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volume 75 (2010), no. 1

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Founding editor (1936-1976)
Philosophia Reformata is the international scientific journal of the Association
for Reformational Philosophy, which was founded in 1935. The journal pub-
lishes scholarly articles and book reviews in all areas of philosophy, particularly
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weerd and Dirk H. Th. Vollenhoven. The journal is published twice a year in
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Bert M. Balk
Abraham P. Bos
Jan Willem Sap
Jan van der Stoep
Marc J. de Vries
Ren van Woudenberg

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ISSN: 0031-8035
Centre for Reformational Philosophy
This issue is dedicated to Hendrik van Riessen, whose work was foundational
for the reformational philosophy of technology. To commemorate him, a series
of (biennial) Van Riessen Memorial Lectures was initiated in 2006. Two lectures
have been delivered so far. On 21 April 2006, philosopher of technology Carl
Mitcham, well known author of the book Thinking Through Technology,
opened the series. On 22 May 2008, the second Van Riessen Memorial Lecture
was presented by Bronislav Szerszynski, a sociologist who has written extensively
about the relation between religion and technology. Both lectures were
presented at Delft University of Technology, the university where Van Riessen
served as its first professor of reformational philosophy.
Soon after the second Memorial Lecture, the editors of Philosophia Refor-
mata decided to publish a special issue, based on the Mitcham and Szerszynski
lectures. Two colleagues in reformational philosophy, Sander Griffioen and Jan
Hoogland, were invited to respond to the lectures, and both appeared willing
to take up that challenge. The result is what the reader now finds here.
Szerszynskis 2008 lecture was preceded by a presentation of Van Riessens work
in the philosophy of technology, and based on that presentation I wrote an
introductory article for this issue, being third in line at the chair for reforma-
tional philosophy of technology at Delft University. Egbert Schuurman has
served for many years as Van Riessens immediate successor. I see it as an honor
that I, as Van Riessens spiritual grandson, had the opportunity of introducing
his impressive work here. Szerszynskis text in this special issue is an extended
version of his original Van Riessen Memorial Lecture. Hooglands response is
based on the original, shorter version.
The content of this issue makes clear that Van Riessens work is appreciated
not only in reformational philosophy circles, but also by many philosophers
outside this tradition. Van Riessen wrote his reflections on technology in a time
when the philosophy of technology was still in its infancy. Although language
barriers caused his work to be underappreciated for a long time, there is now a
rediscovery of the importance of his work. It is the intention of the editors of
Philosophia Reformata that this issue will contribute to that.

Marc J. de Vries
Philosophia Reformata 75 (2010) 29
Marc J. de Vries
In this issue that is dedicated to Hendrik van Riessen, it seems appropriate to
start with an introduction to his work. I will show how he served as one of the
first Dutch philosophers of technology and worked on themes that only much
later would appear on the research agenda of the international philosophy of
technology community. This gives him a rather unique position in the history of
the philosophy of technology. I will start by showing how his background quali-
fied Van Riessen to become one of the few philosophers of technology in his
time who were able to analyze the nature of technology, based on an insiders
engineers perspective. Then I will discuss the main themes in his analytical
philosophy of technology. Not only did he contribute to the analytical
philosophy of technology, but also to the critique on the role of technology in
culture and society. Finally, I will show how his work is relevant for contem-
porary research in the philosophy of technology, both for his successors in the
reformational philosophy of technology and outside that philosophical stream.

1. A qualifying background
Hendrik van Riessen was born in 1911. In 1932 he started his study as an
electrical engineer at the Delft Polytechnic (now: Delft University of Tech-
nology). During this study, he felt the need for philosophical reflection on
technology and engineering, in particular from a Christian perspective. In 1936
he met Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven, founders of reformational
philosophy, at a summer camp organized by the Calvinist Student Association,
and he became interested in this philosophical school. In 1940 he presented his
own ideas about philosophical reflection on technology at a meeting of the
Association for Calvinist Philosophy. Afterwards Dooyeweerd stimulated him to
write a doctoral thesis on the philosophy of technology. Having finished his
engineering study, Van Riessen took on a job in carrier wave telephony. This
seven year period added practical experience in technology to his theoretical
study and philosophical interests. It contributed to his authority as a philo-
sopher of technology, because he knew 'from inside' how technology and
engineering functioned. In 1943 he had to resign to seek secret shelter from the
Germans, who had occupied the country during WWII. During and after the
war, he worked on his doctoral thesis, and defended it successfully in 1949. The
first part of the thesis is a discussion of other philosophers visions on tech-
nology. The second part of the thesis is the most original part because it
presented his own perspective on the nature of technology and engineering.
The many practical examples reflect his personal involvement in the study and
introducing van riessens work in the philosophy of technology 3
practice of technology. Clearly, his study and professional experience had
provided an excellent preparation for reflecting on technology in a much
more realistic way compared to the other philosophers of technology of those

2. Analytical philosophy avant-la-lettre
When Hendrik van Riessen wrote his doctoral thesis, the philosophy of tech-
nology was dominated by philosophers of, what we now call, the Continental
tradition. Continental here refers to the European Continent, where these
philosophers lived and worked. Two of them should be mentioned in
particular. Martin Heidegger in Germany wrote about technology from an
existentialist point of view, and did so in quite dark colors. In France, Jacques
Ellul also expressed heavy critique on technology and the way it seemed to have
developed its own uncontrollable dynamics. Only Karl Marx and his followers
really appreciated technology, because of its role in the turnover of social
order that, according to them, would be the necessary and also desirable
outcome of technological developments. None of these philosophers, however,
had a background in engineering, and also none of them had cared to make an
analysis at any level of detail as to how technological developments took place
in practice. Van Riessen recognized the weakness in that approach. According
to him it was necessary to study carefully the real process of technological
development before developing any cultural critique on it. And this is exactly
what he set out to do in his doctoral thesis.
In his book Thinking Through Technology, Carl Mitcham has indicated four
areas in the current philosophy of technology: technology as artifacts, as
knowledge, as activities and as volition. The Continental philosophers in the
1950s and 1960s had focused strongly on technology as an element in our
human nature, which is more or less what Mitcham meant by technology as
volition. The other three areas were still largely unexplored. No one had tried
to conceptualize what we mean by artifacts and how they differ from, e.g.,
natural objects. Neither had there been recognition of technology as a
knowledge domain in its own right. Technology was mostly seen as the mere
application of (natural) science. So all the relevant issues concerning the
nature of knowledge were to be found in science, and not in technology. As for
activities, the Continental philosophers were more interested in the impact of
technology on culture and society, and not so much in the development of
technology itself. Van Riessens work deals with all the three unexplored areas.
He has written about the nature of artifacts, about the nature of technological
knowledge, and about the processes of designing and making. He was the first
to apply the theoretical framework of reformational philosophy that had been
developed by Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven, to the domain of
technology. By doing so he developed a coherent view on technological
artifacts, knowledge and processes. This analysis was the content of the first
part of his 1949 doctoral thesis Filosofie en techniek (Philosophy and tech-
4 marc j. de vries
The single other philosopher who did similar analytical work in philosophy
of technology is Gilbert Simondon. There are several resemblances between
him and Van Riessen (De Vries 2008). Both have been forgotten for a long time
because their work was not translated into English. Still today, Simonons work
is available in French only, like most of Van Riessens work is only available in
Dutch. Simondon worked on the same themes as Van Riessen did: the nature of
technical artifacts, of technological knowledge, and the process of designing
and developing artifacts, the very same themes that were missing in the writings
of the Continental philosophers like Heidegger, Ellul and Marx. Simondons
work, like Van Riessens, was groundbreaking in that it developed a new per-
spective on artifacts, knowledge and the process of technological development.
Contrary to Van Riessen, Simondon did not explicitly devote himself to a
certain philosophical stream. Often he is considered to be a neo-Aristotelian,
but he is not very clear about this in his writings on the philosophy of tech-
nology. There are some links to phenomenology, but they are not very
outspoken. Perhaps this lonely position added to his oblivion. Van Riessen
clearly identified himself as a reformational philosopher and thus became part
of a larger movement, for which his work became foundational.
Let us now consider Van Riessen's contributions to the analytical philosophy
of technology, and see how he conceptualized technical artifacts, knowledge
and processes.

3. Technological artifacts, knowledge and processes
Van Riessens terminology concerning artifacts should be read against the
background of the theoretical framework that had been developed by Herman
Dooyeweerd, one of the founding fathers of reformational philosophy.
Dooyeweerd distinguished between the law-side and the entity-side of reality.
For the law-side, he developed the notion of aspects or modalities. All things
exist in different ways (that is, they have different modes of being) and
therefore we can study reality from different perspectives (aspects). A chair is a
physical thing, but also an economical thing, an aesthetical thing, and so on.
Therefore we can study a chair from the perspective of physics and see which
laws it obeys in that aspect, but also from an economical perspective and see
what economical laws it obeys, etcetera. As an entity, it exists in all 15 aspects
that Dooyeweerd distinguished. One could also say: a chair has functions in all
those aspects. Dooyeweerd distinguished different kinds of functions. An
important function is the qualifying function that indicates what is the main
purpose of a thing at least, this is how this can be phrased in the case of a
technical artifact. The qualifying function of a chair in a living room is that it
enables people to socialize. A chair in a court of law can be used to indicate
where the judge is sitting. So the same object, a chair, can have its qualifying
function in the social aspect or in the legal aspect, to mention just two options.
In Van Riessen's analysis, technical objects are those objects that are qualified
by their technical function, that is by their being used in bringing forth new
artifacts. Dooyeweerd called that the historical aspect, for which later more
introducing van riessens work in the philosophy of technology 5
appropriate terms came up, like developmental or cultural aspect. Van
Riessen identifies a hammer as a technical object, while a chair in a living room
is a social object.
A specific type of technical objects is the technical operator. These objects
are characterized by the fact that it converts energy. A lathe is an example of
that. So far, this seems to be not much beyond what Dooyeweerd had already
seen. But Van Riessen went on to look more closely at the lathe and observed
that some parts in that entity are of a different nature than other parts. To
analyze this, he again borrowed some Dooyeweerdian concepts, namely those
of encapsulation and part-whole relationships. In the case of the former, a part
looses its meaning, once detached from the larger whole, while in the latter it
can still make sense. The screws and bolts in the lathe can be used in other
devices, but other, more specific parts can not. The screws and bolts are
related to the lathe in a part-whole relationship, but the sledge is encapsulated
in the lathe. Van Riessen recognized that a major development in machine-
building was the shift from encapsulations to part-whole relations in the
context of standardization and mass production. He called this neutralizing
function division. He saw this as one of the main characteristics of modern
technology, compared to traditional craft-based technology. The second major
difference between modern and traditional technologies had to do with the
second main topic in the philosophy of technology to which he contributed,
namely the epistemology of technology.
According to Van Riessen, there was a difference between knowledge in
science and knowledge in technology. The former is analytic, abstract and
universal, while the latter is synthetic, concrete and specific. But in modern
technology there is a tendency to develop knowledge that has a more scientific
character, namely more analytic, more abstract, and less specific than in
traditional technology. This development is related to the emergence of the
engineering sciences. These sciences have a position between the practice of
technology in which one deals with the synthesis of concrete and particular
objects, and the natural sciences in which abstraction and analysis of pheno-
mena leads to universal knowledge. In natural sciences one can say: the more
abstract, the better. For engineering sciences this is not the case. Aircraft
engineers are not interested in theories about anything that flies, and neither
are they interested in knowledge that is entirely specific for the Airbus A380. In
a recent publication I have taken this idea a step further by investigating what
types of generalizations one can distinguish here (De Vries 2010). This is just an
example to illustrate the richness of Van Riessens ideas for further elaboration.
The development from traditional to modern technology is also mirrored in
the processes of technology, the third topic in the philosophy of technology to
which Van Riessen contributed. In engineering sciences, an approach to
designing is developed that splits up a problem into sub-problems (analysis),
and then treats each sub-problem as an example of a more abstract problem
(abstraction). By doing so, knowledge develops that is not only applicable to a
particular design problem, but to a wider set of similar design problems
(universality). This shift can be seen in a broader context of the division of
6 marc j. de vries
labor in technology. In traditional technology often the designer was also the
maker, and in early days also the user of his/her own product. As time went on,
these three roles became separated. Today this development creates all sorts of
problems in getting designs fit for customer desires, because it created a
distance between customer and designer when designs started to become mass
produced and therefore also mass customized. This problem had not yet been
noticed by Van Riessen because industry did not yet recognize it in the time
Van Riessen developed his ideas. This again illustrates the fruitfulness of his
ideas for more contemporary philosophy of technology.

4. Cultural critique
Van Riessen's contributions to a cultural critique of technology can be found
mainly in the second part of this doctoral thesis and in his later books
Maatschappij der toekomst (The society of the future) (1952; English translation
in 1957) and Mondigheid en de machten (Emancipation and the powers) (1967).
His analysis of the nature of technological knowledge had made him aware of
the differences between natural science and technology. The next step in his
analysis was to note that technology had changed substantially compared to
times of the artisans who made each product for a specific client and did both
the designing and the making themselves. Technology had now become an
activity that exhibited more of the characteristics of science. A technological
problem was split up in partial problems and there were specialists for each
partial problem. Also the designing and the making had been separated and
was done by different people. As a result, the products of technology, too,
exhibited characteristics of science.
Scientific theories have a certain universality: they hold for every place and
every time.
According to Van Riessen, these characteristics can also be found in the
products of technology. These seem to have lost the specificity of place and
time. Uniform row houses had taken the place of unique manor houses, and
ready-made suits had replaced tailor-made suits. The division of labor in
modern technology had resulted in a loss of freedom for the individual
engineer, a tendency towards collectivism, and a loss of individual responsibility.
This Van Riessen saw as a loss and as the cause of many problems concerning
the influence of technology on culture and society, such as a feeling of
estrangement that was experienced by many people.
In Mondigheid en de machten he addressed another theme, namely that of
power and control. Here he introduced a new element into his analysis of
technology, namely that it is a way in which humans lay power outside them-
selves in artifacts and systems that influence society. This power can be used to
gain control over others. Technology then becomes a sort of power of its own
right in society.
This analysis is similar to Elluls critique on technology as an autonomous
power in society. Ellul, though, often seems to take this for granted, but Van
Riessen strongly resists it and points out much more than Ellul the responsibility
introducing van riessens work in the philosophy of technology 7
of humans in this. This is directly related to Dooyeweerds notion that humans
have a unique position in Gods creation because they are the only beings that
can respond to God and therefore be held responsible for what they do.
Devices and machines do not have this quality. Van Riessen particularly saw as a
danger that the power of technology is so much accepted that our technology
takes over the place of God as an object of trust and adoration. In fact, this was
not just perceived as a danger, but it was what he saw happening indeed in all
sorts of situations, which he spells out in the book. By the end of the 1960s not
only the philosophers of technology criticized this veneration of technology,
but a broad social critique on science and technology rapidly developed. In the
context of student revolts, economic stagnation and the emerging awareness of
environmental pollution and depletion, the philosophers concerns moved
from the academic arena to the wider public domain.

5. Van Riessens legacy
When Egbert Schuurman took over Van Riessens chair at Delft University, the
growing social critique on science and technology seemed to be a context in
which it was most proper to continue the line that Van Riessen had started in
the second part of his doctoral dissertation and abandon the analysis of
technological artifacts, knowledge and processes for a while. This is what
Schuurman did, although he certainly kept drawing from analytical work, both
his own and other philosophers' work, in much the same way as Van Riessen
had always done. Schuurman further refined and developed the analysis of the
relation between science and technology, to which he added the relation with
economy, and particularly elaborated the idea of technology as a Moloch
rather than a means.
Schuurmans work was translated in various languages, and this made Van
Riessens legacy become known more internationally. Schuurman also took the
results of Van Riessens philosophical work and his own work and made them
fruitful for the practice of politics. Being a member of the Dutch Senate for
many years, he was able to show the practical relevance of philosophical
critique on technology for making political and social decisions about
By the end of Schuurmans last term at Delft University, Ad Vlot, an aero-
space engineer, who had made substantial contributions to the development of
the material that was used on the new Airbus A380 (Vlot 2000), was invited to
become Schuurmans successor. Like Van Riessen and Schuurman, Vlot had
studied at Delft University of Technology and was therefore capable of
reflecting on technology with a sound inside knowledge about technology and
engineering. In his publications, Vlot made connections to Schuurmans work,
but also contributed to a revival of interest in Van Riessens work. Unfortu-
nately, a serious disease manifested itself in his body and even before Vlot could
be formally appointed, he passed away.
After Schuurman resigned, a new generation of reformational philosophers
of technology started working on further development of this field. In 2007
8 marc j. de vries
Maarten Verkerk, Jan Hoogland, Jan van der Stoep and myself published a
handbook for the philosophy of technology, in which the analytical work of
Van Riessen and the cultural-critical work of Schuurman were brought toge-
ther and confronted with other perspectives in the philosophy of technology,
which by then had become a more mature field (Verkerk, Hoogland, Van der
Stoep and De Vries 2007). In this book, Denken, Ontwerpen, Maken (Thinking,
Designing, Making) Van Riessens analysis of technical artifacts was extended
by analyses of later and more advanced technical artifacts and systems, such as
nanodevices (see also De Vries 2006) and informational technology. Also the
concept of quality management, which in Van Riessens time did not exist yet,
was analyzed according to the conceptual framework of reformational philo-
sophy, that had also served as the basis for Van Riessens analyses.

6. Contemporary appreciation
As stated before, Van Riessens work remained relatively unknown for a long
time, partially due to the fact that little of it had been translated into English.
The more remarkable it is that an internationally leading philosopher of
technology, Carl Mitcham, made an effort to get to know his work. He made a
Ph.D. student translate parts of Van Riessens writings for him and became
impressed by Van Riessens originality, which he appreciated in particular
against the background of his own time, when the philosophy of technology
was still very much in its infancy. Mitcham praised Van Riessens work in his
book Thinking Through Technology, which still today is considered as a classic in
the philosophy of technology. Mitcham wrote: In the Netherlands, Hendrik
van Riessen began a second career in philosophy with Filosofie en Techniek
(1949), a work that continues to provide one of the most comprehensive
historicophilosophical surveys of the field up through the mid-twentieth
century (Mitcham 1994, 34; see also Mitcham 2001).
In the Netherlands, a renewed appreciation was expressed in a publication
on Van Riessen that was initiated by the late Hans Haaksma (Haaksma 1999).
Haaksma fro many years served as the driving force behind the Department of
Philosophy in the Dutch Royal Institute of Engineers (Koninklijk Instituut van
Ingenieurs, KIvI). Together with philosopher Paul Cliteur and Ad Vlot, men-
tioned in the previous section, he wrote a book in which Van Riessens work
was presented and discussed. After Haaksma had passed away, good contacts
between the KIvI and reformational philosophy of technology remained. At
several occasions, Hoogland, Van der Stoep, Verkerk and myself presented at
KIvI meetings. The KIvIs Department of Philosophy twice combined its annual
meetings with the Van Riessen Memorial Lecture, which shows the good
relationship. Clearly, it was Van Riessens ability to combine a sound analysis of
what technology is (artifacts, knowledge, processes and volition in Mitchams
typology) that caused the renewed appreciation of his work. This combination
is a continuing challenge for his successors.

introducing van riessens work in the philosophy of technology 9
Haaksma, H. (ed.) (1999), Van Riessen, filosoof van de techniek (Van Riessen,
philosopher of technology), Damon, Budel.
Mitcham, C. (1994), Thinking Through Technology. The Path Between Engineering
and Philosophy, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Mitcham, C. (2001), Dasein versus Design: The Problematics of Turning
Making into Thinking, International Journal of Technology and Design
Education 11, 27-36.
Verkerk, Maarten, Hoogland, Jan, Stoep, Jan van der, Vries, Marc J. de (2007),
Denken, Ontwerpen, Maken. Basisboek Techniekfilosofie (Thinking, Designing,
Making. Handbook Philosophy of Technology), Boom, Amsterdam.
Vlot, A. (2000), Towards a juridical turn for the ethics of technology? An
aerospace case, in The Empirical Turn in the Philosophy of Technology, edited
by P. A. Kroes and A. W. M. Meijers, JAI Press, Amsterdam.
Vries, M.J. de (2006), Analyzing the Complexity of Nanotechnology, in
Nanotechnology Challenges. Implications for Philosophy, Ethics and Society, edited
by J. Schummer and D. Baird, World Scientific Publishing, Singapore.
Vries, M.J. de (2008), Gilbert Simondon and the Dual Nature of Technical
Artifacts", Techn 12, No. 1, 23-35.
Vries, M.J. de (2010), Engineering sciences as a discipline of the particular?
Types of generalizations in engineering sciences, in: Philosophy and Engi-
neering: an Emerging Agenda, edited by Poel, I. van de, and D.E. Goldberg,
Springer, Dordrecht, 8394.
Philosophia Reformata 75 (2010) 1035
Carl Mitcham
The following text has been expanded slightly from a lecture read at the
Technological University Delft on 21 April 2006. As is often the case, there were
certain difficulties with transforming a text composed for oral delivery to one
written for publication. One can employ a more dramatic phrasing in person,
with body language and personal interactions to qualify it, than it would be
appropriate to use when the same text takes printed form. I have nevertheless
left some of oral phrasing in tact, with an appeal to readers to give the text as a
charitable an interpretation as they can. There are also always desires to make a
printed text more complete than what might be necessary in an oral
presentation. Although I have made some modest elaborations here and there
and added notes, I have also resisted trying to go as far as I would like in this
regard. The recurring I in the present version also bothers me to some
extent, but to have become more scholarly would have imposed a kind of
artifice if not a false image of detachment.

Let me begin by thanking Professors Marc de Vries, Egbert Schuurman, and
others for the invitation to give this inaugural Hendrik van Riessen Memorial
Lecture. To have the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Van Riessens
thought especially here at his home institution, the Technological University
of Delft, one of the premier technological universities in the world, and among
those who knew him personally is a great honor. I am aware of being in
presence of the spirit of someone whose life and thought have significantly
deepened intellectual reflection in the Netherlands, one of the leaders not
simply in technology but in critical philosophical reflection on technology, and
whose influence has extended into the world at large.
When, as a student, I began to be drawn to technology as a theme for
philosophical reflection, it was stumbling onto the work of Van Riessen and
others such as Jos Ortega y Gasset, Martin Heidegger, and Jacques Ellul
that reinforced my sense of the legitimacy of the philosophy and technology
studies enterprise. I can still recall in the early 1970s seeking out a Dutch-
speaking graduate student who could provide me some rudimentary transla-
tions from Van Riessens Filosofie en techniek and being disappointed that I could
not read more. Indeed, it is the inspiration of Van Riessen and that mid-20th
century generation of thinkers from whose company he is too often (as a result
of the contingencies of history and dissemination) excluded, that can recall us
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 11
to a level of seriousness and analytic depth that is unfortunately sometimes
lacking in the social constructionist reflection on science and technology that
has become characteristic of the opening decade of the 21st century a
criticism I would direct as well against some of my own bibliographic and
editorial scholarship.
Van Riessens work provides a level of achievement that to date has failed to
be as generally appreciated as it deserves, and constitutes a model of informed
reflection that I can only aspire to emulate. When a scholar such as myself is
invited to honor an original thinker such as Van Riessen, in the presence of one
of his foremost students and a successor holder of the chair that bears his
name, I am inevitably more honored than the one to whom I would give honor.
It is thus with genuine awareness of my own limitations that I have accepted this
invitation and now take up the challenge. At the same time I must ask your
permission to develop arguments which, while they begin with Van Riessen,
venture thoughts with which he would be unlikely to agree, even though the
spirit of his work might, I dare suggest, appreciate the question I endeavor to
The basic question I wish to address concerns religious-philosophical
perspectives on technology or, more specifically, the possibility of a dialogue
among diverse religious traditions concerning the challenges of modern
technology. Certainly it is the case that Van Riessen undertook to place tech-
nology in a particular religious-philosophical perspective, that is, a Dutch
Reformational perspective. Drawing on Van Riessens achievement in this
regard, I propose to move from a dialogue (1) between religion and techno-
logy within a particular Christian tradition, to a dialogue (2) among different
Christian approaches to technology, and then to consider the possibility of a
dialogue (3) between Christian religious approaches to technology and those
of other religious traditions. Given this three-fold aspiration, the presentation
will readily fall into three sections.
Since religion entails a type of personal commitment that is often in tension
with scholarship, and given that Van Riessen openly professed his own religious
affiliation, perhaps it would also be appropriate at the beginning for me also to
make some modest profession in this regard. Although raised a Protestant, I
early joined the Catholic Church, drawn in part by the critical stance the
Catholic tradition has sometimes taken toward modern technology. More
recently, however, I have come to doubt the adequacy of the Catholic stance.
This doubt has led in turn to an investigation of Buddhism as the source for an
alternative approach to technology.
Such a trajectory may strike some as entailing a philosophical rather than an
authentically religious assessment of religious traditions. Insofar as this is the
case, it reflects a parallel commitment to philosophy in a premodern sense, in
which philosophy functions as a kind of religion. It is indicative of this commit-
ment that my talk does not attempt to place technology in a theological
perspective but in a religious-philosophical one.
With all of this as introduction, let me now turn to the first section of my
three-part effort to explore religious-philosophical perspectives on technology.
12 carl mitcham
1. Religion and technology according to Hendrik van Riessen
Let me begin in earnest with a brief account of Van Riessens approach to the
religion and technology relationship an approach that sought especially to
attend to the inner character of technology itself. One of the most distin-
guishing features of Van Riessens thought, arising as it does out of the
philosophical sensitivities of an engineer, is its careful analysis of the structures
distinctive of modern technology. As I read Van Riessen, his basic aim was to
deepen the mid-20th century philosophical assessment of technology, an
assessment that has often been called a cultural criticism, in two respects: by
enhancing the analysis of the internal structure of technology and by bringing
to bear the Reformational perspective in which human beings are subject to
what is termed a cultural mandate from God.

