Volume 80, Issue 4, Fall 2006
Bas van Fraassen on Religion and Knowledge
Is There a Third Way beyond Foundationalist Illusion and Bridled Irrationality?
In his recent book, The Empirical Stance (2002), Bas van Fraassen elaborates on earlier suggestions of a religious view that has striking parallels with
his constructive empiricism. A particularly salient feature consists in the way in which he keeps a critical distance from theoretical formulations both in science
and religion, thus preferring a mystical approach to religious experience. As an alternative, I suggest a view based on mediation by the word, both in the structure
of reality and the encounter between persons. Without falling prey to rationalist illusions, such an approach allows for true human knowledge as embedded in
transcendent Wisdom. It implies a more radical break with the Enlightenment ideal of neutral and universal knowledge than van Fraassen’s program, as he still
maintains a kind of immanent grounding of knowledge in the form of direct, unmediated experience, in spite of his rejection of classical foundationalism. We
can thus overcome the antithetical ring that characterizes his notion of rationality understood as bridled irrationality and escape relativism without forgetting the
lessons that we have learned from the collapse of positivism—lessons to which van Fraassen rightly draws our attention.