Willem B. Drees

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Willem B. Drees
Born (1954-03-20) March 20, 1954 (age 63)
Residence Netherlands
Institutions Leiden University
Alma mater

PhD theoretical physics, Utrecht University 1977 PhD theology, Groningen University 1989

PhD philosophy, Amsterdam University 1994
Known for Religious Naturalism, Editor of Zygon
Notable awards Prins Bernhard Fund Prize, Legatum Stolpianum, two Fulbright grants

Willem Bernard "Wim" Drees (born April 20, 1954) is a Dutch philosopher. He is the editor-in-chief of Zygon, Journal of Religion & Science.[1]

Drees has been the editor or co-editor of twenty books, published more than fifty journal articles and essays, numerous book reviews and articles for the wider public. He has lectured widely in Europe and the United States. His eight books include Beyond the Big Bang: Quantum Cosmologies and God (1990), Religion, Science and Naturalism (1996), and Creation: From Nothing until Now (2002). As of Sept 1, 2009, he is Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics and vice-dean of the Faculty of Humanities of Leiden University in the Netherlands.


Drees was born in the Hague on April 20, 1954, as the third child of five and the only son of Willem Drees jr (1922–1998) and Anna Erica Drees-Gescher (1922–1988). His paternal grandfather Willem Drees was the highly regarded prime minister of the Netherlands from 1948 until 1958. He was known as Vadertje Drees (Little Father Drees), and was very popular. During his office as prime minister, the Netherlands recovered from the Second World War. His father was also a noted Netherlands politician being the party leader of the Democratic Socialists '70 from 1971 to 1977.[2]

Drees is a past-president of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT). He is currently (2009 and since 2001) the professor of philosophy of religion and ethics at Leiden University (Netherlands)[4]. For the academic year 2008-2009 he was the Witherspoon Fellow for Theology and Science at the Center of Theological Inquiry and affiliate fellow for the Center for the Study of Religion of Princeton University. His main research focus was on the influence of technology and ecology on religious beliefs and practices.[3]

Drees has three doctorate degrees. He was trained in theoretical physics (Utrecht, 1971–1977) and theology/philosophy of religion (Amsterdam & Groningen), with doctorates in theology (Groningen 1989) and philosophy (Amsterdam, 1994). From 1995 until 2001 he held the Nicolette Bruining Chair for Philosophy of Nature and of Technology from a Liberal Protestant Perspective at University of Twente (Netherlands). In 2001 he served as Executive Director of the All European Academies (ALLEA) - an organization that has for members most of the science and arts academies in Europe.

In 1983 he had a senior Fulbright scholarship, which supported a study leave as fellow of the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, then directed by Daniel W. Hardy. From September 1987 until August 1988 Drees had a Fulbright scholarship, while doing research at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (Berkeley) and the Chicago Center for Religion and Science, later renamed the Zygon Center for Religion and Science.

In 2000, he was a Dickinson Distinguished Visiting Professor at Dartmouth College. From 2005 until 2008 he served as dean of the Faculty of Religious Studies at Leiden University. During his leadership years the Faculty developed an accredited program on Islamic Theology, acquired an endowed chair from the Sultanate of Oman, and raised funds for a chair for the study of Judaism as a living tradition. Full professors were appointed in New Testament, the Old Testament in the Eastern Christian Traditions, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, World Christianity, and Comparative Religious Studies. Drees chairs the subcommittee for the humanities of the Netherlands committee for the assessment of research schools (ECOS) and is a member of the board of NOSTER, the Netherlands research school in religious studies and theology.

