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

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

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 1 May 2019

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Yiftach Fehige

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.
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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 Charges (APCs) of 550 CHF (Swiss Francs) per published paper are partially funded by institutions through Knowledge Unlatched for a limited number of papers per year. Please contact the editorial office before submission to check whether KU waivers, or discounts are still available. 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 (2 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle Playing God
Religions 2019, 10(3), 209; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030209
Received: 9 February 2019 / Revised: 14 March 2019 / Accepted: 15 March 2019 / Published: 19 March 2019
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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
Received: 16 November 2018 / Revised: 15 January 2019 / Accepted: 19 February 2019 / Published: 22 February 2019
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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)

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: "Aquinas, Angles, and Pinheads"

Abstract: Aquinas argued that two angles could not be in the same place but the reason is different from the reason that two bodies cannot be in the same place. The famous question about how many angles can dance on the head of a pin stems from this. I will look at the history and consequences of this famous thought experiment, which has unjustly invoked so much ridicule over the years.

Title: "On Thought Experiments in Science, Revealed Theology, and Literary Narratives"

Abstract: On the basis of a tentative definition of thought experiment in a general sense, the paper will attempt to clarify the nature of TEs that can be found in revealed theology. On the one hand, they are to be distinguished from scientific TEs; on the other hand, they are similar in many respects, but not in all to narrative TEs. The last part of the paper will try to analyse the difference between narrative and theological TEs.

Title: "Thought Experiments as a Tool for Undermining Methodological Naturalism"

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 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 some of them probably succeed in showing that metaphysical naturalism (MTN) is subject to empirical falsification, which 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) that suggests we may be on the verge of just such empirical falsification.

Title: “How to understand the mysterious success of thought experiments”

Abstract: The successful application of thought experiments is related in a certain respect to the success of abstract scientific theories in general. The article examines to what extent both refer to platonic elements in the foundation of the scientific program.

Title: "Gulliver and the Rabbis: Counterfactual Truth in Science and the Talmud"

Abstract: The first to locate the ultimate source of real knowledge in thought experiments was Jonathan Swift. The paper will analyze his lively contribution to the discussion and explore its relevance to the study of Talmudic reasoning.

Title: "The Mind's Journey to God: Prolegomena to a Franciscan Natural Theology 2.0"

Abstract: The title refers to the main work by Aquinas' contemporary rival in Paris, St Bonaventure, the director of the Franciscan Order. I recover and update the principal insights of this work, the objective of which is to arrive at a procedure for simulating divine cognition in the human mind. I argue that Bonaventure's self-appointed task comports well with certain contemporary versions of panpsychism and the 'extended mind' thesis, as well as the surveying of possibility space that both philosophers and physicists in the modern era have associated with 'dwelling in the Mind of God', but which Kant tried to rule out in principle as 'transcendent' (as opposed to 'transcendental'). An especially interesting epistemological contrast between Aquinas and Bonaventure pertains to the relationship between intuitive and discursive thought. Whereas Aquinas believed that humans can only discursively know what God knows intuitively, Bonaventure held that 'the mind's journey to God' consists in rendering the discursive intuitive. At stake here is not only the human-divine relationship but also -- in more secular terms -- what might be the goal of a project called 'artificial intelligence'.

Title: "The (Aesthetic) Origin of Science and Religion"

Abstract: Laypeople often set religion and science in opposition, considering science as rational and religion as irrational. Nevertheless, both Protestant theologians and modern scientists have frequently rejected aesthetics as enthusiastic (Schwärmerisch) and thus unreliable. This chapter explains how religion and science actually stem from an aesthetic source, namely sensitivity, including imagination, and which implications this common origin might have for theology as an intellectual practices.

Title: "Thought experiments and the Role of Understanding"

Abstract: In recent years a number of philosophers have emphasized the role of understanding in science as well as religion. The concept of understanding appeals to notions of “grasping” or “seeing” as special acts of the mind. It is often described as a kind of holistic comprehension of a system/network and how its different parts are related to each other and to the system as a whole. A point of disagreement is, however, whether someone can have understanding without having true beliefs. In my paper, I will argue that understanding has both factive and non-factive components. In order to make sense of the role of thought experiments in science as well as religion, these dual aspects are of equal importance. In my examination, thought experiments are characterized as cases of “interpretative imagination.” Besides making comparisons between understanding and knowledge, I will explore the possible cognitive impact that their narrative structure may have. In relation to this discussion, I am also going to propose that we would benefit from including the concept of “meaning-making” into our study of religious and scientific thought experiments.

Title: "Playing God"

Abstract: The concept of God is a relational concept: God in relation to the World. The paper explores various models of this relationship.The models are presented on a small scale as games which, regarding content, are based on monotheistic religious phenomenology. Thus, the paper is an exercise of metaphysical modelling.

Title: "From Time to Eternity: The Role of the Observer in Einstein and Augustine"

Abstract: The hypothetical “experiences” of an observer play a central role in the thought experiments of both Augustine and Einstein. Whether one is investigating the properties of divine eternity in the Confessions or revealing the implications of the relativity of simultaneity, a thought experiment allows one to observe “in the mind” what is normally out of empirical reach. In this paper I argue that thought experiments play the same role for Augustine when he imagines God contemplating all things at once (totum simul) as they do for Einstein when he imagines what happens when one tries to chase a beam of light. In both cases thought experiments bridge the “empirical gap” – illustrating the implications of both theological properties and physical laws. The end result is that thought experiments can serve as a useful common ground or “bridge of dialogue” between science and religion.

Title: "Perspectivity, God, and Models"

Abstract: According to Edmund Husserl, it is an essential law that physical objects are always and necessarily given in perspectives. In Ideas 1, Husserl goes so far to declare that this is not an accident of our physical make-up, and that even God could grasp physical objects only in profiles. Rather unsurprisingly, this view has been met with criticism, for instance by Wayne Martin who counters Husserl’s claim by means of a thought experiment. Martin asks us to imagine a “fogging consciousness” that “fogs around” physical objects, thus taking in all sides at once. If it is rational to assume that it is in God’s power to “fog around” physical objects in the described manner, then Husserl’s claim that eidetic laws such as the law of perspectivity hold universally, not only for men but also for God, is proven wrong. In my paper, I will take a closer look at Martin’s thought experiment in order to show that it misses its target. However, my aim is not only to defend Husserl’s understanding of eidetic laws. Building on Hermann Weyl’s phenomenologically inspired views on mathematical models, I shall also argue that the essential law of perspectivity even underlies our modeling practices in theoretical physics.

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