Beyond Science and Nature? Reflections on Scientific Reductionism and Mental and Religious Experience

  • Jeff Astley Glyndwr University, UK and Durham University, UK
Keywords: Manifesto, materialism, mind, reductionism, transcendence


This paper responds to the critique of scientific reductionism in the Manifesto for a Post-Materialist Science (2014). Reflections on the language of transcendence, notions of creation and Ian Ramsey’s epistemology lead into a discussion of the concept of mind. The interpretation of mind in terms of emergent properties, widely welcomed as ‘nonreductive physicalism’, is questioned and the alternative of a qualified substance dualism presented. The Manifesto’s encouragement of the scientific study of spiritual experiences is related to Alister Hardy’s original appeal. Differences between sense and religious experience are explored; the distinction between methodological and ontological types of reductionism discussed; and an apologia for an open approach to experience developed, as an alternative to a more radical post-materialist scientific method. Concluding remarks include a plea for more epistemological humility vis-à-vis experiential claims, the avoidance of ‘spiritual reductionism’ and an acknowledgement of the significance of the material for human nature and dignity.


Author Biography

Jeff Astley, Glyndwr University, UK and Durham University, UK
Alister Hardy Professor of Religious and Spiritual Experience, Glyndwr University, Wales, UK

Honorary Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion, and Professorial Fellow of St Chad's College, Durham University, UK


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