so that the surface talk of sharing evidence does not become a cover for hiding deep disagreement. Although conversational continuity is not ordinarily discussed in naturalized epistemology, the danger of incommensurability and the recognition of deep disagreements make it imperative that we pay attention to it. But dialogue and conversation are no substitute for evidence and justification. Epistemic disagreements are not overcome through compromise, as Rorty would have it.20 Therefore, we must distinguish epistemic or justificatory reason from communicative reason. Even if one does not take the full Foucauldian turn to find an omnipresent link between knowledge and power, suspicion of such a link should warn us that communicative

 Ibid., 139.  Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), 317, 60. 19 20

  Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth 


reason cannot substitute epistemic reason. Justification based on evidence21 is as important as conversation. Which of these two—conversation or justification—gets priority? The answer depends on the kind of disagreement involved. Disagreement within a system of beliefs can straightaway proceed to look for evidence and resolve the disputed claim without engaging in conversation. But where there is deep disagreement, the disagreeing parties must first engage in dialogue so as to understand the nature of disagreement; only after the nature of the disagreement is understood can the question of evidence arise. In the third scenario where it is not clear whether the disagreement is deep or ordinary, the seekers proceed on the presumption that it is an ordinary disagreement. If this process leads to insurmountable resistance, it is a clear indication of deep disagreement. This scenario prompted Wittgenstein to say that ‘At the end of reasons comes persuasion’.22 Understood in this manner, Wittgenstein’s statement was not an invitation to substitute epistemic reason with persuasion. On the contrary, he was inviting us to step back from evidential procedures to conversational procedures until the disagreeing parties have some understanding of the nature of disagreement. Such conversation opens up the possibility of mutual understanding (what Hans-Georg Gadamer called the ‘fusion of horizons’). Once they reach an agreement on what they disagree about, they can proceed to the evidential procedures. I make this point because Williams interprets Wittgenstein’s point about persuasion differently, as we shall see in Chap. 6. Given that we cannot get out of our existential boats, that is, all evidence and observation are theory-laden (interpreted), how can we get any assistance from the shore of reality or find any neutral evidence to settle disagreements? How are we to obtain objectivity without going the objectivist way of denying subjectivity? This is the crucial question that needs to be confronted after communicative reason has provided an adequate understanding of the disagreement. In order to obtain objective knowledge and escape the relativistic predicament of getting stuck with the limitations of one’s own boat, a third sort of continuity between sciences and epistemology (besides the contextual and the conversational) needs to be 21  This view of justification is known as evidentialism, though its proponents treat evidence in monadic terms. See Earl B.  Conee and Richard Feldman, Evidentialism: Essays in Epistemology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004). 22  Wittgenstein, On Certainty, 612.


Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth

adopted. This is methodological continuity. It means that the methods of the sciences and of epistemology are continuous with each other. Quine expressed this succinctly when he said that epistemology is ‘science self-­ applied’.23 I will explore the concrete implications of such self-application by formulating and applying two cardinal principles of justification. A fourth sort of continuity between sciences and epistemology is metaphysical. It is basically the idea that epistemology as a normative or prescriptive discipline is built on descriptive facts. ‘Facts’, in this context, refer both to facts of the world as well as facts about ourselves. Kitcher drew our attention to the latter when he observed that epistemic prescriptions ‘must be grounded in facts about how systems like us could attain our epistemic goals in a world like ours’.24 This has always been acknowledged in epistemology, argues Kitcher. Its neglect in modern epistemology was more an aberration than the rule. Here again, continuity does not amount to identity; or else it would amount to reducing epistemology (a normative discipline) to empirical sciences. Such a non-reductive relationship between sciences and epistemology is called ‘supervenience’.25 Finally, I will discuss developmental continuity, that is, continuity of the dynamics whereby our natural cognitive abilities (like perception) develop into their cultural extensions, such as the emergence of modern science or diverse religious traditions.

The Chapters Since disagreement between atheists and theists is not a disagreement within a system, Chap. 5 begins with a theory of communication for maintaining conversational continuity. Unlike the speech-act based theory of John Searle (b. 1932),26 which hardly deals with the dialogical process, dialogue is the core concern of the theory I develop. Moreover, my theory will be rooted in existential situations of the dialogue partners, and not in

23  W. V. Quine, ‘Reply to Smart’, in Donald Davidson, Jaakko Hintikka (eds.), Words and Objections. Essays on the Work of W.  V. Quine, revised ed., Synthese Library (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1975), 293. 24  Philip Kitcher, ‘The Naturalists Return’, The Philosophical Review 101 (1992), 63. 25  Jaegwon Kim, ‘What Is “Naturalized Epistemology”?’, in Jaegwon Kim, Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays (New York Cambridge University Press, 1993), 216–36. 26  John R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (New York: Free Press, 1995).

  Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth 


ideal speech situations, as in the theory developed by Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929).27 My communication theory does various things at once. To begin with, Chap. 4 ended by suggesting that, inasmuch as religious believers and the new atheists are concerned about violence and terror inflicted in the name of religion, they must turn from verbal violence and ridicule of each other to dialogue. By understanding each other, both sides can face their common concern together. We learned in Chap. 2 that dialogue requires some common ground (though the sort of neutral ground sought by the pluralists is a non-starter). Communication theory provides an alternative understanding of the common ground required in dialogue across various existential horizons, whether between different religious faiths or between atheists and theists. My communication theory also enables me to introduce the distinction between theology and fundamental theology. Chapter 5 will also enable us to understand the difference between inter-human communication and divine-human communication, if any. Another important point that will emerge very clearly in that chapter, especially in the context of possible divine-human communication, is the need to go beyond understanding religious claims to their justification. Chapter 6 discusses the contextualist justification developed by Michael Williams. There are two special features of his epistemology that I adopt. First, he makes room for a diversity of empirical disciplines, each with its own procedures of justification. Thus, the autonomy of theology from the sciences that was the contention of Chap. 4 now becomes applicable not only to these categorially different disciplines but also to various disciplines within the category of empirical sciences. Second, Williams’ theory of justification is set in the context of challenges to knowledge-claims. This, exactly, is the situation between secular believers and religious believers. Therefore, his Default and Challenge structure of justification suits our purpose best. Both these features make his epistemology an almost-­ life-­size one, in the sense that they root epistemology in concrete existential situations. I call it ‘almost life-size’, implying that it is not fully so, for three reasons. First, he does not take into account the varieties of reason that are at work in a pluralistic context. Neglect of communicative reason, to which 27  Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, trans. Thomas McCarthy, 2 vols. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984).


Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth

I referred in the context of disagreement, features among the neglected reasons. Second, his epistemology has relativistic implications, notwithstanding his protestations. Third, the scope of his epistemology is limited, as it deals only with the justification of knowledge in the sciences. He does not consider the possibility of religious or moral claims to truth. Even within empirical knowledge, he does not explore justification of disputed perceptual claims. I take various steps to overcome these limitations. The theory of communication developed in Chap. 5 is brought to bear on epistemology to remedy the neglect of communicative reason, so that epistemic rivals do not talk past each other. Once there is an agreement on what they disagree about, then epistemic justification can enter the picture. The proneness of Williams’ epistemology to relativism is traced to his ambiguous relation to realism, which, in turn, is closely related to his failure to appreciate the distinction between the natural and the cultural. There are two cardinal principles I employ for overcoming relativism. The first is that the Natural-And-Cultural-are-Distinguishable-but-Not-­ Separable (NaC-Di-NoS principle). ‘Natural’ was defined in Chap. 1 as that which is innate and spontaneous to human beings. It is well known that bats and bees (and other organisms) have their own way of knowing that is not identical with that of humans. Evolutionary epistemology calls it their ‘cognitive niche’. Human beings also have their cognitive niche, called ‘mesocosm’.28 Mesocosmic knowledge is natural to us, and our scientific knowledge is a cultural product built on our natural abilities. Both the distinguishability and the inseparability involved in the NaC-Di-NoS principle are important. Neglect of distinguishability leads to the natural being dissolved into the cultural, which results in relativism; neglect of inseparability has the opposite effect of replacing the cultural with the natural, which results in objectivism and the kind of uniformitarian foundationalism that has proved to be the Achilles heel of modern epistemology. NaC-Di-NoS principle stops relativism in its tracks by giving each its due. The result is a robust realism that can be described as Contextual Realism or Pluralistic Realism as against the NMR (Naïve Metaphysical Realism) that we rejected in Chap. 3. The second methodological 28   Franz M.  Wuketits (ed.), Concepts and Approaches in Evolutionary Epistemology (Dordrecht/Boston/Lancaster: D.Reidel, 1984), 80–84. It must be noted that mesocosm applies only to our perceptual knowledge, and not to advanced kinds of knowledge, such as the scientific.

  Existential Reasons: Conviction, Communication, and Truth 


principle I adopt holds that the circumstances leading to the genesis of an idea or belief do not amount to evidence for its truth. Essentially, this Genesis-­is-Not-Evidence principle replaces the genetic empiricism of the classical empiricists (e.g., Locke and Hume) with the emphasis on evidence developed in the twentieth century. These two principles spell out methodological continuity of naturalized epistemology in practical terms, and together, they make the core of a Pluralistic Realism. Finally, these methodological innovations are shown to be applicable not only to various scientific disciplines discussed by Williams but also to perceptual claims. I thereby extend his Default and Challenge model of justification to natural perception. The working of the Genesis-is-not-­ evidence principle for obtaining evidence will be briefly demonstrated by considering examples of disputed perceptual claims in Chap. 7. Thus, the third limitation of Williams’ epistemology (not paying attention to the epistemology of experiential beliefs) is also compensated for. This chapter ends with a discussion of a fifth sort of continuity between different language games. This is developmental continuity; it provides a theory of how natural perception develops into sophisticated scientific knowledge. I adapt Ulric Neisser’s theory of cognition for the purpose. These five sorts of continuity—conversational, contextual, methodological, metaphysical, and developmental—prevents autonomous language games from becoming protected discourse, as the Wittgensteinian approach is often accused of. Treatment of the justification of perceptual experience in Chap. 7 will pave the way for exploring the epistemology of religious experience in Part III.


Communication, Culture, and Fundamental Theology

Good fences make good neighbours. Respect differences. This has been the insistent thrust of postmodern thought. Coming against the background of the suffocating, uniformitarian tendencies of modernity, this brought a breath of fresh air and a sense of relief. But good fences alone do not make good neighbours. Good neighbourliness also needs common spaces where people who live within their fences come out and interact with each other. It is this need for interaction that is the driving force of interreligious dialogue we saw in Chap. 2. But driven by the uniformitarian tendencies of modernity, pluralists did not see the need to respect differences. Driven by the same forces of modernity, the new atheists do not even see the need for dialogue. Instead they turn to hostility and ridicule of religious believers, who return it in good measure. The purpose of the last chapter was to set the stage for getting beyond hostility. This was done in three ways. Firstly, I pointed out that some of the hostility is based on utter misunderstanding about the nature of religion, that religion is science by another name. Secondly, I clarified that the real source of conflict between believers and atheists is neither science nor religion; the real source is to be found in the conflicting passions and existential commitments. Thirdly, I also suggested at the end of the chapter that beyond those conflicting commitments, many, if not most, religious believers share the new atheists’ existential concern with terror in the name of religion. Thus, while Chap. 2 showed how interreligious dialogue is not to be carried out, Chaps. 3 and 4 set the stage for dialogue between atheists and © The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




believers, where science becomes an ally rather than an obstacle for dialogue. But how are we to engage in this multi-pronged dialogue? What are the principles and dynamics of the process? This chapter seeks to answer these questions by exploring communication. Of the different continuities between autonomous language games, this chapter deals with conversational continuity. Communication will help us not only to spell out the requirements of dialogue, but also to make a principled distinction between theology and fundamental theology, a distinction that is inadequately drawn today. The inadequacy of that distinction, in turn, allows fundamental theology to get absorbed into theology, and in that process, undermines the very objective of this discipline. After exploring the nature of fundamental theology in this chapter, the next two chapters will provide the epistemological tools needed for carrying out the task of fundamental theology.

1   Communication The realization that the pluralists’ understanding of the common ground needed for dialogue is misplaced puts on us the burden of finding an alternative. Personally, it was the search for an alternative to the pluralists’ notion of shared ground that set me on to the trail of communication. Having taken that track, it did not take me long to realize that the available theories of communication in philosophy and theology cannot serve this purpose. Moving away from philosophy and theology to the larger range of theories found in Emory Griffin’s widely used textbook A First Look at Communication Theory brought the realization that the field of communication is populated with numerous theories, each dealing with something different, formulated for different purposes, and with different emphases.1 Dialogue rooted in existential situations requires formulating a theory for that purpose, and using materials from a variety of sources. This will be done in the first part of this chapter. The second part draws out the significance of the theory for philosophy and theology. The contemporary world is characterized by extensive specialization in various disciplines. While specialization is necessary, excessive and often exclusive focus on specialization also results in 1  Emory A. Griffin, A First Look at Communication Theory, 2nd ed. (New York; London: McGraw-Hill, 1994).This book has at least nine editions. I use the second edition because the chapter on motivation needed for my purpose is not found in some later editions.



intellectual fragmentation. Overcoming such fragmentation and relating different disciplines to each other has traditionally been the task of philosophy.2 Thereby it provides an overall perspective, a guide map for human living. However, under the objectivist onslaught, modern philosophy began looking for a special object of study for itself, with the result that not only has this discipline become marginalized in the academic world but also some philosophical writings are so specialized as to be unintelligible even to other philosophers. Seeing this trend in analytic philosophy prompted Susan Haack (b. 1945) to coin the phrase ‘Analytic Epistemologists’ Union’.3 Attention to communication becomes important, therefore, if philosophy is to overcome its misguided sense of professionalism and return to its original vocation of providing maps that offer guidance to life. Interdisciplinary communication has a special significance for fundamental theology, as the desire to interrelate the divergent systems of thought prevalent in the contemporary world was among the factors that led to the emergence of this discipline.4 It is also important for Christian theology, because the key concepts of Christian faith are matters of communication. For example, revelation is God’s self-communication to human persons; evangelization is communicating the Good News to fellow human beings, and so on. Let us proceed, then, to some fundamental ideas of communication. 1.1  Fundamentals of Communication The first thing to note about communication is that it is a triadic relationship between the communicator, the message, and the receiver. This relationship involves two different actions: one performed by the communicator, the other by the addressee.5 The communicator encodes the message in signs and sends it to the receiver, hoping for a particular 2  Mary Midgley, Wisdom, Information and Wonder: What Knowledge Is For? (London and New York: Routledge, 1989; repr., 1995). 3  Susan Haack, Evidence Matters: Science, Proof, and Truth in the Law, Law in Context (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 7. 4  René Latourelle, ‘Introduction to the English Language Edition’, in René Latourelle and Rino Fisichella (eds.), Dictionary of Fundamental Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1994), xiii. 5   Wilbur Schramm, ‘The Nature of Communication Between Humans’, in Wilbur Schramm and Donald F.  Roberts (eds.), The Process and Effects of Mass Communication (Urbana, Chicago, London: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 14.



Fig. 5.1  Bullet theory of communication


Fig. 5.2  Communication as relational



Decodes &responds




response. The receiver decodes the message by selectively attending to the available stimuli, interprets it, and responds to it in what seems a fitting manner. It is important to note that the acts of the communicator and the receiver are independent of each other. Otherwise, communication would be misunderstood as the communicator (A) transferring his or her message directly to a passive receiver (B); this is known as the bullet theory of communication (depicted in Fig. 5.1).6 Good communicators have known that the bullet theory is wrong; successful communication depends not only on the communicator but also on the recipient, the addressee. This realization prompted Socrates to compare the one who writes down his thoughts to a farmer who scatters seeds without any consideration of the kind of soil on which they would land.7 Figure 5.2 below depicts the independence of the actors and their acts. The independence of these two actions arises from the fact that the relationship between the communicator and the receiver is not merely a form of inter-stimulation.8 Rather, both are persons with their own egos and subjectivity, each lives within an encompassing horizon that is different from the horizon of the other. Each person’s lived horizon is made up 6  Ibid., 8.It may be noted that the bullet theory of communication has its counterpart in the speech-act theory of J.L. Austin until Paul Ricoeur introduced the ‘interlocutionary’ act into it. For speech-act theory, see John L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965). 7  Plato, Phaedrus, translated with an Introduction and Notes by Robin Waterfield (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), no. 276. 8  Robert E. Park, ‘Reflections on Communication and Culture’, The American Journal of Sociology 44 (1938), 189. ‘Interstimulation’ is the automatic result of stimuli being present without any personal involvement, for example, two people getting warm merely by occupying the same bed.



of a different set of accumulated experiences, values, and prejudices, driven by ideas and education one has received, and one’s cultural heritage. The fact of having such an existential home impacts all three elements of communication. A’s message to B has not suddenly dropped from the sky; it arose as a particular episode in A’s inner life, within that horizon. One’s horizon of accumulated experiences provides the communicator not only with a social, cultural, and linguistic context for the message but also with the codes for the message. The addressee, in turn, understands the coded message in terms of her own horizon of accumulated experiences. Wilbur Schramm illustrates the last point with the example of a tribesman who has never seen or heard of an airplane. Such a person ‘can only decode the sight of a plane in terms of whatever experience he has had. The plane may seem to him to be a bird, and the aviator a god borne on wings’.9 All human communication, whether a discourse (written or oral) or a work of art, then, becomes a doubly mediated process. Figure 5.2 therefore, needs to be modified by placing the communicator and the addressee within their respective horizons, as shown in Fig. 5.3. That the action of the communicator is independent of the recipient’s action brings about the possibility that a communication might fail. Given the possibility of such failure, the task of communication is to bridge the gap between the source and the destination by aligning them. Different communication theorists use different terms for this alignment. Schramm uses the imagery of ‘tuning’ the source and destination to each other, in Faith, Reason, and Culture Decodes &responds




Fig. 5.3  A and B situated within their horizons 9  Wilbur Schramm, ‘How Communication Works’, in C.  David Mortensen (ed.), Basic Readings in Communication Theory (New York, Evanston, San Francisco, London: Harper and Row Publishers, 1973), 31.



the manner of a radio transmitter and receiver.10 Barnett Pearce talks about ‘Coordinated Management of Meaning’ (CMM) where the ‘term coordination is used to call attention to the fact that whatever we do does not stand alone’.11 No matter the terminology used, the alignment of the source and destination is essential to successful communication. An act of reporting is successful when it is understood as a report; the act of persuading is successful when the addressee is persuaded.12 The task of communication, therefore, is the overcoming of the distance between the source and the destination.13 Aligning the source and the destination of the message is the essence of communication. 1.2  The Forces at Work in Communication The autonomy of the addressee from the source of communication enables one to see the twin forces at work in communication, which could be called the driving force and the engaging force, respectively. When this motivation is effective, there is an urge to communicate—a sense of ‘ought’ or ‘must’ (e.g., ‘I ought to write that letter this week’). The logic of ‘ought’ is known as deontic logic as opposed to the logic of ‘is-ness’ (e.g., ‘I wrote that letter this week’). According to Pearce, the logic of communication is deontic.14 Motivation, with its deontic logic, is the driving force of all communication. Besides providing an urgency to communicate, motivation also shapes the content to be communicated; where motivation is lacking there can be chatter but no message, and where there is no message there is no communication. Where a message and the urge to communicate are present, the communicator is ready to transmit the message.

 Ibid.  Barnett Pearce, ‘The Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM)’, in William B. Gudykunst (ed.), Theorizing About Intercultural Communication (Thousand Oaks, CA/ London: Sage, 2005), 50. 12  In speech-act theory the act of reporting is called ‘illocutionary act’; understanding it as a report is considered ‘perlocutionary act’, inasmuch as it is the impact produced on the hearer by the act of reporting. 13  Paul Ricœur, The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics, Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology & Existential Philosophy (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), 4. 14  Pearce, ‘The Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM)’, 40. 10 11



This internally generated tension makes the communicator poised to express himself or herself, not unlike a drawn bow ready to shoot. But the realization that the addressee is an autonomous ‘other’ does not permit the communicator to ‘shoot’; one’s communication has to be controlled, guided, and channelled, so as to engage the addressee. Engaging the addressee involves restraint by the communicator, such that there is ‘a tension between holding one’s own position and listening while being profoundly open to the other’.15 It is a matter of having a message to communicate while still acknowledging the recipient as distinct. William Gudykunst sees the resulting tension as between empathy with the other and respect for the otherness of the other.16 Empathy without respect can lead to condescension, and respect without empathy can lead to distancing. In the process of respectfully engaging the other, the communicator’s ‘ought’ dimension shifts: ‘the force of the deontic logic (the sense of what I ‘ought’ to do) shifts from intrapersonal to interpersonal’17—from being completely driven from within one’s own horizon to submitting to the restraining force of another horizon. A similar tension operates in the recipient. On the one hand, the message that enters the recipient’s consciousness has an external source (the communicator’s subjectivity), possessing a meaning independent of what the recipient might read or understand. Still, the recipient can receive the message only through her own subjectivity, accumulated experiences, and tradition. Inasmuch as the message has an external source, the recipient must reach out beyond her own subjectivity and enter into the horizon of the communicator. This tension between the externality of the message and the necessity of the recipient’s subjectivity may be seen as the struggle between otherness and ownness. The former experiences all spatial and temporal distance as estrangement; the latter tends to make all understanding an extension of self-understanding.18 Thus, just as the communicator attempts to engage the addressee by being sensitive to her horizon, the addressee goes beyond the meaning that is projected from within her 15  Barnett Pearce and Kimberley A.  Pearce, ‘Taking a Communication Perspective on Dialogue’, Southern Communication Journal 65 (2000), 168. 16  William B.  Gudykunst, ‘An Anxiety/Uncertainty Management (AUM) Theory of Effective Communication: Making the Mesh of the Net Finer’, in William B.  Gudykunst (ed.), Theorizing About Intercultural Communication, 298. 17  Barnett Pearce, ‘The Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM)’, 43. 18  Paul Ricœur, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning (Fort Worth, TX: Christian University Press, 1976), 43.







Fig. 5.4  Overlap of two horizons

horizon to genuinely listen to the communicator by entering into that person’s horizon. This entry into the horizon of the other, however, does not entail the attempt at the impossible task of fleeing one’s own horizon. The seemingly impossible task becomes possible with the realization that, while accumulated experiences remain different, commonalities exist. And this common area holds the key to successful communication; it provides a point of access whereby one can enter into the horizon of another. As Schramm recognized, If the circles have a large area in common, then communication is easy. If the circles do not meet—if there has been no common experience—then communication is impossible. If the circles have only a small area in common— that is, if the experience of source and destination have been strikingly unlike—then it is going to be very difficult to get an intended meaning across from one to the other.19

Figure 5.3, then gets modified by situating A and B in their respective existential horizons, with some shared area, as shown in Fig. 5.4. 1.3  Dynamics of Communication: The Hermeneutic Circle Managing the tension between the source and the destination of communication is a dynamic process captured in the idea of the hermeneutic circle. The hermeneutic circle indicates that all understanding by the recipient  Schramm, ‘How Communication Works’, 31.




of a message begins with the projection or anticipation of some meaning into the message conferred by one’s own horizon of accumulated experiences. Recall Schramm’s example of a person who has neither seen nor heard of an airplane decoding a sighted plane. Such projected meaning, however, is provisional, to be either confirmed or corrected by one’s actual encounter with the otherness of the message. Hans-Georg Gadamer puts it this way: when a person is trying to understand a text, some initial meaning ‘emerges only because he is reading the text with particular expectations in regard to a certain meaning. The working out of this fore-­ project, which is constantly revised in terms of what emerges as he penetrates into the meaning, is understanding what is there [in the text]’.20 The initially projected meaning, then, is only a starting point; it may be revised as the communication proceeds. All communication, therefore, involves a reciprocal process that Ricoeur calls the ‘interlocutionary act’.21 Every turn in this act is a crucial link to the next, elicited just as the present one was elicited by the last.22 The result of the reciprocal movement is that the initial commonness (Fig. 5.4) either expands or contracts. The idea of commonness is so critical to communication that Schramm considers it one of communication’s defining features. By tracing the word ‘communication’ from its Latin roots, communis (common), Schramm says that communication is an attempt to establish shared ground. The establishment of this shared ground begins with an antecedent commonness that the communicator discerns in the addressee23; through the mutual exchange that takes place in communication, the initial commonness gets modified. If the process of exchange goes well, the common area shared by A and B grows and a ‘fusion of horizons’ obtains, replacing the initial strangeness with familiarity.24

20  Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, second, revised ed. (New York: Continuum, 2002), 269. 21  Ricœur, Interpretation Theory, 15. 22  W. Barnett Pearce and Kimberly A. Pearce, ‘Combining Passions and Abilities: Toward Dialogic Virtuosity’, Southern Communication Journal 65 (2000), 171. 23  In the last chapter I tried to discern certain existential concerns I share with the new atheists. 24  Gadamer, Truth and Method, 305.Gadamer’s explicit concern is with the horizon of the past and the present, but it seems equally applicable to two contemporary horizons.



2   Theology and Fundamental Theology In describing the nature of fundamental theology in terms of communication, I begin by noting that fundamental theology is a twentieth-century successor to the older traditions of natural theology and apologetics; its task is to provide a ‘propaedeutic path to faith’.25 Besides the propaedeutic and apologetic tasks, a third task, of more recent lineage, has emerged as an important agenda of fundamental theology: interreligious dialogue.26 Let us consider how communication provides clarity to each of these tasks. 2.1  Fundamental Theology as Propaedeutic As a propaedeutic path to faith, fundamental theology is continuous with natural theology, which attempts to provide knowledge of God’s existence and nature without relying on the authority of the Church or Christian revelation. Since natural theology has been associated with the domain of philosophy, one would expect the same of fundamental theology. But the initial discussions on whether fundamental theology is a philosophical or a theological discipline were settled in favour of theology. And for good reason. According to Gerald O’Collins, fundamental theology is a ‘genuinely theological discipline that does its work “from the inside”, as an exercise of Christian faith seeking to understand, to promote justice, and to assist worship’.27 The phrase ‘from the inside’ is revealing. Modern philosophy thought of itself as working ‘from the outside’, from some kind of an Archimedean point outside all received traditions and belief systems, as we have already seen. We have also seen, in the last chapter, that this understanding of philosophy as an outside view is no longer a viable option in the wake of Heidegger, Gadamer, and others in the continental tradition and later Wittgenstein, Quine, and others in the analytic tradition. There is also the recognition that stalwarts of faith like Thomas Aquinas who brought natural theology to prominence in the Christian tradition did not set faith aside while doing philosophy. Although he relied heavily on Aristotle and natural reason in his philosophy, Aquinas went on to 25  Pope John Paul II, Fides et ratio no. 67. en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.html. 26  Gerald O’Collins, Rethinking Fundamental Theology: Toward a New Fundamental Theology (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), vii. 27  ‘Vatican II and Fundamental Theology’, Irish Theological Quarterly 74 (2009), 379.



modify a number of Aristotelian doctrines to bring them into conformity with revelation.28 This shows that Aquinas approached philosophy as a Christian believer, and not as an outsider. In spite of taking an inside approach, he was very clear: ‘theology that is included in the sacred doctrine [theology] differs in kind from that theology which is part of philosophy’29; the latter functioned as preamble to the former—a faith-inspired philosophy. These three factors—that the modern view of philosophy as an outside exploration is no longer seen as viable, that Aquinas’ view of philosophy did not subscribe to this outside view, and that the role he assigned to philosophy is expected to be carried out by fundamental theology today—have undermined the argument for not considering fundamental theology as philosophy. I have also argued against the viability of natural theology in Chap. 3, where natural theology is understood as outside arguments for God’s existence. It was also mentioned, in Chap. 1, that the contemporary world is very different from the thirteenth-century Europe of Aquinas. At that time the dominant Augustinian Christianity was being challenged by the emerging Aristotelian philosophy. Since natural theology was an integral part of Aristotle’s philosophy, if that philosophy was found acceptable, natural theology could also play the role of being a propaedeutic to theology, the role that Aquinas assigned to it. By contrast, ours is a world where ‘the most divergent systems of thought coexist with none of them managing to dominate the others’.30 Given such diversity of worldviews, natural theology is not a viable option as a propaedeutic to theology in the contemporary world; if anything, it feeds into atheism, as I noted in Chap. 3. This is another reason for rethinking fundamental theology. Can communication theory offer a different starting point for a contemporary propaedeutic to theology? We can begin to answer this question by considering the basis of Aquinas’ distinction between sacred doctrine (theology) and a preamble to faith (philosophy). We have already seen that the inside-outside distinction was not the basis of his distinction. Seen from the perspective of communication, it seems clear that his distinction is based on the resources that Aquinas, as the communicator, 28  For a list of Aristotelian teachings that Aquinas found incompatible with Christian faith, see John F. Wippel, Mediaeval Reactions to the Encounter Between Faith and Reason, The Aquinas Lecture 1995 (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1995), 14–18. 29  Aquinas, ST, 1, q.1, a.1. 30  Latourelle, ‘Introduction to the English Language Edition’. xiii



shares with his addressees. He enumerates three categories of people as his addressees: (1) ‘the Gentiles’, (2) Jews and ‘heretics’, and (3) ‘us’. The first category, which includes ‘Mohammedans and Pagans’, ‘do not agree with us in recognizing the authority of any [i.e., our] scripture’31; the only resource we have for communicating with them is ‘natural reason, which all are obliged to assent to’. It is quite different with the second category as ‘we can argue against the Jews from the Old Testament, and against heretics from the New’.32 Long before Aquinas, St Paul had adopted the same approach of beginning with the common ground shared by the communicator and the addressee as the starting point of his proclamation.33 If we transpose Aquinas’ three categories (Gentiles, Mohammedans and Pagans, and ‘us’ for fellow Christians) into the contemporary world, we find two different authors providing two different lists of addressees. One list is that of David Tracy who identifies three kinds of addressees. He calls them three ‘publics’: the ‘public of the church’, the ‘public of society’, and the ‘public of the academy’.34 Paul Griffiths has another list made up of ‘religious kin’ and ‘religious alien’ (which includes religious believers who do not share one’s own religious faith and the ‘non-religious’ comprised of agnostics, atheists, and naturalists).35 Griffiths’ category of religious kin corresponds to Tracy’s public of the church, and Tracy’s category of society Griffiths subdivides into two but has no category of academy. Between Tracy and Griffiths, we get four different categories of persons to whom contemporary religious communication needs to be addressed: (1) one’s religious kin, (2) the religious alien, (3) the non-religious, and (4) the academy. Of these the academy is a special category, as its members might belong to any of the three other categories; the academy calls for a certain quality of discourse, not a different kind of discourse appropriate for the other three categories.

 Aquinas, SCGBk. 1, chap. 2; see also chap. 3 and ST 1, q.1, a.8.  Ibid. 33  See Wolfhart Pannenberg, ‘The Rationality of Christian Theism’, in Godehard Brüntrup and Ronald K. Tacelli (eds.), The Rationality of Theism, Studies in Philosophy and Religion (Dordrecht: Springer-Science+Business Media. B.V., 1999), 12. 34  David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 3–46. 35  Paul J. Griffiths, Problems of Religious Diversity, Series ed. Michael L. Peterson, Exploring the Philosophy of Religion (Malden, Mass.; Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), xiv and passim. 31 32



Religious communication establishes a spectrum. On one end is the believer addressing his fellow religious kin; on the other is the believer addressing non-religious recipients. Communication addressed to members of other religions would fall between these two extremes, depending on the degree of proximity to and distance from the communicator’s horizon. This is an extremely simplified view; it ignores both the plurality that exists within different religious traditions36 and the diversity of atheisms.37 It is worth recalling that such diversity of religious and non-religious worldviews was an important factor in the emergence of fundamental theology. While being fully aware of this diversity, it still helps to see all religious communication in terms of the three broad categories of persons that roughly correspond to the categories addressed by Aquinas. The first kind of communication, that is, one addressed to religious kin, is done within a maximally shared faith horizon of a religious tradition. Therefore all the conceptual resources available in a particular religious tradition would be available to this kind of communication, the purpose of which is to understand something that is already believed, and to solidify those beliefs. Its task is one of explicating what is already taken for granted, as seen in the last chapter. Such is the classical definition of theology, credo ut intelligam. Since its starting point is a set of accepted beliefs, Gavin D’Costa is right in seeing theology as ‘tradition specific’ communication.38 It is tradition-specific in two different ways. First, it is communication addressed to one’s religious kin; as such, it seeks to deal with issues that arise in the faith life of one’s religious community. By successfully addressing such issues, beliefs get strengthened; or else they get weakened. Second, since it is communication done within a maximally shared horizon, the communicator is free to use all the conceptual resources available in the shared tradition for addressing issues. If theology is religious discourse done within a maximally shared horizon of the communicator and the addressee, then, understandably, shared territory would be relatively minimal in communication with 36  See Gavin D’Costa, Christianity and World Religions: Disputed Questions in the Theology of Religions (Chichester, U.K.; Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 3–4. 37  See fn. 29 in Chap. 3. This is inevitable, given various secular faiths we have seen in the last chapter. 38  D’Costa, Christianity and World Religions, 3. Michael Amaladoss makes a similar observation, although he sees the tradition-specific character as a limitation of theology. See Michael Amaladoss, ‘The Limitations of Theology’, Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection 51 (1987), 527.



non-believers or naturalists and comparatively more with religious outsiders or followers of others religions. Accordingly, conceptual resources available for communicating the message would also be minimal when addressing non-believers and more when addressing followers of other religions—although this ‘more’ will be less than what is available in communicating with religious kin. The overall purpose of communicating with outsiders would be not so much to seek understanding of the accepted faith as to reach out to them in the spirit of intellego ut credam; it is to ‘allow everyone to come to a certain understanding of the contents of faith’.39 If theology is defined as faith seeking understanding, both of these kinds of religious discourse could be considered faith seeking acceptability. This might well be taken as the definition of fundamental theology, if acceptability is qualified as rational, ruling out coercion and allurements. Acceptability is the guiding theme of the apologetic strand of fundamental theology (to be addressed in the next section), and it is by being rationally acceptable that it becomes a propaedeutic to theology. In short, the distinction between theology and fundamental theology is best seen in terms of the difference in the destination or the addressee and the resulting difference of resources available for communicating the message. The outward focus of fundamental theology makes it truly a ‘discipline on the boundary’ engaged with disciplines and people who are not within the boundary of one’s faith tradition.40 It emerged in response to the changed boundary conditions, that is, the cultural impact of new disciplines and the diverse religious and non-religious worldviews present in the world today. Distinguishing theology from fundamental theology in terms of the addressee might seem to present a serious lacuna. Many contemporary Christians face the serious questions and doubts about their faith as their non-religious counterparts.41 Fundamental theology, therefore, cannot be addressed only to outsiders. This prompts Tracy to simultaneously address all three publics (addressees in communication). In terms of communication theory, however, this flattening of differences between addressees leads to another difficulty. Both the communicator and the addressee seem to be in the same boat, having doubts and questions about faith, but with no message to communicate, or at least  Pope John Paul II, Fides et ratio, 2.  Latourelle, ‘Fundamental Theologian’, 322. 41  Rino Fisichella, ‘Fundamental Theology II: Adressee’, in René Latourelle and Rino Fisichella (eds.), Dictionary of Fundamental Theology, 335. 39 40



lacking motivation to do so. I noted that communication involves some motivating force, giving rise to a sense of duty. Where does this ‘ought’ come from? According to Aquinas, it comes from one’s acquaintance with God42—for example, Paul’s, which led him to exclaim, ‘Woe to me, if I do not preach the gospel!’ (1 Cor 9:16 NRSV). Because of their encounter with the Divine, the prophets of the Hebrew Bible felt impelled to speak sometimes against their own will. In each of these cases, the motivating force is an experience of, or an encounter with, the Divine, the sharing of which the communicator takes to be an imperative for the good of the other. If the believer and non-believer alike face similar doubts about faith, the communicator no longer has a message that she feels obliged to communicate. This, then, leads to the following dilemma: we must either abandon the very possibility of religious communication in this situation (since there is no message that truly obliges) or deny that the believer is in the same boat, that is, deny that fundamental theology is addressed to the believer. This unattractive either/or can be avoided by adopting the ‘daisy model’ of communication suggested by Pearce, the fundamental insight of which is that the addressee of any communication in a pluralistic context such as ours is seldom a single person or a homogeneous group. Even when a communication is explicitly between two persons, A and B, other persons and groups are rarely absent. The ‘daisy model’ of communication theorizes on this fact.43 The idea is that in addressing B, the main addressee, A is simultaneously saying something to C, D, E, and F. Pearce gives the example of a judge pronouncing his judgement in the courtroom. The judge’s primary addressee may be the accused, but the judgement is also addressed to many others, including one’s peers (other judges), journalists, fellow citizens, potential criminals, and so on. Figure 5.5 depicts this scenario. Seen in these terms, theology’s primary addressee would be fellow believers; the religious outsider and non-believers would be the secondary addressees. These roles, however, are reversed in fundamental theology. The implication is that although communication is always a matter of tailoring the message to suit the addressee, the very fact that secondary 42  This follows from Nicholas Lash’s rendering of ST, 1a, q.2, prologue, ‘principalis intentio huius sacrae doctrinae est, Dei cognitionem tradere’ as ‘the fundamental purpose of revelation, preaching, catechesis and theology was to communicate acquaintance with God’. Nicholas Lash, ‘Considering the Trinity’, Modern Theology 2 (1986), 187. 43  Pearce, ‘The Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM)’, 47.







Primary Addressee




C,D,E,F... P,Q,R,S... = Secondary Addressees

Fig. 5.5  Daisy Model of Communication

addressees are always potentially present in the background demands that the tailoring process not be allowed to damage the fabric. While the primary addressee does make a difference in terms of what transpires in a communication, the partners must not be insincere or false, as the secondary addressees would expose the duplicity. This would lead to a breakdown of communication. Perhaps it is this danger that prompted Pope Francis to warn against making the Church into a ‘compassionate NGO’ that fails to proclaim Jesus Christ. A compassionate NGO may deliver an acceptable message to the secular world, but a message far removed from the faith of the believer. Something similar can be said about Hick’s view that the unique and particular features of Christian faith, such as the dogmas of the Incarnation and the Trinity, are historical accretions that need to be deemphasized. We have seen this in Chap. 2. Hick’s tendency to downplay the specific features of Christian faith is also seen in his aversion to missionary work and religious conversions; he considers it ‘best to live within the religion that has formed us’.44 These may be music to the ears of those who consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’ but jarring to those Christians who are motivated to reach out to the poor and the dispossessed after the example of the Incarnate One. 44  John Hick, Dialogues in the Philosophy of Religion (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave, 2001), 189.



2.2  Fundamental Theology and Apologetics Like faith seeking rational acceptability, fundamental theology is in clear continuity with the classical apologetic tradition of defending Christian faith. But there are important differences. The first is an attitudinal difference. Apologetics often adopts a confrontational, polemical attitude, whereas fundamental theology adopts an attitude of dialogue and friendly appeal to reason. A second difference is that apologetics is rather ad hoc in character, determined by the terms of the polemic or debate. Fundamental theology, in contrast, seeks a more comprehensive approach.45 This becomes necessary in the context of the unprecedented secularization of the social and political structures in places where Christianity once had a dominant voice but is now less hospitably received.46 As a result, the credibility of even such central Christian categories as ‘God’, ‘divine revelation’, and ‘faith’ are called into question. As Heinrich Fries has put it, ‘today’s questions are not about this or that individual aspect of Christian faith, today’s questions are about the foundations of faith that precedes everything’.47 This situation, unlike that of classical apologetics, calls for a comprehensive, systematic approach, a total rebooting of Christian faith, as said in Chap. 1. An important part of this felt need is what we saw in Flew’s demand that a would-be apologist explain the concept ‘God’ from the beginning (Chap. 3). 2.2.1 Nature of Divine-Human Communication Although the communication theory outlined earlier in this chapter does not establish the credibility of the key categories of Christian faith, it goes some way in helping us understand the nature of revelation as divine-­ human communication. We have seen that all human communication is a doubly mediated process—mediated through the horizons of the communicator and the recipient. Since horizons are made up of accumulated experiences, not only of individuals but also of groups, we could well say that the message is mediated through culture. The communicator encodes the message using resources available in a given culture, and the addressee

 O’Collins, Rethinking Fundamental Theology, 5.Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 67.  Latourelle, ‘Introduction to the English Language Edition’, xiii–xiv. 47  Heinrich Fries, Fundamental Theology (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 5. 45 46



decodes it by turning to her own culture for signals.48 A cultural element, therefore, becomes inescapable in any communication, whether inter-­ human or divine-human. But there is something special about divine-human communication. As we saw, horizons are made up of the distinct funds of experience accumulated by human beings in the course of living their lives. Inasmuch as their bodily existence is in space and time, and horizons are made up of experiences, horizons are also the necessary limits arising from our bodily character. If a message were to come from a source beyond space and time, however, then it would be communicated directly without the mediation of a horizon. Divine communication would be a case in point, because in a Christian understanding God transcends space and time, offering insight as to why mystics tend to describe their experience as direct. Teresa of Avila compares the senses (the source of empirical knowledge) to doors, and talks of God entering the ‘centre of the soul without using a door’.49 Though not as explicit as Teresa, Ignatius of Loyola alludes to a source of divine knowledge that is independent of the senses.50 This idea of the directness of divine communication can be traced back to Augustine,51 and perhaps beyond. The same principle of direct communication makes immediacy applicable not only to divine revelation but also to human communication with the Divine. This prompts the psalmist to say, ‘Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, You know it completely’ (Ps 139:4, NRSV). Stefan Einhorn narrates the Jewish legend about a man who had no prayer book. Therefore he prayed by simply pronouncing the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and then turning to God he said: ‘I give you the letters. You, please, form the right words out of them’. This prayer went straight to God, says the legend.52 This kind of direct communication would come under the category of what Aquinas called knowledge by connaturality.53 He explains it by pointing out that there are two ways of knowing about the morality of an action. 48   Gudykunst, ‘An Anxiety/Uncertainty Management (AUM) Theory of Effective Communication: Making the Mesh of the Net Finer’, 284. 49  St. Teresa Avila, Interior Castle, trans. E. Allision Peers (New York: Image Books, 1961), 103.; see also 101–2. 50  See his Spiritual Exercises nos. 330, 175, and 336. 51  Augustine, Confessions 10.27, for example. 52  Stefan Einhorn, A Concealed God: Science, Religion, and the Search for Truth, trans. Linda Schenck (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2002), 43. 53  ST 2–2, a.45, a. 2.



One is by means of study, and the other by virtue living a moral life. A philosopher or theologian can make moral judgements on the basis of learning, but another knows it by virtue of living a moral life. Aquinas applies this principle of connaturality to our knowledge of God.54 This strand of Aquinas is a continuation of the Platonic tradition, unlike his treatment of natural reason where knowledge of God’s existence is done in terms of arguments, as in Aristotle. The experiential approach, we have seen, differs from Aquinas in claiming that direct knowledge of God is natural to human beings. On the other hand, divine communication to human beings is direct only in a comparative sense. Compared to the two horizons involved in inter-human communication, divine communication has only one horizon. The source of divine communication may be undistorted and direct, but the human receiver still remains within a specific horizon. Unlike human communication that involves a double filtering through two different horizons, so to speak, divine communication has only a single filtering at the receiver’s end. Thus the receiver’s own subjectivity veils the message. Rahner’s paradoxical expression ‘mediated immediacy’ captures this character of divine-human communication well.55 God’s immediacy is mediated through the risen Jesus. So divine communication entails both an immediate and mediate quality that communication theory bears out: it is immediate inasmuch as the source of the message lacks a space-time horizon, but it is mediate inasmuch as the recipient receives the message within a lived horizon in space and time. To the extent that the believer’s horizon includes the risen Lord, Rahner’s theological point is a specific application of this mediation. Since direct communication is rather rare in human-to-human communication,56 understanding divine-human communication poses its own problems. (I discuss this in the next subsection on the need for epistemic justification.) While communication theory does not enable us to establish the credibility of culture-dependent communication, it can make 54  See ST 1–1, 6, a.3. Seealso Jacques Maritain, ‘On Knowledge Through Connaturality’, The Review of Metaphysics 4 (1951), 473–81. 55  Karl Rahner, ‘Dogmatic Questions on Easter’, in Theological Investigations vol 4 (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1966), 121–33. See also Avery Dulles, Models of Revelation (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1983), 148. 56  Although rare, such direct communication is not unheard of in human relations. We shall see examples of this kind of communication in the third part, in the context of ‘person-mysticism’.



us aware of the extra effort required to understand this sort of communication. Let me illustrate this with an example. A few years ago the National Geographic Channel televised a documentary on stigmata.57 One point discussed in it was the location of the wounds. The wounds of Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio were on the palms of their hands. But in some twentieth-­ century stigmatists, the wounds were on their wrists. This migration of wounds from palms to the wrists occurred in the case of those familiar with the hypothesis of Pierre Barbet (1925–1995) that Christ’s wounds could not have been on his palms but on the wrists, because his palms nailed to the cross could not have supported his body.58 In the documentary, Joe Nickell of the Skeptical Inquirer, commenting on the subsequent migration of wounds in stigmatists, asked why God would change the location of the stigmata after Barbet’s book—as if God did not know where Jesus was nailed during his crucifixion! Communication theory would provide an excellent understanding of the location of the stigmata after Barbet’s book and show that Nickell’s question about God knowing or not knowing the location of the wounds is completely misplaced. To understand the changed location of the stigmata, we need to ask three fundamental questions: 1. Who receives stigmata? 2. What is the message of the stigmata? 3. How is the message received? Concerning the first question, the history of stigmata reveals that not anyone or everyone receives these wounds. Francis of Assisi, the first known stigmatist, was someone deeply in love with Jesus Christ. Any lover or anyone who has studied the nature of love will know the heartfelt longing of the lover to become one with the beloved. Francis’ love for Jesus was deep and heartfelt; he wanted to live the life of Jesus in every possible way, experiencing even his bodily wounds, which for him were the ultimate sign of Christ’s love.59 The stigmata he received were the culmination of 57  ‘Stigmata’, Season 2, Episode 4 of Is It Real?, written and produced by Chad Cohen, National Geographic Television, January 4, 2006. 58  Pierre Barbet, A Doctor at Calvary; the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as Described by a Surgeon (New York,: Image Books, 1953). 59  Julian of Speyer (d. 1250?) in his life of St Francis (written 1232–1235) tells us that Francis ‘desired still to endure anew all the sufferings of body and all the agonies of mind so that every wish of the Divine Purpose might be more perfectly fulfilled in him’ (Regis



that longing to be united in love with the Crucified. While there is no reason to rule out there being some imposters among the stigmatists, it remains the case that only those who long to be united with the crucified Lord receive these wounds. Knowing that these wounds occur only in those who long for union with the Crucified dramatically affects what we take to be their message. Receiving Christ’s wounds in one’s own body can only mean that God has granted the favour of being united with Christ in his suffering and his saving work attained though the cross. If the message is concerned with God’s favour in granting one’s request to be united with the crucified Lord, how would the stigmatist be able to understand this unless she can recognize that the received wounds are signs of Christ’s own wounds? Obviously this recognition would require the wounds to appear in the place where the stigmatist believes Jesus was nailed. It has nothing to do with where Jesus was actually nailed, but everything to do with how the stigmatist can recognize the wounds as the wounds of Jesus. Given the message and the manner of its reception, to focus on the location of the wounds before and after Barbet’s book, and to question whether God did not know where Jesus was actually pierced is to completely miss the message and mistake the sign for the signified. 2.2.2 Epistemological Problems of Religion If a communication theory can help us avoid misunderstanding divine communication, it can also create serious epistemological difficulties. In the first place, the message seems to be very one-sidedly dependent on culture, making it very difficult to separate the cultural medium from the message. Moreover, culture affects not only religious doctrines but also religious experience. It is well known, for example, that Jews and Muslims, who have strict prohibitions on depicting the deity, do not ordinarily see religious visions, whereas Hindus and Christians commonly speak of having visions.60 Given this scenario, it is not clear how to proceed from the subjectivity involved in the understanding of the message to examining its objectivity. Examining the truth of the message requires a much more J. Armstrong, J. A. Wayne Hellmann, and William J. Short, Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, 3 vols. [Hyde Park, NY: New City, 1999] 1:409). Just before this passage Julian tells us that Francis wanted ‘to be able to make the sacrifice of himself’ (409) and ‘longed to experience the very sweet yoke and light burden of the Master himself’ (405). 60  Caroline Franks Davis, The Evidential Force of Religious Experience (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 35–39.



robust epistemology than is available today. Yet the time seems ripe to move in the direction of formulating a new epistemology, as the old objectivist epistemology has been discredited, even in its preferred niche of the natural sciences, since the appearance of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.61 But if this move away from objectivism is to bear fruit, epistemologists need to guard against its opposite temptation, subjectivism, or what Susan Haack has called the ‘Paris fashions’,62 a one-­ sided emphasis on subjectivity in the form of hermeneutics, phenomenology, and the like.63 This problem is not limited to the continental tradition. This, exactly, is the problem of the autonomy model of science-religion relations we examined in the last chapter. There we saw that this model tells us that religious statements are to be justified on the basis of religious criteria, but does not tell us how such justification is related to the justification of empirical knowledge. On the one hand, the advocates of autonomy are forced to admit the continuity between religion and science, and, on the other hand, constructs no epistemology that respects the autonomy without abandoning the continuity. Then, there are those religious epistemologists in the analytic tradition who take the experiential approach without paying any attention to the subjectivity of knowing. In this fluid scenario, if fundamental theology is to carry out its task of establishing the credibility of the Christian faith, and of religious knowledge in general, it will require a holistic epistemology that dynamically links subjectivity and objectivity, in which understanding and justification function as two wings of a bird that manages to soar towards objectivity, cutting through the undeniable subjectivity of personal, historical, and cultural factors. Our communication theory has accomplished a part of the task inasmuch as it takes into account the importance of subjectivity in communicating religious truth. The other half of spelling out the method of justifying religious claims remains to be done, and will be the task of the next two chapters.

61  Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). 62  Susan Haack, Evidence and Inquiry: Towards Reconstruction in Epistemology (Oxford; Cambridge, US: Blackwell, 1993), 1. 63  A good example, though not from Paris is Westphal who identifies hermeneutics with epistemology. See, Merold Westphal, ‘Hermeneutics as Epistemology’, in John Greco and Ernest Sosa (eds.), The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 415–35.