1.1 The structure of technology
Van Riessens analytical opening up of the black box of modern technology
an opening that is quite different from the sociological opening followed in the
generation after his retirement may be reviewed and elaborated as follows.
Modern technology emerges not as mediation between humans and their
world but as instrumentarium, an enhancement of the tool as that by which
humans act into the world. Right away this is an important distinction that
separates Van Riessens philosophy of technology from that of, for instance,
Don Ihde, whose phenomenological description of human-technology-world
relationships identifies both embodiment (or body extending) and hermeneu-
tical (or perceptual transformation) mediations (see, e.g., Ihde 1990). For Van
Riessen, reflecting a kind of engineering realism, technology must not be
separated from the tool and human efforts to transform the world not their
relations to the world. In its modern form this instrumentarium is distinguished
by increasing control over technological functions, greater independence, en-
hanced reflection, and intellectualization. In its premodern form not only were all
four aspects of instrumentality less pronounced, but they failed to be distinctly
identified as such.
Such differentiations interior to technology mirror other
differentiations in culture as a whole, one example of which is of course the
very differentiation of technology itself from religion, politics, economics, and
art that is, its autonomy as a cultural activity.
As an increasingly independent or semi-autonomous component of culture,
control is enhanced precisely through that analytic reflection and intellectua-
lization which is typical of modern scientific rationality. The result is a
bifurcation of technology into preparation and execution activities. What is
most distinctive of and central to modern technology, which itself is most highly
manifest in modern engineering, is the activity of engineering design. The
designing process as such is not to be found in premodern technology and
constitutes a distinctive way of turning making into thinking, engendering at

Here and elsewhere the interpretation draws heavily on Van Riessen (1979).
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 13
one and the same time a special kind of making and a unique form of technical

Prior to the rise of modern technology design was hidden or embedded in
craft making. It is worth noting that there is no word in classical Hebrew or
Greek that directly translates as design. Pre-modern artisans in their particu-
larities of body, place, and history were both those who conceived or imagined
artifacts and went to work to fabricate them. Originally they were also often the
users. Artisans in wooded geographies tended to work with wood, wood that
grew near their workshops; artisans living in rock-rich landscapes worked with
stone, stone quarried from the local geographies. Such artisans worked also
with the strength and skills of their own bodies, and within the traditions of
their peoples or cultures. Each artifact so fabricated had its unique body,
place, and history. There were no generalized things or things in general. All
things had a specificity that is now both highly prized and difficult to produce.
The design process was disembedded from this rich, intricate context by the
demands of mechanization and the increasing division of labor. Coordinate
with the replacement of human power with coal and steam-driven prime
movers, and the gearing of power into repetitive motions in order to mass
produce identical products, two things happened. As design historian Penny
Sparke has summarized this trajectory: first came a need for the designer as
pattern maker for artifacts that could be mass produced; second came a need
for the designer as form giver for artifacts that could be mass marketed (Sparke
1986, xix-xxiv). Van Riessen focused on the first moment in this emergence of
the design process. But in fact the two conspired to turn users into consumers
in much the same way as mass production turned workers into laborers,
repetitive shopping serving as the leisure side echo of the repetitive mechanical
motions required of industrial laborers. Modern technology manifests its
distinctiveness not just in preparation (design) and execution (labor) but also
in appropriation (consumption) with the four features of modern instru-
mentality, that is, control, independence, reflection, and intellectualization, apparent
Consider again the issue of engineering design, which was Van Riessens own
emphasis. Reflective control is pursued by means of an intellectual transforma-
tion of the features of the world disclosed by modern natural science into what
Van Riessen terms neutral elements available for technological utilization.
Neutral here simply means isolated, decontextualized, disembedded, standar-
dized, and interchangeable. The incorporation of such elements into technical
and consumer functions has been the defining task of those engineers who
think out the internal structure of products in terms of mechanical, chemical,
and eventually electronic, molecular, and even genetic qualities perceived and
utilized as functions. The role of technical or engineered functions thus
becomes central to modern technology and is now being taken down to the

Here and following the text adapts material from Mitcham and Holbrook
(2006), which itself was nevertheless influenced by Van Riessen.
14 carl mitcham
This has been recognized most noticeably in the Dual Natures Program
piloted here at TU Delft by Peter Kroes and Anthonie Meijers a program
that, although it makes no explicit reference to Van Riessen, nevertheless seeks
to deepen the understanding of engineering design and its relations to science
in ways I suspect he would readily appreciate. In Kroes and Meijerss terms,
technical artifacts can be said to have dual natures insofar as they are both
physical entities that can be described by science and as they realize functions
that can only be described in terms of human intentionality (Kroes and Meijers
2006). The bridge uniting scientific knowledge and human intention is
engineering design.

1.2 The Reformational perspective
What is the religious problem created by this new form of technology as
engineering design? According to Van Riessen, its most general statement is
alienation. What Van Riessen means by alienation goes well beyond the concept
found in the thought of Karl Marx, with whom this problem is most commonly
associated. Van Riessen admits, in words resonant of Marxism, that everyone
becomes somewhat alienated through modern technology alienated, that is,
from the meaning of work, from the client for whom the work is intended,
from nature, and (in large corporations) from the fellowship of work.(Van
Riessen 1979, 307) But referencing the thought of Romano Guardini, a
Catholic cultural critic of technology, Van Riessen, goes further, and asserts
that all such determinate alienations are grounded in another: alienation from
In opposition to Heideggers definition of modern technology as a kind of
truth or revealing that turns being into Bestand or resource, Van Riessen argues,
first, on the basis of his philosophical analysis of the technical features of the
engineering design process, that technology is tool-equipped forming power
depending on a neutralizing function-analysis and an individualizing function-
integration.(Van Riessen 1979, 313 and 304) At the same time, second, Van
Riessen asserts that this tool-equipped forming power is potential and active, for
the unfolding of the creation vis--vis its natural side and for the disclosure of its culture-
formative side, according to Gods mandate to have dominion over the creation, under His
providential guidance, for His glory, to the liberation and elevation of human life.(Van
Riessen 1979, 313)
But Van Riessens two points here rest on rather different foundations, and
introduce a note of what might be termed epistemological dissonance. On the
one hand, the definition of modern technology as a distinctly new degree of
instrumentality based on function analysis rests on his own careful interpre-
tation, both conceptual and phenomenological, of modern engineering
practice. On the other, the claim that through technology humanity is called to
reverent service to God, which is the deepest meaning of technology,(Van
Riessen 1979, 302) grows out of an interpretation of biblical texts or religious
possibility received largely from others. The first emerges integrally from
philosophical reflection, while the second appears imported from nowhere
philosophically speaking. Moreover, Van Riessen provides no evidence that the
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 15
taking of such an attitude would be either practically possible or concretely
effective as a remedy for the more concrete problems he has referenced.
My questioning here is voiced with some hesitation, in recognition of and
apologies for my limited knowledge of Van Riessens work. It is simply presented
as a scholars honest quandary in the face of what appears on the surface. Let
me also observe how at least superficially, in the United States in the first
decade of the 21st century, it is difficult not to hear echos of the idea of
turning technology to the reverent service of God in fundamentalist criticisms
of the media and contributions to debates about the human embryonic stem
cell research. Even more disturbingly is this the case with regard to some
Christian arguments against environmentalism as a pagan worship of nature.
In part the difference between Van Riessens analysis of technology and his
religious assessment reflects a simple division of labor. Like Schuurman, his
successor in the chair of Reformational Philosophy at the Technological
University Delft, Van Riessen worked within the Amsterdam school of reforma-
tional philosophy founded by D.H.Th. Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd
and its nonphilosophical presuppositions expressive of the Christian faith.
(Schuurman 1980, 3) In this tradition, Dooyeweerd especially developed an
extended analysis that distinguished four fundamentally different religious
ground motives or ground principles matter-form (Greek), creation-fall-
redemption (Hebraic), nature-grace (medieval Christian), and nature-freedom
(Renaissance) and then argued for the superiority of the Hebraic creation-
fall-redemption ground principle. To a significant extent Van Riessen appears
implicitly to rely on the Dooyeweerdian interpretation of the creation-fall-
redemption ground principle in making his assessment of technology.
But rather than trying to explicate such a reliance, let me attempt instead
in what I propose as a complementary path of thinking to approach Van
Riessens thought about religion and technology within the framework of a
comparison with other Christian approaches to this same issue. In one sense,
then, the aim is to attempt to understand Van Riessen and his Christian tradi-
tion better by understanding more than Van Riessen and his Christian tradition
alone. It is thus against the background of Van Riessens own concern for
relations between religion and technology that I turn to explore a spectrum of
possible Christian assessments of technology.

2. Religion and technology within the Christian traditions
The question of the relationship between Christianity and technology in
general sounds suspiciously like a number of other questions. What is the
relationship between Christianity and philosophy? Christianity and science?
Christianity and politics? Christianity and art? Is there such a thing as a
Christian philosophy or science or politics or art?

The argument and wording in this section draw on the introduction to Mitcham
and Grote (1984).
16 carl mitcham
Such questions have largely been approached with two inadequate kinds of
answers. The first is to reply that, Yes, there is a Christian art. This art is one
produced by Christians with an overtly Christian subject matter. (Think of the
Catholic cathedrals of the Middle Ages.) The second is to reply that, No, there
is no specifically Christian art. There is only a Christian attitude toward or use
of art. (Think of the Christian interpretation of Virgil and Origens theory of
spoiling the Egyptians.)
The weakness of the first answer is that it readily becomes hostage to
sectarian disagreements and theological debates about the essence of the
Christian revelation. Which Christianity Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or
Post-Protestant is to provide the standard for Christian art? It is further
challenged by the rich history of what we often call Christian art, from early
Roman catacomb decorations and medieval cathedrals to Shaker furniture and
ceramic kitsch Madonnas. Moreover, Christian themes often shade impercep-
tibly into general human themes which is precisely what to expect, if one
believes that Christianity is a true response to certain fundamental aspects of
the human condition.
In light of such considerations, the second answer is more common: that
there is only art which is picked up and appreciated or used by Christians who
see it as exhibiting Christian themes. The weakness here, however, is that it
provides little in the way of boundaries. Almost any art can be interpreted from
a Christian perspective. While the first answer provides a very specific answer
that is unable to encompass a wealth of relevant examples, the second is able to
encompass all possible examples but only at the expense of becoming vacuous.
In this situation the two traditional options have been fundamentalism and
relativism. The fundamentalist simply adopts a particular theory of Christian art
and dogmatically defends it with whatever means are at hand. The relativist
argues from the richness of possible relations between Christianity and art to
the absence of any definitive relation.
However, there is a third option that has become, in diverse forms, charac-
teristic of intellectual life in an age whose perspectives have been enlarged by
historical knowledge and sensibility. This option focuses on mapping out alter-
natives and then defending in appropriate respects their preservation. Diver-
sities are not difficulties to be overcome so much as goods to be appreciated.
The initial step is thus analysis of a matrix of alternatives in more detail and in
ways that disclose their interactions.
In general one may describe this as the structuralist option, although care
must be taken not to let any particular structuralist project in psychology,
linguistics, anthropology, or mathematics determine the meaning here. Perhaps
a better term for this approach would be typologism. The basic stance, in the
face of some multiplicity that appears in conflict with a unity, is to attempt to
sort the elements of the muliplicity into various kinds or types in order to better
negotiate difference, sameness, and relationship. Perhaps Aristotles distinc-
tion of the categories of being provides a model from the ancient or pre-
modern tradition. In the mid-20th century the philosophical semantics of the
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 17
Aristotelian interpreter Richard McKeon, whose work period overlapped with
that of Dooyeweerd, provided a more contemporary model.
Again, the essence of this third approach to any problem of a seemingly
intractable conflict of alternatives is the rejection of any dogmatic assertion of
unity or caving in to plurality and the working instead toward a more nuanced
description and greater clarification of the multiplicity itself. The effort is to
avoid any precipitous conclusions one way or the other, in hopes that con-
clusions will instead emerge from a deeper engagement with the particulars. In
the case of any conflict of views within or associated with Christianity, then
especially given a need to negotiate arguments and rivalries thrown up by the
course of Christian history there have emerged efforts to sort these argu-
ments or attitudes into types.
With regard to religion and technology, there are at least three existing
typologies that invite attention. These are typologies developed in the early 20th
century by Ernst Troeltsch, in the mid-20th century by H. Richard Niebuhr,
and in the late-20th century by Ian Barbour.

2.1 Ernst Troeltsch and the typology of Christian social teachings
Among the first to undertake a systematic typological analysis of Christian views
that have bearing on technology was the German Protestant theologian Ernst
Troeltsch (1865-1923). Seeking to address what he saw in the late 19th and early
20th centuries as a breakdown of religion and the social order, Troeltschs The
Social Teaching of the Christian Churches explored the sociological history of
Christianity in search of resources for recovery. In the sociological history
Troeltsch identified three basic types of relationship clustered around the phe-
nomena of church, sect, and mysticism. The church-type relationship aspires to
a unification between Christian revelation and the secular social order; it
downplays subjective holiness in the name of objective redemption. The sect-
type relationship takes a group of believers out of any pre-existing social order
in an effort to create an alternative and truly Christian order. The mysticism-
type relationship simply takes the separation further into a strictly personal
realm of inward religious experience and ignores the social order altogether.
If in place of the social order one substitutes technology it is easy to imagine
three basic Christian stances, although the results may be seem a little
contrived. The church stance would take technology as a phenomenon with
which Christianity should relate. The sect stance would attempt to design, as it
were, an alternative technology. The mystical stance would reject or withdraw
from technology in order to assert the primacy of subjectivity.
For Troeltsch the historical inevitabilities of sect and mysticism pointed
toward a continuing need to struggle for ways to integrate religion and the
social order, or in our case, religion and technology. In his words,
There is ... no absolute transformation of material human nature; all that does
exist is a constant wrestling with the problems which they raise. Thus the
Christian ethic will also only be an adjustment to the world-situation, and it will
only desire to achieve that which is practically possible. (Troeltsch 1912, 1013)
18 carl mitcham
Critics have pointed out, however, the circular character of Troeltschs argu-
ment. The problem as Troeltsch defines it is a breakdown of the church-type
relationship, so it is not surprising that he discovered a persistent need to
defend and recreate this relationship.

2.2 H. Richard Niebuhr and the typology of Christian cultures
Prescinding from Troeltschs problem definition but building on his work, the
American Protestant theologian H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962) returned half
a century later to what he termed the many-sided debate about the relations
of Christianity and civilization(Niebuhr 1958, 1) in search of a broader assess-
ment of the typical Christian answers to the problem of Christ and culture
that would contribute to the mutual understanding of variant and often con-
flicting Christian groups.( Niebuhr 1958, 2) For Niebuhr the problem situation
is not a breakdown between religion and the social order so much as one
within Christianity between different theologies. In what is thus fundamentally a
theological instead of sociological typology, Niebuhr distinguishes five basic
relationships between Christ and culture, with culture conceived broadly to
cover art, science, politics, and economics: (1) Christ against culture; (2) Christ
of culture; (3) Christ above culture; (4) Christ and culture in paradox; and (5)
Christ as transformer of culture.
With less artificiality than Troeltschs typological distinctions, Niebuhrs lend
themselves to adaptive parsing of alternative Christian-technology relationships.
Certainly given that 21st century culture in all its dimensions from art and
science to economics and politics is now widely recognized to be highly
influenced by technology, one can expect the alternative formulations at issue
to be reproduced in Christian attitudes toward scientific technology. Consider,
then, each adaptation in turn.

2.2.1 Christianity against technology
The first type is built on an argument that Christ and culture are fundamentally
opposed. This argument is classically illustrated by Christian criticisms of the
world, with world taking on a variety of historical forms, from Greco-
Roman and 19th century bourgeois culture to modern industrial technology
as illustrated by the teachings of the First Letter of John, Tertullian, Sren
Kierkegaard, and Leo Tolstoy. It also exhibits close affinities with the Christian
mystical tradition. Consider, for example, Meister Eckharts argument for
detachment and his disciple Angelus Silesiuss saying that the rose is without
why. The mystical tradition has in fact been developed into an implicit
criticism of modern technology by some of its contemporary exponents.
The Cistercian monk Thomas Merton provides one example in his medita-
tion on Rain and the Rhinoceros, in which he rejected the rhinoceros-like
idea that everything must have some use or purpose. The universal and
modern man is the man ... who cannot understand that a living thing might
perhaps be without usefulness; nor does he understand that, at bottom, it is the
useful that may be a useless ... burden, wrote Merton, quoting a complaint by
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 19
Eugene Ionesco on the New York production of his play, Rhinoceros, as a farce
(Merton 1966, 21). In contrast Merton appealed to the gratuity and
meaninglessness of the rain, because it reminds me again and again that the
whole world runs by rhythms I have not yet learned to recognize, rhythms that
are not those of the engineer.(Merton 1964, 9) And to those who would
impose utility or purpose to his own monastic vocation, by viewing the monas-
tery as power-house of prayer or some other absurdity, Merton asks,
Cant I just be in the woods without any special reason? Just being in the
woods, at night, in the cabin, is something too excellent to be justified or
explained! It just is.(Merton 1964, 13)

2.2.2 Christianity of technology
The opposite type of relationship argues the essential unity of Christian
practice and modern technology, thus allying itself with a long tradition of
culture-Christianity. Attempts to identify Christianity and some prevailing
culture extend from Constantine to the Enlightenment interpretations of John
Locke (The Reasonableness of Christianity, 1695) and Friedrich Schleiermacher
(Lectures on Religion to Its Cultural Despisers, 1799). Schleiermacher, for instance,
was, in Niebuhrs words, determined to be both a Christo-centric theologian
and a modern man, participating fully in the work of culture.(Niebuhr 1951,
93) This led him, when defending Christianity against its cultured intellectual
critics, to interpret the Christian religion in terms of its contributions to
culture, and culture in terms of its compatibility with Christianity. Another
variation on this theme of an essential harmony of Christianity with culture, in
which Enlightenment criticism purifies Christianity of its magical and mytho-
logical contaminations can be found in Thomas Jefferson. On the Christian
side, there is also the demythologization program in biblical hermeneutics that
would purify belief of its superstitious contaminations, and the theology of
religion come of age in which Christians no longer need to appeal to a God
of the gaps. Intellectual efforts to synthesize scientific cosmology and faith are
paralleled by those that would blend Christian evangelism into the technologies
of medicine, television, and computers not to mention space exploration.
Ironically, both Christian apologists and critics of technology have argued
for intimate historical and sociological associations between the demands of
Christianity and those of technology, interpreting each in terms of the other. In
part this is attributable to the fact that technology arose and has thrived within
a European or Western context. Witness the extended controversies associated
with sociologist Max Webers The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-
1905) and historian Lynn White Jr.s The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic
Crisis (1967). David Nobles The Religion of Technology (1997) is another ex-
ample of a scholar emphasizing this position at the expense of all others and
with little sensitivity to the unequal theological soundness of many contribu-
tions to the debate.

20 carl mitcham
Niebuhr makes an observation on the opposition versus unification debate that
throws a special light on the Christ-against-technology versus the Christ-of-
technology versions of this debate. Deeply associated with any Christ-against-
culture theology is, he suggests, an unstated thesis that the human condition is
fundamentally characterized by a fundamental conflict of the truly human with
(a false or erroneous) culture. This tended to be a default position in the early
history of Christianity insofar as Christians found themselves trying to live in
accord with a revelation that was not accepted by either the local Jewish or the
dominant Greco-Roman cultures. Under such circumstances, Christianity
readily sides with what it sees as the truly human and seeks to separate itself
from culture. Insofar as technology is manifest as a kind of independent cul-
ture, as it often is by social scientists, it too will be criticized by Christianity; and
insofar as Christianity opposes technology it will tend to interpret technology
with the social scientists as a kind of culture. Just as deeply associated with all
Christ-of-culture theologies there lies, Niebuhr also argues, the usually unstated
thesis that the human condition is fundamentally characterized by a conflict of
humans (and their culture) with nature. In this situation, Christianity readily
sides with the human. Since technology is in some readily understandable sense
a conquest of nature, it is thus to be expected that any Christian theology that
takes the fundamental hiatus of the human condition as one between the
human and the natural will also tend to identify Christ with technology. Thus at
some level the argument between Christian opposition to technology and
Christian promotion of technology is one about the fundamental character of
the human condition (whether its dynamics are interpreted as manifesting
tensions between humans and culture or between humans and nature) and the
best definition of technology (as culture or as tool). One way to appreciate the
uniqueness of Van Riessen is to note that he is at once critical of technology as
culture (alienation) while defining technology as tool (instrumentarium).
These first two positions further exhibit obvious similarities with Troeltschs
church and mysticism stances, respectively. The next three of Niebuhrs alter-
native theologies are variations of an intermediate position. This intermediate
position takes the fundamental conflict in reality as being neither between
Christians and culture nor between humans and nature, but between human
beings and God. Contra the Christ-against-culture position, the three interme-
diate views argue that human beings are invariably and necessarily part of some
culture. Contra the Christ-of-culture position, they argue that culture is based
on and perfects nature. Culture, and hence technology, is sometimes on one
side, sometimes on the other of the human/God hiatus. The line of division has
to be drawn not to one side or the other of culture, but through it.

2.2.3 Christianity above technology
According to Niebuhrs analysis of the first of these three middle positions, that
of Christ above culture, what distinguishes it is a recognition of true culture as a
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 21
positive achievement in itself, but one that is at the same time preparatory for a
supernatural synthesis with Christ. Christ and culture are really distinct at the
natural level but can be synthesized at a supernatural level. Historical culture is
a preparation for transhistorical union with God. Grace builds not only on
nature, but on the perfection of nature in culture.
This is a position represented classically by Clement of Alexandria and St.
Thomas Aquinas. The integral humanism of the neothomist Jacques Maritain
likewise presents with a calm confidence that sometimes borders on self-righ-
teousness the notion that the grace of Christian faith ultimately encompasses
and sanctifies technology beyond any problems it may create.
One of the fullest articulations of this position can be found in the thought
of the Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan, who gives transcendental
Thomism a technology-related twist. In accordance with the Kantian revolution
in philosophy, Lonergan shifts the focus from transcendence to immanence
and analyzes the ways in which the conundrums of technological practice
require a supernatural synthesis without, however, affirming the positive exis-
tence of the transcendent or supernatural.
In itself technology contains elements of both progress and decline. A
technical solution to some human problem applies and proliferates practical
insight. In response to the need for transportation comes the invention of
automobiles. The widespread use of cars creates urban congestion, which gives
rise to proposals for large-scale transportation networks. The optimistic
conclusion is a vision of increasingly powerful technological fixes to human
But parallel with progressive insight and successful action comes increasing
oversight and technological failure. The unintended consequences of technical
solutions often outpace human technological Christianity. Automobiles give
rise to pollution; transportation networks break down under slighted main-
tenance, labor demands, and shifting patterns of economic development.
Human intelligence, especially in its practical forms, is limited by immediate
utilitarian prejudice as much as it is oriented toward the truth. Humans are
always overlooking some aspect of things; they fail to take in the whole picture.
Because of this coordination of progress and decline, the realm of humanly
distressing disorder gradually shifts from the natural to the technological
milieu. Today it is nuclear weapons and anthropogenic climate change that
threaten human life more than plagues or bad weather. Such technological
disorder can only be overcome by faith, in which God communicates to human
beings a higher vision and thus collaborates with them in transcending their
technological limitations.

2.2.4 Christianity and technology in paradox
A fourth typically Christian attitude toward technology is constituted by what
Niebuhr calls a dualist approach, in which the realms of technology and faith
remain unalterably separate not opposed, just separate. Take any secular
analysis of the structure of technology, from Ortega and Heidegger to Ellul and
Van Riessen. Then in the face of this analysis of scientific technology as a
22 carl mitcham
description of the world in the new or modern sense of that term, it is
appropriate to ask how the person of faith should respond to such
phenomenon. Following St. Paul and Martin Luther, it is possible to argue that
the believer must at once acknowledge the value of this world and keep it
distinct from faith. The real problem is the contamination of one by the other.
The tensions of this coexistence are paradoxical. Unlike a Christ-above-
technology theology, the acknowledgment of technological achievement is
done almost exclusively in negative terms. Technology is more a hedge against
disaster than a positive achievement. It wars against plague and famine, more
than it constructs civilization. In itself it can be said to be representative more
of the wrath of God than of his mercy. Yet believers must accept the fact that
for the present they are inextricably involved with this world and must
participate in it on its own terms. The relation between Christ and technology
may be described in terms adapted from Luthers argument for the simul-
taneous practice of love (see On Christian Liberty, 1520) and vengeance (see
Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants, 1525). To quote Luthers
defense of his dual counsel:
There are two kingdoms, one the kingdom of God, the other the kingdom of
the world. ... Gods kingdom is a kingdom of grace and mercy ... but the
kingdom of the world is a kingdom of wrath and severity. ... Now he who would
confuse these two ... would put wrath into Gods kingdom and mercy into the
worlds kingdom, and that is the same as putting the devil in heaven and God
in hell.(Luther 1967, 69-70)
A similar paradoxical insertion and separation is reiterated by Simone Weil in
her contrast between gravity and light or grace.
The classic Protestant emphasis on a separation between church and state
may be extended by Christian dualists into a call for the proper separation
between the scientific-technical project and the project of faith. Technology,
like politics, is a problem only when it infects faith or is infected by it. Nature
and grace are both served by a proper recognition of their dual functions.
Illustrative of this theology in relation to technology, it may be suggested is
the thought of Ellul, the French sociologist and theologian who found it largely
impossible to integrate the two perspectives in his studies of technology. The
Canadian Christian philosopher George Grant, drawing on the political
philosophy of Leo Strauss, presents another version of this approach.

2.2.5 Christianity as transformer of technology
But does such a separation not call into questions Gods love for the world and
the power of grace? Contra Luther, is it not possible to take what Niebuhr calls
a conversionist position? Grace is able to enter into and transform nature, or
that already once-transformed natured called culture, or in the present
instance scientific technology without necessarily being contaminated by it.
This is an idea expressed in different forms by the Gospel of John, St. Augus-
tine, John Wesley, and Frederick Denison Maurice insofar as each presents
Christ as able to alter or change the world. In the case of SS. John and
Augustine the world in question is classical pagan culture; for Wesley and
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 23
Maurice it is industrialization. Indeed, the point at issue here is one of John
Calvins arguments with Luther, and the reason why Calvin was willing to
establish a church city-state at Geneva.
This Christianity-as-transformer-of-technology stance is supported by argu-
ments to the effect that the essential problem with scientific technology is the
motive behind it. Motives (and ideas) are more amenable to Christian
conversion than practices and institutions, which often tend to exhibit long-
term resistance to transformative change, even when they appear to be short
term docile participants. Beside, according to Van Riessen, a mandate for
cultural work was given to humans by God from the very beginning. Although
corrupted by the sinful pursuit of power, it can be redeemed, even in its
technological manifestation, through Christ.
The conversionist, as Niebuhr points out, tends to understand history, at
least since Christ, as an on-going story of Gods mighty deeds and the human
response. The conversionist lives somewhat less between the times of Christs
first and second coming and somewhat more in the divine now than do his
fellow Christians.(Niebuhr 1951, 195) With Van Riessen, too, now appears as
the time for humans to respond in faith to the challenge of technology, to turn
from bad to good motives, and thus transform their technological milieu. Thus,
as Niebuhr says with reference to St. Augustine, technology may become both
the beneficiary of the conversion of human love and the instrument of that
new love of God that rejoices in His whole creation and serves all His
creatures.(Niebuhr 1951, 215)
This fifth position, which seems well illustrated by Van Riessen, highlights
some of the theological doctrines on which all three intermediate positions of
synthesis, dualism, and conversion are founded. Contra the Christ-of-tech-
nology position, the three centerist alternatives stress the real distinction
between Christ and at least the present form of technology. Yet granted that
God is the original creator of the world and/or nature, Christ as God cannot
be completely opposed to it. At some deep level, all creation is open to
obedience to God. As a result of sin and the Fall, however, humans cannot be
obedient on their own. They must rely on grace, especially as manifested in the
salvation of Jesus Christ. The primacy of grace overshadows the greatness of all
works, no matter how good or bad.

