Patricia Williams on anti-intellectualism

In a recent piece in The Guardian, Patricia Williams writes about the rising anti-intellectualism she sees in the US. While reading this piece, I thought that the situation in the Netherlands is rapidly deteriorating in just the same way that Williams describes in the US (though the banning of certain books by universities will probably never happen in the Netherlands).

Williams writes:

There are a number of factors at play in the current rash of controversies. One is a rather stunning sense of privilege, the confident sense of superiority that allows someone to pass sweeping judgment on a body of work without having done any study at all.

I was rather struck by this passage, since I all of a sudden had to think about the books by Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris, Lawrence Krauss and many more “new atheists” who, though they pride themselves for their “critical thinking”, are a rather sad example of exactly the same mind set that Williams describes as becoming part of the American culture.

But Williams’ Guardian piece is not about new atheism. It’s a terrific read that makes you think:

(Photograph: Koen Van Weel/AFP/Getty Images.)

Introducing my new research project: A philosophical and theological exploration of ‘religious atheism’ and ‘religious naturalism’

Via my LinkedIn-account I already announced that from February 1, 2015, I have a new halftime position, as a researcher at the Dominican Study Centre for Theology and Society in Amsterdam (see It’s a position for one year, and I intend to do a lot in that time.

The project that I will be working on is titled: The spirituality of ‘belonging without believing’: a philosophical and theological exploration of ‘religious naturalism’ and ‘religious atheism’. I’ll try to give a brief description of what I will be working on for the coming year…

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on the Bible, science, and creationism (quote)

“Why do so few Jews take issue with the theory of evolution, while creationism is common among Christians?”

I think Christians tended to think that religion and science were part of the same universe of discourse. So they assumed that the Bible was telling us scientific stuff, as well as moral and spiritual stuff. Whereas Jews don’t read the Bible that way.

I mean, look how much time the Bible spends in describing creation: 34 verses. It spends 600 verses describing how the Israelites constructed the Tabernacle. Genesis 1 is not remotely thinking about being science. It’s clear that the first chapter of the Bible is teaching us about the goodness of the world, not about the cosmo-genesis of the world.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, as quoted in:Jonathan Sacks on Richard Dawkins: “New atheists lack a sense of humor”,, 27 September, 2014.

Is David Barash teaching religion in his biology classes? A response to his NYTimes op-ed.

Steven Pinker tweeted about an op-ed article in the New York Times today that drew my attention. In the article, David Barash, an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington argues that evolutionary biology and religious belief are incompatible. Barash’s article apparently meets with deep respect from Pinker (and probably many other atheists that believe that science and religion are incompatible). However, I believe there are reasons to believe that Barash’s article should be taken with caution. What he describes to be doing in his biology class seems not so different from what creationists intend to do…

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Presenting the CSR at the upcoming conference of the European Society for Philosophy of Religion (ESPR)

From tomorrow (Thursday) until Sunday, the 20th biennial conference of the European Society for Philosophy of Religion (ESPR) will take place in Münster, Germany. The theme is “Transforming Religion”. I will be one of the main speakers. I am invited to be one of the main speakers at the conference and to discuss evolutionary insights and their implications for the philosophy of religion.

Thus I have written a 20-page paper on some the implications of the cognitive science of religion for theology and philosophy of religion with the title “Religious Belief Beyond Kant and Darwin: Philosophical Reflections on the Evolutionary and Cognitive Roots of Religious Belief”.

The participants have received the paper before the conference (which is customary at ESPR-conferences). The participants are expected to have read it beforehand. At the conference itself I will give a short introduction, which summarizes the main points of my paper. Thereafter a discussion will follow. Below you find the text of my presentation at the conference. (The paper itself is at present unavailable, I hope to hear at the conference whether the main papers will be published somewhere – but if you’re interested, send me an e-mail.)

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The manager, the ego, and the spiritual life

Harassed business executives and bank managers resort, in their spare time, to yoga and transcendental meditation. This provides them with periodic “trips” which lack the harmful side-effects of alcohol or drugs; it gets their passions under control, eases nervous tension and reduces the risk of ulcers. But does it necessarily lead to profound inner change and transformation, loss of self, radical redirection of life? Not in the least. All too often it simply increases the power of ego, of self, by “spiritualizing” it. After doing my meditation practice, I “feel” better, and more refreshed. I have plugged in to the cosmic powerhouse and had my batteries recharged. That enables me to return to my daily life and activities on exactly the same basis as before. There has been no change, no sacrifice. I have given up nothing, save a little of my time. Refreshed now, by meditation, I can resume my habitual quest for money, power, influence, the manipulation and exploitation of other people. I have not really thrown away self. I have, in fact, strengthened it, given it more permanence by saturating it with incense smoke and permeating it with cosmic vibes.

From: Cyprian Smith OSB, The Way of Paradox: Spiritual Life as Taught by Meister EckhartThe Way of Paradox: Spiritual Life as Taught by Meister Eckhart. London: Darton, Longman and Todd 2013 (orig. published 1987), 104-105.

My Oxford-lecture on: Why is special divine action a "problem"?

A while ago I was invited by Andrew Pincent of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University to give a lecture on how I see the problem of special divine action, especially on the way divine action is dealt with in the field of science and religion. As many know, I am quite critical about the way divine action is dealt with, as if it somehow is a scientific problem (which it isn’t). In this lecture I was able to explicate in quite some detail the reasons why I believe the discussion concerning special divine action in science and religion arises from a category mistake.

Last Thursday, 22 May, the lecture took place at Trinity College. Alister McGrath introduced me and led the discussion. The lecture and the discussion was filmed and can now be found on Youtube. I received quite some requests for the written version of the lecture, but at present I am looking for a way to publish the text. Eventually, the text will be published online, but that may take a while.

The lectures is about 50 minutes long; the total video is about 1,5 hours.

Nope, there was no first human

Many religious believers still cling to the idea that there must be a first human, somewhere down the line. Creationists even cling to the idea of the biblical parents of humankind: Adam and Eve. However, if you take evolutionary theory seriously, it turns out, there was no first human. The following video explains why this is so, and also makes it clear that this idea is quite counterintuitive, which may partly explain why many people have so much trouble understanding and accepting evolutionary theory. Moreover, this does raise some theological issues, especially pertaining when it comes to theological ideas that emphasize the special status of humanity in relation to God (i.e. ideas pertaining to “human uniqueness”).

My take on the map metaphor

I just came across a note I made in one of my Moleskines, probably from around 2007, in which I wrote the following:

Map Metaphor

Suppose I walk through a big city, using a map of that city. I arrive at a big square where there is a church. However, when I look at my city map, I see no church but only a large black cross.

Atheists and materialists like Dawkins, Harris, etc. are now actually arguing that there is no church, but that there is only a black cross. The church that I am seeing, is an illusion. In reality there is only a large black cross.

What they are doing in such a situation is confusing the map with reality.

I wonder whether anything changed since I wrote this note in 2007…