2.3  Interreligious Dialogue, Fundamental Theology, and Theology of Religions A third task of fundamental theology is to provide an intellectual framework for interreligious dialogue. While Vatican II reached out to other religions in a spirit of dialogue rather than polemics, the path has not been an easy one. Already by 1987, Felix Wilfred was writing about ‘dialogue gasping for breath’ due to the inadequacy of available theological frameworks.64 Similarly we saw John Hick, one of the pioneers in theorizing on interreligious dialogue, complaining that we do not conduct our theological controversies well. At least a part of the reason for Hick’s assessment, it seems to me, is the lack of clarity regarding the nature of the intellectual framework required for interreligious dialogue. The ambiguity surrounding this issue can be seen from the fact that his pluralism was propagated as a revolutionary move in the ‘theology of religions’, but when faced with criticism, it is said to be a ‘philosophical hypothesis’, a ‘second order theory of dialogue’, without denying the earlier claim that it is theology. We have seen this in Chap. 2. Similar ambiguities are also present in the work of David Krieger who attempted to use the framework of communication for fundamental theology. In the context of such an ambiguity, I argue that fundamental theology (as faith-inspired philosophy) and the theology of religions (as faith seeking understanding of the phenomenon of religious diversity) are both required for interreligious dialogue, but their contribution to dialogue is not the same. 2.3.1 Dialogue and Fundamental Theology Pluralists like Hick rightly see that if interreligious dialogue is to take place, a ‘level playing field’, where no religion is considered superior or inferior, is required. But the objectivist paradigm within which he and other pluralists function leads their quest for the required level playing field away from their own lived horizons to conceptual abstractions (from ecclesiocentrism to Christocentrism to theocentrism to Reality-­ centredness) in search of some supposedly neutral position between the interlocutors, as we have seen. The search for such a neutral, ahistorical matrix enables Hick to consider particularities of different religions as historical accretions to be overcome. Understandably, evangelization and 64  Felix Wilfred, ‘Dialogue Gasping for Breath? Towards New Frontiers in Inter-Religious Dialogue’, Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection 51 (1987), 449–56.



conversion are to be avoided; it is ‘best to live within the religion that has formed us’ and accord the same privilege to others.65 Although this statement is about other religions, the same logic could be pressed into service for giving the same status to other worldviews and ideologies like humanism and Marxism. This was also seen in Chap. 2. From a communication perspective, it amounts to saying that the pluralists do not have a religious message that they feel obligated to communicate. Krieger lands himself in a similar situation. Basing his model on a theory of communication modelled after Raimon Panikkar’s threefold classification of hermeneutics, Krieger presents three levels of communication that are involved in every act of communication.66 The first level is communication within the boundaries of a horizon, identified as argumentation. As far as religious or cultural outsiders are concerned, this kind of discourse is irrelevant, except for gaining information about the other. A second level is called ‘boundary discourse’, which concerns the ‘meaning and validity’ of the horizon and attempts to establish the unity and continuity of a historical tradition by examining its founding texts and events. Confirmed in my own identity in this process, I reach out to outsiders through proclamation, with a view to converting them to my side, just as the other tries to convert me. Conversion would imply that the other accept the set of rules or the framework by which I determine the validity of my claims. A third level of communication is called discourse of disclosure. Here there is no attempt to convert the other to my set of criteria or the rules that govern my language game, but explores the possibility of transforming the rules by going beyond religions and ideologies. Krieger has the right intuition that the profound differences between radically divergent horizons of discourse cannot be resolved either by arguments or by proclamation. This intuition leads to the third level where, according to him, ‘all religions and ideologies are equally true and effective’.67 This claim (and Hick’s similar claim) is problematic because it implies that a Christian should consider her belief system to be on a par with rival ideologies like humanism, naturalism, and so on. D.Z.  Phillips has  Hick, Dialogues in the Philosophy of Religion, 189.  David J. Krieger, The New Universalism: Foundations for a Global Theology, Faith Meets Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 45–76. 67  David J.  Krieger, ‘Communication Theory and Interreligious Dialogue’, Journal of Ecumenical Studies 30 (1993), 346. 65 66



correctly observed in a similar context that believers are under no obligation to compromise their religious outlook.68 Moreover, if these rival ideologies are taken to be on a par, then believers’ motivational force for communicating their faith to those beyond their horizon is eliminated. From the perspective of fundamental theology, this approach to dialogue (irrespective of whether the dialogue is with the adherents of other religions or secular faiths) undermines fundamental theology’s apologetic strand that seeks to reach out to others with a view to showing that Christian faith is a rational choice. And by undermining its evangelical bent, it is small wonder that Dominus Iesus found it necessary to say that interreligious dialogue does not replace the Church’s evangelizing mission.69 If Hick’s unacceptable conclusion is rooted in his objectivist epistemology,70 the roots of Krieger’s conclusion lie where discourse within the horizon correlates with argumentation. From the non-­controversial fact that argumentation requires a shared set of assumptions or premises, Krieger goes on to identify those shared premises with people’s lived horizons. His conclusion, however, overlooks the fact that a lived horizon is not a rigid category used in argumentation, but is a complex of accumulated experiences, beliefs, and practices. Something like Aquinas’ recognition of this complexity would be more accurate. Aquinas’ view of natural reason makes it explicit that, in spite of differences, there is something common to all human horizons merely by virtue of their being human. The communication theory outlined above provides a coherent framework for fundamental theology that does not undermine any of its three tasks. Following Aquinas, it approaches interreligious dialogue in terms of what Christian believers share with others and provides a completely different way of understanding the ‘level playing field’ required for dialogue. A ‘level playing field’ could mean two different things in this context. It 68  D.Z.  Phillips, Faith after Foundationalism: Critiques and Alternatives (San Francisco; Oxford: Westview Press, 1988), 133. 69  Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith 2000, Dominus Iesus no. 2. oman_curia/congr egations/cfaith/documents/r c_con_cfaith_doc_ 20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html 70  Though Hick’s epistemology is objectivist to the extent that he neglects his Christian faith in his theorizing, there is another side to his philosophy as seen in his ‘Faith as Experiencing-as’, in God and the Universe of Faiths (London: Macmillan, 1973) 37–52. That the two sides are not properly aligned is more a reflection of contemporary epistemology than of Hick’s personal failure.



could mean a second-order theory of dialogue effective for all who seek to dialogue. (This understanding would make it a neutral formal theory with regard to the content of dialogue and applicable to all kinds of dialogue whether interreligious, intercultural, or economic and political.) The communication theory described in this chapter offers just that kind of a theory. A level playing field could also mean the common territory shared by the actual participants in dialogue. This territory could not be neutral in content, as it is an integral part of the respective horizons or belief systems of the dialogue partners. Differing playing fields would exist with differing instances of interreligious dialogues. Dialogue between two Christian denominations, for example, will obviously have more shared doctrinal ground than, say, dialogue between Christians and Muslims; and Christians and Muslims will surely have more religious ground in common than will Christians and atheists. A variety of level playing fields are made accessible in interreligious dialogue, depending on the religious and non-religious horizons of those who seek dialogue. The distinct role of fundamental theology in interreligious dialogue is to provide a framework for communication and explore the substantive commonality shared between religions, since some shared ground is indispensable for successful communication.71 2.3.2 Do Differences Indicate Lack of Commonality? In exploring the commonality between religions, our communication theory, especially the role of history and culture in communication, suspects that there may be more commonalities than meets the eye. A good example is the often-posited opposition between religions of grace and religions of effort. Buddha’s instruction to his disciples to ‘work out their own salvation’ and ‘walk lonely as a rhinoceros’ is often taken to mean that Buddhism is a religion of personal effort, which is then contrasted with Christianity as a religion of grace, as if the two were mutually exclusive.72 71  In the midst of the diverse range of commonality between different religions, the common beliefs (if any) shared by all religions vis-à-vis the non-religious would have a special significance for the apologetic task of fundamental theology addressed to the non-religious. 72  Conrad Heyers, ‘Rethinking the Doctrine of Double-Truth: Ambiguity, Relativity and Universality’, in Thomas Dean (ed.), Religious Pluralism and Truth: Essays on Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1995, 1997 Indian edition), 179. Masao Abe draws a similar contrast between Christianity as a religion of faith and Buddhism as a religion of awakening; see Masao Abe, ‘Response to John Cobb’, Buddhist-Christian Studies 8 (1988), 65. Hick uses the alleged mutual exclusion between religions to justify his



Two specific problems arise from straightaway pitting these religious perspectives against one another. First, beginning with antagonism, it neglects the role of effort in a grace-based religion like Christianity while forgetting the insufficiency of effort in Buddhism. It is true that the Christian Scriptures emphasize salvation through grace (e.g., Eph. 2:9); it is equally true that the same Scriptures also talk about working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12; see also 1 Cor. 9:24–27). This bipolarity of grace and effort is not merely doctrinal; it is also practical inasmuch as Christian spirituality has always emphasized the practical need to actively cooperate with divine grace for one’s salvation. Augustine writes, ‘He who made you without your consent does not justify you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, but He does not justify you without your willing it’.73 Similarly, when properly understood, the idea of grace may not be absent even in traditional Buddhism74— in Mahayana Buddhism grace is explicitly acknowledged. Second, if grace and effort were exclusive, it becomes hard to understand the emergence of grace in later Buddhism. Shinran, for example, taught that we cannot attain enlightenment by our efforts, but must rely on the grace of Amida Buddha. If the religion of the Buddha were solely a matter of effort, how could such explicit reference to grace emerge later? Perhaps as a contamination of the Buddhist teaching. But rather than see it as contamination, the emphasis on grace and/or effort can also be seen as the communication of a message to suit the prevailing cultural conditions of the day. One would expect to find such changes. A closer look at the context of the Buddha and Shinran shows that historically Buddhism arose at the same time as the Ā ranykās, the Upaniṣads, and Jainism, all of which can be seen as revolts against the religious practices where the role of the individual’s effort was virtually nothing. The emphasis was on maintaining the cosmic order through the correct performance of rituals. The efficacy of the ritual depended on neither the favour of gods nor the inner disposition of the one performing the ritual; it depended entirely on the postulate of the Kantian noumenon. See John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 234. 73  Sermon 169.13, trans. William. A.  Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 3, A source-book of theological and historical passages from the writings of Saint Augustine to the End of the Patristic Era (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1970–79), 29, excerpt 1515. 74  Marco Pallis, ‘Is There Room for “Grace” in Buddhism?’, Studies in Comparative Religion 2 (1968). There_Room_for_Grace_in_Buddhism-by_Marco_Pallis.aspx



precision of carrying out the rituals and uttering the mantras.75 Seen in this background, Buddha’s emphasis on personal effort is a corrective to that cultural situation; the message is the same as Augustine’s: God cannot save you without your consent; spiritual well-being is not attained without one’s active involvement. This correlation is even more obvious in the case of Shinran who, by his own account, was frustrated at not attaining enlightenment even after 20  years of diligent practice. Prompted by a vision, he becomes a disciple of Honen and eventually comes to advocate salvation through grace.76 Some religious differences may simply be matters of communication, but this does not mean that all religious differences are of this kind. Other important differences persist, but they need not amount to contradictions and exclusions. 2.3.3 Dialogue and Theology of Religions A communication perspective enables us to see that the theology of religions has a very different role to play in interreligious dialogue. Earlier I noted that all theology is addressed to one’s religious kin seeking to address faith issues of one’s religious community and to find answers in available resources. This search is also a defining feature of theology of religions. Its specific concern is with the apparently rival truth claims made by differing religious traditions. Inasmuch as the believing theologian is also an honest seeker, she realizes that there are numerous good and upright people who do not follow her religious path, sometimes despite all efforts to convince them otherwise. It would be impossible for such a theologian to think that a good God will ultimately deprive sincere seekers of the benefits of the faith she regards as true. Theology of religions tries to resolve this tension for the believing community by using resources available to it. Thus D’Costa rightly appeals to a rarely discussed article of the Christian creed—Christ’s ‘descent into hell’—to show how nonChristians may be saved in Christ.77 This is an example of how Christians may appeal to their own resources to motivate fellow Christians to engage  Anthony Kennedy Warder, Indian Buddhism, (Delhi,: Motilal Banarsidass, 1970), 23.  P.S.  Chung, Comparative Theology Among Multiple Modernities: Cultivating Phenomenological Imagination (Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2017), 43, DOI: https://doi. org/10.1007/978-3-319-58196-5_3 77  D’Costa, Christianity and World Religions, 159–211. 75 76



in interreligious dialogue. Neither insincerity nor double-speak is involved in this theological claim; it coheres with the insight of the daisy model. Since Christ’s descent into hell is not among the resources available to the secular world, a theology of religions that relies on this idea would have no value as fundamental theology addressed to the secular world, but it may have some limited value if addressed to other religious traditions, if they have something similar in their traditions. While theology of religions can empower believers to engage in interreligious dialogue, it is not meant for exploring the commonality required for dialogue, as theology is addressed to religious kin, not religious outsiders.

3   Conclusion One of Wittgenstein’s lifelong convictions was that conceptual confusions can create havoc in our thinking. I have here attempted to clarify some issues critical to theological thinking. With insights from communication theory, I have drawn out a principled distinction between theology, including theology of religions, and fundamental theology. This distinction helps show how a communication perspective can shed light on the propaedeutic, apologetic, and dialogical tasks of fundamental theology, including the requirement of common ground for interreligious dialogue. Recognizing the inescapable role of culture in communication is crucial for understanding the nature of divine-human communication as well as for exploring the common ground required for interreligious dialogue. From the perspective of epistemology, the contribution of a communication theory is substantial. The temptation of those who have recognized the impossibility of objectivism and the inevitability of an existential horizon is to join the ‘death-of-epistemology’ bandwagon. Instead, the communication theory proposed in this chapter has given full play to subjectivity and the diversity of existential horizons. It does not get imprisoned in one’s own language game, and throws light on divine-human communication. I have shown that the intelligibility of a message is not enough to count as truth; justification is as important. From the perspective of the idea of fundamental theology developed in this chapter, the apologetic task of fundamental theology calls for distinguishing different kinds of reason and integrating them into the concrete existential situation of human beings. This chapter has prepared the way for such an integral epistemology by distinguishing communicative reason from justificatory



reason. It enables us to integrate hermeneutics and understanding developed by continental philosophy with analytic philosophy’s focus on justification. How to go about justifying beliefs in the aftermath of the existential revolution and its respect for diverse existential horizons will be taken up in the next two chapters.


Justification: Beyond Uniformitarianism

While autonomous language games correctly describe the diversity of the contemporary world, there is also the danger that some language game becomes a ‘protected discourse’ (Kai Nielsen) and the problem of deep disagreements arise. Our last chapter laid out the general principles and dynamics of communication through which people with radically different faith commitments (such as the theists and atheists) can come to have at least some understanding of each other. This was illustrated with example of the stigmata. But that example also brought out starkly the need to go beyond understanding to justification, as it showed the possibility that alleged divine-human communication might be only a cultural product devoid of truth. An epistemology that respects the autonomy of different language games and still engages in justification so as to stop any of them becoming ‘protected discourses’ is Michael Williams’ contextualism.1 The default and challenge structure of justification he has adopted also fits into the 1  Although the main inspiration of his contextualism is Wittgenstein, he also acknowledges his indebtedness to Wilfrid Sellars. See Michael Williams, ‘The Tortoise and the Serpent: Sellars on the Structure of Empirical Knowledge’, in Willem A. DeVries (ed.), Empiricism, Perceptual Knowledge, Normativity, and Realism: Essays on Wilfrid Sellars (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 147–85; also Williams, ‘Is Knowledge a Natural Phenomenon?’, in Richard Schantz (ed.), The Externalist Challenge, Current Issues in Theoretical Philosophy (Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2004), 193–209.

© The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




conversational context of communication and understanding. Although he deals only with empirical knowledge, it will be seen that his epistemology is faced with the problem of making culture the ultimate arbiter of truth. Therefore, this chapter will explore the possibility of overcoming this shortcoming of contextualism, so that the ‘almost life-size’ epistemology of Williams can be transformed into a life-size one that fully engages diversity without protectionism. I shall do this in four stages. The basic ideas of Williams’ epistemology is first set forth. Then I raise two points of criticism in the second section. They are its relativistic tendency and its ambiguity about realism. I set forth an alternative in the third section, an alternative with uncompromising commitment to realism with equally strong commitment to diversity. This alternative is named ‘Pluralistic Realism’. Finally the fourth section makes pluralistic realism operational by making the needed distinctions and setting forth the epistemic principles and procedures needed for overcoming relativism and Williams’ ambivalent realism.

1   The Wittgensteinian Contextualism of Michael Williams Williams’ distinct version of contextual epistemology begins with a diagnosis of radical scepticism and its foundational remedy. Radical scepticism is traced to what he calls the Prior Grounding Requirement (PGR) according to which ‘any claimant or believer with pretensions to epistemic responsibility accepts an unrestricted commitment to demonstrate entitlement to his opinion simply in virtue of entering a claim or holding a belief’.2 This puts the claimant in a trilemma of dogmatism (foundationalism), the wheel (coherentism), and infinite regress of justifications. The PGR also places the claimant to knowledge at a disadvantage vis-à-­ vis the challenger. Williams calls it the ‘claimant-challenger asymmetry’3 where the challenger needs only to challenge. It licenses the sceptical challenger to doubt without a context or reason for doubting. Using a  Michael Williams, ‘Skepticism’, in The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology, ed. John Greco and Ernest Sosa (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 51. 3  Michael Williams, ‘Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism’, Episteme 4 (2007), 99. 2



juridical metaphor, Williams compares this kind of epistemology to a legal system that presumes the guilt of the accused until proven innocent. Traditional epistemology accepted the claimant-challenger asymmetry and attempted to meet the sceptical challenge by stopping the doubting process with some beliefs that are intrinsically credible. These intrinsically credible beliefs gain the status of foundations for the rest of one’s belief system.4 The idea that there can be one set of foundational beliefs that spreads out to all forms of knowledge without any consideration of their contexts is dubbed ‘uniformitarianism’. Williams defangs the trilemma, and the accompanying claimant-­ challenger asymmetry, by rejecting the PGR. He argues that ‘being justified is not always a matter of having gone through a prior process of justification’.5 Using Wittgenstein’s idea that all doubting is done on the basis of some undoubted beliefs or ‘hinge’ propositions, Williams questions the right of the sceptic to stand outside all contexts of inquiry. The mistake of the sceptic, he says, is ‘to treat “hinge” or “framework” propositions as if they were empirical, hence needing to be backed up by evidence. But they are not like that. Rather, they give structure to our whole way of making judgments’.6 Once the claimant-challenger asymmetry is undermined, the sceptic is as obliged to give the context or the reason for challenging the claim as the claimant is obliged to respond to the challenge. The result is a thoroughly contextual epistemology where neither the sceptic nor the claimant can stand on some kind of an Archimedean point outside of all contexts. It rules out ‘the study of “knowledge as such”, which abstracts from everything having to do with human life and human interests’.7 Rejecting the Archimedean point is not a licence to get imprisoned in the boat of one’s own language game. It merely demands that the challenger reveals the reasons for challenging the claim. Once that is done, the 4  It is to be noted that Williams considers coherentist justification also a version of foundationalism. See Williams, Unnatural Doubts: Epistemological Realism and the Basis of Scepticism, Philosophical Theory (Oxford/Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1991), ch.7. 5  Williams, ‘Skepticism’, 53. 6  Williams, Unnatural Doubts, 25. 7  Williams, ‘Knowledge, Reflection and the Sceptical Hypothesis’, in Contextualisms in Epistemology, ed. Elke Brendel and Christoph Jäger (Dordrecht/Norwell, MA: Springer, 2005), 341; see also Unnatural Doubts, xx, 89, 106, etc. This is basically the existential insight we have explored earlier. Even to ask the sceptical question one must already be in the world, as Heidegger tells us.



claimant who was comfortably ensconced in his own boat is duty bound to examine the basis of the challenge and respond to it. Rejecting the PGR does not exonerate the claimant from the Defence Commitment, without which it would be pointless to talk about justification at all. By rejecting the need for prior grounding and still maintaining the Defence Commitment, Williams replaces the hierarchical structure of foundational justification with a ‘default and challenge structure’ that makes justification context sensitive.8 No belief is immune to challenge in this model, but the sceptical challenger is as much bound by context as the one who believes by default. Contexts of inquiry impose semantic, disciplinary, dialectical, and pragmatic constraints on justification. The disciplinary constraints of physics, for example, would be different from those of history, and both differ from those of theology. Central to Williams’ contextualism ‘is the idea that standards of justification are subject to significant circumstantial variation’.9 Such variation, in turn, makes his epistemology pluralist. That each discipline has its own justificatory constraints has an important implication. It makes the intractable internalist-externalist debate in epistemology redundant. Internalism is the desperate attempt to put a stop to sceptical possibilities with some rock bottom beliefs that are intrinsically credible. They owe ‘nothing to empirical facts’10 as they are internal to the knower. Williams calls it the ‘epistemological priority of experiential knowledge over knowledge of the world’.11 Default and challenge structure of justification has no use for any intrinsically credible beliefs; all claims are challengeable, as long as grounds for the challenge are provided. And these grounds are not internal to the challenger or the claimant. Williams says: But rejecting the Prior Grounding Requirement allows him [the claimant] to give the grounding condition on knowledge and justification an externalist reading. A belief is adequately grounded when it is formed by a method that is in fact reliable: responsibility demands that we be able to demonstrate 8  Michael Williams, Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 25, 36, 149, etc. 9  Williams, ‘Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism’, 93. 10  Ibid., 98. 11  Williams, Unnatural Doubts, 38, 53, 56, etc.



reliability only if reasons emerge for suspecting unreliability. However, although we do not have to demonstrate reliability to be entitled to make a knowledge-claim… evidence of unreliability activates the Defense Commitment.12

Once the Defence Commitment is activated it is fulfilled by citing evidence. Evidence in this case, is not internal to the knower. In the context of a challenge from another, it would make no sense to talk about internal evidence that cannot be shared with the challenger, as this would amount to a failure to meet the challenge. Moreover, concerned as Williams is with justification as done in various empirical disciplines, it is easy to see that scientific claims are justified on the basis of evidence from the external world. Castigating Thomas Kuhn for suggesting that ‘observation exerts no independent check on our theoretical commitments’, he goes on to say: ‘Observation reports are still causally tied to circumstances, and thus constitute a body of evidence whose contents we do not fully control’.13 This model of justification, then, is not internalist in the original sense. But it is internalist in the sense that justification is internal to the system, and only specialists in a discipline would know how to go about resolving a disputed claim in that discipline. But the evidence required for resolution comes from the external world; in this sense it is externalist.

2   Some Chinks in the Armour of Contextualism I have no doubt that Williams provides an excellent example of contemporary epistemology that has brought this discipline down from a Cartesian ivory tower into life situations. Rather than look for invariant foundations that ground all knowledge, it recognizes that justification in different disciplinary contexts make different demands. He goes on to provide an alternative approach without pitting foundations against coherence, or internalism against externalism. However, it also seems to me that his epistemology does not escape the relativistic dangers of contextualism, in spite of his protestations. Examining this danger would also reveal his ambivalent stand on realism.  Williams, ‘Skepticism’, 54.  Williams, Problems of Knowledge, 235.

12 13



2.1  Contextualism and Relativism Williams is very much aware that his contextualism is open to accusations of relativism, and responds by arguing that contextualism does not lead to relativism.14 Relativism is a doctrine, or set of doctrines, built around the commonly observed fact that we live in a world of diversity: diverse disciplines, belief systems, cultures, religions, and lifestyles. Concerned as he is with epistemology, Williams calls it ‘system variability’. Relativism refers to the conclusions drawn from system variability. One could draw two conclusions from it, which are really two different ways of stating the same conclusion: one is a positive statement, and the other negative. Positively, relativism is the view that, faced with system variability, the only available standard for judging matters of truth, morality, meaning, and so forth, are those of particular individuals, social groups, or cultures.15 Williams calls this positive statement of relativism ‘system dependence’. Negatively, relativism says that we lack any universal or common standard by which to judge matters of truth.16 An important implication follows from this negative statement. If there is no common standard, it is not possible for us to rationally choose from the different belief systems. And if there is no rational basis for our choices, then they are epistemologically on par: one is as good as another. Williams calls it ‘system equality’; Paul Boghossian calls it the ‘doctrine of equal validity’.17 Williams denies that his contextualism moves from system dependence to system equality. Contextualism slides into relativism only when the idea of context is taken rigidly. He argues that different disciplinary contexts are not hermetically sealed and isolated from each other. Historical investigations can benefit from carbon dating of documents, archaeological findings, and so on. He illustrates this with Fogelin’s example of someone using astrological tables instead of astronomical calculations. Astrology was undermined not by problems that arose within but from without, that is, another conception of the universe or another epistemic framework.  Williams, ‘Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism’, 93–114.   Hans-Johann Glock, ‘Relativism, Commensurability and Translatability’, in John Preston (ed.),Wittgenstein and Reason, Ratio Book Series (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 22. 16  Baghramian’s initial description of relativism combines both the positive and the negative. Maria Baghramian, Relativism (London: Routledge, 2004), 1. 17  Paul A. Boghossian, Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism (Oxford; New  York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press, 2006), 1–2; Williams, ‘Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism’, 94. 14 15



‘Belief in witchcraft suffered a similar fate: a mechanical world just seemed to have no place for it’.18 The permeability of different disciplines is a point well taken, but it would not clear Williams of relativistic accusations. Witchcraft was pushed out because a mechanical world had no place for it. With serious questions now being raised about the mechanical view,19 does it become rational to reinstate witchcraft? This manner of responding to relativistic accusations looks very much like privileging the physics of the day. This would be odd for a neo-pragmatist who values science without thinking that ‘science is everything’.20 More importantly, Williams can prevent the move from system dependence to system equality only by choosing one system over the others; and there seems to be no other reason for choosing a system except the cultural consensus of the day. This is cultural reason. Judged by cultural reason, ‘it may be reasonable to burn witches, or to take it for granted that the earth is flat, or that the design evidenced in nature requires a designer’.21 If they are not seen as reasonable today, it is only because our cultural consensus has changed. Williams can reject the charge of cultural relativism if the above argument can be shown to be merely a dialectical move without factual support.22 Since the challenger is as much bound by context as the claimant, it would be legitimate for Williams to demand the facts that support the charge. Does the accuser reject modern science? I do not think this move succeeds. One doesn’t have to reject physics to believe in astrology; one doesn’t have to reject modern medicine to believe in the wisdom of traditional medicine. If anything, the growing popularity of naturopathy among the educated classes is evidence for it. The only fact required for escaping the counter-charge of empty dialectics is an awareness of the

 Williams, ‘Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism’, 108.  In the words of Kuhlmann, ‘conventional quantum physics already may undermine mechanistic reasoning for a number of reasons’. Meinard Kuhlmann, ‘Mechanisms in Physics’, in Stuart Glennan and Phyllis McKay Illari (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Mechanisms and Mechanical Philosophy Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy (London/New York: Routledge, 2017), 293. 20  Michael Williams, ‘Realism: What’s Left?’, in Patrick Greenough and Michael P. Lynch (eds.) Truth and Realism (Oxford University Press, 2006), 84. 21  Paul Helm, Faith and Reason, Oxford Readers (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 6. 22  See Williams, ‘Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism’, 99. 18 19



limits of modern science. It is not a question of rejecting science but of rejecting the pretensions of scientism that makes it into an overarching faith. Williams is aware that contextualists could be accused of the ‘cultural relativity of epistemic systems’. And here is his response: ‘It is one thing to admit that, in an given situation, there may be limits to our powers of argument or persuasion. It is something else entirely to assert that all ways of viewing the world are equally valid, or that all epistemic procedures are equally reliable. No route leads from the first claim to the second’.23 But how does he block this route? Since the second is a natural consequence of the negative thesis that there is no common measure for judging truth, it can be blocked only by applying some measure. And he finds no measure other than our ‘rich commitments about the world around us’, which though varied, are penetrable by means of teaching. This is exactly where cultural relativism creeps into contextualism: the challenger’s commitments can be entirely different from those of the claimant, as with the deep disagreements involving different language games we noted earlier. To stick to the same case of D.Z. Phillips and Kai Nielsen, it is not that they could not communicate and try to persuade each other. Both came together precisely because they could talk to each other. The point is that when Williams talks about the need for teaching one’s own system to the other, who teaches whom? Does Nielsen teach Phillips his naturalism (doesn’t he already know it?) or does Phillips teach Nielsen his religion? This is the whole point of deep disagreement. They can converse and still not understand each other; they talk past one another. When the talk of teaching one’s system to another begins to sound like cultural arrogance, Williams seems to throw in the towel and asks us not to expect too much from epistemology! ‘We can describe the language game, but we cannot provide it with the kind of “external” endorsement that makes our beliefs more secure than they are. The best reason for trusting physics comes from physics itself’.24 This is exactly what makes current physics into a ‘protected discourse’, to use Nielsen’s terminology. It is nobody’s case that arguments and persuasion always succeed. But if the final response to the problem of cultural relativism is invoking one’s prior commitments, it is hard to see why anyone should even engage in arguments and persuasion. This is the real dilemma that faces Williams: on  Ibid.,108; italics original.  Ibid., 110.

23 24



the one hand, he wants to make room for diversity by rooting himself in contexts; and, on the other, in order to escape relativism he needs to root himself in reality that is independent of varied contexts. This dilemma is manifest in his ambivalent relationship to realism. 2.2  Williams and Realism Although there are many versions of realism, its core doctrine is a metaphysical claim about the existence of some reality that is independent of, or external to, finite (human) minds.25 Williams notes that this definition suffers from an ‘odd kind of hyper-generality’.26 Therefore, more needs to be said about the mind-independent reality. He does that by specifying mind-independent reality in terms of the entities of common sense realism and scientific realism, following Michael Devitt. The former accepts the mind-independent existence of most observable physical entities of common sense and the latter does the same about most, or at least some, unobservable entities posited by science. It might be noted that neither Devitt nor Williams gives any reasons for accepting only these entities and not others. Therefore, a religious realist might add some religious ‘entities’ or facts and a moral realist some moral ones to these ontologies of common sense and science. Leaving this matter aside, let us merely focus on what Williams’ realism amounts to. Williams is a realist to the extent that he is not an idealist who thinks that the existence of external world depends on the human mind.27 But he rejects what he calls epistemological realism. Thomas Grundmann has argued that these two components of Williams’ epistemology are at odds with each other.28 But Williams would be unmoved by such criticism, because he thinks that there is nothing much to be gained from the realism/antirealism debate. He sees it as an unwanted legacy of the Cartesian dualism of mind and the world. Once the Cartesian matrix is given up, there is nothing much left to argue about.29 One might object that realism 25  Michael Devitt, Realism and Truth, 2nd ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997), 15. 26  Williams, ‘Realism: What’s Left?’, 77. 27  Williams, Unnatural Doubts, 241. 28   Thomas Grundmann, ‘Inferential Contextualism, Epistemological Realism, and Scepticism: Comments on Williams’ in Elke Brendel and Christoph Jäger (eds.), Contextualisms in Epistemology, 203–10. 29  Williams, ‘Realism: What’s Left?’, 81.



has nothing to do with Cartesian dualism. A child who thinks that her mother is in the kitchen, only to find otherwise, realizes that the reality is independent of her thinking. That makes her a realist; no help of Descartes is needed for this stance. But Williams can respond by saying that he is not an idealist and his acknowledgement of the external world can take care of it. That throws into sharp relief his ambiguous relationship to realism. What does he reject when he rejects epistemological realism? One thing he clearly rejects is the intrinsic credibility of foundational beliefs that owes ‘nothing to empirical facts’. He says: intrinsic credibility, as traditionally understood, entails that the epistemic status of basic beliefs owes nothing to empirical facts. Thus it has traditionally been held that there is a basic observational vocabulary – composed of terms suitable for capturing our ultimate evidence – that is invariant, thus not subject to revision in the light of empirical developments. I sometimes call the idea that (ultimately) standards of justification reflect an autonomous domain of epistemic facts “epistemological realism”. Contextualism says that epistemological realism is false.30

This would seem to be only a rejection of traditional foundationalism built on the intrinsic credibility of basic beliefs. More specifically, he seems to be rejecting the invariant observational vocabulary that can function as ultimate standards, irrespective of the diverse contexts of knowledge. If it is merely a rejection of what he calls ‘uniformitarianism’, it must be wholeheartedly welcomed. But we also find him denying any ‘immutable epistemological constraints underlying the shifting standards of everyday justification: for example, the universal dependence of beliefs about the world on experiential evidence’.31 For him, ‘there are no finally authoritative sources’.32 It is this denial of some source as finally authoritative that genuine realists find objectionable. They consider the mind-independent world, not any invariant observational vocabulary, as the final authority, as the ‘“permanent neutral matrix” for the rational resolution of all significant disputes’.33 It was, and is, a mistake to think of the neutral matrix in terms of some invariant observational vocabulary that is insensitive to contexts, but  Williams, ‘Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism’, 98.  Williams, ‘Skepticism’, 58. 32  Ibid., 54. 33  Williams, ‘Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism’, 99. 30 31



realism needs no such vocabulary. Realism is merely an admission that mind-independent world retains the power to veto any erroneous representations we make of that world. It is this power that prevents realists from sliding into unacceptable forms of relativism. On the other hand, treating realism purely in ontological terms, as Devitt does, cannot offer any help in overcoming relativism because it remains epistemologically inert. If realism is to overcome this inertness, we must find some systematic link between the mind-independent metaphysical reality and the mind-­ dependent epistemic reality of knowing. And since knowledge, according Williams’ own analysis, includes a Defence Commitment, overcoming the inertness of metaphysical realism calls for spelling out the process for obtaining evidence from that mind-independent reality. Devitt, by making realism into a metaphysical thesis without epistemological implications, fails to address this issue. Williams correctly notes that the independence involved in Devitt’s realism (mind-independent world) is not a causal independence but an epistemological one.34 Williams’ recognition that ‘it is hard to imagine how to express the idea of epistemological independence’35 prompts him to take epistemic justification seriously; challenged truth claims are settled on the basis of evidence from the external world. But having taken justification seriously, he fails to spell out the link between the internalism required by contextualism i.e., system dependence and the externalism required by observational ‘evidence that we do not fully control’.36 If Devitt’s metaphysical realism remains epistemically inert, Williams leaves the link between the mind-independent world and mind-dependent knowledge a black box that has not been decoded. Decoding the black box of the relationship between the internal and the external must be done in such a way that it brings in the required evidence that can resolve a challenged claim to truth. It is not enough for the boatmen to know that help is available on the shore of external reality, but they must have some systematic way of obtaining that help. To continue with the boat metaphor, this amounts to the ability to send distress signals from the boat to the shore. This calls for knowing and utilizing the resources available in the boat for getting assistance. Beyond the 34  Williams, Unnatural Doubts, 237. Elsewhere he calls it logical or transcendental; see Williams, ‘Realism: What’s Left?’, 79. 35  Williams, Unnatural Doubts, 238. 36  Williams, Problems of Knowledge, 235.



metaphor, it calls for spelling out the relationship between the inevitable system dependence  of contextualism and the unavoidably external or system-­independent character of evidence. But since spelling out this relationship is part of the attempt to overcome the relativism of cultural reason, and realism is necessary for this purpose, I shall begin by suggesting a modified version of realism, Pluralistic Realism.

3   Pluralistic Realism The first step towards escaping the relativistic consequences of Wittgensteinian contextualism is to see the exact sense in which Wittgenstein is not a relativist. I shall do this with the help of Hans-Johan Glock’s reading of Wittgenstein. 3.1  Glock’s Wittgenstein Glock’s nuanced reading of Wittgenstein takes us a step further than Williams, and enables us to understand Wittgenstein’s position better. Acknowledging that Wittgenstein is often seen as an ‘emblematic relativist’,37 Glock goes on to distinguish conceptual relativism from ‘alethic’ or truth relativism. Wittgenstein, Glock argues, is a conceptual relativist but not an ‘alethic’ relativist. Conceptual relativism is inevitable, because ‘the conceptual framework we use is not simply dictated to us by reality or experience’.38 We have a great deal of choice in the matter. But this does not automatically translate into truth-relativism, as ‘Our conceptual net does not determine whether we actually catch a fact, but it determines what kind of fact we can catch’.39 This is significant because unlike Williams who sees the context sensitivity of knowledge going ‘all the way down’,40 Glock sees the world putting immutable constraints, not on what we say but on the truth of what we say. Whether or not there are any facts to be caught remains utterly independent of the conceptual nets that are put out to the world. Glock’s Wittgenstein, in other words, is a metaphysical realist, but a conceptual relativist.  Glock, ‘Relativism, Commensurability and Translatability’, 21.  Ibid., 25. 39  Ibid; the analogy of conceptual net seems to have been first used by Arthur Eddington in his The Philosophy of Physical Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1939), 16. 40  Williams, ‘Skepticism’, 58; Williams, Unnatural Doubts, 113. 37 38



Another helpful analogy for understanding how one can be a pluralist and realist at the same time comes from Clifford Hooker. Giving the analogy of maps, he says, ‘one can have many kinds of mutually radically disparate maps of the one stretch of land’, each of which could be true.41 One can indeed have a political map, an industrial map, an agricultural map, and so on, of the same land. Both these analogies (fishnet and map) help us to see how a pluralist can also be a realist without denying relativists their due. These analogies also enlighten us about two different kinds of constraints that must be taken into account in epistemology. One is the constraint involved in using a particular kind of net rather than another, and the other is finding evidence for having caught any fish with that net. The latter is constrained by evidential considerations, not the former. This does not mean that one’s choice of conceptual nets or cognitive maps is without reasons; the reasons for the choice of a particular kind of map are pragmatic. One chooses an agricultural map because of one’s interest in agriculture. But the kind of pragmatism involved in the choice of different conceptual maps is very different from the kind of wholesale pragmatism advocated by neo-pragmatists like Williams and Rorty, because having chosen the map one needs, it still remains an open question as to whether the map depicts the land correctly. This calls for evidential constraints, not pragmatism. This is the realm of epistemic justification, and not of choosing one’s preferred map. Here, then, we have the response to the question raised in Chap. 4 (see Sect. 2.3) about justification of beliefs within a system and the rationality of the system itself. The former is evidential; the latter is pragmatic. Insightful as the analogies of net and map are for understanding how pluralism and realism can be held together, they are no substitute for spelling out pluralistic realism, both in terms of its metaphysics as well as epistemology. Metaphysically it must reject naïve metaphysical realism (NMR) or the doctrine that entities which exist independently of us come readymade or pre-fabricated. We have already done this in Chap. 3. Pluralistic realism, therefore, begins by accepting that there are diverse ways of conceiving and describing the same world, where the truth of one does not 41  Clifford A.  Hooker, A Realistic Theory of Science (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1987), 28.Putnam’s metaphor of a cookie cutter that cuts the same dough into different shapes seems less apt, as one sort of cutting precludes the others. Hilary Putnam and James Conant, Realism with a Human Face (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), 97.



cancel out the truth of the other. Therefore, pluralists reject NMR, but not the metaphysical thesis of a mind-independent world.42 The daunting task of a contextual epistemology, then, is to spell out how the mind-­ independent reality can make our diverse descriptions true. How do human knowers find evidence for their diverse constructions from the mind-independent reality? Or how do human beings transform mind-­ independent metaphysical reality into mind-dependent reality of knowledge? This calls for an epistemological account of realism. 3.2  Realism: Its Epistemological Components The epistemological components of realism can be spelled out by adding four theses to the metaphysical thesis. The first three are more or less familiar and can be found in the literature on realism. For the sake of completeness, I shall begin with the metaphysical thesis that is already discussed. The five theses that together make up pluralistic realism, and change mind-independent reality into knowledge, are the following: 1. The metaphysical thesis 2. The access thesis 3. The representational thesis 4. The truth thesis 5. The evidential thesis 2. Access Thesis Metaphysical thesis, as already said, is the acknowledgement that reality exists independently of the knower (see 2.2). The access thesis says that the mind-independent reality is knowable; humans have access to it.43 Without 42  The biggest difference between NMR and Pluralistic Realism is that the latter, even with its multiple nets, makes no claim to have an exhausted all the fish in the sea. With a different, yet to be made net, we might still catch more fish. 43  See Stuart Brock and Edwin David Mares, Realism and Anti-Realism, Central Problems of Philosophy (Montreal/Ithaca: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), 5–6; J. J. C. Smart and John Haldane, Atheism and Theism, 2nd ed., Great Debates in Philosophy (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), 4. If more than empirical knowledge is to be admitted, as Smart and Haldane seek to do, their formulation of access in terms of ‘observation, hypothesis, and reflection’ may have to be broadened to include other means of access such as religious experience.



access to the world, there is no knowing of the mind-independent reality. One can be a metaphysical realist and still deny access to the world. But is there any one way of accessing the world? Pluralists need to reject, in principle, modern epistemology’s pre-­occupation with scientific knowledge. If the physicists’ description of the table is not a substitute for the common sense description, there is no reason to privilege the one over the other. These are different ways of accessing the world, different conceptual nets that bring in different facts from the same mind-independent world. It is to be noted in this context that the realism of neither Williams nor Kitcher shows any signs of being pluralists about access. Kitcher makes it clear that his concern for ‘real realism’ is really about scientific realism.44 Williams admits common sense realism, but has practically nothing to say about the epistemological counterpart of common sense knowing, that is, our ordinary perceptual knowledge. The questions they need to answer are these: Why privilege the one over the other? Moreover, why privilege one cultural acquisition (science) over others? Why not religious, moral, or aesthetic realism? Kitcher has a ready response to these: progress, and its co-relate, success.45 One wonders whether we meet here another postulate of modern Western culture, and other Westernized cultures. Although the issue of other modes of access to the mind-independent world is very important in the light of the claims of the likes of Plantinga and Alston (seen in Chap. 3) and the claims of the mystics (seen in the last chapter), I shall leave it aside, as it is not needed for our present purpose of decoding the link between the internal and the external, and thereby overcome the cultural relativism of Williams’ contextualism. 3. Representational Thesis This next thesis of epistemological realism says that having accessed the mind-independent world, we ‘human beings (also other sentient organisms) … form representations of the things around us… [to] guide our behavior’.46 Having borrowed this formulation of the representational thesis from Philip Kitcher, however, I distance myself from his preference 44  Philip Kitcher, ‘Real Realism: The Galilean Strategy’, The Philosophical Review 110 (2001), 151. 45  Philip Kitcher, ‘The Many-Sided Conflict Between Science and Religion’, in William Mann (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, Blackwell Philosophy Guides (Oxford/Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), 273.Kitcher’s own view of ethical realism can be found in The Ethical Project (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011). 46  Kitcher, ‘Real Realism’, 153.



for the representative abilities of moderns. This will become clear when I turn to the internal resources, especially to our ability to distinguish the natural and the cultural. The significance of the representational thesis is that representations can be true or false. When representations are statements, we call them cognitive statements, unlike, say, expressive statements such as ‘I am happy’. But what makes our representations really representations, unlike dreams and hallucinations? The answer is, obviously, truth. Therefore, the representational thesis is closely linked to the idea that our representations ‘possess an objective truth-value, independently of our means of knowing: they are true or false in virtue of a reality existing independently of us’.47 But what does ‘objective truth-value’ in this sentence amount to? This question arises because we are aware that, although our cognitive claims are supposed to correctly represent the world, they do not always do so; sometimes they fail to represent, and sometimes they misrepresent. From this awareness of the fallibility of our representations arises the question of truth. 4. Truth Thesis This thesis says that ‘Truth has to do with the relation of a potential truth bearer to a reality beyond itself’.48 Truth-bearers are the representations. It could be as simple as a perceptual claim, or more complex like a scientific theory; it could even be a faith claim like materialism (‘only matter and its byproducts exist in the world’) or theism (‘God exists and is active in the material world’). In each case, to be true is for that truth-­ bearer to be related to some reality beyond itself. When realists claim that a truth-bearer is related to a reality beyond, ordinarily they take this relation to be some form of correspondence. But correspondence has been under attack from various quarters. Devitt’s statement of realism solely in metaphysical terms is prompted by the perceived problems of correspondence theory.49 Neo-pragmatists like Rorty and Williams give up correspondence and opt for some deflationary 47  Michael Dummett, Truth and Other Enigmas (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978), 146; cited in Williams, Unnatural Doubts, 227. 48  William P.  Alston, ‘Realism and the Tasks of Epistemology’, in Christopher B.  Kulp (ed.), Realism, Antirealism, and Epistemology (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997), 54. 49  Williams, Unnatural Doubts, 237.



version of the truth.50 In the deflationary view, we can do away with all substantive definitions of truth. Deflationists ask: What more does the truth thesis say than a reiteration of the metaphysical affirmation of mind-­ independent existence? Nothing, it would seem. This prompts Williams to say: ‘I don’t see much difference between the formulation of realism in terms of existence and that in terms of truth. Things are identified by their properties. So in claiming that certain things exist, we commit ourselves to the truth of lots of claims about them’.51 On this account, the only difference between making a statement and saying that the statement is true is the commitment of the speaker. Therefore, Williams goes on to say that ‘true’ adds ‘to our expressive resources. But that is all it does. The function of truth-talk is exclusively expressive’.52 The response is that the formulation of realism in terms of truth is twice removed from its formulation in terms of existence. The existence thesis by itself is epistemically inert, as we have seen. It becomes epistemically active only with the access thesis, followed by the representational thesis. When Williams talks about committing ourselves to truth-claims, he leaps from existence to representations. Epistemologically, existence cannot be true or false; only representations of existence can be so; they are the truth-bearers, not existence. Further, the function of truth-talk, for realists like correspondence theorists, is not expressive. On the contrary, they say that there exists a relationship between their representational claim and the reality that exists independently of their claim. For them, irrespective of the conceptual frames we use, ultimately it is the mind-independent world that makes a truth-bearer (a sentence, proposition, or a theory) true/false,53 and not our cognitive abilities, social consensus, or other pragmatic considerations. This is not to say that we can ignore the problems of correspondence theory. Given that correspondence is a common sense theory that goes back to Aristotle, it seems better suited for common sense realism than for pluralistic realism. Correspondence makes us think of an isomorphism of 50  Like ‘realism’ ‘deflationism’ is a family of theories that does not have any fixed meaning. My account of deflationism is primarily based on Williams. For detailed discussions of deflationism, see Bradley P. Armour-Garb and J. C. Beall (eds.), Deflationary Truth, Open Court Readings in Philosophy (Chicago: Open Court, 2005). 51  Michael Williams, ‘Realism: What’s Left?’, 78. 52  Ibid., 83;italics original. 53  See Philip Kitcher, The Advancement of Science: Science Without Legend, Objectivity Without Illusions (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 128.



the mind and the world which is misleading, given the polymorphous ways of conceiving the world. This calls for reformulating correspondence to suit pluralistic realism. After a thorough analysis of the deflationary view of ‘born-again’ realist Hilary Putnam, Fred Sommers provides a sophisticated account of correspondence theory. He does this by using distinctions like characterization (proposition, sense of a sentence) and characteristic, ideas like domain claim and mondial attributes.54 Accordingly, the sentence ‘Snow is white’ (characterization) is true only if it captures a characteristic of the world, that is, snow being white; otherwise it is false; truth is found, not made. This is the insight of correspondence theory. Thus, Sommers seems to overcome objections to correspondence theory.55 Correct though Sommers’ presentation of correspondence is, it still remains a definition of truth that says nothing about the epistemic utility of the definition. Huw Price takes a step in the epistemic direction with his understanding of truth as convenient friction.56 This maintains the insight of correspondence theory in a pluralistic setting. No matter how different the conceptual nets, there must be evidence of some fish offering resistance to the net. The same expectation is at work in Indian epistemologist B.K.  Matilal’s definition of truth in terms of ‘non-promiscuity’. He explains: Non-promiscuity is not correspondence—in the strict sense of the term. Correspondence needs two terms—one that corresponds and the other to which it corresponds. And in this respect it is of a piece with such relations as comparison, similarity, even contradiction or opposition. Non-promiscuity, on the other hand, is a natural or general expectation in a marital tie.57

But how are we to know if this expectation is met? This is spelt out in the next thesis that I call the evidential thesis.

54  Fred Sommers, ‘Putnam’s Born-Again Realism’, The Journal of Philosophy 94 (1997), 453–71. For a metaphorical description of pluralistic correspondence, see, Alvin I. Goldman, Epistemology and Cognition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 151–53. 55  Gerald Vision has brought out a book-length defence of correspondence; see Gerald Vision, Veritas: The Correspondence Theory and Its Critics (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2004). 56  Huw Price, ‘Truth as Convenient Friction’, The Journal of Philosophy 100 (2003), 167–90. 57  Bimal Krishna Matilal, ‘A Realist View of Perception’, in Indian Philosophy: A Reader, ed. Jonardon Ganeri (London/New York: Routledge, 2020), 243.



5. Evidential thesis Whereas the other theses of realism spelt out the different components that go into the making of realism, evidential thesis links these components. Connecting truth with the metaphysical, access, and representational theses, the evidential thesis provides a criterion for judging truth. This thesis says that the criterion of truth is the evidence obtained from mind-independent reality. Williams is right when he says that claiming the existence of certain things commits us to the truth of their existence. But unlike the metaphysical thesis that is only a general statement about the existence of mind-independent reality, claims to the existence of certain things are quite specific and they can sometimes be misplaced. This happens when my claim to the existence of a tree in the yard is challenged by another to be a misperception resulting from a clever manipulation of mirrors. This is the kind of situation that calls for justification in the default and challenge model. In such situations, it is evidence obtained from mind-independent reality—reality that exists independently of the claimant and the challenger—that can resolve the relevant dispute. Procedurally, therefore, truth is that which is capable of yielding evidence upon investigation. The evidential thesis of realism, therefore, would make pluralistic realism a full-fledged realism, not merely a denial of idealism. It would return mind-independent reality to its rightful place in epistemology: the ability to yield evidence that is neutral to the challenger and the claimant. What, then, is the procedure for obtaining evidence? Williams makes us aware that the kind of investigation undertaken for obtaining evidence would vary depending on one’s chosen conceptual net. The evidence required for determining a disputed historical claim, for example, would be different from that which is required for deciding a disputed claim in physics. But there is the problem that has been haunting us from the time we acknowledged the autonomy of science and religion in Chap. 3 to the autonomy of different empirical disciplines maintained by Williams: the danger of relativism. Kai Nielsen taught us that one-sided emphasis on the autonomy of a discipline makes that discipline a protected discourse, immune to external criticism. This leads to relativism, fideism, misunderstanding arising from deep disagreements, and the like. If we are to avoid this danger, then, we must complement the procedural autonomy of different disciplines with procedural continuities across different disciplines. I turn to this next.