2.3 Ian Barbour and the typology of science and religion interactions
Still another typological analysis that appears even more immediately relevant
to the religion-technology relationship than those of either Troeltsch or
Niebuhr is one developed by the Christian physicist and 1999 Templeton Prize
winner Ian Barbour (1923-present). In two volumes of Gifford Lectures
Barbour has developed, first, a four-fold analysis of relations between science
and religion and, second, distinguished three conflicting ethical views of
technology with religious correlates.
According to Barbour religion and science can be seen as phenomena in
conflict, that are independent, open to dialogue, or even integration. Conflict
can be promoted from the side of science (scientific materialism) or religion
24 carl mitcham
(biblical fundamentalism). Independence or autonomies of the realms of
religion and science can be defended on the basis of method or language.
Dialogue is cultivated by means of attention to boundary questions such as
those concerning the basic presuppositions of science or religion and by
analyzing methodological parallels of the two human pursuits. Finally, integra-
tion is sponsored by attempts to develop natural theologies, theologies of
nature, and some kind of synthesis of religious and scientific knowledge.
There are obvious overlaps between Barbours typology and that of
Niebuhr. Barbours conflict, especially as developed from the side of biblical
fundamentalism, is similar to Niebuhrs opposition. Independence, as exhibited
by Stephen J. Goulds Kantian philosophy of non-overlapping magisteria (what
he calls NOMA), echoes both opposition and paradox. Dialogue and integra-
tion, which are Barbours preferred stances, merge in part with the Christianity
above and transformer positions and even, to some degree Christianity of
culture theology. But precisely because his typology is constituted by a kind of
externalist view of the Christianity-science relationship, it lacks some of the
historico-theological nuance and depth of Niebuhrs. For instance, Barbour
does not seem able to appreciate that anything other than fundamentalism
could find something fundamentally mistaken about modern science.
With regard to religion and technology, Barbour argues that there exist
three fundamental ethical views of technology: as liberator, as threat, and as
instrument of power. From Barbours perspective, those who see technology as
fundamentally liberating conceptualize the technology-society relation as uni-
directional (technology benefiting society) and fail to acknowledge its negative
social and environmental impacts. By contrast, those who see technology as a
fundamental threat fail to appreciate distinctions between particular techno-
logies and the true benefits of many of these. It is the view of technology as
ambiguous instrumental power, to be understood contextually that is, as
socially constructed that Barbour argues is the more adequate assessment.
This third view of technology, which is Barbours own position, has obvious
affinities with that of Van Riessen. Indeed, in this regard Barbour makes
specific and favorable reference to Egbert Schuurman, who has continued and
extended Van Riessens program of reflection and criticism. Barbour funda-
mentally approves of Schuurmans call for the transformation and redemption
of technology so that it becomes an instrument of Gods love serving all crea-
tures.(Barbour 1993, 18) At the same time, Barbour too voices a concern that
the Reformational stance provides few examples of what such a [redeemed]
technology would be like or how we can work to promote it.(idem)
Thus it is that Barbour himself develops the central part of his book Ethics in
an Age of Technology spelling out, with regard to the particular technologies of
agriculture, energy, and computers, a suite of policy changes that might grow
out of political action and protest to transform the future. But in so doing, it is
interesting to note, Barbour necessarily references and draws on the kinds of
criticism that are based in the view of technology as threat more than on the
view of technology as liberator. Moreover, I would argue that given the level of
liberation that has been achieved with technology, and the prospects for the
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 25
future development of technology, technology is indeed more truly threat than
instrument. In this it is Hans Jonas heuristics of fear and the precautionary
principle that justify a preferential option for a more critical attitude toward
technology than seems possible in the world in which we presently live.

On another occasion, using a Niebuhr-like typology, I developed a related
Niebuhr deploys his typology in order, in a typically structuralist
manner, to defend a preservation of the types. But given the contemporary
historical dominance of technology, it is difficult not to see all other types than
those of conflict and paradox as easily if not inherently co-opted by the
technological spirit. In a socio-historical context in which all presumptions are
for the rationality of science and further technological liberation, and the
economic momentum by default is toward expansions of technology limited
only by risks to human safety, it is difficult to see how technology could ever be
perfected by the grace of Christianity or how Christian transformation or
conversion could ever become an active Christian project short of going
through a dark night of conflict and opposition. There is no cheap grace.
Additionally, as already suggested, there is something deeply problematic
about existing efforts to baptize or give Christian meaning to contemporary
technology. Using the example of discussions in the United States, both liberal
Christian criticisms of nuclear weapons and environmental pollution and
conservative Christian criticism of abortion and human embryonic stem cell
research seem able to be co-opted by and become means for advancing the
modern technological project. On the liberal side, interest and energy is simply
redirected toward technological fixes for nuclear weapons control and
alternative technologies for environmental benefit that lead to advance space
satellite monitoring green chemistry, and nanoscale engineering. On the
conservative side, anti-abortionists actually want to move the technologies of
neonatal care toward the creation of artificial wombs and explore adult stem
cell manipulation as an alternative to embryonic stem cell research. Together,
liberalism and conservatism would seem poised only to extend artifice to
make technology at once more intense and comprehensive. Is there no escape?
The persistence of the liberal-conservative divide as a theoretical problem
along with the paradoxes of practice suggest the desirability of looking outside
Christian traditions if only, once again, to try to understand more fully the
distinctive character of the spectrum of Christian stances through an appre-
ciation of the still larger spectrum of religious assessments of technology. It is
with this possibility in mind that I turn, finally, to consider religion and
technology from a Buddhist perspective which should be seen as a merely a
first step in an effort to initiate a dialogue between Christian religious
reflections on and responses to technology and those of any number of other
religious traditions.

See the introduction to Mitcham and Grote (1984).
26 carl mitcham
3. Buddhist perspectives on technology
The turn from Christianity to Buddhism must be qualified in two important
respects. First, as with many of us raised in the ambience of European history
and culture, my life has taken shape within what is, however inappropriately
denominated as such, a Christian lifeworld, one in which Buddhism is at best a
foreign presence. Attenuated though it may be, Christianity is more present to
me than Buddhism. My interpretations concerning Buddhism must therefore
be distinctly provisional in character. If anything, I am even more uneasy about
exploring Buddhism than in venturing to question Van Riessen. Not knowing
Buddhist culture from within, in the ways I know Christian culture, can cause a
strong tendency to romanticize Buddhism. The far easily appears more pure
than the near.
Second, the arguments here need not be considered as essentially opposed
to Christianity. For the points at immediate issue it is certainly not necessary to
present them as such. Many have argued for aspects of Buddhism within
Christianity, and although I find deep differentiations between the two, it
would be inappropriate to disagree too strongly with better scholars. After all,
from the 1000s to the mid-1800s Buddha himself was under the name of
Josaphat (a corruption of Bodhisattva) in the Barlaam and Josaphat story
attributed to St. John of Damascus (early 8th century) a recognized saint in
both the Orthodox and Catholic churches, with elements derivative of his
teaching thus able perhaps to influence the Christian tradition.
Nevertheless, it is certainly the case that Buddhism matured in a world in
which what we know as scientific technology played no significant role in cul-
ture. Nor did Buddhism become at some point an original sponsor of or
vehicle for the historical development or transmission of scientific technology.
As previously indicated, it is as if to reiterate the deep historical associations
between Christianity and scientific technology that some of the strongest
versions of the Christianity of technology position have been constructed.
Given its positioning outside this historical context, on what basis, then, might
we speculate that Buddhism has something to teach in regard to technology?

3.1 Suggestions of Buddhist relevance
One suggestive response comes from a 6th century Indian legend concerning
the Buddhist king Ashoka (304-232BCE).
In the city of Pataliputra, the capital
of the Kingdom of Maurya, before the time of Ashoka, a young man heard of
the existence of great spirit-bearing engines in the Kingdom of Roma to the
West. We ought to construct as many of these machines in Pataliputra as there
are people, he argued, because such machines could serve as instruments of
protection while performing all sorts of work in business, agriculture, and
financial accounting. By devious means the secret of the spirit-bearing engines
was secured from Roma, only to be utilized mainly to construct robot guards
for protecting the relics of the Buddha. So effectively were these guards that

The story here is adapted from Panikkar (1984).
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 27
worshipers were no longer able to approach the relics. One of King Ashokas
achievements was to disarm these golem-like protectors and thereby free the
relics and restore Buddhism to the center of culture in Pataliputra. It is
perhaps a remarkable insight achieved only by the perspective of distance that
already by the time of St. Augustine a kingdom of Roma to the West was
exhibiting affinities for technological prowess. Perhaps precisely because of its
distance, Buddhism can offer a perspective on technology that would be more
difficult to achieve within the Christian ambience.
A second response can be taken from the relation between Buddhism and
violence. Although it may rightly be maintained that Christianity does not in its
essence promote violence indeed, that when truly understood Christianity
actually promotes peace the historical record is that Christianity has not
simply been associated with but actually promoted violence and warfare.
Historically it is incontestable that violence has been perpetrated and wars
fought in the name of Christianity, that Christianity has in fact made many wars
more violent, and that it is ostensibly Christian peoples who have for the last
thousand years been leaders in the development of warfare technologies,
including weapons of mass destruction. Examples range from the anti-Muslim
Crusades (1000s to 1200s), the Albigensian Crusade (early 1200s), and the wars
of colonialism (from the 1500s to the 1900s) to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648,
terminating with the Peace of Westphalia) and even the wars in Ireland
between the Catholics and Protestants from the early 1900s to the present.
Indeed, from the perspective of religious history it may reasonably be argued
that all three Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam give
greater glory to violence and warfare than any other of the world religious
traditions. Certainly it is true that Buddhism, on the basis of the principle of
Ahimsa or active non-harming, has a unique record for non-violence and the
promotion of peace. This extends from the conversion of Ashoka to the refusal
to wage even wars of resistance when invading armies from central Asia
destroyed Buddhist monasteries in Afghanistan in the 5th century CE, when
Muslims began a century-long series of violent jihads against monasteries in
northern India in the late 10th century, and when the Chinese Communists
attacked Tibet in the 1950s. Indeed, today the Dalai Lama still counsels against
violence and seeks to promote peace with the invading Chinese. (In the form of
Japanese zen, however, Buddhism has been criticized for its association with
Samurai traditions of militarism.)
Thus insofar as modern technology may also be associated with a kind of
violence or warfare against nature, Buddhism may contain special critical
resources. It is therefore appropriate to consider, to begin, how such resources
may have been interpreted in the European tradition.

3.2 The European appropriation of Buddhism
From its earliest philosophical appearance in the world-affirming European
tradition, Buddhism has been described in ways that emphasized its non-violent,
not to say passive and world-denying, features. Two of the initial engagements
by the European philosophical tradition took place in the works of G.W.F.
28 carl mitcham
Hegel (1770-1831) and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). In the second of his
late Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (1824), Hegel, drawing on a very limited
knowledge of the tradition itself, interpreted Buddhism as the religion of Being-
within-itself, that is, of mere thought. But already a few years earlier, his youn-
ger contemporary Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Representation (1818)
had identified the Buddha with such figures as St. Francis of Assisi and Meister
Eckhart, and thus presented Buddhism and Buddhist practices as among the
most pure forms of ascetic mysticism, manifesting a dramatic turning away from
the will-to-live. This latter is an interpretation that became codified in L. de la
Valle Poussins article on Nihilism (Buddhist) in James Hastings Encyclopedia
of Religion and Ethics (1917).
Contemporary with Hegels and Schopenhauers interpretations of Budd-
hism, however, more scholarly appreciations began to emerge in the work of
historians of religion. For instance, the French philologist Eugene Burnout, in
his Introduction a lhistoire du Buddhisme indien (1844), was among the first to
identify in the manifold practices of the Dharma or Buddhas way through-
out Asia from the Theravada or teaching of the elders in Sri Lanka, Myan-
mar, and Thailand; to the Mahayana or greater way in China; and the Vajra-
yana or diamond way in Tibet a common core that could be called
Buddhism. Yet as with Hegel and Schopenhauer, the founders of the scholarly
field known as the history of religion continued to see in Buddhism a funda-
mental opposition to European ways of thinking and acting, including espe-
cially technological thinking and acting although with increasing nuance
stimulated to some extent no doubt by an emerging cultural criticism of
modern technology itself.

3.3 The Buddhist teaching
To begin to assess the validity of such interpretations, it is appropriate to turn
to what is generally agreed to be the core teaching of the Buddha as summa-
rized in the Four Noble Truths. The four truths or teachings are those of
suffering (in Pali dukkha), arising (samudaya), cessation (nirodha), and the path
The first truth is that human experience is fundamentally or at its base one
of suffering. Suffering should be understood here as something more like
frustration or disorder, of which personal emotional suffering is simply the
most intense manifestation. For instance, dukkha is commonly distinguished into
three types: the dukkha of pain or physical pain, illness, old age, and death; the
dukkha of change or suffering caused by unrealized expectations or the failure
of pleasures to last; and the dukkha of becoming or the suffering that is neces-
sarily associated with the arising of conditioned beings.
The second truth is that suffering arises from craving or desire and the
failure of this desire to be able to be permanently satisfied. Dukkha in all its
forms is grounded in human beliefs about the ways things should be either now
or in the future and their attachments to such beliefs even when things are
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 29
The third truth is that the cessation of craving leads to a cessation of suffer-
ing. By giving up beliefs about the ways things should be either nor or in the
future, by detaching oneself from expectations, one will cease to experience
The fourth truth is that there is a path that leads to the cessation of craving
and thus suffering. As has often been noted, Buddhism at its core is constituted
by a diagnosis of illness in and a proposed therapy for the human condition.
The path or Noble Eight-fold Path, in its turn, calls for disciples to practice
the right or correct understanding, resolve, speech, action, livelihood, effort,
mindfulness, and meditation. The first two of these eight practices are summa-
rized as wisdom or insight, the next three as morality, and the last three under
the same term as the ultimate practice itself, meditation meditation which in
turn leads to insight. The path thus constitutes not so much a ladder or ascent
as a set of mutually reinforcing practices.
Note, too, the emphasis here is on practice. In place of the primacy of a
historical event (such as the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth) and
faith, Buddhism rests on insight and practice including practices that lead to
insight. This is the core of the teaching or Dharma that the Buddha initiated
with what is called the first turning of the wheel of the Dharma in his initial,
post-enlightenment Deer Park sermon to monks, the substance of which is
poetically reiterated in the early collection of teachings known as the Dhamma-
Since it is possible here to consider only in the most provisional way how
Buddhism might comport with technology, perhaps it would be permissible to
focus attention on the eighth step in the Noble Eight-fold Path. This meditation
is widely presented by Buddhists themselves as central to both their thought
and their practice.
In the Theravada tradition Buddhist meditation is known as Vipassana or
insight meditation. From the perspective of Buddhist practitioners this type of
meditation is not, like the forms of yogic meditation popular in the Buddhas
own time, oriented toward the experience of some true or deep inner (divine)
self beyond the ego. Nor is it designed to yield what early European interpre-
tations saw as nihilistic withdrawal from the world. Nor, again, is it equivalent to
what some romantic proponents have presented as a kind of ecstatic experi-
ence of the world. Instead, according to the Buddha there is no true or deep
self, and the practice of Vipassana is simply the dispassionate, immediate, and
clear observation of body, feelings, mind, and ideas any of which can be a
focus for insight mediation that enables a meditator to experience or realize
such a truth.
In an explication of the Buddhas teaching on The Foundations of Mindful-
ness (Satipatthana-sutta), the Sri Lankan monk and scholar Walpola Rahula has
noted, for instance, how Vipassana can be practiced not only in breathing
meditation, simply focusing attention on the in and out movements of the
breath, but also on daily activities, feelings or sensations, and mental life. What
is important is simply observing, watching, examining, not as a judge, but a
scientist.(Rahula 1974, 73) In an extension that evokes comparisons with the
30 carl mitcham
Western monastic practice of lectio divina or spiritual reading, Rahula also
writes: To read [the right type of] book, and to think deeply about the sub-
jects discussed in it, is a form of mediation.(Rahula 1974, 74) As one European
commentator and practitioner has succinctly summarized the significance of
such meditation practices: this wakeful and energetic introspection constitu-
ted the Buddhas unique contribution to meditative technology. (Carrithers
2001, 50)
By venturing to describe Vipassana as a meditative technology or technique,
the author here is at once appealing to and gently criticizing the European
commitment to physical technology. Although one kind of technology arose in
Europe and the Christian ambience, another arose in Asia within the Buddhist
In some talks he gave on a tour of North America in 1981, for example,
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (born Bstan-dzin Rgya-mtsho), made the
following remarks:
Through highly developed scientific technology we can solve any material
human problem, such as poverty, disease, etc., but at the same time, due to this
same technology, we create more fear and more desire. For example, today we
fear a sudden explosion of atoms in the world.(Tenzin Gyatso 1981, 27)
And again:
The most difficult problems in the world, which, in large part, emanate from
the most developed societies, stem from an overemphasis on the rewards of
material progress, one that has placed in jeopardy the very aspects of our
common heritage that, in the past, inspired human beings to be honest, altru-
istic, and spiritually mature.(Tenzin Gyatso 1981, 37)
Robert Thurman, the first North American to be ordained a monk by the Dalai
Lama is even more explicit. In an effort to identify what is unique about
Buddhist practice, Thurman contrasts what he calls the outer modernity of
Europe and North America with the inner modernity of Tibet. Unlike in the
modern West, where efforts are directed outwardly, toward material progress,
in Tibet, energies were directed inwardly, toward progress in the development
of an inner universe, toward spiritual progress.(Thurman 1998, 34) While the
inner modernity of Tibets enlightenment-dedicated civilization flourished the
West conquered the world with modern technology. But the technologies and
institutions of conquest and unification prove extremely ill-suited to the
maintenance of harmony and creativity within one global society.(Thurman
1998, 34)

3.4 Interpretation
What might such statements from within the Buddhist tradition imply for the
present effort to place technology in religious-philosophical perspective? Allow
me to venture three interpretative suggestions.
First, the Buddhist analysis of human action at once agrees with and opposes
the understanding of action that begins with Plato and Aristotle and is picked
up and utilized by the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. According to
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 31
Aristotle, all action aims at some good, the most general name for this good is
eudaimonia, often translated as happiness although better rendered as well
being. But the good of well being can take on at least three fundamentally
different contents: physical pleasure, honor, and knowledge. Independent of
Aristotles criticism of the relative validity of the ways of life associated with
these three forms of the good, in each case happiness is attained when a good is
attained that is, when any one of these ends is realized. The possibility that
the pursuit of goods themselves is a practice to be fundamentally reconsidered
is at most a hidden option in the European tradition of reflection on the
human condition.
By contrast, the need to re-examine the means-ends relationship in human
action is among the most basic teachings of Buddhism. Suffering arises from
the active pursuit of goods, and the two-fold fact that goods are seldom
realized and always ultimately perishable. While these facts are recognized
within the European tradition, the response has been to develop means that
make the attainment of ends more effective (that is, technology) and to try to
substitute imperishable for perishable goods. The Christian goods substitution
replaces worldly with other-worldly goods. The technological substitution seeks
to realize this worldly goods more effectively and, as it were, to harden such
goods. The Buddhist tactic is to question if not attack the basic desire for goods
with which all this action originates. This techniques of this attack constitute its
inner technology.
Second, although there certainly exist distinctions among different Buddhist
forms of and attitudes toward this technology giving rise to a possible
typology of Buddhist attitudes toward culture that may to some extent be
analogous to those identified by Niebuhr in the Christian tradition there
would seem to be a priority given to opposition that is not to be found in the
European world. On the one hand, it might be argued that the Theravada
tradition manifests a Buddhism against culture stance, Mayahana proposes a
Buddhist transformation of culture, and Vajrayana exhibits Buddhism and
culture in paradox. On the other, given the status of the Theravada tradition, it
could be argued perhaps even more strongly that in the Buddhist tradition it is
as if all the diversity is to be found within the Niebuhr-like stance of Christianity
against technology. Even more radically and comprehensively than Tertullians
question concerning the relations between Jerusalem and Athens, the Buddha
asks What has the Pataliputra to do with Roma?
Third, again in contrast to the Christian traditions Buddhism proposes
specific, practical ways to ask such a question. The most general presentation of
this asking is by means of Vipassana or insight meditation. Simply sit calmly and
watch or observe what is going on around you and especially in your own body
and mind. Watch the breath, desires, and ideas as they arise and fall. The claim,
remarkable as it is, is that this very watching and observing can become a good
(similar, perhaps to Aristotles knowledge) and that it can undermine the
power of these desires and ideas to control and direct our behavior. In place of
the Freudian talking cure Buddhism proposes the watching or observing
32 carl mitcham
cure. Could you not watch with me one hour? asked Jesus to his disciplines
in the Garden of Gethsemani (Matthew 26:40).

4. Conclusion
As indicated at the beginning, my goal has been to consider technology from a
religious-philosophical perspective that includes a dialogue among traditions.
The dialogue has moved from a review of one particular analysis of the religion-
technology relationship, that of Van Riessens Reformational Christian criti-
cism, through a review of such relationships from multiple Christian traditions,
toward an initial presentation of Buddhism as a fundamental alternative to the
Christian tradition as prefatory to a larger and deeper dialogue among
Christian religious reflections on technology and those of other religious
traditions. Such an enlarged dialogue is only appropriate for an age of
increasing historical knowledge and interactive globalization. The fact that this
beginning has remained on the surface cannot be denied. My only excuse is
that since there is nowhere else to begin, all beginnings must start here, on the
Yet from this surface the argument has emerged that there exists within
religions a fundamental questioning of scientific technology that has remained
delimited within the Christian tradition and without effective implementation,
without what in Hinduism would be called a yoga. Buddhism, with the practice
of Vipassana meditation, which can take form even in scholarly reflection, is
proposed as one possible yoga, a practical implementation for reforming our
motivation or intention in technology a reformation that, however, may well
not leave our technology in tact.

In the discussion period after the lecture one of the first comments went
something like this: Buddhism seems passive. There does not seem to be any
active sense of exploration or desire to change things. Where is the sense of
adventure, investigation, or will to do things in Buddhism?
At the time I simply complemented my interlocutor on correctly identifying
a fundamental difference between Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism does
lack a certain kind of determination to do things that seems fundamental to
Christianity. I also made some small counter comment to the effect that in a
world so full of determinations to take action with regard to many things,
perhaps there is some reasonable place for a complementary criticism of
activism. As an example, further reference may have been made to the slow
food movement founded in Italy in the mid-1980s and now expanded into a
slow cities movement. Yet the rapid growth and almost aggressive promotion
of the slow movement is perhaps an ironic commentary on the very character
of the European and North American context in which it exists.
placing technology in religious-philosophical perspective 33
The basic question or contrast has nevertheless continued to occupy my
mind. It is a question that finds expression as well in what is perhaps a basic
contrast between Buddhist and Christian attitudes toward suffering. According
to Buddhism, suffering (dukkha) defines human experience and is a phenome-
non to be escaped by means of a kind of personal insight that arises from
following a path of practice, namely meditation. There is nothing to accept in
suffering, and no good comes out of it. By contrast, according to Christianity,
suffering is something to be accepted, and its acceptance one might almost
say affirmation can lead to the greatest good. The First Letter of Peter, for
instance, counsels Christians to accept their sufferings (Greek pathema; in other
places kakopatheia, evil suffering) just as Christ accepted his in order to receive
the reward promised by Christ, that is, eternal life (see, e.g., 1 Peter 1:6, 2:21,
and 4:13). In Buddhism, the counsel is to side step suffering through enligh-
tenment; in Christianity, the teaching is to accept and, as it were, work through
suffering through faith.
When Francis Bacon at the beginning of the modern period in European
history sought to develop arguments for the conquest of nature for the relief of
the human estate he certainly did so not to much to side step suffering as to
work through it in a way that would achieve a higher but this-worldly good.
Bacon criticized both premodern philosophy and magic on the basis of a
pragmatism analogous to that appealed to in the Greek Scriptures: By their
fruits you shall know them (Matthew 7:15-16). For Bacon, however, the fruits by
which one judges are this-worldly power not other-worldly theological virtues.
In history and culture as influenced by Buddhism this transformation from
non-worldly to worldly never seems to have taken place.
In fact, David Loy, an American Buddhist critic of the western intellectual
tradition has argued at length that European philosophy should be read as a
series of case studies confirming the truth of the doctrine of no-self. According
to Buddhism, the self is an illusion continuously trying to avoid facing up to its
illusory nature, about which it is nevertheless vaguely aware and anxious.
Anxiety is heightened by the combination of humanism and Christianity and
their attempts to defend or redeem the self. But there remains an inescapable
trace of nothingness in my empty (because not really self-existing) sense-of-self
that is experienced as a sense-of-lack but that philosophers in the European
tradition have repeatedly tried by various means to avoid facing (Loy 2002, 6).
Today these means are primarily science and technology. Indeed, recent tech-
noscientific aspirations to remake ourselves by means of genetic engineering
reveal only more clearly the dominance of greed, ill will, and delusion over
generosity, compassion, and wisdom. Attempting to escape the nothingness of
self, human beings in thrall to technology
vainly try to ground [themselves] by modifying the world outside [themselves].
... Instead of trying to ground ourselves somewhere on the outside, we need
to look inside. Instead of running away from this sense of emptiness at our
core, we need to become more comfortable with it and more aware....(Loy
2003, 164)
34 carl mitcham
In a world seemingly addicted to scientific technology, we need to undertake a
fundamental inquiry into why technology appears to have such power over us
even as we claim it as an instrument of our power. Why, that is, are we so
emotionally attached to doing things so attached that criticism of action
seems to deprive us of our basic humanity?

