The End of the World or Fun While Doing Research

Sometimes doing research is fun. Not a productive kind of fun, but still fun. When reading “Religious Naturalism Today“, a book I had on my to-read shelf for a while, but for some reason had not studied yet, I stumbled upon a reference to John Herman Randall‘s book “The Role of Knowledge in Western Religion“. It attracted my attention because of the following quote, on p. 54 of Religious Naturalism Today:

For Randall religious symbols disclose imaginatively “powers and possibilities inherent in the nature of things.” They function as “instruments of ‘insight’ and ‘vision'” of what the world might become (Randall 1985, 117).


Randall suggests that the fertility of painting, music, poetry, and religion is in their reconstruction of experience. “They may not teach us that anything is so… They do not ‘explain the world’ in the sense of accounting for it; rather they ‘explain’ it in the sense of making plain its features. But they certainly teach us how to do something better” (Randall 1985, 127; italics in original). All this that the variable artists and religious people teach us is not knowledge in the ordinary sense. It is rather that they teach us how to discern better the qualities and possibilities of the world.


It is a knowing how rather than a knowing that. Such a “know-how” cannot appropriately be judged as “true” or “false.” Thus we might speak of religious “knowledge,” but not of religious “truth.”

Although I’m doubtful whether we should dismiss the idea of religious truth so easily, and I’m not quite sure what Randall means with his distinction between ‘knowledge of the world’ and ‘explaining the world in the sense of making plain its features’, I think there is something interesting in the distinction between ‘knowing how’ vs. ‘knowing that’, over against the more often made distinction between ‘knowing why’ (religion) vs. ‘knowing how’ (science). Randall’s future-oriented characterization of religion certainly has an appeal to me.

So I did an internet search for the book, looking for reviews and articles that referred to it. And that’s where the non-productive fun came in. At the bottom of a review, dated from 1958, I noticed this cartoon. I showed it to my wife, who immediately scheduled her next shopping days accordingly 😉

end of the world

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