Special Issue "God out of Mind: Thought Experiments, Science, and Religion"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 May 2019).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Yiftach Fehige
Website
Guest Editor
Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto. 91 Charles Street West, Victoria College, Room 316, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1K7, Canada.
Interests: Science and Religion, with a special focus on Christianity and Judaism

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

There was a time when the method of thought experiments was discussed exclusively by philosophers of science. In the past thirty years the scope of the investigation has widened significantly. The enormous body of literature on thought experiments that is available today is truly interdisciplinary. This special issue is intended to facilitate further discussion on central topics at the intersection of thought experiments, science, and religion, such as: In what sense can we say that thought experiments are a method of theological inquiry? Does the employment of thought experiments for cognitive purposes rest on theological assumptions about the power of the mind? Is religion a function of thought experiments? What thought experiments can be found in the various religious traditions? Is the use of thought experiments in science, religion, and theology comparable? Given that thought experiments are conveyed by means of polished narratives, what links between science and literature are thereby established that could prove useful in understanding the important role of holy texts in religions? Is the imagination that we find utilized in religious frameworks to make sense of the world at the roots of the cognitive efficacy of some thought experiments? And, in what sense should the discussion of thought experiments at the intersection of science and religion inform theories of creativity?

Confirmed contributors to this special issue include Stefan Bauberger, James R. Brown, Marco Buzzoni, Valentina Savojardo, Travis Dumsday, Menachem Fisch, Steve Fuller, Ingrid Lindberg, Mark Shumelda, Uwe Meixner, Harald Wiltsche, and Ilana Kurshan. Unsolicited submissions are welcome. A Knowledge Unlatched Grant makes this special issue possible.

Prof. Dr. Yiftach Fehige
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • thought experiments
  • imagination
  • science
  • religion
  • understanding
  • metatheology
  • method
  • creativity
  • intuition
  • evidence

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Introduction: God out of Mind
Religions 2020, 11(2), 90; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11020090 - 17 Feb 2020
Abstract
This Special Issue of Religions is about the encounter between thought experiments and theology [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue God out of Mind: Thought Experiments, Science, and Religion)

