William James – Not assuming atheism

I’ve been reading some of William James’s (apparently) classic work The Varieties of Religious Experience.

It seems that James’s position is essentially that psychology as a science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God or the validity of religious experiences. The secularist acknowledges their social and existential impact but denies the external reality of any of kind of religious thoughts. They are all assumed from the start to be an illusion. An illusion with a a rock hard foundation, yes, but an illusion nonetheless. James will not surrender this point and assume atheism before beginning his investigations. In the end, he concludes with a sort of agnosticism, but one that treats religious belief positively. Because you can not come close to proving that religious experiences are illegitimate, you might as well assume the possibility that they are real as you discourse and investigate other aspects of psychology.

Further investigation shows that James’s guiding philosophy is pragmatism. Ugg. Oh well. At least it was nice to read a scientific approach to a topic without completely writing God off from the beginning. His observations are worth considering. On a side-note, his beliefs seem to me to be further proof that Catholics can get away with believing just about anything without ecclesiastical authorities giving them any crap about it.