Academic degrees[edit]

  • 1977 Doctoraal (equivalent to 'All but dissertation') in theoretical physics, with minors in mathematics and astronomy; Utrecht University; thesis supervisor M. Veltman
  • 1985 Doctoraal Philosophy of religion, with minors in ethics, dogmatics, and history of the early church; thesis supervisor H.G. Hubbeling; cum laude
  • 1989 Doctorate in Theology/ Philosophy of Religion, Groningen University (June 29); supervisors Prof. R. Hensen (theology), Prof. H. van Woerden (astronomy); title - Beyond the Big Bang: Quantum Cosmologies and God; cum laude
  • 1994 Doctorate, Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam (Nov 24); supervisor Prof. P.P. Kirschenmann (philosophy of science); title - Taking Science Seriously: A Naturalist View of Religion [4]

Philosophy of religion[edit]

Cosmology - Drees earned his first doctorate in physics (cum laude) with Beyond the Big Bang: Quantum Cosmologies and God. In this he analyzed the philosophical and religious interpretations of the Big Bang theory and quantum cosmology, prospects for complete theories, and speculations about the very long-term future of the Universe. The doctorate earned him the Prins Bernhard Fund Prize (renamed Keetje Hodson Prize) from the Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen and the prize of the Legatum Stolpianum, awarded only once every five years.

Technology - He was Extraordinary (part-time) Professor of Philosophy of Nature and of Technology at Twente University. Reflections on technology were part of his inaugural address (1995), edited a volume in Dutch on religion and technology (God & Co) and edited a volume on value judgments and the desire to improve nature (Is Nature Ever Evil?). Technology and ecology are the topic of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) project led by Drees in a grant program The Future of the Religious Past. In this grant, Drees and co-workers organized a conference on Religion, Science, and Public Concern; selections of the papers were published as Technology, Trust, and Religion (Drees 2009).

Philosophy of Religion – Drees explains his approach in the following way - [5]

I like to work at the interface between empirical and historical studies of religion, which tend to treat religion in functional terms, and religious self-understanding, which tends to focus on ideas (theology) as claims about the nature of reality, often in competition with scientific understandings of reality. I am particularly interested in the impact of science and technology on our values and worldviews. Debates dealing with the relationship between science and religion (e.g. debates over evolution, the Galileo affair, etc.) are better understood, in my opinion, as instances of an ongoing competition between various religious and naturalistic views, values and attitudes.

Religious Naturalism[edit]

Naturalism - Drees addressed the analysis of cosmology limit questions with the interpretation of the explanatory success of science. His second Fulbright grant resulted in the book - Religion, Science and Naturalism (1996). John H. Brooke, historian of science and religion, concluded a review of work of the Oxford theologian Keith Ward and Drees’s book: “Because he is as secure in his epistemology as in his knowledge of theoretical physics, Willem Drees should be read by all who take a scholarly interest in the discourses of ‘science and religion’. His arguments cannot be compressed into sound-bites, and that is their strength.” [6] The analysis of naturalism as addressed in his Religious Naturalism and Science has remained a major component in Drees’s research.[7] He has also paid attention in his analysis of naturalism to the understanding of human nature, with two edited volumes on anthropology and non-reductive physicalism in Dutch and one in English (2000).

William A. Rottschaefer argues that Drees’s naturalism is seriously flawed claiming that it is both methodologically and epistemologically naturalistic. Drees maintains while rejecting both of these that ontological naturalism offers the best account of the natural world. It also provides for a supernaturalistic understanding of religion and theology. Although naturalism is often considered to be antithetical to theology and genuine religion, Drees proposes a scientifically informed account of religion, which, he contends, is not only compatible with supernaturalism and theology but provides a better account of both.[8]

Religious Naturalism – As the Vice President for Interdisciplinary Affairs of IRAS, Drees has participated in the formulative discussions of Religious Naturalism and helped organize a conference on Human Meaning in a Technological Culture (2001). When it comes to his position on this emerging worldview, Drees, says of himself – [9]

Am I a religious naturalist? Others have used that label on me. I am not sure I like the label, as it seems to constrain, whereas I want to explore. I also have some sympathy for the naturalistic theism described above. But certainly, precisely in the attitude of exploring, I fit the naturalism referenced above. Or I at least, I hope do. Even if I am not sure whether I am a religious naturalist, I am most interested in understanding what religious naturalism might mean, may become, and will offer.

