Leonard Angel is Instructor Emeritus at Douglas College, Department of Philosophy and Humanities. We invited him to answer the question “What norms or values define excellent philosophy of religion?” as part of our “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series.
Philosophy of religion should work when an account is satisfactory. When will that happen? When we have a satisfactory theory of how a person has feelings of spirituality and we have a satisfactory theory of how to live a religious life, and we have a satisfactory theory of how to help people, and how to turn the bad into good, and how to really feel alive, and so on.
Do the theoretical virtues of scientific thinking apply?
If so, religious philosophy would have virtues like explanatory power, predictive accuracy, empirical adequacy, coherence with current theory, fruitfulness for further inquiry, and simplicity.
Feelings of spirituality represent all. Then that which has spread to all places should be accepted.
But, one’s looking is dependent. If one looks to groups that never had much use for mathematical physics, then lots ¬– having little to do with living a spiritual life – would be lost. This has, mostly, to do with the mechanism of the 1600s, but in the next paragraph we’ll relate what only became clear at some point in the 1900s.
Suppose someone looks at how nothing overturns mathematical physics.
That is reasonable: it’s not only physical closure (look, you’ll see), but mathematical physics also has some explanatory power – that is, it can explain astronomical events; it also has some predictive accuracy – for, it is able to predict the details of, for example, impact, which has nothing to do with “living a spiritual life,” like the previous case; mathematical physics also has some empirical adequacy – for, it has the ability to welcome observation. We’ll look at coherence with current theory two paragraphs below and on. Mathematical physics is fruitful for further inquiry, and simple, too.
The typical scientific theoretical virtues seem to be satisfied, though without having anything to do with “living a spiritual life.”
The question is, “How does physical closure cohere with people having spiritual feelings? Doesn’t physical closure imply a kind of physicalism that goes against having feelings of spirituality?”
Having feelings of spirituality does not require a realm of pure spirit. This needs to be shown. Let’s make a supposition.
Suppose some particles, running about, produce what’s required for having feelings of spirituality. This supposition is what’s required, which is okay.
Only some people are interested in whether mathematical physics bases the empirical sciences. (“Empiricism” welcomes “observers.”)
Suppose, for the sake of discussion, you don’t want to know, one way or another, whether mathematical physics bases the empirical sciences. Then you don’t care if physical closure is accepted or not. It follows logically that … having feelings of spirituality does not require a realm of pure spirit.
That last sentence is, for some, a problem: Suppose one doesn’t care if physical closure is accepted or not. How does what’s after the sentence beginning “Then” in the last paragraph follow logically?
Suppose one really doesn’t care. What’s after the sentence beginning “Then,” two paragraphs ago, does logically follow: having feelings of spirituality does not require a realm of pure spirit. This can be put another way.
There is an exception to our rule: having feelings of spirituality does require a realm of pure spirit.
But what was said a few paragraphs ago could be repeated with a twist. In what’s coming “Let” replaces “Suppose.” Let some particles, running about, produce what’s required for having feelings of spirituality, and for living a religious life. If you really don’t care, then “Let” can replace “Suppose”. Why not? “Let” means “actually,” while “Suppose” refers to an assumption. The purposes of the assumption are irrelevant to us. But we want to include “Let”. What follows the second “Let”, in this paragraph, amounts to physical closure for living a religious life. Work it out; it comes true.
Does physical closure allow for living a spiritual life?
If physical closure, or whatever it’s called, in future years, is accepted, not only by academics, but also by people not associated with academies, then we’ll deal with problems – there will be some – that arise.
But lets return to our question. Would the scientific theoretical virtues apply to the spiritual life? If so, how?
The scientific theoretical virtues listed (in the third paragraph) apply, most obviously, in physics. But they also apply in all sciences. The human & social sciences – history, political science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. – would work, too. That gives us what we’re interested in.
But leading a religious life is complex. The complexities are what we will look at.
It would be good if we could choose one, which stands for the complexities in them all. We come from different backgrounds, some Jewish, some Christian, some Buddhist, some Confucians, and some others. We’ll let Judaism stand for all of them.
Judaism is theistic, which is not necessary; theism’s only 50 % of the list just given. Confucianism is not. “Some others” are not. Buddhism is classed as non-theism because the Buddha’s central concept was “suffering.” There are many non- theistic religions. But Judaism is theistic.
What brings the theistic and non-theistic religions together is that both believed in a realm of pure spirit. But we already know that that can’t be right. The trouble is “pure;” if one really doesn’t care whether physical closure is true, then it can’t be that there’s a realm of pure spirit. Let … etc.
Then one can be a good Jew. One can discover a feeling of spirituality, which in this case means “be a good Jew.”
How do the theoretical virtues of the sciences apply?
Let’s apply this question to our example: a Jewish Rabbi would need to believe in God. The sciences together would require God not to be both a person and un-embodied. This can be shown, but won’t be, here.
Then a Jewish Rabbi has a path: deny one of God being some sort of person, or God being un-embodied, (or both).
This is promising. Let Judaism stand for all religions; then, if there’s no trouble, (and there won’t be) it will do what’s required.