Wim Drees on Science-Inspired Naturalistic Theism

I’ve just finished reading an article by Wim Drees, published (free acces) in Theology and Science, and was really inspired by it. That has of course to do with my own unfinished search for a theological position, in which I hesitate to identify my stance completely with religious naturalism.

Drees explains in his article how three elements join together to ground his position: science, values, and loves. First, he points to the relation between universalism and individualism. While there science and morality have universal aspirations, care for the individual, or, rather, care for authenticity, is equally important. Individuals shape their lives autonomously, not heteronomously, Drees points out. Today, we do not receive our identity from outside. Even though we are always born into a certain context – within a particular linguistic community, a specific religious tradition, etc. – we make a choice during our life whether or not, and to what extent, to identify with that context:

“(…) one has to choose whatever fits best who one really is or aspires to be, in one’s relations, one’s work, one’s hobbies, and one’s religious engagement.”

Drees does not, I think, argue that there is no influence from a context on an individual. The term authenticity, as becomes evident in the quote above, is important here to understand the process of identity development he refers to.

One could say that that is precisely what he asks religion and theology to be: authentic. As he explains the strengths and limits of science, and goes on to discuss, from a Kantian perspective, the transcendental character of morality and values, he returns to the individual. Our lives, Drees puts forward, are marked by individual relations, relations with individual people.

It may be accidental why my life has become interwoven with precisely these fellow humans, but my relation to them is important to who I am. And so too for certain pursuits, that are important to me, that make me who I am. My language. The stories that inspire me. The way I celebrate and the way I mourn. The way I relate to my family, the legacy I received. And to my country. Such “loves” and other markers of identity are my way of being in the world. I never speak “language”; it is always a particular language.

That brings him to advocate for an appreciation of what one might call the individual relation someone has with his or her particular religious tradition. To explain the role a religious tradition can play in one’s worldview, Drees refers to anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who posited that religion offers models of (cosmological) and models for (axiological) the world. Because of its cosmological side, religion has the obligation to relate to science. Because of its axiological side, religion has the obligation to critically reflect – reflect theologically – on what is meant by ‘the good’ and on how to reach ‘the good’. As Drees says, because what your believe in have consequences for how you live, and, thus, for how you live with other people, you have an obligation to think about what you believe:

Using the best available knowledge is a matter of intellectual honesty and of moral responsibility,  as beliefs may have consequences.

In that regard, religion and science, as a field, can, according to Drees, help us in reflecting critically on the worldviews we construct.

Drees describes his theological position as ‘science-inspired naturalistic theism’, with, in my view, three characteristics (quoted from Drees’ article) that will invite further discussion:

  • “the sciences are our prime source of understanding nature”
  • “God is transcendent to natural processes”
  • “Theologies are human constructions”

In general, I agree with his position. Much of my work has been influenced by the way Philip Hefner brought theology in relation with science. Hefner’s view on science is that it is a part of human experience, on which theology can reflect in order to discern the meaning of that experience. That seems to me to be what Drees argues for here as well.

Another aspect I agree with is the proposition that theologies are human constructions. I believe this is what, in Christianity, negative theology and mysticism have always kept us aware of. And, looking back from my theological journey through evolutionary studies of religion, I can not but agree with it.

Perhaps surprisingly, the one aspect of Drees’ position I need to think about more, is the transcendence of God to natural processes. It all depends on what is meant by that, and on what the implications are for the relation between God and creation. So I’ll need to read more on that. I’m curious to learn what you think about Drees’ article!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s