Transcendency and Givenness--A Husserlian Response to Dawkins’ Challenge

点击次数:  更新时间:2009-02-24

Abstract:In this paper I argue that a Husseralian phenomenology could provide a common ground based on which science and religion can be carefully defined and differentiated. For Husserl, it is important to recognize the distinctive regions of science and religion, and the distinction should be discussed in terms of transcendence and givenness.


Richard Dawkins is one of the preeminent scholars challenging religion, especially Christianity, based on his scientific knowledge. In terms of science and religion, his atheistic viewpoints are influential not only because of his own arguments, but also two outside elements, his academic backgrounds and writing skills. Dawkins is very skillful in explaining scientific principles and terminologies in words that can be understood by non-specialists. Dawkins’ scientific training also increases the convincing powers of his arguments on the relation of science and religion.

Does Dawkins have a compelling case against religious belief? In this paper, I will discuss Dawkins’ view on science and religion from a Husserlian point of view and my attention will focus on his newly published book,The God Delusion, a New York Times bestseller. In Part One, I will mainly discuss in what sense Dawkins’ thinking is closely related to naturalism and why we should suspend naturalism. In Part Two, I will show what Husserl would say about science and religion. Here we will see that from a Husserlian phenomenological point of view, science and religion each belong to adifferent region because in each region the characteristic of the transcendence of its object determines its unique givenness to the consciousness. Scientific puzzles cannot be solved in religion, and religious issues cannot be explained away by science. In Part Three, I will present two models for possible ways of discussing science and religion.

Part One Richard Dawkins and Naturalism

1. The God Hypothesis

In his bookThe God Delusion, Richard Dawkins claims that the notion of God according to the God Hypothesis is a delusion, and scientifically speaking, it is almost certain that God does not exist and the study of God should belong to the remit of science. We may say that what Dawkins tries to do in that book is to show that it is an illusion to presuppose a divine being as the ultimate answer to scientific questions, and on the contrary, it is not God who can provide answers to scientific puzzles, but science which can explain the belief in God. In other words, for Dawkins, the god of the gaps in science is an illusion, and religion or the notion of God can be explained away in science. Regarding the first claim, I will show that Dawkins is correct, and his views are very beneficial to religious belief. Regarding the second one, Dawkins is wrong, and I will show why Dawkins makes that mistake just as all forms of naturalism do.

Regarding Dawkin’s critique of the god of the gaps, I have to say that Christians or theists should take him seriously. What is the theory of the God Hypothesis? It is used “to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.”[1]It is an “intelligent design theory.” According to Dawkins, an intelligent design theorist might speak to you like this:

If you don’t understand how something works, never mind: just give up and say God did it. You don’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You don’t understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don’t go toworkon the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don’t work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries, for we can use them…We need those glorious gaps as a last refuge for God. (TGI, 159)

Putting aside whether or not Dawkins’ characterization of the thinking of the God Hypothesis or Intelligent Design Theory is accurate, it is clear that the notion of God as an illusion amounts to a god who is considered to be an explanation for anything we do not know at the moment: “Gaps, by default in the mind of the creationist, are filled by God….Areas where there is a lack of data, or a lack of understanding, are automatically assumed to belong, by default, to God” (TGI, 154). “Creationists eagerly seek a gap in present-day knowledge or understanding. If an apparent gap is found, it isassumedthat God, by default, must fill it” (TGI, 151). This is the “classic ‘God of the Gaps’ reasoning” (TGI, 155). Later, we will see that from the Husserlian point of view, the theory of the god of the gaps tries to put God into the framework of scientific thinking. A god like this is indeed an illusion created by human mind. Dawkins is right in pointing out that a natural phenomenon should be given a natural explanation: “We need a ‘crane,’ not a ‘skyhook’, for only a crane can do the business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable complexity” (TGI, 188).

The God illusion, as a matter of fact, is a form of the idol of God. “My definition of the God Hypothesis included the words ‘superhuman’ and ‘supernatural’” (TGI, 96). In other words, God is made in the image of human being or nature. Human being or nature is similar to God; however, the contrary is not necessarily true.

Dawkins asserts that the creationist should not bring the notion of God into scientific thinking or theory. However, he makes a similar mistake in imposing scientific thinking on religious phenomena. I will discuss Dawkins’ naturalism a moment later.