Barbour, Ian (1993), Ethics in an Age of Technology, Harper Collins, San
Carrithers, Michael (2001), Buddha: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University
Press, New York.
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Philosophia Reformata 75 (2010) 3642

Sander Griffioen
1. Laudatio
I feel honored to be asked to respond to the text of Carl Mitchams Van
Riessen lecture. Although philosophy of technology is not my field, there is
much to make this task attractive, as Hendrik Van Riessens personality and
philosophy have been formative influences on my own development, and this
Lecture contains so much that is stimulating (as well as debatable).
The setting in which Mitcham situates Van Riessens contribution seems to
be the right one. Van Riessens seriousness and analytic depth are praised.
Mitcham is also very positive about his focus on the internal structure of
technology (techniek),
and is convinced of the fruitfulness of this approach. He
not only holds that it deserves greater attention than it has received, but also
that it is still relevant today, comparing favourably with the now prevalent
social constructionist reflection on science and technology.
Mitcham also endorses Van Riessens claim that the salient feature of
modern technology is the growing rift between preparation and execution, as
design becomes increasingly separated from execution. Accordingly, he too
speaks of an intellectualization of technology, implying that the technician
becomes more and more of a scientist and less and less of a craftsman. His
appreciation for this side of Van Riessens theory is borne out by a comparison
with Marx. According to Mitcham, Van Riessen offers a broader and more
compelling account of alienation than Marx, asserting that the scope of
alienation extends from the meaning of work, from the client for whom the
work is intended, from nature, and (in large corporations) from the fellowship
of work. (Van Riessen 1961, 124)

2. Design and execution
To my mind there is yet another parallel between Van Riessen and Marx. Both
hold to a holistic view of pre-modern technology. On their view, design and
execution were traditionally in one hand, the craftsman being also the de-
signer. The First Van Riessen Lecture also seems to endorse this view. Mitcham
refers to an essay on this subject (Mitcham and Holbrook 2006), mentioning
that it was influenced by Van Riessen. That essay is more nuanced than the Van
Riessen lecture. In it he sketches a picture of a sharp divide between modern
and pre-modern technology. To be honest I am not convinced. To me, a

The author wants to thank Roger Henderson for his help in editing this text.
Technology will be used indiscriminately, also where Van Riessen would have distin-
guished between techniek and technologie (i.e. the study of techniek).
response to carl mitcham 37
division of labour between specialized designers on the one hand and more
practically inclined artisans on the other seems normal, if not mandatory for
any larger project. This would suggest there is not such a sharp divide between
the modern and the pre-modern as Van Riessen and Mitcham imply. How
could cathedrals have been built, canals been dug, large defense works been
created without a far-reaching division of labour?
Support for my objection is provided by Joseph Needhams Science and
Civilisation in China. In one of the volumes dedicated to technology, Needham
quotes extensively from the Kao gong ji, a text from the early Han (2nd Century
BC), which shows a clear distinction between the stages of design (the work of
sages) and of execution, subdivided between engineers (men of skill) and
craftsmen (artisans). To quote just one passage: Tools and machines were
invented by men of wit , and their traditions maintained by men of skill; those
who continue them generation by generation are called artisans. So all that is
done by the hundred artisans was originally the work of sages. (Needham 1965,
On the other hand, I have to admit that whatever evidence we find of more
or less specialized design in pre-modern times will most likely be quite different
from the scientifically based design that Mitcham and Van Riessen have in
mind. Mitcham suggests that ancient Hebrew and Greek have no specialized
word for design. This also seems to have been the case in ancient Chinese. Kao
(the first character of title quoted above) could definitely denote something
like design, but certainly not in the sense of a technical term.
What the Kao
gong ji says about the sages who do the designing is more reminiscent of
Platos workmaster using archetypical forms, than it is of a modern engineer.
Characteristically the same context refers to these sages as those who sit to
deliberate on the Tao ...
In order to shore up the Van Riessen-Mitcham thesis it seems necessary to
only claim that in modern times the preparatory stage has come under the aegis
of scientific thinking.

3. Dissonances
Thus far we have traced a striking congruence between Van Riessens and
Mitchams philosophies. In this respect the Van Riessen Lecture can safely be
called a success. The organizers could hardly have hoped for a more graphic
endorsement of the relevance of Van Riessens philosophy of technology than
this laudatio by a prominent scholar in the field. However, before reaching the
halfway point of the lecture the tone changes. Mitcham is clearly puzzled by the
broader picture in which technology is placed. He speaks of epistemological
dissonance. His problem lies in Van Riessens describing technological
development as embedded in the unfolding of the creation ..., according to
Gods mandate to have dominion over the creation, under His providential

Cf. Grand dictionnaire Ricci de la langue chinoise, Vol. III, Taipei/Paris: Instituts Ricci,
2001, p. 675.
38 sander griffioen
guidance, for His glory, to the liberation and elevation of human life. (Van
Riessen 1961, 130) Mitcham views this as a shift from a publicly accessible
investigation into the structures of technology to an appeal to knowledge of
Divine purposes based on special revelation.
This is a serious issue that very much colours the remainder of the Van
Riessen lecture. My defence line will be to admit that there is a real difficulty,
while insisting that it is of a different nature than Mitcham supposes. I shall cast
the issue in terms of the distinction between concept and idea made by Kant
(as well as Dooyeweerd). My point will be that in the Van Riessen text indeed a
transition occurs from concepts to ideas, but one that at its core is normal,
and is certainly particularly characteristic of Reformational philosophy.
Every full-blown philosophical conception needs the cementing function of
integrating ideas. The important thing about Kants doctrine of regulative ideas
is this: ideas can properly fulfill their integrating function without being
conceptually explicable. Underlying this is a more basic distinction between
concept and idea, the former thought to be transparant up to its very
defining elements, and the latter withstanding definition in a strict sense.
Examples Kant gives are the ideas of God, soul, world, freedom. Dooyeweerd
adapted this notion to also cover creation.
It is important to me in this response to stress that every philosophical
conception contains more than can be accounted for conceptually. Take a
typical positivist philosophy: characteristically, it will want to ban all contents
that escape strict scientific scrutiny, while at the same time turning a blind eye
to the fact that it is itself propelled by ideals that themselves do not fit its own
stated standards. The motivating vision is likely to be that of an end to all
disputes through the expulsion of metaphysical and religious illusions. Of
course, such an ideal itself is of the order of ideas rather than of concepts. I am
convinced that Van Riessens appeal to the unfolding of creation is of the
same order.
The challenge for the interpreter is to honour the integrity of a conception
by not separating ideas and concepts, but keeping them together. For the
author, on the other hand, it is mandatory that the ideas be presented in such
a way as to invite opposition. I must admit that in this last respect the text used
by Mitcham was not quite up to par. In Van Riessens writings execution and
design were not always in harmony. As an author he used to move freely from
the conceptual level to the level of ideas, crossing boundaries with no advanced
notice. This certainly is the case in this essay. To compound difficulties, its
statements about the embeddedness of technology are clad in confessional
language that to the uninitiated must seem out of place in a philosophical
In order to better understand the design of Van Riessens text I must
briefly introduce the idea of a transcendental critique as developed by Dooye-
weerd. It is conceived of as a critique penetrating to the most basic assumptions
of another thinkers basic ideas. Its setting is typically that of a dialogue in
which each of the partners tries to account for a specific state of affairs, and
gradually is brought to the point where he/she is ready (and willing) to lay his
response to carl mitcham 39
cards on the table. This procedure always reminds me of Pascals wager: it is as
if the partners were involved in making a bet each claiming that his own
assumptions do more justice to the issues at hand than the others. For
Dooyeweerd the issues were typically transcendental problems, such as how
can we account for the possibility of philosophy?. To my mind the range might
readily be widened to encompass the themes of the Van Riessen lecture.
It is true that Dooyeweerd was more reticient in introducing Biblical lan-
guage into a philosophical discourse than Van Riessen (who in this respect was
closer to Vollenhoven). However, this is more a difference of degree than of
principle. Dooyeweerd too could not do without explicit references to crea-
tion. Moreover, where he intended to develop a strictly philosophical dis-
course the informed reader will often detect oblique references to Bible texts
take for instance the echo of Romans 11 in this central statement from the
Prolegomena to the New Critique: All meaning is from, through, and to an origin,
which cannot itself be related to a higher arche. (Dooyeweerd 1953, 9)
Having known Van Riessen well I am almost certain that his bold statements
about the wider meaning of technology were meant to function within a
transcendental critique. Again: the execution leaves something to be desired.
Yet on the whole I prefer his approach to an over-sensitive one. I am thinking
now of the approach Hendrik Hart took in his book on ontology. Hart was
writing as a Reformational philosopher and was very sensitive to the possibility
of dissonance. Therefore, in his Understanding Our World he relegates all faith
talk to a concluding prescientific postscript (Hart 1984, 325-370). Although his
book received much praise at the time, the split between a text for the broader
public and an extensive postscript for the initiated was thought to be artificial.

4. Constructed dialogue
The dissonance Mitcham sees in Van Riessen inclines him to take another
route in the second part of the lecture. In the first he had looked at reality
through Van Riessens lens. Now his central question becomes how to compare
other approaches to Van Riessens view of the relation between technology and
religion. He assumes that through such a comparison the Dutch Reformed
monologue will be changed into a dialogue and thus be freed from its
particularism. Note that this is not a dialogue in the sense of a transcendental
critique, for it is not conceived of as a debate between equals in which all are
prepared to put their cards on the table without prior knowledge of what

In a review of Harts book Lambert Zuidervaart (1985, 61) commented: Hart considers
these pages prephilosophical and calls them nonphilosophical. His apparent reason for
calling them nonphilosophical is to avoid the impression that ultimate assumptions are
merely philosophical. This is an important point, one which many other philosophers
would accept. But the extraphilosophical character of ultimate assumptions need not ex-
clude legitimate philosophical discourse about them. I agree with these observations, but I
ask myself whether the basic assumptions could not be philosophical in their own right, i.e.
as ideas.
40 sander griffioen
might be the outcome. A transcendental critique may well lead to a parting of
ways, instead of an ongoing dialogue.
The dialogue Mitcham has in mind is a construction launched from what I
would call a meta viewpoint. It is that of the comparative philosopher bring-
ing philosophies together by way of typologies. This is how Mitcham introduces
his procedure: Drawing on Van Riessens achievement in this regard, I
propose to move from a particular Christian tradition, to a dialogue among
different Christian approaches to technology. I would suggest there is much
more discontinuity (if not dissonance) involved here than this quote implies.
Mitchams comparative mediation rests on three kinds of typologies: those of
Troeltsch, Niebuhr, and Barbour. Troeltsch distinguished between church,
sect, and mysticism. Mitcham adapts this typology to make it fit his topic. The
same is done with respect to Richard H. Niebuhrs well known (and still popu-
lar) classification of five basic positions on the relationship between faith and
culture: Christ against culture; Christ of culture; Christ above culture; Christ
and culture in paradox; and Christ as transformer of culture. Ian Barbour
classified the relation between religion and science in terms of conflict,
independence, openness to dialogue, and integration (according to Mitcham).
My comments will be restricted to the use made of the typologies of Niebuhr
and Barbour.
Mitcham subsumes Van Riessens philosophy under Niebuhrs final category,
Christ as transformer of culture. This type certainly covers many of its basic
assumptions. Yet this type only captures one side of it, i.e. the conviction that
all of life is redeemable. As Mitcham points out, according to this conviction
it is always possible to turn from bad to good motives, and thus transform their
technological milieu, because at some deep level, all creation is open to
obedience to God. So far, so good. However, what Niebuhrs category does
not capture is the equally characteristic conviction that we live in occupied
territory. By this Van Riessen meant that the spiritual climate was becoming so
densely secular as to make one wonder where transformative action might take
hold. Van Riessen liked to stress both the positive and the negative. Not being
able to combine both sides into one conception, he came to view this aporia
(verlegenheid) as something that had to be accepted.
It seems there were zwei Seelen in seiner Brust: one optimistic, one pessimistic.
He himself would immediately add that this ambiguity reflects a real problem,
and that we better distrust philosophers who claim to have resolved it.
Niebuhrs classification seems ill-fitted to do justice to this ambiguity. As for the
bleak side (occupied territory) the box in which Ellul is put would have been
much more suited than the transformation category. Indeed, Van Riessen and
Ellul had more to dialogue about than would appear at first glance.
Let us consider now how Barbours typology functions. Van Riessen, flanked
by Egbert Schuurman, holds pride of place in the third category: a dialogical
position verging on integration. Although Mitchams explanation does not shed
light on what dialogical means in this connection, it is worth quoting:
This third view of technology, which is Barbours own position, has obvious
affinities with that of Van Riessen. Indeed, in this regard Barbour makes
response to carl mitcham 41
specific and favorable reference to Egbert Schuurman, who has continued and
extended Van Riessens program of reflection and criticism. Barbour funda-
mentally approves of Schuurmans call for the transformation and redemption
of technology so that it becomes an instrument of Gods love serving all
In this connection Mitcham also mentions Barbours concern that the
Reformational position provides few examples of what such a [redeemed]
technology would be like or how we can work to promote it.

I can only guess
how Van Riessen would have responded in dialogue with Barbour: he would
probably have found this concern premature, since living as we do in
occupied territory our first task should be to build up resistance.

5. Conclusion
To build resistance in order to oppose the spirit of modern technology is also
very much on Mitchams mind. He is looking to Buddhism for such an
alternative approach to technology. Judging from the last part of his lecture,
Christianity to him is too development-oriented in its thinking, too much
growth-oriented in short: too modern to be of great help in this respect.
I suspect he would have found more of what he was looking for, in Van
Riessen (and Schuurman) if he had heeded their critique of culture a bit more.
Not that he is blind to the presence of a twosidedness. In an Interlude
preceding the introduction of the Niebuhrian classification he had already
touched on the presence of two quite different perspectives: One way to
appreciate the uniqueness of Van Riessen is to note that he is critical of tech-
nology as culture (alienation) while defining technology as tool (instrumen-
tarium). However, what may have escaped his attention is that Van Riessen
does plead for moderation, and is less growth-oriented than one might think
judging only from what he says about the inner development of structures.
According to Van Riessen, moderation in our reliance on technological means
is of paramount importance for the future of Western civilization.
Having said
this I must admit that this appeal for moderation falls silent once Van Riessen
starts formulating what the cultural mandate entails.
I am confident that Mitchams lecture will be a noticeable help in main-
taining and renewing interest in Van Riessens philosophy.

Voor de toekomst van het Westen is het dan ook van primordiaal belang, of we zullen
leren op de juiste wijze, en dat is in ieder geval op bescheidener wijze, om te gaan met de
wetenschap. Dat zal opnieuw een kwestie zijn, waarvoor de motieven van de mens beslissend
zijn. (Van Riessen 1961, 125)
42 sander griffioen
Dooyeweerd, Herman (1953), A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Volume 1,
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Philadelphia, Penn-
Hart, Hendrik (1984), Understanding Our World: An Integral Ontology, University
Press of America, Lanham, Maryland.
Mitcham, Carl, and J. Britt Holbrook (2006), Understanding Technological
Design, in Defining Technological Literacy: Towards an Epistemological Frame-
work edited by John R. Dakers, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
Needham, Joseph (1965), Science and Civilisation in China, Volume IV:2,
Cambridge University Press.
Van Riessen, Hendrik (1961), De structuur der techniek, Philosophia Reformata
26, 114-130.
Zuidervaart, Lambert (1985), Existence, Nomic Conditions, and God: Issues in
Hendrik Harts Ontology, Philosophia Reformata 50, 47-65.
Philosophia Reformata 75 (2010) 4359

Bronislaw Szerszynski
In Nature, Technology and the Sacred (2005) I argued that the modern project of the
technological mastery of nature remains profoundly shaped by its religious roots. In
this paper I explore connections and tensions between this analysis and the neo-Calvi-
nist critiques of modernity and modern technology advanced by Herman Dooyeweerd
and Hendrik van Riessen. I explore the relationship between Dooyeweerds analysis of
Western culture as a sequence of religious ground motives and my own in terms of
the series of orderings of the sacred which together constitute the long arc of
monotheism. I relate van Riessens analysis of the internal structure of technology to
my argument that this structure has been shaped by transformations in the sacred
since the Protestant reformation. I conclude with some observations, prompted by the
divergences between the two accounts, concerning the relationship between tech-
nology, monotheism, history and politics.

During the twenty-first century we are likely to see technological changes that
will transform life in almost unimaginable ways. Advances in areas such as
information technology and cognitive science, quantum physics and nano-
technology, biotechnology and artificial life and the convergences between
them are promising an extraordinary explosion in the human capacity to
manipulate nature. The physicist and futurologist Michio Kaku goes as far as to
say that we are on the cusp of an epoch-making transition, from being passive
observers of Nature to being active choreographers of Nature. ... The Age of Discovery is
coming to a close, opening up an Age of Mastery (Kaku 1997, 5). According to
such a view, we have discovered the fundamental laws of nature; now, we can
start to use that knowledge to take control of nature, and subjugate it to
human ends to an extent never before imagined.

But at the same time there is a growing sense that our extraordinary
technological progress is turning sour. Technological development seems often
to exhibit a runaway dynamic in which human beings have to accommodate to
the dictates of technology, rather than being able to wield it to achieve goals
they have chosen themselves. Technological change seems to be increasing
rather than decreasing the proportion of people that are engaged in work that
is not fulfilling. And the intended benefits of the use of technology seem more

An earlier version of this article was delivered as the Second van Riessen Memorial
Lecture at Delft University of Technology, Netherlands, 21 May 2008. I am very grateful to
Professor Marc de Vries and the Association for Reformational Philosophy (Vereniging voor
Reformatorische Wijsbegeerte) for inviting me, and the philosophy section of the Dutch Royal
Institute of Engineers (Koninklijk Instituut Van Ingenieurs) for co-hosting the event. A
subsequent version was delivered at the conference Religion, Nature, and Progress, University
of Amsterdam, Netherlands, 23-26 July 2009.
Although see Szerszynski (2008) for a critique of such claims.
44 bronislaw szerszynski
and more to be drowned out by unanticipated side-effects, perhaps most
catastrophically in the case of anthropogenic climate change.
What is the relationship between such developments and religion? Can we
blame the negative consequences of modern technology on the lack of a reli-
gious worldview which would restrain human self-assertion? Or is the runaway
dynamism of technology itself due to religious presuppositions that are hidden
in the very way that modern society thinks about and performs technology?
How might such questions help us to determine the relationship between
technology, progress and a desirable future?
In this paper I will explore two different ways of thinking about the relation
between religion and the modern technological condition. In my book Nature,
Technology and the Sacred (2005) I carried out an investigation into the appa-
rently secular cultural meanings that underpin and sanction the modern
technological domination of nature. I argued that the modern project of the
collective mastery of nature remains profoundly shaped by its religious roots. I
argued that the still-operative theological underpinnings of modern ideas of
science and technology make them vulnerable to a theological critique that
goes much further than ethical criticisms of specific technological develop-
ments. In this paper I will put my own analysis in dialogue with that of neo-
Calvinist philosophy and explore some implications of the convergences and
divergences between the two.

1. Neo-Calvinist philosophy and technology
For readers who are not familiar with Reformational or neo-Calvinist
phy, a very brief introduction is in order. Until the late nineteenth century the
notion of a philosophy based on Calvinism seemed to be a contradiction in
terms. John Calvin himself taught that human reason had been so corrupted by
sin that it cannot by itself lead people to truth. For Calvin, the most fruitful
form of knowledge was not philosophical reason but the self-knowledge that
would teach people humility and the need to find truth in scripture. However,
in the late nineteenth century the Dutch theologian, educator and statesman
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) began to articulate a philosophy based on
Calvinist principles, as part of a broader attempt to reform Calvinism in the
Netherlands. For Kuyper, Calvinism was not merely a religion confined to
members of one church, but offered a distinctive, generally applicable world-
view. According to the neo-Calvinism articulated by Kuyper, each and every
realm of society church, state, press, education, business and so on was a
distinct sphere in which divine sovereignty operated in a particular way, so that

Neo-Calvinism was originally a pejorative term used against Kuyper and his followers,
implying that they were no longer proper Calvinists, but it has become a more neutral term
over time (Conradie 1960, 10 n. 24). Dooyeweerd even rejected the term Calvinistic philoso-
phy as a description of his position, preferring philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, or simply
Christian philosophy, since it would be impossible for an intrinsically Christian philosophy to
be based on any other ground motive than the integral and radical one of Holy Scripture
which does not depend on man (Dooyeweerd 1953-8, vol. 1, 524).
technology, monotheism and neo-calvinist philosophy 45
no one sphere should have absolute authority over the others. Kuyper went on
to found the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880 as an educational institution
in which such ideas could be developed and propagated. It was at the Free
University that Kuypers ideas would be developed into a systematic philosophy
by two key first-generation neo-Calvinist philosophers, Herman Dooyeweerd
(1894-1977) and D. H. Th. Vollenhoven (1892-1978), who of course together
founded Philosophia Reformata. In what follows I will concentrate on the work of
Dooyeweerd, but also on that of Hendrik van Riessen (1911-2000), who was not
only a distinguished second-generation neo-Calvinist philosopher but also had a
particular interest in the philosophy of technology.
Dooyeweerds masterwork was his four-volume New Critique of Theoretical
Thought (1953-8), in which he develops a critique of the idea of the autonomy
of theoretical reason, particularly as it manifests in modern atheistic humanism.
For Dooyeweerd, humanist thought has not liberated us, as humanists would
claim, but instead has enslaved us to various apostasies and reductionisms;
progress has become nothing but a new fate. Immanuel Kant, despite being so
influential on Dooyeweerds critical method, is of course one of the principle
offenders. But as we shall see Dooyeweerd also equally rejects the scholastic
synthesis of medieval Catholicism as sundering the fundamental unity of
Christian experience into two radically different realms.
Despite his commitment to, and extraordinarily erudite scholarship in, the
discipline of philosophy, Dooyeweerd remains firmly in the Calvinist tradition in
his insistence on the insufficiency of human reason. Dooyeweerd is significantly
influenced by neo-Kantianism, but uses Kantian critique against Kantian huma-
nism. He argues for the necessity of moving from a transcendental to a tran-
scendent philosophy, one grounded not just in human reason but in the
relationship with God. Unlike that of Kant, Dooyeweerds anthropology is
resolutely Augustinian: human reason has been disrupted by the fall and
cannot be trusted. It can thus never be autonomous but is always shaped by
pre-theoretical commitments in the human heart, which is the site of the
relationship with the creator (see also Clouser 1991). As creatures, our being is
necessarily determined by this relation, whether it is in its correct state or a
distorted one. The human being is the restless creature, longing for a unity of
experience that can only be achieved by choosing to bind the heart to God.
Here the human being is faced by what Kuyper called the antithesis a
straightforward choice in which the heart either turns towards God or to the
world and apostasy.
For Dooyeweerd, the realm of the divine is eternal and integral, whereas the
experience of fallen creatures is conditioned by cosmic time, which acts like a
prism by breaking up reality into individual existents and into the different
modal aspects or law spheres of empirical reality. Here Dooyeweerd extends
Kuypers notion of law spheres to cover not just the different realms of society
but any aspect of the world that can become the site of rational investigation;
Dooyeweerd enumerates fifteen of these, from number, space and movement
up to ethics and faith. But the human self is not merely temporal; we can also
overcome the fragmented nature of creaturely experience, glimpsing the
46 bronislaw szerszynski
supratemporal and the integral through the contact with the transcendent in
the human heart.
For Dooyeweerd (whose original expertise was in jurisprudence), law is the
boundary between the creator and His creatures: only God stands above and
outside the laws that operate in each modal sphere of the cosmos, and
creatures are a priori subjected to them. But, again following Kuyper he says
that there have been a number of different cosmonomic ideas in Western
history, each with their own ground motive an argument that is of
particular interest here for the way that it introduces history and development
to human thought (although not to the radical extent that Hegel did). Like all
philosophies, ground motives depends on an Archimedean point, a point
outside themselves at which the thinker supposedly can stand in order to
transcend the multiplicity of the modal aspects and grasp the totality of the
But the only ground motive that Dooyeweerd accepts as valid is the creation
fallredemption motive of Christianity, in which the Archimedean point is placed
outside the cosmos, in the divine. The other three ground motives that
Dooyeweerd describes as having been significant in Western thought have been
apostate immanence-philosophies, in that their respective Archimedean
points have been placed within the empirical world: the matterform motive of
Greek philosophy (derived from the dualism of the Dionysian and Apollonian
in Greek religion); the naturegrace motive of medieval scholasticism (which
synthesised Christianity with Classical nature-form dualism to create a stark
dualism between the natural and the supernatural), and the naturefreedom
motive of modern thought, which contrasts the autonomous modern individual
with a deterministic material universe.
Yet Dooyeweerd does not just insist that the latter three philosophical
systems are apostate. Because they all pick out one feature within reality and
absolutise it, he argues, they are not simply idolatrous, but are also philo-
sophically unsustainable. Furthermore, because they are all dualistic, they fail to
have the integral and radical character of biblical Christianity, tend to produce
reductionisms where one pole is reduced to the other, and are also unstable
resulting in endless conflict and an inability to settle disputes. Dooyeweerds
critique of modern atheist science and technology is developed within this
overall schema, in terms of the way that they are grounded in the humanist
ground motive of nature and freedom, and thus inherit all of its problems.
Within the humanist cosmonomic idea, on the one hand the scientific analysis
of reality becomes reduced to one modal aspect, such as number or motion,
and gives no room for the notion of human freewill; on the other, nature be-
comes reduced to an arena for the exercise of unbridled human domination.
Van Riessens philosophy of technology, as elucidated in his 1961 paper The
structure of technology, is broadly consistent with that of Dooyeweerd. He
insists that, while modern technology has brought about great advances in
human society through the systematic application of knowledge gained
through the scientific investigation of the different modal aspects of reality,
because it has developed within an atheistic framework it has also had the
technology, monotheism and neo-calvinist philosophy 47
effect of curtailing human freedom and alienating people from meaningful
work, fellowship and nature. Technology thus needs to be Christianised if its
negative consequences for human beings, society and the environment are to
be overcome (van Riessen [1961] 1979).
Van Riessen argues that the characteristic feature of modern technology
which gives it its extraordinary power is the way that it separates the process of
preparation from that of execution, that it separates technological imagining
and design from technical forming, as personified in the persons of the engi-
neer and the manual labourer respectively (van Riessen [1961] 1979, 303, 309).
He goes on to show how in modern technology the process of technological
design has itself been divided into function analysis (the task of breaking down
the technological process into functionally neutral components) and function
integration (combining these into individualised tools and technologies), and
points out how intellectualised this process has become, operating through the
language of scientific symbolisation. It is the separation of technological design
and technical execution, and the intellectualisation and systematisation of the
former, that has facilitated the explosion of technique that has been so
consequential for modern life.
But van Riessen suggests that the more baleful effects of modern technology
can be separated from its power to transform the human condition; modern
technology is not necessarily a negative development. The continuing develop-
ment of technology and medicine is a sign of the common grace that
Reformational theology sees as bestowed on the whole of humanity by God.
Technology is thus part of the human calling; it liberates and elevates human
life and thus contributes to the rightful unfolding of creation. Yet at the same
time it also feeds and reinforces Western mans quest for autonomy, the
growing, deluded desire to be independent from nature and God. This results
in a one-sided development of technology that reduces the human being to
an appendage of the machine and generates a range of associated social
pathologies (van Riessen [1961] 1979, 311-312).