4   Tapping the Internal Resources In order to obtain the required evidence from the mind-independent world, we must begin with the resources that are available to us within our epistemic boat. I shall point out three such resources: (1) our ability to distinguish the natural and the cultural; (2) our ability to communicate, to teach, and to learn; (3) one particular exercise of that ability, which is learning from science or adopting a version of naturalized epistemology. This helps us to spell out the evidential procedures that are applicable across the board to different disciplines. Let us begin with the natural-­ cultural distinction. 4.1  The Natural and the Cultural While Glock’s distinction between conceptual and truth relativism remains extremely important, the distinction between the natural and the cultural is equally important for overcoming truth relativism. We shall see that Williams’ contextualism leads to relativism because he does not take the natural-cultural distinction seriously. The words ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ are used in different ways. Sometimes ‘natural’ is used as a synonym for ‘scientific’.58 This is the basis of Hilary Kornblith’s argument that knowledge is a natural kind.59 This is a legitimate use of the word ‘natural’ inasmuch as ‘natural’ is sometimes contrasted with ‘supernatural’. However, this is not helpful for our purpose of contrasting the natural and the cultural because modern science is just one of the cultural achievements of human beings. Therefore, we need to draw the distinction very differently. The distinction between natural and cultural for our purpose is between what we possess in common as human beings and what we learn differently from society. One is spontaneous and the other is learned; one is an innate capacity and the other is an expansion of the innate. I have emphasized learning differently so as to avoid the misunderstanding that the natural needs no learning at all. Consider the natural capacity for recognizing the colour green. This innate capacity is solidified into ‘green’ in  See for example, Kitcher, ‘The Many-Sided Conflict’, 273; Kitcher, ‘Real Realism’, 154;  He says: ‘Knowledge constitutes a legitimate scientific category. In a word, it is a natural kind’. Hilary Kornblith, Knowledge and Its Place in Nature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002), 29. 58 59



English or ‘vert’ in French, depending on one’s linguistic (cultural) background. The fact that the cultural  dimension of learning enters into even the natural does not mean that the two cannot be distinguished. Walking with a child will be enough to disabuse anyone who thinks otherwise. The child will zero in on some creature and will ask excitedly “What is it?” Even a newborn looks in the direction of a loud noise or bright light, indicating its natural ability to pick the source from the surroundings. Let us call it the NaC-Di-NoS principle: ‘Natural-and-Cultural-are-Distinguishable-­­ but-Not-Separable’. All preliminary learning is based on the natural, innate capacity that is common to human beings whereas the cultural is built on the natural, and is its extension. Both distinguishability and inseparability are important. Failure to make the distinction leads to alethic relativism, the typical predicament of postmodern thinking; attempts to separate them leads to objectivism, the ‘myth of the given’,60 and such features of modern epistemology. It is not hard to see that proneness of Williams’ epistemology to cultural relativism and the tendency to play second fiddle to the physics of the day is due to his inability to see the significance of the distinction. That he acknowledges the natural is clear when he grants that we humans do have some common abilities. He writes: For semantic reasons, human beings can never wholly lack common ground, or even common epistemic procedures. But while we all use our eyes and ears and share discriminative capacities, not everything that we would take to be common knowledge is something that every rational person would be bound to accept.61

While acknowledging the natural, he fails to see its significance. One reason for neglecting its significance seems to be a serious equivocation of the word ‘common’: that which is common to all human beings and that which is taken as common in a given culture. He refers to the latter when he says, ‘The presuppositions of historical thinking are not common 60  ‘Myth of the given’ is the term used by Wilfrid Sellars for the kind of knowledge that empiricists claimed that we possess without having to learn it. It is not always easy to say exactly what the myth is, see Mark Eli Kalderon, ‘Before the Law’, Philosophical Issues 21 (2011), 219–44.For an easily accessible account, see ‘myth of the given’ in Nicholas Bunnin and Jiyuan Yu, The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004). 61  Williams, ‘Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism’, 108.



knowledge. They do not automatically fall out of everyday experiences’.62 This is right. Members of an isolated community living away from the modern scientific culture are not bound to accept the ‘presuppositions of historical thinking’ or helio-centrism and other things that are commonly found in modern culture. But both groups cannot but accept the discriminatory capacities of the human senses. It is only the latter that can be considered natural and not the former. The initial training required for utilizing their natural capabilities is indispensable for advancing in any of these different cultural alternatives of history, astronomy, etc. Another reason why Williams downplays the natural-cultural distinction seems to be his conviction that epistemic justification is ‘not theoretically tractable. We can describe, in a general way, the factors that determine our epistemic entitlements. However, we cannot do so in a way that permits the formulation of general rules or criteria for effectively sorting out justified from unjustified beliefs’.63 Although this statement is understandable as a rejection of the  uniformitarian  tradition  of justification, if it means  that no  general criteria can be formulated for justification in  the default and challenge model, it seems unwarranted and it goes contrary to the evidential thesis of pluralistic realism. How such evidence can be obtained for our cultural products will be explored in Sect. 4.3. For the present it suffices to say that his claim that the ‘background of beliefs, recognitional capacities, investigational procedures, etc., which is required for playing the game of justification must be acquired through education and training’64 is true only for the justification of our cultural acquisitions, and not for the justification of the outputs of our natural abilities like perception. It seems extremely odd to say of an adult knower needing any special training to check whether his claim of seeing a rabbit is really so, when challenged by another with the counter claim that the alleged rabbit is really a tuft of grass. This, again, shows that while he pays lipservice to common sense realism, his primary concern is science. 4.2  Teaching, Learning, and Justification We saw that in order to prevent the move from system dependence to system equality, and thereby to overcome accusations of relativism, Williams talks about the need to teach the other. Teaching and learning is a process of communication. An essential dimension of communication is  Ibid., 103.  Ibid., 107. 64  Ibid. 62 63



the hermeneutic circle, as we have seen in the last chapter. Rorty recognizes the hermeneutic circle,65 but fails to distinguish the hermeneutic process of communication from the evidential process of justification. This failure leads to his negative judgement about the very possibility of epistemology. Let us consider the difference between these two processes, both of which are essential for epistemology in a pluralistic context. Communication, we saw in the last chapter, is a two-way process between two interlocutors concerning some matter. It begins with some shared territory between the interlocutors. If there is nothing in common between them, no communication is possible; the greater the commonality, greater the ease of communication. Beginning with that common territory, the interlocutors seek to increase their commonality through a process of mutual questioning and clarification. This is the interlocutionary process. In the teaching/learning scenario, a teacher communicates some matter to the student at the level that is intelligible to the student— depending on whether the student is a beginner or an advanced learner. That particular level is their shared territory; the student interacts with the teacher through clarifications, giving examinations, and so on. Initial learning becomes the basis of further learning; that further learning the basis of still further learning, and so on. This is the hermeneutic circle that Rorty is well aware of.66 The significance of the interlocutionary process is that the common ground of different interlocutors, say of a historian and an archaeologist, of a physicist and a psychologist, will be very different. Though Williams does not talk about communication or hermeneutics,67 its implications run right through his epistemology. This is at the heart of his contextualism, where the credibility of any finding in a given discipline can be established only on the shared assumptions of that particular community of investigators. He calls it the methodological or disciplinary constraints, which differ from discipline to discipline, and even within some 65  Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 1979), 319. 66  Ibid. 67  The closest he comes to these notions is when he talks about the ‘interpretavist” approach to meaning, where ‘beliefs derive their content from the ways in which they relate to other beliefs’. Williams, ‘Realism: What’s Left?’, 83. But he does not deal with the hermeneutic circle.



sub-­disciplines. It is important to see the differences, if we are not to end up with ‘the common observational vocabulary’ that Williams urges us to abandon. These differences are especially important for the default and challenge model of justification where the claimant and the challenger can be on entirely different planes. When that happens, the two will be talking past each other than talking to each other. Inasmuch as pluralistic realism accepts the default and challenge structure of justification, it can escape this predicament of talking past one another only by mandating the interlocutionary process of communication as a pre-condition for engaging in justification. It comes before justification, not after (see the discussion of the priority of conversation and justification in the Introduction to Part II).68 The significance of the natural-cultural distinction for communication is twofold. First, in teaching and learning cultural acquisitions, the innate capacities that are natural to us as human beings enjoy a priority over the cultural. Elementary learning based on these universal capabilities becomes the basis for all kinds of cultural acquisitions, irrespective of whether they are different scientific disciplines, religions, moral systems, or other cultural products. These cultural acquisitions are extensions of the natural. Second, as long as there are some natural abilities that are common to all, there cannot be total incommensurability or impossibility of communication across different disciplines, cultures, religions, and so forth. Inasmuch as something is common, the interlocutors can proceed from that minimal common ground to greater and greater understanding of each other, irrespective of their different disciplines and cultures. While this is possible for all, how far one proceeds on this path is largely a choice made on pragmatic grounds, involving personal, cultural, social, economic, and other factors, as Williams has correctly observed. There is an important difference between arriving at a common ground through interlocutionary process and the resolution of disputed claims to truth. The interlocutionary process does not involve any cultural superiority. A teacher’s choice of what to communicate is a pragmatic decision based on the teacher’s assessment of what would be intelligible to the student, and not a matter of superior truth. Where superiority is involved, the inferior has to give way. Consider the case of witchcraft and traditional 68  Williams seems to think that persuasion comes after argument or justification; see, ‘Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism’, 110.



medicine giving way to modern science because a particular cultural understanding of science had no place for the old. This is a claim to superior truth, not a pragmatic decision on what would be intelligible to the interlocutor. Pragmatic considerations come into play in the interlocutionary process for choosing the required conceptual net, not for determining truth. Our cultural acquisitions are based on pragmatic reasons whereas truth is based on evidential reasons. Where pragmatism ends, truth and justification begin. While arriving at a common understanding of the disciplinary assumptions of the interlocutors is a necessary pre-condition for justification, such understanding cannot substitute for justification. The former results from the communication process, the triadic relationship involving the communicator, the addressee, and a message. Justification, on the other hand, is a tetradic relationship  involving  a fourth relatum, namely, the mind-independent world. Arriving at a common ground is guided by pragmatic constraints, justification by evidential constraints. Just as interlocutionary procedures cannot substitute for justification, justification cannot substitute for the interlocutionary procedures. This is so because both have different roles in epistemology. The aim of the former is to promote understanding between the interlocutors and set the stage for justification. Justification requires evidential procedures, not interlocutionary procedures. Interlocutionary procedures lead to the choice of the relevant conceptual framework, whereas evidential procedures lead to the resolution of disputed claims within that framework. The former ensures that the challenger and the claimant are playing the same language game and sharing the same boat, and the latter determines the truth of the disputed claim. Once the interlocutionary procedures have been completed so as to ensure that the challenger and the claimant are using the same conceptual net, then it becomes possible to proceed to justification by means of evidence that is accessed from the mind-independent world, the fourth relatum. 4.3  The Evidential Procedures Let us begin with the idea of evidence. Evidence is intimately linked to judicial procedures. This judicial background has some very important lessons to teach us about evidential procedures. To begin with, built into the very idea of evidence is that it differs from motives. Having a motive for murder does not constitute evidence for having committed murder. The epistemological implication of this is that genetic or causal factors of beliefs



cannot function as evidence for settling disputed claims to truth. Let us call it the Genesis-is-not-evidence principle. Classical empiricists did not recognize this principle; they were genetic empiricists. Given (a) the Prior Grounding Requirement and (b) the solitary character of the modern knower, the distinction between genesis and evidence evaporates. When both (a) and (b) are rejected, the distinction emerges clearly, and Williams adopts it. He rejects Quine’s version of naturalized epistemology for this very same reason.69 Genetic inquiry has its uses; it can provide an account of the social, psychological, and other factors that have led to the belief. But genetic inquiry has nothing to do with the justification of beliefs where ‘justification’ is understood in Williams’ sense of meeting the challenge posed to a default claim. The need for justification, in this sense, arises only after the default position has been challenged. Besides recognizing the Genesis-is-not-evidence principle, juridical procedures also help us to see that if something is to be admissible in a court as evidence, it must satisfy three further conditions. First, evidence must be relevant to the case; or else, ‘the truth will be choked up in masses of bad evidence that leads nowhere or in the wrong direction’.70 This is of utmost importance if epistemology is to explore the possibility of religious, moral, or other kinds of knowledge. Basically it boils down to the question of whether human beings possess natural abilities for religious, moral, and other kinds of cognition. If there are, citing evidence of one kind for another kind of knowledge is likely to be irrelevant, and would lead to what Alston has called ‘epistemic imperialism’.71 Even apart from religious and moral knowledge, the rule of relevance holds for diverse empirical disciplines themselves: evidence relevant to a psychological inquiry is likely to be different from the evidence required in biology or physics. Attention to disciplinary relevance is important for respecting the autonomy of different empirical disciplines themselves. The second condition for anything to be evidence is that it must be public. It means that evidence must at least be presented in the court; nothing that is not brought to the court can have any evidential value. Evidence, in other words, cannot be private to anyone, much less to any  Williams, Unnatural Doubts, 262.  F. C. S. Schiller, ‘Relevance’, Mind 21 (1912), 11. For a detailed treatment of relevance of evidence in science, see Clark Glymour, ‘Relevant Evidence’, The Journal of Philosophy 72 (1975), 403–26. 71  William P. Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991). 69 70



of the disputants. This qualification is of special significance in the default and challenge model. If the challenge and the response are to be effective, the challenger and the claimant need to provide evidence that will be recognized as evidence by the other. There is a third feature of evidence in a judicial setting: evidence must be real and not manufactured for pragmatic or other extraneous reasons. To say that it must be real is to say that it must come from mind-­ independent metaphysical reality, as required by the evidential thesis of realism. Traditional epistemology tried to maintain this link to reality in causal-genetic terms. Once that is given up, as is required by the Genesis-­ is-­not-evidence principle, we need some other way of maintaining this link. It is this link that remains obscure in Williams, as we have seen. Can we devise a general strategy for obtaining evidence that is relevant, public, and real, without conflating the genetic with the evidential? Such a strategy for obtaining evidence begins to emerge if we look at the practice of science. One way of naturalizing epistemology, we have noted, is in terms of methodological continuity. More specifically what I have in mind is a simple distinction between ‘perception’ and ‘observation’, two terms that are often used interchangeably. However, observation, in science, is understood as the result of a perceptual search that is deliberately undertaken in the light of background theories or hypotheses.72 Evidence, when available, is the outcome of observation. Let me illustrate with an example.73 Ignaz Semmelweis was a physician who was puzzled by the large number of women dying of ‘childbed fever’ in a Vienna hospital in 1844. Many hypotheses were proposed to explain this state of affairs. These were tested by looking for evidence, only to find that most of the proposed hypotheses returned no evidence. One hypothesis, for example, was that of an epidemic in the area. Further inquiries, however, revealed this rumour to be unfounded. Eventually the cause of the deaths was traced to the medical students not cleaning their hands properly before examining the women. This hypothesis was tested by asking the students to clean their hands properly before they come in contact with the expectant mothers, and then looking for observable impact on 72  This distinction and this meaning of observation are inspired by Dudley Shapere, ‘The Concept of Observation in Science and Philosophy’, Philosophy of Science 49 (1982), 485–525. 73  Carl Gustav Hempel, Philosophy of Natural Science (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall, 1966), 3–6.



the death rate. This request yielded results, as there was an amazing improvement in the situation. At this point Semmelweis knew that he had found the correct solution. What is important is to realize that evidence is the result of an active search; it is the result of observation, and observation is not just perception but perception guided by some theory or hypothesis. Without such guidance, researchers would be clueless as to what counts as evidence and what does not. Semmelweis could make his breakthrough only because his hypotheses told him what to look for. Theories and hypotheses are the guide dogs that function as the eyes for the blind category ‘perception’. Without the guidance of background theories there can be blind groping, but no focused investigation. Given this relationship between theory and observation it is a strange paradox of history that twentieth-century epistemology engaged in protracted discussions on how harmful ‘theory-­ laden’ observations are to objective knowledge! It is impossible to understand this development, except as a false reaction to the traditional empiricist epistemology that could not recognize the Genesis-is-not-­ evidence principle due to its Prior Grounding Requirement and the monadic character of its knower. The case of Semmelweis is also good illustration of the Genesis-is-not-­ evidence principle. It was by sheer accident that Semmelweis hit on the right solution. One of his colleagues received a wound while performing an autopsy, developed symptoms similar to the symptoms of childbed fever, and died. This accident led to the doctor to suspect that his colleague’s death was caused by ‘cadaveric matter’ entering into his blood stream. He further guessed, correctly, that, since the medical students who assisted in childbirths also performed autopsy, they must be the carriers of infection. In this example, the puzzlement of the doctor at the high mortality rate, his desire to help the women, and the accidental death of his colleague can be treated as the genetic factors leading to his discovery that childbed fever is caused by the lack of adequate cleanliness on the part of the medical students. However, none of these genetic factors counted as evidence for the brilliant guess that the medical students were carriers of infection. Evidence came from acting upon his hunch to test it for observable consequences. Once we recognize the Genesis-is-not-evidence principle, we can see that theory-laden observations are not a hindrance to objective knowledge, but a necessity. They become a hindrance only when theory-­ ladenness is understood not only as evidence being guided by theories,



but also as determined by them. In other words, no evidence is possible without observations being theory-guided, and everything would be evidence if our observations were not only guided but also determined by prior theories. To say that observations are theory-determined would be as absurd as saying that a net cast into the sea would not only make it possible to catch fish but also that it will necessarily catch fish, irrespective of whether there are any fish to be caught. The background theories are the net, so to say, that we put out to reality; evidence is that which confirms or disconfirms the catch. Therefore, the theory-ladenness of observations in this sense poses no threat to objective knowledge. On the contrary, without the guidance of background theories we will not know what counts as evidence and what does not. Here, then, we have an alternative link between the internalism as  system dependence  required by contextualism and the externalism required by objective evidence. This decodes what remained a black box in Williams’ epistemology. Having done that, let us examine if evidence obtained in this manner fulfils the three conditions required. The first two requirements (relevance of evidence and its public character) can be taken together. Evidence obtained through this process remains public, as it is available to all who are familiar with the required conceptual net. The pre-condition of familiarity with the requisite conceptual net ensures disciplinary pluralism. The theories that guide observations in history or archaeology will not be the same as in astronomy or medicine. Accordingly, the observational evidence would be different too. Moreover, there could be differences even within a discipline, as with astronomy and quantum physics. The fact that evidence in each instance is linked to the conceptual net ensures the relevance condition. On the other hand, the fact that the required evidence is accessible to anyone who is familiar with the conceptual net makes it public. Most important of all, it is accessible to the challenger as well as the claimant, and it is not the private possession of any individual. Such evidence also maintains its link to reality, which was the third requirement. The background theories merely enable us to interrogate mind-independent reality by asking the appropriate questions; they do not provide answers. Answers come directly from the reality being investigated. It is to be noted that the observational evidence is obtained by using our natural perceptual abilities. Our natural observational abilities may be enhanced by the use of technology; that is part of the theory-laden nature of observations. But technology does not observe; humans do. We do it by using our natural abilities, under the guidance of prior theories.



But evidence in each case comes from the mind-independent world. Moreover, pragmatic considerations have no role to play in the evidential procedures. The role of pragmatism is limited to the choice of different culturally conditioned conceptual nets (physics, biology, history, etc.). Thus we obtain objective knowledge, knowledge that is true, where truth is not reduced to cultural conditioning or to such extraneous considerations as pragmatism, as with neo-pragmatists like Rorty and Williams. This procedure retains all the strengths of Williams’ contextualism and Rorty’s focus on conversation, without harm to our primordial understanding of truth as a correct representation of reality.

5   Conclusion I have taken Williams’ contextual epistemology, with its pluralism and its default and challenge structure of justification very seriously and furthered it by overcoming its relativistic tendencies. This has been done by explicitly formulating three of the inner resources that are available to every knower. They are the ability to distinguish the natural and the cultural without separating them (the NaC-Di-NoS principle), the ability to learn that is premised on the innate natural abilities, and a particular application of that ability which is the ability to learn from scientific practice. The last leads to the formulation of the Genesis-is-not-evidence principle, distinctions like perception and observation, theory-guided observation, and theory determined observation. Recognizing these natural resources prevents different autonomous language games from becoming ‘protected discourse’, with its relativistic tendencies. This, we saw in Chap. 4, was Kai Nielsen’s complaint against language games. We noted in that context, that both Peter Winch and D.Z. Phillips came to recognize the continuities between different language games that are otherwise autonomous. While the last chapter explored the conversational continuity between different autonomous language games, this chapter has emphasized the methodological continuity involved in the justification of beliefs. In the process of making these modifications to Williams’ contextualism, his division of labour between the internal and the external is radically redrawn. The only external help needed in the revamped default and challenge model of justification is evidence. This has to come from the external shore of mind-independent reality. Thus, most of the work of justification is based on internal resources, including getting guidance from the prior theories about the kind of evidence required for meeting



the challenge of justification. Once the internal resources are put to work, reality either approves or disapproves the disputed claim by providing or not providing the requested evidence. The epistemology proposed here suffers from an important limitation that it shares with the epistemology of Williams. It says nothing about justification of those beliefs that result from our natural abilities. This is odd, to say the least, because while we know how to justify the cultural extensions of the natural, there is precious little attention paid to the justification of the natural. Such attention is needed because the natural beliefs of contextualism are not infallible like the foundations of classical foundationalism; they are as fallible as any other beliefs. When the output of any of our natural perceptions are challenged by another, the default and challenge model of justification demands that claimant meets the Defence Commitment. In order to meet this commitment, we need to spell out the evidential procedures involved in the justification of our natural beliefs. It may be noted, in this context, that though the distinction between perception and observation is taken from scientific practice, it is not foreign to the justification of our natural perceptual beliefs. When my perceptual judgement of seeing rabbit is challenged by another to the effect that the apparently perceived object is only a tuft of grass, I look at the object more carefully. That is observation. But what background ‘theory’ or ‘theories’ guide observations in such cases? I shall take up this matter in the next chapter, which concerns the justification of natural knowledge.


Perception: Its Nature and Justification

In the last chapter we saw how the approach of Michael Williams to justification treads an independent path that does not follow the familiar, but problematic, alternatives of foundationalism and coherentism or internalism and externalism. He replaces the hierarchical, uniformitarian, foundational structure of justification with a default and challenge structure. In this approach to justification there are no beliefs that are immune to challenge, as long as the challenger provides reasons for doubting a claim. Overcoming the relativistic implications of his contextualism gave us an epistemology that is as thoroughly pluralist as it is robustly realist. An important tool that helped us to overcome relativism is the distinction between the natural and the cultural. That distinction has also left us in an uncomfortable position where we know how to resolve disputed claims to truth in specialized empirical disciplines (part of our cultural acquisitions), but remain silent about disputes that arise about our natural beliefs. This chapter, therefore, seeks to overcome this blind spot in pluralistic realism. Besides this primary aim, this chapter also has another goal. It has to do with the development of advanced empirical knowledge. From our innate or natural ability to acquire some minimal beliefs about our environment, how do we come to have those cultural products that make up our various sophisticated knowledge in advanced empirical sciences? Is it a random process or is there some pattern to the dynamics involved in the process? We will try to find some answer to this question in the last section of this chapter. © The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




I shall proceed as follows. I shall begin with some preliminary considerations about perception in Sect. 1, and present some contemporary theories of perception in Sect. 2. Using Ludwig Wittgenstein’s idea of grammar, I will try to bring these theories together as different interrelated rules that make up the language game of ‘perception’. This is done in Sect. 3. Section 4 illustrates how a grammatical approach can resolve disputed perceptual claims. The final section is devoted to exploring the developmental process from natural perception to advanced sciences.

1   Perception: Initial Considerations Perception is often identified with vision. Currently, however, the practice is to use the term more broadly to refer to knowing by means of any of the five senses. This is ordinary perception, also known as ‘exteroception’ or outer perception, contrasted with inner perception (e.g., becoming aware that I am angry).1 But recent studies indicate that models of perception ‘based on external senses do not work smoothly’ with the internal senses.2 Further, even the functioning of the different external senses differs where ‘each sense can be viewed as a specific system in charge of tracking a certain kind of change or property in the environment’.3 Then there are extended uses of the word ‘perception’ as when William Alston, following the mystical tradition, talks about ‘perceiving God’, or when ancient Indian philosophers routinely talk about extraordinary (alaukika) perception.4 Such perception falls (broadly) under the outer category, but they cannot be considered sensory. We will be concerned, in this chapter, only with perception of physical objects involving the five external senses. Further, my focus will be mostly on vision. Perceptual disputes are common in everyday life. Sometimes they result from perceptual illusions (e.g., seeing a half-immersed stick in water as bent or judging a mirage as water), occasionally from dreams and hallucinations (e.g., dream-like states that happen to individuals while being 1  Robert Audi, ‘Perception and Consciousness’, in Ilkka Niniluoto, Matti Sintonen, and Jan Woleński (eds.), Handbook of Epistemology (Dordrecht/Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004), 57. 2   Mohan Matthen (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception, Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 19. 3  Ophelia Deroy, ‘Modularity of Perception’, in ibid., 755. 4  Mysore Hiriyanna, Outlines of Indian Philosophy (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993), 180–81; 248–50.



wide awake). But the most common cases of perceptual disputes seem to be cases of erroneous perception. One person sees a snake; another only a rope. One sees a bear; another only a log. One sees a rabbit; another only a tuft of dry grass, and so on. It is interesting to note that whatever the cause of conflict, ordinary people easily resolve them without any help from the epistemologist. The task of an epistemologist is to study the principles and procedures used by ordinary people, while resolving such disputes, so that they can be applied across the board to the more difficult cases, such as religious or moral beliefs. Justification of perceptual beliefs is of special significance in contextual epistemology, inasmuch as contextualism takes pride in its reliance on the epistemic practices of ordinary people. Surely justification of challenged perceptual beliefs is a more frequent practice than justification within different disciplines which is carried out by specialists. Besides the natural-cultural distinction, another methodological tool that helped us to get beyond the danger of relativism is the Genesis-is-­ Not-Evidence principle. This automatically rules out the ‘appearing’ approach to the justification of perceptual beliefs, according to which a person’s perceptual belief is justified on the basis of how things appear to that person.5 According to the Genesis-is-Not-Evidence principle, the appearance of things in a certain way can result in acquiring a belief (genesis), but does not constitute evidence for it when that belief is challenged in Williams’ default and challenge structure of justification. But applying the Genesis-is-Not-Evidence principle to the justification of perceptual beliefs faces a peculiar problem that does not occur in the sciences. In the sciences, theories guide the search for observational evidence. But it seems odd to speak of theories that guide observation for resolving perceptual disputes, since perception is a basic, pre-theoretical kind of knowing. On the other hand, we also noted at the end of the last chapter that the distinction between perception and observation is present in our ordinary practice when we look for evidence to resolve a disputed perceptual claim. What, then, is this theory that guides our search? The first task of this chapter is to identify this pre-theoretical ‘theory’. Taking a hint from William Alston, I suggest that this theory has to do with the nature of perception.

5  See William P.  Alston, ‘Back to the Theory of Appearing’, Nous 33, Supplement: Philosophical Perspectives 13 (1999), 181–203.



1.1  Perception: Experience, Consciousness, and Belief According to Alston, ‘Philosophers have been concerned both with the epistemology of perceptual belief and the nature of perception. Under the latter heading we can distinguish two main interrelated problems, (a) what is it to perceive an object (event, situation, state of affairs), and (b) what is the nature and structure of perceptual experience (consciousness). The positions taken on these issues, especially the second, will have a crucial bearing on epistemological issues.’6 Alston seems to be saying here that the position taken on the nature of perceptual consciousness will have crucial bearing on the epistemology (justification) of perceptual beliefs. But it is puzzling that he should identify consciousness with experience.7 Ordinarily, we identify three elements of perception: (1) the perceiver; (2) the object or event perceived; and (3) the relationship between the perceiver and the object.8 This relationship creates an impact on the perceiver, which we call perceptual experience. Thus, we talk about experiencing the coolness of the morning, experiencing a sunset, and the like, where the object (coolness, sunset) makes an impact on the perceiver and the object enters into the consciousness of the perceiver. If this analysis is right, experience is an episode in a given state of consciousness.9 Experience is fleeting whereas consciousness is the background in which experiential episodes occur.10 If experience were to be a performance, consciousness would be the stage on which performance takes place. This distinction between consciousness and experience is important for two reasons. Firstly, it disabuses us of the temptation to think of perceptual consciousness as the only state of consciousness available to us. There are other states of consciousness such as dreams, hallucinations, mystical 6  William Alston, ‘Perceptual Knowledge’, in John Greco and Ernest Sosa (eds.), The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999), 224. 7  This identification can also be seen in his ‘Back to the Theory of Appearing’, 181. 8  Audi, ‘Perception and Consciousness’, 58. Audi counts ‘experience’ as the fourth element of perception. I avoid this terminology because experience is not one more element of perception, but the name given to the totality. 9  I owe this understanding of experience to John Hick, The New Frontier of Religion and Science: Religious Experience, Neuroscience and the Transcendent (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire [England]; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 27. 10  There is another meaning to ‘experience’ which refers to an acquired disposition as, for example, when we talk about an experienced teacher. But the context of Alston’s use does not warrant taking this meaning.



states, and so on. Alston misses this important point when he says that ‘perceptual consciousness is essentially, in itself, an awareness...[wherein] one or more objects appear to the subject as so and so, as … round, bulgy, blue, jagged etc.’.11 Appearing so and so (round, bulgy, etc.) cannot be the essential trait of perceptual consciousness, because the same appearing occurs also in other states of consciousness, say, in dreams. This is precisely the point made by disjunctivist theories of perception, as we shall see in the next section. The fact that perceptual consciousness is one of the many states of consciousness gives rise to the question about the identity of perceptual consciousness. What makes perceptual consciousness what it is, as distinct from other states of consciousness? Secondly, perceptual disputes concern not so much the identity of perceptual consciousness as the experience, or more accurately, the judgements we make on the basis of experience. This becomes clear when we look at the examples of erroneous perception given at the beginning of this section (e.g., snake/rope). When this fact is taken together with the insight that perceptual consciousness will have a crucial say in the justification of perceptual beliefs, we come to the conclusion that the justification of challenged perceptual claims are to be effected on the basis of the identity of perceptual consciousness. Justification, therefore, calls for an inquiry into the nature of perceptual consciousness that gives it an identity which is distinct from states like illusions, dreams, hallucinations, and the like. In exploring the identity of perceptual consciousness, let us first consider the nature of relationship between the perceiver and the perceived object. Is it causal or constitutive?12 This distinction is based on the kind of necessity involved in the relationship.13 When I exert pressure on a twig and break it, the relationship between my action and the broken twig is causal. Contrast this with the relationship between being a bachelor and being an unmarried male. Here we have a logical or conceptual relationship that constitutes the concept of being a bachelor. Next, we must distinguish the identity of perceptual consciousness from the process of 11  Alston, ‘Perceptual Knowledge’, 232–33; emphasis on ‘essentially’ is added. See also, Beyond “Justification”: Dimensions of Epistemic Evaluation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 181. 12  William Fish, Perception, Hallucination, and Illusion (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 6. Although Fish makes this distinction, Hooker spells out the distinction more clearly. 13  See Clifford A.  Hooker, A Realistic Theory of Science (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1987), 256.



perceiving, that is, the process through which objects that exist outside consciousness gain entry into it. The distinction between identity and process can be seen in the differing etymologies of the relevant words in English and Sanskrit. ‘Perception’ comes from the Latin verb ‘percipere’, combining ‘per’ (entirely) and ‘capire’ (take). Its focus is more on the process of perceiving (taking in) than on the identity of perceptual consciousness. Aristotle’s philosophy of perception according to which the perceiver takes in the form of an object without its matter is entirely in keeping with this etymology. Contrast this with the Sanskrit word for perception pratyakṣa, which means ‘that which is before the eyes’.14 Here the focus falls on the nature of perception (its directness) than on the process. Directness was considered so very characteristic of perception in Indian discussions that one prominent school of Indian philosophy (Nyāya) would define perception in terms of sense-object contact (sannikarṣa), while another school that was more focused on knowing Brahman (Vedānta) would deny the importance given to the senses but still maintain directness by defining perception in terms of immediate (sākṣāt) knowledge.15 In short, immediacy is taken to be constitutive of perceptual consciousness; it is built into the very idea of perception. Perception is immediate in the sense that unlike such other modes of knowing, as testimony (accepted on the authority of another) or conscious inference from previously known premises, perception is not mediated through other knowledge. In contrast to this Indian tradition, directness of perception seems to have been more taken for granted than explicitly discussed in the Western tradition, until the modern period. Faced with the early modern contention that a ‘veil of ideas’16 separates perceptual consciousness from perceived objects, Thomas Reid felt compelled to affirm the directness of perception by saying that ‘we immediately perceive physical, mind-­ independent objects’.17 What are we to make of this debate between direct and indirect realists?

 prati = before or present to + akṣa = eyes.  Dharmarājādhvarı̄ndra, Vedānta-Paribhāsa ̣ ̄ of Dharmarāja Adhvarı̄ndra, trans. Madhavananda (Belur Math, Dt. Howrah: Ramakrishna Mission Sarada Pitha, 1942), 13. 16  Alison Simmons, ‘Perception in Early Modern Philosophy’, in Matthen (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception, 91–93. 17  Ryan Nichols, Thomas Reid’s Theory of Perception (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), 22. 14 15



1.2  Perception: Direct or Indirect? As already mentioned, if ‘indirect’ means anything like knowledge by testimony or inference from other known facts, then, it is patently wrong to say that perception is indirect. What, then, motivates the advocates of indirectness in perception? The only reason I can find is that our perceptual judgements are fallible. Proponents of indirectness point out illusions and hallucinations to support the mediated character of perception.18 If this is the real problem, the epistemology of pluralistic realism developed in the last chapter has the resources needed to face this problem. A good place to begin responding to this issue is the second consideration noted above, according to which fallibility (as well as veridicality) belong not to perceptual consciousness but to judgements based on perceptual episodes. Individual judgements are true or false, not perceptual consciousness. Therefore, fallibility of individual perceptions poses no threat to direct realism. One condition under which fallibility of perceptual judgements can become a threat to immediacy of perceptual consciousness occurs when the whole class of perceptual judgements is doubted. This would amount to doubting perceptual consciousness itself as a reliable mode of cognition. Early modern philosophers did have doubts of this kind. Two factors contributed to their doubting the reliability of perceptual consciousness itself. One is the emergence of modern science; it gave them a completely different understanding of the world from that which was available to sense experience.19 The second factor is their naïve metaphysical realism (NMR) coming from understanding of the world as a pre-­fabricated machine. Taken together, either the scientific picture of the world could be true or the world of the senses could be true, but not both. Casting their lot with the sciences, these philosophers doubted the reliability of the senses, that is, perceptual consciousness itself. Having discarded NMR, pluralistic realism does not have to choose between perception and modern science; it has room for both. Therefore, it does not doubt perceptual consciousness as a reliable mode of 18  Daniel O’Brien, ‘Objects of Perception,’ The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161–0002,; Howard Robinson, Perception, Problems of Philosophy (London/New York: Routledge, 1994); Bill Brewer, ‘Perception and Its Objects’, Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition 132 (2007), 87–97. 19   S.M.  Bhave, ‘Descartes: Epitome of Scientific Revolution’, Indian Philosophical Quarterly XXVI (1999), 530.



cognition, but concedes that any of the judgements arising from individual perceptual episodes could be mistaken. Fallibility of individual perceptual judgements provides no reason for doubting the reliability of perceptual consciousness. Moreover, having adopted the Genesis-is-not-­ evidence principle, pluralistic realism has no reason to worry about the subjective and fallible character of any perceptual claim. But for this principle to work, we need to find the identity of perceptual consciousness, which can function as the theory that would guide our search for evidence towards justifying disputed perceptual claims. The public character of evidence needed for justification—available to the claimant as well as the disputant—was spelt out in the last chapter. In short, having adopted pluralistic realism, we have no reason to maintain that perception is indirect. Thus, we are left with our ordinary understanding of perception as knowledge arising from a direct relationship between the perceiver and the perceived world. I shall use this definition of perception as direct apprehension.

2   Some Contemporary Theories of Perception Having analysed perception in relational terms (that too, as a direct relation), we can safely ignore many of the prevalent theories of perception, such as sense datum theories and adverbial theories and focus only on those theories that maintain the relational character of perception.20 2.1  Causal Theory At the simplest, the causal theory says that the very concept of perception involves a causal connection between the perceived object and the experience of perceiving.21 This makes the difference between perceiving an apple and hallucinating one. Paul Snowdon analyses the causal theory into three components:

20  For an overview of the different theories, see William Fish, Philosophy of Perception: A Contemporary Introduction, Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy (London/New York: Routledge, 2010). Another synoptic view of most theories (though not all) can be found in Tim Crane and Craig French, ‘The Problem of Perception’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = 21  John Hyman, ‘The Causal Theory of Perception’, The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-) 42 (1992), 277–96.



1. The causal thesis: perceptual experience is caused by mind-­ independent objects; 2. The effect thesis: mind-independent object produces an effect in the perceiver that is reportable in a sentence as to how things appear to the perceiver, and 3. The conceptual thesis: the very idea of what we ordinarily mean by perception involves the first two theses (i.e., causal thesis and the effect thesis).22 To say that (1) and (2) are conceptual is to say that they are ‘immediately acknowledgeable by any person, whatever their education, who can count as having the concept in question’.23 It is knowledge of the concept of perception that is at stake and not information about the empirical conditions for asserting the causal link between a perceptual episode and extra-mental reality. 2.2  Disjunctivism Having given the correct analysis of causal theory, Paul Snowdon goes on to reject it. His rejection, however, is best seen as a rejection of H.P. Grice’s original argument in favour of causal theory.24 The argument is that without a causal connection, a perceptual experience would be indistinguishable from a hallucination. This would seem to imply that there is something common to the two kinds of experiences because of which they are indistinguishable. In rejecting Grice’s argument, Snowdon is denying that there is anything in common between veridical perceptions and hallucinations. This is disjunctivism. These theories are called ‘disjunctivist’ because they analyse an experience either as perceptual (in which case it is veridical) or as hallucinatory/illusory. In other words, there is—or there can be— nothing in common between perception and hallucination or illusion. That the one kind of experience cannot be discriminated from the other does not mean that they refer to the same mental state; these are different kinds of experiences. Matthew Soteriou calls disjunctivism ‘a negative 22  P. Snowdon, ‘Perception, Vision and Causation,’ in Jonathan Dancy (ed.), Perceptual Knowledge, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 193. 23  Ibid., 194. 24  H.  P. Grice and Alan R.  White, ‘Symposium: The Causal Theory of Perception ,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, supp vol 35 (1961), 121–168.



thesis—the rejection of a common kind claim—that is adopted in defence of a positive view of veridical perception’25; Snowdon is right in calling it an ‘experiential dualism’, which rejects experiential monism according to which merely apparent perceptual experience and veridical perceptual experience are of the same kind.26 The initial idea of disjunctivism can be traced to the debate between the Stoics and the Academics in the third century BCE, when Arcesilaus (315–240  BCE), then head of Plato’s Academy, asked the Stoics whether a true cognitive impression could be just like a false one.27 But the twentieth-century incarnation of disjunctivism is due to Michael Hinton (1923–2000).28 2.3  Belief Acquisition Theories David Armstrong (1926–2014) is considered the best example of belief acquisition theories. Taking an evolutionary perspective, Armstrong holds that ‘the biological function of perception is to give the organism information about the current state of its own body and its physical environment, information that will assist the organism in the conduct of life’.29 This is a realism that puts us directly in touch with the world. But it does not mean that all beliefs have to be true. Armstrong continues: belief acquisition ‘is a most important clue to the nature of perception. It leads us to the view that perception is nothing but the acquiring of true or false beliefs concerning the current state of the organism’s body and environment… Veridical perception is the acquiring of true beliefs, sensory illusion the acquiring of false beliefs’.30 The main strength of the belief acquisition view is that it brings the right perspective: our mental states have cognitive worth only when they 25  Matthew Soteriou, ‘The Disjunctive Theory of Perception’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N.  Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford. edu/archives/win2016/entries/perception-disjunctive/ 26  Paul Snowdon, ‘Hinton and the Origins of Disjunctivism’, in Adrian Haddock and Fiona Macpherson (eds.), Disjunctivism: Perception, Action, Knowledge (Oxford/ New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 37. 27  Baron Reed, ‘Skepticism and Perception’, in Matthen (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception, 67. 28  Snowdon, ‘Hinton and the Origins of Disjunctivism’, 35–56. 29  D. M. Armstrong, A Materialist Theory of the Mind, International Library of Philosophy and Scientific Method (London/New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul/Humanities Press, 1968), 209. 30  Ibid. italics original.



result in beliefs about the environment. In order to determine which of our representations of the environment is veridical and which is not, Armstrong suggests a ‘thermometer view’ of justification. A thermometer, when functioning properly, has a law-like relation between the temperature of the environment and the reading on the thermometer. As long as this relation holds, the belief is justified. In spite of these strengths, Armstrong’s simple identification of the nature of perception with belief acquisition is problematic, because beliefs can also be acquired through other means like testimony. As far as justification is concerned, the thermometer model of justification is also not without its problems. How do we know that the law-like connection between belief and the world holds? According to Armstrong we need not know this; it is enough for the relation to hold. This, of course, is as problematic as Michael Devitt’s characterisation of realism merely in metaphysical terms; it makes the law-like relation an epistemically inert category. Another problem with belief acquisition theories is that there can be cases of perception without beliefs being acquired, as in the case of infants and animals. Beliefs involve concepts, and since infants and animals lack concepts they do not form beliefs.31 And if they do not form beliefs, they do not perceive, according to belief acquisition theory. 2.4  More Contemporary Theories Belief acquisition theories could be seen as the appropriate background for some of the other contemporary theories. Placing perception within the environment, Armstrong’s theory enables us to see the need for a certain fit between the environment and the organism. This helps to explain wrong cases of perception as due to the lack of appropriate conditions in the environment or in the organism. The idea that veridical perception is possible only on the fulfilment of certain external conditions is found in Alvin Plantinga’s idea of maxi-environment. By this he means ‘the presence and properties of light and air, the presence of visible objects, of other objects detectable by cognitive systems of our kind, of some objects, not so detectable, of the regularities of nature, the existence of other people, and so on’.32 This is contrasted with the mini-environment or the  Fish, Philosophy of Perception, 59.  Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 158. 31 32



actual state of affairs in which an instance of perception occurs. Plantinga also emphasizes the proper functioning of the senses, as a necessary condition for veridical perception.33 These theories can be seen as further developments from Armstrong’s. The discrepancy between maxi and mini-environments, together with the need for proper functioning of the senses, adequately accounts for mistaken cases of perception. The evolutionary setting of belief acquisition theories makes us aware that ‘we were given our perceptual abilities, not for the purposes of ontological insight, but to enable us to find our way around in a hostile environment’.34 This relates to the active dimension perception found in the various enactive theories. They ‘stress the importance of understanding experience as it unfolds in an embodied subject situated in an environment’.35 In the words of Alva Noë, ‘Perception is not something that happens to us, or in us. It is something we do’.36 The intentional theories of the phenomenological tradition, especially the theory of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, also emphasize the enactive dimension of perception. This brief survey of some of the prominent theories of perception makes us aware of the ‘one-eyed’ character of these theories. All of them say something that is right about the nature of perception, but they are often thought to be rival theories as with Causalism and Disjunctivism. This seems to be a mistake. Causalism tells us that from the perspective of the experiencer, hallucinating an apple is indistinguishable from perceiving a real apple, just as from a third-person perspective (or later in the life of the same person) hallucinations cannot be perceptions; they are conceptually very different things. In other words, as far as the nature of perception is concerned, experiential monism and experiential dualism do not contradict. This realization leads to the idea of ‘fundamental kind disjunctivism’,37 33  Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). 34   Wilfrid Sellars, ‘Sensa or Sensings: Reflections on the Ontology of Perception’, Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition 41 (1982), 109. 35  Nivedita Gangopadhyay and Julian Kiverstein, ‘Enactivism and the Unity of Perception and Action’, Topoi 28 (2009), 63. 36  Alva Noë, Action in Perception, Representation and Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 1. 37  Matthew Soteriou, ‘The Disjunctive Theory of Perception’; also Soteriou, Disjunctivism, New Problems of Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2016), 198–99; Paul Snowdon, ‘The



which asserts that veridical perception and hallucinations (and illusions) are fundamentally different kinds of experiences, without denying that they are indiscriminable to the person at the time of the experience. If these diverse theories of perception have something positive to contribute to our understanding of perception, and since none of them can, individually, be considered adequate to the nature of our perceptual consciousness, then, is it possible to bring the isolated insights of these theories together? This becomes possible by paying attention to Wittgenstein’s idea of grammar.

3   A Grammatical Approach to Perception I have already introduced Wittgenstein’s idea of grammar in Chap. 4. It is the ‘essence’ of a thing that makes a thing what it is. Grammar, he tells us, ‘has somewhat the same relation to the language as ... the rules of a game have to the game’.38 This analogy works at two levels. At one level, grammatical rules are descriptive; they describe how a game is played. Moreover, it is rare, if ever, that a game is identifiable with a single rule. To know a game is to be able to identify a whole set of interrelated rules, which together constitute that game. Applied to perception, it would mean that we need to describe the whole set of rules by which we can identify this particular kind of experience. At another level, grammatical rules have a prescriptive force. The rules of a game provide the basis on which actual moves in the game are judged as legitimate or illegitimate. Therefore, if we can use the analogy between games and grammar to identify the grammatical rules of perceptual experience, those rules can function as the ‘theory’ that guides the search for observational evidence for resolving disputed perceptual claims. But before proceeding to describe the grammatical rules of perception, let us briefly examine the relationship between the descriptive and the prescriptive, scientific and philosophical, the empirical and the grammatical.

Formulation of Disjunctivism: A Response to Fish’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 105 (2005), 135–36. 38  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Grammar, ed. Rush Rhees, trans. Anthony Kenny (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974), 23.



3.1  Descriptions to Prescriptions: The Supervenience Principle Any attempt to naturalize epistemology by assimilating philosophy into science is scientism. Wittgenstein had no sympathy for scientism. Throughout his life, he maintained a sharp distinction between the empirical and the grammatical. Not to make this distinction would result in ‘grammar masquerading as science’.39 But rejecting scientism does not amount to rejecting naturalism. As Anthony Kenny has noted, ‘Once we have distinguished between naturalism and scientism, we can see that Wittgenstein’s opposition to scientism does not necessarily involve opposition to naturalism’.40 This is exactly the stand I have adopted so far. I have repudiated scientism from the beginning but adopted naturalized epistemology. I have adopted three sorts of continuities between sciences and epistemology. The first was conversational continuity seen in Chap. 5 which made a conditional assertion that, if there is something common between the conversation partners, then it is possible for them to improve their understanding of each other’s claims. This conditional claim was seen to be factually warranted in Chap. 6, with the finding that human beings do share some natural cognitive capabilities. The second kind of continuity seen was contextual continuity, adopted from Wittgenstein and Williams. The third was methodological continuity, an important part of which was the Genesis-is-not-evidence principle that rejected the cause or the genesis of experience as evidence for its truth. In exploring the relationship between description and prescription, we move on to a fourth kind of continuity that James Maffie has called metaphysical continuity. He describes it as continuity between the object domains of (i.e., objects studied by) epistemology and science. Epistemic properties, facts, or states of affairs are argued to be identical with, constituted by, or supervenient upon descriptive properties, facts, or states of affairs. Epistemic value is anchored to descriptive fact, no longer entering the world autonomously as brute, fundamental fact.41

39  Anthony Kenny, ‘Whose Naturalism? Which Wittgenstein?’, American Philosophical Quarterly 48 (2011), 116. 40  Ibid. 41  James Maffie, ‘Recent Work on Naturalized Epistemology’, American Philosophical Quarterly 27 (1990), 284.



In Chap. 4 metaphysical continuity was already implicitly accepted in the course of using Ryle’s concept of category mistake. There I observed that a logical difference does not amount to a material difference. I shall spell this out in terms of supervenience, as developed by Jaegwon Kim. Supervenience is a non-reductive dependence relation between two sets of properties. In this case, it is a relationship between facts and norms where norms are not reducible to facts, but depend on them.42 At the simplest, consider a description like ‘Fire burns’. This description has the normative force: ‘Do not touch; or else you will be burned’. Drawing an analogy with the evaluative term ‘good’, Kim argues that ‘a car is good because it has a certain contextually indicated set of properties having to do with performance, reliability, comfort, styling, economy, etc. The same goes for justified belief: if a belief is justified, that must be so because it has certain factual, nonepistemic properties’.43 Supervenience of norms on facts raises the question: how obligatory are the norms that arise from supervenience? In the case of fire, the norm is not binding on someone who wants to commit suicide through self-­ immolation. In the example of the goodness of the car, one can easily think of someone who is deeply attached to living in nature agreeing with all the factual properties pointed out, and still disagreeing about the goodness of cars. In other words, the supervenience of values on facts depends on some goals of those who do the valuing. It is worth noting, in this connection, that, besides the two sets of subvenient and supervenient properties Kim recognizes the possibility of there being a third set of properties.44 When this third factor is specified as human beings who do the valuing with some specific goals, we arrive at the conclusion that the kind of necessity involved in the norms of naturalized epistemology is hypothetical in character.45 In other words, epistemic norms are binding only if certain goals (like truth seeking, or leading a certain way of life) are 42  Jaegwon Kim, Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays, Cambridge Studies in Philosophy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 140. According to Philip Kitcher, epistemic prescriptions ‘must be grounded in facts about how systems like us could attain our epistemic goals in a world like ours’. Philip Kitcher, ‘The Naturalists Return’, The Philosophical Review 101 (1992), 63. 43  Kim, Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays, 235. 44  Ibid., 235. 45  See Abner Shimony and Debra Nails, Naturalistic Epistemology: A Symposium of Two Decades, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science V. 100 (Dordrecht; Boston; Norwell, MA: D. Reidel Pub. Co; Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1987), 6.



desired. In practice, there could be limits to the hypothetical character of the norms, as with universal desiderata like survival. We shall see this in the case of natural perception whose characteristic features will be described in the next subsection. 3.2  Identifying the Grammar of Perception I shall follow a three-step process for identifying the grammar of perception: (1) identify particular instances of natural perception; (2) use those or other instances to describe the characteristic features of perception; and (3) use those descriptions to derive the grammatical rules. There is an important difference between the traditional approach for arriving at essence and the approach being adopted here. The traditional approach is a priori, heavily dependent on thought experiments.46 The present approach begins with concrete instances of natural perception. 3.2.1 Some Instances of Natural Perception This step is very similar to Roderick Chisholm’s methodological ‘particularism’.47 We begin by identifying good examples of natural perceptual beliefs that would be acceptable to all across the board. But there are differences from Chisholm. I adopt his particularism only for the purpose of identifying perceptual beliefs, and not for their justification. As far as justification is concerned, we follow the Genesis-is-Not-Evidence principle. Chisholm was concerned about identifying foundational beliefs, whereas we have no commitments to foundationalism or coherentism. Similarly, Chisholm does not think that knowing involves knowing that we know.48 If this is taken to mean the rejection of what Williams has called the Prior Grounding Requirement, this is already accepted. But accepting the default and challenge model of justification commits the claimant to justification, when a claim is reasonably challenged. In looking for particular examples of natural perception, the example of ‘green’ is one good example. What W.V. Quine has called ‘pure observation’ sentences provide more good examples. However, as in the case of 46   See Asta Kristjana Sveinsdottir, ‘Knowledge of Essence: The Conferralist Story’, Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition 166 (2013). 47  Roderick M.  Chisholm, The Foundations of Knowing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 66–69. 48  Ibid., 69.



Chisholm, there are points of caution. ‘Pure’ observation was Quine’s way of resisting what he considered the ‘ill-conceived’ views of N.R. Hanson, Paul Feyerabend, and Thomas Kuhn, for whom ‘pure observation is a chimera. Observation is always theory-laden’.49 Our acceptance of the NaC-Di-NoS principle, with its inseparability of the natural and the cultural, makes the idea of ‘pure’ observation a chimera, although it does not amount to rejecting the possibility of un-conceptualized appearing.50 Such appearing can be accepted as long as it plays no role in justification. Having rejected Quine’s idea of ‘pure’ observations, we merely take his examples as instances of natural perception. His examples include: ‘It’s cold’, ‘It’s raining’, ‘That’s milk’, ‘That’s a dog’.51 Most instances of common sense realism are likely to remain non-controversial examples of natural perception. 3.2.2 Describing the Characteristic Features Having identified particular instances of natural perception, the next step is to describe their characteristic features. Since Quine has dealt with this kind of experiences rather extensively, I shall use mostly his descriptions for identifying the characteristic features of natural perception, and complement them where required, by using the theories of perception we have seen in this chapter. A first description of natural perceptual experiences is that they involve ‘concurrent sensory stimulation rather than … stored collateral information.’52 There are two things involved here: sensory stimulation and its concurrent character. Statements like ‘It’s raining’ or ‘It’s cold’ result from sensory stimulation rather than from stored information. Contrast such statements with others, for example, when a trained chemist looks at a given liquid and says, ‘There is copper in it’, or when a trained physician just looks at a patient and says, ‘He’s a hyperthyroid’.53 These 49  W.  V. Quine, ‘In Praise of Observation Sentences’, The Journal of Philosophy 90 (1993), 107. 50  On this point see William P. Alston, ‘Sellars and the “Myth of the Given”’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (2002), 69–86. 51  Quine, ‘In Praise of Observation Sentences’, 108. 52  W.  V. Quine, Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (New York; London: Columbia University Press, 1969), 85 53  These examples are from Quine. See Alex Orenstein and Petr Kotatko (eds.), Knowledge, Language and Logic: Questions for Quine, vol. 210, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Boson: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), 4.



result from learning and expertise (‘stored collateral information’), not only from sensory stimulation. Even then, we must be careful in talking about statements resulting from sensory stimulation. Words like ‘rain’ and ‘cold’ belong to English language, which is very much a matter of learning. It is for this reason that we accepted the inseparability of the natural and the cultural. But this kind of learning is primary and not extended learning, as we have seen. As far as the concurrent character of the sensory stimulation is concerned, given our common human capabilities, two or more people who are in the same surrounding would have concurrent sensory stimulations, other things (such as attention) being equal. A second description is that there exists, at the level of natural perception, a certain ‘pre-established harmony’54 between the perceivers and the perceived world. This is the culmination of Quine’s 30-year old struggle55 to find an alternative to traditional empiricism. Whether it would affect his long held physicalism remains uncertain, but the fact remains that he felt the need to go beyond it. Pre-established harmony can be considered another way of expressing the insight of Armstrong’s belief acquisition theory. A third description tells us that the objects of natural perception are physical objects, that is, objects in space and time.56 Although it is often taken for granted, this needs to be explicitly mentioned in the light of extended uses of ‘perception’, as with Alston’s ‘perceiving God’, the Indian Naiyāyikās’ ‘extraordinary’ perception, and the Vedāntin’s immediate knowledge of Brahman, none of which is perception of physical entities. Quine’s fourth description of natural perception is that they are ‘the human counterparts of bird calls and ape’s cries’.57 In other words, it is a part of our evolutionary heritage. This, we have seen, is the motivating factor of Armstrong’s theory. From an evolutionary perspective, since our engagement with the environment is oriented to meeting our needs, perception has a pragmatic dimension, but it does not make the truth of perceptual beliefs a pragmatic affair. 54  W.V.  Quine, From Stimulus to Science (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), 21. W. V. Quine, ‘I, You, and It: An Epistemological Triangle’, in Alex Orenstein and Petr Kotatko (eds.), Knowledge, Language and Logic, 408. 55  W.V. Quine, ‘Quine’s Responses’, in Oresntein and Kotatko (eds.), Knowledge, Language and Logic, 408. 56  Quine, Ontological Relativity, 11–13. 57  Quine, From Stimulus to Science, 22.



