What the Science-Theology Exchange could learn from Experimental Philosophy

S.B. Klaasse

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperAcademic


Much of the literature on the immanence/transcendence debate tends to be speculative. Such a state of affairs is understandable because the modus operandi with regard to these issues is to pronounce our views on the basis of traditions, textbooks and intuitions rather than experiments and observations. A common strategy amongst scientist-theologians for warranting their views is an appeal to the notion of ‘common sense’, where a general human cognitive predisposition is assumed towards a certain stance. Examples here are plentiful, such as the endorsement of critical realism, the assumption that – for many scientists – naturalism, science, and atheism come as a kind of package deal, and that the theological statement that God is both immanent and transcendent is considered by many as paradoxical. But how do we know that these assertions are true? Despite a handful of exceptions, scientist-theologians never seem to ‘go out there’, verify whether or not these assumptions hold true, and, as a result, their intuitions are reported without any systematic empirical studies to the intuitions of others. This paper will examine possibilities for moving forward here.

Promising research here for scientist-theologians has been done in the field of experimental philosophy, where the empirical methods and techniques of the (social) sciences are used to conduct philosophical studies. Questionnaires, controlled experiments and the like are used to warrant or reject certain philosophical assertions. Reasons for surveying laypeople or academic colleagues are diverse: some want to understand cognitive processes for certain judgments, others intend to provide a clear picture of the ‘general public’s opinion’ on a certain dilemma, yet others set out to prove that certain philosophical positions are biased or at least more complex amongst demographic groups. With the experimental toolbox in hand, experimental philosophers set out to shed new light on long-standing philosophical disagreements, to explore to phenomena of philosophy, and to gain insights into how people think about philosophical issues. I will argue in the short paper that a similar experimental approach offers a promising strategy for theology and the science-theology exchange.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018
EventESSSAT 2018 - Nature and Beyond: Transcendence and Immanence in Science and Religion - Université Catholique de Lyon, Lyon, France
Duration: 17 Apr 201822 Apr 2018
Conference number: 17


ConferenceESSSAT 2018 - Nature and Beyond

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