2. Technology and the long arc of monotheism
There are many resonances between the broad thrust of Dooyeweerds analysis
of the origins of modernity as I have outlined it above and the one that I
developed in Nature, Technology and the Sacred: for example, the idea that all
forms of thought, even modern secular thought, are in some sense grounded in
religious apprehensions of the world, and the insistence that behind the
complex, branching history of western thought lie a small number of basic
metaphysical moves. There are also clear commonalities between the Reforma-
tional approach to the philosophical analysis of modern technology and my
own, particularly the notion that a critical understanding of modern tech-
nology requires us to locate it against the sacral history of the West. However,
in the concluding section of the paper I will try to tease out some implications
of notable differences between the two approaches. Before that, in the current
48 bronislaw szerszynski
section, I will summarise the argument that I make in my book about the
intertwining of the histories of Western religion and of Western technology.
The approach to religion, modernity and technology that I use in the book
owes much to the evolutionary accounts of religion developed by Max Weber,
Robert Bellah, Marcel Gauchet and others, and the historical approach to the
emergence of technology developed by Carl Mitcham. I describe the history of
Western religion as a series of orderings of the sacred that in many ways
parallel the ground motives enumerated by Dooyeweerd (Szerszynski 2005,
chapter 2). However, unlike Dooyeweerds confessional approach, I take a
historicist or post-structuralist position in which there no one privileged order-
ing of the sacred against which others can be measured; my approach is one in
which Being itself has a history. I describe the way that Western Being has
passed along a highly distinctive and contingent historical trajectory through
the last two millennia, one without which our modern ideas of nature and
technology would not have taken the form that they do. In doing so I argue
that this history of successive orderings of the sacred together constitute a
long arc of monotheism that has profoundly shaped the contemporary
experience of technology.
The story of the long arc starts with the unified, monistic cosmos of the
primal sacred, which is characteristic of indigenous cultures such as that of the
Australian Aborigines, and which I take to be the likely common starting-point
of all human cultures. In this ordering of the sacred there is no distinction
between the natural and the supernatural. The mythical beings of the primal
sacred, typically ancestral figures, cannot properly be called gods, as they do
not control the world and are approached not through worship but through
identification and the acting out of primal myths, or through mundane forms
of social interaction. If there is an idea of an ultimate creator god, he is
generally thought of as remote and unapproachable, a creator who, having
created, stands back and watches rather than participates (Turnbull 1978,
135). The purpose of ritual in this ordering of the sacred is to secure the
reproduction of life within this world, rather than to escape it or to live accord-
ing to laws originating from outside it (Bellah 1970, 25-29). In primal societies,
interactions with nature such as hunting are typically conceived not as a
technical manipulation of the natural world but as a kind of interpersonal
dialogue (Ingold 2000, 48), one whose outcome is inherently unpredictable yet
could be secured by each side fulfilling propriety through appropriate forms of
speaking and action.
The second stage in the arc is that of the archaic sacred, which is similarly
monistic in its experience of the world as a unified natural-divine cosmos, but
in which deities are more definite gods with whom humans must interact in an
ordered way. This phase is characterised by a proliferation of competing cults,
engaging in worship and sacrifice, with priests and a fluid membership (Bellah
1970, 29-32). With the development of priests there is a relative shift from magic
to religion proper from the ad hoc, circumstantial meeting of needs and
crises to a systematic regulation of relations with supernatural beings (Weber
1965, 28). But these beings are still understood as inhabiting the empirical
technology, monotheism and neo-calvinist philosophy 49
world, as caught up directly in the affairs of human beings, and as multiple,
rival possible sources of supernatural benefit. As with the primal sacred,
religion is not concerned with other-worldly salvation, but with securing
existence in this world. But in the archaic sacred certain places, people and
objects are seen as having a privileged relationship with the sacred, while others
are seen as (relatively) profane.
The archaic sacred is associated with societies with what we would recognise
as relatively advanced techniques for transforming the material world. Yet
members of archaic societies typically see the aspiration to mastery over nature
as dangerous and foolhardy, and understood social order and power more in
terms of harmony with the cosmos rather than power over it. They frequently
warn of the dangers of technical hubris, as witnessed in the myths of the
punishment meted out to the builders of the tower of Babel (who tried to build
up to the heavens), to Prometheus (who brought fire to humankind) and to
Icarus (who flew too close to the sun). In such societies, the over-reaching of
technical ambition is seen as disastrously disconnecting those who wield it from
the wider sacral order (Mitcham 1990). Even Classical Greece inherited this
widespread suspicion of the practical arts (Hrd and Jamison 2005). Classical
Greek thinkers argue that craft (techne) provided an inferior kind of knowledge
than that promised by contemplation. Crafts (technai) are understood as
distinct activities which are intrinsically uncertain and unpredictable in their
outcomes, due partly to a quasi-animistic conception of matter as having its
own desires, its own telos or end. To manufacture an object involves not just
imposing a form on matter but cooperating with matter, almost conversatio-
nally, so is never perfect, is not reducible to formal principles, and has to be
learnt through experience (Mitcham 1994, 118-123). Merely technical know-
ledge must always be subordinated to philosophical and political discussion
about the good. An unhealthy focus on techne is seen as diverting people from
reflection about the good life, as making people morally lazy by producing
affluence, and as encouraging a focus on knowledge of the lower and the
ignoble (Mitcham 1990).
In contrast to the unified cosmos of primal and archaic orderings of the
sacred, with the birth of axial or world religions such as Judaism and
Christianity comes the establishment of the monotheistic sacred with its distinc-
tion between an empirical world and a transcendent, higher reality. As this
vertical, transcendent axis emerges, the supernatural powers of ancient
divinities are progressively gathered together into the idea of the numinous,
monotheistic God, and expelled from the empirical world into supernal reality.
The numen is thus transformed, progressively de-mythicised and stripped of
particularity, and becomes the numinous, the transcendent God, experience of
whom evokes feelings of both dread and blessedness (Otto 1950). This axis,
along with its correlate in the philosophical reason of classical Greece, esta-
blishes a new dimension in human experience, which has a profound impact on
ways of thinking about the world. The axial religions of this ordering of the
sacred involve a turning away from the empirical world to the higher or next
50 bronislaw szerszynski
one, whether through conforming to religious law, through a sacramental
system or through mystical exercise (Bellah 1970, 32-36).
With the relative withdrawal of divinity from the world, nature as a separate
realm starts to emerge, as something that can be comprehended through
science and manipulated by technology. However, there are various cultural
reasons why in this ordering of the sacred the technological transformation of
nature does not accelerate more than it did. For a start, nature is understood
at least as much in symbolic terms as it had been before: religious practice
continues to operate through the material and the bodily, in ways that echo
primal and archaic religion, but is now reorganised into a hermeneutic in
which what we would call natural entities were seen as signs pointing to higher
realities. In the Middle Ages, such a logic lay behind the sacred topography
which organised worship and pilgrimage, the relics with holy powers, and the
disciplining of the body. This way in which the material world was understood
in relation to a supernal realm (in Dooyeweerds terms, the naturegrace
motive) does not facilitate technical development. Eastern Orthodox Christian-
ity in particular continued the contemplative suspicion of technological activity
of the Classical world; for Orthodox Christianity, sin is to be understood as
ignorance, and salvation lies in contemplation and illumination rather than
However, as Lynn White Jr. argues, the situation is a more complex with
Western Christianity. For Latin Christianity and indeed for the Protestantism
that emerged from it sin is not ignorance but moral evil, a problem of the
will, and salvation is to be found through right conduct (White 1968, 87-88).
For White, this theological difference, which predisposed Western Europe to
feel that salvation required action, laid the ground for the later technological
transformation of nature. Nevertheless, the Christians allegiance to super-
natural over natural ends meant that for at least a millennium this relationship
was at most a theoretical possibility. As Ellul (1964, 34) writes of the coincidence
of the rise of Christianity and the decline of Rome, [t]he Emperor Julian was
certainly justified in accusing the Christians of ruining the industry of the
empire. However, in time Western monasticism would provide a context for
the development of ideas which would become important in the later
revaluation of manual labour and the transformation of nature (Ovitt 1987).
With the emergence of the Protestant sacred we see a radicalisation of the
transcendent axis, a development that is crucial in the constitution of modern
technology. The Reformation strips away the institutional and supernatural
hierarchies that both constituted and spanned the gulf between the tran-
scendent divine and the world, making that gulf at once infinite and infini-
tesimal, absolute and vanishingly small. With the divines even more absolute
removal from this world, it becomes apprehended under the figure of the
sublime as infinite, unconditioned and unknowable. But at the same time as
the Reformation radicalises the gulf between the empirical and transcendent
worlds, the latter is also brought close to each individual. A key aspect of this
development is the Protestant reconceptualisation of asceticism: rather than
being conceived as an otherworldly high watermark of religious achievement
technology, monotheism and neo-calvinist philosophy 51
that assumes a contrast with average, worldly morality, it is recast as a
straightforward refusal of worldly pleasures in favour of purposive conduct
within the world (Troeltsch 1931, 332; Weber 1985, 118-119). This formulation
allows the centred self of the monotheistic sacred to operate outside of world-
denying practices, amidst the complexities of empirical social reality. Religious
action is now conceived to be identical with the whole of life, and the world as
an arena in which to work out the divine command (Bellah 1970, 36-39). It is
within this ordering of the sacred that Calvinism and neo-Calvinism take shape.
As van Riessen points out, modern technology is unfolded in a scientific
way ([1961] 1979, 299). The function-analytic aspect of the design stage relies
crucially on what Andrew Feenberg calls primary instrumentalization: the
scientific abstraction from lifeworld and natural contexts of problems on the
one hand, and of the properties of natural materials and processes on the
other. Raw materials, for example, have to be decontextualized out of their
naturalistic context (as, for example, rocks in the ground) and reduced to
measurable primary qualities (such as brittleness and homogeneity), before
they can be recombined in a functionally integrated technological tool or
device (Feenberg 1999, 203-205). This kind of analytical stance towards nature
is facilitated by the emergence of the Protestant sacred. As the historian Amos
Funkenstein argues, the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, far from being a moment of separation between natural philosophy
and religion, is in fact a point of convergence between the two. The scientific
revolution does not in itself dispose of God; its proponents simply change the
meaning of theological language, in a way which would allow Him to be
eventually incorporated into the empirical world (see also Latour 1993, 32-34).
As Funkenstein puts it, [t]he medieval sense of Gods symbolic presence in his
creation, and the sense of a universe replete with transcendent meanings and
hints, had to recede if not to give way totally to the postulates of univocation
and homogeneity in the seventeenth century. Gods relation to the world had
to be given a concrete physical meaning (Funkenstein 1986, 116).
For example, it was necessary for the seventeenth century natural philo-
sophers to reject medieval ideas of God co-operating with vital principles
immanent within nature. For medieval thinkers, as for Plato, the intelligibility
and order of nature had showed that it must be permeated with soul and
intelligence (Glacken 1967). But for the Protestant reformers of the sixteenth
century, the order of nature could derive solely from the power, goodness and
rationality of God. Natures intelligibility, then, far from implying the animacy
and mindfulness of matter, becomes seen as requiring its utter subordinacy to
the will of a rational deity. In the Protestant sacred, matter is reconceived in
what Dooyeweerd called a cosmonomic manner, as the passive recipient of
laws impressed on it by a sovereign creator, by one who knows his creatures by
making them. The theoretical mastery of the scientist over nature depended on
this theological doctrine of divine mastery over the cosmos; in order to achieve
the mechanical description of the world according to mathematical laws,
matter had to be seen as wholly passive, containing no vital force or nisus.
Mechanical philosophers such as Boyle and Newton thus stressed the absolute
52 bronislaw szerszynski
sovereignty of God and the dependency of matter on him for its continued
existence and movement.
The arrival of the modern idea of technology that van Riessen describes is
difficult to imagine without this transformation of the sacred. As Mitcham has
related elsewhere, although the word has Greek origins, its modern usage is
distinctive. Aristotle only conjoined the words techne and logos once, and this in
the Rhetoric, seeming to use the term to refer to the way that words, divorced
from their, in my terms, vertical relation to universal reason, could be used
solely as a means to quotidian, horizontal ends. The Greek word technologousi
was used in this sense up to the twelfth century not as craft subordinated to
reason, but as reasoning subordinated to craft and artfulness. But with the
Reformation, and particularly with Puritanism, came a new emphasis on
reducing the arts to universal, univocal methodological principles on finding
the logos of techne itself, the science that defines all the arts, and thus over-
coming the recalcitrance of matter and making it subservient to logos. The
Latinised word technologia, and its synonym technometria, emerged as terms in the
work of the sixteenth century French Protestant rhetorician Peter Ramus, who
used them in the more modern sense of the logos of the relations among all
technai (Mitcham 1994, 129-130). These changes constitute the extension of
logos, of speech and reason, deeper into the fabrication process, expunging the
residual animism that was involved in conceiving the craftsman as having to co-
operate with matter. Thus it is now not just, or even principally, the ends and
form of artefacts that are amenable to logos, but the very process of design and
manufacture itself, as described by van Riessen. In this new ordering of nature
and technology homo faber, the human as fabricator, is no longer one who co-
operates with matter as another creature with its own desires and goals; instead,
he acts on it from outside, yet as one who knows it more intimately than it does
itself, as if its creator.
The growing scientific construal of nature allows the technologist to inter-
vene in it in a sovereign manner commanding nature through a following of
it which is now conceived as following Gods laws and thus God himself. In The
Advancement of Learning ([1605] 1960), Bacon conceived of the technological
relation with nature as promising not just an amelioration of the human
condition, but a radical transformation of it, a return to the conditions of ease
and harmony with nature enjoyed by humans before the Fall (Noble 1999; Song
2003). Here we can see the emergence of the modern idea of technology as
a fusion of art and reason, of techne and logos, which promises to bring the
certainty of reason to humanitys technical dealings with matter. In the process,
the traditional hierarchy of techne and episteme was reversed the highest, most
certain knowledge now derives not from contemplation but from active
intervention. And the modern, technological understanding of progress was
framed as a salvation project as the project of delivering humanity from the
creaturely conditions of contingency and finitude, and of returning it to the
conditions of ease and harmony with nature that had been enjoyed before the
technology, monotheism and neo-calvinist philosophy 53
Yet even here, although all the elements of modern technology seem to be in
place, we have still not quite arrived at modern technology as it presents itself
today. The Reformation may have elevated the vita activa and thus given a new
dignity to worldly action, and the secular theology of Newton and Boyle might
have rendered matter passive and knowable in a way it could not have been for
the Greeks. But technology during the Reformation is still largely seen as simply
a means to an end, and as incapable of guiding action. For Protestants,
economic activity is able to serve as a sign of spiritual election, and technology
is used to pursue religious aims, but the technological has not yet become a
whole way of thinking. The arts may be being regarded in a newly positive way,
but in the Reformation period they are still conceived in terms similar to those
of the classical period, as means that can be used to achieve particular goals in
a context construed in terms of non-technical understandings of human
flourishing (Daly 1970, 419).
The final transformation of the sacred that was necessary for the consti-
tution of technology in its distinctively modern form was the emergence of
what I call the modern sacred. The transcendent axis is pulled into the very
empirical world that was constituted by its ejection, producing a new imma-
nentist ordering of the sacred, grasped through Enlightenment reason or
Romantic sensibility. Rather as Dooyeweerd describes modern humanism as an
immanence philosophy, Being and order, instead of being seen as deriving
from a supernatural source external to empirical reality, are increasingly seen
as properties of that reality itself. The world thereby comes to be seen as profane in
a newly radical sense not just as being less sacred than its divine source, but
as having no relation to the sacred at all. However, the transcendent axis, now
introjected into the material world as an immanent ordering principle, still
operates in a hidden way to maintain the idea of a single truth about the
Both the human subject and nature come to take on attributes that
had previously been assigned to the divine; for example, whereas for Anselm it
had been God who was the necessary being that being whose existence
could not be denied without logical contradiction for Descartes this status is
assigned to the human subject; in atheistic science the laws of nature become
seen as inherent to matter rather than imposed on it from outside; and the
sublime object of fear and fascination becomes not God but nature.
With the emergence of the modern sacred, we see the demise of that crucial
world-relation that emerged with the axial religions and the monotheistic
sacred: the sense that this world points towards the next one by both symbolis-
ing transcendent truths and preparing the faithful for eternal life. Instead,
there is a focus on the endless reproduction of immanent life-processes within
this world. Here, the natural and biological takes on a new immanence and self-
sufficiency. The natural had itself been constituted with the construction of the
vertical transcendent axis as the empirical counterpart to the transcendent

In Nature, Technology and the Sacred I also discuss an emergent postmodern sacred, what
Bellah calls a multiplex reality filled constituted by a plurality of cosmologies and worldviews
grounded in subjective experience, but there is not space in the present paper to discuss the
implications of this for technology.
54 bronislaw szerszynski
divine. In as far as they were creatures, created beings, things had a nature. But
the creature was never solely biological, merely natural. Within earlier order-
ings of the sacred, to be rendered solely biological was to be stripped of sacral
or social status, to be in a state of deprivation of legal status or religious
communion with the divine, characteristic of the slave, apostate or those
convicted of a heinous crime (Arendt 1958, 84; Agamben 1998, 71-74). In the
modern period, by contrast, the biological becomes seen as a self-sufficient
mode of existence; what modern power administers is no longer legal subjects
but living beings (Foucault 1979, 142-143).
And in such societies the understanding and place of the human arts alters
radically. It is in the work of the German Enlightenment thinker Johann
Beckmann (1739-1811), that the concept of technology as a functional
description of the process of production emerges in its recognisably modern
sense (Mitcham 1994, 131). Beckmanns work is crucial for the development of
a systematic approach to technology, an approach which results in an
explosion in the scope and purchase of technique, and a progressive harnessing
of the practical arts to the goal of shaping and optimizing life itself. In this
development we are set on the way to the modern situation which Jacques Ellul
describes in The Technological Society, in which technique becomes self-direct-
ing, a closed, self-determining phenomenon. In a world characterised by what
Ellul calls autonomous technology, no concrete individual steers the techno-
logical process; rather than individuals being the wielders and directors of
technology, they are responsible only for seeing that the technical act is done
correctly (Daly 1970, 420). Technique becomes an end in itself, in which each
component is functional, adapted not to specific ends but to the needs of a
technical system (Ellul 1964). This completion of the final stage of the
emergence of modern technology, in which both the human and nature are
enframed as standing reserve (Heidegger 1977), is made possible by the
emergence of the modern sacred. The sublimity of the monotheistic God
His supra-human grandeur, His indifference to the interests and projects of
individual humans is transferred to technology (Nye 1994). The techno-
logical world-relation starts to function not simply as a means to the achieve-
ment of non-technical goals, but as the very framework within which goals and
values have to be articulated. With the loss of a supernatural reference for
either salvation or worldly power, the ends and purposes of the quasi-
salvational project of technology come to be understood in purely technical
ways, and as requiring the adaptation of the human to technological impera-
tives. As van Riessen puts it, technology is turned demonic (van Riessen [1961]
1979, 307; see also Szerszynski 2006)

3. Discussion: history, politics and technology
As I have tried to indicate in the previous section, there are many points of
connection between my analysis and that of Reformational thinkers such as
Dooyeweerd and van Riessen. Dooyeweerds insistence on the religious presup-
positions of thought, his series of ground motives, his argument about the role
technology, monotheism and neo-calvinist philosophy 55
of an Archimedean point outside the cosmos for philosophy, his analysis of
modern humanism and materialism in terms of the immanentisation of themes
from the Christian metanarrative all of these find echoes in my own
argument about how contemporary secular thought is ineradicably shaped by
Western religious history. Van Riessens analysis of modern technology goes
further than my own in explicating its distinctive internal structure, but meshes
productively with my arguments about the relationship between modern
technology and the Protestant sacred. I have found the process of exploring
these connections, and engaging more broadly with this important but
underappreciated branch of modern philosophy, extremely fruitful. However,
I have also found identifying the divergences between my own approach and
those of these neo-Calvinist philosophers very useful for clarifying certain issues
in my own work. For reasons of space I will here just identify what I think are
the two most significant of these divergences, and some of their implications.
Firstly, there are differences in the role played by history in my analysis and in
Dooyeweerds. For example, in my story of the long arc of monotheism, each
stage, while not being necessitated by the one proceeding, is profoundly
conditioned by it. Each ordering of the sacred is unimaginable without all the
preceding stages. The transformation of the sacred can only go forward
although which direction will constitute forward cannot be determined in
advance. By contrast, for Dooyeweerd, although the above might be said of the
Thomist and humanist cosmonomic ideas (roughly corresponding to my mono-
theistic sacred and modern sacred respectively), it does not apply to the neo-
Calvinist cosmonomic idea and its creationfallredemption ground motive.
For Dooyeweerd, the emergence of what I call the Protestant sacred represents
not simply a further mutation of the sacred, but a return to the original ground
motive of Christianity. Medieval thought for Dooyeweerd was simply an
unstable fusion of this creationfallredemption motive with the matterform
motive of pagan thought. With the arrival of the Reformation, of Calvin, and
later on of Kuyper, Christian thought was progressively disentangled from this
medieval synthesis, divested of any residual dualism between nature and
supernature, and finally articulated as neo-Calvinist or Reformational philo-
Underlying this contrast between us is the perhaps more profound diffe-
rence that, while Dooyeweerds approach is based on a commitment to a
Calvinistic view of the world, mine is not confessional in the same way. More
exactly, my own understanding of the sacred and of Being is more radically
historical than that of Dooyeweerd. For Dooyeweerd, the divine is supra-
temporal, and human beings are themselves able to overcome the limits of
creaturely temporality through the experience of religious self-reflection.
Religious truths may be revealed in history, but they allow us to transcend it. My
approach to the sacred, by contrast, is one which sees it as unfolding in time, so
that religious apperceptions are always necessarily situated in a particular
ordering of the sacred (though these orderings are rarely as pure and
unalloyed as I presented them above, and the transitions between them are
generally complex and contested). From my point of view, Dooyeweerds views,
56 bronislaw szerszynski
and those of neo-Calvinism more generally, are ineluctably situated in history,
within the outworking of what I call the Protestant sacred.
This has a number
of further implications. For example, the foundationalist claim that secure
knowledge requires an Archimedean point may be a presupposition that
belongs to a particular, historically situated way of thinking, rather than an
apodictic truth that applies to all such ways of thinking. Furthermore, I would
not necessarily share Dooyeweerds confidence that a Reformational theology
of the world would not have a tendency to collapse into the immanentism of
the modern sacred.
Secondly, van Riessen and I present similar critiques of modern technology
as having a tendency to become autonomous from the human will, and thereby
to dehumanise working life and diminish human freedom and responsibility.
However, I would argue that the structure of modern technology is more firmly
implicated in the transformations of the sacred than van Riessen would allow,
in a way that makes it harder to separate the forming power of technology
from its tendency to generate alienated forms of subjectivity and other social
and ecological pathologies. Van Riessen seems to imply that modern techno-
logy, the forming power of which derives from its division between a highly
intellectualised preparatory moment of analysis and design, and a more mecha-
nical moment of execution, could be combined in an effective way with a
Christian model of the human calling to serve God in the unfolding of His
creation. Yet the ills of modern technology cannot simply be blamed on the
humanist belief in the autonomy of the human being. Technological forms of
abstraction, in which the user is increasingly insulated from the effects of
technical action on an object and positioned in a way that they can control it
through knowledge of the latters laws (Feenberg 1999, 203-205), are inextric-
able from particular models of the human subject and society, through their
joint dependency on shared metaphysical presuppositions.
Curtailing the demonic and alienating character of technology might thus
require a more radical transformation of technological forming than van
Riessen recognises, one which did not merely situate it within a Christian frame-
work of divine providence and human calling, but involved a dismantling of its
very internal structure. The political discourse that corresponds to this divided
structure can be traced back to the separation performed by Plato in Statesman
of beginning (archein) and achieving (prattein), which meant that knowing
what to do and doing it became seen as quite separate activities. The role of the
beginner or leader as primus inter pares who depends on others to help him or
her see an enterprise through, was turned into that of a ruler (archon) who
rules in isolation and claims for himself the achievement of the many (Arendt
1958, 189-190, 222-223). The path from techne to modern technology follows the
same route, and just as the stark division between archein and prattein in political
discourse after Plato obscures the real nature of political power with its myth of
the strong, solitary leader, so too does the separation of intellectual prepara-
tion and physical execution in the modern understanding of technology

Of course, it would be foolish to claim that my own analysis is somehow floating free from
technology, monotheism and neo-calvinist philosophy 57
perhaps obscure the real nature of technological power. It may be that our
passage through the long arc of monotheism has increased the power of our
technologies, but has at the same time diminished our capacity to understand
their power, by canalising the way that we think about action in particular,
unhelpful ways. Alienated labour, unanticipated ecological consequences,
runaway technological change these may all be inextricably linked to the
divided internal structure of technology that van Riessen identifies, and that I
see as a product of our religious history. It may therefore be fruitful to draw on
understandings of technological forming that reject the dualism of preparation
and execution, such as the analysis by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari of the
minor science of artisanal production, which they analyse not as the
imposition of form on passive matter but as the task of coaxing out the
potentialities that lie within an active matter (Deleuze and Guattari 1988).
In a sense, the task of discerning the possible future trajectories for our
relation with technology must take a form which parallels that identified by
Deleuze and Guattari in artisanal production. We cannot simply return to an
earlier ordering of the sacred which would shape our understanding of the
practical arts in a different way; neither can we invent one de novo. Instead, we
need to discern the potentialities that lie latent in the present. Whether or not
we agree with Dooyeweerd and van Riessen about the Reformational cure for
our technological condition, their profound analysis of modern thought and
modern technology can be of inestimable value in that task.

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Heller-Roazen, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
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natuur, in Deus et Machina: de Verwevenheid van Technologie en Religie, edited
by Michiel D.J. van Well, STT, Den Haag.
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Philosophia Reformata 75 (2010) 6074
Jan Hoogland
On May 22th 2008 Bronislaw Szerszynski held his Van Riessen Memorial Lecture at the
Delft University of Technology. In this lecture Szerszynski presented his own view on the
relation between religion and the modern technological condition, which shows
some striking parallels with the way in which Reformational Philosophy sees it. Szer-
szynski wanted to show that the sacred and the profane/secular are not just opposites
excluding each other, but that the profane/secular itself must be understood in
religious terms. In the first part of this article the background, presuppositions and
trends of this debate will be sketched and in the second part the parallels and
differences between Szerszynski and Reformational Philosophy will be delineated.

A. Introduction: background, presuppositions and developments
Religion is back on the menu. After years of relative silence, the phenomenon
of religion is once again attracting considerable attention, particularly the
question of the extent of its role in the public domain. Some speak of religion
making a come-back. For others this is a development they find difficult to
accept. For a long time many people hoped religion would simply disappear of
itself. Gradually, however, the question has arisen whether religion must not be
considered a permanent factor and whether a world without religion isnt
A variety of developments are responsible for the renewed interest in this
topic in the public mind, including debate in social scientific and philosophical
contexts in Western Europe. Let me mention a few key factors. One of them is
simply a change of attitude towards religion. In the Dutch context for example,
sentiments are simply less negative towards religion than was characteristic for a
long time. Many people in the postwar years distanced themselves from their
faith and appeared to have either negative or less than positive memories of
religion. Many appear to have turned away from their own past and especially
against its restrictive and traditionalistic side. Currently there is a new
generation that is less burdened by negative experiences out of their own
religious past. Openness, freedom and curiosity about religion have grown.
There is more openness not only in people from secular backgrounds but
also in those who have strong religious convictions; they too appear to share
this growing openness towards people with different world views and life
convictions. For example, there is a less stringently dismissive attitude on their
part towards the theory of evolution. It also appears that many people who are
outspoken confessors of religious beliefs are now more accepting of the
pluralistic character of the society in which they live. For instance, there seems
to be a growing openness among orthodox Christians to the world around
them. The recent debate about Intelligent Design commented on by the then
the secular as an ordering of the sacred? 61
Dutch Minister of Education, Maria van der Hoeven, was widespread and led
to greater flexibility and openness on the subject of faith and science.
Both developments appear to have strengthened each other and lead to
greater frankness in the discussions about the significance of religion in mo-
dern society both on the part of secular as well as explicitly religious people.
This was evident in the Dutch situation in a project recently completed by the
Future Vision for Technology Foundation whose theme was the relationship
between religion and technology. This project involved a variety of people with
very different disciplinary and ideological backgrounds. Hence, the project is
an example of the trend being identified here(van Well 2008).

