Instrumentalism in Religion

  • William Harvey Austin
Part of the Library of Philosophy and Religion book series


A defender of Galileo might be inclined to turn the tables on critics like Duhem by suggesting that religious doctrines, not scientific theories, should be interpreted instrumen­talistically. It is possible that Galileo himself had some such idea in mind when, in his main rebuttal of his theological critics (the ‘Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina’) he invoked the slogan ‘that the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes’.1; That is, he may have thought that religious doctrines have an exclusively practical rather than theoretical function: to instruct and encourage us in pursuing a policy of life, perhaps, or to guide us in seeking the Beatific Vision, and not to give information or make claims about the nature of things. This is not, of course, the only way in which Galileo’s epigram can be taken, and indeed it is difficult to tell just what his views on the relation of science to theology were.’ But the view that religious doctrines should be taken instrumentalistically calls for our attention in any case, since it is now widely held and provides the basis for a popular and initially plausible argument to the effect that natural science has no bearing on theology.


Religious Belief Religious Experience Mystical Experience Religious Doctrine Behaviour Policy 
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  1. 7.
    W.T. Stace, Religion and the Modern Mind (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1960; first published 1952 ), pp. 256f.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    W.T. Stace, Time and Eternity (Princeton University Press, 1952), p. 18. Emphasis in text.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    On this see Ninian Smart, Reasons and Faiths (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958), pp. 95ff.Google Scholar
  4. 15.
    Richard Gale, ‘Mysticism and Philosophy’, Journal of Philosophy LVII (1960), pp. 477f.Google Scholar

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© William Harvey Austin 1976

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  • William Harvey Austin

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