Workshop: Worldviews and religiosity




Worldviews and religiosity: a non-theististic perspective on human experience, meaning and purpose

In this age of change, uncertainty, and confusion, many people experience the need for a coherent worldview that would give direction and meaning to their life, and that  would help them to feel part of a larger whole. Such feelings are sometimes described as "spirituality" or "religiosity", and are often used as a justification for a return to the traditional religions, such as Christianity, Islam or Hinduism. On the other hand, the philosopher Leo Apostel has eloquently pleaded for the development of an "atheist religiosity". We too would like to separate the experience of religiosity from the a-priori belief in a personal God(s), and investigate in the most fundamental way how an integrated worldview could give meaning to people's lives.

This workshop is intended to bring together a number of scholars who have worked on this issue from different perspectives, and to foster a constructive discussion.


 Workshop Organization


 Date:  Friday, Dec 2, 2011

 Time: 9.30-18.30h 

 Place: VUB Campus Etterbeek, Room 3B217 (building B, 3rd floor, end of corridor) 

 Organizers: Francis Heylighen, Clément Vidal & David A. Weinbaum (Weaver), Evolution, Complexity and Cognition group, VUB

 Participation: Free, but to facilitate the organization, please register by sending your full name & affiliations (if any) to Weaver. Registered people will receive an email with additional information (such as abstracts and references of the talks) as soon as it is available. Due to space limitations, we cannot guarantee non-registered participants a place to sit. Coffee and tea are freely available, but lunch is on your own responsibility.




Time Speaker Subject


Francis Heylighen & Clement Vidal (ECCO & Center Leo Apostel, VUB) Introduction: Worldviews and Meaning


Wim Van Moer (Dep. of Philosophy, VUB)   Religious atheism - a framework and a case study


-- Coffee Break --   


Jan Van der Veken (Prof. Em. in Metaphysics and Theology, KULeuven) From atheistic to non-theistic religiosity


David R. Weinbaum (Weaver) (ECCO, VUB)

God is dead, where do we go from here? 

Nietzsche and a post human perspective on spirituality


 General Discussion   


-- Lunch Break at the VUB Student restaurant --   


 S.N. Balagangadhara  (aka Balu) (Center for Comparative Science of Cultures, University of Ghent)

Who needs a World View? (Cancelled)


Anja Van Rompaey (Center for the Study of Religions and Secularity, ULB)   From exemplarism to representationalism: the difficulty of creating an atheistic concept of truth 


 -- Coffee Break --   


Francis Heylighen (ECCO & Center Leo Apostel, VUB) 

Animism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life: 

how God helped to alienate us from our true nature 


Clement Vidal (ECCO & Center Leo Apostel, VUB) 

Cosmological Immortality:

Evolutionary Developmental Ethics on a Universal Scale 


 General Discussion   


Final announcements with an abstract and additional information will be distributed by email before the workshop.


Please contact Weaver with any question/request. 

The seminar room has an in-built computer projector and screen, so you can easily show PowerPoint or other presentations from your laptop (Do not forget the power cord of your computer!). If you don't bring a laptop with you, send us your file, and we'll save it on another laptop and bring it to the seminar room. You can also use transparencies with the overhead projector, or simply write notes on the blackboard.

You should prepare enough material for a 30 min talk, not more. With questions and discussions during and after the talk, this should result in a total talk duration of about 50 minutes.

After the workshop we would appreciate getting the outline or text of your presentation (PowerPoint, pdf, text or other format) to make available for downloading on this page. Even better would be if, taking into account the reactions you got at the seminar, you would elaborate your notes into a full paper, for our workshop archive. 