I. Presuppositions
1. The mainstream view
The initial background to the current debate about religion and modernity was
the Secularization Thesis which dominated the picture for a long time.
Roughly speaking it said that the modernization of society involved an irrever-
sible process, ongoing evolution that would of itself lead to the disappearance
of religion. Where religion still existed in societies this was a residue from a pre-
modern era that would eventually disappear. It was therefore unnecessary to
work for its disappearance. Religious experiences and feelings could be
tolerated as part of peoples private beliefs. It is fine for a person to receive
inspiration or comfort from his religious belief, provided they played no role in
public life. In the public domain the only arguments allowed were those
accessible and potentially convincing to everyone.
Currently, cracks have begun forming in this view, the one dominant in the
public debate for a long time. An important sign of this is visible in the
introductory chapter of Faith in the public domain of the Scientific Council for
Government Policy.

2. The concept of religion
A second part of the background to the debate about religion and modernity is
the meaning of the word religion itself. A simplistic appeal is often made to
this word, but its use is anything but clear and uncontroversial. The word
religion as understood in the contemporary mind, refers to a limited domain of

See van de Donk, Jonkers, Kronjee and Plum (2006, Chapter 1). The dominant idea of
the Modernization Thesis was that once people and a society had grasped the rational struc-
ture of development, growth and production, and once they began functioning and organiz-
ing society accordingly, everything involved in religion, all it had to offer and especially its
superstition and supernaturalism, would be abandoned as empty and useless. Reality was
assumed to be that which was material, tangible, countable, and once the means of manipu-
lating and controlling the processes of production, bringing about the desired material
ends, all the smoke and mirrors of the religious past would prove themselves worthless in
the face of instrumental power, and religion would be disposed of. There was a certain
social evolutionary belief about the material essence of life, about the so-called rational
manipulation of the environment and about what constituted true human need which was
dead wrong.
62 jan hoogland
social reality. In the past, religion was understood as saturating the whole of
society not just a limited domain of social reality. In the modern view religion
is seen as independent from or even as standing over against a secular domain
in which it no longer has any significant influence. In other words, the contem-
porary notion of religion is itself the expression of a world picture in which it
has become something limited and particular, something that has to be ex-
plained (explanandum) instead of the primary explanatory factor (explanans).
Viewed in terms of the modern world picture what must be explained is the
function religion fulfills and why so many people attach value and cling to a
religious way of thinking. The word religion, as portrayed here, exists in a
context which already views itself as post-religious.

3. The natural contra the super-natural
Another part of this modernistic world picture which determines the meaning
of the concept of religion is a sharp division between that which is natural and
that which is conceived of as supernatural the natural being understood as
that which is open to empirical observation and inter-subjective scientific
testability. This division is only possible on the basis of certain presuppositions
or obvious facts which are thoroughly intertwined with the rise of a certain
scientific world picture. In this world picture the only phenomena considered
real are those accessible to empirical observation. Strictly subjective experi-
ences that cannot be tested by others do not belong among such phenomena.
When someone asserts, for example, that they have experienced Gods help in
a certain circumstance, this is considered an untestable statement. Moreover,
no one is considered able to check if this help really took place and with visible
effects. Even when the effects are visible it cannot be proved that Gods help
may be counted as the cause of the effect.
According to this conception, it is this kind of supernaturally designated
experiences of events and phenomenon that religion is connected with and
cannot be explained in terms of natural criterion. Religion is connected to a
belief in supernatural powers, the existence of which are not scientifically

4. Public and private, church and state
Another assumption which has long dominated the debate surrounding reli-
gion and modernity is the separation of a public from a private domain, and by
extension a division between church and state. To a considerable extent this
division is one that has a legal basis: the separation between public and private,
public and civil law. The state has an important role in regard to the public
domain, but should be restricted in terms of the private domain of the citizens
which is protected by freedoms designated in a constitution. Within the citizens
private sphere they may directly appeal to the freedoms pertaining to their
private matters. In the public domain the state is expected to act in a neutral
way and not be influenced by any private convictions of individual citizens,
regardless of their status within the public sphere.
the secular as an ordering of the sacred? 63
In this way it is assumed that only matters and arguments that are accessible
and open to the scrutiny of everyone can be made to hold in the public
domain. Faith and world views do not belong to this domain because they are
personal and hence belong to the private sphere. Peoples faith convictions are
not susceptible to objective testing and hence the truth of such beliefs cannot
be evaluated through careful research. Everyone is free in the private sphere to
have his or her own convictions, but not to make publically recognizable claims
about them.

II. Developments
The four background topics pertaining to the debate about religion referred
to above have lately become problematic because of a number of develop-
ments. These developments are anything but unambiguous and for this reason
have given rise to contradictory reactions. In the Dutch situation examples can
be given of very different reactions regarding the participation of the Christen
Unie, a small Christian orthodox political party, in the ruling coalition under
Prime Minister Balkenende (2007-2010). Many people, particularly baby boom-
ers, view this participation as the rebirth of the moral constraints of the 1950s.
Others welcomed it as a correction on the moral-vacuity of liberal and neo-
liberal ideas and the loss of any concept of norms and values so charac-
teristic of the second half of the 20
century. Even members of the Christen
Unie offer a divided picture to the viewer. Some members view taking part in
the governing coalition as a departure from the principled approach taken by
the ChristianUnie up until now; while others appreciate the participation of
their party precisely as an example of a renewed openness and willingness of
orthodox Christians to face the problems of contemporary society. Both inside
and outside of the party opinions about the participation in the coalition are

1. The changing self-image of the Enlightenment
It is remarkable to note the wide variety of fundamental criticisms leveled
against the self-image of the Enlightenment that arose in the 20
century. Of
course, even from the beginning of the Enlightenment there were tensions and
differences of interpretation within it. On the one hand there were the
supporters of the radical Enlightenment who believed that Enlightenment
implied a radical break with all religion (see Israel 2001). Even today the radical
position manifests itself, for example in discussions of views espoused by Ayaan
Hirshi Ali in political debate in the Netherlands. On the other hand many
supporters of the Enlightenment have thought that its way of thinking could
easily be combined with a religious conviction or perhaps even that it presup-
posed one. Some even assert that it has always operated under the influence of
religious roots or motives and has never been in a radically sense anti-religious
(see Verbrugge 2004, 194-251). Yet others, such as Horkheimer and Adorno,
have tried to show that there were certain parallels between a Mythic
64 jan hoogland
orientation and Enlightenment and that the rationality of the Enlightenment
has an irrational flip-side (see Horkheimer and Adorno 1971). Only by
acknowledging this flip-side is one able to continue thinking and acting in the
spirit of the Enlightenment.
Nevertheless, over the course of time an image of the Enlightenment has
emerged and become dominant in which religion and Enlightenment are taken
to be antithetical. Religion is inimical to the idea of human autonomy or self-
determination that is the starting point of the Enlightenment. When human
beings learn to make use of their own rational abilities and continue to view
reality more and more scientifically this is supposed to lead naturally to the
disappearance of religion.
There is growing doubt about the foundations of this conception. There are
more and more indications that religion is not about to disappear any time
soon. On the contrary, it appears that a secular way of thinking in a global
context is becoming relatively exceptional. It appears that globally speaking the
number of Christians and Muslims just keeps increasing. Moreover it also
appears that in highly developed countries such as the United States, religion
continues to play an important role even in public life.

2. Post-modernism
With the rise of postmodern thought, criticism of Enlightenment thinking
received an important new impulse. Although postmodern thought cannot
really be viewed as a single movement since it is more a collective name for a
cluster of ideas subscribed to by a loose fraternity of philosophers, it can be
characterized as a certain type or trend of thought. One of these philosophers,
Lyotard, formulated a critique of the Enlightenment in terms of the end of
grand narratives.(See Lyotard 1979.) According to him, the Enlightenment is
based on the illusion of having a meta-language that could be considered
capable of comprehending all possible meanings in itself and representing
them adequately. Whatever people might disagree about it would not be about
the validity of this meta-language. What is important is only the ability to explain
conflicts in terms of this meta-language, in order that potential sources of
conflict could be removed. This is how the Enlightenment itself became a
grand narrative albeit a secularized one. The rationality of the Enlighten-
ment especially as embodied in the sciences developed into a legitimizing
framework especially for the domain of public life.
Lyotards critique argues that this dream does not do justice to the many
layers of meaning contained in all the particular languages and ways of life. Put
differently, the language of Enlightenment rationality and science is at best one
language among many, not a unifying language capable of comprehending and
representing all other languages (see Lyotard 1983). With the rejection of this
conception the most important basis of the dominant Enlightenment view of
religion immediately collapses, namely, that the contradictions between the dif-
ferent religions and religious currents would all disappear once their meaning
(functionality) could finally be scientifically explained.

the secular as an ordering of the sacred? 65
3. Developments in the philosophy of science
Within discussions of philosophy of science the rationality of the Enlightenment
itself is now in a unique way under sharp scrutiny. When you look at the
philosophy of science debates of the 20th century you can see that thinkers
were pretty much caught between two striking extremes: the first was early in
the century culminating in the ideal of the unity of scientific language
conceived of by adherents of the Vienna Circle and logical-positivism, and on
the other hand, the pamphlet, We Have Never Been Modern by the French
science theorist Bruno Latour (see Latour 1991).
The attempt to achieve a single scientific language was the desire to have a
totally transparent and unambiguous rational scientific basis for human think-
ing and acting. This would in accordance with the ideal of August Comtes
Positivism finally lead to the abandonment of religion and metaphysics.
Curiously enough, this Positivist view triggered a debate in which the rationality
of science and scientific development came under increasingly critical scrutiny.
Whereas Popper raised the question of the possibility of scientific verification,
Kuhn questioned the whole idea of a steady growth in scientific knowledge.
According to Kuhn, the development of science is dependent upon factors
both inside and outside of scientific research, including social and cultural
events; and there is certainly no question of a continuous, uni-linear progress in
science. The pioneering investigations of Kuhn also gave a significant impulse to
further investigation of the process of scientific research, no longer just as a
subject for philosophical reflection, but also of empirical investigation.
These developments are the background of Latours ideas and statements.
In addition to empirical-philosophical inquiry into scientific and technological
developments, he wrote a scorching philosophical manifesto criticizing moder-
nitys self-image. According to Latour, there is a false perception that moder-
nity represents a fundamental qualitative break with pre-modern times. Where
people in the pre-modern era supposedly still lived in a world of prejudice and
superstition, modern people supposedly stood on a reasonable and objective
basis of science. In other words, from religion and superstition modern man
stepped into the era of true scientific understanding. This is at least the modern
bias. Latour shows that much of it is fiction.
According to Latour, there is a difference between modern and earlier
times, but this is more a difference in quantity or degree than in quality. This
difference is the result of what Latour always calls the modern constitution.
This modern constitution is connected to the separation of powers, namely,
the separation between subject and object, a human world and the natural
world or between society and nature. It is this radical separation and the way it
was safeguarded that distinguishes the modern from the pre-modern period.
The modern era constantly wants to keep these worlds sharply separate by
purification: the human and non-human should constantly be kept uncon-
taminated by one another.
This modern constitution forms the fault line between modernity and its
predecessors and is based on a distorted self-image. In fact, modern reality has
been shaped by the connection of people and things, society and nature. Our
66 jan hoogland
modern world is increasingly populated by hybrids, entities that break down the
boundary between human and non-human. These hybrids cannot be recog-
nized or made sense of on the basis of a strict separation between subjects and
objects which the modernist is so happy to make.
The drift of Latours views is that if modernity itself was understood properly
we would see that there is continuity rather than a rupture between pre-
modern and modern and better understand and control the enormous
proliferation of hybrids. Instead of constantly reducing things either to a
subjective human world with its private meanings or to an objective world of
external nature, we should come to the recognition that all things are part of a
networks that permeates both worlds.
If Latour is correct, then this has consequences for the typical modern
separation of faith and knowledge. The modernists eagerly try to demon-
strate that there is a fundamental rupture between modern and premodern.
This break would also be carried out by breaking with the rule of tradition,
faith and opinions and to base the organization of society on rational insight
and objectively validated knowledge. In contrast to the traditional religions
modern people are supposed to be able to distinguish the natural (objective
data) from all that is human (man-made things, products of the human
spirit). Religion supposedly concerned only such products and was nothing but
the projection of human spirit into objective reality. Latour contests such
claims. According to him, at most there are different ways people relate to
nature and other things. Put differently, science, technology and religion each
perform the same task (of connecting nature and the human world) in
different ways, of which it cannot simply be said that the one way is better or
more adequate than the other.

4. The role of the supernatural
In accordance with the developments outlined above, one might ask the
empirical question of whether there really is less superstition and decreased
belief in the supernatural? While supernatural explanations appear to be
considered taboo in public debates, supernatural factors are still reckoned with
in numerous ways by many (secularized) Westerns in everyday life. These are
definitely not religious belief in the sense of convictions growing out of tradi-
tional religious doctrines. But they are often implicit assumptions reflected in
rituals or habits to which value is attached.
It is striking that the role played by the supernatural in the daily lives of many
Westerners has a more or less suppressed and taboo character. I refer to
experiences and events that receive no public recognition, and are dismissed as
superstition or imagination. People can fear and feel whatever they want about
them as long as it all remains in the shadows of private life. In so far as any
communal attention is given to any such experiential-worlds, it belongs to the
(psychological) world of human projection. One has to wonder whether there
isnt a connection between the suppression of all such private experiences
and the enormous popularity in our times of books and films about magic and
occult realities. It is remarkable here the ease with which the boundary
the secular as an ordering of the sacred? 67
between experience and imagination is crossed; that which in the public
domain receives no recognition, is indeed given abundant space in the realm of
fiction and projection.

III. Reformational philosophy
If there is anything about Reformational philosophy that made it unique
certainly when it was first developed then it was the plea for the recognition
of the intrinsic connection between faith and science. I intentionally did not
use the word religion just now. Not because Reformational Philosophy avoids
using this term. Quite the contrary, the word religion is used freely in this
philosophy. But there is an important distinction that is being pointed to
between faith and religion.
Within this Philosophy the word religion is used for the fundamental and
structural relationship between God and the creation, especially with humans.
It deals with the relationship between a transcendent, supra-temporal origin of
meaning and created reality, which is essentially temporal. Next to this
structural relation, Dooyeweerd discerns the function or aspect of faith which
is one of the many aspects in which all created things function (i.e. the pistical
aspect). Faith and expressions of worship, are the concrete forms in which
people, as religious beings, give expression to the fundamental connection or
relationship between God and man, which is religious in its very nature.
It is not easy to clarify this distinction without recourse to a high level of
abstraction and to what many thinkers consider a speculative notion coined by
Reformational philosophers. Nevertheless, I will try to define these two con-
cepts in line with this philosophy, but in less abstract terms.
With the word religion, this philosophy points to the fundamentally
dependent nature of created reality upon the meaning-origin of all things. The
entire reality in which we live and have our daily experience is a reality created
by God and continually connected to its transcendent origin of meaning. This
involvement receives a concentrated expression in the place humans occupy in
creation as the creature that is able to understand and express meaning, and to
consciously respond to claims made by the Creator. Since only human beings
have the competence to understand the meaning of creation, they can also
play an active role in its further development and unfolding to the glory of its
Creator. This implies that the fundamental human relationship is that of
responding to the Creator.
It is evident that this view is itself a choice of position based on certain beliefs
and interpretation about reality in which we live. The explanation of this
structural commitment is not value-free, but presupposes an interpretation of
creaturely reality. This position therefore continues to call forth discussion of a
fundamental nature. Many scholars will say that the assertion of a basic
dependence of creation upon meaning and a transcendent origin has not been
proven and hence that it is speculative to take this as a starting point.
Reformational Philosophy is very well aware of the fact that this assertion is a
choice of positions. For this reason it makes a second claim. It claims not only
68 jan hoogland
the validity of this position, but also that choosing such a fundamental position
is unavoidable. The claim that the world we live in is the result of random
processes with no underlying meaning or origin is an unproven assumption and
therefore also a position.
This ability of human beings to take a position with respect to such funda-
mental claims has to do with the pistical aspect which is one of the modal
functions. The practical way in which man give shape to religion, to this respon-
sive relationship with the Creator consists in a position-taking-reply of man to
his experience and interpretation of the meaning aspects of reality. As such,
every person has faith in the sense that they all embrace some fundamental
beliefs regarding the origin and meaning of temporal reality. In other words,
every human being confesses some beliefs regarding the origin and destiny of
reality and being.
This second claim implies, according to Reformational Philosophy, that
there is no meta-position available above the confessed positions each person
has to make regarding the origin of meaning of created reality. People can only
think, speak and act upon the basis of some confessed position of this kind.
Hence, this philosophy chooses a position in relation to the claim that
theoretical thinking or scientific rationality is only made possible by such a
meta-position. This may be looked at as the core of what is called transcendental
critique of theoretical thought. In summarizing this key idea, there seems to be a
certain parallel between it and Lyotards idea of the end of grand meta-
narratives. It should be noted that Reformational Philosophy expresses itself
more pointedly about the inevitability of taking a substantive position for which
humans are responsible.

B. The Van Riessen Memorial Lecture 2008
I. Introduction
Why was it that made Bronislaw Szerszynski an interesting candidate for giving
the Van Riessen Memorial Lecture? A distinction could be made here between
historical and content based reasons.
The historical reason was that Szerszynski had been asked earlier to give the
Keynote Lecture to a conference of the Foundation for the Future Image of
Technology, in connection with its research project on Technology and
Religion.(see Szerszynski 2008b) Various representatives of Reformational
Philosophy (Egbert Schuurman, Marc de Vries, Maarten Verkerk, Jan van der
Stoep and myself) as well as a wider circle of like minded people were involved.
A number of those who attended the lecture were struck by parallels between
one central thesis of Szerszynskis lecture and the transcendental critique discussed
above. The parallel also appeared in the conclusion of the Reformationally
oriented book Denken, ontwerpen, maken (Verkerk et al. 2007).
With this background the substantive occasion for the invitation was given.
What was striking about Szerszynskis talk was his forceful call for a renewed
symmetry between secular and religious world pictures. According to him the
the secular as an ordering of the sacred? 69
secular picture is mistakenly understood as a self-dependent reality, or even
stronger a self-evident reality. He thinks that no good reason can be given
for viewing religion as something in need of explanation in secular terms, as if
the secular world picture should be taken for granted (as the explanans) and
the religious world-picture be taken as in need of explaining (the explanan-
In reflecting on these theses two striking parallels appear: first the transcen-
dental critique of Reformational Philosophy as mentioned above and second,
Bruno Latours views elaborated in his We Have Never Been Modern.
In his work Szerszynski deals with the relation between issues of technology,
ecology and sustainability on the one hand and worldview and religion on the
other. In a sense the latter can be considered the framework which gives the
problems of ecology and sustainability their meaning and gravity for human
life. What he would like to show is that discussions about these issues cannot be
determined simply by facing the dilemmas connected with practical techno-
logical developments or exclusively from a technological point of view. A more
fundamental level of analysis is needed. It is crucial to discuss the metaphysical
and theological questions concerning the very nature of human being-in-the-
world, as Szerszynski says in his article in Beweging (Szerszynski 2008a, 9; see also
Szerszynski 2008b, 32/33).
From this point of view a parallel appears between Szerszynskis argument
and that of Herman Dooyeweerd (or Reformational Philosophy quite general-
ly). In his work, Dooyeweerd labours to show that modern Western philosophy
is dominated by the presupposition of the autonomy of the thinking subject
and the neutrality of philosophical and scientific knowledge. The scholars
religious beliefs or worldview are not supposed to play any role in science and
philosophy. The term Dooyeweerd coined for this philosophical theorem is
immanence philosophy: in the wide sense of all philosophy that seeks its
Archimedean point in philosophical thought itself, irrespective of its further
understanding of this latter, whether in a rationalistic, irrationalistic, meta-
physical, transcendental-logical, vitalistic, psycho-logical or historical sense (NC
I,14). The motive behind this postulate of neutrality is the supposed objectivity
of philosophical and scientific thought: What would become of the
objectivity, of the universal validity, of the controllability of philosophic
thought, if philosophy were to bind itself to presuppositions which go beyond
its own immanent boundaries? Religious and weltanschauliche convictions
may be highly respectable; indeed, a philosophy that understands its limits will
guard against attacking them. But, within the domain of philosophy, their
claims cannot be recognized. Here it is not a matter of believing in what ex-
ceeds the limits of our cognitive faculty. But, it is solely a question of objective
theoretical truth, valid alike for everyone who wants to think theoretically.
(NC I,14)
Dooyeweerds viewpoint resembles Szerszynskis claim about the problematic
character of the assumption that religion must be explained in purely secular
terms. But what then do the words purely secular mean exactly? According to
Szerszynski, the secular is originally always determined by its relation to and its
70 jan hoogland
difference with the sacred. In other words, both Szerszynski and Dooyeweerd
seem to have the intention of restoring the symmetry between a secular and a
religious worldview.

II. The sacred
In his Nature, technology and the sacred, Szerszynski (2005a, xi-xiii) examines more
deeply the broad, more-or-less mainstream culture of modern Western
societies . According to him, this mainstream culture includes the view that the
world in which we live, the reality of nature surrounding us, is radically
enchanted. But Szerszynski argues that this disenchantment of nature is itself
a form of enchantment, a very particular sacralization of nature, and one that
emerges within a specifically Western religious history. Modernity has its own
ordering of the sacred too: With the modern sacred, the transcendent axis is pulled
into the very empirical world that was constituted by its ejection, producing a
new immanentist ordering of the sacred in terms of the sacrality of life itself, a
sacrality grasped through Enlightenment reason or Romantic sensibility.
Szerszynski uses the term the sacred in a very specific way: It is taken in a
Durkheimian sense; to regard something as sacred is to set it apart from the
routine and the everyday; to attribute to it some kind of divine or transcendent
characteristics, power or significance; to treat it more as an end in itself than as
something that can legitimately be used solely as an means to an end. In short,
he endorses Kay Miltons view which defines the sacred as what matters most
to people. (Idem, 10)
In his own interpretation of this concept, Szerszynski pleads for a definition
in which the sacred includes or embraces, the profane, the secular. In other
words, Szerszynski wants to show that the sacred and the profane/secular are not
just opposites excluding each other, but that the profane/secular itself must be
understood in religious terms: I will be arguing that the secular treatment of
nature has itself to be understood in religious terms. Originally the concept of
the profane/secular had a meaning in its relation to the sacred/religious: the
entrance way leading to the temple or sanctuary. The term only recently got a
new meaning a space that was only profane, that had no relation to the sacred,
that did not need a sacral reference point to make it intelligible. (Idem, 11)
Szerszynski disagrees with the view that there is a qualitative difference
between modern and premodern societies: The idea that modern, Western
societies are qualitatively different from all other forms of society was a foun-
dation stone of the discipline of sociology as it developed from the nineteenth
century onwards. The core of this rupture between modernity and pre-
modernity should consist in abandoning a religious way of understanding
reality: Secularization was thus one of the key ideas used to capture the idea of
the uniqueness of modern Western society. And a key criterion for modernity
was held to be the loosening of the hold of religion on thought and action, and
its replacement by rational, scientific way of knowing and acting. Szerszynski
considers this secularisation thesis untenable: critics argued that the
prediction of an inevitable end of religion was too simplistic. (Idem, 12) At the
the secular as an ordering of the sacred? 71
same time this thesis is still the dominant view. Despite a diversity of definitions
of the concept of secularisation they all have one idea in common an
understanding of the religious that positions it as one phenomenon among
others within society. Society understood fundamentally in secular terms, as
a mundane sphere made up of human beings, their ideas and institutions is
seen as the more fundamental, primary phenomenon. (Idem, 13)
From this perspective modern thought sees the secular as the unmarked
term, that which needs no explanation. The secular is understood as either a
self-dependent reality underlying any specific sacralizations offered by the
religions of the world or a universal form of thought that was always waiting
within human history as a potentiality, indeed the destiny, of human-
kind.(Szerszynski 2005b, 814) The background of this view is the Enlighten-
ment idea that religion is displaced by science and technology, by the rational
understanding and manipulation of both inner and outer nature.(Szerszynski
2005a, 14) By way of contrast, Szerszynski states that we need to see the secular
as a peculiar and distinctive product of the religious and cultural history of the
West and as itself a religious phenomenon.(Szerszynski 2005b, 814) He wants
to call into question the notion of the disenchantment of reality: What if the
narrative of the disenchantment of nature is little more than a creation myth of
modern society a half truth told in order to secure a sense of modernitys
exceptionality, its discontinuity with earlier cultures (...)? What if the critics of
modernity have sold the pass by even admitting that nature has been stripped
of sacrality, and that the modern technological mastery of nature is a wholly
secular enterprise?(Szerszynski 2005a, 7) This means that the sacred must not
be explained in terms of the secular, but on the contrary that the secular must
be seen as a unique result of history in which the sacred has always played a
central role. This history can be seen as a history of successive orderings of the
sacred of which modern secularism is only a peculiar manifestation: For on
closer examination the narrative of disenchantment the rendering of the
world as totally profane and without spiritual significance itself involves and
calls forth new forms of enchantment. (Idem)
Against this background the significance of Szerszynskis approach to the
sacred should now be clear. He avoids presenting a simple definition of this
term because he wants to show the problems involved in the notion of the
secular, in contrast to the sacred: How did a cultural form emerge that under-
stands itself not as engaging in heresy, idolatry, or apostasy but as nonreligious,
to be understood in its own, immanent terms, with no need of a sacral
reference point to make it intelligible? (Szerszynski 2005b, 815) Within this
definition of the problem the concept of religion is less suited, because of the
fact that this is already a modern concept whose meaning is dominated by the
opposition of a religious and a non-religious part of reality. From this
viewpoint the notion of the sacred is relatively neutral. So this term can help to
restore the symmetry between the religion and the secular with the result that
the secular looses its absolute status.
Szerszynski denies the self-evidence of secularism. In his eyes there is no good
reason to suppose that religion must be seen as the explanandum (what has to
72 jan hoogland
be explained) and the secular as the explanans (the explanatory factor). For
him the question must be posed differently: how can we explain the fact that
secularism could come into being as a peculiar form of the sacred? How could
this be the result of a long, religious history? Hence, it is useless to create an
absolute opposition between a religious and a secular worldview. Rather, the
question is what are the successive phases of the sacred in history, of which the
secular is only the most recent?