An obvious point that is missing in Quine is that the perceiver must possess properly functioning cognitive faculties. This point has been emphasized by Alvin Plantinga.58 3.2.3 Drawing the Grammatical Implications Inasmuch as grammatical rules are normative, the described features of perception are not grammatical rules. But reflecting upon these descriptions easily yields a set of grammatical rules of natural perception. Let us begin with the first description, ‘concurrent sensory stimulation’. Its normative force is that experiences where concurrent sensory stimulation is lacking cannot be counted perceptual. This can be considered a minimal statement of the causal theory. Snowdon brought its grammatical character to the fore when he analysed the causal theory as a conceptual truth. Anyone who knows the concept of perception will acknowledge that perceptual experiences, by definition, must be caused by mind-independent reality.59 For the sake of convenience let us call it N1 (N for norm). Similarly, the second description, pre-established harmony, can be taken as a brief statement of what Plantinga has described as maxi-environment. What gives a normative character to the maxi-environment is the idea of the design plan: our cognitive faculties are meant to function in this kind of environment. Since Plantinga accepts reliability,60 maxi-environment can also be taken as describing the conditions under which perceptual experiences become reliable. In other words, the more the actual conditions of perception—the mini-environment—diverge from the maxi-­ environment, say, for example, lack of sufficient light, perception would be less reliable (N2). The third description tells us that the appropriate objects of sensory perception are physical. And the very concept of a ‘physical object’ is that it is an extended thing. As such, no two physical objects can occupy the same space at the same time. The implication is that if two perceivers—the claimant and the challenger—perceive two different objects occupying the same space at the same time, only one of them can be right. This is our third norm (N3). In our rabbit/tuft of grass example, where I see a rabbit,  Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 4.  Paul Snowdon, ‘Perception, Vision and Causation’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 81 (1980), 176. 60  Reliability is an important feature in the epistemology of Plantinga, as it is for Alston. See William P. Alston, The Reliability of Sense Perception (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1993). 58 59



another sees a tuft of grass in the same spot at the same time. When this norm is transported from the inter-subjective realm of grammar to the private realm of consciousness, we get the disjunctivist theory of perception advocated by Snowdon, according to which there can be nothing in common between veridical perceptual experiences and hallucinatory experiences. The two experiences are fundamentally different in kind. The grammatical rule of N3, however, has wider applicability than the disjunctivist claim of perceptions and hallucinations being different kind of experiences, as the rabbit/grass example shows. Further, the grammar of a physical object (N3) can be found at various levels of generality. Besides the general norm that two physical objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, these objects could be further specified as ‘moving’, in the case of rabbit and ‘stationary’, in the case of grass. And such specification of objects would lead to further grammatical norms applicable to those domains, but not to other physical objects. Most prevalent philosophical theories of perception can, thus, be seen as grammatical rules of perception, which is as it should be, because philosophy, for Wittgenstein, is grammar. Since these are normative rules, we must be able to use these grammatical rules for justification of perception. But while using the grammar of perception for justification, we must be clear about the object of justification. Having made the distinction between a given state of consciousness and an episode in that state, ‘perception’ could now be taken to mean any of the following: 1. Perceptual episodes or experiences (e.g., seeing a tree, hearing a cuckoo sing, etc.); these give rise to perceptual beliefs. 2. Individual perceptual beliefs (e.g., ‘there is a tree before me’, ‘there is a cuckoo singing’, etc.); these result from perceptual episodes. 3. Perceptual consciousness wherein perceptual episodes (1) occur. Of the three, the second (perceptual beliefs) alone makes claims to truth. In Default and Challenge model, it is these that can be challenged by another and when challenged, need to be justified. It is for this reason that all the instances of perceptual disputes we have seen at the beginning of this chapter (snake/rope, bear/log, rabbit/grass) concern the second category whereas the grammatical rules we have unearthed concern the third category (perceptual consciousness). Since any justification in Wittgensteinian contextualism is based on a prior system of beliefs, it is



these grammatical rules that constitute perceptual consciousness which enable us to play the game of justifying disputed perceptual claims. It was said in the last chapter that the prior system of belief is accepted largely for pragmatic and not evidential reasons. Now it is time to clarify this statement. As long as the system is cultural, its acceptance is optional and based purely on pragmatic grounds, irrespective of whether the concerned system is a branch of science like physics or physiology, or a language like German or French. But when it comes to the adoption of a system that is natural, such as our natural perception, matters are more complex. It is bound to have a pragmatic dimension, inasmuch as it is part of our evolutionary heritage. But beyond pragmatic considerations adoption of it also provides us with an inference to the best explanation (IBE).61 It explains at least two undeniable facts about human cognition: (1) that an absolute stranger with zero background knowledge of another language or culture can begin to master that language or culture with some effort, without the help of any bilingual intermediary.62 Williams recognized it when he accepted some common ground for semantic reasons. (2) Findings from cognitive psychology and history of science, which show that the influence of prior theories on observation is limited.63 This is also explained by considering some of our cognitive interaction with the world as innate and invariant, spontaneous to our species due to our evolutionary past. Moreover, if we accept Jerry Fodor’s argument from Muller-Lyer illusion where, in spite of our knowing that two lines are of equal length, we continue to see the one as longer than the other,64 this too would be explained by the thesis of perceptual naturalism.

61  For the idea of IBE, see Peter Lipton, Inference to the Best Explanation, 2nd ed., International Library of Philosophy (London; New  York: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group, 2004). 62  Such learning is an undeniable fact, as it has been effected by many pioneering explorers and missionaries in the past. But there can be legitimate difference of opinion on the process of achieving it. See, Hans-Johann Glock, ‘On Safari with Wittgenstein, Quine, and Davidson’, in Robert L.  Arrington and Hans-Johann Glock (eds.) Wittgenstein and Quine (London; New York: Routledge, 1996), 144–172. 63  William F. Brewer and Bruce L. Lambert, ‘The Theory-Ladenness of Observation and the Theory-Ladenness of the Rest of the Scientific Process’, Philosophy of Science 68 (2001), S176-S186; see also, Carl R. Kordig, ‘The Theory-Ladenness of Observation’, The Review of Metaphysics 24, (1971), 448–484; Cordig, ‘Observational Invariance’, Philosophy of Science 40 (1973), 558–569. 64  Jerry Fodor, ‘Observation Reconsidered’, Philosophy of Science 51 (1984), 33.



Having clarified that the proper object of justification is made up of individual perceptual beliefs and it is effected on the basis of the grammatical rules of perceptual consciousness, we can proceed to examine how these rules are used. In doing so, we must keep in mind Wittgenstein’s analogy between grammar and the rules of a game. A game, as we have observed, is hardly ever played by a single rule. Similarly, while using grammatical rules for justification, they will often have to be used jointly. Failure to see these points leads the idea that the different theories of perception are rivals, rather than complementary features that jointly constitute perception. 3.3  Using Grammar for Justification in the Default and Challenge Model Before attempting to resolve a conflict of perceptual claims, we must seek the source of the perceptual conflict. Just as the source of foul play in games is the violation of some rule, so too cognitive conflicts result either from the violation of some grammatical rules, or from attempting to apply some rules that are irrelevant to the given game. The conflict in our rabbit/grass case is an example of a conflict that arises from violation of rules. In this case, the violated rules are those of physicality (N3) and causality (N1). The former tells us that no two physical objects can occupy the same space at the same time. Adding the causal rule that to perceive is to be causally linked to the perceptual object, we get the case of two people who are individually claiming non-concurrent sensory stimulation. One claims sensory stimulation by grass and the other by rabbit. Thus they end up with a cognitive conflict, where only one of them can be true. Once the source of the conflict is found, it is also easy to resolve it by following the grammatical rules, together with the Genesis-is-Not-­ Evidence principle. Since a cognitive dispute has arisen, neither the claimant nor the challenger can use the original experience that led to their divergent claims as evidence. Evidence must come from theory-guided observation, where the grammar of perception functions as the ‘theory’ that guides the search for evidence. Since N2 tells us that the reliability conditions arising from ‘pre-established harmony’ works only under certain conditions, it enables us to ask the right questions, such as whether there has been a major divergence between the maxi and the mini-­ environments, whether both of us possess properly functioning senses, whether the object of perception shows signs of being able to move, and



so on.65 Moreover, though the evolutionary origins of natural perception do not result in an independent grammatical rule of its own, they are significant inasmuch as it enables us to move around and search for evidence that is prompted by the other grammatical rules. In the rabbit/grass example, this active dimension of perception enables us to look carefully to ascertain which of the alternative scenarios provide the required evidence. While the relevant grammatical rules prod us to ask the right questions, the answers to these questions in no way depend on the original experience of either the claimant or the challenger. As such, the Genesis-is-Not-­ Evidence principle is maintained. Nor are the answers determined by the grammar that prods the questions. The answers depend entirely on what is there in reality, the reality that exists independently of the one who makes the claim as well as the one who disputes it. This reality provides, indeed, the ‘immutable epistemological constraints’ in the form of observational evidence. Moreover, the concerned evidence is public and not confined to the internal world of an individual; it is available to anyone who looks for it. Thus all the three evidential requirements (seen in the last chapter) are satisfied, and the matter under dispute gets resolved. As I have said at the beginning of this chapter, this is the practice of ordinary people. I have only tried to spell it out philosophically, in terms of justification. First, I identified instances of natural perception, and then, described its characteristic features. Then, in the third step, I drew out the normative implications of those descriptions, and used those norms for resolving disputed perceptual claims. Having, thus, dealt with the justification of perceptual beliefs, I shall proceed to a further continuity between sciences and epistemology that I shall call developmental continuity.

4   Developmental Continuity: Perception to Modern Science Quine’s examples of a chemist being able to perceive copper in a liquid or a physician’s ability to perceive a hyperthyroid in a patient are cultural extensions of our natural perceptual abilities. Another kind of perceptual extension was seen in the last chapter in the context of discussing

65  The last question comes from the grammar of ‘rabbit’, a further specification of ‘physical object’.



theory-laden observations, where we talked about observations that are dependent on technologies like a microscope, a telescope, and so forth. 4.1  Posing the Problem The fact that our perceptual extensions, especially the ones that we find in modern science, go far beyond the kind of knowledge that is naturally available poses a different kind of problem for epistemology than that of communication (Chap. 5 above) or of justification (the last chapter and the present one). This problem can be posed in different ways. One way of posing it is in terms of adequacy. Is our account of natural perceptual knowledge adequate to explain the more advanced kind of empirical knowledge? Quine posed the problem in terms of ‘the meager input and the torrential output’ of our knowledge.66 This Quinean problematic, however, gets radically transformed in pluralistic realism. Quine’s quest was ‘to see how evidence relates to theory and in what ways one’s theory of nature transcends any available evidence’.67 We have already answered the first part of that quest (how evidence relates to theory) in the last chapter with the finding that evidence is the result of theory-guided investigation. As for the second part (theory of nature and evidence), it ceases to be a legitimate epistemological question in pluralistic realism where all justification has a contextual character. Devoid of these, the Quinean problematic dissolves itself into the question of explaining the dynamics of development from the perceptual input to the scientific output. A second way of posing the problem comes in terms of the identity of empirical knowledge. A grammatical approach to perception enabled us to find the grammatical rules that constitute perceptual knowledge. Are those rules constitutive of the entire domain of empirical knowledge? As the most basic kind of knowledge that goes into the making of all empirical knowledge, we have reason to suspect that they do. But if that view is to hold, we must provide an account of the dynamics of development from ordinary perception to the sophisticated sciences.

66  W.V.  Quine, ‘Epistemology Naturalized’, in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), 83. 67  Ibid.



4.2  Responding to the Problem The dynamics of development from meagre perceptual input to torrential output was briefly pointed out by Immanuel Kant in broad strokes, when he taught that rather than cling on to nature’s leading strings, we must actively interrogate nature so as to force answers out of it, as in a court of law.68 I have illustrated how such interrogation is conducted for obtaining the evidence for disputed perceptual claims. Since such interrogation is guided by prior theories (in this instance, theory concerns the grammar of natural perception), the present question asks how the interrogators come to possess the varied background knowledge required for interrogation in the highly specialized domains of empirical knowledge. Ulric Neisser’s theory of perception provides the details of the dynamic process of development from natural knowledge to specialized empirical sciences. He begins by acknowledging certain a priori structures that the perceiver brings to perception. He calls them schemata. According to him, ‘there can never have been a time when we were altogether without schemata’.69 Given the evolutionary origins of our perceptual abilities, this is only to be expected. Evolutionary epistemologists tell us that mesocosmic knowledge is a priori in the Kantian sense, but only ontogenetically (in terms of the development of individual organisms); phylogenetically (in terms of the species) all knowledge is a posteriori.70 Neisser’s description of the a priori structures is illuminating. He says, ‘In some respects, a schema resembles a format in a computer programming language. Formats specify that information must be of a certain sort if it is to be interpreted coherently. Anything else will be ignored, or will lead to meaningless

68  Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), B xiii. 69  Ulric Neisser, Cognition and Reality: Principles and Implications of Cognitive Psychology (New York: W.H.Freeman and Company, 1976), 63. 70  Gerhard Vollmer, ‘Mesocosm and Objective Knowledge’, in Franz M. Wuketits (ed.), Concepts and Approaches in Evolutionary Epistemology (Dordrecht/Boston/Lancaster: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1984), 82–84. This evolutionary heritage is utilized in the infant’s learning process achieved in the company of its adult caregivers. Even before the child learns any language it has learned to discriminate objects. See Johan Modée, ‘Observation Sentences and Joint Attention’, Synthese 124 (2000), 230.



results’.71 In this sense, schemata ‘determine what will be perceived’.72 From another side, however, ‘Perceptual schemata are plans for finding out about objects and events… to fill in the format’.73 But there are important respects in which the schemata are unlike formats. First, formats are static, whereas cognitive structures are dynamic. ‘The outcome of the explorations – the information picked up – modifies the original schema. Thus modified, it directs further exploration and becomes ready for more information’.74 Thus, perception is a cyclic process where an existing schema directs exploration of the surroundings, the information received in the course of exploration changes the original schema, the modified schema directs further explorations, and so on, the cycle continues. Such modification of the schema becomes possible because of a second dissimilarity between perceptual schemata and formats: In real formats and plans, one can make a sharp distinction between form and content; this is not true of schemata. The information that fills in the format at one point in the cycle becomes a part of the format in the next, determining how further information is accepted.75

Since the input from the surrounding modifies the a priori schema, and the modified schema, in turn, determines or limits any further intake, Neisser considers perception a cyclic process. It is cyclic ‘even when a stationary observer views a single object’.76 Further, a perceptual cycle ‘itself is embedded in a more inclusive cycle’ which he calls a cognitive map.77 Thus, Neisser gives an overview of the dynamic interaction between human beings and the world. Justification, in the specific sense of meeting the challenge of a cognitive rival, does not enter into Neisser’s picture, just as sceptical challenge from a cognitive rival plays no role in his theory. However, justification of a disputed perceptual claim on the basis of the grammar of perception could be considered a particular instance of this 71  Ulric Neisser, ‘Perceiving, Anticipating, and Imagining’, in C.  Wade Savage (ed.), Perception, and Cognition: Issues in the Foundations of Psychology, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1978), 97. 72  Neisser, Cognition and Reality, 20. 73  Neisser, ‘Perceiving, Anticipating, and Imagining’. 74  Neisser, Cognition and Reality, 21. 75  Neisser, ‘Perceiving, Anticipating, and Imagining’, 98. 76  Ibid., 101. 77  Ibid., 99.



cyclic process, happening at the level of natural perception. Grammar functions as the anticipatory schema that enables the exploration, and the received input enables the modification of any erroneous perception. 4.3  Some Implications 4.3.1 Perceptual Variegations That the innate schemata get modified in the light of external inputs reveals, first of all, the plasticity of the schemata. In other words, while the evolutionary process provides something of a ‘hard-wired’ character to the a priori structures of our natural perception, the goal-directed character of the evolution (having to meet survival needs) leaves them sufficiently plastic so as to achieve its goals in varied natural and cultural environments. This is abundantly supported by studies in neuroplasticity.78 Neisser provides an excellent account of how the schema that is more or less common to the human species gets variegated. There are at least three kinds of perceptual variegations. The first is due to variations in the natural environment. Thus, for example, people inhabiting snowy regions of the world will have more facility for recognizing and naming the diverse kinds of snow (slush, sleet, etc.) than the inhabitants of tropics.79 Second, there are the variations due to historical and cultural factors. For example, consider the difference between Aristotelian science and Newtonian science, the realization of which prompted Kuhn’s thesis of incommensurability.80 Science is not the only kind of knowledge that is subject to historical and cultural changes; feminine knowing could be considered another example; religious knowledge is very closely entangled with history, as we have seen in Chap. 5.

78  For an initial overview, see Patricia Van Roon, ‘On Defining Neuroplasticity: A Book Review of Dr. Norman Doidge’s the Brain That Changes Itself’, Imagination, Cognition and Personality 34 (2015), 434–38. 79  This claim does not contradict Geoffrey Pullum’s alleged exposure of the ‘hoax’ that Eskimos have ‘bucketloads of different words for snow’ as he himself distinguishes ‘slush’, ‘sleet’, and ‘blizzard’, besides ‘snow’. Tropical languages would be hard put to find even one fully dedicated word for snow as distinct from morning dew. Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 160, 63. 80  Thomas S.  Kuhn, The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), xi.



Third, there are variations due to biographical factors or factors that are personal to the perceiver. These are cases where ‘fundamentally different perceptions of the same sensory input may arise in individuals with differing experiences or training’.81 For example, a woodcutter’s perception of a piece of wood would differ from that of a sculptor. Quine’s examples of the physician and the chemist fall under this category. 4.3.2 The Cognitive Cycles The cyclic character of perception is very similar to the hermeneutic circle seen in the context of communication (Chap. 5). A perceptual cycle might also be considered a kind of communication, except that it is not a communication between human beings but between human beings on the one hand, and mind-independent reality on the other. Human interrogators confront mind-independent reality with specific questions, and receive either positive or negative responses. The starting point of this process is our innate human capacities that are more or less common to human knowers. Perceptual variegation makes us aware that beginning with that common heritage, different people and different societies can move in different directions. Thus we come to have different disciplinary specialties to which Williams had drawn our attention. Let us call the process by which these specialties come about ‘cognitive cycles’ in the plural. I emphasize the plural because, though it may have been reasonable to think of this process in the singular in the early days of modern science, it is no longer the case in the contemporary academic world with its multiple specialties. The choice of these specialties is an optional matter made purely on pragmatic grounds, as we have seen. Researchers in each discipline interrogate a particular segment of reality. They ask different questions and receive different answers. Answers received earlier in each discipline impacts the kind of questions put to reality now, and the answers received now impact the next, and so on, the cycle continues. Given that this process is taking place simultaneously in different disciplines, there are many different cognitive circles involved rather than a single circle. The cycle involved in being a historian is not the same as the one involved in being a chemist. Beginning with our common natural abilities, an historian proceeds in one direction, a chemist in another. The process may be the same, but the material researched is entirely different. It is for this 81  Robert L. Goldstone and Lisa A. Byrge, ‘Perceptual Learning’, in Matthen (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception 812.



reason that it is more appropriate to talk about cognitive cycles in the plural than in the singular. 4.3.3 Is the Cultural Reducible to the Natural? No matter how different these specialized disciplines, they are all extensions of our common natural abilities.82 This does not mean that they are only extensions of our natural perception. A strong reason for not considering the different specialized sciences as mere extensions of natural perception is the occurrence of scientific revolutions pointed out by Thomas Kuhn. With such disruptions, it is not easy to think of the sciences only as extensions of perception, but still they remain extensions, as pointed out by Putnam. Inasmuch as they are extensions of our natural abilities, there must be something common to the evidential procedures used in these different specialized disciplines and the procedures used in resolving perceptual disputes. It is these procedures that I have spelt out in terms of methodological continuity in the last chapter and applied to justification of natural perception in this chapter. Further, as extensions of natural perceptual abilities, the basic grammatical rules of perception apply also in the sciences. Neither an astronomer nor an astrologer is exempt from the rules of natural perception. This prevents cultural relativism, without reducing any of the specialized disciplines to natural perception. The important question is whether there are any additional rules to be taken into account in justifying such specialized knowledge. In order to answer this question we must describe the characteristic features of scientific knowledge, and explore whether there are any normative implications that follow from those descriptions. This task is best done by philosophers of science. If experts like Mary Hesse are to be believed, the characteristic mark of modern science is the predictive control of the environment, rather than arriving at a better and better description that approximates to the ‘true nature’ of the world.83 The difference is that the latter implies a value neutral scenario of NMR, whereas prediction and control do not. More recently the physicist Lawrence Krauss

82  Hilary Putnam, The Threefold Cord: Mind, Body, and World, The John Dewey Essays in Philosophy No. 5 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 56–57. 83  Mary Hesse, Revolutions and Reconstructions in Philosophy of Science (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980), 159.



confirms this view when he tells us that our scientific ‘theories rise and fall based on their successful ability to quantitatively predict the future’.84 Going by that description, scientific knowledge does not reveal any additional grammatical rules beyond those of our natural perception. If predictive control is the distinguishing feature of the sciences, it is fundamentally the same principle involved in our natural perception and its extension in the various perceptual variegations. The only difference is that the methodological sophistication of the sciences has transformed the meagre principle of meeting survival needs into a precision tool for prediction and control. Given the present state of epistemology, one area where some additional grammatical rules are likely to be found is in women’s knowledge, as it seems almost certain that women tend to develop some special capacities for knowing that men as a rule do not.85 For example, it is said that women learn more in ‘relationships with friends and teachers, life crises, and community involvements’ than in the more formal, isolated, academic settings.86 Scientific maps catering to prediction and control are one type of map we draw of our common world. Making it the exclusive map of human knowledge was the doing of modern epistemology and its scientism, with rather disastrous consequences. It is worth noting that Philip Kitcher who set out to establish the progress of science, as against its postmodern critics, concludes by observing that ‘the practice of science might be disadvantageous to human well-being’.87 A map must be judged by what it is for. It is in judging the worth of the map that our exploration of natural perception enters the scene. In the process of that exploration not only did we find the incipient value of all empirical knowledge (survival) but also the transformation of that value into a precision tool for control. Once it 84  Lawrence Maxwell Krauss, Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond (New York: Viking, 2005), 11. 85  Helen Longino, ‘Feminist Epistemology’, in Greco and Sosa (eds.), The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology, 327–53. 86  Mary Field Belenky et al., Women’s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind, 10th anniversary ed. (New York: BasicBooks, 1997), 4. Specifically women’s ways knowing is also called ‘feminine epistemology’ whereas ‘feminist epistemology’ refers to explorations of the power relations between gender and knowledge. See, Heidi Elizabeth Grasswick, Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science: Power in Knowledge, Feminist Philosophy Collection (Dordrecht/New York: Springer, 2011), xix. 87  Philip Kitcher, The Advancement of Science: Science Without Legend, Objectivity Without Illusions (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 391.



is recognized that adopting modern science as the exclusive map of human knowledge by modern epistemology was an unconscious adoption of prediction and control as the ultimate value of knowledge, it could be reconsidered. There is no reason why predictive control should be adopted as the sole value in the study of anatomy or economics. Perhaps it is a mistake even to speak of the philosophy of science in the singular; we should rather be talking about different disciplines differently. That is what the modern pre-occupation with the sciences has led us to. Recognizing the underlying value orientation of modern science as inadequate to human life can help change the situation. Since it was in the process of exploring the characteristic features of natural perception that we discovered its incipient value orientation, studying other natural experiences (if any) can help discover other value orientations. As already mentioned, feminine epistemology offers some scope in this matter; given the prominence of relationships, emphasis on predictive control can only be a repudiation of women’s ways of knowing. This reinforces the point made in Chap. 4 that the kind of Malthusian competition envisaged by many evolutionists is really a skewed picture of evolution. While women’s knowing can help to discover value orientations that differ from survival values and the modern pre-occupation with control, best help in this matter is likely to come from the study of moral and religious experiences. I shall take up religious experience in Part III.

5   Conclusion Continuing with the distinction made in the last chapter between the natural and the cultural, this chapter explored the process of resolving disputed claims to perceptual knowledge, an area that is not explicit in the contextualism of Williams. In order to do this we need to know the identity of perceptual knowledge. Therefore, a major part of this chapter was spent discussing the nature of perception, with the help of some historical and contemporary theories of perception. Various theories were discussed and the insights of these diverse theories were brought together with the help of Wittgenstein’s idea of grammar. A grammatical approach to the nature of perception enabled us to see the various theories as providing complementary rules that, together, constitute the identity of perception. I argued that the normative implications of the grammatical rules of perception can be used for resolving perceptual disputes by following the Genesis-is-Not-Evidence principle developed in the last chapter.



Illustrating how grammatical rules help to resolve perceptual disputes completes our exploration of empirical epistemology. We began the process of exploring an epistemology that respects the autonomy of diverse empirical disciplines by adopting Williams’ rejection of uniformitarian epistemology and then complementing it by decoding the mind-reality relations that remained a black box in his epistemology. This decoding was done in terms of two cardinal principles of methodological naturalism in the last chapter and applying it to natural perceptual beliefs in this chapter. This is a major achievement in the process of completing the incomplete epistemological turn of modern philosophy. The modern turn to epistemology remained incomplete because it was grafted onto the naïve metaphysical realism of earlier times. This process of completing the epistemological turn of philosophy still remains incomplete, because the possibility of other kinds of knowledge —such as religious and moral—remains to be explored. But the possibility of using methodological naturalism, especially the Genesis-is-Not-Evidence principle, for the resolution of disputes regarding natural perception opens up the possibility of exploring other kinds of natural knowledge. For another reason, this chapter is also an achievement towards exploring other kinds of natural knowledge. We saw that, in spite of being the most universally recognized category, it has taken us a major part of this chapter to establish the constitutive identity of natural perceptual knowledge. If such is the case with natural perception, one should not expect it to be easier with religious knowledge, which has had a bad epistemological press from the beginning of modern times. But despite the difficulty about establishing the identity of natural perception, a grammatical approach enabled us to overcome the problem. This offers hope that a similar approach can work in the case of religious experience.


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Introduction We saw in Chap. 5 that fundamental theology must function as a propaedeutic to theology. A propaedeutic to theology in the Thomistic tradition took the form of arguments for the existence of God. This trend of natural theology, combined with the modern idea of a world that runs on its own laws, gave birth to deism. The cultural dominance of deism has meant that Antony Flew’s life-long intellectual search for God has always been the search for a deistic, and not a theistic, God.1 This is as true of his atheistic period as of his later conversion from atheism. Therefore, even if any arguments succeed in proving God’s existence, they can hardly function as preambles to Christian theology.

Religious Experience Theology

and Fundamental

An alternative approach holds that God’s existence is not known through arguments but through direct experience. This tradition in the modern world can be traced to Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834). Since he sought to address those intellectual elites who were sceptical of Christian

1  Antony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: HarperOne, 2007).


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faith,2 his approach easily qualifies to be called fundamental theology. Contemporary studies in religious experience centre around the epistemological question of their evidential value.3 Some of them have focused on mystical experiences and others on religious experience in general.4 Currently the most prominent voices in the epistemology of religious experience are William Alston and Alvin Plantinga.5 Both are critics of modern foundational epistemology, according to which knowledge is said to have a hierarchical structure with some beliefs at the bottom (the foundations), supporting the superstructure. Alston and Plantinga criticize exponents of foundationalism, for loosening the foundations so that they can slip in some basic beliefs arising from religious experience. Both hold that some knowledge of God can be had directly without engaging in any arguments. Next, both argue for a parallel between justification of perceptual beliefs and those religious beliefs that are based on religious experience. Just as one’s perceptual beliefs are direct apprehensions of objects and not the result of arguments, so too, it is possible for all to have some direct apprehension of God. We saw that fundamental theology must not only function as a propaedeutic to Christian theology, but also be conducive for interreligious dialogue. The epistemologies of religious experience developed by Plantinga and Alston are deficient in this matter. Plantinga’s epistemology, replete as it is with the Calvinist doctrine of a sensus divinitatis that is present in all but corrupted by original sin can hardly be the stuff of interreligious understanding.6 Similar considerations apply to Alston’s epistemology. He 2  Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Addresses in Response to Its Cultured Despisers, trans. Terrence N. Tice (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1821; repr., 1969). 3  Grace M. Jantzen, ‘Could There Be a Mystical Core of Religion?’, Religious Studies 26 (1990), 63–64. 4  Caroline Franks Davis, The Evidential Force of Religious Experience (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). 5  William P. Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1991); Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). 6  For a brief summary of the objections to Plantinga’ epistemology, and a sympathetic evaluation of those objections see Deane-Peter Baker, ‘Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology: What’s the Question?’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 57 (2005), 77–103. For a more extended treatment of Plantinga’s epistemology, see James K. Beilby, Epistemology as Theology: An Evaluation of Alvin Plantinga’s Religious Epistemology, Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology, and Biblical Studies (Aldershot, Hants/Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005).

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admits that religious diversity does pose serious but not fatal difficulties for his position.7 The most serious difficulty with Plantinga’s epistemology is that even if its arguments hold, all that would be achieved would be to show that Christian beliefs are warranted if they are true. He does not provide any basis for judging the truth of Christian beliefs, or of any religious belief or non-religious ideologies, for that matter. This is a serious lacuna as Pannenberg has convincingly shown that the original task of natural theology (precursor to fundamental theology) was providing a criterion for judging the nature of true God.8 Our grammatical approach to justification, therefore, is oriented to providing criteria for judging claims to religious truth. Whether it can succeed in this matter will be explored in this part. It must be noted, however, that contextual epistemology makes a clear distinction between justification of disputed beliefs within a system and justification of the system itself. We saw in Chap. 6 that the justification of a system is based largely on pragmatic grounds, whereas justification within a system is based on evidential grounds. As a matter of fact, neither Plantinga nor Alston is engaged in fundamental theology, as we have conceived it. They are not engaged in the task of explicating the concept of God in a way that is accessible to non-­ believers. Situated as they are in the foundationalist tradition where every claim to knowledge needs to have prior justification if it is to count as knowledge, their epistemologies merely broaden the foundational category of experiential beliefs to include some religious ones. Although their epistemologies are not conducive for fundamental theology, their parity argument is important as it gives an autonomous status to religious experience. Therefore, it provides an alternative approach to the Aristotelian-­ Thomistic approach of natural theology that proceeds from the world to God. An experiential approach to fundamental theology can be considered natural theology in a different sense than arguing for God’s existence. It is natural theology to the extent that it elaborates the insight of Aquinas that ‘to know in a general and confused way that God exists is implanted in us by nature’.9 Plantinga acknowledges this insight of Aquinas and calls his 7  William P. Alston, ‘Perceiving God’, The Journal of Philosophy 83 (1986), 662; see also Alston, Perceiving God, 275. 8  Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 3 vols., vol. 1 (London; New  York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 79. 9  Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I q.2, a.1, reply to obj.1; also Summa Contra Gentiles III, ch 38.


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own epistemology as an ‘Extended Aquinas-Calvin model’.10 It is an extended model because Plantinga builds into his epistemology ‘God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ’.11 As just noted, this also limits its usefulness as fundamental theology. Therefore we need to evolve an alternative approach that brings the insight of Aquinas together with the experiential thrust of Alston and Plantinga. This part of our book will attempt to do that.

Some Problems of the Experiential Approach An experiential approach to fundamental theology suffers from a number of difficulties that it shares with the study of religious experience. To begin with, many Western academics, especially in the English-speaking world, have been hostile to the very idea that religious experience is an autonomous kind of experience that is very different from science (based on sense experience) and morality (based on moral experience). Wayne Proudfoot has argued that this whole idea of autonomy is a protective strategy employed for apologetic purposes, to make religion invulnerable to external criticism.12 The prominence gained by this view in the Western academic world indicates simultaneously the West’s dominance in the study of religion and the estrangement of the Western world from religion. I have already countered this view in an implicit way in Chap. 4 (see fn. 12) by citing from the ancient Buddhist scriptures belonging to third century BCE. This is an implicit rejection of his claim because it undercuts one of the key premises of Proudfoot’s argument. His contends that faced with the modern Western situation, where arguments for God’s existence had been undermined and appeals to ecclesiastical authority had become problematic, Schleiermacher invented this strategy to protect religion from external attacks.13 A relevant Buddhist text, coming from a time when religion did not need to be protected, tells against Proudfoot’s premise. A text, which illustrates how religion was acknowledged as a very different kind of language game even in the ancient world, shows that accusations

 Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, Chapter 8.  Beilby, Epistemology as Theology, 95. 12  Wayne Proudfoot, Religious Experience (Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985). 13  Ibid., xiii. 10 11

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of autonomy as a protective strategy come from the ignorance of a secularized world regarding the nature and history of religion.14 Coupled with that ignorance is the inadequacy of the one-sided autonomy claims, which lead to accusations of Wittgensteinian fideism. Presently these accusations are being played out as an opposition between the insider versus the outsider, or ‘us’ versus ‘them’, or the hermeneutic method of understanding versus the scientific method of explanation.15 Historically, it is Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) who recognized the method of natural sciences as inadequate for the study of historical sciences and advocated verstehen (understanding) as the method proper to it. Opponents like Proudfoot claim this approach to be unwarranted, and part of the protective strategy. What is forgotten is that with the work of Thomas Kuhn and his finding about paradigms, even natural sciences are not exempt from interpretative frameworks. It would seem that the likes of Proudfoot have not taken the existential revolution seriously enough to realize that they too function from within a secular horizon (Chap. 4). Lack of awareness of their own existential horizon does not make the stand of such critics anymore objective than other objectivist attempts. If Proudfoot does not acknowledge the existential revolution, Russell McCutcheon’s opposition to religion comes from his postmodern commitments. He argues that ‘religion’ is a modern invention.16 He also makes the valid point that the modern approach to religion ‘deemphasizes difference, history, and socio-political context in favour of abstract essences and homogeneity’,17 a point I have emphatically accepted in Chap. 2. But McCutcheon goes further. For him the idea that religion offers insights into the very nature of things is a misguided assumption.18 Having convinced himself (on the basis of his secular faith) that religion has no truth to offer he takes the Foucauldian turn where power and politics replace 14  I have provided other reasons for showing that religious autonomy is not a protective strategy invented by Schleiermacher in George Karuvelil, ‘Religious Experience: Reframing the Question’, Forum Philosophicum: International Journal for Philosophy 16 (2011), 139–55. 15  For an extensive study of the topic, see Russell T. McCutcheon, The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion: A Reader, Controversies in the Study of Religion (London/ New York: Cassell, 1999). 16  See for example, his Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). 17  Ibid., 3. 18  Russell McCutcheon, ‘A Default of Critical Intelligence? The Scholar of Religion as Public Intellectual’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 65 (1997), 447.


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the search for truth. This makes his interactions with believers pointless polemics, as he himself seems to acknowledge.19 His interactions with Paul Griffiths provide an excellent example of deep disagreement (not mere disagreement) to which I referred in the introduction to Part II. These debates about autonomy, interpretation, and explanation are less about religion than about the prevalent disarray in epistemology. From that perspective, the integral epistemology outlined in this book is capable of maintaining the autonomy of religion without making autonomy into a protective wall. As long as one is open to seeking truth, and willing to acknowledge one’s own faith commitments (in the broad sense of faith outlined in Chap. 4), the five different kinds of continuity (conversational, contextual, methodological, metaphysical, and developmental) between different autonomous language games would enable us not only to go beyond disagreements to understanding the unfamiliar ‘other’ but also to explore whether religion is truth conducive. In order to go beyond deep disagreement there must be at least a minimally shared understanding of religion between the interlocutors (Chap. 5). An important task of fundamental theology, we have seen, is to provide a minimal understanding of God to atheists. Neither the claim that the word ‘religion’ is a modern invention nor the acknowledgement of the modern tendency to neglect differences in the name of some abstract essence of religion warrants the conclusion that there is no genuine religion that offers insights into the very nature of things, as McCutcheon assumes. To argue that since the word ‘religion’ is a modern invention there is nothing common to different religions amounts to saying that there is nothing common to the ancient Greek talk about logos, the ancient Indian claim about Rta (Cosmic Order) or the Polynesian mana (supernatural power). To make such a claim seems to be as absurd as claiming that since the Germans and the French use different words for English ‘green’ there is nothing common to the perception of green. The absurdity of that claim is the heart of the NaC-Di-NoS principle. That there are differences shows the inseparability of the natural and the cultural; it does not challenge their distinguishability. Whether there is any natural religious cognition needs to be explored rather than ruled out  Russell McCutcheon, ‘Talking Past Each Other: Public Intellectuals Revisited: Rejoinder to Paul J. Griffiths and June O’Connor’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 66 (1998), 911–17. 19

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dogmatically, as McCutcheon does. What is amazing is that rather than acknowledge that his jump from the finding that ‘religion’ is a cultural product to the conclusion that it is only a cultural product might be unwarranted, he treats it as a proven fact and on that basis rages not only against ‘theologians or liberal humanists’ but also against ‘ardently reductionistic, naturalistic scholars [who] continue to invest time in developing a theory of religion as if this word names a stable, cross-cultural reality’.20 The first task of this third part of the book, therefore, is to explore the question whether there is a class of natural religious experience that can withstand ‘the storms of culture’, as McCutcheon puts it.21 After giving a positive answer, I shall use it for explicating the theistic concept of God as well as drawing out the grammatical rules of ‘religion’. In explicating the concept of God with the help of experiences that are natural to us, it is important to note that there is no claim to perceive God as God.22 Rather, the claim is that many features of such experiences enable theists to identify the experienced reality as God. How are we to identify religious experience? This is the first problem that confronts an epistemology of religious experience. Call it the problem of identity or identifiability. It is not specific to religion. W.V. Quine formulated it as a logico-ontological principle in a catchy slogan: ‘no entity without identity’. P.F. Strawson explicated it by saying, ‘There is nothing you can sensibly talk about without knowing, at least in principle, how it might be identified’.23 The same applies to religious experience. John Hick formulated it in experiential terms when he said: ‘to say that x exists or that p is the case, but to deny that the existence of x or the truth of p makes any … in-principle-experienceable difference, would be to speak in a way that is pointless or meaningless’.24

 Russell McCutcheon, ‘Will Your Cognitive Anchor Hold in the Storms of Culture?’, review of Religious Experience Reconsidered, by Ann Taves Journal of the American Academy of Religion 78 (2010), 1187. 21  Ibid. 22  Nick Zangwill, ‘The Myth of Religious Experience’, Religious Studies 40 (2004), 1–22. 23  W. V. Quine, Theories and Things (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), 102; P. F. Strawson, Entity and Identity: And Other Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 22. 24  John Hick, ‘Eschatological Verification Reconsidered’, Religious Studies 13 (1977), 192. 20


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The problem of identity can be illustrated with the well-known classic of Rudolf Otto (1869–1937).25 His idea of religious experience as an awe-­ inspiring experience of the ‘wholly other’ that is at once terrifying and fascinating, a supremely energizing source of absolute value rightly earned him unparalleled applause. His first-hand knowledge of other world religions also contributed to his popularity. Problem of identity cropped up when he attempted to combine an evolutionary approach to religions with an uncompromising affirmation of the autonomy of religious experience. From an evolutionary perspective, he moved from experience of the ‘uncanny’ and the ‘awful’, associated with the demonic and the ghostly, to the worship of gods, and to the ‘the worship of God … at its purest’.26 The problem is this: ‘Is the uncanny [the] residual of an old faith humans have failed to discard? Or is the uncanny constitutive of the religious experience itself?’27 What really constitutes religious experience? When the ‘in-principle-experienceable’ difference of Hick is put in terms of other religious terms like ‘eschatological verification’, as Hick himself does, it leads to the problem of intelligibility (seen in Chap. 3) and the need for interpreting religious experience in a manner that is intelligible to outsiders, without at the same time sacrificing its religious identity. In other words, if intelligibility is to be maintained, we cannot start with the experience of God, Brahman, and the like, as it is these very concepts that need to be made intelligible to non-believers. This was elaborated in Chap. 5 as the first task of a contemporary fundamental theology. In keeping with the exigencies of communication, fulfilling the task of intelligibility requires two things. First, the communicator (the believer, the teacher, one who has the message) must be an insider who knows religion (or the message) from within. Second, there must be some religious experience that is natural or innate to human beings so that the communicator can make religion intelligible to the outsiders. Once intelligible identity is provided, our grammatical approach makes it possible to explore evidence that can resolve disputed religious claims and thereby distinguish genuine religion from counterfeits.

25  Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans. John W. Harvey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923; repr., 1936). 26  Ibid., 17. 27  Owen Ware, ‘Rudolph [sic] Otto’s Idea of the Holy: A Reappraisal’, Heythrop Journal 48 (2007), 49.

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Besides identity and intelligibility, there is a third requirement that an epistemology of religious experience must fulfil. It must be able to account for various kinds of experiences that are commonly taken to be religious by religious people. Call it adequacy. Not taking identity into account would result in religious experience being reduced to naturalism and not taking adequacy seriously would result in all religious experience being reduced to one’s favoured kind. Although not labelled in these terms, we also faced the problem of identity with regard to perceptual experience. The problem was resolved by (1) finding a class of perceptual experiences that is natural, (2) describing the characteristic features of such experience, and (3) using those descriptions to draw out the grammatical rules of perception, and in that process bringing together many individual theories of perceptual experience. Since natural perception is available to all with properly functioning senses, the problem of intelligibility did not arise. The problem of adequacy also arose there and it was met by providing the dynamics of developmental continuity adapted from Neisser. It showed how environmental factors (of both the natural and cultural variety) modify the innate perceptual schema that leads to all ramified perceptions, including modern science. In applying a grammatical approach to religious experience, there is a problem that is peculiar to religious experience that must be faced. Practically everyone is familiar with sense perception on a constant basis, and therefore, it is not difficult for anyone to reflect on such experience so as to understand its nature. But I do not think we can identify religious experience merely by looking within, notwithstanding claims to the contrary by the likes of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Rudolf Otto. William James (1842–1910) is more to the point when he observed that religion of most people is second hand. Moreover, most experiences that can be considered religious are dominated by the cultural dimension. The case of stigmata seen in Chap. 5 is a good example. Both these factors—that religious experience is not as common as natural perception and that it tends to be heavily influenced by culture—must be taken into account while trying to find the grammar of religion. Accordingly, unlike the last chapter where theories of perception as well as the grammar of perception were dealt with rather briefly, I will have to deal with religious experience in


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more detail. I shall focus on mysticism, which William James considered the ‘root and centre’ of religion.28

The Chapters In Chap. 8, I will introduce some prominent studies on mysticism. Its purpose is to explore whether it is possible to identify some experiences that can be considered natural to human beings. I will focus on the essentialist theory of mysticism presented by Walter Stace and the contrary position taken by Steven Katz. While Stace’s method is arbitrary, Katz’s position is also seen to be inadequate. An important reason for its inadequacy is the phenomenon of nature mysticism, which is not tied to any religious tradition, and may occur to anyone. As a distinct kind of experience that is relatively independent of all religious traditions, any cultural penetration of such experiences is minimal. Therefore, such experiences can be considered the religious counterpart of natural perception in empirical knowledge. This overcomes the problem of not being able to distinguish the natural and the cultural dimensions of religion. Having established the parity between natural perception and nature mysticism, Chap. 9 will narrate and analyse instances of nature mysticism to find its characteristic features. It will be seen that Stace and others who follow him lack the inner feel of mysticism, which in turn, influences their analysis. As a result, their analysis of written texts does not help to understand either the concept of religion or God. The original analysis I provide is guided by my own experiences. This might seem problematic in the light of Wildman’s observation about warring scenario between those who take religious and spiritual experiences seriously and others who are ranged against it.29 But having clearly distinguished genetic reason from evidential reason and consciously adopted the Genesis-is-Not-Evidence principle, I find no reason to shy away from acknowledging personal experiences. While acknowledging that my analysis is guided by my experiences, the majority of instances I narrate will be those of others. Moreover, they are not taken as evidence. They are used to find the characteristic features of nature mysticism, which serves a twofold purpose. Firstly, it is seen that 28  William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, Centenary ed. (London/New York: Routledge, 2002), 294. 29  Wesley J.  Wildman, Religious and Spiritual Experiences (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), xi.

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these descriptions practically coincide with the theistic understanding of God. Thus, the first task of fundamental theology outlined in Chap. 5, that is, the task of explicating the concept of God without relying on other religious terms, is accomplished. Secondly, norms drawn out from these descriptions provide the grammatical rules for distinguishing genuine religion from counterfeits. These norms are also ecumenical insofar as they are shared by even non-theistic religions like the different schools of Vedanta in India. Then there will be the need to talk about religious diversity, which is done in Chap. 10. Chapter 10 will begin with religious diversity and provide a minimal introduction to Christian faith. It will be seen that besides nature mysticism there are two other kinds of experiences that could be considered natural religious experience. I will call them event mysticism and person-­ mysticism. After giving examples of both, person-mysticism, that is, the ability to sense the divine in another human person, is shown to be the natural foundation of Christian faith. Following the developmental continuity explored in Chap. 7, it will be shown that the natural ability to sense the divine in other human persons is culturally accentuated by the humanistic orientation of Judaism. This enables some first-century followers of Judaism to sense the divine in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There is much more that needs to be said about a Christian understanding of Jesus; this is the task of that branch of Christian systematic theology known as Christology. The chapter will provide only the natural basis for developing a Christology. The second half of Chap. 10 will turn to the justification of religious beliefs; here the grammatical rules drawn out from the descriptions of nature mysticism will be used. Having dealt with the specific nature of the Christian experience will enable us to see that, beyond the grammatical rules common to different religions, there are some additional grammatical rules that constitute Christian faith, rules that need not be applicable to other religions. Thus the book ends on a genuinely pluralistic note by weaving a rainbow of religious faiths that respects both commonalities (Chap. 9) as well as differences between religions.



We saw how difficult it is to identify our common, everyday perceptual experience in terms of simple definitions. Therefore, in place a definitional approach we took a grammatical approach that makes room for multiple dimensions to be held together. The multi-dimensional character of religion makes it even more difficult to take a definitional approach to it. Moreover, faced with the fact that religion is intimately linked to diverse socio-cultural and political factors, secularists find it easy to debunk the truth value of religion and reject what believers say. Modern apologists of religion, beginning with Schleiermacher, have tried to counter this by arguing that the core of religion is the experience beyond the varied cultural factors. But identifying religious experience has proved to be as difficult as identifying any constitutive dimension of religion. In this chapter we focus on a subclass of religious experience, namely mysticism. But that does not easily solve the problem. Just as ‘religion’ is said to be a construct of the modern West, ‘mysticism’ is also said to be a ‘false category’ produced by the modern Anglo-American scholarship.1 As in the case of ‘religion’, here too the main complaint is that an abstract 1  For a brief overview of the literature see Leigh Eric Schmidt, ‘The Making of Modern “Mysticism”’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 71 (2003), 273–302.

© The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




view of mysticism cuts it off from the concrete social, political, and cultural soil within which diverse forms of mystical phenomena spring up. In terms of our Nac-Di-NoS principle, this amounts to saying that mysticism as a category is exhausted by cultural factors and lacks any natural basis. This claim needs to be taken seriously and investigated to see if that is really the case. This would be my main concern in this chapter. Accordingly, I shall divide the chapter into three sections. The first examines the view of Walter Stace who, though guilty of an abstract view of mysticism, has been immensely influential. Steven Katz is the most prominent opponent of Stace’s ‘essentialist’ view of mysticism. This will be seen in the second section. A brief overview of three other authors is provided in the third section.

1   Walter Stace (1886–1967) Born into an English military family, Walter Stace joined the British Civil Service and served in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for many years in various capacities, including a long stint as the mayor of Colombo. This gave him the opportunity to pursue his personal interest in studying Hinduism and Buddhism. In 1932 he moved to the US and taught philosophy at Princeton University. Skeptical of the scientific and rational approaches to God, he is credited with the memorable saying, ‘If God does not lie at the end of any telescope, neither does He lie at the end of any syllogism’.2 His well-known books on mysticism are Mysticism and Philosophy and a collection of selected readings entitled The Teachings of the Mystics. His understanding of mysticism, we shall see, reflects the Western fascination with East at that time, and is heavily influenced by the Upanishads. His theory of mysticism has been very influential in two respects: his view that all mystical experiences have a ‘universal core’ and his division of mysticism into two kinds. One of these two kinds is nature mysticism which is helpful from our point of view, since it is not tied to any particular religious tradition.




1.1  Stace on Mysticism Taking mystical experience as a state of consciousness,3 Stace understands it to be an entirely new kind of consciousness, very different from our ordinary state of consciousness, with which it is ‘wholly incommensurable’. Stace follows William James in this matter, but his understanding of ordinary consciousness is entirely taken from the British empiricist tradition. It is made up of three floors. The ground floor consists of physical sensations (sight, sound, etc.); the second floor consists of images or mental copies of sensations; and the third floor belongs to the intellect and is used for reasoning and abstract thinking. On the basis of this analysis, he calls our ordinary consciousness sensory-intellectual consciousness. In contrast, mystical consciousness is said to be absolutely devoid of any sensations, images, or concepts. He rules out visions and voices as mystical phenomena, because visions and voices are said to involve sensuous imagery.4 Another reason he gives for excluding these phenomena is that mystics themselves tend to downplay their significance. Stace finds the paradigmatic state of mystical consciousness in the Mandukya Upanishad, where it is said that this state is ‘beyond the senses, beyond the understanding, beyond all expression. ... It is the pure unitary consciousness, wherein awareness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterated’.5 Here there is no object that is experienced, nor a subject who experiences. It is pure undifferentiated Unity. Having come to this conclusion he looks for examples from various religious (e.g., Hindu, Christian, Buddhist) and non-religious (e.g., Neo-Platonism) sources. Examining those examples, he says that ‘the central characteristic in which fully developed mystical experiences agree, and which in the last analysis is definitive of them and serves to mark [them] off from other kinds of experiences, is that they involve the apprehension of an ultimate nonsensuous unity in all things, a oneness or a One to which neither the senses nor the reason can penetrate’.6 3  This enables him to easily assume what he calls the ‘principle of causal indifference’, the idea that if a state of consciousness that results from the use of drugs or alcohol is indistinguishable from another that is produced by years of training and asceticism, and if the latter is considered genuine mysticism, the former should be given that status too. 4  Walter T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (London, Bombay: MacMillan, 1960), 49. 5  Ibid., 21. 6  Walter T. Stace, The Teachings of the Mystics (New York/ Toronto: The New American Library, 1960), 15; italics original.



