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Drees’ Typology

One of the most important analyses of the relation between science and religion is that of Willem B. Drees in Religion, Science and NaturalismCambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996 (1996). Drees stresses two points which have received too little attention in the science-religion debate:

a) That religion contains a number of elements other than the cognitive-propositional.The effort to express in conceptual and analysable terms understandings of the nature of realityIn particular much of the content of religion rests on religious experienceSee God, Humanity and the Cosmos pp185-93and tradition. So Drees proposes a much wider scheme of ‘areas of discussion concerning the relationship of religion and science.’



1. Cognitive

2. Experience

3. Tradition

(a) New knowledge

(1a) Content:
i: Conflicts
ii: Separation
iii: Partial adoption
iv: Integration

(2a) Opportunities for experiential religion? Religious experience and the brain

(3a) Religions traditions as products of evolution

(b) New views of knowledge

(1b) Philosophy of science and opportunities for theology

(2b) Philosophical defenses of religious experiences as data

(3b) Criticism and development of religions as ‘language games’

(c) Appreciation of the world

(1c) A new covenant between humans and the universe?

(2c) Ambivalence of the world and implications for the concept of God

(3c) A basis for hope? Or religions as local traditions without universal claim?

Willem B Drees’ categories of effects on different aspects of religion posed by science (Drees, 1996, 45).

This broadens the debate helpfully, and shows that the categories that have received most attention, Drees’ ‘1a. Content,’ form only one aspect of a complex matrix. These categories concern science’s propositional claims and the way they impinge upon the cognitive claims developed by theologies. Drees shows that these interactions do not exhaust the content of science’s interaction with religions, or the challenges science poses to them.

See however a critique of Willem B Drees’ typology.

b) Drees also recognises clearly that religion is itself a phenomenon in the evolution of human culture. As such it is an object of scientific study. It is less evident, though equally important, to note that the activities of scientific communities are properly the subject of theological and ethical critique. What values do the communities actually evince? Are they committed to disinterested enquiry, or merely to a self-perpetuating search for funding? Does their source of funding constrain what results they can obtain [as may be the case with those epidemiologists employed by the tobacco industry, or those climatologists employed by oil companies]?See God, Humanity and the Cosmos pp45-47 and Ch.11

For further thoughts, see religion as evolutionary phenomenon.

Also see critical realism in science and religion and consonances between science and religion.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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