III. Szerszynski and Reformational philosophy; conclusion
As stated earlier, Szerszynskis thought shows parallels with certain Reforma-
tional philosophical insights. But there are important differences too. First,
while Szerszynski is unclear at this point, Reformational philosophy stresses the
impossibility of arguing about worldview and religion from a neutral stand-
point. There is no meta-position from which the total field of questions of
worldview and religion can be viewed and described in a neutral way, inde-
pendent of any particular standpoint. So it would make sense to ask Szerszynski
in what language could the different orderings of the sacred be discussed and
compared with each other.
Secondly, the standpoint which Reformational philosophy advocates the
impossibility of a neutral point of view implies that taking a position is
unavoidable. Every form of theorizing about religion and worldview presup-
poses the confession of ones own point of view. I use the word confession in
this context because from the standpoint of Reformational philosophy this
taking of a position is essentially a religious act which must be located in the
human heart, as implied in Scripture. In his main work, Dooyeweerd defines
religion as: the innate impulse of the human selfhood to direct itself toward
the true or toward a pretended absolute Origin of all temporal diversity of
meaning, which it finds focused concentrically in itself. This description is
indubitably a theoretical and philosophical one, because in philosophical
reflection an account is required of the meaning of the word religion in our
argument. This explains also the formal transcendental character of the
description, to which the concrete immediacy of the religious experience
remains strange.(NC I, 57)

It is difficult to understand this definition without knowing its background.
As I understand it, religion for Dooyeweerd is not necessarily related to (a faith
in) a supernatural reality. Anything functioning as a starting point or as basic
beliefs for a person and giving shape to their life is, de facto, of a religious
character. As such it plays a role in all reflection about religious faith or
worldview. It is impossible to reflect on these subjects without having already
taken a position.
The second difference between Szerszynskis position and Reformational
philosophy concerns the question whether, or in what sense, religions or
worldviews can claim to be true. What does it mean when someone claims that
his faith, worldview or beliefs are true in comparison with other convictions
which are contrary to it? It is clear that this claim does not fully correspond
the secular as an ordering of the sacred? 73
with the claim that one certain proposition is true. At the same time it is
impossible to reject the truth-claim of a religion or worldview without any
argument, because unmistakably they contain some propositional assumptions
about what reality is like.
One should notice here that Reformational philosophy speaks of the
perspective structure of truth. With this notion, Dooyeweerd tries to make
clear that the concept of truth is a multilayered one. Within the context of the
sciences, the meaning of this concept relates to the question of whether a
hypothesis or a proposition may be considered to correspond to empirical
facts. When in the context of the Bible, Jesus Christ says that he is the way and
the truth and the life (John 14:6), the word truth has a more existential or
religious meaning. The truth of the proposition 2 x 2 = 4 is a truth within a
specific context, but it becomes an untruth, if it is absolutized into a truth in
itself (Wahrheit an sich).(NC II, 572) It is true within a certain wider context:
The transcendent, religious fullness of Truth, which alone makes all truth
within the temporal horizon possible, does not concern an abstract theoretical
function of thought. It is concerned with our full selfhood, with the heart of the
whole of human existence, consequently also the centre of our theoretical
thought.(NC II, 571) Therefore it is important to see that these relative
truths depend upon a cosmonomic idea, which offers an account of the
fundamental view one holds of the diversity and coherence of meaning of
created reality. These background ideas are of a pre-theoretical character and
appear to be comparable with what Szerszynski designates as the sacred.
Hence, the question of truth is a difficult but a relevant question. When it is
true that in a Dooyeweerdian sense truth has a perspective structure,
then the question remains how the religious truth which touches the heart is
related to the empirical truth of scientific claims, propositions and hypotheses.
How should one determine the correctness of Szerszynskis claim that
secularism is only one of the consecutive orderings of the sacred? Is this
merely an empirical claim? Or is it a claim at the level of a cosmonomic idea,
an interpretation of the meaning and coherence of reality? Is it tied to the
dimension Dooyeweerd designates as a transcendent religious dimension,
which touches the heart, (and which) lends to all temporal truth its stability,
and certitude.(NC II, 572) Judged from the perspective of Reformational
Philosophy, Szerszynskis claims have a status which transcends an empirically
testable hypothesis and considered the ultimate meaning of reality in which we
So there remains a clear difference between Szerszynskis point of view and
Dooyeweerds. Finally, one interprets the religious dimension as a dimension
which touches the human heart and asks for an account of ones most
fundamental beliefs and convictions. I dont really know whether Szerszynskis
own position can agree with this confessional claim of Herman Dooyeweerd.

I am grateful to Roger Henderson for his help with the translation of this article.
74 jan hoogland
Donk, W.B.H.J. van de, Jonkers, A.P., Kronjee, G..J. and Plum, R.J.J.M. (ed.)
(2006), Geloven in het publieke domein Verkenningen van een dubbele trans-
formatie (Faith in the public domain Explorations into a transformation in
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Dooyeweerd, Herman (1953), A new critique of theoretical thought, 4 volumes, H.J.
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Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962), The structure of scientific revolutions, University of
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religion today, Zygon 40(4), 813-822.
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72(3), 5-9.
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natuur, in van Well (2008), 26-33.
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en religie, Stichting Toekomstbeeld der Techniek, Den Haag (available at
Philosophia Reformata 75 (2010) 7581

Peter Blokhuis
When asked how he would characterize himself, Andree Troost said: I am a
philosopher of theology (Geelhoed and De Boer 2002). Troost studied
theology, but he read more philosophical than theological books. He learned
from the reformational philosophy of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven how to be
a critical theologian, and critical he was: in the many articles he wrote for
Philosophia Reformata, Troost joined issue with theologians who do not realize
that philosophy comes first, attempting to lay bare the presuppositions of
theology. The same he did in the two books he published in 2004 and 2005.
Troost stopped writing for Philosophia Reformata in 2001. He passed away on 18
March 2008.
Troost also wrote about ethics and philosophical anthropology. After writing
his dissertation on casuistry and situation ethics, he was appointed Professor of
Ethics at the VU University Amsterdam. There he went his own way, working on
the development of the Reformational Philosophy.
Troost called himself one of Dooyeweerds followers. He used to say, We
should go back to Dooyeweerd. In the sub-title of his book Antropocentrische
Totaliteitswetenschap, he also refers to him: Inleiding tot de reformatorische wijsbegeerte
van H. Dooyeweerd (Introduction to the Reformational Philosophy of H. Dooye-
weerd). In this book, he remarks that sometimes he emphasizes other points
than Dooyeweerd does but his thought is always in the line of Dooyeweerds
philosophy (Troost 2005, 9). In my view, however, Troost was too modest. He
made his own significant contribution to philosophical anthropology and
ethics. Unfortunately there are no followers of Troost. For me, however, he
created new room for thinking about ethics and philosophical anthropology.
In this article, I focus on Troosts ideas on ethics.

1. Cape Horn
In his writings on ethics, Dooyeweerd (1953-1958, II 154) mentioned the issue of
the modal meaning kernel of the ethical aspect the Cape Horn (i.e. the most
dangerous point) of Christian ethics. Dooyeweerd uses the word love for both
the meaning kernel of the ethical aspect and the central religious relationship
to God. Theologians often do not distinguish between these two meanings of
love and so the ethical aspect is reduced to the religious or theological
Dooyeweerd does not elaborate the relationship between the ethical

For the same reason, Vollenhoven (1960) says that the ethical aspect is different from
the domain of good and bad. Good and bad belong to the religious sphere according to
76 peter blokhuis

aspect and modern discussions on ethics; whereas Troost does, emphasizing
that ethics is not a theological discipline.
Traditional theological ethics is
legalistic and Biblicist. In this ethics, Troost is missing the meaning of the
biblical truth that God created heaven and earth.
The distinction between the human heart and the functions is fundamental
to the philosophy of Dooyeweerd and Troost. In daily life, heart and functions
are connected, as the taking of moral decisions relates to life itself and not only
to the heart or the functions. Ethics however focuses on the theory of the
functional sphere, as does theology. Because it has always been difficult to
make the right distinctions in this regard, this is referred to as the Cape Horn
of Christian ethics.
For Troost, ethics is unable to help us as a discipline when we are faced with
moral problems in practice. A discipline that can serve as a direct guide to
practical living does not exist. Often people turn to specialists in ethics for
answers to their practical problems and these specialists sometimes gain
popularity by publishing their answers in the media. Practical wisdom can help
us, yet this wisdom does not have theoretical pretensions. Troost never tried to
be popular. As an academic discipline, ethics involves hard theoretical work
that does not yield answers to concrete situations.
In his writings on ethics, Troost starts with a broad explanation of the
coherence, unity and arch (origin) of our world. We cannot speak about
ethics without such an introduction. Ethics is always situation ethics because we
have to act in concrete situations. Therefore we need knowledge about the
situations. Everyone needs this knowledge in practice and we need it in our
theoretical thinking about ethics in practice. Theoretically, this implies that we
have to start with a philosophical analysis of cosmological and anthropological
Traditionally theologians and philosophers started with the moral rules for
practice. For Troost, this was impossible. We must start with an analysis of the
world we live in and the way people act from within. Anthropology precedes
ethics: ground motives, ethos, dispositions and knowledge influence an actor
and moral rules have a place within the concrete situation of the actor. But
how should we apply them? And do we know which rules are moral? Not all
normative rules are moral.
Like Dooyeweerd, Troost starts with the attitude of naive experience.
In this
experience, we encounter the ethical or moral aspect. This is not something
special that is sometimes present the moral aspect is always there. The moral
is not subjective, for instance as a moral sentiment; it is an aspect of our
experience and of our world. We can always judge peoples actions from a
moral point of view: Is it good action or bad action? Often we do not do that
explicitly because everything appears normal, yet this does not mean that the
moral aspect is not there. When asked to judge certain regular activities in

Troost does not deny that theological ethics is possible, yet he states that is only
possible as part of dogmatics and not as a discipline that can provide answers to practical
moral problems. In his articles on normativity, Troost pleads the case for a new theological
ethics that should focus on the order of creation. See Troost (1996, 80).
As far as I know, Troost does not use the expression naive experience.
the cape horn of christian ethics: in memory of andree troost 77

peoples daily lives, we can also give a moral judgement and most of the time
the response will be that they are morally acceptable.
People learn to understand the moral aspect through experience. It is
present in tradition, in education and in the community. It is part of the
horizon of our experience and we learn to deepen this experience through the
influence of our social environment. There is an openness towards the moral
aspect in the human consciousness, but the experience is always culturally and
socially mediated.
The moral aspect is only one aspect of naive experience. There are other
aspects such as the technical, social and linguistic aspects. And while such
aspects also have a normative nature, their normativity differs from moral
normativity. After all, we can do things in a technically right way that are
nevertheless morally bad.
We take the words moral and ethical first of all to mean a specific quality
of our actions in relation to other people, animals, plants and cultural objects.
This can also be concluded from what I said concerning the naive experience.
But according to Troost, ethics is a special science that deals with questions in
those areas of life that are qualified by love in its special societal forms: love in
marriage, family and friendship (Troost 1983, 45; see also Troost 1990, 71). In
this, he seems to follow Dooyeweerd
. But for many readers of Troosts work,
this is a rather strange view. What about the ethics of war, environmental ethics,
medical ethics and suchlike? Troost does not deny that there is love in the
relationship to nature or to cultural objects, but in these relationships we use
the word love in an analogical way according to him. Troosts view of ethics is
discussed in more detail below.

2. Ethics is theoretical
When we know that the ethical aspect is an aspect of our experience which is
always there, it seems reasonable to conclude that ethics as an academic
discipline can be defined as theoretical thinking of the ethical aspect. For
Troost, this is a hasty conclusion. He mentions three disciplines that can be
called ethics.
Firstly, philosophy may attempt to analyse the ethical aspect. What do we
mean when we say that something is ethically good or bad? What is the
difference between ethical goodness and righteousness? Is a moral view
subjective, as many people say, or does it have an objective intent? These are
questions for philosophical ethics, which is a specific aspect of philosophy. In
this aspect of philosophy, we also have to focus on coherence with other
aspects, which means that a relationship exists with cosmology.

See Dooyeweerd (1953-1958, II 152). In my view, Dooyeweerd and Troost do not distin-
guish between the experience of meaning in an aspect and the specific moral experience.
Dooyeweerd writes: In the cultural aspect we discover a moral anticipation in cultural love
of our form-giving task in human civilisation. I think that what is called here a moral
anticipation is the experience of the original meaning of cultural activity.
78 peter blokhuis

Secondly, Troost distinguishes the anthropological approach to ethics. We
cannot speak of the moral quality of human actions without taking into
consideration human responsibility. The moral good is not blind, as it is always
realized by a conscious human person who loves. If a positive effect is the
accidental result of a human action and it was not intended by the actor, we
cannot say that he acted in a morally good way because of that effect. His
actions do have a moral quality, because that quality is always present, but in
this case it has nothing to do with the valuable effect. Acting in a moral way is
related to intentions, virtues and responsibility. For this anthropological side of
ethics, Troost uses the word praxeology, which is the philosophical theory of
human action.

Lastly, Troost refers to ethics as a cluster of special sciences,
that deal with
human conduct. Ethics is a science of human practices. In academic language,
this human science is not called ethics; it is regarded as theoretical thinking on
the ethical aspect in practice. Its questions are different from the philosophical
approach. For example, how can we act in a morally good way within marriage?
What are the moral aims in our relationships with friends? What are the bounds
of my responsibility for my children? A philosopher cannot provide answers to
these questions, as they are not of a philosophical nature.
The passage from The Christian Ethos quoted previously reveals that accord-
ing to Troost, this human science has its object in marriage, the family and
friendship, because these areas of life are qualified by love. There is a passage in
his work that mentions other societal structures which are qualified by love,
namely medical practice, social work, youth work and care for the aged,
displaced, refugees and children (Troost 1983, 6) If we were to think about
ethics in terms of this passage, we could draw the conclusion that ethics is the
science of care and that there are many sciences of care. But when I asked
Troost personally whether this conclusion was right, he said that in such cases
love is used analogically. Therefore, ethics as a human science in Troosts
conception has a very restricted object.
Because Troost makes a distinction between three meanings of ethics, he
prefers not to use the word. However, the most basic argument for not using
this is that in Western culture, people think that an ethicist can solve practical
So the conclusion can be that as a professor of ethics, Troost was against

It is also called philosophical theory of practical living and an offshoot of cosmo-
logical anthropology (Troost 1990, 72, 73).
That which is usually taken for ethics must, I believe, be assigned to a cluster of
special sciences (Troost 1993, 236). Elsewhere Troost (1990, 71) says that ethics is one of
the special sciences. Stafleu calls Dooyeweerds ethical aspect the aspect of loving care.
According to him ethics cannot be a specific science directed to this aspect, it is directed to
normativity. For that reason it is a mistake to call the aspect of loving care ethical or
moral (Stafleu 2007, 31).
the cape horn of christian ethics: in memory of andree troost 79

3. Ethics and practice
It is quite normal that in practice people think about their decisions before
they take them. Sometimes they have to think about the moral aspect of a
decision, which involves concrete practical thinking. There is no theory that
can take the place of this concrete way of thinking. In order to know what is
morally good in the situation of a patient, we need medical or nursing
knowledge. Technical knowledge is necessary in order to ascertain what can be
done and moral knowledge is necessary in order to ascertain which decisions
made by the nurse or doctor will benefit the patient. The moral knowledge is
not isolated from the knowledge of the practitioner and the moral decision can
only be taken by a doctor or a nurse.
There is coherence between the moral aspect of human activities and the
other aspects, as they refer to each other. The moral choices a doctor can
make are limited by his technical possibilities. And his technical possibilities are
blind without moral knowledge. If we think technically, we only know means
and aims. We can chose the means for reaching our aims. But technically we
cannot make a choice between the aims. We only know that we can make it. So
we cannot be moral experts in care without being experts in medical
technology. An isolated moral specialist does not exist. There is only one expert
in medical care: the doctor who combines his medical expertise with his moral
Troost points out that before the rise of philosophy in Ancient Greece,
religion and worldviews gave guidance in peoples lives. When philosophy
started to take the place of religion, the theoretical thinking of philosophers
had to give direction with regard to practical life. This practical philosophy was
ethics. Troost denies that philosophy can take this position, as theoretical ethics
never gives direction. According to Troost, religion and worldviews never
stopped giving direction. If we want to give first place to theoretical thought in
practice, we have to transform it into religion. The result would then be that we
give up our personal responsibility and lose the fullness of reality as we
encounter it in naive experience.
Troost does not claim that we take our moral decisions only on the basis of
religion or worldview. Our moral decisions express our deepest motives, but for
good moral practice we also need knowledge of the concrete situation. It is the
Christian ground motive of Creation, Fall and Redemption that refers to the
meaning of the situation.

4. Christian ethics?
Books on Christian ethics are often written by theologians.
Troost denies that
Christian ethics is theological ethics, yet he is an advocate of Christian ethics.
Christian ethics can do without theology. Theology and philosophy should be

An example is The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics, edited by Robin Gill,
Cambridge 2001. Most of the contributions in this book are written by theologians.
80 peter blokhuis

more careful and modest; practical experience, responsibility and scientific
expertise cannot be replaced by theology and philosophy.
An objection against this view could be that a Christian will find the rules for
his moral conduct in the Bible. And are theologians not experts on what the
Bible says? For Troost, it is clear that the Bible can teach us about the meaning
of the world and human life. The Bibles message is first and foremost a
message about the deepest layers of our being. It is a message for the human
heart. For most situations involving a moral aspect, situations in which people
are responsible, the Bible does not give any direction or only in a very general
If Christians consider the moral problems of their practice, their Christian
faith is already intrinsically related. It plays a role in the awareness of ones
responsibility, in the understanding of what is happening and in the decision
about what action to take. The Christian faith works from within, not as extra
information that non-Christians do not have. The moral rules of Christians are
also known and accepted by non-Christians and they are not supernatural. The
difference is in the ethos: What would Christians really do? (See Paul in Gal. 5)

5. Some conclusions
The ethics of Troost is an ethics of daily life. The moral aspect is always there in
our experience and in our actions. Nobody can claim that his work has nothing
to do with ethics, because life does not exist without the moral aspect.
Ethics is not a special discipline, in the sense that it can give guidance in life
or because it has a theological character. Troost is against ethics because he
wants to give back the moral responsibility to the practitioners. This is where I
think we encounter part of the actual significance of Andree Troosts philo-
sophy. He kept saying that he could not speak much about war, genetics,
sexuality, and so on because he was only a philosopher. This irritated even the
people that sympathised with Reformational Philosophy, and I was one of them.
However, now I am impressed by the modesty of this Christian philosopher.
Ethics as theoretical thought is first and foremost philosophical ethics: the
theory regarding the structure of the ethical aspect in its coherence with other
aspects and the theory of action. The ethical aspect is realized only by a human
actor with his ethos, dispositions and knowledge of moral rules. Troost makes
clear that Christian theoretical thinking can open our consciousness when it is
taken captive by non-Christian thought, but that it can not guide concrete
moral life.
Troost refused to say much about ethics as a special science, but it is clear
that he had a restrictive view of its object: if ethics can only say something about
marriage, the family and friendship, it does not seem very relevant. I think we
should realize that a longing for a special discipline that can guide practice
underlies the irritation on this. Troost rejects such a view, but it is my suggestion
that we take his restriction of ethics as a special science to marriage, family and
friendship lightly. Like Dooyeweerd, he focused too much on love as the mean-
ing kernel of the moral aspect. Love seems much more intense in marriage and
the cape horn of christian ethics: in memory of andree troost 81

family than in other relations. He also refers too hastily to analogies without
clarifying the difference between the analogical and the original meaning of
love. Many writers have identified care as the meaning kernel of the moral
which makes it possible to identify all professional practices that are
qualified by care as ethics in the third sense of ethics as mentioned by Troost.
We dont use the word ethics for practices like medicine, nursing and social
work, but as Cusveller has shown we cannot understand them without
realizing that they are qualified by the moral aspect.
There are other practices that are not qualified by the moral aspect, such as
journalism, business and technological practices. These practices also have a
moral aspect and again it is true that the practitioners themselves have to
realize that.

Dooyeweerd, H. (1953-1958), A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Four Volumes,
Paris, Amsterdam.
Geelhoed, J. and P. de Boer (2002), Mijn filosofie (6): prof. dr. A. Troost,
Beweging 66 (4), 41-43.
Stafleu, M.D. (2008), Philosophical ethics and the so-called ethical aspect,
Philosophia Reformata 72, 21-33.
Troost, A. (1983), The Christian Ethos, Patmos, Bloemfontein.
Troost, A. (1986), Disposities, Philosophia Reformata 51, 45-66.
Troost, A. (1990), Praxeology als wijsgerig thema, Philosophia Reformata 55, 48-
Troost, A. (1993), Toward a Reformational Philosophical Theory of Action,
Philosophia Reformata 58, 221-236.
Troost, A. (1996), Normativiteit III, Philosophia Reformata 61, 61-84.
Troost, A. (2001), Ethiek, vakfilosofie van de ethiek en wijsbegeerte,
Philosophia Reformata 66, 189-207.
Troost, A. (2004), Vakfilosofie van de geloofswetenschap. Prolegomena van de theologie,
Damon, Budel.
Troost, A. (2005), Antropocentrische totaliteitswetenschap, Damon, Budel.
Vollenhoven, D.H.Th. (1960), Ethiek, in Oosthoek Encyclopedie, 5th Edition,
Volume 5.

I mention only Cusveller, Glas, Hoogland and Jochemsen.
Philosophia Reformata 75 (2010) 8293
Jacob Klapwijk, Purpose in the living world? Cambridge 2008: Cambridge
University Press. 322 pages. ISBN 978-0521729437

Book reviews for TIME magazine class them in one of three categories: read,
skim, or toss. This book is definitely a read. This is especially true for anyone
interested in the questions of the relation of evolutionary theory to Christian
Faith, the philosophy of biology, or the philosophy of Dooyeweerd. It exhibits
impressive erudition, critiques a multitude of theories and viewpoints in a fair
and competent manner, and proposes a clear-cut thesis which it defends with
extensive argumentation. That thesis is called the General theory of Emergent
Evolution (GTEE), which means that there are irreducible levels of living beings
that have emerged over time. This happened gradually within any level while
new levels appeared by emergent jumps. My remaining comments on the book
are, like ancient Gaul, divided into three parts: those points I find persuasive,
those I find attractive but wish had been better phrased or defended, and those
I find troublesome or unpersuasive. Before getting to them, however, let me
add that the book is written in a clear and engaging style, and is pitched at a
level which makes it accessible to non-philosophers, students, and educated
laymen. The translation is exemplary.
The book deserves praise for the deft way the author avoids both funda-
mentalism and scholasticism. He insists that Scripture is to be read as religion,
and that The bible is not an extension of science for insiders (p. 289). He is
equally careful and consistent in rejecting the idea that science can prove the
existence of God, and in this connection there are cogent criticisms of Dembski
and Behe. Given all that, it is no surprise to find him further arguing that the
idea of a gradual or saltational diversification of life forms including humans
is not ruled out by the Scriptural account of creation, and that he does so
without falling back onto a soul/body dualism.
It also deserves appreciation for the way the author distinguishes the issues of
evolution as a biological theory and naturalism as a competing religious belief.
All too often religious Naturalists try to pass these off as an inseparable package
when they are no such thing. Against this Klapwijk invokes the anti-naturalist
argument of CS Lewis and Alvin Plantinga to the effect that pure physicalism
undercuts its own claim to truth. Moreover, he is equally fearless in attacking
the dogmatic Darwinists who insist that random natural selection alone is
sufficient to explain all diversification of life forms. In place of that, the author
points to other biotic laws and to jumps in the appearance of new life forms,
especially to those with new (additional) modal qualifications. For example,
there can be no gradualist account, he says, of the jump from plants to animals
or from animals to humans because they are qualified by additional modal
functions each of which are ordered by a distinct kind of laws. These he terms
idionomies. Thus he objects that the present preoccupation of evolutionary
theory with finding transitional life forms assumes gradualism: Not the
book reviews 83
increasing complexity but the new articulations of life challenges thought (p.
Lastly in this first set, is the GTEE thesis itself. As a neglected option it
certainly deserves to be put on the table for discussion. We need to ask whether
it is more plausible that fundamentally different kinds of life forms of a different
idionomy suddenly emerged from or supervened upon previously existing
forms, rather than thinking of them as having arisen step by step. The author
clearly stakes this claim, and just as clearly proposes a version of it which is
controlled by his belief in God in that it avoids not only physicalism but all
The second set of comments begins with the wish that the difference
between aspectual or modal levels among living things had emphasized more
clearly that the central issue at stake is one of quales. There is a cluster of
concepts and claims involved with this point in that emergence and
irreducibility are defined as correlates (pp. 144-5), while any new level that
emerges and is irreducible is described repeatedly as more complex or as
involving new laws. This strikes me as inadequate; the central issue in deter-
mining whether we have a genuinely new level is the kind of complexity or laws
we are confronted with. This point is briefly acknowledged on p. 113, but does
not control the subsequent discussion (see p.151, e.g.). This is a pity because it
is the difference in kind the qualitative differences between what is meant by
physical, biotic, sensory, logical, etc., which yield the conclusion of
irreducible levels. Unless the increased complexity or additional laws involved in
understanding data are of a distinct kind, no new and irreducible level need be
I also wish the issue of difference in kind had been acknowledged to be
grounded in indefinable quale intuitions and thus not to be demonstrable by
argument. There are moments when this point surfaces (Amongst all nations
on earth we find.justice as a primary intuition. p. 148) but, again, it does not
control the discussion. What happens more often is that the reader is referred
to increased complexity and/or new laws. For example on p. 144 we are told:
liquidity [of water] is not an emergent property; it is a physical characteristic
that can be explained from the physical structure and properties of H2O
molecules. And the following page adds: emergence refers to irreducible
novelty. But surely liquidity cannot be predicted or deduced from the
structure of H2O. Neither can the properties of superheated steam. So what,
exactly, does explain mean here? Once again, it seems that whether a
characteristic is emergent and irreducible has to depend on differences of kind.
Where increased complexity or new laws are of different kinds it makes sense to
say Emerging phenomena are by definition not explicable from an underlying
domain (p. 135), because then the explanation will also be seen to be of a
different kind. Otherwise not. Yet having said on p. 113 that the real
differences in levels of complexity are not quantitative but qualitative p. 152
takes this back by saying that complexity is not the decisive criterion of
emergence but idionomy is. The inconsistency here (compare also pp. 104 &
84 book reviews
105) is disturbing because the point is so crucial to ontology generally, over and
above its importance to the GTEE thesis.
The final member of this second set concerns a pure omission from the
book. There is no suggestion as to why Naturalist thinkers would be inclined to
deny the quale differences among idionomies and complexities, differences
that yield the irreducible levels they also deny. For Kuyper, Vollenhoven, and
Dooyeweerd, that answer would have been loud and clear: it is because they
have deified some one or two aspects of the cosmos that they wish to reduce
the remaining aspects to the one(s) they have deified. I must confess to being
surprised to find that point missing, especially when so much else that was said
provided a natural lead-in to that point.
My last set of comments begins with the least important item. On p. 158 I was
surprised to find it asserted that the fundamental differences in levels are
not given in experience. But if difference of level is, as Ive been urging, the
same as (or a direct inference from) differences in aspectual kinds, then they
are indeed given in experience. In fact, just a few sentences later a very good
argument against Naturalism goes like this: Even in the naturalistic thesis that
the living world can be completely reduced to the physical world, the diffe-
rence between both worlds is the hidden point of departure, its denial a
theoretical amendment after the fact! After what fact? I dont see how this
can be answered except by saying: after the fact that the difference has been
experienced pre-theoretically. But in that case, why deny that the level-
differences are given? They may remain implicit in pre-theoretical experience
as opposed to being made explicit by theoretical analysis, but whatever can be
made explicit had to have been there already.
On this same page and in connection with the same point, differences of
levels (quale differences) are said to be known by intuition a point I not
only agree with but find to be under-emphasized. But when connected with the
disclaimer that what is being known by intuition is not given in experience,
intuition is thereby made to sound like a Kantian mental capacity by which we
read into experience what would otherwise not be there. Given the overall
tenor of the book, I take this to be simply an unintended glitch. For no one can
argue that there are levels of reality and at the same time admit that we know
levels via intuitions, if those intuitions impose upon reality what is not already
Finally, I am left with a fundamental question about the central claim of the
GTEE. That claim is that there are levels among living things (and throughout
reality generally) which are emergent and irreducible. This means that higher
levels are not caused by lower levels; the lower are pre-conditions for the
higher, but do not produce them. This view is set over against Dooyeweerds
reservations concerning evolution as a whole. In this connection Klapwijk
objects to the way Dooyweerd saw type laws as an obstacle to evolution despite
calling it an attractive theory. Klapwijk points out that taken that way, type
laws amount to replacements for Aristotelian changeless essences. By contrast,
he wishes to allow for both gradualist changes within indionomies and saltations
by which new idionomic levels appeared.
book reviews 85
The problem is that this GTEE alternative to Dooyeweerd appears to be
saddled with the same problem type laws have. If things cannot evolve from one
Dooyeweerd-type to another, neither can they evolve from one Klapwijkian
indionmy to another. For as Klapwijk explains it, the GTEE holds that the
appearance of a new level is not caused by any lower level as a totality, nor is it
produced by gradual changes in a lower level, nor is there downward causa-
tion. So what, then, could possibly produce a new idionomic level of life forms?
You might think that at this point the answer would be God, but it is not.
Klapwijk rightly sees that move as invoking a God of the gaps interventionist
explanation, and rejects it. But that leaves us with a theory in which
emergence is pure mystery. It is not a name for a process, but for a puzzle.
Indeed, it is more than a puzzle because, given the parameters of the theory, it
recommends belief in something that cannot have a cause and yet is not God.