The qualification, ‘fully developed’ is important because Stace is aware that all mystical experiences do not talk about unitary consciousness. He distinguishes two kinds of mysticism: extrovertive and introvertive. The ‘extrovertive way looks outward and through the physical senses into the external world and finds the One there. The introvertive way turns inward, introspectively, and finds the One at the bottom of the self, the bottom of the human personality’.7 The former is said to ‘perceive the same world of trees and hills and tables and chairs as the rest of us’, although in a transformed manner such that ‘the Unity shines through them’.8 Thus, extrovertive mysticism is identified by three features: (a) it looks outward through the senses into the external natural world; (b) what is seen is a transformed world, quite different from what is seen in the ordinary, sensory-­intellectual consciousness; he calls this feature ‘the characteristic mark’ of extrovertive mysticism9; (c) in place of the multiplicity seen in the sensory-intellectual consciousness, it is the Unity that is perceived. Besides these three, Stace also provides a fourth feature that is important from the perspective of the NaC-Di-NoS principle. He acknowledges that extrovertive experiences ‘may be called “spontaneous”’ whereas introvertive experiences are ‘acquired’.10 He continues: ‘Those which are acquired are usually introvertive, because there are special techniques of introversion— which differ only slightly and superficially in different cultures. So far as I know there are no corresponding techniques of extroversion’.11 Extrovertive experiences, in other words, are natural. Stace considers extrovertive mysticism only an ‘incomplete kind of experience which finds its completion and fulfilment in the introvertive kind of experience’.12 The reason is that extrovertive experience includes sensory content, whereas the mystical core excludes all such content. In introvertive mysticism, the ‘empirical content of consciousness’ is totally suppressed and pure consciousness, consciousness without any content whatsoever, alone remains. After narrating examples of extrovertive mysticism, Stace draws out seven characteristic marks from those examples: (1) A unifying vision that all things are one. (2) Realization that all reality is conscious; it is a living  Ibid., 16.  Ibid. 9  Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 69. 10  Ibid., 60. 11  Ibid. 12  Ibid., 132. 7 8



presence. This is illustrated with a passage from Sri Ramakrishna, a Hindu mystic: ‘everything was full of consciousness. The image was consciousness, the altar was consciousness . . . the door-sills were consciousness. . . . I found everything in the room soaked as it were in bliss’.13 (3) Objective reference by which Stace means that the mystic takes his experience ‘as having objective reference and not being a mere inner and subjective state of the soul’. Stace refers to James’ ‘noetic quality’ in this connection. (4) Feeling of ‘bliss, beatitude, joy, a sense of supreme value’.14 (5) Feeling that what is apprehended in experience is holy, sacred.15 (6) Paradoxicality or a certain disregard for the ordinary laws of logic. Stace also mentions (7) ineffability, although with some hesitation on account of the fact that even after talking about impossibility of describing their experience mystics go on to describe them at length. All except the first two characteristics apply to introvertive experiences as well. Regarding the first, he replaces the unifying vision of extroversion with ‘Unitary Consciousness’ or ‘Pure Consciousness’ in introversion. It has no content. Stace is emphatic that whether introvertive or extrovertive, it is the ‘Unity, the One ...[that] is the central experience and the central concept of all mysticism, of whichever type’.16 Moreover, this ‘unity is perceived, or directly apprehended’ and not a matter of interpretation, ‘in so far as it is possible to make this distinction’.17 The second item in the list (sense of living presence) is replaced in introvertive mysticism with the non-spatiality and non-temporality. Clearly Stace is forced to replace these two items on account of his conviction that extrovertive mysticism has sensory content. I shall examine this in the next chapter, while analysing nature mysticism. But it is noteworthy that in spite of these differences he goes on to say that ‘mystics themselves take it for granted that the One which is disclosed in the introvertive experience is identical with the One which is disclosed in the extrovertive experience. There are not two Ones, but only one’.18

 Ibid., 77.  Ibid., 68. 15  Ibid., 79. 16  Ibid., 66. 17  Ibid. 18  Ibid., 133. 13 14



1.2  Some Critical Comments Let us take at face value Stace’s claim that undifferentiated Unity or pure consciousness is the core of mysticism and raise the question whether it provides identity, accessibility, and adequacy to the variety of mystical experiences. As far as the logical imperative of identifiability is concerned, Stace’s theory faces no difficulty; undifferentiated unity of pure consciousness gives it an identity that is different from other ordinary experiences. Our ordinary experience is experience of multiplicity, whereas mystical experience is said to be an experience of unity ‘behind’ the multiplicity. His theory also satisfies the principle of accessibility or intelligibility to the outsider; he has taken pains to quote numerous instances of such experiences from different religious traditions as well as from Neo-Platonism. These are easily accessible accounts available to all. It is his attention to accessibility that prompted him to insist on the catholicity of evidence and consciously adopt an inductive procedure.19 The problem with Stace’s theory is not identifiability or accessibility but its adequacy or the ability to account for diverse experiences that are ordinarily taken as mystical. His choice of examples and his overall procedure leaves much to be desired in this matter. Let us consider some specific difficulties. The first one concerns his attempt to establish unity as the core of extrovertive mysticism. His claim that the ‘extrovertive way looks outward through the physical senses into the external world and finds the One there’ is based on a highly select set of examples and elaborate interpretation of those examples. His initial example from Meister Eckhart is so weak in establishing this point that his interpretation of the three sentences of Eckhart runs into pages! Even if we decide to ignore this forced reading, there are other well-known examples that do not include any mention of unity or oneness. Consider the following experience of R.M. Bucke cited by various authors, including Stace: I had spent the evening in a great city, with two friends… We parted at midnight. I had a long drive in a hansom to my lodging. My mind … was calm and peaceful… All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire … the next I knew that the fire was within myself… Among other things, I did not  Ibid.




merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal.20

Recognizing that this example does not refer to either oneness or unity, Stace says, ‘The central affirmation of all extrovertive experience that “all is One” is not directly emphasized by Bucke, but is involved in the assertion that the world is not a multiplicity of living beings but a single “living Presence”’.21 While this is a plausible and perhaps even a correct interpretation, the fact remains that it is Stace’s interpretation and it is not obvious from the text itself. This could be ignored, if it were an isolated instance. But it is not. There are numerous instances of extrovertive mysticism with absolutely no indication of any Oneness. Consider another example from the life of Jakob Boehme. This is also cited by Stace: About the year 1600 occurred the second illumination . . . This experience brought with it that peculiar and lucid vision of the inner reality of the world in which, as he said, he looked into the deepest foundations of things. . . . He believed that it was only a fancy, and in order to banish it from his mind he went out upon the green. But here he remarked that he gazed into the very heart of things, the very herbs and grass, and that actual nature harmonized with what he had seen.22

There is no doubt that Boehme experienced the world in a transformed manner. But there is no mention of any ‘unity’ or the One, unless ‘heart of things’ is taken to stand for Unity. There is another account of the same experience that not only lacks the mention of unity but contains the explicit mention of God. ‘In this light my spirit saw through all things and into all creatures and I recognized God in grass and plants’.23 This is significant because for Stace the Unity of mysticism has nothing to do with God,

20  Cited in William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, Centenary ed. (London; New  York: Routledge, 2002), 309; Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 78. 21  Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 78. 22  Ibid., 69. 23  Ibid. italics original.



or with any religion, for that matter. For him any connection between mysticism and religions ‘is subsequent and even adventitious’. He reasons: In the first place, it seems to be clear that if we strip the mystical experience of all intellectual interpretation such as that which identifies it with God, or with the Absolute, or with the soul of the world, what is left is simply the undifferentiated unity. Now what is there that is religious about an undifferentiated unity? The answer seems to be, in the first instance, “Nothing at all.” There seems to be nothing religious about an undifferentiated unity as such.24

For Stace, ‘God’ is a matter of subsequent interpretation and not of experience.25 Different cultures interpret the experience differently. Theistic religions of the West interpret it in terms of ‘God’, Advaitins in terms of an ‘impersonal Absolute’, Buddhists in terms of ‘Void or Nirvana’. If ‘God’ is a subsequent interpretation of experience, why not also consider ‘undifferentiated unity’ also an interpretation? This seems all the more plausible in the light of Stace’s own admission that introvertive mysticism that he takes to be paradigmatic of all mysticism is acquired whereas extrovertive mysticism is spontaneous. In Chap. 10 we shall see that such is indeed the case: that is, unity is the result of a reflective process and not a matter of direct experience. Furthermore, William Wainwright has observed that Stace’s conclusion about ‘undifferentiated unity’ is based on an ambiguity. He says: ‘it is one thing to say that the experience is devoid of any kind of differentiation and quite a different thing to say that its object is free from multiplicity’.26 As far as the object of experience is concerned, ‘Although mystics do sometimes speak as if the duality of subject and object were overcome, so that the experiencer and that which is experienced become identical, it is also clear that they frequently speak as if the experience had an object which is not identical with the mystic or his experience’.27 Stace’s attempt to portray mysticism as unrelated to religion poses a further problem. Mysticism, except for the extrovertive variety, occurs invariably in religious contexts. If all religious discourse and theology is existential by its very nature as we have seen in the second chapter, Stace’s  Stace, The Teachings of the Mystics, 24.  Ibid. 26  William J. Wainwright, ‘Stace and Mysticism’, The Journal of Religion 50 (1970), 141. 27  Ibid. 24 25



attempt to fit theistic experiences into an experience of undifferentiated unity cuts off the flower of mystical experiences from the living plants on which they grow, namely, the actual, existing religions as they are lived. Examples he has extracted from the theistic traditions are more like museum pieces that are removed from their original habitat and put on display for the benefit of naturalistic tourists, rather than instances that are organically linked to living religions. This criticism applies not only to Stace, but to all who identify religious experience with an isolated state of consciousness, including William James. The inadequacy of Stace’s theory is also seen in his exclusion of visions and voices and such phenomena as properly mystical. Lamenting the ‘unfortunate consequences’ of this bias, Jess Hollenback asks: ‘Should we no longer regard Ibn al-Arabi and Hildegard of Bingen as mystics simply because visions and voices played an important role in their… spiritual world?’28 An important reason for considering theistic mysticism different from the unitive kind is the devotional nature of the former. When we see how far the ecstatic poems of some theistic mystics are from the experience of undifferentiated unity (even with its blessedness and peace), it looks arbitrary to reduce them to an experience of pure consciousness. According to Samuel Brainard, ‘Devotional, or love, mysticism, which involves the object of devotion as experiential content, seems to have little in common with, for example, a mystical experience of pure consciousness’.29 Moreover, such devotional ecstasy is not a preserve of Western theism alone. The passion found in the devotional songs of a Hindu Mirabai is no less theistic than the restlessness of Augustine’s Christian heart. Stace’s theory, therefore, does not do justice to the theistic mysticism found even in the land of the Upanishads. Stace’s procedure is ultimately arbitrary. His procedure of taking the Upanishadic kind of mysticism as paradigmatic and then choosing examples to fit that kind can be turned ‘on its head, by using theistic accounts as the touchstone’.30 It was this realization that led Ninian Smart to recognize two irreducibly different kinds of

28   Jess Byron Hollenback, Mysticism: Experience, Response, and Empowerment, Hermeneutics, Studies in the History of Religions (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996), ix. 29  F. Samuel Brainard, ‘Defining ‘Mystical Experience”, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64 (1996), 360. 30  Steven Payne, ‘The Christian Character of Christian Mystical Experiences’, Religious Studies 20 (1984), 424 fn.1.



religious experiences, the numinous (theistic) and the mystical.31 And it is the need to recognize diverse kinds of mysticism that prompts the work of Steven Katz.

2   Steven T. Katz (1944–) Attached to the Department of Religion at Boston University Steven Katz is a specialist in Jewish and Holocaust Studies. He has published over 120 articles in those fields and in the philosophy of religion and Comparative Mysticism. Our concern will be only with his epistemology of mysticism. 2.1  Katz’s Epistemology of Mysticism Katz’s epistemology can be considered ‘constructivist’, since his basic claim is that ‘the mystic’s conceptual scheme determines, shapes, and/or constructs his or her mystical experiences’.32 Katz begins by observing that it is ‘almost universally accepted’ that there is an inner core or essence to all forms of mysticism and sets out to dismantle this view and make a strong ‘plea for the recognition of differences’. Repudiating Stace’s distinction between experience and its interpretation, Katz argues that ‘experience itself as well as the form in which it is reported is shaped by concepts which the mystic brings to, and which shape, his experience’.33 The strategy he adopts for showing this is to pay attention to the details of the historical backgrounds of the mystics. He points to the ‘absence of the kinds of experience of unity one often, but mistakenly associates with mysticism, even as the “essence of mysticism” in the Jewish mystical context’.34 He finds that the ‘entire life of the Jewish mystic is permeated from childhood up by images, concepts, symbols, ideological values, and ritual 31  Ninian Smart, Dimensions of the Sacred: An Anatomy of the World’s Beliefs (London: HarperCollins, 1996). 32  Robert K.  C. Forman, Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness (Albany: State University of New  York Press, 1999), 1. See also Michael Stoeber, ‘Constructivist Epistemologies of Mysticism: A Critique and a Revision’, Religious Studies 28 (1992), 107–16. The Carmodys have called this approach ‘empiricist’ because of the attention it pays to language, history, and other cultural influences on mystical experience; see Denise Lardner Carmody and John Tully Carmody, Mysticism: Holiness East and West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 6. 33  Steven T.  Katz, ‘Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism’, in Steven T.  Katz (ed.), Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 26. 34  Ibid., 34–35.



behaviour which there is no reason to believe he leaves behind in his experience. Rather, these images, beliefs, symbols and rituals define, in advance, what the experience he wants to have and which he then does have, will be like’.35 The result of such conditioning is that the Jewish mystic, even in their ecstatic moments of experience, rarely, if ever, loses his identity in God.36 Katz considers it ‘very strong evidence that pre-experiential conditioning affects the nature of the experience one actually has’.37 The same can be said of the Buddhist mystic whose preconditioning is very different from that of the Jewish mystic and therefore has a ‘radically different mystical experience’.38 For example, the imagery of love, including ‘pronounced sexual imagery’ is prominent in Jewish mysticism whereas it is totally absent in early Buddhism. Thus Katz finds a ‘clear causal connection between the religious and social structure one brings to experience and the nature of one’s actual religious experience’.39 The upshot is that the Hindu mystic has a Hindu experience; the Christian has a Christian experience, the Jew has a Jewish experience, and so on. [T]he Hindu mystic does not have an experience of x which he then describes in the, to him, familiar language and symbols of Hinduism, but rather he has a Hindu experience, i.e., his experience is not an unmediated experience of x but is itself the, at least partially, pre-formed anticipated Hindu experience of Brahman.40

Katz contends that There is no evidence but a priori theorizing in the face of the actual evidence to the contrary, that this non-unitive characterization of the experience of the Jewish mystic is merely the product of the post-experiential report, whose form is necessitated by social or religious orthodoxies and imposed on what, in fact, was basically an experience of an altogether different (unitive) sort.41

 Ibid., 33; italics original.  Ibid., 34. 37  Ibid., 35. 38  Ibid., 36. 39  Ibid., 40. 40  Ibid., 26. 41  Ibid., 35. 35 36



This argument is augmented by the fact that almost all mystical traditions insist on the importance of a teacher or guru who guides the novice. And what the guru teaches is ‘a specific way and a specific goal’.42 The classical mystics do not talk about the abstraction ‘mysticism’ either. They ‘talk only about their tradition, their way, their goal: they do not recognize the legitimacy of any other. The ecumenical overtones associated with mysticism have come primarily from non-mystics of recent vintage for their own purposes’.43 This offers a sharp contrast to Hick’s contention that the empirical study of religion would lead to treating one’s own religion is as one ‘among many’ (Chap. 2). Detailed attention to the empirical factors leads Katz to the opposite conclusion.44 While arguing that mystical experiences differ with differing pre-­ experiential conditioning, Katz is not unaware of the similarities found in the language used by mystics from all traditions, which forms the basis of Stace’s ‘common core’ view. But Katz argues that to conclude from these similarities to the existence of a common core is to be ‘misled by the surface grammar of the mystical reports they study. That is to say, what appear to be similar sounding descriptions are not similar descriptions and do not indicate the same experience. They do not, because language itself is contextual and words “mean” only in contexts’.45 Take for example, ‘ineffability’, one of the distinguishing features noted by various authors like William James, Rudolf Otto, Walter Stace, and others. But Katz argues that ‘the term “ineffable” can logically fit many disjunctive and incomparable experiences’, such as an atheist’s sense of the absurdity of human existence and a theist’s alleged encounter with an Absolute Thou.46 Although he does not use the postmodern jargon, it is not hard to see that Katz’s view is in keeping with the postmodern sensibilities.

 Ibid.  Ibid., 45–46. 44  Seen in this perspective, Hick’s religious goal (moving from ‘self-centredness to Realitycentredness’ or ‘salvation/liberation’) is even more of a museum piece than that of Stace; Stace’s understanding reflects at least one strand of Hinduism whereas Hick’s religion is a rootless wonder that has no home in any existing religion. 45  Katz, ‘Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism’, 46–47. italics original. 46  Ibid., 48. 42 43



2.2  Katz in the Light of the Imperatives As with Stace, there is no difficulty in accessing the experiences narrated by Katz, since descriptions of mystical experiences are abundantly available. As it is in the name of empirical data that Katz makes his claims, let us first consider whether he meets the demand of adequacy. In terms of adequacy, he can be said to go much farther than Stace, as he can account for both theistic as well as unitive experiences. Although Robert Forman, an advocate of a ‘Pure Consciousness’ view of mysticism, continues to contest Katz’s claims,47 the very fact that Forman’s mysticism, like Stace’s, is so heavily dependent on a particular Indian tradition makes it much less valuable than meets the eye. Being a practitioner of Maharshi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation, he can even be said to exemplify Katz’s view.48 And this is perhaps the best feature of Katz’s theory. If Stace cut off the flowers of mystical consciousness from the living stream of religious life and thereby made them into museum pieces without a religious habitat, Katz restores the original habitat of the experiences. Although Katz’s view is empirically more adequate than that of Stace, it is still inadequate with respect to certain phenomena. To say that mystical experiences are totally conditioned by culture and our prior belief systems, even to the point of claiming a ‘causal connection’ between pre-experiential conditioning and experience is clearly problematic, as it ‘cannot adequately account for mystic heresy. Certain mystics not only flirt dangerously with heresy, their experience descriptions imply heretical beliefs. This forces us seriously to question the constructivist hypothesis because in the constructivist view the experiences of mystics should corroborate or correspond to the religious doctrine in which mystics participate’.49 The experience of Gautama Buddha is a clear example. He was born into a tradition that believed in the soul. Some studies say that his early teachers belonged to the Brahminical tradition.50 If this is right, he could not have preached the doctrine of no-soul after his Enlightenment experience. Moreover, there are numerous cases of reported

47  See Forman, Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness; Forman (ed.), The Innate Capacity: Mysticism, Psychology, and Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). 48  This comes from a personal conversation with Professor Katz in 2001. 49  Stoeber, ‘Constructivist Epistemologies of Mysticism: A Critique and a Revision’, 112. 50  See Alexander Wynne, The Origin of Buddhist Meditation (London & New  York: Routledge, 2007).



‘counter-­cultural’ religious experience that go contrary to Katz’s view.51 Therefore, we cannot deny that some experiences are relatively independent of one’s prior beliefs and practices. If we go by Katz’s account, any new and original experience will remain an enigma. There is no better evidence of mystical experiences that are relatively independent of prior beliefs and practices than instances of what Stace called ‘extrovertive’ mysticism that he rightly recognized as spontaneous. Although all of Stace’s examples of extrovertive mysticism cannot be considered independent of prior beliefs and practices (e.g., those of Eckhart and Teresa), the trace of conditioning is less clear, and perhaps even absent, in other instances (e.g., Bucke). We will have occasion to see more of them in the next chapter. It is hard to see how such experiences can be explained if all mystical experiences are conditioned by prior beliefs and practices as Katz makes them out to be. This is not to deny the connection between experience and prior conditioning, but to agree with Stace that one type of mysticism (extrovertive) is spontaneous and independent of prior beliefs and practices. An empirically adequate theory of mysticism must be able to account for them, too. Katz’s theory also turns out to be problematic in terms of meeting the logical demand of identity. If mystical experiences result from cultural conditioning, mysticism would be merely a cover for the socio-cultural externals of religion like creeds, codes, and cults. Vary the cultural input and we will have a different experiential output. In the end, we are faced with the question whether religious experiences tell us anything at all about any reality other than the reality of human ingenuity and imagination. This feature makes Katz’s constructivist epistemology of mysticism susceptible to naturalistic reduction.52 This is not imaginary; nor is it merely a theoretical possibility. Wayne Proudfoot’s argument for the explanatory reduction of religious experience follows this track.

51   Travis Dumsday, ‘Counter-Cultural Religious Experiences’, Religious Studies 47 (2011), 317–30. 52  To be fair to Katz, he does mention that the relationship between experience and beliefs is two-directional: beliefs shape experience and experience shapes beliefs. See Katz, ‘Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism’, 30. But the polemical character of his argument is so strong that one part of that symmetry—how religious experience shapes beliefs—is completely neglected.



2.3  Proudfoot’s Explanatory Reduction of Religion Proudfoot agrees with Katz that there is no common core to different mystical experiences. Next, he asks: ‘If there is no core experience … what justification is there for continuing to employ the phrase mystical experience at all?’53 One may think that Proudfoot is about to answer that question with an emphatic ‘None!’ But he does not do that. He is of the opinion that although a historical study of the phrase mystical experience would very likely show it to be an artefact of the last two centuries of European scholarship, ‘there do seem to be expressions, experiential reports and practices that are sufficiently similar across cultures to warrant the use of the term mysticism’.54 But when we examine these seeming similarities (such as the ineffability and noetic quality enumerated by William James), we find that they are not descriptive of experiences at all. Since there are no characteristic features by which those experiences can be identified, Proudfoot comes to the conclusion that all that is required for an experience to be considered religious is that it ‘must be apprehended by the subject as fully explicable only in terms of the doctrine of the religious tradition within which the subject stands’.55 In other words, the only thing that makes any experience an instance of religious experience is that the subject of experience claims it to be so! Here we have the beginnings of the ascription theory of religious experience, further developed by Ann Taves, according to which an experience becomes religious when people ascribe religious meaning to it, except that such ascription need not be a conscious process.56 Proudfoot draws an important implication of his conclusion that there are no characteristic features by which an experience can be identified as religious. If there are no essential features other than the claim of the subject, then it may very well be that the subject is mistaken or even deluded in his or her claim. The best person to decide if the person is mistaken is not the subject of experience but others, the neutral observers who can critically examine the subject’s experience. This is the crux of Proudfoot’s 53  Wayne Proudfoot, Religious Experience (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), 123; italics original. 54  Ibid., 124. He goes on to suggest that we have no reason to reject the term mysticism any more than to reject culture and economy; see 198. 55  Ibid.; emphasis added. 56  Ann Taves, Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2009), 10.



argument for the explanatory reduction of religious experience. He makes a distinction between descriptive reduction and explanatory reduction. Description of an experience must be such that it is acceptable to the subject of experience, but in explaining the experience no consent of the subject is required. After all, there are no religious experiences to be explained; no characteristic features of certain experiences that call for explanation. And if there is no religious experience as such to be explained, the only items that need to be explained are certain individual happenings in the consciousness of some individual persons. This explanation could very well be made in terms of the psychological or social factors of the subject of experience, such as adolescent conflicts in one case, marital relations in another case, and so on.57 Religious believers, including Katz, may not like Proudfoot’s conclusion. But the fact remains that once we follow the path of Katz, Proudfoot’s conclusion follows as its logical culmination.58 I call it the vaporising strategy of reductionism. The first step in the strategy is to pulverize any substantiality that may be found to the class of experiences that are called religious or mystical. Once all substantiality of religious experience is made to disappear, then we will be left only with isolated, individual experiences or happenings in the psyche of some individuals. Those individual experiences can then be explained (away) in terms of the particular circumstances that could be pointed out as the cause of the experience.59 Katz may not have any role in the vaporizing of mysticism. But he does a large part of the pulverizing, from where Proudfoot can perform his vaporising trick. It should be noted that such reduction of the mystical becomes possible only when the distinction between consciousness and experience is blurred. While analysing perceptual experience we saw that a clear distinction is to be made between the experiential episodes and the underlying state of consciousness in which those episodes occur. We noted that these episodes are the basis of our perceptual beliefs, irrespective of whether 57  Proudfoot suggests that the experience of Stephen Bradley could be ‘explained in terms of the conflicts of early adolescence and that of Sarah Edwards as a consequence of her life with Mr. Edwards’. Proudfoot, Religious Experience, 195. 58  I deliberately use the word ‘seems’ because besides Katz’s pulverization of any common core to mysticism, there are other factors that contribute to Proudfoot’s conclusion. One such factor is his sharp distinction between description and prescription. 59  For details, see George Karuvelil, ‘Missing the Wood for the Trees: A Critique of Proudfoot’s Explanatory Reduction of Religious Experience’, The Heythrop Journal 50 (2009). 31–43.



those beliefs are true or false; the underlying state of consciousness cannot be true or false. By universal consent, the perceptual state of consciousness is cognitive whereas a dream state is not. But being a cognitive state does not guarantee the truth of all individual perceptual beliefs. When the truth of some belief has been challenged, it is resolved on the basis of the grammar of perceptual consciousness. Given that mystical consciousness is an entirely different state of consciousness and that mystics from across the world and from different religious traditions vouch for what William James has called the noetic quality60 of mystical consciousness, it stands to reason that we adopt the same procedure for evaluating mystical claims that was adopted in perception. The process begins by recognizing a state of consciousness as distinct from cognitive claims made in that state. One possible objection to distinguishing mystical consciousness and mystical experience could be that unlike perceptual consciousness (that is an abiding state of consciousness within which fleeting episodes of perception occur), mystical consciousness is not so abiding. After all, James considered ‘transiency’ as one of the four marks of mysticism.61 Therefore, mystical consciousness cannot be distinguished from mystical episodes. But to argue in this manner seems to be as silly as arguing that since dream consciousness is transient, it is indistinguishable from individual episodes of dreaming. If such were the case there could not be any principles of dream analysis, as it requires dream consciousness to have an identity distinct from other states on account of which they can be subjected to study. The same applies to mystical consciousness. To focus on the vagaries of individual psychic happenings is to forego the study of the relevant state of consciousness. To say that a particular perceptual episode was mistaken is not to deny that perceptual consciousness is cognitive. A particular perceptual judgement could be mistaken, say, because the actual conditions of that particular instance of perception diverged vastly from the maxi-­ environment that is appropriate to perception (see N2 in Sect. 3.3 of last chapter). Similarly, to say that a particular mystical experience had roots in developmental problems of adolescence says nothing about the cognitive worth of mystical consciousness, but addresses only that particular episode. The real question which needs to be explored, then, is not about individual psychic happenings but about whether there are some characteristic features of mystical consciousness by which it can be identified.  James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 295.  Ibid.

60 61



Identity of perceptual consciousness is not found in terms of its durability but in terms of its grammatical rules. Those rules were derived from the characteristic features of natural perception. In the next chapter we shall follow this procedure and try to find the grammar of mystical consciousness by exploring nature mysticism. Prior to that let us briefly familiarize ourselves with three other authors who have explored mysticism.

3   Other Voices Of the three authors in this section, R.C. Zaehner and John Hick are considered because they either complement or elaborate the views of Stace and Katz. Rahner is considered on account of his prominence as a Catholic theologian. 3.1  R.C. Zaehner (1913–1974) This Englishman was a polyglot who knew Greek, Latin, Persian, Avestan, and Sanskrit. His knowledge of Avestan, the language of Zoroastrian scriptures, stood him in good stead in his work as a diplomat in Iran before getting appointed to the Spalding Professorship of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford in 1952. There he succeeded S.  Radhakrishnan (1888–1975), a Neo-Vedantin who propagated the idea that all religions are the same at their core and considered Hinduism as the culmination of that view. In contrast, Zaehner who was a zealous convert to Catholicism, saw ‘a sharp division between those religions whose characteristic form of religious experience is prayer and adoration of Pascal’s God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob on the one hand, and religions in which sitting postures designed to find the God within you are thought to be the most appropriate ways of approaching the deity’.62 Enamoured of the God of love, he emphasized theistic Hinduism as against Radhakrishan’s non-­ dualistic Hinduism. Zaehner wrote Mysticism Sacred and Profane to counter the view that mystical experiences are ‘the same in essence, no matter whether they be the result of intensive ascetic training, of a prolonged course of Yoga techniques, or simply of the taking of drugs’.63 While the immediate  R.C. Zaehner, Our Savage God (London: Collins, 1974), 234.  R.C.  Zaehner, Mysticism, Sacred and Profane (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), xi. 62 63



provocation for the book was Aldous Huxley’s book Doors of Perception, his rejection of a universal core to mysticism applies equally well to Stace’s view. As against the claim that mysticism is the same everywhere, Zaehner discerns three different kinds of mystical experiences. He calls them ‘panenhenic’, ‘monistic’, and ‘theistic’. In the first kind of experience ‘all creaturely existence is experienced as one and one as all’, an ‘enlargement of the ordinary field of consciousness in a vision that seemed to comprise all Nature’.64 Its essence, according to Zaehner, is a transcending of time and space. Although this kind of experience is often called ‘pantheism’, Zaehner considers it inappropriate because ‘pantheism’ literally means ‘All-God-ism’ whereas God really does not enter into the ‘Thou-art-this-all’ experience. He finds ‘pan-en-hen-ism’ (‘all-in-one-ism’) a better term. For Zaehner, panenhenic experience cannot even be considered religious, as it is a natural kind of experience that ‘may occur to anyone whatever his religious faith or lack of it and whatever moral, immoral or amoral life he may be leading at the time’.65 This kind of experience roughly corresponds to Stace’s extrovertive mysticism. The second kind of mysticism is monistic. It is an experience of undifferentiated unity, corresponding to Stace’s introvertive mysticism. Zaehner calls it the ‘mysticism of isolation’ because it is characterized by the ‘isolation of the soul from all that is other than itself’.66 This is considered an advance over panenhenic or nature mysticism, since it involves a clear distinction between nature and the immortal soul or spirit.67 Having made the distinction, it identifies the One who pervades the whole universe with the individual human soul. For Zaehner, the finest kind of mysticism is theistic where the soul returns to God in loving union. From the perspective of fundamental theology, theistic mysticism is hardly significant, as it assumes God rather than helps us understand the concept of God. It may be noted in this connection that the sharp distinction he drew between panenhenic and monistic experiences is not seen in his later account where ‘the monistic experience is seen as a development of the panenhenic experience’.68 One might  Ibid., 99.  Ibid., xv. 66  Ibid., 165. 67  Ibid., 125. 68  Philip C. Almond, Mystical Experience and Religious Doctrine: An Investigation of the Study of Mysticism in World Religions, ed. Jacques Waardenburg, Religion and Reason 26 (Berlin/New York/Amsterdam: Mouton Publishers, 1982). Almond bases this observation 64 65



speculate as to whether he would have continued to maintain theistic mysticism as entirely different from the monistic, if not for his zeal as a convert. 3.2  John Hick on Mysticism John Hick defines ‘mysticism’ as direct experience in which ‘the transcendent “information” ... reaches the mystic’s psyche directly rather than being mediated through the world’.69 This definition is in keeping with what mystics themselves claim, as we saw in Chap. 5. Learning from Smart’s contention that there exist two basically different kinds of experiences, the numinous and the mystical, Hick makes room for both by reclassifying them as two kinds of mysticism. He calls them the ‘unitive and the communitive’ experiences. Unitive experiences ‘are experiences of oneness with God or with absolute reality of Brahman or the eternal Buddha nature’.70 Communitive experiences ‘are moments in which the divine being seems to encounter the mystic through visions, auditions, and/or photisms’.71 Both are direct experiences. The key difference between them seems to be that unitive mysticism is an experience of oneness or unity whereas communitive mysticism is an experience of communion or encounter (as in Jewish mysticism). The directness of the unitive mysticism could be understood in two ways. One is that it transcends, or at least seems to transcend, the dualistic structure of ordinary experiences. Our ‘ordinary experience is a function of the dualistic consciousness in which the ego affirms itself over against the world of objects. But this dualistic structure is transcended’ in unitive mysticism.72 Directness could also be understood as unmediated. Most religious experiences, Hick holds, are not direct in this sense. They are mediated through culturally conditioned religious categories. He calls such mediation ‘experiencing-as’. ‘Unitive mysticism seems to stand outside this epistemological paradigm [of “experiencing-as”] as a direct on Zaehner’s treatment of these experiences in R.C. Zaehner, Concordant Discord (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 202. 69  John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1989), 51; see also 165 where he talks of some transcendent ‘information’ reaching our consciousness through ‘some kind of extra-sensory awareness of our ultimate environment’. 70  Ibid., 165. 71  Ibid. Italics added. 72  Ibid., 292.



intuitive consciousness of the Ultimate itself, rather than as thought-andexperienced through the lens of a particular human mind-­set’.73 Although unitive mystics do claim their experiences to be direct in this manner, Hick relies on the different descriptions of such experiences to show that unitive experiences are not direct in this second sense. Agreeing with Katz he says that ‘mystics within different traditions do not float free from their cultural conditioning. ... [E]ven in the profoundest unitive mysticism the mind operates with culturally specific concepts’.74 He illustrates this point: in Zen Buddhism the directly apprehended Real (Sunyata) is ‘totally immanent in the ever changing forms of concrete existence, [whereas] the directly apprehended Brahman [of Vedanta] is a totally other reality in relation to which the “ever changing forms of concrete existence” are mere illusions’.75 Thus, unitive mysticism, though seemingly direct, turns out to be not so direct on closer examination. What about communitive mysticism? Going by the phenomenological contents of different visions and auditions, we find it difficult to see much directness in communitive mysticism. The content of Isaiah’s vision in the temple is clearly different from the content of Lady Julian seeing a crucifix oozing with blood; Ramakrishna’s vision of Kali is different from both of these; Samuel hearing the voice of Yahweh (1Samuel 3: 11–14) is different from Muhammad hearing Gabriel recite the Qur’anic verses (Qur’an 2:97), and so on.76 And yet, using an insightful analogy, Hick suggests that such diversity need not necessarily undermine the directness of experiences. The analogy is that of ‘crisis apparitions’. He gives an example. A man travelling in India is killed in an accident and his wife in England receives an apparition of the husband, suggesting his death. The actual elements of the apparition that suggests death could vary: it may be that he appears still and dead-like or he may speak of his death, or a coffin is seen in the vision, and so on. These specific elements in the apparition suggesting death are hallucinatory in as much as there is no physical body present where the wife sees one. But such hallucination gives true information about her husband’s death.77 Similarly ‘the specific material out of which the [mystic’s] vision is composed—the figure of an angel, or Christ,  Ibid., 294.  Ibid., 295. 75  Ibid., 293. 76  Ibid., 166. 77  Ibid., 167. 73 74



or Krishna, or Kali, or of a throne, a heart, a cloud—is supplied by the imagination and memory of the mystic’, but true information could be conveyed through such imagination.78 Therefore, Hick calls them ‘veridical hallucinations’.79 The contention, as I understand it, is that communitive mysticism is direct in the sense that the medium of communication—the diverse religio-cultural-psychic material—does not affect the truth of message communicated; the same content could be communicated through different media. In short, communitive mysticism is direct in the sense that in spite of its having the experiencing-as structure, the message is not affected. The significance of Hick’s treatment of mysticism is twofold. First, it corrects the monistic bias given to mysticism by Stace and gives theistic mystics their due. Second, through his analogy of ‘crisis apparitions’, he provides a philosophical basis for visions and voices that play a significant role in theistic experiences, as Hick’s examples make clear. This corroborates what we saw in connection with stigmata, except that it is better considered as ‘mediated immediacy’. 3.3  Karl Rahner (1904–1984) Grace Jantzen classifies the thinkers who have turned to religious experience into two categories. Those who base themselves on empirical studies of religious experience and those who depend on an anthropology of what it means to be human.80 Beginning with the ancient tradition of defining human beings as rational animals, Jantzen sees various mutations of the anthropological tradition through Descartes, deists, Kant, and Schleiermacher. Whereas all the authors we have examined in this chapter fall under the empiricist tradition, Karl Rahner, easily the best known Catholic theologian of the twentieth century, comes under the anthropological tradition. Rahner emerged at a time when Neo-Scholasticism dominated Catholic thinking. But in spite of the scholastic emphasis on metaphysics in its classical form,81 there already existed a serious attempt to adapt that metaphysics to the epistemological turn of modern  Ibid., 168.  Ibid., 273. 80  Grace M. Jantzen, ‘Could There Be a Mystical Core of Religion?’, Religious Studies 26 (1990), 61. 81  See Chap. 1, fn. 22. 78 79



philosophy. This was accomplished by the Belgian Jesuit Joseph Maréchal, who would inspire Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, and others. On the one hand, Maréchal was rooted in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition where all intellectual operations must begin with the senses and no direct intellectual intuition is possible. On the other hand, he was also aware of the mystical claim of a direct intellectual intuition of reality. He resolved the tension by affirming that every sensible intuition of an object leading to a judgement ‘affirms more than the existence of a finite object’.82 In making an explicit judgement of finite objects, there is an implicit affirmation of existence as such. For example, the judgement ‘This is a cat’ is analysed as infinite existence (‘is’) being limited by finite existence (‘cat’). Thus ‘being as being’ of traditional metaphysics enters into every finite knowing. As a result, for Rahner ‘the experience of self and of objects as limited, as not the totality of being, presumes the unthematic, or as yet vague and unarticulated, awareness of limitless being or of the totality of being’.83 A new element that enters into Rahner’s thought is the existentialism of Heidegger. Using the idea of horizon, he can say that ‘in the act of knowing, human beings experience themselves as drawn beyond themselves toward this ultimate horizon of being’.84 Notice the use of ‘this’ in the singular when talking of the ultimate horizon experienced by human beings. This singular horizon, in turn, is identified with God: ‘in every act of knowing the human being experiences, as well as the external reality, both himself or herself and God the horizon of all being’.85 This identification of God with a singular horizon enables Rahner to say that God ‘is implicitly known in everything’.86 This manner of understanding God has its advantages as it safeguards the autonomy of religious experience without separating it from ordinary experience. When religious experience is understood as the implicit, unthematic experience of the horizon, it is clearly different from the 82  Stephen M.  Fields, ‘Modern Catholic Theology and Mystical Tradition’, in Julia A. Lamm (ed.), The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism (Hoboken: J. Wiley, 2013), 506; see also Anne Carr, ‘Theology and Experience in the Thought of Karl Rahner’, The Journal of Religion 53 (1973), 362. 83  Mary E.  Hines, The Transformation of Dogma: An Introduction to Karl Rahner on Doctrine (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 6. 84  Ibid.; emphasis added. 85  Ibid. 86  Cited in Ibid., 8.



explicit, thematic awareness of the objects that appear within the horizon. Thus, it safeguards the autonomy of religious experience. Further, since objects cannot appear except within some horizon, the two can never be separated. Therefore, understanding God as the horizon of the thematic experience of objects safeguards the Christian understanding of God as immanent and transcendent. This approach is similar to that of Schleiermacher, for whom there can be no religious consciousness except in relation to sensible (or object) consciousness.87 It has the apologetic advantage that the naturalists need only to properly analyse their ordinary experience to find a distinctly religious moment of experience. This might also be compared to the Aristotelian approach that establishes the First Cause or Prime Mover by reflecting on the experience of the world around him. In spite of such advantages, Rahner’s understanding is problematic for three reasons. First of all, Jantzen has rightly described ours as a ‘post-­ Christian empirical world’, where ‘the accumulation of evidence is important for us in a way that it never was for Schleiermacher’88 and others in the anthropological tradition. The next two objections are from the perspective of the dialogical approach that is required for the propaedeutic task of fundamental theology. From this perspective, while the transcendental analysis can uncover the important difference between a lived horizon and the objects that appear within that horizon, it is hard to see what is religious about an existential horizon. An existential horizon could well be a naturalistic horizon, as we have seen in Chap. 5. The problem lies in the transition from the awareness of the inescapability of some lived horizon to God as the singular horizon that accompanies every thematic experience. While it is true to say that everyone has a lived horizon and that this horizon will always be singular for any person at any given time, it seems unwarranted to say that there is any singular ‘ultimate horizon of being’ common to everyone that could, in turn, be identified with God. Finally, such identification of an existential horizon with God who is implicitly known in every explicit knowing denies the otherness of other horizons. We noted in Chap. 5 that a person’s lived horizon is made up of the accumulated experiences, values, prejudices, and the cultural heritage of that person. Inasmuch as these experiences differ, we must also 87  Jacqueline Marina, ‘Schleiermacher on the Outpourings of the Inner Fire: Experiential Expressivism and Religious Pluralism’, Religious Studies 40 (2004), 131. 88  Jantzen, ‘Could There Be a Mystical Core of Religion?’, 63.



acknowledge differences in their lived horizons. Because atheists too have a lived horizon, to claim that they know God implicitly in all their explicit awareness of objects amounts to making them theists by definition; what they know only implicitly, theists know explicitly. Responding to a sceptic who denied that he had any experience of God, Rahner denied that any human person could be without an experience of God, though not under the code word God.89 Such denial of other horizons is hardly helpful for dialogue, much less to a fusion of horizons, whether with the atheists or with people of other religious faiths.

4   Concluding Observations This chapter has brought us face to face with three different kinds of mystical experiences: nature mysticism that can occur to anyone without any prior preparation or practice, unitive mysticism that is in keeping with the non-dualistic strand of Hinduism, and theistic mysticism that is in tune with experiences that are described in terms of communion with God. The first and second correspond to Stace’s extrovertive and introvertive categories, and the second and third to Smart’s mystical and numinous, which are roughly the same as Hick’s unitive and communitive mysticism. These must be considered irreducible kinds of experiences, because Stace’s attempt to define the mystical in terms of the unitive is found to be inadequate to explain theistic experiences and unacceptable to theists like Katz. A second observation is that although these three categories of experience are irreducibly different, their boundaries are porous. This is indicated by the similarities between these different categories of experience. We saw that five out of the seven characteristics Stace enumerated about introvertive and extrovertive experiences are the same. According to Deidre Green, the distinction between “panenhenic” or “extrovertive” mysticism and the type of mysticism which centre around an interior or introvertive quest, is not quite as clear-cut as it may seem. The two are not mutually exclusive, and in the writings of many mystics imply each other; when we realize the divine within, we see it also revealed in the phenomenal world.90 89  See Jeannine Hill Fletcher, ‘Rahner and Religious Diversity’, in Declan Marmion and Mary E. Hines (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Karl Rahner Cambridge Companions to Religion (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 237. 90  Deirdre Green, ‘Unity in Diversity’, Scottish Journal of Religious Studies 3 (1982), 49–50.



Just as the introvertive and extrovertive are not clear cut, the boundaries between the numinous and mystical are not clear cut, either. This is seen in Smart who saw the numinous and the mystical as fundamentally different, but goes on to enumerate the similarities between them. When we see the lists given by Stace and Smart, we begin to see the overlap between the three categories. This seems to indicate the mutual porousness of these three categories. Such porousness is also indicated by the fact that classification of mystical experiences is often confusing; sometimes even the same authors classify them differently at different times. We have noted Zaehner’s case whose sharp distinction between panenhenic and monistic experience is not seen in his later writings. Similarly Hick’s treatment of mysticism did not mention nature mysticism, but in a later book he talks about the ‘experience of the transformed world’.91 Moreover, Hick classifies the sense of presence, the second feature of extrovertive mysticism in Stace, as another kind of experience. The problem of classifying mystical experience is even more pronounced when we consider William Wainwright’s analysis. He distinguished four different kinds of extrovertive and at least two kinds of introvertive experience.92 Experiences of living presence and transcending of time and so on are considered different kinds of extrovertive experiences. This is significant because of the similarity we found in the process of exploring natural perception where different features like causalism and disjunctivism were taken to be different theories. Our grammatical approach to perception enabled us to bring them together as the constitutive features of ‘perception’, and then use those rules for resolving disputed perceptual claims. Further, developmental continuity has enabled us to explore the dynamics that produces the ‘torrential output’ of modern science from the ‘meagre input’ of natural perception. The finding that extrovertive or nature mysticism is a spontaneous kind of experience that can happen to anyone irrespective of the person’s religion and culture, as well as the porousness of different classifications, suggests the possibility of systematizing the field in a similar manner by using the procedure we adopted for empirical knowledge. Accordingly, in the 91  John Hick, The New Frontier of Religion and Science: Religious Experience, Neuroscience and the Transcendent (Basingstoke, Hampshire [England]; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 30. 92  William J.  Wainwright, Mysticism: A Study of Its Nature, Cognitive Value, and Moral Implications (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981), 33–41.



next chapter I shall explore nature mysticism to discover its characteristic features from which grammatical rules can be drawn out. It will be seen that these roughly correspond to the theistic understanding of God, and thereby fulfil the first task of fundamental theology. Then, in Chap. 10, I will show that nature does not exhaust the innate human capacity for spontaneous mystical experience. Then, using the same dynamics of developmental continuity seen in empirical knowledge will enable us to account for diverse kinds of cultivated mysticism, whether of the unitive or communitive variety.


Nature Mysticism and God

When the principle of identity is understood as ‘in-principle-­experienceable’ difference, and taken together with the principle of hermeneutic accessibility or intelligibility, there emerges the need for communicating religion/God in terms of experiences in a manner that is accessible to non-­ believers. This means returning to Flew’s demand, seen in Chap. 3, and doing so in terms of experience. This is the task to be taken up in this chapter. It corresponds to the propaedeutic task of fundamental theology. But keeping the dialogical task of fundamental theology in mind, I shall try to make that preliminary explication of the concept of God in an interreligious manner. The last chapter prepared us for this task by making us aware of a class of mystical experiences that are spontaneous (Stace) and could occur to anyone irrespective of the person’s religious, moral, national, or linguistic belonging (Zaehner). This is the well-known phenomenon of nature mysticism to which William James drew our attention long ago.1 The very prevalence of such spontaneous mysticism indicates that it is natural to human beings. But I must reiterate here the significance of the NaC-Di-­ NoS principle discussed in Chap. 6. A twofold distinction was drawn between the natural and the cultural. Firstly, natural cognition, being innate and spontaneous, is more or less universal to human beings whereas the cultural is not. I illustrated the natural with the example of categories 1  William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, Centenary ed. (London/New York: Routledge, 2002), 305.

© The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




like ‘green’ or ‘cold’ where experience comes before a child is able to name it. Here experience has priority over language. Language and culture play a role in naming these experiences, as the names for the same experience differ from language to language. This prompted me to say that the natural and cultural are not separable. Such inseparability makes many discount the significance of the distinction itself, as we saw Michael Williams do in Chap. 6. In the last Chapter we saw Steven Katz denying that there are any un-interpreted experiences. I suspect that such is also case with Ingolf Dalferth’s hermeneutical approach to fundamental theology where he denies the possibility of any divine-human encounter that is unmediated by signs.2 For him, ‘it is not the experience per se that is religious’ but interpretation that makes an experience religious.3 This may be true of the more culturally conditioned experiences like that of Lady Julian or Ramakrishna, seen in the last Chapter. But we have no reason to say that all mystical experiences are of this kind. Denial of a direct encounter goes contrary to mystical claims, as we have seen. We avoid this predicament by drawing on the second distinction between the natural and the cultural wherein we acknowledge that the cultural component of natural cognition is minimal and elementary, and it is on the basis of this primary learning that all advanced learning takes place (e.g., electron). Therefore, in spite of the inseparability of the two, it becomes possible to distinguish the natural from the cultural. By keeping inseparability and distinguishability together, NaC-Di-NoS principle maintains the priority of experience over interpretation, as far as the natural is concerned. If some mystical experiences are natural, as we saw in the last chapter, then such experiences are not made mystical on account of interpretation. Having adopted the NaC-Di-NoS principle, I shall take nature mysticism as our starting point and follow the same method that was used to arrive at the grammar of natural perception. Accordingly, I shall narrate instances of nature mysticism and analyse them to find their characteristic features. This will be done in the first section. In the second and third sections I shall draw out the grammatical implications of those features and 2  Ingolf U. Dalferth, Radical Theology: An Essay on Faith and Theology in the Twenty-First Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 79. 3  Ibid., 81.



show how they help us to talk about God as understood in classical theism. Using those grammatical rules for justification of religious beliefs will follow in the next chapter.

1   Nature Mysticism: Experience and Analyses Let me start by saying what nature mysticism is not. Richard Dawkins begins his book The God Delusion, by comparing the experiences of two people. One is that of his pastor who as a young boy had an experience in nature which, Dawkins says, the would-be pastor interpreted in religious terms and which eventually led to his becoming a priest. Then, talking about himself, Dawkins says that that boy could have been himself as he is often fascinated by nature. But he calls himself a ‘deeply religious non-­ believer’. ‘Religious’ because of his ‘quasi-mystical’ view of nature and ‘non-believer’ because he finds that his ‘quasi-mystical’ view of nature ‘has no connection with supernatural belief’.4 For the moment, I shall leave aside his understanding of the supernatural and focus on his wondering why ‘the same emotion should have led my chaplain in one direction and me in the other’.5 The first thing to be said is that, since Dawkins is narrating the experience of someone else, we really do not know if his pastor’s experience was the same as his. What we do know is that he compares his own case with narrations about the grandeur of science coming from Carl Sagan and Steven Weinberg. It is commonly seen that those who contemplate the beauty and complexity of nature are immensely fascinated by it. Donald Crosby, who waxes eloquent about ‘the incredibly vast intergalactic universe, opened up to our vision and imagination by the cosmological science of the twentieth century’, provides another good example of this kind of experience.6 Ursula Goodenough who talks about the beauty of nature that elicits religious emotions is another example.7 Borrowing a term from Elmar Mitterstieler, I shall call this kind of experience ‘nature experience’. It is the kind of experience that ‘fills us with grateful admiration [for nature] and makes us ask “how?” and “where  Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London, Toronto: Bantam Press, 2006), 11.  Ibid. 6  Donald A. Crosby, Faith and Reason: Their Roles in Religious and Secular Life (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011), 144. 7  Ursula Goodenough, The Sacred Depths of Nature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), xvi. 4 5



from?”’8 But this kind of experience cannot be considered nature mysticism, because nature mysticism is spontaneous as we have learned from Stace and Zaehner in the last chapter. It involves no cogitations, no asking of questions, or finding answers. We will have occasion to see in the third section that this failure to distinguish between nature experience and nature mysticism unites atheists like Dawkins and ‘religious naturalists’ like Crosby, Goodenough, and Loyal Rue. But once we distinguish the two, it is easy to find a rather straightforward answer to Dawkins when he wonders why his pastor and he responded differently to their ‘experiences’: most likely those were different kinds of experience. His pastor’s experience was probably an instance of nature mysticism, whereas his own was nothing more than amazement at the marvels of nature disclosed by science. The expected answer from cogitating over the question of ‘wherefrom’ seems to be ‘from God’, and thereby assuming a concept of God. When Dawkins denies any connection between his experience and the supernatural he, too, is assuming a concept of the supernatural. Such is also the case with the others who call themselves religious naturalists. Inasmuch as nature experience takes for granted the concept of God rather than exploring the concept in the light of experience, it is inappropriate as a starting point for fundamental theology. More damaging is the fact that precisely the sort of cogitations involved in nature experience led to the growth of modern atheism, as we have learned from Michael Buckley (Chap. 1). Let us proceed, then, to examine whether nature mysticism throws light on the concept of God and thereby perform the first task of fundamental theology. 1.1  Some Experiences Before narrating instances of nature mysticism, I must point out that all experiences, whether perceptual or mystical, whether of love or anger, occur in various degrees of intensity, vivacity, and detail. In natural perception, for example, I might see something in the sky vaguely as a flying object, or more vividly as an eagle or an aeroplane. The point of this observation is that we must beware of the temptation to think that perceptual experiences are the same always, except for the perceived object. Such 8  Elmar Mitterstieler, Tracing the Vanished Rivers: Meditations on Spiritual Accompaniment/ Ignatian Impulses (Bangalore, India: Asian Trading Corporation, 2015), 1.



is not really the case. The same is true of nature mysticism; not every instance of nature mysticism will have the same details. Let me begin with one of my personal experiences. It happened when I was in high school. My school was far from home and I had to walk a long distance through a forest path. The walk was often alone and the way led through many ups and downs, hills and valleys. After climbing the last of those elevations, it was my custom to sit and relax on a rock before proceeding further towards home. One evening as I arrived there, I unburdened myself of the books I was carrying, and sat down there relaxing. The rock on which I sat slanted slightly to the west and I looked straight ahead at the evening sky with the evening sun shining through the branches of a tree. Suddenly I became aware of something beautiful and glorious. Did I see something that was more luminous than the sun? I am pretty sure I did not. It was the same tree and the sky I had seen almost routinely on a daily basis, but there was something which I experienced that day which I had never seen before. I had no words to describe what I saw. Nor did I feel the need for it. I just sat there transfixed, as it were. There was nothing exceptional that I saw with my physical eyes and yet I knew that I was in the presence of something that was enchanting and which elevated my heart. I sat there for some time, mesmerized and savouring every moment of it before continuing my journey home. This experience got so very deeply engraved in my heart that I could never again pass that way without spending some time there looking in the same direction and at the same natural scene hoping for another experience of the same kind. All I had was reliving the memories of the first time. That spot became so special to me that years later when I could no longer go there physically on a regular basis, I took a photo of that scene in nature. Whenever I felt down for some reason, I would look at that black and white photo to relive those moments and feel uplifted. Ever since that first time, I have had intermittent experiences of the feeling of being uplifted when in nature. The most remarkable incident happened about eight years later. If the first experience was so ineffable that I had no way of describing my experience other than being mesmerized by it, there is a little more I could say about this later experience. I had joined the Jesuits by then as a candidate to priesthood. It was customary to spend eight days annually in prayer (retreat). Instead of joining a group, I was fond of making the retreat by myself. That particular year the person who was to guide me was someone who believed in living close to nature and followed a very simple life-style. At the beginning of the retreat



he suggested that after breakfast I could go into the woods a few kilometres away and spend the day there in silent prayer. I did that. After breakfast I would get my water bottle and the bible and walk into the jungle. As it was summer time the stream was dry, and I sat near it in the shade of trees trying to pray. When I got tired I would walk up the mountain and sit on the top of a rock and do the same. The first two days were rather uneventful. The third day was rather miserable, as I found it very difficult to feel the divine presence in spite of my best efforts. In the evening I was coming down the mountain in that despondent mood, and everything changed in the flash of a moment. I turned around to have a last look at the lovely woods before entering the inhabited village. What I saw was amazing. It is as if the whole place was alive and transformed in a way that I could not describe. I saw that everything was full of life in a strange sort of way. Everything means everything; even the stones were alive and I was surrounded by a living presence. My despondency disappeared and my heart glowed. These two unforgettable experiences would become my guides and sources of inspiration in the midst of difficulties and hardships in my later life. I had not heard anything about nature mysticism then; it was very many years later while reading William James and Walter Stace that I would learn about it. It was still later that it occurred to me that these natural experiences could be used to convey the meaning of ‘God’ as theists understand that word. Having exposed myself to the literature on nature mysticism, I began collecting examples of the same. The following are a few from that collection. A first, commonly quoted, narration from William Blake is to be commended for its brevity: To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.