What lies at the core of Dawkins’ thinking is the Darwinian principle: All things are the result of natural selection, that is, all things are the instruments for the survival of replicators. “In its most general form, natural selection must choose between alternative replicators. A replicator is a piece of coded information that makes exact copies of itself, along with occasional inexact copies or ‘mutations’….Those varieties of replicator that happen to be good at getting copied become more numerous at expense of alternative replicators that are bad at getting copied” (TGI, 222). “Genes are only the most obvious examples of replicators. Other candidates are computer viruses, and memes—units of cultural inheritance” (TGI, 222). “The archetypal replicator is a gene, a stretch of DNA that is duplicated, nearly always with extreme accuracy, through an indefinite number of generations” (TGI, 222-223). For Dawkins, the principle of natural selection does not only apply to the world of biology, but also can be used to explain the phenomena of the physical universe, even cultural development. Dawkins coined a new term, “meme”, as the cultural genes or unit. For him, all cultural phenomena, including religion and morality, are the result of the natural selection of memes. According to his meme theory, “Some religious ideas, like some genes, might survive because of absolute merit. These memes would survive in any meme pool, regardless of the other memes that surround them….Some religious ideas survive because they are compatible with other memes that are already numerous in the meme pool—as part of a memeplex” (TGI, 231). It is very clear that the notion of meme is just based on the notion of gene. Here, what we are concerned about is not whether the meme/gene analogy works, but that meme theory indicates that Dawkins’ explanation of cultural phenomena is modeled on his theory in the field of biology. From Dawkins’ point of view, fundamentally speaking, both nature and culture follow the same kind of principles, and what we find in nature should also be applied to culture.

Meme theory is used to explain how religion survives in human history. What about religious claims, such as the existence of God? In dealing with this question, Dawkins goes farther than a natural scientist per scientist would like to go, that is, his claims fall within the category of naturalism rather than within the scientific attitude. There is nothing wrong when a scientist focuses his attention on the natural world. However, when such a scientist claims that the scientific thinking is the only correct way of thinking we can have and it can be applied to regions beyond the natural world, or nothing existing cannot be known in natural science, then this is naturalism. Dawkins says, “I shall suggest that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other” (TGI, 72). “I am arguing that…the God question is not in principle and forever outside the remit of science” (TGI, 96).

If we say that human reason and empirical evidence are the only ways to find things that exist, then we would agree with one of the Founding Fathers of the USA, Thomas Jefferson in that, as Dawkins quotes inThe God Illusion, “To talk of immaterial existence is to talk of nothings. To say that human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angles, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise…without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence” (TGI, 63). The only thing that exists and we can know with evidence is a material thing. This is the claim of naturalism. What we need to pay attention to is that naturalism presupposes that if there is something immaterial, the way in which it exists or manifests to us must be similar to the way in which physical things exist or appear to us. What is ambiguous here is the meaning of existence. Dawkins argues that even though we cannot prove or disprove the existence of Russell’s teapot, we strongly believe that it does not exist. Similarly, “What matters is not whether God is disprovable (he isn’t) but whether his existence is probable…Some undisprovable things are sensibly judged far less than other undisprovable things. There is no reason to regard God as immune from consideration along the spectrum of probabilities” (TGI, 77). What matters for Dawkins is the probability of the existence of God or other physical things. However, he does not notice that the meaning of existence is much broader than the meaning of physical existence or similar existence.

2. Bracketing of Naturalism

Naturalism is not the logical result of natural science. As Levinas says, “Naturalism seems to be only a bad interpretation of the meaning of natural science.” “By asserting the objectivity of the physical world, naturalism identifies the existence and the conditions of existence of the physical world with existence and the conditions of existence in general.”[2] In absolutizing the existence of the physical world, naturalism “consistently reduces the totality of being to nature.” As a consequence, “A spiritual or ideal existence must be part of nature in order really to be” (TIHP, 10). “Being, for naturalism, may not mean having a material existence, but it at least meansbeing therein the same way that the material world is, being on the same level as it. To think of something as existing is to think of something in physical nature and, consequently, having the same mode of existence as physical nature does” (TIHP, 11). “This is the true origin of naturalism: naturalism conceives the existence of the whole of being on the model of material things” (TIHP, 12). InThe Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology, Levinas gives a very insightful summary of Husserl’s understanding of naturalism.

In light of this Husserlian definition of naturalism, we can say that Dawkins is a naturalist, and his meme theory is just an application of his theory of the selfish gene to the cultural world. Dawkins’ claim that religion is a psychological by-product and religious belief in the existence of God has no objectivity only confirms that his philosophy is naturalism: “Ifto bemeans to exist the way nature does, then everything which is given as refractory to the categories and to the mode of existence of nature will, as such, have no objectivity and will be, a priori and unavoidably, reduced to something natural” (TIHP, 17). Our experience of value or beauty would be considered “as being intrinsically a psychological phenomenon in nature” (TIHP, 17). For Dawkins, religious beliefs, “Once entrenched in a culture they persist, evolve and diverge, in a manner reminiscent of biological evolution” (TGI, 219). “One especially intriguing possibility mentioned by Dennett is that the irrationality of religion is a by-product of a particular built-in irrationality mechanism in the brain: our tendency, which presumably has genetic advantages, to fall in love” (TGI, 214).