Jerome A. Stone in his 2008 book Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative cites Drees as one of the leaders of the Religious Naturalism movement along with other member of IRAS – Ursula Goodenough, Karl Peters, Connie Barlow, Michael Cavanaugh and Stone himself.[10]

Religion and science[edit]

In his book, Religion and Science in Context, Drees asks how we should think about religion, science, and their relationship in our modern societies. Some religious people oppose evolution while atheists claim science support their viewpoint. Others consider science and religious faith to deal with fundamentally different aspects of life. He examines if religion is indeed a belief or trust in God’s existence, how do we distinguish sense from superstition and what does science have to say on such issues. He addresses religion and science in multiple contexts; worldly interests: apologetics, authority, and comfort; science, sense, and superstition; religion in the religion and science debates; mystery in an intelligible world; values in a world of facts and meaning in a material world.

Drees considers contemporary discussions of these issues using examples from Christianity and religious naturalism, with reflections on Islam and Tibetan Buddhism. He proposes that scientific understanding does not answer certain ultimate questions, and thus allows for belief in a creator God, but also for religious naturalism or serious agnosticism. This text offers an original and self-critical analysis of the religion/science dialogue, its assumptions and functions, and ends with a vision of its possible future.[11]


Books and edited volumes[edit]

  • Religion and Science in Context: A Guide to the Debates - Routledge, Aug 28 2009, 176 pages, ISBN 978-0-415-55617-0 978-0-415-55617-0
  • Creation: From Nothing until Now. London: Routledge, 2002.
  • Religion, Science and Naturalism. Cambridge University Press, 1996
  • Beyond the Big Bang: Quantum Cosmologies and God. La Salle: Open Court, 1990 (also in Portuguese)
  • Willem B. Drees, ed. Technology, Trust, and Religion: Roles of Religion in Controversies on Ecology and the Modification of Life. Leiden University Press, 2009.
  • Willem B. Drees, Pieter Sjoerd van Koningsveld, eds., The Study of Religion and the Training of Muslim Clergy in Europe: Academic and Religious Freedom in the 21st Century, Leiden University Press, 2008.
  • Willem B. Drees, Hubert Meisinger, Taede A. Smedes, eds., Creation’s Diversity. (IST 5) London: T&T Clark /Continuum, 2008.
  • Willem B. Drees, Ulf Görman, Hubert Meisinger, eds., Creative Creatures: Values and Ethical Issues in Theology, Science and Technology (IST 3). London: T&T Clark, 2005
  • Willem B. Drees (ed.), Is Nature Ever Evil? Religion, Science and Value. Routledge, 2003.
  • Niels Henrik Gregersen, Willem B. Drees, Ulf Görman, eds., The Human Person in Science and Theology. (IST2). Edinburgh: T&T Clark and Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Additional work[edit]

Books edited or co-edited, professional publications, publications for the general public, book reviews, contributions to books, national (Dutch) refereed journals, international journals, monographs and material accepted (2009) for future publication.[12]


  1. ^ "Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science". Zygonjournal.org. Retrieved 2012-07-06. 
  2. ^ Works of Drees retrieved 8/20/09
  3. ^ Princeton People and Fellows retrieved 8/20/09
  4. ^ Willem B. Drees - Curriculum vitae retrieved 9/1/09
  5. ^ A philosopher of religion [1] 8/20/09
  6. ^ John H. Brooke - Times Literary Supplement , February 7, 1997
  7. ^ The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science (2006)
  8. ^ How to Make Naturalism Safe for Supernaturalism: An Evaluation of Willem Drees's Supernaturalistic Naturalism by William A. Rottschaefer
  9. ^ Philip Clayton, Zachary Simpson, editors - The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science - Oxford University Press, USA, 2006, pages 108-121, ISBN 0199279276 [2]
  10. ^ Jerome A. Stone - Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative, State University of New York Press, December 2008 [3]
  11. ^ Religion and Science in Context: A Guide to the Debates - Routledge, Aug 28 2009, 176 pages, ISBN 978-0-415-55617-0 978-0-415-55617-0 retrieved 9/02/09
  12. ^ Books edited or co-edited by Drees retrieved 9/1/09

External links[edit]