The next example is from Bede Griffiths and is also quoted often: One day during my last term at school I walked out alone in the evening and heard the birds singing in that full chorus of song, which can only be heard at that time of the year at dawn or at sunset. I remember now the shock of surprise with which the sound broke on my ears. It seemed that I had never heard the birds singing before and I wondered whether they sang like this



all the year round and never noticed it. As I walked on I came upon some hawthorn trees in full bloom, and again I thought that I had never seen such a sight or experienced such sweetness before. If I had been brought suddenly among the trees of the Garden of Paradise and heard a choir of angels singing, I could not have been more surprised. I came thus to where the sun was setting over the playing fields. A lark rose suddenly from the ground beside the tree where I was standing and poured out its song above my head, and then sank still singing to rest. Everything then grew still as the sunset faded and the veil of dusk began to cover the earth. I remember now the feeling of awe which came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as though I had been standing in the presence of angel.9

1.2  Analyses In the light of these experiences, let us examine Stace’s interpretation of nature mysticism. We saw in the last chapter that his view about unity being its core is not corroborated by numerous instances of nature mysticism. Here I want to examine his argument for considering nature mysticism an ‘incomplete kind of experience which finds its completion and fulfilment in the introvertive kind of experience’.10 His argument is that mystical experience is devoid of empirical content whereas nature mysticism has empirical content. This argument is seen in the thought experiment he suggests for understanding introvertive experiences. He asks us to imagine shutting out all physical sensations (sight, hearing, etc.) from one’s consciousness. Then in a second step we suppress all images from our minds, and finally, stop all thinking and reasoning. Thus, he says, we get rid of ‘all empirical content’ and arrive at fully fledged mysticism, which is introvertive.11 The same argument is given more explicitly when he explains why mysticism must be dissociated from visions, voices, and other parapsychological phenomena like telepathy and clairvoyance. He writes: ‘What mystics say is that a genuine mystical experience is nonsensuous. It is formless,  Bede Griffiths, The Golden String (London: The Harvill Press, 1954), 9.  Walter T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (London/Bombay: MacMillan, 1960), 132. 11  Walter Stace, The Teachings of the Mystics (New York/Toronto: The New American Library, 1960), 17; Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 85–86. 9




shapeless, colorless, odorless, soundless. But a vision is a piece of visual imagery having color and shape. A voice is an auditory image. Visions and voices are sensuous experiences’.12 Jess Byron Hollenback laments the ‘unfortunate consequences’ of this bias, beginning with Stace, on account of which the experiences of well-known mystics like Ibn al-Arabi and Hildegard of Bingen are downplayed in the scholarly literature on mysticism.13 We saw, in the last chapter, how John Hick speaks of communitive mysticism where visions and voices are routine affairs. That Stace makes no distinction between sensory involvement and sensory content is also clear when, after quoting Eckhart experience of nature mysticism, he asks: ‘What is it then that he experienced? He was looking with his physical eyes at some blades of grass, wood, stones, etc. This, and the fact that he speaks of this multiplicity as “external,” prove that what he is talking about is the material world, perceived by his senses’.14 This idea that the object perceived in nature mysticism is only the material nature has become so influential that even Paul Marshall, who understands nature mysticism better than Stace, follows him when he says that such experiences are ‘not experience of something completely beyond the natural world’.15 Therefore, let us consider the viability of Stace’s view. The fault line in Stace’s analysis consists in his move from sensory involvement to sensory content. When we see a flower, the content of that experience is a flower; when we see a tree, the content of that experience is a tree. But the first thing to notice about any of the experiences narrated above is how drastically different they are from ordinary sense experience. As regards the very first example I have mentioned, it was fairly common for wearied travellers to sit and relax on that spot for a while before proceeding towards their homes. Therefore, neither the place nor the scenery was new. Similarly we must assume, in the other examples, that this was not the first time that the concerned persons saw a grain of sand, wild flowers, birds, and trees. But the experiences they narrate are utterly different from seeing any of these. Blake sees a ‘world’ in a grain of sand, a ‘heaven’ in a wild flower. Similarly, Griffiths’s experience is so utterly  Stace, The Teachings of the Mystics, 13; Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 49.   Jess Byron Hollenback, Mysticism: Experience, Response, and Empowerment, Hermeneutics, Studies in the History of Religions (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996), ix. 14  Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 64. 15  Paul Marshall, Mystical Encounters with the Natural World: Experiences and Explanations (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 2. 12 13



different from ordinary sense experience that he speaks about the ‘shock of surprise’ and the ‘feeling of awe’ that came over him. This is a clear indication that they are not talking about sensory content. Therefore, Stace’s move from sensory involvement to sensory content is not tenable. Another way of coming to realize that nature mysticism is not about sensory content is to listen to someone who had a nature mystical experience, but laments the loss of it without losing the sensory content. The following narration is from a woman by the name of Brenda who feels the loss of ‘the secret behind the sunset and the human faces’ although all her sensory abilities were intact: As I grew up … I ceased to believe “God” and “guardian angels” helped us [in times of trouble]. There was a mysterious presence in nature [that was] sometimes met with in the communion and in praying by oneself, which was my greatest delight . . . At the age of twenty-one I married a Marxist scientist, and tried hard to escape entirely from any faith in God. For eight years I succeeded very well, and then found I had lost the secret behind sunsets (I noticed this first), and in human faces—as though I had lost a dimension. This worried me very much and I felt alienated from the stuff of life, although I had three lovely little children and a very happy marriage… After two years or so of tension…I finally… saw. This seeing was in the form of glory pouring from everything.16

The decisive reason for not following Stace’s view is that it would undermine his own argument for the non-sensuous character of introvertive mysticism. This is so because the meditational practices, which are the doorway to introversion, begin by focusing either on sensations of the body as in vipassana (the original Buddhist meditation), or on breathing as in yoga, or on the heartbeat as in Jesus prayer.17 Senses are involved in each of these practices just as in nature mysticism. The only difference (other than their involuntariness) seems to be that extrovertive experiences are dominated by the visual and auditory senses, whereas the introvertive experiences are dominated by the tactile. Now if it be argued that extrovertive mysticism has sensory content because it involves the senses, 16  Cited in Phillip H. Wiebe, Intuitive Knowing as Spiritual Experience (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 69. 17  This understanding of Jesus prayer is based on The Way of the Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way, trans. R. M. French, Mystical Classics of the World (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1998), 90.



should it not be said also of episodes of introvertive mysticism since they involve bodily sensations? But this would go against Stace’s claim that introvertive mysticism is absolutely devoid of sensory content. In the light of these considerations, we must abandon the idea that involvement of the senses necessarily provides sensory content. Senses, in extrovertive mysticism function as doorways to experience and not as content providers. Therefore, rather than talk about the sensory character of nature mysticism, Rudolf Otto’s expression ‘wholly other’ best fits such experiences. By ‘wholly other’ Otto meant ‘that which is beyond the sphere of the usual, the intelligible, and the familiar…’,18 ‘something which has no place in our [ordinary] scheme of reality but belongs to an absolutely different one, and which at the same time arouses an irrepressible interest in the mind’.19 An important implication of this alternative analysis is that we become aware of the twofold character of nature mysticism. Let me explain. That these experiences have a ‘wholly other’ character does not mean that senses are not involved in nature mysticism: Blake does see the sand and the flower. But the content of his present experience is something entirely different. Griffiths’s experience involves the birds and the trees, but it is as if he experiences them for the first time. How else to explain the awe and the shock of surprise he experienced? Therefore, rather than conclude from sensory involvement to sensory content, we must say that nature mysticism has a twofold character: nature is involved, but something ‘more’ than nature is experienced. It is as if the natural world of the senses (sensory content) is a covering for the real content that is experienced, as the following narration makes clear. Many times I have found courage and strength and beauty through loneliness [sic], in an experience with nature. One day I was feeling deeply depressed by the severe criticisms a colleague had received – a person who was living his life in an honest and truthful sense…. Nothing was real… After the children had gone to bed, I decided to go for a walk. The night was dark, filled with black clouds. Large white flakes of snow fell on and around me. Inside, a surging restlessness replaced my benumbed state. … Suddenly without understanding in any way, I experienced a transcendental beauty in the white darkness. It was difficult to walk on the glazed, iced 18  Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans. John W. Harvey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923; repr., 1936), 26. 19  Ibid., 29.



surface… Immediately I felt a chill but at the same time I felt the ice being warmed as my fingers touched it. It was a moment of communion, an experience of knowing and understanding, and a feeling of complete solace. I felt my inward heaviness lifting, and discovered a new capacity for…facing conflicts which existed around and in me…. We need only reach out in natural covering to come face to face with creation.20

It is the non-sensory character of the experience that gave Clark Moustakas an extraordinary sense of having come ‘face to face with creation’. Therefore, it seems best to say that such experiences take place in and through nature but are not experiences of nature. Nature is the locus of experience, but not the content or the ‘object’ of experience. The object of experience is something ‘more’ than nature.21 This is what I mean by the twofold character of nature mysticism. It is on account of this ‘more’ that mystical experiences are said to have a ‘noetic quality’, a point on which mystics agree. As James rightly notes, mystical states are ‘states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time’.22 Moustakas, in the above narration, speaks explicitly of ‘knowing and understanding’ and of the realization that nature is only a cover for a deeper reality. Similarly, Griffiths’ experience leads him to say: ‘We only begin to wake to reality when we realize that the material world, the world of space and time, as it appears to our senses, is nothing but a sign and a symbol of a mystery which infinitely transcends it’.23 Whether this mystical claim can be justified and what kind of justification is available to it will be treated in the next chapter. The present task is that of understanding the mystical claim, especially in the light of the deep disagreement between theists on the one hand and atheists and religious naturalists on the other. We saw in the introduction to Part II that, in the face of radically different language

20  Clark E. Moustakas, Loneliness (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1961), 52–53, cited in Louis Roy, Transcendent Experiences: Phenomenology and Critique (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 15. 21  See James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 392. 22  Ibid., 295. 23  Griffiths, The Golden String, 161.



games and deep disagreements, justification must be preceded by understanding so that the two sides avoid talking past each other.

2   Naming the Experienced Reality: Is It God? Once we have overcome the misunderstanding about the nature of nature mysticism that began with Stace, it becomes possible to gain a correct understanding by following the same procedure we adopted for natural perception. Acquaintance with good examples of natural perception enabled us to describe their characteristic features. Then, following the principle of supervenience or metaphysical continuity we drew out their normative implications to arrive at the grammatical rules that are constitutive of perception. Similarly, we can use the characteristic features of nature mysticism described by different authors, including Stace, to arrive at the constitutive features of such experiences. It will be seen that although everything that Christians, or even theists in general, say about God cannot be found in nature mysticism, all the features found in nature mysticism are said about God by theists.  Moreover, since these grammatical rules are ecumenical, they can also considered as providing the criteria of religious truth. In talking about the God of theists, I am not referring to the kind of God that some contemporary philosophers have invented, a thoroughly anthropomorphic God who keeps changing as he learns of ‘new developments in the world’!24 An experiential approach has no place for speculations about such a probable God, who may or may not have existed and who could be ignorant about what happens in the world so that he needs to learn about it. As against such an anthropomorphic God, I will focus on understanding the God we find in classical theism. We will see that the same features that are found in nature mysticism also constitute the theistic understanding of God. This will accomplish the first task of fundamental theology, seen in Chap. 5, the task of explicating the theistic concept of God from the beginning (i.e., without using other religious concepts), as demanded by Flew.

24  Mark Wynn attributes this understanding of God to Richard Swinburne, among others; see Mark Wynn, ‘Simplicity, Personhood, and Divinity’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 41 (1997), 91–103.



2.1  Noetic Quality: Real Let us begin with what James called the ‘noetic quality’. To talk about the noetic quality of mystical experience is to say that the experienced reality is real. The same description is found in Stace as ‘sense of objectivity or reality’. This could not be any clearer than in the following narration from John Franklin: The major incident in my life occurred when I was at school aged 14. One hot Sunday afternoon in June 1949, lying on my back on a knoll under a lime tree, aware of the scents and sounds of summer and watching the flickering sun-light through the leaves of the lime tree, my mind went a blank—I suddenly found myself surrounded, embraced, by a white light, which seemed both to come from within me and from without, a very bright light but quite unlike any ordinary physical light. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of Love, of warmth, peace and joy—a Love far, far greater than any human love could be—utterly accepting, giving, compassionate, total Love. I seemed to sense a presence, but did not see anybody. I had the feeling of being ‘one’ with everything, and ‘knowing’ all things—whatever I wanted to know, I ‘knew’ instantly and directly. I had the sense of this being utter Reality, the real, far more ‘real’ and vivid than the ordinary everyday ‘reality’ of the physical world.25

It is amazing that he should use words like ‘utter Reality’, ‘real’, and so on. Such is also the theistic understanding of God. Not only is God considered real, but also real without compare such that in comparison, all other reality becomes less than real. Early Christians expressed this by borrowing Plato’s philosophy of Forms where the reality of this world is real only to the extent that they participate in the Supreme Form. For the same reason God is considered the ‘Being of beings’. As Ingolf Dalferth puts it, ‘God is the one without whom nothing possible would be possible, and nothing actual would be actual. To be true to this is a formal requirement of any viable idea of God’.26 For Aquinas existence is the very essence of God. This manner of expressing the experienced reality is not only Christian. In the ancient Indian text of Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Brahman is called ‘the Real of the reals’ (satyasya satyam).27 The same Upanishad also used  Cited in Marshall, Mystical Encounters with the Natural World, 24.  Ingolf U. Dalferth, Radical Theology: An Essay on Faith and Theology in the Twenty-First Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 3. 27  Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, 2.1.20. 25 26



expressions like the ‘sight of sight’ and the ‘hearing of hearing’, indicating the same message, that in comparison with this supreme reality everything else fades in significance. In the same vein, most African religions recognize this reality as The Supreme Being; the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria goes a step further and calls it The Most Supreme Being (olodumare).28 2.2  Drastic Contrast: Ineffability That the ‘object’ experienced in nature mysticism is real does not mean that it is real in the same way as a flower or sunset is real. The very first thing we noted about nature mysticism is the drastic contrast between such experiences and ordinary sense experience. It is on account of this utter difference, we noted, that Otto considered this kind of experience as ‘wholly other’. That which is experienced is so very different from ordinary objects of experience that it invariably comes with a shock of surprise. This utter difference is so very typical of the theistic understanding of God. It brings with it two normative implications. One is ineffability and the other is simplicity. Both have been matters of much discussion and dispute; therefore, let us consider them in some detail. William James thought of ineffability as one of the marks of mysticism. Stace endorsed him, though with some hesitation. The first major criticism of it came from Katz. We saw in the last chapter that many different kinds of experiences can be said to be ineffable, and therefore, it should not be considered a descriptive feature of mysticism. Proudfoot goes a step further and argues that ‘ineffability’ is not a description, but rather a prescription or a grammatical rule for identifying any experience as mystical or religious. The purpose, according to him, is to systematically empty terms such as God, numinous, Brahman, and so on of all content, so as ‘to guarantee, in advance, ineffability’.29 There are two components to his claim that must be evaluated independently. The first is that such advance guarantee of ineffability is part of the protective strategy invented by Schleiermacher and his successors to preclude critical scrutiny of religion.30 I have already discarded this view (Introduction to Part III) by pointing 28  Aloysius Muzzanganda Lugira, African Traditional Religion, 3rd ed., World Religions (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2009), 45. 29  Wayne Proudfoot, Religious Experience (Berkley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), 131. 30  Ibid., xv–xvi, 131.



to a Buddhist text from the ancient world where religion did not need such protection. Proudfoot himself gives examples of other ancient texts such as the opening statement of Tao te Ching, the via negativa of Pseudo-­ Dionysius, the tetragrammaton of Judaism, the neti-neti of the Upanishads, and the sūunyatā of Nagarjuna. That brings us to Proudfoot’s second claim that ineffability is a prescriptive (grammatical) rule and not a description of mystical experience. As far as nature mysticism is concerned, Proudfoot is absolutely right on this point. The relevant description of the experience is that it is a radically different kind of experience. As Otto noted, it is the kind of experience that has no place in our ordinary scheme of things. When this drastic contrast is taken together with a common assumption about language, there follows the grammatical rule of ineffability. The assumption about language is the one given by Stace that ‘words in all languages are the products of our sensory-intellectual consciousness’.31 If our language is suitable only for sensory intellectual consciousness, it is to be expected that anything that does not fit into this consciousness would be unfit for linguistic descriptions. Ineffability in this sense is like sign boards bearing ‘NO ENTRY’. Such signs are found in places as varied as defence establishments, airport runways, private properties, dangerous mountain cliffs, protected wildlife parks, and so on. It would be most absurd to argue that those sign boards are descriptions of something common in the enclosures beyond them! Mystical claims of ineffability are similar. But in spite of such ineffability, mystical experience is so overwhelming that the mystics cannot keep silent about it. Therefore, after having proclaimed the ineffability of their experience, mystics go on to talk about it in language that is analogical, metaphorical, and even paradoxical. Otto called them ideograms, as opposed to rational concepts.32 Needless to say that the grammatical rule of ineffability applies not only to mystical experiences but also to God, Brahman, Śūnyata, and so on. Regarding God, Aquinas would say that ‘we have no means for considering how God is, but rather how He is not’.33 And he goes on to contrast God’s being with that of material objects. The divine name used by the Swazis of Africa is revealing in this matter. They call it Mvelamqand

 Stace, The Teachings of the Mystics, 14.  Otto, The Idea of the Holy., 19. 33  Aquinas, ST 1, q.3. 31 32



meaning ‘who appeared first… unapproachable, unpredictable, of no specific sex’.34 2.3  Drastic Contrast: Simplicity It is in the process of discussing the simplicity of God and that Aquinas draws the contrast between God and material objects. Paul Helm considers the doctrine of divine simplicity central to the grammar of Christian theism.35 But this doctrine has been a subject of much argumentation in philosophy and theology.36 William Hasker rightly recognizes that the doctrine has long and ‘twisted roots’.37 However, once we follow the methodological reversal effected by Schleiermacher, doctrines need to be explicated in terms of experience and not the other way. Let us see how this could be done with divine simplicity, without going into the complexities of its philosophical past. We begin with the utter difference between ordinary experience and mystical experience just mentioned. An important reason for such difference is that the object experienced in nature mysticism is not in space and time. The singing birds and hawthorn trees and the white snow or the flickering light through the leaves (in the example from Franklin) are in space and time; they are objects of ordinary experience. What is experienced in nature mysticism is something new, something that is not in space and time. It is on account of this fact that Franklin speaks of a light that is ‘unlike any ordinary physical light’ which ‘seemed to come from within and without’. The non-spatiotemporal character of the object experienced is such a defining feature of nature mysticism that Zaehner does not hesitate to say that ‘nature mysticism means to transcend space and time’.38  Lugira, African Traditional Religion, 45.  Paul Helm, Forward to James E. Dolezal, God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications), 2011; EPUB file. 36  The literature on the subject is enormous. The following are only examples. Steven J. Duby, Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account, T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology (London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016); Dolezal, God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness; Yann Schmitt, ‘The Deadlock of Absolute Divine Simplicity’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion (2013), 117–30. 37  William Hasker, ‘Is Divine Simplicity a Mistake?’, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 90 (2016), 699–725. 38  R.C.  Zaehner, Mysticism, Sacred and Profane (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 41. 34 35



Any number of experiences can be cited to illustrate this point. What is important for the present purpose is that this feature is typical of the theistic understanding of God. God acts in space and time, but God is not a reality that is constrained by the limits of space and time. Aquinas discusses this by considering whether God is a body. One of the reasons he gives for denying that view is that every body is ‘divisible into infinity’ which is impossible with God.39 And here we have the doctrine of divine simplicity at its simplest: God is indivisible. Following Hasker let us call this uncluttered doctrine ‘Simple Simplicity’.40 It follows directly from the realization that the object of nature mystical experience is not a spatiotemporal object. In this experiential approach, the arrow of implication runs in the opposite direction to the traditional approach. Traditionally, Aquinas is said to derive the non-temporality of God from divine simplicity.41 But in our experiential approach, we derive simplicity from non-spatiotemporality of the experienced object. Simple Simplicity is ecumenical inasmuch Brahman is held to be indivisible (akhanda)42; Onyankopon of the Akans of the Ivory Coast seems to convey the same meaning. It means Alone, the Great One.43 2.4  Positivity: Goodness As in the case of divine simplicity, the doctrine of goodness in the Western theistic tradition is cluttered with echoes of Plato and Aristotle. Nature mysticism offers us a way of cutting the clutter and coming straight to the point as it is experienced. One of the characteristic features of nature mysticism we have seen is an extremely positive valuation of the experience. In some cases this positive valuation is due to a negative situation that is overcome as in the case of Moustakas whose inward heaviness disappeared. A feeling of communion and solace set in and provided him with a sense of fresh energy and enthusiasm, prompting an overwhelmed Moustakas to exult that nature is only a cover for a deeper reality. In other cases, as with

 ST 1, q.3.  Hasker, ‘Is Divine Simplicity a Mistake?’, 702. 41  See Eleonore Stump, Aquinas, Arguments of the Philosophers (London/New York: Routledge, 2003), 96. 42  Tejobindu Upanishad, Ch. 2.4, 41; Brahmasutra Bhashya of Ramanuja Ch.1, sec 13. For Śankara’s view of simplicity see Richard De Smet, Understanding Sankara: Essays by Richard De Smet, ed. Ivo Coelho (Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass Publishers, 2013), 58. 43  Lugira, African Traditional Religion, 44. 39 40



the experience of Griffiths or Franklin, there is no prior negative state involved. Even then, the valuation of the experience is similarly positive. The core affirmation of the goodness of God, I suggest, is based on this valuation. According to Aquinas, God alone is essentially good.44 It should be noted that ‘goodness’ in this context is understood not so much in moral terms as in terms of its desirability.45 This is exactly the kind of valuation we find in nature mysticism. God’s goodness is not like the goodness of things or even like the goodness of human beings; God is said to be goodness itself. Though not an exact parallel, the word Nyame (the Shining One), used by the Ashanti tribe of Ghana, seems to point in the same direction.46 In the Indian traditions the language of ‘bliss’ replaces goodness. Being indebted to the Upanishads, unsurprisingly Stace found the feeling of ‘bliss, beatitude, joy, a sense of supreme value’ an essential feature of nature mysticism.47 Bliss (ānanda) is one of the essential characteristics of Brahman, besides Being (Sat) and Consciousness (Cit). Brahman is not only bliss but also abounding in bliss,48 such that one who comes in contact with this source of bliss is enlivened.49 In the light of the experiences narrated earlier, it is easy to see the enlivening and energizing role of such experiences. Moreover, this enlivening role and the positive appraisal of the experience are not just momentary; they tend to have an existential impact on life. Moustakas begins narrating his experience by acknowledging the many times he found courage and strength in his experience with nature. This kind of impact is also clearly seen in the case of Griffiths. His experience in nature as a schoolboy had such a profound and lasting impact on his life that he began to rise early in the morning to hear the birds singing, stay up late in the night to watch the stars, and go for walks in the countryside. A typical impact mentioned in Taittariya Upanishad is freedom from all kinds of fear and anxiety, which is only to be expected, given the energizing role of such experiences.50

 Aquinas, ST 1.6.3.  Aquinas, ST 1, 5.1. 46  Lugira, African Traditional Religion, 44. 47  Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, 68. 48  Taittiriya Upanishad 2,8. 49  Taittiriya Upanishad 2,7. The idea of getting enlivened is from the translation of Swami Gambhirananda (Kolkatta: Advaita Asharam, 2002). 50  Taittiriya Upanishad 2,9. 44 45



The Carmodys, in their study of mysticism, consider such existential impact to be typical of all mysticism and not only of nature mysticism. According to them, mysticism ‘was extraordinary precisely because it revealed the structures, the depths, the potential of everyday, ordinary events that people normally missed. People went through their routines fairly dully. They did not experience eating, drinking, working or having sex as dazzling revelations of the full meaning of life, of the transcendent depths holding all that is in being’.51 Its theistic implication is that although divine goodness is more of a bliss and joy than any moral norm, encounter with such goodness does have lasting implications for behaviour, more through the law of attraction than of commands and prohibition. 2.5  Living Presence: Consciousness Another theme in many experiences of nature mysticism is the sense of a living presence. There are two components to this feature: presence and its live character. Franklin says that he sensed a presence though he did not see anybody. The danger of talking about presence is that those who do not have the experience can easily misunderstand it as the ordinary space-­ time presence we are familiar with. This is true of Wayne Proudfoot. Basing himself on some statements found in William James, like the feeling an unseen presence in a dark room or of someone standing behind me, Proudfoot draws the conclusion that the sense of presence is ‘a hunch, a thought, an opinion, and it has the epistemic status of a hypothesis’ which may be confirmed or disconfirmed when ‘I look over my shoulder or turn on the lights’.52 The spatiotemporal or physical character of Proudfoot’s understanding of ‘presence’ is unmistakable here. This is understandable because the presences that we know in the physical world involve space and time. It is understandable, but there is nothing mystical about such unseen presence. Experience of the nature mystic is not merely a presence but a living presence. Richard Jefferies, another nature mystic, says that ‘it is not a force in the sense of electricity, nor a deity as god… [but] something more

51  Denise L. Carmody and John T. Carmody, Mysticism: Holiness East and West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 15. 52  Proudfoot, Religious Experience, 163.



subtle than electricity’.53 He goes on to say that he could feel the earth speaking to him.54 Dr Bucke’s experience that we saw in the last chapter also speaks of a ‘living Presence’. The point here is not the obvious one of things like trees or birds being alive, but of the whole universe being so. In these moments of experience, even those things we normally consider as non-living are experienced as alive. I have already mentioned my second experience when I felt surrounded by a strange sense of everything, including stones, being alive. Similarly, we saw Stace’s narration of Sri Ramakrishna, in the last chapter, where the altar, the window-sill, and everything in the room were experienced as conscious. Commenting on Jefferies’ claim that he experienced ‘something more subtle than electricity’, Zaehner says: It would seem that he supposes all Nature to be pervaded by a force ‘more subtle than electricity’ which nevertheless has the power of producing a powerful sympathetic reaction in the human mind. The Indians long ago recognized the existence of such a force; they called it prāna which means ‘breath’ and can be translated as ‘vital force’ or simply ‘wind’, the spirit which animates the universe and which breathes in man.55

It is this living character of the experienced presence that led Indian thinkers to attribute cit or consciousness to the experienced reality. For Śankara, ‘it is understood that the proper essence of Brahman is consciousness (citsvarūpatā)’.56 Mahayana Buddhists tend to call it ālaya vijnana or ‘house of consciousness’. The same reason is at work in the tendency of the theistic traditions to consider God in personal terms. Given the disarray found in literature as to how to define ‘person’57 and the way this difficulty gets magnified in the case of God, it seems wiser not to speak of God as a person.58 But something akin to that is already acknowledged by speaking of this reality as a living presence. It does not mean that God is like human persons, limited 53  Richard Jefferies, The Story of My Heart (London: Duckworth, 1912), 49–50; cited in Zaehner, Mysticism, Sacred and Profane, 48. 54  Jefferies, The Story of My Heart, 3; cited in Zaehner, Mysticism, Sacred and Profane, 46. 55  Zaehner, Mysticism, Sacred and Profane, 48. 56  De Smet, Understanding Sankara, 61. 57  For a brief overview of the different definitions of ‘person’, see Dorothy Mary Emmet, ‘Could God Be a Person’, Modern Believing 37 (1996), 3–10. 58  William J. Mander, ‘God and Personality’, Heythrop Journal 38 (1997), 401–12.



by space and time. All that the ‘living presence’ of nature mysticism offers is a twofold contrast. We have already seen the first contrast that it is not a space-time presence as with other living beings. One implication is that once the limitations of time are removed we get the idea of God who has neither past nor future but remains an eternal presence, although human experience of God is in space and time. Most discussions of God’s personal character stumble upon the omni-attributes of God, such as omniscience. Dorothy Emmett probably has the correct understanding of omniscience when she says that ‘God does not only know facts about us externally, but what our experience is like from inside’, and compares this to sympathetic understanding of another person.59 Having done that she raises the objection: how could God have such an understanding of ‘millions upon millions of forms of sentient existence’? Once we recognize that God is not in space and time, I fail to see why God could not have an understanding of every sentient existence from within. I argued in Chap. 5 for the immediacy of divine-human communication precisely on this ground. Obviously, if we do not take the first contrast seriously and insist on corporeality as essential to being a person, then God cannot be a person. The second contrast is with objects that are inanimate60; it is a living presence. In terms of this contrast, David Platt finds unpredictability as the most remarkable feature of persons. He writes: Persons are amenable to lawlike treatment and prediction too, but not to the degree to which things are. In fact the more predictable any person becomes, the more he is regarded as a thing and less as a person. Thus… the element of the unpredictable and the surprising is a peculiar feature of what it is to be a person. It is, thus, a major religious insight to realize that personhood is crucial to divinity.61

In spite of this observation, Platt finds God ‘too disorganized to be a person’, since his presence is not guaranteed even to the most disciplined mystic, who must ultimately depend on grace. Here again, I am inclined to think that the problem really lies in not taking seriously the contrast

 Emmet, ‘Could God Be a Person’, 6.  Mark S. M. Scott, ‘God as Person: Karl Barth and Karl Rahner on Divine and Human Personhood’, Religious Studies and Theology 25 (2006), 161. 61  David S. Platt, ‘Things, Persons, and God: A Phenomenological Contrast’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 36 (1968), 369. 59 60



between objects and persons. Why should predictability that is characteristic of material objects be applicable to a non-material reality? Thus, it seems to me that when personhood is understood in terms of the double contrast implied in ‘living presence’, objections to divine personhood disappear. Moreover, from a comparative perspective, it is to be noted that while the great majority of Śankara’s interpreters claim that the para Brahman (higher Brahman) of his system is non-personal or impersonal, there are others who argue that para Brahman is best considered as supreme person.62 What is undeniable is that the experienced reality is not inanimate; consciousness is its characteristic feature. The rest depends on how ‘person’ gets defined. 2.6  An Objection The forgoing considerations make it clear that the reality experienced in nature mysticism carries a number of features that classical theists attribute to God. Moreover, there are no features that are contrary to the theistic understanding of God. Therefore, it seems entirely reasonable to say that such experiences are experiences of God. Of course, theists say much more about God than what is revealed in nature mysticism. Some of those can be derived from the described features. God as one (monotheism), for example, can be derived from the observation that this reality is beyond space and time. Reflecting on the experienced fact of a reality that is beyond space and time yields the conclusion that such a reality is indivisible and therefore, one. I shall deal with this in more detail in the next chapter. Similarly, many of the Omni-attributes of God (Omnipresence, Omniscience, etc.) also seem derivable from the same. A question that could arise at this point concerns why such ‘perceiving’ of God is not more widespread than it is. The response is twofold. The first has to do with the conditions required for such experience, parallel to what Plantinga called ‘maxi-environment’ in sense perception (Chap. 7, Sect. 2.4). A perceptive reader is likely to have noticed that nature mystical experience occurs either to young people or others in moments of interior relaxation. Adults, in the ordinary course of their lives, tend to be so preoccupied with various things that their receptivity to the God who reveals in nature gets hindered. Most adult perception is almost an automatic 62  Bradley Malkovsky, ‘The Personhood of Śaṁ kara’s “Para Brahman”’, The Journal of Religion 77 (1997), 541–62.



process developed in terms of survival concerns. Arthur Deikman calls it the action mode of consciousness that is ‘organized to manipulate the environment’. This is contrasted with the receptive mode ‘whose purpose is receiving the environment, rather than manipulation’.63 Deikman notes correctly that the techniques developed by various mystical traditions are meant to undo the automatization of perception done in the action mode.64 Secondly, it is important to note that God, as presented here, is not a monopoly of theists. I have shown this with regard to the noetic claims about a non-spatiotemporal reality that is understood as simple in the sense of non-divisible, good or what Otto described as fascinans, and has the nature of consciousness. Although I have shown the parallels primarily with regard to the Upanishads and the Advaitic tradition, I tend to think that someone with a feel for this experienced reality will be able to find parallels in other traditions too. Given that any divine-human communication would be mediated through one’s own culture (‘mediated immediacy’ seen in Chap. 5), such diverse ways of expressing the experienced reality must be expected. Having attained a preliminary understanding of God, in this manner, I turn, in the next section, to some further features of theistic understanding of God.

3   More on God In this section we shall examine how to make sense of the theistic claims about God as creator as well as about the immanence and transcendence of God. It will be seen that both get illumined in the light of nature mysticism. 3.1  God as Creator? An important description of the theistic God that does not directly follow from nature mysticism is that of God as creator. Is it possible to understand this idea in the light of what we have seen about God? The answer, of course, would depend on how the doctrine of creation is understood. Often it is understood in terms of the origins of the cosmos. Understood 63  Arthur Deikman, ‘Bimodal Consciousness and the Mystic Experience’, in Richard Woods (ed.), Understanding Mysticism (New York: Image Books, 1980), 261. 64  Arthur Deikman, ‘Deautomatization and the Mystical Experience’, in Richard Woods (ed.), Understanding Mysticism, 240–60.



thus, the religious doctrine of creation becomes a competitor with scientific theories like the Big Bang. Two different responses have been made to circumvent this problem. The first continues to see the religious doctrine as a cosmological thesis, but manages to avoid conflict with Big Bang cosmology by denying that creation is an event ‘of the remote past (e.g. the formation of the universe or the human species)’, but of ‘fascination with the present universe where every second some 30,000 stars form. ... Creation occurs every second’.65 The second response makes the religious doctrine of creation independent of cosmological doctrines and thinks of the religious doctrine as having an intrinsic merit of its own, providing an insight into the nature of reality. It seems to me that the first strategy of masking a religious doctrine in terms of modern cosmology is misplaced. First of all, given that the religious doctrine of creation is much older than modern cosmological theories, it seems odd to tag the former on to the latter. Secondly, assuming that religious doctrines are rooted in religious experience, to adopt this strategy would be to neglect the autonomy of the religious claim. Rather than consider the doctrine of creation as a religious insight, this strategy would transform the religious claim into a scientific one. In the process it neglects all the differences between science and religion we have seen in Chap. 4, and will always be condemned to make ad hoc adjustments to the latest scientific findings. Once we have recognized that religion is not science and vice versa, we have to distinguish the religious doctrine of creation from the scientific theories about the origins of the cosmos. A beginning can be made with Rudolf Otto’s distinction between ‘createdness’ and ‘creaturehood’. The former is understood in terms of cause and effect, whereas the latter is a function of the majestas and involves the annihilation of the self before the overpowering majesty of experienced reality.66 Chin-Tai Kim puts this more directly when the core meaning of divine creation is said to be the radically asymmetrical dependence of the world on God.67 Similarly, explaining Augustine’s idea of creation, Keith Ward says that divine creation cannot presuppose time. He explains: ‘Creation is therefore not 65  Arnold O. Benz, ‘Astrophysics and Creation: Perceiving the Universe Through Science and Participation’, Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 52 (2017), 193. 66  Otto, The Idea of the Holy, 21. 67  See, for example, Chin-Tai Kim, ‘Transcendence and Immanence’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 55 (1987), 538.



bringing the universe into existence at a point in time. It must be: bringing the whole of time, from beginning to end, into existence – in a timeless sense’.68 He too sees it as a relation of dependence: ‘Every moment of space–time has the same essential relation to God, a relation of depending wholly for its existence upon a timeless reality’.69 Vivian Boland sees Aquinas along the same lines. He says, ‘by the term creatio Aquinas refers to a relationship rather than a moment or an event. Creation is the total, enduring dependence on God of everything that is. Creation is not a change from an earlier state of affairs to a subsequent state of affairs: there is no earlier state of affairs waiting to be transformed into a subsequent one’.70 This manner of understanding creation would preserve the autonomy of the religious idea of creation from the scientific or empirical question about the origins of the world. Understood in terms of a-symmetrical dependence, the idea of a creator God would be an interreligious doctrine. Consider its application to the understanding of Brahman. According to B.N.K Sharma, although there are different schools of Vedanta, ‘one distinguishing mark of the Vedanta in all its forms is the fundamental belief that everything in the Universe has to be traced to an absolute principle’.71 It would seem that the most stubborn hindrance to theism comes not from the doctrine of creation but from misunderstanding those paired words ‘immanence’ and ‘transcendence’, ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’. Therefore, let us consider how nature mysticism helps us to understand these terms. 3.2  Immanence and Transcendence One of the most important, if not the most important, features of the theistic understanding of God is immanence and transcendence. However, the word ‘transcendence’ has been beaten out of shape by modern thinkers, deists in particular, whom we met in the Introduction to Part I. This 68  Keith Ward, ‘The Concept of God’, in Peter Byrne and Leslie Houlden (eds.), A Companion Encyclopedia of Theology, (London/New York: Routledge, 1995), 345. 69  Ibid. 70  Vivian Boland, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bloomsbury Library of Educational Thought (London/New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 135–36. Similar is also the view of Brian Davies. See Brian Davies, The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil (London/New York: Continuum, 2006), 31. 71  B.  N. K.  Sharma, Philosophy of Śrı̄ MadhvācāRya (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1962), 16; emphasis added.



religious and philosophical movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries posited a God who created the world but does not intervene in its functioning, either by way of revelation or of miracles.72 Accordingly, transcendence came to mean that specific manner of God’s relation to the world where God stands somewhere outside the world. Peter Berger’s view is typical. For him, transcendence means that God ‘stands outside the cosmos, which is his creation but which he confronts and does not permeate’.73 Understood this way, transcendence and immanence are mutually exclusive categories where the more the transcendence, the less the immanence.74 This deistic view of transcendence is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, the traditional theistic understanding God as both immanent and transcendent becomes unintelligible in this scheme. Secondly, as a doctrine about God’s relation to the world, it is hardly appropriate for fundamental theology and its task of explicating the concept of God. The starting point we have adopted demands that we begin with experience and explain the concept of God in terms of experience. The twofold character of nature mysticism allows us to overcome this deistic miscontrual of transcendence and immanence. Our analysis of nature mysticism in terms of the locus and the object of experience enables us to see that transcendence refers to the experienced reality, whereas immanence refers to the locus where the ‘more’ than natural is experienced. There can be no transcendence, then, without immanence as it is in and through the natural world that the more than natural is experienced. And this is exactly the theistic claim. Thus nature mysticism provides an alternative to the deistic misunderstanding of transcendence. It is worth noting in this connection that the very term Bhēdābhēda, the name given to one of the Vēdāntic schools in India, literally means ‘difference and non-difference’ and, therefore, can be taken as pointing to the inseparability of transcendence and immanence.

72  See ‘Desim’, in William L.  Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Eastern and Western Thought (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1980); Peter Byrne, Natural Religion and the Nature of Religion: The Legacy of Deism (London: Routledge, 1989); see specially Chap. 8. 73  Peter L. Berger, The Social Reality of Religion (Hammondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1973), 121. 74  See William C.  Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking About God Went Wrong (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 6–7, 111–12, 128–45.



This manner of understanding transcendence agrees with the original meaning of the Latin word transcendere, which literally means to cross the boundary. If we reflect on what provides boundaries to natural objects (trees, birds, etc.), we would see that those boundaries result from being in space and time. Given that our ordinary way of identifying and distinguishing one entity from another is in terms of space and time, the religious significance of transcendence consists in putting a check on this way of thinking. It tells us that we cannot draw the boundaries of the object of mystical experience in the same way as we draw boundaries to other things. The only way to identify this ‘object’ is to contrast it with the objects of ordinary experience. This is what makes it a ‘wholly other’ kind of experience than the ordinary. Thus, if immanence refers to the fact that this kind of experience takes place within the boundaries of the ordinary and the familiar world, transcendence points to the fact that such experience is not an experience of the familiar world of natural perception. That familiar world is merely the locus in and through which the more than natural is experienced. The grammatical rules of immanence and transcendence are also ecumenical. The opening words of Isopanishad emphasizes immanence when ̄ vāsyain idaṁ it says that this whole world is pervaded by the Lord (Ishā sarvaṁ ). Immanence is also very clear in the words used by the Bamun tribe of Cameroon (Njinyi, meaning He who is everywhere) and the Kono tribe of Sierra Leone (Yataa, meaning the One you meet everywhere).75 Transcendence is seen in the word Mabee (the One who bears the world), used by Bulus of Cameroon, besides the words of many African tribes that are translated as ‘Creator’ indicating that this reality is not a part of the world. More than such individual references to immanence and transcendence, what is typical of theism is its simultaneous affirmation of both. It seems to me that this is best maintained by the Indian theologian Rāmānuja (c.1017–1137) with his claim about the world as the body of God, without identifying God with the world.76

 Lugira, African Traditional Religion, 43, 45.  See Julius J. Lipner, ‘The World as God’s ‘Body’: In Pursuit of Dialogue with Rāmānuja’, Religious Studies 20 (1984), 145–61; Ankur Barua, ‘God’s Body at Work: Rāmānuja and Panentheism’, International Journal of Hindu Studies 14 (2010), 1–30. For a contrary view, see Richard De Smet, ‘Rāmānuja, Pantheist or Panentheist?’, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 58/59 (1977–78), 561–71. 75 76



3.3  Religious Naturalism? Is it appropriate to call the reality experienced in nature mysticism ‘supernatural’? As a reality that is experienced in nature but an experience of something more than nature, it seems entirely appropriate to do so in a very literal sense. But there are atheists like Richard Dawkins and ‘religious naturalists’ like Loyal Rue and Ursula Goodenough who deny the supernatural. Their denial, of course, turns on their definition of the natural. Borrowing from Julian Baggini, Dawkins defines naturalism as the belief that ‘there is ‘only one kind of stuff in the universe and it is physical’.77 Building on this, he defines naturalist as ‘somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and no miracles’.78 Loyal Rue’s definition of ‘naturalism’ is similar: it is ‘a variant of metaphysical monism’ according to which ‘all meaningful distinctions pertain to the observed and reasoned facts’.79 Then, like Dawkins, he goes on to deny any transcendent order; the only difference is his use of Ockham’s razor against multiplying entities unnecessarily. There are a number of things to be said about these versions of naturalism. To begin with, they define nature in metaphysical terms, as if the modern epistemological revolution never took place. The result is an unacknowledged epistemology. This becomes manifest in Rue’s application of Ockham’s razor. Before applying the razor to entities, Rue has already applied it to the sources of knowledge: anything beyond observation and reasoning from observation are subjected to the razor. The same can be said of Dawkins. Neither Rue nor Dawkins bothers to consider the fundamental mystical claim of an extra-sensory encounter with reality. Ancient Indians called it ‘yogic perception’ and such experience is explicitly acknowledged as the ‘basis and foundation’ of Buddhism.80 Their

 Dawkins, The God Delusion, 14.  Ibid. italics original. 79  Loyal D.  Rue, Religion Is Not About God: How Spiritual Traditions Nurture Our Biological Nature and What to Expect When They Fail (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 12. 80  Eli Franco (ed.), Yogic Perception, Meditation and Altered States of Consciousness, Sitzungsberichte/Österreichische Akademie Der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse (Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2009), 1. 77 78



prior pruning of the sources of knowledge leads Rue and Dawkins to their denial of the supernatural. This pruning affects not only the supernatural but also morality. Thus, on the one hand Rue is open to a kind of moral realism that intuits objective values,81 but on the other hand goes so far as to say that ‘prior to the emergence of life there was no value in being at all; the prebiotic universe was meaningless and absurd, radically value-neutral’.82 I wonder what has happened to the intuition of objective values that Rue mentioned earlier. Contrast this view about the absurdity and value-neutrality of being with the claim of nature mystics that goodness is a constitutive feature of reality, as we saw in Sect. 2.4 above. From an epistemological perspective, Rue seems to be indulging in unbridled metaphysical speculation. A second observation is that this kind of naturalism is as much an existential faith as theism, as we saw in Chap. 4. Dawkins reinforces the faith-­ character of his naturalism by adding an element of hope. He is aware that there are phenomena that we do not yet understand and he injects hope for curing this limit. He says: ‘If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand it and embrace it within the natural’.83 Rue’s definition of the natural is equally expansive when he says that the ‘natural is real and the real is natural’.84 Given that such naturalism is as much a matter of faith as religious faith, and that diverse faith-horizons are available in the contemporary world, there are no knock down arguments that would convert a person from one kind of faith into another. Moreover, that is not the way of fundamental theology, as seen in Chap. 5. Fundamental theology follows a dialogical approach and tries to communicate religious faith in a way that is intelligible even to atheists. The first step in the direction of fundamental theology is to acknowledge the epistemological turn of modern philosophy and its journey from foundationalism through coherentism to the dissolution of epistemology under the postmoderns and the relativism of contextualism to our pluralistic realism. Accordingly, the definition of ‘natural’ we have adopted is epistemological rather than metaphysical. It refers to certain innate and spontaneous cognitive abilities of human beings, the most obvious of  Loyal Rue, ‘Religious Naturalism: Where Does It Lead?’, Zygon 42 (2007), 410.  Ibid., 420. 83  Dawkins, The God Delusion, 14. 84  Rue, Religion Is Not About God, 12. 81 82



which is our natural perception. Exploring the literature on mysticism we found that nature mysticism is as much spontaneous as natural perception, although less widespread. Although I have not ventured into it, I feel confident that a similarly focused inquiry will reveal moral experiences that are as natural to human beings as natural perception and nature mysticism. But that is a topic for another discussion. A third observation concerns pantheism. Dawkins considers pantheism as ‘sexed-up atheism’ (his own doctrine) and Rue’s religious naturalism comes close to pantheism when he says that the ‘central core of religious naturalism’ is making Nature ‘the sacred object of humanity’s ultimate concern’.85 We saw that their denial of the supernatural is itself based on their expansive metaphysical view of naturalism. This denial, together with a ‘quasi-mystical’ reverence for nature, leads Dawkins and Rue in the pantheistic direction. Our epistemological definition of the natural has no pantheistic implications, as nature mysticism does not identify God with nature; nature is the locus in and through which God is experienced. A fourth observation is about the dualism that Dawkins wants to pin on the theists in talking about a supernatural that lurks behind the observable universe. In the light of Winston King’s claim that the Western view of religion involves a ‘thorough going separation’86 of the natural and the supernatural, it is not surprising that Dawkins thinks of the natural and supernatural in dualistic terms. Seen in dualistic terms the ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Transcendent’ becomes one more being or entity alongside other space-time entities, except that it is beyond the world of space and time. Unfortunately, even well-known philosophers of religion are not exempt from sliding into such ways of speaking. Thus, in spite of Hick’s recognition of religious reality as the fifth dimension of all reality,87 sometimes he tends to speak of God in terms of ‘an unlimited personal being, so that in addition to all the millions of embodied human consciousness there is at least one further consciousness which is not embodied’.88 Similarly Nancy Franckenberry says, ‘For classical theism, the God-question in an age of

 Ibid., 366.  Winston L. King, ‘Religion’, in Mircea Eliade (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan., 1987), vol. 12, 282. 87  John Hick, The Fifth Dimension: An Exploration of the Spiritual Realm, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2004). 88  John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the Transcendent (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 173; emphasis added. 85 86



science is the question of whether, in addition to everything else that exists, there also exists an entity’.89 Nature mysticism, however, has nothing to do with this kind of dualism that divides the world into natural and supernatural, soul and body. Yes, it does talk about a kind of experience that intuits something more than the natural (understood as sensory) in nature. But our analysis of nature mysticism in terms of the twofold character of experience makes it impossible to separate the ‘more’ than natural from the natural, because the former is experienced in and through the latter. While the two are distinct, they cannot be separated; separate the one from the other and it will no longer be an experience of nature mysticism. This, of course, creates problems for conceiving immortality. But that is another matter. 3.4  Conceiving Transcendence While recognizing the natural world as the locus of experiencing the supernatural is correct as far as it goes, it still does not help us to conceptually articulate this reality that is immanent and transcendent at the same time. Aquinas, in spite of being an Aristotelian, used the Platonic idea of participation for the purpose.90 Accordingly, things of the natural world are real to the extent that they participate in the ideal reality of Platonic forms. But this kind of metaphysical speculation is hardly compelling in a post-metaphysical world. Contemporary writers give us some hints for conceiving this reality in contemporary terms. The first is to see transcendence as a dimension of all reality further than the spatiotemporal dimension. As already mentioned, Hick takes this stand. Considered thus, this reality is not one more entity along with other entities. Two analogies help us to conceptualize this dimension. One is a mobius strip.91 The speciality of this clever contrivance is that not only are its inside and outside inseparable, as it should be, but also that any part of its inside can become outside and vice versa. So too, with the natural and the supernatural; the latter can be accessed from 89  Nancy Frankenberry, ‘Classical Theism, Panentheism, and Pantheism: On the Relation Between God Construction and Gender Construction’, Zygon 28 (1993), 30. 90  Patrick Quinn, Aquinas, Platonism and the Knowledge of God (Aldershot. Brookfield USA: Avebury, 1996), 22. 91  Diane Hennacy Powell, ‘Psi and Psychiatry: The Quest for a New Scientific Paradigm’, in Sudhir Kakar and Jeffrey J. Kripal (eds.), Seriously Strange: Thinking Anew About Psychical Experiences (New Delhi: Viking/Penguin, 2012), 126–51.



anywhere in the natural world.92 The second analogy is that of a hologram. A surprising feature of holographic images, unlike ordinary images, is that if a holographic image is cut into pieces, each piece will give a view of the entire image in every detail, though with less sharpness. Similarly, it is suggested that the reality experienced in nature mysticism is something that is present in every bit of the natural world and not something that is present in any particular location to the exclusion of others. Besides these two, Lawrence Fagg uses analogies based on the limits of the speed of light and quantum non-locality for conceiving transcendence.93

4   Conclusion My treatment of nature mysticism helps to attain a minimal understanding of God that is identifiable by some characteristic features (simplicity, goodness, etc.) as well as accessible to Christians and non-Christians, theists and atheists. It also avoids the usual dangers of pantheism, dualism, and the like. Whether this understanding of God is adequate to account for diverse religions remains to be seen. Moreover, a fundamental theology of Christian faith needs to go beyond the theistic concept of God to the specifically Christian understanding of God. The next chapter, therefore, turns to religious diversity and the Christian understanding of God before discussing justification of religious beliefs.

92  Here I use the term ‘natural world’ in the Husserlian sense. See Edmund Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, trans. W.R. Boyce Gibson (London/New York: G. Allen & Unwin; Macmillan, 1931), 106. 93  Lawrence W.  Fagg, ‘Are There Intimations of Divine Transcendence in the Physical World?’, Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science 38 (2003), 559–72.


Religious Diversity, Christian Faith, and Truth

If the last chapter has inadvertently given the idea that mystical experiences are all the same, it is time to correct that idea. I shall try to do that in this chapter, first by expanding the notion of nature mysticism into natural mysticism and then applying the process of developmental continuity seen in Chap. 7. The idea of natural mysticism is that our natural ability to sense the divine is not restricted to nature; it could also take place in the events of life as well as in deep inter-personal relations. Tracing the origins of religious diversity to the institutionalizations of such diverse experiences, I argue that the core of Christian faith can be seen as institutionalizing one such experience: namely, that of sensing the divine in the person of Jesus. Then, in the third section, I proceed from understanding to justifying Christian faith.

1   Natural Mysticism In keeping with the meaning of ‘natural’ adopted in this book, I shall refer to those experiences that are innate and spontaneous, as opposed to those that are cultural and cultivated. Nature mysticism is natural in this sense, whereas introvertive mysticism is cultivated, being culturally conditioned and acquired on the basis of mystical practices. The difference between nature mysticism and natural mysticism is in the locus of experience. Natural mysticism shares the characteristic features of nature mysticism, except that it occurs not in nature (understood as environment) but in © The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




other loci such as the events of life or interpersonal relationships. For the sake of convenience I shall label the last two as event mysticism and person-­ mysticism, two overlapping but not identical categories. Although these have not received the scholarly attention they deserve, evidence shows that such experiences do take place. 1.1  Event Mysticism In using the expression ‘event mysticism’, I mean the kind of experience described by Ian Ramsey as ‘cosmic disclosure’. He writes: it may happen that when we are faced with some major problem as to vocation, or emigration, or the suffering of an aged relative, or marriage, there occurs a complex set of circumstances, too complex and too diversified to be the result of any one man’s design, which helps us to resolve the problem as well for those around us as for ourselves. …A sense of kinship with nature strikes us; the Universe is reliable after all.1

Referring to Ramsey’s discussion of ‘disclosure-events’ Dalferth complains that they are ‘too vague, in everyday language, and theologically unclear for it to be simply designated “revelation” as such’.2 He may be right on this point inasmuch as revelation is the starting point of dogmatic/systematic theology. But keeping in mind the distinction between such theology and fundamental theology drawn in Chap. 5, such vagueness is advantageous for fundamental theology, as we need not impose the category ‘revelation’ on those religions who do not use that term, just as we do not need to impose the English word ‘green’ on a French speaker. We have already seen that different religions use different words for naming the religious reality that theists call God. Returning to the above statement of Ramsey, it is clear that he is not narrating an experience, but analysing a pattern of experience. It is that pattern which makes instances of ‘cosmic disclosure’ to be instances of natural mysticism, as they take place in the course of such ordinary events as vocation, emigration, and are not the result of one’s own design. Stefan Einhorn describes the same pattern in the following words: 1  Ian T.  Ramsey, Christian Empiricism, Studies in Philosophy and Religion (London: Sheldon Press, 1974), 123. 2  Ingolf U. Dalferth, Radical Theology: An Essay on Faith and Theology in the Twenty-First Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 81.