From what we saw in the above, we can say that there are at least three fundamental presuppositions in naturalism: Firstly, since the physical world is the only reality or actuality, there is only one form of being, the material being. Husserl says, “The naturalist…sees only nature, and primarily physical nature. Whatever is, is either itself physical, belongs to the unified totality of physical nature, or it is in fact psychical, but then merely as a variable dependent on the physical, at best a secondary ‘parallel accompaniment’” (TIHP, 11). All things are either simply physical or physical-psychical. What is psychical is ultimately dependent on what is physical. Dawkins says, “A dualist acknowledges a fundamental distinction between matter and mind. A monist, by contrast, believes that mind is a manifestation of matter—material in a brain or perhaps a computer—and cannot exist apart from matter” (TGI, 209). Evolutionary psychology “suggests that a tendency to dualism is built into the brain [of a child] and…provides a natural predisposition to embrace religious ideas” (TGI, 210). For Dawkins, religion can be explained as a psychological by-product, and what is psychological is rooted in the brain.

Secondly, for naturalism, truth is related to one form of cognition, “cognition in the form of exact natural science.”[3]The meaning of science has been limited to natural science, especiallyexactnatural science. All other forms of science must be analogous to natural science. From the naturalist point of view, philosophy, as a discipline, would either disappear or become some form of psychology. For naturalism, consciousness, as the object of psychological investigation, is rooted in material being or the human brain as a result of natural evolvement and a certain kind of mirror being able to reflect the physical world. Looked at from the naturalist point of view, the true psychology should be based upon empirical evidence. However, naturalism, as a philosophical standpoint, is not based upon any empirical evidence.

Thirdly, for naturalism, the only way that things are given and our knowledge of things can be verified is through experience (in the sense of empiricism). “The essential fault in empirical argumentation consists of identifying or confusing the fundamental demand for a return to the ‘things themselves’ with the demand for letigimation of all cognition byexperience. With this comprehensible naturalistic constriction of the limits bounding cognizable ‘things,’ the empiricists simply take experience to be the only act that is presentive of things themselves. But things are not simply mere things belonging to Nature, nor is actuality in the usual sense simply all of actuality; and that originarily presentive act which we callexperience relates only to actuality in Nature.” (Ideas, 35-36).

What we are concerned here is the first and third point: Naturalism sees Nature as the only reality that exists, and it takes experience, especially perceptual experience, as the only way in which all things are given. In Husserl’s words, naturalism sees only one form of transcendency and of givenness. It does not see that there are many forms of transcendency and many forms of givenness beyond the simple empirical relation of the knowing subject to the known object in the natural world.

For Husserl, it is in the relation of theoretical consciousness to the physical or material world that we find the meaning of being a scientist or being a physical object. From this relation, natural science develops and flourishes. Naturalism takes this relation as the only thing that we have. From the phenomenological point of view, it is not to deny the relation of knowing subject and known object in the natural world, but rather to neutralize the claim of naturalism that the objectivity of the physical world is the only objectivity. That is, we should suspend or bracket the naturalist interpretation of scientific activities.

Part Two Transcendency and Giveness

In Husserl’s phenomenology, after the phenomenological suspension of naturalism or the natural attitude, we are liberated from the prison of naturalism which presupposes that there is a single, objective, absolutely autonomous and real world. In suspending our natural attitude, there arises the possibility that we not only have a correct understanding of the relationship between our consciousness and its object, but also can beemancipatedfrom the world of facts, the natural world, and discover the world of essence, the world of possibilities. For Husserl, different objects or transcendences have different modes of givenness to consciousness. How is a physical object given to consciousness? This is just one question that concerns the phenomenological investigations. In the following, I will mainly discuss the relation of transcendency and givenness in science and religion.

1. The Transcendency of Physical Things and Their Mode of Givenness

For Husserl, physical things are the correlate of empirical consciousness: “whatever physical things are…they are as experienceable physical things. It is experience alone that prescribes their sense; and, since we are speaking of physical things in fact, it is actual experience alone which does so in its definitely ordered experiential concatenations” (Ideas, 106). And “the result is the correlate of our factual experience, called ‘the actual world,’ as one special case among a multitude of possible worlds and surrounding worlds which, for their part, are nothing else but the correlate of essentially possible variants of the idea, ‘an experiencing consciousness,’” (Ideas, 106). It is in “experiencing consciousness” that physical things are given. In order to explain the transcendency of physical things, Husserl makes a contrast between the mode of givenness in which physical things appear in consciousness and the mode of givennes in which immanent conscious activities appear in consciousness itself.

