Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Vallicella on Hick: dialogue de sourds?

From Maverick Philosopher, a quote from philosopher of religion John Hick:

The major division, as we have already noted, is between religious and naturalistic definitions. According to the former, religion (or a particular religious tradition) centres upon an awareness of and response to a reality that transcends ourselves and our world, whether the 'direction' of transcendence be beyond or within or both. Such definitions presuppose the reality of the intentional object of religious thought and experience; and they are broader or narrower according as this object is characterised more generally, for example as a cosmic power, or more specifically, for example as a personal God. Naturalistic definitions on the other hand describe religion as a purely human activity of state of mind. Such definitions have been phenomenological, psychological and sociological. (An Interpretation of Religion, Yale 1989, p. 3, footnotes omitted, bolding added.)

Dr. Vallicella writes:

There is certainly a difference between a religious approach to religion and a naturalistic approach. And Hick is right that it is a major difference. But I suggest that the bolded passage needs correction. It is not that religious definitions of religion presuppose the reality of the intentional object of religious thought and experience, it is rather that they do not foreclose on the possibility of the reality of the intentional object.

When I study religion 'religiously,' what I do is take seriously religion's claim to be about something transcendent of our ordinary experience. Thus when I study Christianity religiously, I take seriously its claim to be a divine revelation both in and through its Scripture and in and through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I hold myself open to the possibility of divine revelation. But this is not to say that I presuppose the reality of the triune God. I simply do not rule out the possibility of the existence and self-revelation of this God in the manner of the naturalist who, from the outset, assumes that religion is and can be nothing but a natural phenomenon, and therefore cannot be revelatory of anything beyond nature.

I'm not sure that the above represents anything more than a philosopher's attitude toward religion. Most religious people (especially theists), because they have faith and because faith is a proactive response to the divine, would say that they do more than "not foreclose on the possibility of the reality of the intentional object." If I were to ask some typical lay Christians, plucked at random from among the millions of practicing Christians in the US, whether they presupposed the reality of the triune God, I'm positive that, in over 90% of such cases, the Christians would respond with a hearty affirmative. A philosopher, being someone who proceeds carefully in the spirit of inquiry and examination, will be more circumspect in his language, but I'm willing to bet that, if the philosopher is himself of a religious bent, then he too presupposes the basics of whatever is entailed by his religious orientation, be it Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or what have you. He might not admit this presupposition, but if one's worldview is the most fundamental aspect of one's psyche, then such presupposition is inevitable, even if one isn't aware of it.

Dr. V seems to be talking past Hick in his post. Hick is talking primarily about the attitudes of the typical religious layperson, who most assuredly presupposes the reality-- and not merely the possibility-- of the object of his intention. But as I ventured in the previous paragraph, I think that Hick's view applies even to those of a more scholarly bent.


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