Misfortune, betrayal, grief, or a feeling that there is no point in living may afflict us. We find we have lost our foothold and do not know who we are or what values to cling to. During such a period, we may be fortunate enough to feel life taking hold of us and gently moving us forward in a new direction. We may sense that there is a pattern and a structure to life that endows it with meaning, and that makes us feel graced. We may perceive ourselves as secure in relation to something larger than ourselves.3

The pattern seems clear. Where Ramsey talked about ‘kinship with nature’ and finding the ‘reliability of the Universe’, Einhorn talks of an unsuspected ‘pattern and structure’ to life that provides security. It is not hard to find specific experiences that fit this pattern. Let me begin with a personal experience. Recently I was in Bangalore to teach a course on ‘Faith and Reason’. My cousin was in Mysore, about three hours away from Bangalore. Since I had not been able to visit her the previous year when she was seriously ill, I did not want miss the opportunity to see her now. When I called her to find out her plans, I found that she was coming to Bangalore to meet her doctor. I was overjoyed. I could meet her without making a bus trip to Mysore. We agreed that after meeting the doctor in the morning she would come to my place for lunch in the afternoon on the next day. That was not the end of the story. Completely independently of this, I had agreed to join a group of staff members going for a flower show on the next afternoon. Since my cousin was supposed to come in the morning, these two plans did not clash. But then came the conflict. As it happened, my cousin could not meet the doctor in the morning and I had to rearrange my plans. The plan to visit the flower show came in handy as her hospital was not far from the venue of the show. After dropping the others at the flower show, I merely had to extend my journey a little further and return later to pick them up after they had done with their outing. So I could meet her without causing the least bit of trouble to her (her coming to my place), to myself, or to anyone else. A third coincidence happened, as I was returning to pick up those at the garden, I got a call from my brother who had just arrived from far-­ away Bhopal. Since he was in the vicinity, within minutes of his putting down the phone, I was there with him face to face, to his utter surprise! 3  Stefan Einhorn, A Concealed God: Science, Religion, and the Search for Truth, trans. Linda Schenck (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2002), 33.



Consider another case that forms the basis of the book Will You Love Me?4 In it, the author Cathy Glass tells the story of Lucy who was the abandoned child of Bonnie, a single mum who had been abandoned by her Thai boyfriend. Lucy was sent from one foster carer to another. At the age of 11 she landed at the home of Cathy Glass. Falling in love with Lucy, Cathy wanted to adopt Lucy but this was not permitted. The welfare department and the social worker (Stevie) wanted Lucy to go to a family with Thai background. This was heartbreaking for Cathy. (Lucy was not affected as she did not know that Cathy wanted to adopt her). After a period of time things turned around due to a ‘complex set of circumstances’, which included the following: (1) Lucy’s own mother (Bonnie) supported Cathy; (2) the reviewer (Peter) entrusted with the progress of children played a proactive role, and (3) the social worker in charge of Lucy was transferred. This series of events led finally to Cathy and Lucy becoming mother and daughter, to the great joy of all concerned. Such experiences are so common that it is surprising that they have received hardly any attention from scholarly experts of religious experience. But they have not escaped the attention of religious people and are commonly found in the Hebrew Bible. Let me offer two instances. Young Jacob was on a long and uncertain journey in search of a girl to marry. Left to himself, he would have married a local girl, but his father would not let him. Father wanted him to marry a girl from his mother’s clan in a faraway land. After a day’s journey Jacob was tired and he lay down to sleep using a stone as his pillow. Anxious as he was, he had a dream at night wherein he was assured of the success of his journey. As he woke up in the morning, the dream and its message remained so vivid that he could not doubt that it was a divine intervention. This led him to take the stone he had used at night as pillow and set it up as a memorial to mark that spot as holy.5 Then there is the famous story of Joseph being sold by his own brothers and the unexpected turnaround in the fortunes of all concerned, including his tormentors. This prompts him to conclude that a divine hand was at work in all his misfortunes, for the good of all concerned. He

4  Cathy Glass, Will You Love Me? The Story of My Adopted Daughter Lucy (London: Harper Element, 2013). 5  This is a free rendering of Gen 28: 6–22; the story goes on to tell of Jacob meeting Rachel and eventually marrying her.



tells his brothers not to be distressed on account of their mistreating him, ‘for God sent me before you to preserve life’ (Gen 45:5–8). It must be noted that all the features of nature mysticism—the twofold character of the experience, its noetic quality, a drastic contrast with ordinary experience, an utterly positive valuation of the experience, a sense of being graced (by a live presence)—are also typical of these experiences of event mysticism. The major difference between nature mysticism and event mysticism, as I have noted, is the locus of experience. 1.2  Person-Mysticism While nature mysticism and event mysticism are important for understanding religion, the most important kind of experience for understanding Christian faith is person-mysticism, where the locus of experience is another person. I emphasize the locus of experience as another person, so as to distinguish it from what might be called soul-mysticism or ātman-­ mysticism. This is well known in the East and the West, so much so that mysticism itself tends to get identified with introversion. In contrast, it is hard to find accounts of person-mysticism in mystical literature. So far the only mention of person-mysticism I have come across is when John Caputo talks about it as a possibility. He writes: ‘We are all of us, each for the other, a possible locus of the divine, a potential launching point for transcendence’.6 The category of person-mysticism also seems supported by the etymology of the word ‘sacred’. Relying on the Oxford English Dictionary where kings, mothers, and lovers are designated sacred, David Gushee concludes that human beings can, and often have designated other persons as sacred. In such cases, a ‘person is elevated from among the ordinary run of people, designated or “dignified” as sacred by some agent for any number of reasons, and granted special status in the community because of this designation; this designation evokes toward that person a posture of honor and respect’.7 Although hard to find in mystical literature, instances are not lacking in real life. Consider the following story:

6  See John D. Caputo, ‘Radical Hermeneutics and Religious Truth: The Case of Sheehan and Schillebeeckx’, in Daniel Guerriere (ed.), Phenomenology of the Truth Proper to Religion (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990), 167–68. 7  David P. Gushee, The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision Is Key to the World’s Future (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2013), 23.



It was late one night back when I was in high school and we had stayed out way beyond when we should have been home, and all we were doing – I swear – was talking. We got into things neither one of us had ever spoken out loud to anyone else, and I know for fact that there were things we talked about that I had not even thought about before. I know my heart was pumping fast, too, and by the time we came to the end of it – more of an arrival than a destination – we were both exhausted, but knew we had been somewhere special together. I remember the stars that night, the moon, the feel of the air – everything around us was alive and deeply meaningful. It sounds profoundly silly to say these words, but that is how it was. And I’ll never forget it because I’ve spent so much of my life since then trying to get there again. Trying to find that special place where true communication happens.8

This narration of an intimate conversation of Goodall Jr. with his twin brother comes closest to illustrating what I mean by natural person-­ mysticism. Here the locus of experience is an inter-personal relation, but the experience has all the characteristics typical of nature mysticism. It has that ‘wholly other’ character inasmuch as it is unlike his ordinary dealings with his brother. It has a twofold character to the extent the conversation involves a person with whom he has ordinary dealings. But on this particular occasion there is the realization that ‘we had been somewhere special together’. It had such a positive impact that he wants to ‘get there again’. In spite of the spatial metaphor involved, the transcendence of space is clearly indicated in qualifying that space as ‘special’. Although it is not easy to find many narratives of person-mysticism, those of telepathic communications are abundant. Being a controversial matter, we must first consider the status of telepathy. Is telepathy natural or only a cultural artefact of the late nineteenth century?9 It is remarkable that despite making his case that ‘telepathy’ is a term invented during the Victorian period, the author of that study does not deny the phenomena. On the contrary, he admits that communication between people at a distance is an ancient, cross-cultural belief.10 For Carl Jung the ‘authenticity 8  H.L. Goodall Jr. and Peter M. Kellett, ‘Dialectical Tensions and Dialogical Moments as Pathways to Peak Experiences’, in Rob Anderson, Leslie A. Baxter, and Kenneth N. Cissna (eds.), Dialogue: Theorizing Difference in Communication Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA/ London: Sage Publications, 2004), 160. 9  Roger Luckhurst, The Invention of Telepathy, 1870–1901 (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). 10  Ibid., 1.



of this phenomenon can no longer be disputed today. It is, of course, very simple to deny its existence without examining the evidence, but that is an unscientific procedure which is unworthy of notice’.11 We have already seen John Hick talking about ‘crisis apparitions’ (a form of telepathy) in Chap. 8. Hick considers extra-sensory perception as a reality that is ‘well established [though it] is incompatible with the prevailing naturalistic assumption of our culture’.12 Secondly, although telepathy was anathema to the deterministic universe of modern science, more recent developments in science (e.g., non-locality and entanglement13 in physics and the discovery of mirror neurons14 in biology) seem to support at least the possibility of telepathy. But this possibility must be distinguished from what some call the ‘New Age nuttiness’ that uses the weirdness of the quantum world to declare that ‘we create our own reality’,15 as this would be contrary to the robust realism we have adopted. As for myself, although I had heard stories of telepathy, I had no reason to give it any serious thought until I began to experience it regularly for about two years, after a close friend of mine had to move to a place far away. That experience convinced me about the reality of telepathy, and I began looking for other recorded instances. Not only did I find plenty of them, but I also learned that any deep bond of love can have telepathic impact. According to Rupert Sheldrake, telepathy requires ‘close bonds between the “sender” and the “receiver”’.16 Guy Playfair, the author of 11  C. G. Jung, Psychological Reflections: An Anthology of Jung’s Writings, 1905–1961, ed. Jolande Jacobi (London: Routledge, 1971), 62. 12  John Hick, The New Frontier of Religion and Science: Religious Experience, Neuroscience and the Transcendent (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 35. 13  Non-locality is the idea that two quantum particles influence each other even when they are far apart, and there is no known interaction between them. For the view that quantum physics supports ESP, see John Nwanegbo-Ben, Quantum Physics and ESP(An Epistemic Resolution) in International Journal of Philosophy 4 (2016), 11–17. doi: https://doi. org/10.11648/j.ijp.20160403.11. For the opposite view that is critical of such support, see Alastair I. M. Rae, Quantum Physics, Illusion or Reality?, 2nd ed. (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University, 2004), 79. 14  See for example Stephanie Ortigue and Francesco Bianchi-Demicheli, ‘Why Is Your Spouse So Predictable? Connecting Mirror Neuron System and Self-Expansion Model of Love’, Medical Hypotheses 71 (2008), 941–44. 15  Victor J. Stenger, Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2009); EPUB file. 16  Rupert Sheldrake, Foreword to Guy L.  Playfair, Twin Telepathy, 3rd ed. (Guildford: White Crow Books, 2012), 8.



Twin Telepathy has pointed out that ‘closer the bond… the stronger the telepathic link’.17 He considers identical twins, parents (especially the mother) and their children, besides dogs and their owners as most prone to telepathy. It is the need for such deep inter-personal bonds that makes telepathy instances of person-mysticism. Person-mysticism involves precisely the idea that deep interpersonal bonds can be the locus of mystical experience. Thirdly, it is a cross-cultural fact that telepathy and other paranormal phenomena are often closely associated with mysticism. This is true in the East and the West. In the East, telepathy is a part of yogic perception accepted by ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions.18 Yogic perception itself is a part of what is commonly known as extraordinary (alaukika) perception, as pointed out in Chap. 7.19 Telepathy is also very much associated with mysticism in the West. As Jess Byron Hollenback has observed, ‘it is quite normal for a spiritually awakened person to possess telepathic powers’.20 Fourthly, telepathy is not only associated with mysticism, but also exhibits some of the characteristics of mysticism. Like other mystical experiences, telepathic experiences have an extraordinary (wholly other) character. It also exhibits the same transcending of space (though not time) that Zaehner considered a defining feature of nature mysticism. Finally, although new developments in science might support telepathy, we should remain rather sceptical of some attempted scientific research into it. I say this for two reasons. The first is on account of the strong interpersonal bond that is needed for telepathy. If strong bonds are a pre-­ condition for telepathy, wild speculations about the endless possibilities of scientifically exploiting telepathy are likely to disappoint.21 It is not without  Playfair, Twin Telepathy, 94.  See Eli Franco (ed.), Yogic Perception, Meditation and Altered States of Consciousness, Sitzungsberichte/ Österreichische Akademie Der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse (Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2009). 19  See fn. 4; see also S. R. Bhatt and Anu Mehrotra, Buddhist Epistemology, Contributions in Philosophy (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000), 43–44. 20   Jess Byron Hollenback, Mysticism: Experience, Response, and Empowerment, Hermeneutics: Studies in the History of Religions (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996), 299. 21  For such speculations, see the report in Mail Online. See also Alexander Ya. Temkin, ‘Telepathy for Interstellar and Intergalaxies Communications’, NeuroQuantology 14 (2016), 683–91. 17 18



significance that a 20-year long attempt by the US government to use telepathy for spying on the USSR had to be wound up.22 My second reason is that scientific knowing is an entirely different kind of knowing than that of mystical knowing. It was made clear in Chaps. 3 and 4 that knowing God is not a matter of knowing more and more (the totality) of the world, as the Holy Science Model assumes. Further, we saw the value orientation of science in terms of prediction and control (Chap. 7). This would be at odds with mystical knowing; mystics surrender to the divine. And do not control it. The main point of person-mysticism, whether telepathic or otherwise, is the idea that another human person can become the locus of an experience that exhibits characteristic features we find in nature mysticism. If telepathic experiences are triggered by love and compassion, telepathy is no more than its by-product. But is such deep love really a pre-requisite for telepathy? There seems to be seeming exceptions. The best known case is perhaps that of Edgar Cayce (1877–1945) who could get into a trance and then come to know various things past, present, and future. But it may be only a seeming exception, as Cayce’s life is ample proof of his empathy and compassion. Another possibility is that there may be different kinds of telepathy, only one of which requires love as a pre-condition.23 As far as person-mysticism is concerned, it is the last kind that matters and I will be citing only instances of this kind. Hick’s example of ‘crisis apparitions’ that we saw in Chap. 8 is an example which involves love between husband and wife. There are numerous instances of children coming to know the death of their parents or of parents coming to learn of their children in peril. One instance is that of Paramahansa Yogananda, as a young boy of 11 coming to know about his dying mother through a vision.24 A mother named Olive senses the danger to the life of her child while she was about six miles away, watching a film with her husband.25 The following is another case of a mother by the name 22  See Edwin C. May, ‘PsiSpy: Recollections from a Psychic Spying Programme’, in Sudhir Kakar and Jeffrey J.  Kripal (eds.), Seriously Strange: Thinking Anew About Psychical Experiences (New Delhi: Viking/Penguin, 2012), 87–125. 23  See, Colleen Mauro, Spiritual Telepathy: Ancient Techniques to Access the Wisdom of Your Soul (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books-Theosophical Publishing House, 2015). 24  Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi (London; New  York: Rider, 1950), 23–24. 25  Phillip H.  Wiebe, Intuitive Knowing as Spiritual Experience (New York,: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 91.



of Nora coming to know about the danger to the life of her child. She recalls the incident: My eldest son was seven months old—the nursery was next to the bedroom, with a communicating door. My husband was away at the time. One night I woke with a start and a feeling that someone had called me—all was quiet, but I felt I must go quickly into the next room to look at my baby—in those days babies slept in what we called a treasure cot, draped all round with ribbon and lace, and canopy overhead also so decorated. I looked into the cot but could not see the baby’s head on the pillow—it was a cold night in winter and he had been well wrapped up. When I pulled the bedclothes down, he was lying in the middle of the cot and had been completely covered with the bed clothes. When I took him in my arms I realized that had I come in a moment later, he would have been smothered!26

What does person-mysticism amount to? What is noetic about it? In the last chapter we saw that a nature mystic comes to the realization that nature is only a cover for a deeper reality. Similarly, one who has an experience of person-mysticism comes to the realization that all the detailed information that one had about the other person did not really reveal the depths of that person. More than half a century ago, Paul Tournier, a practising physician and psychologist, came to this realization. He said, I could go on accumulating notes and observations [about another person], but they would not reveal the person to me… Then suddenly [there occurs the awakening which] is quite different. It is not a sum of what I have learnt. It is a light which has suddenly burst forth from our personal contact. That man could go on endlessly revealing facts about himself, but the light would never shine out unless we found this contact. And, further, nothing he can tell me now will ever be able to veil it.27

The positive valuation or goodness that is part and parcel of the grammar of mysticism is prominently seen in experiences of people like Paul Ekman, professor at the University of California Medical School. Though not a religious believer, he confesses to having an experience of getting healed of his struggle with anger when the Dalai Lama held his hands. He was so  Ibid., 90.  Paul Tournier, The Meaning of Persons, trans. Edwin Hudson (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1957), 21–22. 26 27



influenced by it that he published a series of interviews with the Dalai Lama. He writes in terms of the physical sensations he felt. I think the change that occurred within me started with that physical sensation, whatever it was. I think that what I experienced was—a nonscientific term—’goodness.’ Every one of the other eight people I interviewed said they felt goodness; they felt it radiating and felt the same kind of warmth that I did. I have no idea what it is or how it happens, but it is not in my imagination. Though we do not have the tools to understand it, that does not mean it does not exist.28

Fran Grace narrates a similar experience in the presence of David Hawkins, which prompted her to undertake a study of the phenomena. The healing effect of contact with saintly persons was clinically demonstrated by David McClellan of Harvard Medical School.29 Referring to studies undertaken on the ‘physics of silent transmission’ Grace concludes that, ‘according to this emerging research, the true mystic, saint, healer, or sage emanates a “field” of “energy coherence,” so that seekers who enter the mystic’s “energy field” (often called “aura”) benefit from the healing capacities intrinsic to that energy coherence’.30 Along similar lines, Joe Dispenza, a doctor and scientist, concludes on the basis of extensive research that ‘the body’s cells and various systems communicate not only by the chemical interactions we are familiar with, but also by a field of coherent energy (light) that carries a message (information) that causes the environment within and all around the cell to give instructions to other cells and biological systems’.31 One book that comes close to studying person-mysticism is Steen Halling’s Intimacy, Transcendence, and Psychology. The reason for my reserve in making this claim is that the author’s use of ‘transcendence’ is rather ambiguous. On the one hand, he uses this term to refer to the human capacity for growth and development, without reference to any 28  Cited in Fran Grace, ‘The “Map of Consciousness”: A New Paradigm for Mysticism and Healing’, in Thomas Cattoi and June McDaniel (eds.), Perceiving the Divine Through the Human Body: Mystical Sensuality (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 197–98. 29  Conducting a saliva test on students who watched a documentary on Mother Teresa, it was seen that they had ‘enhanced levels of immunoglobin A’. See ibid., 213. 30  Ibid. 31  Joe Dispenza, Becoming Supernatural: How Common People Are Doing the Uncommon (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2017), xxii.



reality that is independent of human beings. On the other hand, the author not only talks about ‘the basic human capacity for taking into account more of the reality of the world around us’ but also about ‘experiences where we are quite conscious of having opened up to something or someone because of what has happened in a dramatic or unexpected way’.32 This latter sense coincides with the notion of transcendence we arrived at in the last chapter. Taken in that sense, many of Halling’s accounts imply person-mysticism as a natural capability of human beings. 1.3  Implications Our study of natural mysticism has implications for understanding institutional religions as well as for a preliminary understanding of religious diversity. First, institutionalization. We live in an age of ‘spirituality revolution’33 where people seek some sort of religion without religion. I refer to the tendency to seek the fruits that are traditionally associated with religion but without associating with any institutional forms of it, whether in the form of prayer and meditation, liturgy and worship, or theology and doctrines. Our focus on natural mysticism devoid of the mystical practices of any tradition respects this sentiment. However, having done that it is also important to recognize the institutional dimension, both for benefitting from the institutions as well as for keeping the institutions faithful to the foundational experience. Natural mysticism, of whichever variety, is inherently prone to institutionalization on account the positive valuation that goes with the experience. We already noted how the positive valuation of the experience had an existential impact on Bede Griffiths. He made it a habit to listen to birds, watch the skies, and go for walks in nature. Similarly, we have Goodall’s longing throughout his adult life for a similar experience. These are small indications of how the goodness of the experience tends towards its perpetuation. They also indicate the purpose of institutionalization. It is to perpetuate those transient but invaluable moments, so that that which was glimpsed in those moments become available on a more permanent basis. 32  Steen Halling, Intimacy, Transcendence, and Psychology: Closeness and Openness in Everyday Life (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 183; italics added. 33  David Tacey, The Spirituality Revolution: The Emergence of Contemporary Spirituality (Hove/New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2004).



A part of that which gets institutionalized is the locus of experience, since it remains important for the experiencers. I have mentioned my own case where my first experience as a school boy gave me an attachment to a particular place. In the case of Jacob, he marks the spot of his experience as a holy place. The most graphic instance of such devotion to place came home to me recently in a photo that was widely published in the newspapers. The occasion was that of the Indian and Pakistan governments starting a corridor for Sikh pilgrims from India to Kartarpur in Pakistan where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism spent the last 18 years of his life. The picture was that of an ecstatic Indian devotee, with folded hands, peering into the binoculars to get glimpse of Kartarpur across the border in Pakistan. Such attachment to the locus of experience also provides a preliminary understanding of religious diversity. Realizing that spontaneous or natural mystical experiences need not always take place in nature, but can happen in ordinary events of life as well as in deep interpersonal relations, already provides a built-in diversity to natural mystical experiences. When the diverse loci that function as gateways for experiencing transcendence are taken together with the tendency to perpetuate the loci of those experiences, we get diverse local deities. It is not surprising, therefore, that many villages in traditional societies tend to have their own presiding deity. These arise on account of the importance given to the locus of experience. This is only a preliminary account of religious diversity, because the cultural element involved in the experience as well as its perpetuation has not been taken into account. As far as the role of culture in the perpetuating experience is concerned, what we have seen about it in terms of communicating experience in Chap. 5 holds good. Culture enters into experience itself. This happens in two ways. The first is on account of the developmental continuity from the natural to the cultural we saw in Chap. 7 (Sect. 4), and the other is where the experience itself does not have any basis in natural mysticism. I shall illustrate the first with the Christian experience in the next section and experiences that are not based on natural mysticism in the third section.

2   The Foundational Christian Experience Pope Benedict XVI recently has reiterated the central Christian conviction that ‘being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon



and a decisive direction’.34 The person concerned is Jesus of Nazareth, and the event is called the Christ-event. Our treatment of person-mysticism brings us to the threshold of being able to understand the Christ-event by providing the natural basis of this kind of experience. The foundational Christian experience could be understood as an instance of person-­ mysticism experienced in the historical person of Jesus. Historically, he seemed a human person like any other, but he proved a particular person in whom the disciples encountered the divine. The Christian experience, however, is not purely an instance of the natural human abilities for sensing the divine in another person getting activated. Rather, it is an experience of a particular group of people at a particular historical point in time who lived within a particular cultural horizon. That is to say, the Christian experience is an instance of a natural human ability enabled and enhanced by the cultural milieu of Judaism. In other words, it is a particular instance of the developmental continuity seen earlier. Let us, then, recall that process briefly. 2.1  Recalling Developmental Continuity We saw that the process begins with the natural a priori structures of the mind. These structures, functioning as plans, help to explore the surroundings, and the findings of the exploration modify the original schema. This modified schema, in turn, enables further exploration. This time the exploration becomes a little more specialized in the light of the changed schema. Such ‘specialization’, we saw, could be of three kinds. (1) It could be due to variations in the natural environment, as in the case of perceiving the details of snow in the snowy regions of the world (unlike the tropics), or (2) due to cultural variations and education into that culture (as in the case of the transition from Aristotelian science to modern science), or (3) due to personal factors as in the case of a wood cutter’s perception of wood as against that of a sculptor. We saw that this dynamics accounts for the development of diverse empirical disciplines available today. These disciplines can be seen as variegations of the same a priori structures of natural perception that are common to human beings. It is a distinctive feature of this approach that respecting the NaC-Di-NoS principle and thereby making a clear distinction between our natural abilities and the cultural 34  Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, no. 1



achievements, it considers the cultural achievements as extensions of the natural. The same can be said about religious diversity where the universal natural ability to sense the divine gets variegated in the face of diverse cultural and personal factors. (Given that the divine can be sensed anywhere in the natural world, variations of natural environment are unlikely to bring about any significant religious variation). Let us see this process at work in the foundational experience of Christianity. While my focus would be on Christianity, the same process can be explored in terms of other religions, including the non-dualism of Śankara.35 2.2  The Jewish Milieu of the Christian Experience A number of scholarly works are available that place Christianity in its Jewish context.36 My focus would be on what might be termed the ‘humanism’ of the Jewish tradition that provided the cultural setting in which the disciples of Jesus came to recognize the divine in the person of Jesus. David Gushee identifies four overlapping factors in the Hebrew Bible that contribute to the humanistic focus of Judaism.37 They are (1) the creation of human beings in the image and likeness of God; (2) the depiction of a compassionate God who cares for human beings, especially the downtrodden; (3) the law codes of Israel that offer protection to human life; (4) the prophetic vision where the whole creation is promised an eschatological future of justice and wholeness. According to Paul Johnson, ‘the Jewish stress on the supreme importance of human life, because of the imaginative relationship of man to God’ is to be found already in the very ‘first historic event for which there is non-Biblical [i.e., archeological] confirmation’, that is, the great flood 35  In clear contrast with this developmental approach, we have William Alston who takes God (understood in the culturally conditioned Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sense) as directly perceived while neglecting other possibilities like the non-dualism of Śankara. See W.P.  Alston, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press, 1991), 29. Phillips follows Alston in this matter with regard to his treatment of non-dual Brahman, although he comes to the opposite conclusion, arguing that the parallel between sense perception and mystical perception does not hold. See Stephen H. Phillips, ‘Could There Be Mystical Evidence for a Nondual Brahman? A Causal Objection’, Philosophy East and West 51 (2001), 492–506. 36  See, for example, the five-volume work of John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1991–). The later volumes were published by Yale University Press, down to 2016. 37  Gushee, The Sacredness of Human Life, 38.



narrated in Chap. 9 of the Genesis.38 Human beings are said to be the ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ of God, where ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ allude to a resemblance like that of a parent and child. It gives to human beings an exalted place in the whole of creation. Further, Genesis depicts a God who is ‘equally the Creator of all humans’, ‘every male and female’ without exception (Gen.1:26–27).39 The creation narrative of Genesis 2 adds a further dimension by tracing the whole human race to one person and thereby making every human being a member of one family. Although the theme of a compassionate God who is partial to the oppressed and the poor is found throughout the Bible, the book of Exodus is the key. We read there about a group of slaves whose cry is heard by God and He intervenes to deliver them under the leadership of Moses. This ‘event’ is the most important because it is treated as the foundational event for everything else in the Hebrew Bible, most notably its liturgy and cult, law and ethics. The convenantal relationship between Yahweh and Israel is based on this relationship of deliverance (Ex.20:2; Deut. 5:6). It is on account of this that Israel is considered Yahweh’s ‘most treasured possession’ (Ex. 19:5). Interpretations of the historicity of exodus vary from considering it as literal history to pure myth. Egyptologist Jan Assmann is perhaps more to the point when he calls it mnemohistory, which is concerned with the past only inasmuch as it is remembered. Mnemohistory is not opposed to history but is concerned exclusively with ‘those aspects of significance and relevance which are the product of memory’.40 It shapes an ‘identity by reconstructing its past’.41 Therefore, although it is ‘plausible that some people in early Israel had indeed escaped from slavery in Egypt’,42 focusing on that would not have helped the other Israelites who did not come from Egypt to identify themselves with the exodus story. Therefore, the story is narrated in such a way that all who had experienced oppression can identify themselves with it. In that process there is a historicizing of the present. The Passover festival, for example, was originally two different

 Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), 10.  Gushee, The Sacredness of Human Life, 39; italics original. 40  Jan Assmann, Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 9. 41  Ibid., 14. 42  Ronald Hendel, ‘The Exodus in Biblical Memory’, Journal of Biblical Literature 120 (2001), 604. 38 39



springtime feasts, now merged into one and associated with the exodus.43 So too, the laws and other institutions from the later history of Israel are legitimized by placing them into ‘the formative period of the Exodus; the formative period thus became normative’.44 As far as historicity is concerned, if there was even a small group of people that escaped the tyranny of slavery, the very unlikelihood and extraordinariness of some helpless slaves emerging victorious (its ‘wholly other’ character) would make it an instance of event mysticism, where a complex set of circumstances brings about a drastic change in their lives for the better. This makes them feel graced. Inasmuch as the exodus shapes the Jewish people and gives them an identity, it is foundational. This idea of a God who is concerned about all human beings, but also partial to the oppressed and the downtrodden is also the fountainhead of the humanism of the law codes in the Bible. Yahweh’s compassionate love for them, in turn, is the guide by which they are to treat others. The widow and the orphan in their midst are to be treated with special care (Ex.22:22–24). The Israelites are constantly reminded that they were sojourners in Egypt and they are to be mindful of the stranger in their midst (Deut.10:19). Such focus on the powerless ones relativizes all political power. King David is called to account by Nathan for his misdeeds (2 Sam. 11–12). Finally, there is also the eschatological vision of the prophets. Faced with oppression, war, violence, and exile, the prophets respond not by getting reconciled to oppression but rather by speaking of a new age when it shall come to an end; there shall be endless peace (Is. 9:7) where the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the calf and the lion shall live together (Is.11:6). This will be the ‘new exodus’.45 2.3  The Christ-Event From all available accounts, Jesus of Nazareth further accentuated the humanistic thrust of the Jewish culture. The New Testament presents his teachings and actions as embodying the compassionate face of God that makes behavioural demands on those who would heed to God. He 43  Michael D. Coogan, ‘The Exodus’, in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (eds.), The Oxford Companion to the Bible (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 210. 44  Ibid., 210–11. 45  For the ‘hermeneutical chaos’ in the use of this expression, see Daniel Lynwood Smith, ‘The Uses of “New Exodus” in New Testament Scholarship: Preparing a Way Through the Wilderness’, Currents in Biblical Research 14 (2016), 207–43.



proclaimed to fellow Israelites that God had not abandoned them but that the reign of God foretold by the prophets was already in their midst. He preached a God of love who cares even for the life of a sparrow and ‘gives good gifts to his children’. God is compared to a shepherd for whom even a single lost sheep is a matter of great concern. It was not a just a matter of preaching about God’s love. Jesus’ life embodied the compassionate face of God. When the crowds flocked to listen to him, we are told that he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9:36). What is remarkable is that his compassion was not constrained even by tragedies in his personal life. After the murder of his cousin John the Baptist, he withdrew into a deserted place but the crowds followed him there. One would expect Jesus to have been annoyed about it but, according to Luke, Jesus welcomed the crowds! (Lk. 9:11). Luke also narrates a scene where the women of Jerusalem mourned for Jesus on the way to Calvary, but Jesus turned around to comfort them even in the midst of his own suffering! (23:27). His compassion was even more for those on the fringes of society: the children, the widow, the poor, the sick, the leper, the possessed. We are told that when the dead body of the only son of a widow (her whole hope) was being carried out, Jesus had compassion on her (Lk.7:13). Such great compassion does not go unnoticed by the people. And here we are not talking about Jesus but about how people experienced him. Blind men ask him to have mercy on them so that they can be healed (Mt.20:31); lepers approach him to be made whole (Mk.1:41). Even non-­ Jews approach him for favours (Mt.8: 5–13). We are told that the crowds are so mesmerized by his words and deeds that they keep listening to him for three days without even a thought for food! Again, Jesus is moved with compassion to feed them (Mk. 6:34). The experience of people can be summarized: in Jesus, ‘God our Father became Christ our brother’,46 where ‘Christ’ although a title rooted in the Old Testament, became the second name of Jesus.47 The disciples expressed this experience variously as Jesus being the anointed one (Christ), the Son of God, and so on, but most importantly, they came to see him as the incarnation of God. Although a Christian understanding of the Christ-event would be incomplete without including the resurrection, since it cannot be treated  Gushee, The Sacredness of Human Life, 95.  Gerald O’Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 23. 46 47



in terms of natural mysticism, I shall not treat it here. Instead I shall briefly indicate its general possibility in the next chapter while discussing how natural mysticism affects our understanding of the human person. But what has been said about natural mysticism and the experience of the disciples is sufficient to understand the distinct nature of Christian faith within the theistic tradition. This understanding of the Christian experience also explains why Jesus the messenger of the Reign of God becomes the message. In encountering Jesus in his earthly life, they encountered the divine. In the light of what we have seen in the last section, it is not surprising that deep love and compassion can become the locus of experiencing the divine. Here we have the making of the central doctrine of Christian faith that Jesus Christ is both God and man.

3   Justification of Religious Beliefs and Practices Faced with deep disagreements, as between theists and atheists, I suggested that understanding the claim must gain priority over its justification (Introduction to Part II). This is a necessary step for avoiding the tendency of talking past one another. Accordingly, I explicated the theistic understanding of God in the last chapter by using nature mysticism that occurs spontaneously. This makes the theistic concept of God accessible even to atheists. This chapter lets us understand the core doctrine of Christianity by expanding the notion of nature mysticism into natural mysticism, especially the idea of person-mysticism. Understanding a religious claim, however, is only the first step for judging religious truth. The next is justification. 3.1  Need for Justification There are various reasons for seeking justification of religious claims. In the first place, we saw in the context of stigmata in Chap. 5 that, while the sceptical question of Joe Nickell regarding the place of the stigmatic wounds is unwarranted, the question of truth remained. Secondly, there is the problem of religious diversity. We noted that the diverse loci of natural mysticism make religions inherently diverse. Mortimer Adler tells us that, while diversity is to be appreciated in matters of taste, it is problematic in



matters of truth.48 Religious diversity poses a problem not only on account of the logic of truth—that a correct judgement must deny other judgements that are contrary to it—but also on account of the logic of religion. While examining the grammar of the experienced reality in natural mysticism we noted that the limits of space and time do not apply to it. Thus arises what might be called the paradox of polytheism or the logical problem of religious diversity. On the one hand, if boundaries of things are drawn in terms of space and time, then the multiplicity that arises from spatiotemporal limits does not apply to the object of religious experience. On the other hand, due to the diverse loci where the divine is experienced, religions tend to be inherently diverse. In other words, the very logic of divine simplicity makes it an indivisible unity, whereas the diverse loci of experience tend to give rise to multiple deities. Hence, although it cannot be denied that the development from polytheism to monotheism has been the source of much ‘conflict, intolerance, and violence’,49 to conclude that monotheism is an arbitrary cultural imposition is to ignore that it is a logical outcome of the very nature of divinity. This logic explains why Indian culture that does not emphasize monotheism developed its own version of it in terms of non-dualism, often taken as monism. This logic also explains the originally dualistic Zoroastrianism eventually tending towards monotheism.50 The problem of religious diversity is compounded by the realization that not all deities originate in experiences of natural mysticism. It has been a recurring theme since the Enlightenment that religions are primitive human reactions to striking natural phenomena. Nathan Soderblom calls religion/the sacred a ‘mental reaction against what is startling, astonishing, new, terrifying’.51 These could be something new, such as the presence of a foreigner or the first fruits, or they could be ‘phenomena which constantly recur, but always seem to be extraordinary: e.g. sexual life, death, war, hunting; and animals and men endowed with special prudence,

48  Mortimer J. Adler, Truth in Religion: The Plurality of Religions and the Unity of Truth: An Essay in the Philosophy of Religion (New York; Toronto: Collier Macmillan, 1990). 49  Assmann, Moses the Egyptian, 1. 50  See James W. Boyd and Donald A. Crosby, ‘Is Zoroastrianism Dualistic or Monotheistic?’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 47 (1979), 557–88. 51  Nathan Soderblom, ‘Holiness’, in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings, John A.  Selbie, Louis H.  Gray, (Edinburgh/New York: T. & T.  Clark; Charles Scribners’, 1913), 732.



power, or success’.52 This is borne out by the numerous folk deities that populate the countryside in traditional agrarian societies, and the rituals surrounding them. Take, for example, sexual life; it is not new but always seems extraordinary. Besides the well-known worship of Shivalinga (Phallus of Shiva), there is the less known fascination with female menstruation. There is the famous menstruating goddess at Kāmakhya in Assam. In the small south Indian state of Kerala there are three deities associated with female sexuality and menstruation. There is a goddess (at Chengannur) who menstruates, another (at Kodungalloor) who is pleased only when the devotees indulge in the most obscene songs of sexual acts involving the goddess, a third (at Sabarimala) where the temple gates are closed to menstruating women because the male deity there is supposed to be a celibate. Then there is the strange deity of Devidura temple in Uttarakhand of north India, who people believe would be pleased only if people throw stones at each other with the intention of drawing blood.53 The stories can go on and on. Realizing that many deities arise as a mental reaction to the extraordinary and the unusual leads to the suspicion that all religions are such. Call it the sceptical problem of religion. This tendency has gone through various stages, beginning with the early natural histories of religions where religions were seen as primitive reactions that were bound to disappear with the spread of rationality (identified with the sciences). With the realization that religion was not disappearing, and that the so-called histories were based on incorrect data and were even racist,54 came the idea that we are hardwired to postulate unseen agents behind, say, the movement of the branches of a tree or an unexpected sound, as these are said to have adaptive advantages. Religion is still parasitic upon normal human ‘capacities that they have anyway’.55 From this it is a short step to concluding that religion is a mental virus, the conclusion made by the likes of Dawkins and

 Ibid., 731. 54  For a brief overview of these developments see Helen De Cruz, ‘Naturalness of Religious Belief: Epistemological Implications’, in Kelly James Clark (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to Naturalism (Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell, 2016), 481–93. 55  See for example, Pascal Boyer, The Naturalness of Religious Ideas: A Cognitive Theory of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 201. 52




Craig James.56 Those who wish to avoid judging the noetic character of religion can go for an updated version of Soderblom in terms of experiences that are deemed special by people.57 It is not only religious sceptics who find religious diversity problematic. Many Old Testament prophets challenged polytheistic practices in the name of one true God. Similar considerations hold for many ardently religious critics of prevalent religion such as Kabirdas (fifteenth century) in north India and Basavanna (1105–1168) in south India. Call it the religious problem of religious diversity. This, unlike the sceptical problem, arises from the awareness that there is genuine religion known in experience, but at the same time knowing that not everything that goes under the name of religion is genuine.58 3.2  Recalling the Justificatory Process Let us begin by recalling the general justificatory procedure seen in Chap. 6. In pluralistic realism and its predecessor, contextualism, justification always occurs in the context of some beliefs that are not doubted. In empirical knowledge, we saw that such beliefs as the existence of the external world, the principle of the uniformity of nature, and the like make up the framework within which disputed claims are justified. That justification is always within a framework of undoubted beliefs does not mean that the framework beliefs are arbitrary. We noted that the frameworks are adopted largely on pragmatic grounds. Further, it was seen in Chap. 7 that as far as the system of natural perception is concerned, its adoption is based not only on pragmatic grounds; it also provides the best explanation (IBE) for such factors as the ability of complete strangers to gradually master an alien language and culture. So too acceptance of a system of faith (Buddhist, Christian, secular, atheist, etc.) is largely a pragmatic affair depending on the prevalence and popularity of that system in a given culture. Again, like the system of natural perception, the system of natural mystical or religious beliefs has not only pragmatic grounds in its favour 56  Craig A. James, The Religion Virus: Why You Believe in God: An Evolutionist Explains Religion’s Tenacious Hold on Humanity (Ropley: O Books, 2011). 57  Ann Taves, Religious Experience Reconsidered: A Building Block Approach to the Study of Religion and Other Special Things (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 26–29. 58  There are also ethical reasons to seek justification of religion, which comes from the moral depravity of mythical deities. But since I have not applied pluralistic realism to develop ethics, I shall leave it aside.



but also considerations of IBE; it provides the best explanation for such factors as the affinity and the ease with which mystics and genuine believers of one religious tradition understand those of another tradition.59 This framework of natural mystical beliefs was spelt out in the last chapter in terms of the grammar of God. But pragmatic justification of the framework or system does not extend to justification of beliefs within the system; beliefs within the system are justified on the basis of evidence, not pragmatism. This distinguishes pluralistic realism from the neo-pragmatism of Rorty and Williams. We saw the application of evidential procedures to disputed claims within the system of natural perception by using the grammar of perception. These grammatical rules, often in combination with one another, yield the required evidence for resolving disputed perceptual claims. Similarly, when mystical experience is accepted as an autonomous source of knowledge, justification of disputed religious beliefs will be based on the grammar of religion/God. It is important to realize that just as the grammar of perception is used for justifying disputed perceptual claims, so too is grammar of religion/ God to be used for justifying disputed religious claims. I emphasize this point because from the finding that the very concept of perception includes a causal link to the perceived object, some consider it a minus point that such causal link cannot be established in the case of God.60 They forget that playing the language game of religion by using the grammatical rules of perception is as illegitimate as attempting to play soccer with the rules of hockey. Even with regard to justification of perceptual beliefs, causality cannot be used in any straightforward manner. This is a lesson we learned from Hume long ago. We could use causalism for obtaining evidence for resolving disputed perceptual claims only when the causal rule was taken together with a rule of physicality that no two physical objects can be present at the same space at the same time. In the case of God, even if causalism is accepted,61 the physicality rule does not apply and therefore, no evidence can be drawn from causality for resolving disputed religious claims.

59  Milton Scarborough, ‘In the Beginning: Hebrew God and Zen Nothingness’, BuddhistChristian Studies 20 (2000), 191. 60  Wayne Proudfoot, Religious Experience (Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), 176, 217, etc. 61  As a matter of fact, causalism did not occur as a grammatical rule of religion/God.



We saw that as our most basic kind empirical knowledge, the grammar of perception is also crucial for justifying the more advanced empirical knowledge, as all empirical knowledge is ultimately based on sense experience. Similarly, grammar of religion/God can be used not only for justifying disputed religious claims but also for the more ramified religious claims of all existing religions. Such disputed claims include the Christian claim that Jesus is divine, the non-dualist claim about the identity of the soul and God, claims to stigmata, menstruating deities, and so on. I shall deal here primarily with the divinity of Jesus and merely hint at the others. 3.3  Is Jesus Divine? As far as the divinity of Jesus is concerned, it is not hard to see that the grammatical rules drawn out from nature mysticism and applied to God also apply to Jesus. Let us begin with the grammatical rule of immanence and transcendence, both of which are integral to our understanding of God. We took immanence to mean the locus and transcendence to mean the object of experience. In the case of Jesus, the humanity of Jesus becomes the locus in which divinity is experienced. This doctrine is so central to Christianity that the denial of either the divinity or the humanity has always been considered heretical. As in the case of games, one rule does not stand by itself, but functions within the network of other rules. Thus, immanence and transcendence must be taken along with the drastic contrast or the ‘wholly other’ character of the divine. Amy-Jill Levine has observed that ‘had he [Jesus] not said or done some things that proved memorable, distinct, or arresting, it is unlikely we would have records of his teachings’.62 This refers to the ‘wholly other’ character of people’s experience of Jesus. This aspect of their experience appears when the crowds listening to him ask themselves ‘Is this not the carpenter’s son?’ (Lk. 4:22). Their familiarity with the carpenter in the ordinary course of life had not prepared them for what they encountered in Jesus. This experience was entirely different and they wonder ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ (Mt.13:54; Mk. 6:2). ‘Amazed’ is the word by which the New Testament commonly describes the reactions of people towards Jesus. That single 62  Amy-Jill Levine, Dale C.  Allison, and John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus in Context, Princeton Readings in Religions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 1.



word in English covers four words in Hebrew that express a ‘wide range of startled emotion, wonder, astonishment, awe’.63 It is not only the disciples and the crowds who are amazed by the words and deeds of Jesus but also his enemies (Jn. 7:15). From the ‘wholly other’ character of nature mysticism we drew out the grammatical rule of ineffability. It is for this reason that considering Jesus either only in human terms or only in terms of divinity would violate the rule of ineffability. To consider him in human terms alone would amount to those ordinary experiences of human persons (e.g., ‘carpenter’s son’) where no transcendence is experienced, and to consider him only as divine would amount to talking about some disembodied spirit and not about the Christian experience. The other grammatical rule we drew out from the utter difference between ordinary experience and mystical experience is divine simplicity. Simplicity or indivisibility was seen to be an outcome of being unconstrained by the limits of space and time. Jesus being an embodied person, it would be more difficult to apply this to him. But there are instances which show him to be unconstrained by space and time. The sudden appearance of Jesus in the boat at a time when the disciples were struggling against heavy winds is one such instance (Mk.6: 45–52; Mt.14: 22–33; Jn. 6: 15–21); another is Jesus’s knowing about Nathaniel (Jn.1: 43–50). Historically the application of divine simplicity to Jesus is best seen in the fact that in spite of experiencing the divine in Jesus, he is not taken to be another divinity along with the Father of Jesus Christ. Instead, the Church has tried to maintain simplicity by talking about the ‘Word’ that was with God, an expression that owes much to the Greek philosophical as well as the Hebrew scriptural heritage.64 The point is that the Christian recognition of the divinity of Jesus did not pose any threat to the simplicity of the divine. As for the rule of goodness, its applicability to Jesus needs no further elaboration after seeing the love and compassion of Jesus in the last section. This also goes for the conscious character of the experienced reality. Moreover, what they experienced is not some kind of vague goodness but an overflow of love and compassion, which can be said to reach its culmination in John’s proclamation that God is love (1 Jn. 4: 8).  Ed L.  Miller, ‘The Logos of Heraclitus: Updating the Report’, Harvard Theological Review 74 (1981), 161–76. 63 64



Having seen the justification for the central claim of Christian faith, we could consider the justification of stigmatic claims that was left hanging in Chap. 5. Whether any particular case of stigmata is genuine must be tested against the message of stigmata. The message, we saw, is that God has accepted the devotee’s prayer to be united with Jesus crucified. The test would, therefore, be whether the devotee has become more Christ-like in life than before. 3.4  Additional Grammatical Rule of Christian Faith We raised the question in Chap. 7 as to whether different advanced empirical disciplines provide any grammatical rules for determining truth in addition to the basic grammar of natural perception. Based on the views of philosophers of science, that question was answered in the negative. But the situation is different in religion, at least as far as Christian faith is concerned. We have already seen the humanistic ethos of the Hebrew Bible, as the background in which the Christian experience took place. Once the Christian experience is in place, the fact that the locus of experience tends to get institutionalized not only affects how Jesus is seen but also accounts for the high value accorded to all human persons, making Christianity a kind humanism. Christian humanism has its roots in the New Testament itself. Jesus simplifies the whole of the Old Testament into the great love commandment (Mt. 22: 37–40). This is an original formulation in which Jesus combined the great Jewish teaching to love God ‘with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Deut. 6: 4–5) with the lesser known text from Leviticus (Lev. 19:1) to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. Commenting on this passage, George Soares-Prabhu makes it clear that ‘this commandment does not ask us to love God and neighbor as if these were to be two different objects of love’.65 Rather, it is to be read as “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, this means, you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10: 25–37) further specifies the neighbour as anyone in need. This process of identifying love of God and love of neighbour reaches its climax in Mt. 25: 31–46, where the criteria of love of God is stated explicitly in terms of feeding the hungry, giving a 65  George Soares-Prabhu, ‘The Dharma of Jesus’, Jnanadeepa: Pune Journal of Religious Studies 18 (2015), 16; italics original.



drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners. That Christianity is kind of humanism is not a new discovery. Already in the second century, St Irenaeus (140–202 A.D) is credited with the famous saying ‘the Glory of God is man fully alive’. Henri de Lubac citing Gregory of Nyasa (335–394 A.D.) says, ‘O man, scorn not that which is admirable in you! ... Consider your royal dignity! The heavens have not been made in God’s image as you have, nor the moon, nor the sun, nor anything to be seen in creation ... Behold, of all that exists there is nothing that can contain your greatness’.66 Rooted as it is in God, this is a transcendent humanism (unlike the modern secular humanism). From this humanism follows some additional rules of Christian faith, over and above the grammatical rules of divinity drawn from nature mysticism. Foremost among these is the affirmation of human dignity. St Paul, while not preaching against slavery, undermines it from within by asking to treat the slave as a brother (Philemon 1: 12–16). A second rule of Christian faith is its universalism. Since the very identity of Christian faith is in Jesus Christ, the God-Man, nothing human is alien to it, and gives it a trans-cultural character. According to an early Christian document, ‘The difference between Christians and others is not a matter of nationality, or language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities of their own, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life’.67 At the same time, Christian faith is not completely at home in any culture because as mere human products, every culture needs to be touched and transformed by the mystery of the God-man.68 Therefore, the same document goes on to say that for Christians any country can be their homeland but every homeland is alien. It follows that any close identification of Christian faith with nations, languages, social institutions like caste cannot be Christian. Thirdly, having inter-personal relation as the locus of its foundational experience makes marriage a sacrament for Christians. It is not a merely contract between two individuals or families but a locus for encountering the divine in and through their mutual love and fidelity. Fourthly, for the same reason Christian faith is inherently communitarian, 66  Henri de Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 20. 67  Letter to Diogenetus cited in spirit_20010522_diogneto_en.html 68  See Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, no. 71.



and not individualistic. One cannot attain salvation all by oneself; Christian beatific vision is simultaneously a communion of saints. 3.5  Some Complexities of Justification So far I have focused only on the justification of Christian beliefs because as an exercise in fundamental theology my primary concern is with the rationality of Christian faith. However, it seems to me that the grammatical rules of religion/God derived from nature mysticism apply across the board to all religions. If they are applied, it will become clear that beliefs in the menstruating goddesses or of divinity being polluted by menstruating women do not take the ‘wholly other’ character of divinity seriously. I am tempted to quote the comment of Xenophanes (570 B.C.–475 B.C.) of ancient Greece: ‘if horses and oxen had hands and could draw pictures, their gods would look remarkably like horses and oxen’.69 I shall leave it at that and go on to consider some complexities in the justification of religion. A first complexity arises from the necessarily existential character of theology that we saw in Chap. 2. In that connection, I cited Kierkegaard’s example of an idolater praying with his entire heart being more acceptable to God than the one praying to the true God in a false spirit. The passionate commitment of ordinary people who undertake prolonged fasts in preparation for visiting the deity at Sabarimala, whose celibacy is preserved by barring menstruating women from the temple, can be compared to the passionate religiosity of Kierkegaard’s idolater. We cannot deny the personal benefits of undertaking such austerities by the pilgrims to Sabarimala. But if we take that alone into account, we cannot avoid the danger of convinced terrorists and genuine religious fanatics. If such danger is to be avoided, religious beliefs and practices must be submitted to rational purification. And this involves taking into consideration the ‘wholly other’ character and other grammatical rules of divinity, as I have suggested. A second complexity comes from the social and political significance of religious activities. Take the above mentioned festival at the Kodungalloor temple where the worst obscenities are uttered with abandon, which would be unacceptable otherwise. Various explanations are given for these 69  Cited in James Lesher, ‘Xenophanes’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition), Edward N.  Zalta (ed.), URL =



strange rituals. But the pervasive undertones of caste where the outcastes deliberately assert their right to ‘pollute’ the temple are unmistakeable. As one scholar put it, this festival (and similar subaltern festivals) becomes the occasion ‘for the overturning of the social order and behavioral codes. No one was spared from the insults and direct affronts of the dancing devotees in procession, but the festival context protected the pilgrims from prosecution’.70 Taken as a protest against caste discriminations, devotees are enacting ritually what they have no power to do socially. Cases of this kind indicate, in the first place, that religion cannot be kept away from society and culture as a private affair as the secularists have tried to do (see Sect. 3.2 in Chap. 4). Strong religious convictions affect social behaviour as when the upper-class pagan women of Greco-Roman world found that Christian husbands were more faithful and less abusive than their own husbands, which helped the rise of Christianity.71 On the other hand when religious convictions are weak, the influence flows in the other direction and prevalent social practices get religious legitimacy. And caste is such. But it is not only in the case of caste. The theological crisis that arose in the wake of modernity enabled the cultural ascendency of secularism, which flowed into the Church, first among the Protestants and then among the Catholics, most notably in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. This is manifest in the emptying of the European churches, churches doubling up as conference halls and thereby undermining the idea of scared space, shrinking number of vocations to priesthood and religious life, increased divorce rates, and so on. I wonder if the much talked about sexual abuse crisis is also not a case of weakened religious convictions not being able to withstand the sexual revolution brought about by the larger culture. Caste also raises the question of moral relativism where morality of action is judged on the basis of one’s position in society and one’s stage in life (varna and ashrama).72 At the same time, the fact that a caste-ridden society could give rise to such religious protest movements as that of Kabirdas and Basavanna might indicate that the ethical equality of human 70  M.  J. Gentes, ‘Scandalizing the Goddess at Kodungallur’, Asian Folklore Studies 51 (1992), 302. 71  Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins HarperSanFrancisco, 1997), Chap. 5. 72  See R.N.  Dandekar, ‘Dharma, the First End of Man’, in William Theodore De Bary, et al. (eds.), Sources of Indian Tradition (Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1988), 218.



beings—what I characterized as the additional grammatical rule of Christian faith—might be something more than a Christian heritage, although it is hard to draw it out from any other kind of natural mysticism than person-mysticism. What seems more likely is that just as humans are endowed with natural perceptual and mystical abilities, they are also endowed with certain natural abilities for moral cognition. If this is right, it can be developed by using the epistemology outlined in this book and thereby overcome moral relativism. But I shall not venture into this issue, so as not to make an already long book longer.

