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 in Europe and the United States. His 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 January 1, 2015, he is Dean of the Tilburg School of Humanities, Tilburg University, and Professor of Philosophy of the Humanities at Tilburg University, 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 prime minister of the Netherlands from 1948 until 1958. His father was also a Netherlands politician being the party leader of the Democratic Socialists '70 from 1971 to 1977.
Drees is a past-president of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT). From 2001 until 2009 he was the professor of philosophy of religion and ethics at Leiden University (Netherlands). 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.
Drees has two 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 (Vrije Universiteit, 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).
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 1993 he had a senior Fulbright scholarship, which supported a study leave as fellow of the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton.
In 2000, he was a Dickinson Distinguished Visiting Professor at Dartmouth College. From September 2001 until October 2014, he was professor of philosophy of religion and ethics, Leiden University, the Netherlands. 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. From 2009 until 2013 he served as vice-dean for education, of the School of Humanities of Leiden University. Drees chaired the subcommittee for the humanities of the Netherlands committee for the assessment of research schools (ECOS) and served as a member of the board of NOSTER, the Netherlands research school in religious studies and theology.
As of November 2014, he was appointed professor of philosophy of the humanities at Tilburg University, the Netherlands. On January 30, 2015, he held his inaugural address, "Naked Ape or Techno Sapiens: The Relevance of Human Humanities" Since January 2015, he serves as dean of the Tilburg School of Humanities.
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.” The analysis of naturalism as addressed in his Religious Naturalism and Science has remained a major component in Drees’s research. 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.
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 –
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.
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.Naked Ape or Techno Sapiens? The Relevance of Human Humanities - Tilburg, Jan 30 2015, 35 pages,ISBN 978-94-6167-229-2
Religion and Science in Context: A Guide to the Debates - Routledge, Aug 28 2009, 176 pages, ISBN 978-0-415-55617-0 (also in German)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.
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.