Animism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life: how God helped to alienate us from our true nature

Animism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life: 
how God helped to alienate us from our true nature

Francis Heylighen (ECCO & Center Leo Apostel, VUB)
According to Charlton (2002), the search for the "meaning of life", in the sense of a far-away end or purpose for our actions, is an artefact of agricultural society. For hunter-gatherers, who evolved to be perfectly adapted to their environment, life is intrinsically meaningful. Every action they perform has a clear, concrete purpose, and results in an immediate affective feedback. The world for a hunter-gatherer is simply a lively community of human and non-human agents with whom he intimately interacts. This action-based perspective (Heylighen, 2011) is what we call "animism".
With the development of agriculture, civilisation, and industrial society, people had to plan for an increasingly remote and abstract future, and to apply an increasingly strict discipline in order to stick to these plans. This required the development of a system of moral-religious rules, to be enforced by social pressure and individual interiorization. This system of rules was personified in one or more Gods, who would reward those who stick to the rules, and punish the others. Thus, God functioned to suppress our immediate, spontaneous reactions, and to promote long-term obedience to a rigorous social discipline. The result was that we lost our instinctive experience of being part of nature, and started to look (unsuccessfully) for meaning and purpose in far-away, metaphysical realms.
I will argue that our modern information society no longer needs to impose a strict sense of discipline on its members. Therefore, the road is open to recover our innate sense of harmony, provided we are willing to give up some metaphysical illusions (Heylighen, 2000, 2011), and to reconnect with our natural instincts (Heylighen, 2010).

Charlton, B. (2002). What is the Meaning of Life? Animism, Generalised Anthropomorphism and Social Intelligence. Retrieved from

Heylighen, F. (2000). Foundations and methodology for an evolutionary world view: a review of the Principia Cybernetica Project. Foundations of Science, 5(4), 457-490.
Heylighen, F. (2010). Evolutionary Well-Being: the paleolithic model, Retrieved from

Heylighen, F. (2011). Self-organization of complex, intelligent systems: an action ontology for transdisciplinary integration. Integral Review.


Link to presentation:


Cosmological Immortality: Evolutionary Developmental Ethics on a Universal Scale

 Cosmological Immortality: Evolutionary Developmental Ethics on a Universal Scale

Clement Vidal (VUB)



Most ethical principles, religious or not, are based on wisdom acquired through a few millenia. This may seem a long time but once we take a cosmological perspective, even millenia are insignificant. The field of evolutionary ethics makes a big leap by embracing evolutionary time scales (millions of years). Can we continue to extend our ethical reflections, principles and theories up to the 14 billion years of cosmic evolution? What is the ultimate good in the universe? Evolutionary ethics concludes that survival is the most important value. But survival of what? and for how long? How can we aim for infinite survival, that is, for immortality?

We first outline evolutionary values (e.g. fitness, robustness, adaptation, competition, cooperation); developmental values for individuals (e.g. cognitive, emotional and moral development); developmental values for societies (e.g. rationality increase, violence decrease) and thermodynamical values (e.g. making the most of free energy; limiting entropy production). Striving toward the ultimate good in the longest term, we then propose a voyage to five kinds of immortalities: spiritual, individual, creative, evolutionary and cosmic. We show how they are correlative to the definition and development of the self. Evolutionary, developmental and thermodynamical values promise to be robust ethical principles because proven through the wisdom of billion years of cosmic evolution. As an application, the age-old longing for immortality is reworked in a cosmological perspective.

More information on this topic:

- On cosmic ethics:

Lupisella, Mark L. 2009. Cosmocultural Evolution: The Coevolution of Culture and Cosmos and the Creation of Cosmic Value. In Cosmos and Culture: Cultural Evolution in a Cosmic Context, ed. Steven J. Dick and Mark L. Lupisella, 321-359. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, NASA SP-2009-4802.

- On thermodynamics ethics:

Robert A. Freitas Jr., 1979-2010 Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA. (especially:

- See also Wikipedia's articles about immortality and developmental psychology.


 Link to the slides of the presentation:

From exemplarism to representationalism: the difficulty of creating an atheistic concept of truth


From exemplarism to representationalism:

the difficulty of creating an atheistic concept of truth

Anja Van Rompaey (Center for the Study of Religions and Secularity, ULB)


Abstract: (provisional)

I will analyse different conceptions of truth, from the Middle Ages to modern times, and will try to show that not explicitly refering to the Sacred Scripture or theology might not be enough to develop a truly non-theistic notion of truth, and as a consequence a non-theistic epistemology. If I have enough time, I'll try to explain briefly why this problem might be solved (to be verified) by contemporary 'formal ontology' (a recently developed philosophical discipline operating in a field between logic and metaphysics).