Husserl says, the “contrast between something immanent and something transcendent includes an essentially fundamental difference between the corresponding kinds of givenness. Perceptions of something immanent and of something transcendent do not differ merely in that the intentional object, which is there with the characteristic of something in itself, ‘in person’, is really inherently immanent in the perceiving in one case but not in the other: rather they are differentiated by modes of givenness as the essential difference between which is carried overmutatis mutandisinto all the presentiational modifications of perceptions, into the parallel memory intuitions and phantasy intuitions. We perceive the physical thing by virtue of its being ‘adumbrated’ in respect of all the determinations… A mental process is not adumbrated” (Ideas, 90). What does it mean to say that physical things are given in adumbration? “A material thing is given to us through many aspects and perspectives, under many different lights, etc” (TIHP, 5). A table, as a physical object, is given to our consciousness always from a certain perspective at one time, and there are infinite perspectives for us to perceive the table. No matter how many perceptions we have about the table, all the perceptions refer to the same object, the table in front of us. In other words, what is adumbrated in our perceptions is the same table, the object being adumbrated in adumbration.

Therefore, there is an essential difference between adumbration as a mental process and the adumbrated as something beyond consciousness or being intended by consciousness. “The adumbrating is a mental process. But a mental process is possible only as a mental process, and not as something spatial. However, the adumbrated is of essential necessity possible only as something spatial, and not possible as a mental process. In particular it is a countersense to take the adumbration of shape (e.g., the adumbration of a triangle) for something spatial and possible in space; and whoever does so confuses the adumbrating with the adumbrated, i.e., with the appearing shape” (Ideas, 88-89). For Husserl, the mode of givenness as adumbration or Abschatungen for physical things is not because of “our human constitution” (Ideas, 90). “Rather is it evident and drawn from the essence of spatial physical things that, necessarily a being of that kind can be given in perception only through an adumbration” (Ideas, 91). Therefore, the transcendence of physical things does not mean that physical things exist in themselves: “As a consequence, one must not let oneself be deceived by speaking of the physical thing as transcending consciousness or as ‘existing in itself’” (Ideas, 106). The transcendence of physical things lies at their being given in adumbration. “A spatial being can ‘appear’ only in a certain ‘orientation,’ which necessarily predelineated a system of possible new orientations each of which, in turn, corresponds to a certain ‘mode of appearance’ which can express, say, as givenness from such and such a ‘side’, and so forth” (Ideas, 91).

However, this is not the case regarding the appearing of a mental process or conscious activity to consciousness. The adumbrating of space is not spatial at all; it is a mental process. Only what is adumbrated is spatial. Similarly, the adumbrating of a color is not colorful at all. Only what is adumbrated is having a certain kind of color. Therefore, a mental process is given to consciousness absolutely or immanently; it is part of consciousness. Husserl says, “the perception of a mental process is a simple seeing of something which is (or can become) perceptually given as something absolute, and not as something identical in modes of appearance by the adumbration” (Ideas, 95-96). “Whereas it is essential to givenness by appearances that no appearance presents the affair as something ‘absolute’ instead of in a one-sided presentation, it is essential to the givenness of something immanent precisely to present something absolute which cannot ever be presented with respect to sides or be adumbrated” (Ideas, 96-97). “To the physical thing as physical thing…there belongs essentially and quite ‘universally’ the incapacity of being immanently perceived and accordingly of being found at all in the concatenation of mental processes. Thus the physical thing is said to be, in itself, unqualified transcendent” (Ideas, 90).

We can say that the transcendence of physical things is determined by the mode of their givenness in consciousness. What cannot be given in adumbration does not belong to the category of the physical world.

For Husserl, immanental being is given as absolute “in the sense that by essential necessity immanental being nulla ‘re’ indigent ad existendum”. “In contradistinction, the world of transcendent ‘res’is entirely referred to consciousness and, more particularly, not to some logically conceived consciousness but to actual consciousness” (Ideas, 110). That is to say, physical objects cannot separate themselves from consciousness in which they appear in adumbration. For Husserl, it is nonsense to say that physical objects are independent of consciousness. We might be able to say that physical objects are dependent on consciousness, more accurately speaking, actual, theoretical consciousness, to appear. The adumbrated is inseparable from the adumbrating. The transcendence of physical things lies in their being adumbrated. It is in this sense that the existence of physical things is relative, accidental because it is always possible that the object to which the multiple adumbrations are referred is just an illusion. It is possible that “there might no longer be any world” (Ideas, 109). However, the existence of a mental process does not depend on adumbration in order to appear: it is “essentially incapable of becoming given by virtue of adumbration and appearance” (Ideas, 111).

What is immanent in consciousness and what is in the physical world belong to different regions. We may use the terms “being,” “existent” or “object” to refer to “things” in these two different regions, but there is no higher ontology which can be said of investigating these two regions. A transcendent, physical being is different from an absolute, immanent being in the sense that the modes of their givenness are different. Contrary to psychologism, “the possibility of non-being of everything physically transcendent” indicates that “the being of consciousness, of any stream of mental processes whatever” would not be touched upon even though there is an annihilation of the world. “Consequentlyno real being, no being which is presented and legitimated in consciousness by appearances, isnecessary to the being of consciousness itself” (in the broadest sense, the stream of mental processes) (Ideas, 110). Nature or the physical world is just an index to consciousness after the phenomenological suspension.