Roy Clouser

Bradley Monton, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.
Peterborough, ON & Buffalo, NY 2009: Broadview Press. 177 pages. ISBN

This is a remarkable book, in a number of respects. First of all, its author is a
card-carrying atheist but its goal is, as the subtitle says, to defend intelligent
design (ID). Second, it actually does a better job at this than most pro-ID books
whose authors have religious background views more hospitable to ID. Third,
the book consistently avoids getting bogged down in the political and cultural
issues associated with ID and keeps a relentless focus on the more important
question whether ID is true. Fourth, throughout the book, the author is open-
minded and fair about both the support for his own atheistic position and the
force of the arguments for ID. The often confused and heated debates about
evolution, creationism, and ID need the kind of coolheaded clear thinking this
book exemplifies. Bradley Monton provides powerful proof of the usefulness of
The book consists of four chapters. In chapter 1 Monton articulates the
doctrine of ID. Chapter 2 discusses whether ID may count as science. In
chapter 3 five arguments for ID are presented and evaluated. The book closes
with a chapter about whether ID should be taught in schools. Although I will
raise some critical questions below for the purposes of this review, there should
be no doubt that I am very sympathetic to the project of this book and largely
in agreement with many of the specific arguments it contains.
Chapter 1 offers some illuminating tweaking with various possible definitions
of ID. Monton settles on the following: The doctrine of intelligent design holds
that certain global features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent
cause, or that certain biologically innate features of living things are best
explained by the intentional actions of an intelligent cause which is not
biologically related to the living things, not by an undirected process such as
86 book reviews
natural selection (27). This definition best captures what ID proponents are
after, or at least what they should be after if they want their position to be as
strong as possible. Contrary to what many people assume, then, ID is not only
about finding evidence of design in the biological evolution of living things on
this planet, but also about cosmology and the origin of life. While I agree with
Monton that ID ought to be understood in this broader sense, it should also be
pointed out that the term ID is not always used in this sense. Often, people use
it to refer to the narrower class of arguments that try to find evidence for an
intelligent cause in the evolution of living things.
Interestingly, Monton actually accepts the central claim in the afore-
mentioned definition: He believes it is true that some features of the universe
or living things are best explained by an intelligent cause. However, he does not
accept the inference from ID being the best explanation to it being true. He
thinks some features of the universe simply do not have any explanation at all;
they are brute facts. This leads me to a question about his position. When dis-
cussing pro-ID arguments in chapter 3, Monton elaborates on various possible
naturalistic explanations of seemingly intelligently designed phenomena. It
wasnt always clear to me if he was merely holding these up for consideration to
show that pro-ID arguments arent watertight, or if he was making the stronger
claim that the naturalistic explanations he discusses are in fact equally good or
better explanations. The latter would be at odds with his admission in chapter 1
that ID provides the best explanation of the phenomena under discussion.
In chapter 2, Monton dissects the judges ruling in the 2005 Dover trial that
ID counts as religion, not science. Although the bottom line is that the entire
issue whether ID is science is moot, because the really important question is
whether it is true, the chapter still contains insightful discussions of the prob-
lems of methodological naturalism i.e., the doctrine which holds that science
may never appeal to non-natural causes and it exposes various weaknesses in
attempted defenses of the doctrine. Readers familiar with Alvin Plantingas and
Del Ratzschs thinking on Christian science will recognize some of the argu-
The core of the book is chapter 3. Monton considers the following ID
arguments: (i) the argument from cosmic fine-tuning, (ii) the cosmological
argument, (iii) the argument from the origin of life, (iv) an evolution-based
argument (Michael Behes irreducible complexity argument), and (v) an
intriguing argument to the effect that we are living in an intelligently designed
computer simulation. He finds all of these arguments (except the evolution-
based one) somewhat plausible, but not enough to accept their conclusion. He
doesnt consider the option that the arguments together might make a
cumulative case for ID, but I suspect he wouldnt find this a promising idea.
Monton levels an interesting new objection to the fine-tuning argument (i).
He argues that it is inappropriate for most of us to take a firm stand on the
force of this argument, since we are not in an epistemic position to evaluate the
evidence for fine-tuning properly. Only a few cosmologists are and they dis-
agree in their judgment. I wonder, though, why Monton does not object to
biological ID arguments on similar grounds. Presumably neither he nor many
book reviews 87
other philosophers are particularly well positioned to evaluate the chemical
and biological evidence pertaining to the origin of life and the power of
unguided evolutionary processes. If that is correct, then we should tread care-
fully in endorsing or rejecting such arguments. Perhaps Monton nonetheless
rejects evolution-based ID arguments because he believes there is more
consensus in biology about the relevant issues than there is in cosmology about
fine-tuning. Whether this assessment is correct, remains to be seen. As I under-
stand it, many biologists now admit that natural selection alone does not suffice
to explain biodiversity and they hypothesize various additional mechanisms
(although none of these include ID).
Montons evaluation of both the origin of life argument (iii) and the
irreducible complexity argument (iv) leans on the possibility of our universe
being spatially infinite. Contrary to popular belief, the Big Bang hypothesis does
not include the claim that our universe is spatially finite and expanding; it might
as well have been spatially infinite right from the start. Monton reports that
current cosmology takes this latter option very seriously. An infinite universe
blocks the inference to ID: Even if there is just the slightest chance of life and
intelligent embodied beings like ourselves arising by naturalistic means, an
infinite universe will contain an infinite number of planets with intelligent life
(assuming other parts of the universe are roughly similar to our part).
Given the growing popularity of theistic evolutionism, also in the Nether-
lands, I found Montons critical appraisal of theistic evolutionists dismissal of
ID refreshing. He takes Ken Miller and Denis Alexander to task for criticizing
ID on the wrong grounds: ID is not anti-science, nor are ID arguments
obviously fallacious arguments from ignorance or God-of-the-gaps arguments. I
myself am often surprised to hear people announce that they reject ID and
believe in theistic evolution instead. On Montons definition of ID (quoted
above), it is easy to see that theistic evolutionism counts as a form of ID,
provided theistic evolutionists believe their doctrine on the grounds that it
provides the best explanation for certain features of living things which they
certainly should, because it is mysterious on what other grounds, if not these,
they would want to believe it.
Even though the final chapter will mostly be of interest to American readers,
it also offers insights of general importance. Monton points out that a com-
pelling answer to the question whether teaching ID is good or bad for students
requires extensive empirical research on students long-term intellectual,
political, and sociocultural development. Absent such studies, proclamations
on either the benefits or drawbacks of teaching ID must remain speculative.
Monton also holds a plea for inquiry-based science education, as opposed to
fact-based education. Teachers should foster an understanding of science as a
dynamic critical enterprise, in which evidence is weighed and arguments are
evaluated to arrive at theories and explanations that best approximate the
truth. In such an approach there is nothing wrong with also discussing
problems in evolutionary theory and evaluating the arguments for and against
ID, as long as that is done in a non-proselytizing manner.
88 book reviews
I wish that every scientist, philosopher, theologian, or public figure who
wants to say something about ID would first pick up a copy of this book, study it
carefully, and then reconsider whether she or he really wants to say it. Im sure
that would save us all a host of muddled arguments and unwarranted opinions.

Jeroen de Ridder

Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley, Knowledge of God. Malden, MA / Oxford
2008: Blackwell. x + 270 pages. ISBN 9780631193647.

This book offers the kind of sustained discussion one would wish to see more
often: informed, intelligent, creative, to the point, and rigorous. Two highly
distinguished philosophers, Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley, debate
arguments for and against the existence of God and the rationality of belief in
God. Both authors give an opening statement in which they present their initial
arguments. This is followed by two rounds of reactions in which each of them
critically engages the others arguments. In this review I will summarize the
main lines of argument while inserting some brief questions and evaluative
In his opening statement, Plantinga starts with a familiar characterization of
(Christian) theistic belief. A theist believes that a personal omnipotent,
omniscient, and perfectly good God is the creator and sustainer of everything
that exists. Relying on his proper functionalist account of knowledge, Plantinga
goes on to argue that theistic belief is likely to be warranted if theism is true.
This is important, for it means that objections to theism must attack its truth,
not the possibility of rational belief in it.
The bulk of the chapter then presents an indirect argument for the truth of
theism by arguing against one of its main rivals, naturalism: roughly the position
that everything that exists is natural, from which it follows that neither God nor
other entities with godlike qualities exist. Plantinga doesnt mention that the
cogency of this argumentative strategy depends on a hidden premise that the
rival positions under discussion exhaust the possibilities. Some people may want
to deny this and urge that Plantinga needs additional arguments to establish the
truth of theism as opposed to polytheism, pantheism, or more fanciful non-
naturalistic views.
The case against naturalism has three parts. (1) Naturalism cannot accom-
modate the notion of proper function. If naturalism is true, organisms and
organs do not have proper functions. And that implies that derivative notions,
such as health and sanity, have no application which is absurd. The reason
for this is that the notion of proper function only makes sense in the context of
conscious design. Naturalistic analyses of proper function fail. I have two
questions about this argument. First, is there really an everyday notion of proper
function; isnt proper function to some extent a technical term that
philosophers or scientists can define for their own purposes? Second, assuming
there is an everyday notion of proper function, is its meaning sufficiently well-
book reviews 89
determined to do the work Plantinga wants it to do, to wit ruling out
naturalistic analyses in highly contrived counterexamples?
(2) Naturalism is self-defeating. Someone who believes in its truth has a
defeater for everything she believes. This part is Plantingas famous evolutio-
nary argument against naturalism, the core of which is the claim that natural
selection doesnt select cognitive faculties for their reliability but only for their
contribution to fitness. Since the adaptive usefulness of cognitive faculties has
no implication whatsoever for their reliability, someone who believes that our
cognitive faculties have been produced by naturalistic processes should be
skeptical about their reliability and hence about everything she believes. As
Tooley rightly points out, the Achilles heel of this argument is the claim that
adaptive usefulness and reliability arent positively correlated at all.
(3) Naturalism cannot accommodate belief. If naturalism is true, nobody
ever believes anything. The reason is this: Just as one can simply see that a
squirrel cannot be a number, one can see, upon reflection, that it is impossible
for material things to think or have cognitive content. I share Tooleys main
worry with this argument: It hinges solely on the reliability of our intuitions
regarding what material things can or cannot do. I am pretty sure that we tend
to have a firm grasp on what medium-sized dry goods can do, but I am not so
confident about our grasp on the capabilities of highly complex arrangements
of living brain tissue.
Lets now turn to Tooleys opening statement. Its core is a two-step argu-
ment against the existence of God that proceeds from premises about particu-
lar evils such as the famous Lisbon earthquake. The conclusion of the first step
is that the probability that God didnt exist at the time of the particular evil
under consideration is less than one half. The second step lowers the proba-
bility of Gods non-existence by taking into consideration multiple evils at
different times. The details of the argument get somewhat technical as they
involve formalized inductive logic, but we can appreciate its flavor without
going into technicalities.
A crucial premise is the claim that we can move from known wrong- and
rightmaking properties of an action to the right- or wrongness of an action all
things considered. Tooley claims that our knowing that a particular action for
instance, the choosing to allow the Lisbon earthquake has a very serious
wrongmaking property and no known counterbalancing rightmaking proper-
ties licenses an inference to the conclusion that the logical probability that the
action is wrong all things considered is greater than one half. This move
attempts to undercut a popular reply to the evidential problem of evil, which
holds that our epistemic position with regard to the moral qualities of Gods
actions is to feeble to speak with any significant degree of confidence. It
remains to be seen, however, whether the support Tooley offers for his claim
will convince many people. One reason to be skeptical here is that Tooleys
reasoning relies heavily on contentious a priori judgments about how many
right- and wrongmaking properties actions are likely to possess. As Plantinga
rightly points out in his reply, we would do better from a rational point of view
to withhold judgment on such matters.
90 book reviews
This brings me to one of the few points where I felt the interaction between
the two authors to turn out slightly disappointing. As I said, Tooleys argument
crucially involves judgments about the a priori logical probability of propositions
about right- and wrongmaking properties. His support for these judgments is
negative: He observes that we do not have any reasons to believe, say, that there
are more right- than wrongmaking properties. Against this, Plantinga points out
correctly, in my view that the intrinsic logical probability of propositions
should not be equated with the epistemic justification we possess for these
propositions. In his final reply, Tooley apparently misses the point of this
objection altogether, or else has fundamentally different views on the issues,
which he doesnt articulate. The result is that the authors seem to be talking at
cross-purposes about an issue of central importance to Tooleys project.
The book contains much more intriguing arguments, but space is lacking to
summarize them all. There is a discussion of whether atheism should be the
default position in debates about Gods existence, several naturalistic con-
struals of belief and content are scrutinized and the possibility of thinking
robots is investigated, and there are criticisms and defenses of Plantingas
theory of knowledge.
One of the major attractions of a book like this is that, even though in the
end the authors do not seem to be any closer to one another than they were at
the beginning of the discussion, it gives you an impression of the kind of basic
commitments it takes to defend either a coherent theistic worldview or a
naturalistic one. This is an important task for philosophy. As the American
analytic philosopher David Lewis used to say, philosophical arguments measure
the price. When that is accomplished, we still face the question which prices
are worth paying. The reader has to make up his or her own mind about that.
To conclude, this is an excellent book, which should be of interest both to
people who are looking for a high-level introduction to some of the central
debates in the philosophy of religion, as well as to those who are already fami-
liar with the literature and are interested in the niceties of Plantingas argu-
ments against naturalism and Tooleys sophisticated atheological argument
from evil. Highly recommended.

Jeroen de Ridder

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs. Princeton and Oxford 2008:
Princeton University Press. XXI + 400 pages. ISBN 978-0691129679

On October 19, 2007, Nicolas Wolterstorff was awarded a honorary doctorate
at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Before the official ceremony took place
a number of VU colleagues discussed Wolterstorffs work in a small symposium.
Wolterstorff himself answered their remarks. Henk Woldring, who was the
promoter of Wolterstorff, had given me the then unpublished manuscript of
Justice, rights and wrongs. So I had the opportunity to comment on that book.
The different contributions and the reaction of Wolterstorff were published in
book reviews 91
the following year (Henk E.S. Woldring, ed., Essays in Honour of Nicholas P.
Wolterstorff, Amsterdam: VU University Press, 2008). This review therefore has
the character of a continued discussion.
But before I pass over to some substantial disagreements I want to say first
that Wolterstorff has written a remarkable book. As I said in my first comment:
he makes true what he writes in his preface. He speaks for the wronged in the
world. He makes perfectly clear, already in the opening pages, in which way the
supposed good of oppressed people can be used to violate their rights and how
benevolence can be used as an instrument of oppression. He defends the
rights of the oppressed against objections from different sides: Christians who
believe that in the New Testament love has replaced justice, communitarians
who believe rights to be dangerously individualistic, other scholars and politi-
cians who believe rights to be an invention of the West, not applicable in other
cultures where the group may be more important than its members. Wolters-
torff moreover does so with passion as well as with a wide range of good
arguments and in a clear style. I believe nobody who is seriously interested in
justice and rights may omit reading this book.
Wolterstorff confronts two conceptions of justice: justice as right order and
justice as inherent rights. The last conception is quite often claimed as a result
of the enlightenment or, perhaps, of Ockhams nominalism. Wolterstorff holds,
by contrast, that inherent human rights were present already in the Old
Testament and were conceptualized in the 12
century by canonist lawyers.
The right order conception also knows rights, at least nowadays. But justice as
inherent rights claims that human individuals have at least some rights just by
being human. These rights are not conferred.
Wolterstorffs focus is mainly on moral rights. Much attention is given in
recent literature to one particular type of moral rights: the political second
order right that some first order rights are implemented in positive law. But the
legality of human rights is not Wolterstorffs topic.
I will concentrate this review on one point: the grounding of human rights.
There is, of course, an obvious difficulty in any grounding: to justify human
rights one needs premises which on the one hand are substantial enough to
justify the rights and which on the other hand are more or less generally
acceptable. It is, for this reason, impossible to find a rock bottom of normative
knowledge which can do the job.
Let us look to Wolterstorffs grounding. Every grounding I am aware of uses
the concept of the worth or the dignity of individual human persons as value
which justifies human rights. But, Wolterstorff argues, this worth or dignity
cannot just float free: always there has to be something that gives the entity
such worth as it has, some property, achievement, or relationship on which its
worth supervenes(p. 341).
All secular groundings of human rights are unsuccessful. In most cases these
groundings select some property of humans (e.g. Kantian rationality) as
ground. But, apart from the question how these characteristics could give the
required worth, there is the problem that there are many individuals who lack
the properties which should do the job. Individual persons e.g. might not be
92 book reviews
rational, because they are too young or because they suffer from Alzheimers
disease (chapter 15). So Wolterstorff offers a theistic grounding.
He starts his discussion of this theistic grounding with the biblical thesis that
God created humankind in His image. But he concludes, after ample discus-
sion, that (t)he image of God is not adequate, all by itself, for grounding
natural human rights(p. 352). The problem is mainly the same as with secular
grounding. If we interpret the image of God along capacity-resemblance lines,
then not all human beings possess the image (p.352). There is a more
plausible interpretation of the image of God, Wolterstorff argues: along
nature-resemblance lines. But again: some human beings are malformed. It is
not clear why persons who lack the characteristics which make human nature
the image of God have some worth.
But does Wolterstorffs own theistic grounding fare better? He says that
Gods love for individual human beings give them their worth. To defend this
thesis he distinguishes between love as attraction, love as attachment and love as
benevolence (p. 188 ff, p. 358, 359). Love as attraction presupposes some worth
in its object. Love as benevolence may enhance worth because the life of its
object may become a better life, but (b)eing an object of benevolence is not,
as such, an enhancement of worth (p.359). It is the love as attachment which
bestows worth on every human being.
I criticized this position in the symposium in 2007. Love as attachment, I
summarized Wolterstorff, means that the lover is attached to the loved person,
just as a human being may be attached to some object because her deceased
father has used it. By violating such an object one violates the person who is
attached to the object. In comparable way, by wronging a human person one
wrongs God, who is attached to each and every human being. But, I continued,
the consequence is that when one wrongs a human being, then in the end one
does not wrong that human being, but one only wrongs God. So this fails as a
defence of the worth of human individuals. If am attached to my dog and
someone hurts my dog, he wrongs me. He can only wrong the dog if the dog
itself has some worth (see Woldring, p.68).
Wolterstorff conceded my point, but said that he believed to have repaired
the flaw in the published book (Woldring, p. 98). Comparing the book with the
earlier manuscript we can see that he now distinguishes between different types
of attachment. The attachment to a relic because it belonged to my late father
is different from the attachment a person acquires by being appointed in a
worthy position. The example is an ambassador appointed by a queen. The
ambassador now earns gestures of respect that would be inappropriate before
her appointment (p.358-360).
But I am not sure that this distinction is of much help. Recently an Israeli
minister, who was angry about a tv serial in Turkey, insulted the Turkish ambas-
sador. It was generally understood that it was not the ambassador in person
who was insulted; the insult was an insult of the Turkish nation which was
represented by him. The wronging of someone as an ambassador is the
wronging of the person or collectivity he is an ambassador of.
book reviews 93
As I said before, we dont have a rock bottom of normative knowledge. This
implies that every grounding or justification of the worth of human individuals
is dependent upon context: as soon as we find or produce some shared
understanding we might argue from there. Every justification is provisional. It
may rest upon factual beliefs which later appear to be false. Or it may start
from normative principles which we no longer find acceptable.
I suggested during the 2007 symposium two possible points of grounding
individual human dignity: attempts to solve disagreement and guidance of our
interpretations of the human rights. And I argued that Wolterstorffs ground-
ing was of little help in these respect.
As to the first point it should be noted that, even if Wolterstorffs grounding
is a valid one, it can only appeal to people who believe in an existing God, who
is attached to all of us. Wolterstorff knows that very well. He explicitly recog-
nizes that he only argued that a grounding of natural human rights is available
to the person who holds the theistic conviction indicated (p. 360). He did not
argue for these theistic convictions himself, although he believes them to be
This underlines what I said about context. I myself dont believe this to be a
problem. In his preface Wolterstorff himself also rejects foundational thinking
(p. xi). But I am afraid that there is some tension between his non-founda-
tionalist philosophy on the one hand and his need for grounding natural
human rights on the other hand.
I suggested that if we agree on (some interpretation of) human dignity of
each and every individual then that might be enough. Of course, nothing is
wrong with philosophers trying to find deeper ground. But as long as we
fundamentally disagree about these deeper grounds, we should do with our
overlapping consensus on human dignity. Wolterstorff does not accept this. In
his response to me as well as in his book he expresses his concern with Alz-
heimer patients: he needs some ground to protect them. On his last pages he is
really concerned about secularization. He believes, as I do, that civilization is a
thin veil and that there are many examples of persons murdering, torturing,
raping others, sometimes just for fun. Our Christian heritage knows the flaws of
mankind. Secularization might destroy our subculture of human rights.
Wolterstorff, however, does not believe secularization becomes true.
There might be a difference here between the American and the European
perspective. In Europe secularization is not something to be afraid of, it is
already there. In this context it is of no help to claim our Christian groundings
in order to save human rights of Alzheimer patients. We have to find common
ground with other believers in human rights. And we have to build together
political structures to safeguard them against whims and caprices of daily
politics and opinion polls.
Arend Soeteman
Philosophia Reformata 75 (2010) 9495
Peter Blokhuis is director of the Department of Communications, Ede
Christian University.
Address: Jan Vermeerstraat 99, 6717SM Ede, The Netherlands

Roy Clouser is emeritus professor of The College of New Jersey, USA.
Address: The College of NJ, Ewing, NJ 08628, USA

Jeroen de Ridder is assistant professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at VU
University Amsterdam.
Address: Faculty of Philosophy, VU University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan
1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Marc J. de Vries is affiliate professor of reformational philosophy at Delft
University of Technology.
Address: Jaffalaan 5, 2628 BX Delft, The Netherlands

Sander Griffioen is emeritus professor of philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit
Address: Rijksstraatweg 77, 3632 Loenen aan de Vecht, The Netherlands

Jan Hoogland occupies the special chair for Christian Philosophy at Twente
University in the Netherlands. He is assistant professor at the Vrije
Universiteit Amsterdam, Faculty of Social Sciences, and lector community
issues at the Reformed University of Applied Sciences Zwolle.
Address: Beatrijspad 7, 3813 DL Amersfoort, The Netherlands

Carl Mitcham is Professor of Liberal Arts and International Studies.
Address: Colorado School of Mines, Liberal Arts and International Studies,
Stratton Hall #318, Golden, CO 80401, USA.

Arend Soeteman is emeritus professor jurisprudence and legal philosphy at
the VU University Amsterdam.
Address: Dahlialaan 36, 2111 ZP Aerdenhout, The Netherlands.

addresses of contributors 95
Bronislaw Szerszynski is Senior Lecturer at Lancaster University.
Address: Department of Sociology, Bowland North, Lancaster LA1 4YT,
United Kingdom.

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9. Here are some examples of references:
Dooyeweerd, Herman (1936), Het dilemma voor het Christelijk wijsgeerig denken en
het critisch karakter van de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, Philosophia Reformata 1, 3-16.
Bos, A. P. (1989), Cosmic and Meta-cosmic Theology in Aristotles Lost Dialogues, Brills Stu-
dies in Intellectual History 16, Brill, Leiden.
Glas, Gerrit (1995), Ego, Self, and the Body. An Assessment of Dooyeweerds Philoso-
phical Anthropology, in Christian Philosophy at the Close of the Twentieth Century.
Assessment and Perspective, edited by S. Griffioen and B. M. Balk, Kok, Kampen.
Introduction....................................................................................................... 1

Marc J. de Vries, Introducing van Riessens Work in the Philosophy
of Technology................................................................................................ 2
Carl Mitcham, Placing Technology in Religious-Philosophical
Perspective: A Dialogue among Traditions................................................ 10
Sander Griffioen, Response to Carl Mitcham............................................. 36
Bronislaw Szerszynski, Technology and Monotheism: a Dialogue with
Neo-Calvinist Philosophy .............................................................................. 43
Jan Hoogland, The Secular as an Ordering of the Sacred......................... 60
Peter Blokhuis, The Cape Horn of Christian Ethics: in Memory of
Andree Troost (19162008)......................................................................... 75

Book Reviews
Jacob Klapwijk, Purpose in the living world? (R. Clouser) .......................... 82
Bradley Monton, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent
Design (J. de Ridder).................................................................................... 85
Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley, Knowledge of God
(J. de Ridder) ................................................................................................ 88
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (A. Soeteman)......... 90

Addresses of Contributors............................................................................... 94