4   Conclusion I shall conclude this chapter by indicating how the account of religious diversity presented here differs from Assmann’s nostalgia for polytheism. For him the idea of true and false deities and the subsequent development of monotheism are unfortunate cultural developments that have no natural basis. In contrast, I have not only attempted to show the natural basis of religious cognition, but also argued that monotheism is inherent in the logic of divinity inasmuch as simplicity is one of its constitutive features. Where does that leave us with translatability, whereby the ‘the highly differentiated members of polytheistic pantheons lend themselves easily to cross-cultural translation’?73 Such translatability is an asset of polytheism as it helps to avoid religious conflicts. Can this be maintained when truth considerations are brought into play? Although I have not gone into details, I have already shown that non-­ dualism and monotheism are translatable in this manner by and large, and suggested the possibility of similar translations with other faiths. Earlier, in Chap. 5, I also argued that at least some seemingly conflicting doctrines might be matters of communicating the same message in different cultural settings. Further, going beyond commonalities, I expounded the grammatical rules that are specific to Christian faith. It suggests the possibility of such specificities of other faiths. Thus, if one is willing to seek truth and use reason, it would be possible to appreciate commonalities as well as differences of religions. Conflicts seem to me to result from the failure or the refusal to use reason in religion, either out of insecurity, as with most 73  Jan Assmann, ‘Monotheism and Polytheism’, in Sarah Iles Johnston (ed.), Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004), 24.



fundamentalisms, or deliberately for non-religious reasons such as the pursuit of power in the garb of religion as with the Hindutva forces in contemporary India. This raises the question of relating religious reasons with the other more mundane human concerns and experiences, which will be taken up at the end of next chapter, though briefly.


Pulling Together

In this book I have argued that both faith and reason are inextricably linked to culture, though neither is reducible to culture. I have attempted to show the rationality of faith, specifically of Christian faith, in the contemporary world of diversity. Here, in these final pages, I shall first briefly trace that path. After that, I shall provide some broad hints for holding diverse human experiences together.

1   Summing Up I began by situating the discussion in concrete Roman Catholic context of Fides et Ratio and its demand to hold reason and faith together, after the example of Thomas Aquinas. When Christian faith was challenged to navigate through a drastic cultural change in the thirteenth century, Aquinas successfully achieved this. However, that very success tied Christian faith, especially its Roman Catholic version, to Aristotelian philosophy and when modernity separated from that philosophy faith lost its cultural moorings. Although the Protestant theologian Schleiermacher tried to give it a new direction by bringing in religious experience as the basis of faith, he did not make much headway. Some version of naturalism and secularism became the intellectual standard bearer of modern culture. This was largely due to the scientistic imprisonment of modern rationality. After narrating the prolonged struggles of theology, I suggested the need for situating Christian faith in the contemporary culture. © The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




The first part of the book dealt with the modern enslavement of rationality and its impact on religion and theology. Since religious diversity is integral to the contemporary cultural situation, I first explored John Hick’s theory of religious pluralism and showed that he gets his facts wrong and wrong facts result in misleading maps. Arguing for the existential character of theology, I unmasked his rhetoric and paved the way for exploring theology as an existential concern. The next two chapters argued that not only theologians but also all human beings live within an existential enclave or a faith horizon. This includes the modern philosophers who tried to do away with all prior beliefs in search of some firm foundations on which the edifice of knowledge can stand. The failure of modern epistemology helped us to see the distinctions between theology and empirical sciences. Further, the existential rootedness of human persons gives a larger meaning to ‘faith’ than religious faith; secularism, naturalism, humanism, and materialism are some of the faiths popular in the contemporary world, besides the many religious faiths. When this finding is taken together with the fact that any person can have only one existential horizon at any given time, we begin to see that the real conflict is between scientistic faith and religious faith and not between science and religion. The realization that everyone lives within an existential horizon brought us face to face with the postmodern condition with the danger of power, money, and propaganda becoming substitutes for truth. This is overcome in two steps. First, I explored the possibility of communicating and understanding across the chasm of deep disagreement that prevails between different paradigms, language-games, and ideologies. This was done by formulating a communication theory, which also helped us to draw the distinction between fundamental theology, theology, and the theoretical framework needed for interreligious dialogue. The most basic task of fundamental theology was seen to be one of communicating theological insights in a way that is intelligible even to the atheists. Communicating and understanding form only the preliminary task of epistemology. Examining the truth of disputed claims to truth, that is, the process of justifying beliefs, is as important as understanding. Having abandoned the uniformitarian foundationalism of modern epistemology, I adopted Michael Williams’ Wittgensteinian contextualism. But seeing how his contextualism cannot withstand cultural relativism, I adopted a version of naturalized epistemology and its affirmation of the continuity between sciences and epistemology. This helped to adopt some methodological insights from empirical sciences, which, in turn, helps to obtain



evidence that is contextual without being a prisoner of context. Observational evidence is sensitive to the context, because observations are guided by prior theories, but the availability of evidence is independent of those theories. Mind-independent reality puts the seal of truth/falsity on our claims, either by providing the relevant evidence or by failing to provide it. The distinction between theory-guided and theory-determined observation disambiguates the category of ‘theory-laden observations’. This, together with the acknowledgement of a class of cognitive experience as natural to human beings (though the natural and cultural are not separable), defangs the relativistic conclusions of contextualism. These insights are applied to resolving disputed claims of natural perception, where the grammar of perception plays the role of theory in the sciences. This part ends by exploring how the ‘meagre input’ of natural perception develops into the ‘torrential’ cultural output in the form of various specialized empirical disciplines. The same procedure is adopted for religious knowledge. Considering mystical experiences as the core of religion, I explored studies in mysticism and found that some mystical experiences (nature mysticism) are acknowledged as natural and spontaneous to human beings, unlike the more culturally conditioned mysticism found in different religious traditions. As in the case of natural perception, exploring nature mysticism helped to unearth the grammatical rules of mysticism/religion. These were found to be the same as the grammatical rules of the theistic understanding of God, as against the deistic concept employed by the modern talk about God. This completes the first task of fundamental theology, that is, that of explicating the concept of God to open-minded atheist seekers like Antony Flew who first asked for such an explication. Christian faith, however, is not about theism in general; it is built around a very specific claim about Jesus Christ. This is explored in three steps. First I expanded the notion of nature mysticism to natural mysticism, and thereby took it beyond the confines of some rare occurrences to bring it in line with the experiences of ordinary religious believers. In the second step I used the same dynamics of development explored in connection with natural perception to show how the already variegated natural mysticism gets further diversified in diverse cultural settings. The foundational Christian experience proved to be an instance of the natural ability to sense the divine in deep inter-personal relationships, now facilitated and accentuated by the humanistic culture of Judaism, leading to the core Christian claim that Jesus is both human and divine. In the third step I



consider the justification available for this Christian claim. Just as the grammatical rules of natural perception are used jointly for resolving disputed perceptual claim (Chap. 7), so too, the grammatical rules of religion/God are used for justifying the Christian claim. Finally, the epistemology developed in this book (Pluralistic Realism) remains faithful to the unity as well as the diversity of religions. This contrasts with the epistemology of religious experience developed by William Alston. He found that while different religions have their own winnowing systems for validating truth, ‘inter-system winnowing devices’ are more difficult to come by.1 By exploring the grammar of divinity, I have shown that such inter-system winnowing devices are indeed available. Moreover, recalling the further grammatical rules that are specific to Christian faith, and the possibility of doing the same for other religions, I have also respected the importance of particular winnowing systems available in different religions. This also compares favourably with the epistemology of John Hick. He saw the need for recognizing the commonality shared by different religions but had no place for differences, whereas I have acknowledged commonalities as well as shown respect for differences.

2   Some Hints Towards Building a Map Expanding on Wittgenstein, Mary Midgley saw the task of philosophy as that of providing ‘a good map by which we can find our way around’ the world.2Providing a map for living in the world, however, is a much larger task than showing the rationality of religion and of Christian faith. For the experiential approach that I have adopted in this book, it means that diverse human experiences can be knitted together into an integral whole. If we follow Schleiermacher, this involves taking three kinds of experiences into account: empirical, religious, and moral. Of these, I have explored only the first two. But even bringing these two together is a challenging task, especially in the light of the autonomy or the ‘wholly other’ character of religious experience. Challenging though it is, the task is also indispensable if we are to have a wholesome map to guide our lives. This is also important in the light of the fact we noted at the end of the last chapter: religion cannot be kept apart from the general society and culture. Either religion will reshape our world or the world will shape our religion. In  William P. Alston, ‘Perceiving God’, The Journal of Philosophy 83 (1986), 663.  Mary Midgley, Wisdom, Information and Wonder: What Knowledge Is For? (London/ New York: Routledge, 1989; repr., 1995), 37. 1 2



what follows, I shall first try to bring diverse experiences together (though very minimally), by talking about the possibility of resurrection and understanding the Trinitarian doctrine. These reflections are meant to be hints for further explorations rather than results of detailed research. 2.1  Resurrection Speaking about life after bodily death requires us to bring together the empirical experience and religious experience we dealt with in Parts II and III. This is so because it is hard to see how to reconcile the claim of nature mystics like R.M. Buck, who ‘saw that all men are immortal’ (Chap. 8, Sect. 1.2), with the more common experience of death that no one can deny. Buck’s claim is bolstered by the fact that most religious traditions (including Buddhists who deny an abiding soul) affirm some kind of immortality or continued life after bodily death. This is also supported by religious traditions making claims to a special relationship between humanity and divinity, such as the Christian claim about human beings possessing the image and likeness of God and the Advaitic claim of Atman as identical with Brahman. If this is so, since the divine is not subject to death, human beings must also be likewise. But how are we to make sense of this apparently contradictory conclusion that human beings are immortal mortals? This is among the challenges we face when philosophy is understood as a guide-map for life. There are two basic possibilities: either we ignore/deny either kind of experience, and end up with a reductionist view of human beings, or we can hold the two together in some fashion. This would provide us with four different ways of conceiving human beings: 1. The Materialist View: According to this view, human beings are made up of matter and nothing more. It takes the empirical experience of death seriously but not religious experience. Religious and spiritual experiences are not autonomous; they are just by-products of matter, an epiphenomenon.3 This would lead to the conclusion that continued life after death is impossible. 3  This claim must be distinguished from the more modest claim that brain processes are involved in religious experience. The latter claim is not reductionist, as our empirical experience also involves brain processes. But we should not be tempted to deny the reality outside the brain on account of it.



2. The Spiritualist View: This view holds that human beings are spiritual and not necessarily related to perishable matter. It takes religious experience seriously but does not take the experience of death seriously. This view will end up concluding that human beings are really imperishable and not subject to death and decay, notwithstanding our common experience. Both of the above views are metaphysically monist, inasmuch as they hold reality to be made up of one kind of stuff. Taking metaphysics as primary, they tailor their experience to suit that metaphysics. An experiential approach, in contrast, takes human experience as primary and tries to build a philosophy of the human person around it. The next two views are of this kind. Both take philosophy as a matter of knitting diverse human experiences together. 3. Dualist view: This view takes both the empirical experience of death and religious claims of immortality based on mystical experience seriously. Accordingly, it tries to hold them together by saying that human beings are made up of two kinds of stuff (matter and spirit) that do not mingle. 4. Some kind of qualified dualism or monism: This view is not committed to either metaphysical monism or dualism. It takes both kinds of experience seriously, but does not consider spirit and matter as different realities. On the contrary, it considers spirit as a dimension of all reality. As already mentioned, if philosophy is understood as committed to knitting together diverse experiences, the first two views are untenable and we will be left with the last two. Which of these to adopt? The dualist view will lead to the conclusion after the death the soul will be reborn in another body, ‘just as we discard worn out cloths and put on new ones’ (Bhagavad Gita, 2.22). However, our analysis of natural mysticism does not permit us to postulate the soul as another reality and the spiritual world as another realm. Rather, the Mobius strip model helped us to understand the spiritual realm as the fifth dimension of all reality. Moreover, this view of matter and spirit as inextricably linked to each other is bolstered even by reported cases of rebirth. A massive study involving 2600 such cases, has shown this strange phenomenon of people who faced violent deaths being born with physical birthmarks or birth-defects in the new body



‘corresponding to a previous life’s violent ending by knife, rope or bullet wound’.4 This makes it difficult even for those who believe in rebirth to rationally uphold the dualism of the Bhagavad Gı̄ta. Accordingly we are left with some kind of unitive dualism or dualistic monism as the only viable option. This could be the Christian view of body taking on a new form (resurrection) or a modified view of reincarnation where we leave behind this coarse body (sthūlásarı̄ra) of ours but our astral or subtle body (sūksmásarı̄ra), which is said to exist alongside the coarse body, survives.5 It is difficult to make a rational choice between resurrection and this modified view of rebirth. What is noteworthy is that both talk about different kinds of body, which is in keeping with the ‘energy fields’ we saw in the last chapter (Sect. 1.2). Moreover, these two alternatives need not be opposed to each other because the Christian hope is in the resurrection on ‘the last day’ just as the Hindu and Buddhist hope is to get out of the cycle of birth and rebirth; if there is rebirth, it is in the interim. As far as the resurrection of Jesus is concerned, given the divinity of Jesus seen in the last chapter, there is no question of any interim between his bodily death and his resurrection. Any further elucidation of this is best left to systematic theology rather than to fundamental theology, whose task is to function as a preamble to theology by opening up the way for it. 2.2  Trinity Trinity is another typical doctrine of Christian faith from the very beginning. The basic problem has always been to make sense of the claim that God is one and three at the same time. The most fundamental thing to keep in mind is that this doctrine is not a mathematical puzzle, but an account of the ‘three distinct ways in which the one God is experienced as present and active in their lives’ by the early Christians.6 In order to keep those experiences together, Christians have put forward, at various times, various metaphysical, cosmological, psychological, and social ideas. I will not attempt even a brief glimpse of that ‘long, meandering, and tortuous’ 4  Sudhir Kakar and Jeffrey J. Kripal (eds.), Seriously Strange: Thinking Anew About Psychical Experiences (New Delhi: Viking/Penguin, 2012), xxvii. 5  G.C. Nayak, Evil and the Retributive Hypothesis (Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass Publishers, 1993), 190-92. I am grateful to Noel Sheth of happy memory and Henry D’Almeida for this reference. 6  Peter C.  Phan, The Cambridge Companion to the Trinity, Cambridge Companions to Religion (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 4.



journey.7 My purpose is only to ask fellow Christians whether a somewhat apophatic way of thinking about the Trinity is not more suitable for this doctrine than the heresy-prone language of persons, their natures, and relations. To this end, let me propose Rudolf Otto’s understanding of a-dvaita as a model. Unlike the standard approaches to a-dvaita that are doctrinal, Otto, in keeping with his focus on religious experience, approached the doctrine in terms of experience. He sees this doctrine as the ‘strange meeting, intertwining, and running together of the “two ways” of mystical approach’ culminating in the third. He says, the first is the discovery of the Ekam [One] in and behind the world, which is recognized as the eternal Brahman. The discovery of the “inward atman,” of the ascharyam [wonder] in inner self, is the second, and is completely independent of first. But the realization that this Ekam-Brahman is the “inward- ātman”—is the third discovery.8

The third discovery is the realization that the reality discovered in the first two—one in the locus of the outside world (Brahman) and the other in the locus of one’s innermost soul (A–tman)—is not really a matter of two different realities. Hence, the negative expression, a-dvaita (not-­ two); it is not a positive statement, as the word ‘monism’ would lead us to think. Similar, it seems to me, is the case of the early Christians. Their Hebrew ancestors had already discovered the El Shaddai, the Lord of the mountains, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and had gone on to liberate them from slavery. Then there was the foundational Christian experience in  Jesus Christ seen in the last chapter. Finally, there is the experience of the Holy Spirit, which needs to be spelt out. Two pointers may be helpful in spelling out this third experience. Firstly, this experience is unlikely to be the same as the Indian discovery of God in the innermost soul, as the contemplative (introvertive) tradition is a much later development in Christianity. Secondly, if we go by Acts 2, the community will find a prominent place in the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit.  Ibid.  Rudolf Otto, Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of the Nature of Mysticism, trans. Bertha L. Bracey and Richenda C. Payne, Living Age ed. (New York: Meridian Books, 1957), 256. 7 8



However it all gets spelt out, the present point is that the three distinct experiences of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit may be best expressed negatively as a-traita (not-three) rather than positively as three persons with all its attendant difficulties. This would enable us to spell out the experiences that give meaning to the doctrine without unwarranted speculations. Such speculations inevitably end up making a God after our own image rather than communicating the rich Christian experience of the Trinity.

3   Conclusion This book began with the systemic crisis faced by Christian theology and the various responses to it—from Catholic neo-Thomism to Schleiermacher’s experiential turn and the aggiornamento of Second Vatican Council—none of which had great success in overcoming the crisis. I attributed their lack of success to their inability to relate faith to the changed culture. Any drastic change in culture calls for building a new bridge between faith and that culture. Such a bridge is named fundamental theology. Fundamental theology differs from dogmatic theology, inasmuch as it functions like the tightrope tied across the chasm between faith and culture, whereas dogmatic theology functions like the balancing pole used by the tightrope walker (Sect. 2.2, Chap. 1). I have attempted to construct such a tightrope between Christian faith and the postmodern culture. Since epistemology is at the heart of the dissonance between faith and culture, I have tried to provide a ‘unified and organic vision of knowledge’ that Pope John Paul II foresaw as one of the challenges that Christian thought would have to face in the third millennium. How far I have succeeded is for the readers to judge.


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Name Index1

A Abelard, Peter, 7, 39, 40, 67 Adler, Mortimer, 91, 335 Alston, William, ix, 26, 35, 95, 95n50, 195, 206, 214–217, 216n10, 230, 231n60, 246–248, 331n35, 352 Anselm of Canterbury, 39 Aquinas as exemplar, 22–28 Aquinas on reason, 5, 6, 10–13, 15, 22–24, 27, 130, 175, 349 Aquinas, Thomas, ix, 5–15, 18, 22–28, 40, 41, 85, 86, 100, 130, 160–163, 161n28, 165, 168, 169, 175, 247, 248, 297, 299–302, 309, 315, 349 Arcesilaus, 222 Aristotle, 5, 8, 10, 12, 23, 23n68, 25, 27, 28, 38n5, 91–93, 98–100, 160, 161, 169, 197, 218, 301 Armstrong, David, 222–224, 230 Assmann, Jan, 332, 346 Augustine of Hippo, 6


B Baggini, Julian, 312 Barbour, Ian, 84, 134n92 Barker, Dan, 96 Benedict XVI, Pope, 2–4, 329 Berger, Peter, 118, 121, 310 Bernard of Clairvaux, 39, 67 Blake, William, 290, 292, 294 Boghossian, Paul, 25n79, 186 Boland, Vivian, 309 Bonjour, Laurence, 139 Brümmer, Vincent, 65 Buckley, Michael, 16, 24n74, 99, 288 Buddha, 56, 106, 131, 176–178, 276 Byrne, Peter, 24 C Caputo, John, 26n80, 116, 321 Cayce, Edgar, 325 Chisholm, Roderick, 34, 228, 229 Collins, Francis, 96, 97, 115 Conway, Gertrude, 104

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.

© The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




Crombie, I.M., 81–83 Crosby, Donald, 287, 288 D D’Costa, Gavin, 50, 70, 71, 163, 178 Dalai Lama, 326, 327 Dalferth, Ingolf, 26, 286, 297, 318 Dawkins, Richard, 87, 96, 97, 124, 125, 131, 287, 288, 312–314, 337 de Chardin, Teilhard, 89, 115 de Lubac, Henri, 18, 343 Deikman, Arthur, 307 Dennett, Daniel, 87, 97, 131, 133 Descartes, Rene, 13, 31, 40, 115, 116, 138, 140, 141, 143, 190, 278 Devitt, Michael, 223 Dispenza, Joe, 327 Draper, William, 86 Dulles, Avery, 122 E Einhorn, Stefan, 168, 318, 319 Ekman, Paul, 326 F Fagg, Lawrence, 316 Faraday, Michael, 109, 109n23 Feldman, Richard, 143, 144 Felix Wilfred, 173 Flew, Antony, ix, 31, 35, 43, 76–80, 82, 83, 85, 86, 88, 95–97, 124, 167, 245, 285, 296, 351 Fodor, Jerry, 233 Foucault, Michel, 140, 141n8 Francis, Pope, 122, 166

G Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 43, 62, 62n63, 145, 159, 159n24, 160 Glass, Cathy, 320 Goodenough, Ursula, 108, 109, 126, 287, 288, 312 Gould, Stephen Jay, 94, 104, 106–108, 112, 127, 131, 132 Grace, Fran, 327 Greeley, Andrew, 124 Green, Deidre, 281 Gregory of Nyasa, 343 Griffiths, Bede, 290, 292, 294, 295, 302, 328 Griffiths, Paul, 162, 250 Grundmann, Thomas, 189 Gudykunst, William, 157 Gushee, David, 321, 331 H Haack, Susan, 139, 153, 172 Habermas, Jürgen, 3, 147 Hadot, Pierre, 59 Halbfass, Wilhelm, 54 Halling, Steen, 327, 328 Hanson, Stig Børsen, 111 Hare, R.M., 78–83, 88, 94, 123 Harris, Sam, 87, 131 Hasker, William, 300, 301 Haught, John, 96, 131, 134n92 Hawking, Stephen, 90, 96, 99 Hawkins, David, 327 Heidegger, Martin, 43, 63, 63n70, 116, 160, 183n7, 279 Heim, Mark, 50, 56n47, 58, 59, 66, 69, 70, 70n90 Helm, Paul, 300 Hesse, Mary, 241


Hick, John, ix, 19–21, 21n61, 29, 31, 42, 43, 45, 47–57, 47n6, 47n7, 47n8, 56n44, 68–71, 73, 82, 83, 97, 128–130, 166, 173–175, 175n70, 176n72, 251, 252, 268, 268n44, 274, 276–278, 281, 282, 292, 314, 315, 323, 325, 350, 352 Hinton, Michael, 222 Hollenback, Jess Byron, 265, 292, 324 Holyoake, George, 121 Hume, David, 11, 12, 16, 23, 24, 60, 80, 149, 339 Huw Price, 198 Huxley, Aldous, 275 I Irenaeus, St., 343 J James, William, ix, 56, 253, 254, 259, 261, 265, 268, 271, 273, 285, 290, 295, 297, 298, 303 Jantzen, Grace, 278, 280 Jencks, Charles, 42 John Paul II, Pope, 1, 21, 357 John XXIII, Pope, 18 Johnson, Paul, 331 Jung, Carl, 322 K Kant, Immanuel, 11, 12, 103, 237, 278 Katz, Steven, ix, 52, 254, 258, 266–274, 277, 281, 286, 298 Kenny, Anthony, 226


Kierkegaard, Søren, ix, 42, 60–64, 61n61, 62n63, 66, 67, 108n21, 344 Kim, Chin-Tai, 308 Kim, Jaegwon, 227 Kitcher, Philip, 88, 99, 146, 195, 195n45, 227n42, 242 Krauss, Lawrence, 241 Krieger, David, 173–175 Kuhn, Thomas, 21, 140, 172, 185, 229, 239, 241, 249 L Laplace, Pierre-Simon, 40, 46 Leo XIII, Pope, 14 Lombard, Peter, 39 Luther, Martin, 67, 67n79 M Maffie, James, 226 Malcolm, Norman, 94, 103, 110 Marcel, Gabriel, 96 Maréchal, Joseph, 279 Marshall, Paul, 292 Matilal, B.K., 198 McClellan, David, 327 McKim, Robert, 97 Meslier, Jean, 11, 16, 46 Midgley, Mary, 352 Mirabai, 265 Mitchell, Basil, 80–83, 88, 94 Mitterstieler, Elmar, 287 N Neisser, Ulric, 149, 237–239, 253 Neurath, Otto, 138, 142 Nielsen, Kai, 111, 124, 143, 181, 188, 199, 210



Nietzsche, Friedrich, 16, 132 Noë, Alva, 224 O Olson, Richard, 113 Otto, Rudolf, 103, 252, 253, 268, 294, 298, 299, 307, 308, 356 P Panikkar, Raimon, 67, 174 Pannenberg, Wolfhart, 26, 27, 247 Pascal, Blaise, 10, 11, 13, 23, 274 Pearce, Barnett, 156, 165 Phillips, D.Z., 61n61, 94, 103, 143, 174, 188, 210 Pius X, Pope, 15 Plantinga, Alvin, ix, 26, 27, 35, 95, 95n50, 131, 195, 223, 224, 231, 231n60, 246–248, 246n6, 306 Plato, 8, 23, 25, 28, 28n83, 41, 91, 92, 98, 222, 297, 301 Platt, David, 305 Playfair, Guy, 323 Polanyi, Michael, 122, 123 Popper, Karl, 77, 138 Proudfoot, Wayne, 127, 248, 249, 270–274, 298, 299, 303 Putnam, Hilary, ix, 90, 90n38, 193n41, 198, 241 Q Quine, W.V., ix, 138, 146, 160, 206, 228–231, 235, 236, 240, 251 R Radhakrishnan, S., 274 Rahner, Karl, 72, 73, 169, 274, 278–281

Rāmānuja, 54, 311 Ramsey, Ian, 318, 319 Reid, Thomas, 218 Ricœur, Paul, 154n6, 159 Rorty, Richard, ix, 32, 33, 144, 193, 196, 203, 210, 339 Rue, Loyal, 288, 312–314 Ruse, Michael, 96 Russell, Bertrand, 86, 87, 87n26, 92n42, 100, 106, 130 Ryle, Gilbert, 31, 126, 126n73, 227 S Sagan, Carl, 287 Śaṃ kara, 53 Śankara, viii, 54, 56, 67, 68, 129, 304, 306, 331, 331n35 Schleiermacher, Friedrich, vii, viii, 26–28, 95, 103, 134, 245, 248, 249n14, 253, 257, 278, 280, 298, 300, 349, 352, 357 Schramm, Wilbur, 155, 158, 159 Searle, John, 146 Sharma, B.N.K, 309 Sheldrake, Rupert, 323 Sherry, Patrick, 111 Shinran, 177, 178 Smart, Ninian, 49n17, 52, 123, 265, 276, 281, 282 Snowdon, Paul, 220, 221, 231, 232 Soares-Prabhu, George, 342 Soderblom, Nathan, 336, 338 Sommers, Fred, 198 Soteriou, Matthew, 221 Stace, Walter, viii, ix, 254, 258–266, 268–270, 268n44, 274, 275, 278, 281, 282, 285, 288, 290–294, 296–299, 302, 304 Stenger, Victor, 87, 88, 100, 106, 124, 131, 135 Stenmark, Mikael, 84n19, 94


T Taves, Ann, 271 Taylor, Charles, 65, 118, 123 TeVelde, Rui, 24 Tilley, Terrence, 122, 123 Tillich, Paul, 66 Tournier, Paul, 326 Tracy, David, 52, 162, 164 Trigg, Roger, 57 U Udayana, 53 V Vacchagotta, 106 Vallabhāchār ya, 53, 72, 73, 129 Vivekananda, 54 W Wainwright, William, 264, 282 Ward, Keith, 308 Weinberg, Steven, 96, 287 Wellhausen, Julius, 13, 14, 19, 29, 113


White, Andrew, 86 Williams, Michael, ix, 33, 142, 145, 147–149, 181–193, 183n4, 195–197, 197n50, 199–204, 204n68, 206, 207, 209, 210, 211, 213, 215, 226, 228, 233, 240, 243, 244, 286, 339, 350 Winch, Peter, 94, 103, 109, 210 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, ix, 32, 65, 92, 93, 98, 103–106, 104n1, 110, 123, 126, 128, 141, 145, 160, 179, 181n1, 183, 192–194, 214, 225, 226, 232, 234, 243, 352 X Xenophanes, 344 Y Yogananda, Paramahansa, 325 Z Zaehner, R.C., 274–276, 276n68, 282, 285, 288, 300, 304, 324

Subject Index1

A Absolutism, 47–51, 53, 58, 64, 68–71 See also Exclusivism; Inclusivism Advaita of Śaṃ kara, 53, 304, 306 Apologetics, 38, 39, 111, 160, 164, 167–172, 175, 176n71, 179, 248, 280 Apologists, 10, 39, 83, 167, 257 Atheism/atheist, 16, 17, 22–27, 31, 35, 39n8, 46, 57, 87, 87n28, 88, 90, 95–97, 99, 100, 120, 124, 125, 133, 134, 144, 146, 147, 151, 159n23, 161–163, 176, 181, 245, 250, 268, 281, 288, 295, 312, 313, 316, 335, 338, 350, 351 ̄ A tman, 353, 356 B Bhagavad Gı̄tā, 53, 354, 355 Brahman, 35, 53, 54, 67, 218, 230, 252, 267, 276, 277, 297–299,


301, 302, 304, 306, 309, 331n35, 353, 356 Buddha, 269 experience of, 269 Buddhism, 54, 55, 73, 123, 176, 176n72, 177, 258, 267, 312 C Category mistake, 31, 126, 126n73, 131, 227 Christianity, viii, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 37–39, 38n4, 39n6, 45, 46n2, 48–50, 52, 54, 70, 73, 78, 82, 117–119, 122–124, 128, 130, 161, 167, 176, 176n72, 177, 331, 335, 340, 342, 343, 345, 356 foundational experience, 331 Coherentism, 33, 138–140, 182, 213, 228, 313

 Note: Page numbers followed by ‘n’ refer to notes.

© The Author(s) 2020 G. Karuvelil, Faith, Reason, and Culture,




Communication, 32–34, 137–149, 151–182, 202–205, 236, 240, 252, 278, 305, 307, 322, 350 bullet theory, 154 daisy model of, 165 elements of, 155 hermeneutic circle, 240 immediate, 169 incommensurability, 204 interlocutionary process, 203, 204 mediated, 155, 167, 169, 307 religious, 163 task of, 156 theories of, 152 as triadic relationship, 205 Compassion, 325, 334, 335, 341 of Jesus, 334 Consciousness, 29, 34, 116, 139, 157, 216–220, 225, 232–234, 259–263, 259n3, 265, 269, 272–277, 276n69, 280, 291, 299, 303–307, 314 mystical, 259, 269, 273, 274 ordinary, 259 states of, 217 Culture, 357 postmodern, 357 D Dei Filius, 14–16 Deism, 40, 41, 56, 245 Dialogue, interreligious, 21, 47, 50, 74, 151, 160, 173–179, 246, 350 Disagreement, 42n14, 143–146, 148, 250 deep, 144, 145, 181, 188, 250, 295, 296, 335, 350 Diversity, religious, viii, 31, 42, 43, 45–75, 82, 119, 173, 247, 255, 316–347, 350 Doxography, 38, 38n5, 41, 51

E Empirical knowledge, 236, 237 problem of, 236 Epistemologist, task of, 5, 215, 350 Epistemology, vii, 5, 42, 45, 75, 111, 137, 142–146, 172, 181, 213, 246, 266–268, 312, 346, 350 constraints on, 193 contextual, 33, 141, 142, 182, 183, 194, 210, 215, 247; and relativism, 186 existential, 31, 143, 147, 179 foundational, 33, 35, 139, 182, 246, 247 holistic, 172 justification, 350 modern, 195, 201 naturalized, 141, 142, 144, 149, 200, 206, 226, 227, 350; contextual continuity, 226; conversational continuity, 210, 226; developmental continuity, 235, 330; metaphysical continuity, 226, 227 (see also Supervenience); methodological continuity, 207, 226, 241 objectivism, 30, 31, 45, 172 task of, 194 trilemma, 182 understanding, 350 uniformitarian, 350 Event mysticism, 255, 318–321, 333 Exodus as, 333 Evidence, vii, 33, 34, 76–80, 82, 86–88, 96, 97, 100, 108, 110, 143–145, 145n21, 149, 183, 185, 187, 190–194, 198–200, 202, 205–211, 206n70, 215, 220, 225, 226, 234–237, 252, 254, 262, 267, 270, 280, 318, 323, 339, 351


context sensitivity of, 351 not manufactured, 207 public, 206 relevance condition, 206 Evil, problem of, 80 Evolution, theory of, 89, 132, 133 Exclusivism, 47, 47n8, 51, 53, 54, 69–72, 72n92, 74 See also Absolutism Existential, 19, 29, 31–34, 38, 39, 42, 43, 46, 51, 60–69, 63n70, 70n90, 71–74, 79, 80, 82, 103, 109, 115–125, 127–130, 133, 134, 137–149, 151, 152, 155, 158, 159n23, 179, 180, 183n7, 249, 264, 280, 302, 303, 313, 328, 344, 350 Exodus, 113, 332, 333 historicity of, 332 Experience, vii, 5, 40, 66, 78, 103, 149, 155, 192, 216–218, 245–248, 257, 262, 285, 287–296, 317, 329–335, 349 Christian, viii, 36, 255, 267, 329–335, 341, 342, 351, 356, 357; and Jewish culture, 330 as consciousness, 216–218, 259, 260, 265, 272, 275, 276, 304, 306 content of, 260, 265, 291–295 empirical, 353 episode, 216, 232, 272 Hindu, 267 institutionalization of, 317, 328; purpose of, 328 locus of, 295, 315, 321, 322, 329, 335, 342 mystical, 35, 246, 258–260, 262, 264–271, 266n32, 273–275, 281–283, 285, 286, 291, 293, 295, 297, 299–301, 306, 311, 317, 324, 329, 339, 341, 351, 354


ordinary, 262 perceptual, 149, 216, 221, 222, 225, 229, 231, 232, 253, 257, 272, 288 religious, vii, viii, 15, 27, 28, 35, 43, 85, 94, 95, 95n50, 103, 127, 131, 149, 171, 194n43, 243–248, 251–253, 255, 257, 265–267, 270–272, 270n52, 274, 276, 278–280, 308, 320, 336, 349, 352–354, 353n3, 356 thematic, 280 unthematic, 279 Explanation, 8, 55, 66, 81, 99, 107, 110, 113, 114, 123, 128, 129, 132, 134, 249, 250, 272, 339, 344 Explication, 66, 67, 129, 130, 285, 351 Externalism, 139, 140, 185, 209, 213 F Faith, vii, 1–4, 6–22, 26–28, 35–36, 38, 52, 78, 111, 122–125, 137, 153, 181, 245–255, 275, 293, 317–347, 349, 350 and reason, 1, 2, 6–22, 26–28, 39, 122, 349 religious, 350 Christian, vii, 7–9, 9n19, 13, 18, 21–28, 38–40, 89, 122, 153, 160, 161n28, 166, 167, 172, 175, 175n70, 246, 255, 316–347, 349, 351, 352, 355, 357 justification of, 338; as pragmatic, 338 more than religious, 350 Falsifiability, 43, 77, 78, 80, 84



Fideism, 1, 15, 111–112, 124, 143, 199, 249 Fides et Ratio, 1–6, 9, 19, 21, 349 Foundationalism, 138–140, 148, 182, 183n4, 190, 211, 213, 228, 246, 313, 350 Fundamental theology, 152 task of, 160 G God, vii, 4, 39, 46, 77, 106, 115–120, 143, 153, 196, 214, 245, 258, 285–316, 318, 325, 351 creator, 41, 65, 133, 307–309, 332 deistic, 35, 245, 351 goodness of, 301–303, 316 grammar of, 339, 344 as a hypothesis, 87, 88, 94, 131, 133 immanence, 307, 309–311, 340 logic of, 336 as love, 274, 334, 341, 342 not totality, 95, 325 personhood of, 305, 306 simplicity of, 298, 300–301, 316, 341 theistic, 40, 95, 97, 131, 245, 251, 255, 264, 275, 281, 296–298, 301, 304, 306, 307, 309, 310, 316, 335, 351 as totality, 90, 91, 99 transcendence, 307, 309–311, 315–316, 340 Grammar, 35, 126–128, 214, 225, 232, 234–235, 237, 239, 243, 268, 273, 274, 286, 326, 336, 342, 352 of perception, 253 See also Perception; Religion

H Hermeneutics, 172 and common ground, 204 hermeneutic circle, 158, 203 Hinduism, 54, 258, 267, 268n44, 274, 281 non-dualistic, 274, 281 theistic, 274 Horizon, 49n17, 62, 62n63, 64, 64n72, 66–74, 115–131, 147, 154, 155, 157–159, 159n24, 163, 167–169, 173–176, 179, 180, 249, 279–281, 329, 330, 350 existential, 280 fusion of horizons, 159 religious, 176 Humanism Christian, 122, 127, 174, 342, 343, 351 Jewish, 331, 333 secular, 122, 343 transcendent, 343 Human Person, 353 coarse body, 355 dualism, 354 life after death, 353 as matter, 353 qualified monism, 354 rebirth, 355 special link to God, 353 as spiritual, 354 subtle body, 355 I Immanence, 307, 309–311, 340 Inclusivism, 47n8, 51, 53, 54, 71–74, 72n93, 129 See also Absolutism Incommensurability, 140, 144, 239


Ineffability, 261, 268, 271, 298–300, 341 Institutionalization, 328 of locus, 329 role of culture in, 329 Internalism, 139, 140, 185, 209, 213 as mind-dependence, 185 as system-dependence, 185 Interreligious dialogue, 173, 175 framework for, 173 fundamental theology, role of, 173, 176 theology of religions, role of, 173, 178 J Jesus, ix, 17, 17n47, 19, 20, 109, 169–171, 255, 293, 293n17, 317, 330, 331, 333–335, 340–343, 351, 355 embodiment of God's love, 334 God and man, 335, 351 Justification, 29, 29n85, 32–35, 95, 110–112, 142, 144–149, 145n21, 169, 172, 179–211, 213–244, 246, 247, 255, 271, 287, 295, 296, 316, 335–346, 352 ‘appearing’ approach, 215 coherentist, 183n4 contextual, 147, 181, 184, 191, 210, 215, 236, 247 evidence, 191 externalism, 191 foundational, 184, 213 internalism, 184, 191 method of, 172 need for, 335 as tetradic relationship, 205 thermometer view, 223


K Knowledge, vii, 4, 10–13, 16, 17, 20, 22, 27–30, 28n83, 32, 33, 35, 43, 49, 52, 58, 61, 68, 74, 78, 85, 89–91, 94, 100, 103, 123, 130, 131, 135, 138–140, 141n8, 142, 144, 145, 148, 148n28, 149, 160, 168, 169, 172, 177, 182–185, 190–192, 194, 194n43, 195, 200–202, 201n60, 206, 208–211, 213, 218–221, 230, 233, 236, 237, 239, 241–244, 242n86, 246, 247, 252, 254, 274, 282, 283, 312, 313, 338–340, 350, 351, 357 connatural, 168 cultural variations, 239 empirical, 172 environmental variations, 239 foundations, 350 mesocosmic, 237 natural, 10, 11, 28, 211, 237, 244 perceptual, 195 personal variations, 240 religious, 172, 351 value orientation of, 243 women’s, 242 L Language-games, 93, 104–106, 110, 111, 141–143, 149, 152, 174, 179, 181, 183, 188, 205, 210, 214, 248, 250, 295–296, 339, 350 autonomy of, 104–106, 141, 142, 149, 152, 181, 210, 249, 250 Learning, 201 the cultural, 201 the natural, 200 preliminary, 201



Logic, 8, 39, 67, 73, 76, 80–83, 91, 98, 106, 156, 157, 174, 261, 336, 346 of assertion, 76 deontic, 156, 157 incompleteness theorem, 98 of religion, 77, 81, 82, 336 of truth, 336 Love, ix, 61, 63, 67, 77, 80, 82, 83, 130, 170, 171, 267, 288, 297, 320, 323, 325, 333–335, 341, 342 God of, 334 (see also Telepathy) M Mesocosm, 148, 148n28 Metaphysics/metaphysical, vii, 4, 8, 12, 20, 22–25, 25n76, 40, 41, 75, 77, 78, 90, 90n38, 91, 95, 135, 146, 149, 191, 194, 197, 199, 207, 223, 250, 278, 279, 296, 312–315, 354 monism, 354 Method, 14, 21, 29, 42, 45, 46, 68, 70, 78, 86, 90, 106, 112, 113, 135, 146, 184, 249, 254, 286 Methodology, 135 Mnemohistory, 332 Modern/modernity, vii, viii, 4, 6, 9–28, 24n74, 25n76, 30, 31, 33, 35, 37, 40–43, 46, 47n6, 54, 56, 59, 60, 63, 75, 85, 90, 98, 99, 103, 106, 110, 111, 115–120, 123, 124, 130, 137–144, 141n10, 146, 148, 151, 153, 160, 161, 187, 188, 195, 196, 200, 202, 205, 206, 218, 219, 235–246, 248–250, 253, 257, 278, 282, 288, 308, 309, 312, 313, 323, 330, 343, 345, 349–351 epistemological turn of, 244

Muller-Lyer illusion, 233 Mysticism/mystical experience, viii, 27, 35, 254, 255, 257, 285–330, 333, 335, 336, 340, 341, 343, 344, 346, 351, 354 bliss, 261, 302, 303 communitive, 276–278, 281, 283, 292 consciousness, 273 constructivism, 270 diversity, 329 episodes, 273 essentialism, 254, 258, 302 existential impact, 328 extrovertive, viii, 260–264, 270, 275, 281, 282, 293, 294 grammar of, 35, 268, 274, 326, 336 identity of, 262, 270 ineffability, 261, 268, 271, 298–300, 341 introvertive, 260, 261, 264, 275, 281, 291, 293, 294, 317 locus of, 317 of love, 265 natural, viii, 317–329, 335, 336, 338, 339, 346, 351, 354 nature, viii, 35, 254, 255, 258, 261, 274, 275, 281–283, 285–317, 321, 322, 324, 325, 335, 340, 341, 343, 344, 351 nature mysticism; not sense experience, 293 noetic quality, 261, 271, 273, 295, 297, 321 theistic, 265, 275, 276, 281 unitive, 276, 277, 281, 283 visions and voices, 259 as wholly other, 294, 298


N Natural, 200, 202 and cultural, 200 priority of, 204 as universal, 285 Natural-cultural distinction, 200, 204, 285, 286 natural, 200 significance of, 201, 204 Naturalism, 31, 43, 121, 124, 125, 131, 134, 135, 174, 188, 226, 233, 244, 253, 312–315, 349, 350 methodological, 244 religious, 312; as faith, 313; as metaphysical, 312; and morality, 313 Natural perception, 228 examples of, 228 features of, 229; evolutionary heritage, 230; physicality, 230; pre-established harmony, 230; sensory stimulation, 230 grammatical rules of, 231 Natural theology in Aquinas, 24 experiential approach to, 296, 301 Nature, mechanical philosophy of, 41 Nature mysticism analysis of, 292 NOMA, 106–107, 125, 127, 131 Nyāya, 53 O Objectivism, 30–32, 37, 40–43, 45, 46, 51, 74, 78–80, 82, 84, 98, 115, 148, 172, 179, 201 Objectivity, 41, 61, 64, 115, 116, 138–140, 143–145, 171, 172 Observation, 24n74, 34, 46n2, 55, 77, 86, 87, 95, 113, 145,


163n38, 185, 194n43, 207–211, 207n72, 215, 229, 233, 234, 236, 254, 275n68, 281–283, 288, 305, 306, 312–314, 326, 351 not theory-determined, 209, 351 as theory-guided, 208, 351 theory-laden, 208 Ockham’s razor, vii, viii, 312 Otto, Rudolf, 356 on a-dvaita, 356 P Pantheism, 275, 314, 316 Passion, 60, 61, 64, 115, 118–120, 125, 127–130, 134, 151, 265 Perception, 257 as direct, 220 as episode, 216 etymology of, 218 grammar of, 34, 228, 234, 238, 339, 340, 351 justification of, 34, 202, 213–244 maxi-environment, 223 mini-environment, 223 nature of, 218, 225 process of, 217 as relational, 220 theories of, 214, 217, 220, 229, 232, 234, 237, 243, 253; belief acquisition, 222, 224; causal theory, 220; disjunctivism, 221; enactive theories, 224 Perception-observation distinction, 207, 211 observation, 207 Perceptual cycle, 240 as communication, 240 Person-mysticism, 169n56, 255, 318, 321–328, 330, 335, 346



Philosophy, viii, 1, 6–16, 18–22, 38, 53, 77, 103, 141n10, 152, 218, 258, 297, 349, 352 as existential, 38, 42, 61, 69, 130 task of, 352 as tightrope, 9 as way of life, 38, 39 Pluralism/pluralists, ix, 26, 34, 45–51, 53, 54, 58, 69–75, 82, 97, 115, 128, 129, 147, 151, 152, 173, 174, 184, 193–195, 209, 210, 350 religious, 70, 97, 350 Polytheism, paradox of, 336 Postmodern, viii, 21, 22, 25, 32, 37, 41–44, 84, 137, 144, 151, 201, 242, 249, 268, 313, 350 challenge to truth, 350 Preamble/propaedeutic, 8, 9, 106, 160–166, 179, 245, 246, 280, 285, 355 Presence, 53, 66, 72, 223, 261, 263, 282, 289, 290, 293, 297, 303–306, 321, 327, 336 R Realism, 33, 57, 90n38, 91, 148, 182, 185, 189–192, 202, 204, 207, 213, 219, 220, 222, 223, 229, 236, 244, 313, 323, 338, 338n58, 339 common sense, 189 direct, 219 epistemological, 191, 194, 195 metaphysical, 189, 191–196 moral, 189, 195 naïve metaphysical, 90–93, 95, 98–99, 148, 193, 194, 194n42, 219, 241, 244

pluralistic, 148, 149, 182, 192–199, 202, 204, 213, 219, 220, 236, 313, 338, 338n58, 339, 352 religious, 57, 189, 195 scientific, 195 and truth, 197 Reason, 1–37, 46, 86, 99–100, 106, 137–149, 160, 182, 205, 249n14, 259, 286, 321, 349 Aquinas, Thomas; nature of, 10; scope of, 11; significance of, 12 communicative, 32, 144, 145, 147, 148, 179 epistemic, 32, 144, 145, 205 modern limits on, 12, 13 natural, 5, 8, 10, 12, 13, 16, 24, 160, 162, 169, 175 nature of, 11 significance of, 10, 13 Rebirth, 355 as interim, 355 Reduction descriptive, 272 explanatory, 127, 270–274 Reformation, 10, 40, 45 Relativism, 21, 32, 33, 44, 137, 148, 182, 186–189, 191, 192, 195, 199–202, 213, 215, 241, 313, 345, 346, 350 alethic/truth, 192, 200, 201 conceptual, 33, 192, 200 cultural, 195, 350 moral, 345 Religion, vii, 3, 30–31, 37–45, 75–101, 103–135, 137, 151, 171–172, 178–179, 186, 248, 257, 271–274, 285, 318, 350 and culture, 352 and dualism, 314, 315


grammar of, 253, 339, 340, 351 institutionalization, 317, 328 multi-dimensional, 257 not private, 345 science of, 48, 50, 75, 114, 115, 117, 120, 125 theology of, 173–179 truth value of, 257 Religious beliefs justification of, 339 Religious diversity, 338 logical problem of, 336 religious problem of, 338 sceptical problem of, 337 theology of, 71 Religious experience ascription theory of, 271 Religious statements, logic of, 83 Religious truth, criterion/criteria of, 57, 58, 296 Representations, 196 significance of, 196 and truth, 196 Ressourcement, 19 Resurrection, 105, 334, 353–355 Revelation, vii, 4, 5, 8, 12, 13, 23, 28, 40, 41, 52, 68, 100, 129, 131, 153, 160, 161, 167, 168, 295, 303, 310, 318 S Scepticism, 13, 40, 182 Schemata, 237–239 ontogenetically a priori, 237 phylogenetically a postereori, 237 Scholasticism, 12 Science, vii, 6, 30–31, 37–45, 75–101, 103–135, 140, 151, 187, 213, 248, 282, 287, 323, 350


Science and religion, viii, 30–31, 37–44, 75–101, 103–135, 172, 199, 308, 350 autonomy of, 199 Autonomy Model, 75, 93–95, 101, 103–107, 110–112, 114, 115, 125, 133, 134, 172 Conflict Model, 75, 85, 86, 88–91, 95, 96, 99, 100, 106, 113 distinctions, 350 Experiential Model, 75, 94–95 Holy Science Model, 75, 88–91, 94, 95, 99, 100, 109, 133, 325 Scientism, viii, 30, 37, 42, 43, 75, 80, 84, 85, 93, 125, 130, 131, 134, 188, 226, 242 Secular, 15, 25, 26, 31, 57, 115, 117, 118, 120, 122–125, 127, 128, 130, 131, 133, 134, 143, 147, 163n37, 166, 175, 179, 249, 338, 343 Secularism, 23, 27, 46, 46n4, 117, 118, 120–123, 125, 345, 349, 350 minimal, 121, 122 Secularization, 73, 87, 117, 118, 120, 121, 123, 167 Stoics, 3, 4, 27, 222 Subjectivity, 41, 59–64, 66–69, 115, 116, 135, 145, 154, 157, 169, 171, 172, 179 Supervenience, 146, 226–228, 296 T Telepathy, 291, 322–325 and crisis apparitions, 277 and love, 323 not for control, 325 Tertullian, 38, 67, 85



Theology, vii, 1, 35–37, 45–84, 103, 125–130, 147, 151–180, 184, 245, 264, 285, 318, 349 as balancing pole, 9, 357 as existential, 43, 46, 51, 64–69, 70n90, 71, 73, 74, 82, 103, 109, 127, 130, 344, 350 fundamental, viii, 31, 35–36, 83–84, 147, 151–180, 245–248, 250, 252, 255, 275, 280, 283, 285, 286, 288, 296, 310, 313, 316, 318, 344, 350, 351, 355, 357; task of, 350 natural, 24, 90, 97, 133, 160, 161, 245, 247; in Aquinas, 24 Ptolemaic, 48–55, 58–74 Theory of Everything (TOE), 99, 130 Transcendence, 37, 42, 307, 309–311, 315–316, 321, 322, 327–329, 340, 341 hologram, 316 mobius strip, 315 Trinity, 8, 20, 36, 39, 50, 166, 355–357 a-traita (not-three), 357 metaphysical, 355 Truth, viii, 2, 4, 5, 10, 13, 17, 21, 24, 26, 29, 30, 32–34, 40–43, 47, 52, 55, 57, 58, 60–63, 65, 72, 78, 79, 82, 85, 86, 99, 100, 111, 130, 131, 134, 135, 137–149, 171, 172, 178, 179, 181, 182, 186, 188, 191–194, 196–199, 204–206, 210, 213, 226, 227,

230–232, 247, 249–251, 257, 273, 278, 295, 317–347, 350–352 correspondence, 33, 196–198 criterion of, 199 definition of, 198 deflationary, 196 deflationism, 197n50 as non-promiscuity, 198 not pragmatic, 205 religious, 172 U Upaniṣads, 177, 258 V Value, 9, 17, 20, 30, 47, 57, 59, 62, 76, 97, 107, 111, 112, 155, 179, 187, 206, 226, 227, 241–243, 246, 252, 261, 262, 266, 280, 302, 313, 319, 325, 342 Vatican II, 18–22, 173 Vedānta, 72, 218, 255, 277, 309 Verification, eschatological, 82, 83, 252 Violence, religious, 45, 124, 147 Vipassana, 293 Y Yoga, 274, 293