As a matter of fact, the relation between the physical world and the actual, empirical consciousness is just one among many forms of intentionality in consciousness. Following Descartes, Husserl defines “consciousness” as something much broader than the simple cognitive relation. Consciousness includes not only perception, memory, expectation, phantasy, imagination, but also willing, passion, love, desire, etc. The intentionality structure of consciousness is not just a simplecogitatio-cogitatumstructure. Naturalism would reduce judgments such as aesthetic or ethical or religious ones to subjective, arbitrary judgments, having no “objective” (cognitive) value. The “objects” in our religious, ethical, or aesthetic experience would be reduced to purely subjective phenomena, something psychological, not solid or real as physical things. As we mentioned above, naturalism reduces “experience” to empirical experience. It also reduces “consciousness” to simply “actual, empirical consciousness”. It confines itself to only an accidental, relative intentionality structure. In other words, naturalism would like to say that only what can be expressed as propositions are possible to be candidates as truth. All other statements are simply baseless, subjective, psychological beliefs which can never be verified or falsified.

Let’s take a table for example. What is the being of a table? Can we only use propositional, cognitive language to describe the properties of the table? Is it proper to say that only propositions about its geometrical, physical structures are meaningful? What if we make certain judgments about its practical and aesthetic values? If we say that this table in the dinning room is used for people to place food on, do we express our subjective, psychological feelings? For Husserl, the being of a table as a physical object is different from the being of a table as a practical instrument or aesthetic object. The meaning of “being” is different in each case.

2. The Transcendency of God and The Mode of Givenness of Divine Being

What is the relation of the transcendence of God and the mode of givenness of divine being? Husserl says, God “could not be assumed as something transcendent in the sense in which the world is something transcendent…The ordering principle of the absolute must be found in the absolute itself, considered purely as absolute. In other words, since a worldly God is evidently impossible and since, on the other hand, the immanence of God in absolute consciousness cannot be taken as immanence in the sense of being as a mental process (which would be no less countersensical), there must be, therefore, within the absolute stream of consciousness and its infinities, modes in which transcendencies are made known other than the constituting of physical realities as unities of harmonious appearances” (Ideas, 116-117). Here Husserl’s words indicate that (1) both God and physical things are transcendent beings, but one is absolute, the other is relative and contingent; (2) both God and mental processes are absolute, that is, they do not appear in adumbration. Later he points out that “being absolute” for God and consciousness has different meanings. We know that physical things must appear in adumbration in consciousness (“the constituting of physical realities as unities of harmonious appearances). Now the question is, “How does God as an absolute being appear in absolute consciousness?” Here Husserl does not elaborate on this issue. But he clearly denies that we should take the mode of givenness of God as something similar to that of physical reality. It is worth to note that for Husserl, “being absolute” here means that both God and immanental being do not appear in adumbration, but exist independently.

This clearly rules out Dawkins’ thinking that religious claims should be explained (away) in natural selection. The question of God is not dependent on the questions concerning physical realities. Husserl makes this point without any ambiguities: “After the natural world is abandoned [my note: he means that the natural world is suspended], we encounter yet another transcendency which is not given, like the pure Ego, immediately in union with reduced consciousness but becomes cognized in a highly mediated fashion [in Copy A: in an entirely different way], a transcendency standing, as it were, in polar contrast to the transcendency pertaining to the world. We mean the transcendency pertaining to God” (Ideas, 133-134). The transcendence of God and that of the natural world are not only different, but they have totally different meanings. Husserl says, “the existence of an extra-worldly ‘divine’ being is that this being would obviously transcend not merely the world but ‘absolute’ consciousness. It would therefore be an “absolute” in the sense of being totally different from that in which consciousness is an absolute, just as it would be something transcendent in a sense totally different from that in which the world is something transcendent” (Ideas, 134). God is both absolute and transcendent. But, God’s absoluteness is different from that of consciousness, and God’s transcendency is different from that of physical reality. Looked at it this way, categories used to describe nature or phenomenological consciousness do not apply to God. Husserl would say, contrary to Dawkins, that the question of God is not a scientific hypothesis, and therefore does not belong to the remit of science.

Now the question is, “How is God given to consciousness?” Since all categories of nature, including the notion of causality, cannot be used to think about the relation of consciousness to God, the existence of God does not belong to the phenomenology of religion. In the phenomenology of religion, some philosophers might suggest to avoid using “being”. For Husserl, he may think that if we keep in mind that there is no such an ontology that can cover all the issues of the being of God, the being of consciousness, and the being of the physical world, we still can use the word “being”. Husserl says, “In its [consciousness] essence it is independent of all worldly, natural, being; nor does it need any worldly being for itsexistence. The existence of a Naturecannotbe the condition for the existence of consciousness since Nature itself turns out to be a correlate of consciousness; Natureisonly as being constituted in regular concatenations of consciousness” (Ideas, 116). Similarly, the existence of God is independent of consciousness and nature. God is not a part or moment of consciousness. God is given to consciousness in his own absoluteness, that is, God reveals himself in his own terms according to his own purpose.

