I am of two minds about positivists like Dawkins. When I first read Dawkins ten years ago) I thought “what dogmatic positivism!, does this sort of thing still exist?” Then I read the Intelligent Design people and I understood the need for scientific refutations of such religious claims. But Dawkins goes too far and ends up applying a scientistic reductivism which reduces all language-games or truth-régimes to the scientific régime, as understood itself in “scientistic” terms. Dawkins’ vision of science is too simplistic, and his vision of religion even more so. I am not for relativist strategies that protect religion by giving it some sort of “epistemological immunity”, and I think that Feyerabend’s pluralism is sometimes invoked in this sense, whereas he made it clear that he did not want to make things easier for everyone religionists included but rather tougher for everyone, scientists included.
Reduction lies in treating religion as a matter of belief (something which fundamentalism already does), and as submitted to the same truth-régime as referential domains like science. Latour is quite explicit that for him, and I think for many other religious people, religion is not a question of belief at all, not a question of reference to the physical world, but one of a transformative message. You get this in the movement of demythologisation, you get it in ALL THINGS SHINING, you get it in post-Wittgensteinian philosophers of religion, hell you even get it in Zizek! It may be a minority position compared to the number of fundamentalists, but it is not negligeable. From their point of view fundamentalism as the insistence on religion as a matter of belief in factual propositions about the world is a deformation of religion. It seems to me that this “transformative” or “performative” understanding of religion has something good and something bad to it. The bad part is that it looks suspiciously like trying to have your cake and eat it too, making seeming claims about the world and then dancing back and saying that you are in fact doing something else. In that case I am all for Dawkins, and Victor Stenger, and Richard Carrier. But the good part is that it preserves an important use for religious language. I must admit that I am not indifferent to this language if it is used “poetically”, that is to say to express deep or transformative experiences. But I would argue here that the religious person would have to accept that this transformative language is becoming in itself more pluralist. So the brute fact of finding that one is moved by certain words and images and rituals that are closely tied to profound experiences and insights becomes a little suspicious when it conveniently conforms to a pre-constituted faith, let us say Catholicism in Latour’s case. This is too convenient by far! I practiced tai chi for many years, and now I practice yoga, and I did a jungian analysis, where religious language came up in my dreams or in analysing them and it seemed to apply to my life, as does yoga and tai chi talk. Yet I consider myself a total atheist, and not at all a “seeker” in Charles Taylor’s sense. And I do not think I’m alone in this.
This is why I think that there is more to religion than referential claims about the physical universe, and that fundamentalism is a reductionist approach to religion. Dawkins is reductionist in another way, in that he is taking science as resultant theory and not the practice of science as his measure of a scientific age and world view. I think that once you leave the stable boundaries of normal science you find that there are many strange ideas that go into the research process. Wolfgang Pauli was analysed by Jung and collaborated with him for many years. This collaboration was often couched in religious language given a “psychological”, that is to say existential, interpretation. Pauli was not satisfied with this, nor was Jung, and they wanted to create a unified theory that synthesised physical and (psychological, existential) religious concepts. This had real consequences for Pauli’s physical hypotheses, leading to insights that were later confirmed experimentaly, but also to silly blunders (such as refusing the idea of symmetry violation for example). I think this heuristic use of religious language and images is more common than one might think both in the sciences and in everyday life. It corresponds to what Stiegler (and Simondon, and Jung) calls individuation.