Research

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Open AccessArticle
Thought Experiments between Theology, Empirical Science, and Fictional Narrative
Religions 2019, 10(6), 393; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060393 - 21 Jun 2019
Abstract
Starting from Fehige’s and Polkinghorne’s analyses of the analogies between theological and scientific thought experiments (TEs), the main aim of this paper is to clarify the distinctive character of theological TEs. For this purpose, we shall compare theological TEs with empirical and, although [...] Read more.
Starting from Fehige’s and Polkinghorne’s analyses of the analogies between theological and scientific thought experiments (TEs), the main aim of this paper is to clarify the distinctive character of theological TEs. For this purpose, we shall compare theological TEs with empirical and, although only in passing, with narrative TEs. In order to facilitate the comparison between scientific and theological TEs, the first part of the paper provides a brief outline of an account regarding TEs in the empirical sciences from the viewpoint of a functional, not material, a priori, which is in line with, if not the full letter, the spirit of Kant’s a priori. On the basis of this view, we shall investigate the most important difference (which is the source of many others) between theological and empirical TEs. In spite of the many similarities, the most important difference between empirical and theological TEs lies in the fact that theological TEs consider both empirical-descriptive and moral-normative contents from the point of view of a search for an absolute meaning beyond all relative and finite meanings. If we—developing a suggestion by Ernst Troeltsch—interpret this claim from the point of view of a purely functional “religious a priori”, we may conclude that theological TEs, which express a search for an absolute meaning, do not possess a priori contents, not even moral. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue God out of Mind: Thought Experiments, Science, and Religion)
Open AccessArticle
The Thought Experimenting Qualities of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling
Religions 2019, 10(6), 391; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060391 - 19 Jun 2019
Abstract
In this article, I examine the possible thought experimenting qualities of Søren Kierkegaard’s novel Fear and Trembling and in which way (if any) it can be explanatory. Kierkegaard’s preference for pseudonyms, indirect communication, Socratic interrogation, and performativity are identified as features that provide [...] Read more.
In this article, I examine the possible thought experimenting qualities of Søren Kierkegaard’s novel Fear and Trembling and in which way (if any) it can be explanatory. Kierkegaard’s preference for pseudonyms, indirect communication, Socratic interrogation, and performativity are identified as features that provide the narrative with its thought experimenting quality. It is also proposed that this literary fiction functions as a Socratic–theological thought experiment due to its influences from both philosophy and theology. In addition, I suggest three functional levels of the fictional narrative that, in different ways, influence its possible explanatory force. As a theoretical background for the investigation, two accounts of literary cognitivism are explored: Noël Carroll’s Argument Account and Catherine Elgin’s Exemplification Account. In relation to Carroll’s proposal, I conclude that Fear and Trembling develops a philosophical argumentation that is dependent on the reader’s own existential contribution. In relation to Elgin’s thought, the relation between truth and explanatory force is acknowledged. At the end of the article, I argue that it is more accurate to see the explanatory force of Fear and Trembling in relation to its exploratory function. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue God out of Mind: Thought Experiments, Science, and Religion)
Open AccessArticle
Natural Science and Supernatural Thought Experiments
Religions 2019, 10(6), 389; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060389 - 18 Jun 2019
Abstract
Religious notions have long played a role in epistemology. Theological thought experiments, in particular, have been effective in a wide range of situations in the sciences. Some of these are merely picturesque, others have been heuristically important, and still others, as I will [...] Read more.
Religious notions have long played a role in epistemology. Theological thought experiments, in particular, have been effective in a wide range of situations in the sciences. Some of these are merely picturesque, others have been heuristically important, and still others, as I will argue, have played a role that could be called essential. I will illustrate the difference between heuristic and essential with two examples. One of these stems from the Newton–Leibniz debate over the nature of space and time; the other is a thought experiment of my own constructed with the aim of making a case for a more liberal view of evidence in mathematics. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue God out of Mind: Thought Experiments, Science, and Religion)
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Open AccessArticle
Gulliver and the Rabbis: Counterfactual Truth in Science and the Talmud
Religions 2019, 10(3), 228; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030228 - 26 Mar 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
The paper presents Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as the first systematic attempt to claim that the normal methods of testing belief and opinion for clarity, consistence, coherence, and how they stand to the facts are powerless when applied to deep-seated normative commitments, or [...] Read more.
The paper presents Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as the first systematic attempt to claim that the normal methods of testing belief and opinion for clarity, consistence, coherence, and how they stand to the facts are powerless when applied to deep-seated normative commitments, or what Wittgenstein dubbed “framework truths.” To subject our norms to normative critique requires a measure of self-alienation that cannot be achieved merely by looking hard at or thinking hard about our world and ourselves. However, by closely examining the contrived counterfactual scenarios (or, as I have shown in former work, by exposure to the normative critique of significant others), that Swift is shown to claim, such normative framework assumptions can be challenged to great effect! The standard epistemologies of his day—Baconian empiricism and Cartesian rationalism—fiercely ridiculed in the course of Gulliver’s third voyage are cruelly dismissed as powerless to change the course of science and keep it in normative check. The transformative effect of the clever thought experiments presented in the three other voyages (of imagining London shrunk to a twelfth of its size and enlarged to giant proportions, and a more responsible and intelligent race of beings inserted above (normally sized) humans) enable Swift to obtain critical normative distance from several major assumptions about politics, religion, aesthetics, ethics, and much more, including the limits of the thought experiment itself. The paper then goes to show how the same kind of counterfactual scenarios are put to impressive use in the Talmudic literature, with special reference to foundational questions of ethics and law. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue God out of Mind: Thought Experiments, Science, and Religion)
Open AccessArticle
Playing God
Religions 2019, 10(3), 209; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030209 - 19 Mar 2019
Abstract
Metaphysical modelling is a method in (epistemologically enlightened) metaphysics. It uses models for the philosophical analysis of metaphysico-epistemological situations. In this paper, the method is applied to a set of metaphysical questions that concern the relationship between God and the world, and the [...] Read more.
Metaphysical modelling is a method in (epistemologically enlightened) metaphysics. It uses models for the philosophical analysis of metaphysico-epistemological situations. In this paper, the method is applied to a set of metaphysical questions that concern the relationship between God and the world, and the relationship between human beings and the world. The questions revolve around a center: What is it that ultimately determines reality? This complex metaphysical subject is treated in a simplified and downsized manner: on the scale of board games. As will be seen, the unusual perspective provided by the model leads to new insights and has a salutary corrective effect in the metaphysico-epistemological respect. The paper also provides an analysis and defense of analogical thinking in metaphysics (of which way of thinking metaphysical modelling is a special form). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue God out of Mind: Thought Experiments, Science, and Religion)
Open AccessArticle
Thought Experiments as a Tool for Undermining Methodological Naturalism
Religions 2019, 10(2), 127; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10020127 - 22 Feb 2019
Abstract
There is a substantial literature on the question of whether methodological naturalism (MN) is and/or should be among the principles operative in the natural and social sciences; moreover the status of MN has been one of the battle grounds in prominent debates regarding [...] Read more.
There is a substantial literature on the question of whether methodological naturalism (MN) is and/or should be among the principles operative in the natural and social sciences; moreover the status of MN has been one of the battle grounds in prominent debates regarding the demarcation lines between science and theology (e.g., the debate over whether intelligent design hypotheses can ever count as genuinely scientific). I review some concrete examples of the use of thought experiments in this context, and argue that there are realistic thought experiments showing how metaphysical naturalism (MTN) could be subjected to empirical falsification; that in turn implies that MN should not be employed universally as an operative principle in the sciences. I conclude by discussing some recent actual experimental work concerning near-death experiences (NDEs), work which may point towards the likelihood of just such empirical falsification taking place in the relatively near future. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue God out of Mind: Thought Experiments, Science, and Religion)
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