The question of the phenomenology of religion, therefore, should be an issue of “How God reveals Himself in consciousness?” The issue of receptivity is central to the phenomenological thinking of God-relation. As we mentioned above, the term “consciousness” is not identical with the psychological mind; it includes almost all human activities (here we should not think of humans from the naturalist point of view). If we understand the term “consciousness” correctly, we can say that what St. Augustine does in theConfessionsis a phenomenological description of how Divine Providence reveals itself in the personal life of Augustine of Hippo, or how he constituted his selfhood or non-selfhood in his relationship to God. The givenness of God in Augustine’s life constituted who he is, or the transcendence of God constituted the selfhood of Augustine. This is different from the relation of the transcendence of physical things to empirical consciousness: It is in empirical consciousness that physical things are constituted or adumbrated. The case of Augustine’sConfessionsis just a phenomenological description.

Husserl says, “feigning is the source from which the cogition of ‘eternal truths is fed” (Ideas, 160). If we correctly understand Husserl’s words that Feigning” or “Fiktion” or “Phantasy” is vital to phenomenology, then we would be able to read the Bible from the Husserlian phenomenological point of view: It is only when we take the Bible as a kind of divine fiction that we are able to see the message of God or understand the divine words in the biblicalstories. Husserl says, “Thegeometerwho draws his figures on the board produces thereby factually existing lines on the factually existing board. But his experiencing of the product, qua experiencing, no moregroundshis geometrical seeing of essences and eidetic thinking than does his physical producing. This is why it does not matter whether his experiencing is hallucination or whether, instead of actually drawing his lines and constructions, he imagines them in a world of phantasy. It is quite otherwise in the case of thescientific investigator of Nature. He observes and experiments; that is, he ascertainsfactual existenceaccording to experience;for him experiencing is a grounding actwhich can never be substituted by a mere imagining” (Ideas, 16). Since the givenness of God is different from the givennes of Nature, a phenomenology of religion would be different from natural science or experiential science. A phenomenologist of religion would be similar to a geometer: he is investigating something beyond the world of matter of fact, beyond experiential science. Husserl’s following words give a strong hint on how we should investigate non-natural phenomena: “Extraordinary profit can be drawn from the offerings of history, in even more abundant measure from those of art, and especially from poetry, which are, to be sure, imaginary but which, in the originary of their invention of forms, the abundance of their single features and the unbrokenness of their motivation, tower high above the products of our own phantasy” (Ideas, 160). From this point of view, to read the Bible as some kind of meta-narrative, as a recording of what actually happened in nature and the human history, is to miss the central message of the Bible. It is wrong to argue that what the Bible says is conflicting or harmonious with contemporary natural science. Kierkegaard’s reading of the story of Abraham inFear and Tremblingcan be a very good example to illustrate what a Husserlian interpretation of the Bible looks like.

The third example that I would like to mention in doing the phenomenology of religion is the case of Levinas. Levinas once said something like this: If the word “God” has meaning, it is in the ethical context. For Levinas, my relation to God is inseparable from my relation to the (human) other. The ethical relation is understood as an “obliqueness” of God-relation. In “God and Philosophy,” Levinas says, “The difference between the Infinite and the finite is a non-indifference of the Infinite with regard to the finite, and is the secret of subjectivity” (GWCM, 65).[4] This difference, which is the subjectivity of the religious subject, is not a creation of the subject of consciousness. For Levinas, according to Descartes, the idea of the Infinite is put in me by God. The relation of the Infinite to the finite is “a relation with this [finite] thought as passive, as acogitatioalmost dumbfounded, and no longer commanding—or not yet commanding—thecogitatum” (GWCM, 65). That is, the Infinite is not a known object for the finite, empirical consciousness; it is incomprehensible to the empirical, cognitive consciousness. The Infinite should not be understood as merely what is not finite. “The Infinite affects thought by simultaneously devastating it and calling it….It wakes thought up” (GWCM, 66). The idea of the Infinite does not come from experience which supposes the presence of an object in consciousness. The Infinite is “the unencompassable” (GWCM, 64). In Husserlian language, for Levinas, God is given in our ethical relationship, that is, the transcendence of God is given through the face of the Other, the transcendence of the Other. The givenness of God is mediated through the givenness of the face of the Other. Strictly speaking, we should say that God reveals Himself through the face of the Other. Where can we find the call of God? It is in the face of the Other. It is important to emphasize that God left His trace in the ethical relation. But the ethical relation is not the only place that God left his trace. It may seem that Levinas holds that the ethical is the foundation of the religious. However, we should recognize that the religious is the foundation of the ethical since, ultimately speaking, it is God who comes to mind, who disturbs our moral complacency.