1. "Sur la théologie blanche de Descartes. Analogie, création des vérités éternelles et fondement", Jean-Luc Marion, Editions PUF, 2009, Paris.

2. "Le contemplateur et les idées. Modèles de la science divine, du néoplatonisme au XVIIIe siècle", O. Boulnois, J. Schmutz et J-L Solère (éd.), Vrin, 2002, Paris.

3. "La scientia Dei au Moyen Âge : de l’irrationalité absolue à l’intellection immédiate d’une ratio rerum située dans les choses mêmes", Anja Van Rompaey, revue "Le Figuier", to be published (automn 2011).

The speaker:

Anja Van Rompaey is a member of the Centre Interdisciplinaire de l'Etude des Religions et de la Laïcité (CIERL) of the ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles). After having worked on the epistemology and ontology of Spinoza for her Masters' Degree in the History of Philosophy (ULB), she currently studies the concept of reason (ratio) in medieval philosophy. Her Ph.D is part of the ULB ARC (Action de Recherche Concertée) project called 'The Religion of the Other. Reading and Interpretation of Religious Alterity in Islam, Christianity and Judaism, from Late Antiquity to the 21th century'. She's mainly interested in metaphysics, epistemology, ontology, the philosophy of the history of philosophy, and the science of religions.

God is dead, where do we go from here? Nietzsche and a post human perspective on spirituality


God is dead, where do we go from here? 

Nietzsche and a post human perspective on spirituality

 David R. Weinbaum (Weaver) (VUB)



From the perspective of Nietzche's concept of active and reactive forces all religions operate as reactive forces in society promoting spiritual slavery and expressing symptoms such as ressentiment, bad conscience and 'the spirit of revenge'. The fiction of God is the fulcrum and originator of these reactive forces. The problem goes much deeper because the human condition at large is a product of reactive, life depreciating nihilist forces.

Is the death of God a bold rebellion against these reactive forces that diminish the human spirit, or, is it yet another plunge deeper into their trap in a modern disguise?

Nietzsche offers the concept of the overman as a starting point towards what I call 'affirmative spirituality' - a transformative open ended kind of aspiration that is free from both religious pretentious moralities and atheistic reactive concepts such as utility, fitness and well being. Primarily and most importantly affirmative spirituality affirms life and is not based on ideas or values that transcend life. It spells the birth of a new kind of individual.

In the light of a future technological convergence that destabilize the forces currently dominating the human condition, the pressing question is: what are the prospects of an affirmative spirituality to emerge and catalyze the transformation of the human condition?

To frame the question, a preliminary outline of what might be the characteristics of affirmative spirituality are sketched.



1. Deleuze, G. (2006) Nietzsche and Philosophy. New York: Columbia University.

2. Nietzsche F. (1968) The will to power. Trans.  Kaufmann  and  Hollingdale, Random House.

3. Nietzsche F. (1961) Thus Spoke Zarathustra Trans.  R. J.  Hollingdale, Penguin Books.

4. Zimmerman E.Z. (2008) The Singularity: A crucial phase in divine self-actualization? The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 4, No 1-2


Link to the presentation:

God is dead, where do we go from here?  Nietzsche and a post human perspective on spirituality

Religious atheism - a framework and a case study

Religious atheism – A framework and a case-study

Wim Van Moer (VUB)



In order to entirely grasp and understand human religious life, William James (1842-1910) insisted on taking into account the religious experiences rather than systematic theology, ecclesiastical organizations and so on. 

I will try to show that these particular experiences are human experiences; not intrinsically connected with a supernatural reality or being, a god or a theistic concept. This, in turn, means that it might be possible for atheists to have (a) religious experience(s).   

This lecture will consist of two main points: primo, I would like to present a theoretical framework that might be used in studying and examining religious experiences. This theoretical framework is the result of combining a thorough study of William James’s philosophy of religion, the works of Erich Fromm (1900-1980) and Leo Apostel’s (1925-1995) groundbreaking insights. Secundo, I will introduce a case-study in order to clarify and illustrate the framework.

The speaker:
Wim Van Moer - Assistant/researcher Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences  Vrije Universiteit Brussel