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Realism versus Non-Realism in the Nature of Religion

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Nature of Religion— Dr. Peter Krey, ca. 2006, Diablo Valley College, Golf Club Road, Pleasant Hill, California

From Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger, editors, Philosophy of Religion, Third Edition, (Oxford University Press, 2007), pages 5-7.

Religions realists maintain that when they discuss the existence of God and the properties of God they mean to refer to a real being with real properties.  So, if such a God or these properties did not exist, their assertions would be false (Peterson, page 5).

There are many kinds of realism, another of which is ethical realism.  Ethical realists believe their terms and normative claims pertain to actual realities in the moral realm, referring to something in the very structure of how things are (page 6).  Subjectivists on the other hand, believe these terms and normative claims only refer to feelings of private preference.  Right and wrong represent only approval or non-approval as a sentiment (Hume).

Some scientists are non-realist instrumentalists.  They consider their terms merely convenient constructs that enable a theory to predict testable results.

A non-realist in religion denies that religious belief and statements are about objectively existing entities (page 6).  Religion is a human creation and human beings are not a divine creation.  Religion makes people function better in society but spiritual things and events are not beyond ordinary experience.

Proponents of this position are Nietzsche, Freud, and William James. Non-realists ground religion sometimes in psychological experience and sometimes in the structure and demands of society.

Emile Durkheim argues that religion is essentially a social phenomenon.  Religion, he argues, lies at the heart of societies that developed.  Society uses religion to make people comply and there is no metaphysical ground of religion—it is a purely natural, not supernatural phenomenon.  Religion is created by and for humans and must be structured as a social discipline.

The basic sense of religion changes from this perspective (top of page 7). From my point of view, the mystery of there being something instead of nothing (Leibniz) is placed into human agency, and it is patently false that humans have created the universe. We find ourselves as part of the universe and the non-realist position cannot explain its creation.

Wittgenstein introduces a third perspective, both a critique of the realists and non-realists.  We should study the grammar of belief, which involves the dynamic, living context of religion’s application (page 7).  All beliefs not just religious beliefs find their meaning in their use and not in their relation to an external object.


Written by peterkrey

March 26, 2010 at 6:36 pm

4 Responses

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  1. thanks! very helpful


    October 8, 2011 at 9:49 pm

  2. […] Realism versus Non-Realism in the Nature of Religion […]

  3. this is extremely helpful for me 🙂 thank you so much!

    Rebecca C.

    January 3, 2013 at 3:44 pm

  4. […] Realism versus Non-Realism in the Nature of Religion […]

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