Part Three Science and Religion

Can we discuss science in the context of religion? From the Husserlian point of view, we should not confuse scientific questions with religious issues because in each region it is the unique transcendence of an object determines its givenness in consciousness (in the broadest sense). In a certain sense, we may say that no regions are overlapping between science and religion. Now, the question is: Does this mean that there is no dialogue between science and religion? It seems to me that a scientist qua scientist essentially does not have much to say about religious issues or religion; there is no necessity for a scientist to talk about religion. However, in the religious context, we can talk about science just as science can be a subject of historical studies or philosophy of science. One thing is very clear: Religion does not need science to prove religious claims or beliefs. Similarly, science does not need religion to solve scientific puzzles. In the context of Christianity, science becomes a subject in religious discourse only in the sense that science, as a phenomenon in human history, should be understood in the relation of humans to God. In theConfessionsof Augustine, we may find something helpful on the subject of the relation of science and religion.

In hisConfessions, Augustine clearly states that we should not confuse what is religious with what is scientific. In Book V, in talking about those philosophers who have a good knowledge of the universe, Augustine says that they ‘were able to judge the world with understanding’ even though ‘they did not find its Lord.”[5]A scientist does not have to be a religious person in order to know the world. However, “By the proud you are not found, not even if their curiosity and skill number the stars and the sand, measure the constellations, and trace the paths of the stars” (C 74). Scientific knowledge does not necessarily lead one to have a religious belief. This does not mean that there is no relation between scientific knowledge and religious belief.

Then what is the relation between scientific truth and religious faith? For Augustine, scientific knowledge itself cannot become an obstacle to religious faith, butthe waythat people see scientific knowledge can be an obstacle to religious faith as we saw in the case of Richard Dawkins’ naturalism. What Augustine would criticize with regard to the Enlightenment philosophers is their epistemological pride. When Descartes warns people never to accept anything for true which they do not clearly know to be such, for Augustine, they dogmatically regard human reason as the “Reason” and human beings as the center of the universe. This Enlightenment hubris leads them to be blind about their own true selfhood and God. Augustine says, “With the mind and intellect whichyou have given them, they investigate these matters. They have found out much….And their calculation has not been wrong. It has turned out just as they predicted…People who have no understanding of these things are amazed and stupefied. Those who know are exultant and are admired. Their irreligious pridemakes them withdraw from you and eclipse your great light from reaching them. They can foresee a future eclipse of the sun, but do not perceive their own eclipse in the present [forgetting their own selves, my note]. Forthey do not in a religious spirit investigate the source of the intelligence with which they research into these matters” (C 74). They forget themselves and did not realize that God is the one who gives them the power of knowing. Like Thales, they investigate what is above but could not see what is in front of their feet. “About the creation they say many things that are true; but the truth, the artificer of creation, they do not seek in a devout spirit and so they fail to find him. Or if they do find him, although knowing God they do not honour him as God or give thanks. They become lost in their own ideas and claim to be wise, attributing to themselves things which belong to you. In an utterly perverse blindness they want to attribute you qualities which are their own…and changing the glory of the incorrupt God into the likeness of the image of corruptible man and birds and animals and serpents. They change your truth into a lie and serve the creation rather than the Creator”(C 75). They make themselves become something divine, and create a God in their own image. In a modern context, the evidential foundationlist will either simply dismiss the meaningfulness of the religious discourse or create an idol of God in human image. In explaining how philosophy becomes ontotheology, Heidegger says, God enters into philosophy “only insofar as philosophy, of its own accord and by its own nature, requires and determines that and how the deity enters into it.” “Man can neither pray nor sacrifice to this god. Before thecausa sui, man can neither fall to his knees in awe nor can he play music and dance before this god”.[6]

For Augustine, scientists or philosophers like the above ones do not realize that God is the one who created both the knowing subject and the known object: “They have not known the Way, your Word through whom you made the things that they count and also those who do the counting, and the senses thanks to which they observe what they count, and the mind they employ to calculate” (C 74). God created things that are known by the scientist. And God also created the scientist herself, her intellect and senses (two levels of knowing capacity). They did not know that what is important to them is not in the order of knowing, but in the order of ethical-religious relation, in the Way: “They have not known this way by which they may descend from themselves to him and through him ascend to him. They have not known this way, and think of themselves as exalted and brilliant with the stars” (C 75). Similarly, Augustine would say that in elevating her own reason, the evidential foundationalist commits an epistemological sin (pride). It is irrational to claim that human reason is the only and the highest form of reason.

In Book V of theConfessions, Augustine continues pointing to the fact that, compared to religious belief, scientific knowledge is, to use Kierkegaardian language, accidental because what is essential to one’s spiritual life is religion, not science. The distinctive characteristic of religious knowledge or belief is that it concerns an individual person’s happiness. Science does not function in the way as religious belief does concerning the meaning of an individual life.

Later Heidegger’s thinking on modern science and technology could also provide us with some kind of model on how to think of science in the religious context. Religion has no say on scientific questions. But what religion is concerned about is how a scientist understands his or her scientific activity. For later Heidegger, science is not something that human beings can create; its emergence in human history is a mystery that needs to be thought and to be thanked.

For Heidegger, technology, a practical form of theoretical science, is not something evil as a result of man-made or devil’s magic. The essence of technology, the object of essential thinking, is that Being makes claim on us through the nature of technology. In “The Questioning Concerning Technology” he says, “Technology is a mode of revealing. Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment takes place, wherealetheia, truth, happens”(BW, 295).[7]According to Heidegger, for the Greeks, “techneis a bring-forth” (BW, 295); “it is something poetic”(BW, 294). Modern technology is also a revealing. But, “the revealing that holds sway throughout modern technology does not unfold into a bringing-forth in the sense ofpoiesis. The revealing that rules in modern technology is a challenging, which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such”(BW, 296). In the revealing of modern technology, “Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering”(BW, 298). Such a revealing as “challenging-forth”(BW, 297) raises the urgency of thinking of technology per se.

In the challenging-forth of modern technology, “the real is revealed as standing-reserve”(BW, 299). Obviously it is man who accomplishes the work of standing-reserve. “But man does not have control over unconcealment itself, in which at any time the real shows itself or withdraws”(BW, 299).

The essence of technology is not a human product. In “What Calls for Thinking,” Heidegger says, “A fog still surrounds the essence of modern science. That fog, however, is not produced by individual investigators and scholars in the sciences. It is not produced by man at all”(BW, 355). In theDiscourse on Thinking, Heidegger says,

There is then in all technical process a meaning, not invented or made by us, which lays claim to what man does and leaves undone. We do not know the significance of the uncanny increasing dominance of atomic technology. The meaning pervading technology hides itself. But if we explicitly and continuously heed the fact that such hidden meaning touches us everywhere in the world of technology, we stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery.[8]

The dominance of technology of today should be understood as an event in the history of Being in the sense that technology is a revealing or manifestation of Being. In such a revealing there is a concealment. It is in the danger of technology that a saving power hides itself. It is in essential thinking that we realize the significance of science and technology.

Science, as a spiritual phenomenon, is given to consciousness in the way in which its transcendence shows different meanings in disciplines such as history, philosophy, religious studies, and political science.


In this paper I tried to show that (1) Richard Dawkins is a naturalist, and his understanding of science and religion has a naturalist prejudice; (2) From the Husserlian phenomenology, it is important to recognize the distinctive regions of science and religion, and the distinction should be discussed in terms of transcendence and givenness; (3) I also gave three examples to illustrate what a phenomenology of religion looks like; (4) I also talked about the possible ways or models of how to think of science in the religious context.

For Husserl, it is the trancendency of an object that determines its givenness to consciousness. Dawkins made a mistake in holding that the givenness in which physical or natural objects appear to consciousness is the only way in which all transcendences should be given. How God is given to us, this is not a scientific issue. Husserl’s philosophy also indicates that a scientific question cannot be solved by religion, and vice versa. We may say that regarding science and religion, Husserl holds a view of NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria), but Husserl’s NOMA should be understood in terms of transcendency and givenness.

To conclude, in this paper, I showed that it is in Husserlian phenomenology that we find a common ground based on which science and religion can be carefully defined and differentiated.

[1]Richard Dawkins (2006),The God Illusion(Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company), pp. 188. Hereafter in the body of the paper, the book is referred as TGI followed by page numbers.

[2]Emmanuel Levinas,The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology(Evanston, ILL: Northwestern University Press, 1995), 2ndedition, trans. Andre Orianne, p. 9. Hereafter referred to as TIHP in the body of the paper.

[3]Edmund Husserl,Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1983), tans. F Kersten, p. 47. Hereafter in the body of the paper it is referred to as Ideas followed by page numbers.

[4]See Emmanuel Levinas,Of God Who Comes to Mind, trans. Bettina Bergo (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 65, hereafter GWCM.

[5]St. Augustine,Confessions, tr. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 73, hereafter referred as C.

[6]Quoted by Merold Westphal inOvercoming Onto-theology: Toward A Postmodern Christian Faith(New York, Fordham University Press, 2001), pp. 30. Also see Martin Heidegger,Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), pp. 56 and 72.

[7]Martin Heidegger,Basic Writings(Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977), edited by David F. Krell, p. 240-41, hereafter abbreviated as BW.

[8]Martin Heidegger,Discourse on Thinking(New York: Harper & Row, 1966), tr. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund, p. 55.

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