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Religious Knowledge

Religious Epistemology

Paul K. Moser on Expectations and Religious Epistemology

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Many people, including philosophers, have misguided expectations for God. These expectations are misguided in their failing to match what would be God’s relevant purposes, if God exists. The latter purposes include what God aims to achieve in revealing to humans (the evidence of) God’s reality and will. Misguided expectations for God can leave one looking for evidence for God in all the wrong places. In failing to find the expected evidence, one easily lapses into despair, anger, or indifference toward matters of God. We find such regrettable attitudes among many people, including philosophers and theologians. ¶ The needed antidote calls for a careful reconsideration of our expectations for God. This antidote enables us to approach religious epistemology in a way that does justice to the idea of a God worthy of worship. As we shall see, the evidence available to humans from a God worthy of worship would not be for mere spectators, but instead would seek to challenge the will of humans to cooperate with God’s perfect will. This would result from God’s seeking what is morally best for humans, including (a) their cooperative reconciliation to God, (b) their redemption from volitional corruption, such as selfishness, pride, and despair about human life, and (c) their ongoing cooperative life with God. ¶ What if, as Kierkegaard (1846) suggested, God maintains God’s value by refusing to become a mere third party and instead offering second-person (I–Thou) access to humans? What if, in addition, God is elusive in hiding from people unwilling to cooperate with God’s will? Such “what if” questions can shake up misguided expectations for God and point us in a new, reliable direction.

Eric Reitan on Grasping God Through Cultural Filters

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I believe in a transcendent creator whose self-disclosure is difficult for humanity to grasp and understand properly given the cultural filters through which that revelation is received. As such, any historical report of revelation will be a distortion, and the task of historical religion is to attempt to work through the distortion by gradually evolving in the light of critical conversation about experience.

G.K. Chesterton on Unseemly Truths

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This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden. Theosophists for instance will preach an obviously attractive idea like re-incarnation; but if we wait for its logical results, they are spiritual superciliousness and the cruelty of caste. For if a man is a beggar by his own pre-natal sins, people will tend to despise the beggar. But Christianity preaches an obviously unattractive idea, such as original sin; but when we wait for its results, they are pathos and brotherhood, and a thunder of laughter and pity; for only with original sin we can at once pity the beggar and distrust the king.

Dr. Trevor on Reason Supplanting Dogma

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We begin to perceive, too, what a powerful lever was afforded by the dualism of Faith and Reason for emancipating the human intellect from the thralldom of Ecclesiasticism; for, leaving out of consideration the legitimacy of the instrument, we cannot deny its unrivaled potency. Never was there a more conspicuous instance of the effectiveness of the ‘Divide et impera’ method. The dogmas of the Church, with their manifold accretions of ignorance and superstition, were found to have lost at least half of their authority and thereby half of the terrorism they had long exercised over humanity. We cannot, I think, feel surprised that the Church from her standpoint of exclusiveness and infallibility should have hurled her anathemas against the authors and propagators of these opinions. Keenness of insight far less prompt than that which has always characterized Romanism might have easily discerned the issue involved in Twofold Truth. It clearly undermined her own position as the divine and sole accredited source of all truth. The verities she chose to stamp with her own brand were to have no longer the exclusive monopoly hitherto assigned them. Philosophy as a rival trader and bidder for the patronage of humanity set up a store of her own, with her own special commodities, authenticated by her own mark, and trader-like did not scruple to boast the superiority of her goods in certain respects to those retailed by the Church. Whatever other effects might attend this rivalry, at least there was opposition — rudimentary free-trade in human dogmas and opinions. A new condition of human liberty was established, which if not destined to bear much fruit for the present was full of promise for the distant future.

Protagoras on Knowledge of God

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Eusebius tells us that it was the opening sentence of Protagoras’ treatise on the Gods, and it is attested by numerous citations. It runs as follows: “About the gods, I am not able to know whether they exist or do not exist, nor what they are like in form; for the factors preventing knowledge are many: the obscurity of the subject, and the shortness of human life.” The last words have sometimes been omitted, but they are important. They indicate the ground upon which Protagoras took up his position and the nature of his agnosticism. All that mattered to him was what could be known; and the Greek word (eidenai) that is used twice in this sentence means, precisely, knowledge: not belief, not faith.

Bill Maher on Religious Certitude

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I don’t use the word “atheist” about myself, because I think it mirrors the certitude I’m so opposed to in religion. What I say in the film is that I don’t know. I don’t know what happens when you die, and all the religious people who claim they do know are being ridiculous. I know that they don’t know any more than I do. They do not have special powers that I don’t possess. When they speak about the afterlife with such certainty and so many specifics, it just makes me laugh. People can tell you, “Oh yes, when you get to Paradise there are 72 virgins, not 70, not 75.” Or they say, “Jesus will be there sitting at the right hand of the Father, wearing a white robe with red piping. There will be three angels playing trumpets.” Well, how do you know this? It’s just so preposterous. So, yes, I would like to say to the atheists and agnostics, the people who I call rationalists, let’s stop ceding the moral high ground to the people who believe in the talking snake. Let’s have our voices heard and be in the debate.

Janelle Aijian on Christian Doubt

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For Pascal the first rule of human thought or behavior is that we are not what we were meant to be. God did not create us to live lives shrouded by doubt, but sin has distorted even the faculties that give us knowledge. That means that understanding who I am according to the Christian story means understanding that I am, fundamentally, fallible. I know that my desires can distort the way I see the world. I know that my reason can become prideful and dogmatic, and lead me into error. So for Pascal, and here he echoes Augustine, doubting myself is sometimes just good common sense. It’s thinking rightly about my own limitations in light of the distorting effects of sin.

Our Inescapable Pluralism

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The great variety of contradictory religious views is for many reason enough to conclude that there is no truth to be had in such matters, that no one religion is at all likely to be closest to the truth. In his debate with Dinesh D’Souza, John Loftus makes these inter-religious and intra-religious disagreements the gravamen of his case against Christianity, arguing that in effect they cancel each other out in virtue of the mutually exclusive nature of their claims.1 He does not see, apparently, that by such reasoning, the ageless debate between naturalists and theists is also cancelled, each position nullified. Indeed, every point of view falls prey to such a criterion. When we look within naturalism, we also find denominations and sects, a cacophony of diverse and contradictory positions on fundamental questions. It turns out, the problem of pluralism is an equal opportunity employer. Worldviews are like personalities. Each one is unique. Though there are types of personalities, just as there are broad worldview categories, none is identical. Whatever our worldview, that view must countenance the fact that many others think it mistaken. This is the problem of pluralism. The implication of this reality, however, need not be the defeat of any particular set of beliefs. Rather, the proper response is virtue. It begs modesty, a profound intellectual humility about our take on reality. And second, it should serve as a call to personal responsibility for our beliefs, and therefore to the epistemic virtues, for there is no consensus on ultimate questions that we can simply adopt by proxy.

Stanley Fish on Secular and Public Reasons

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Whether the argument appears in its softer or harder versions, behind it is a form of intellectual/political apartheid known as the private/public distinction: matters that pertain to the spirit and to salvation are the province of religion and are to be settled by religious reasons; matters that pertain to the good order and prosperity of civil society are the province of democratically elected representatives and are to be settled by secular reasons. As John Locke put it in 1689 (“A Letter Concerning Toleration”), the “care of men’s souls” is the responsibility of the church while to the civil magistrate belongs the care of “outward things such as money, land, houses, furniture and the like”; it is his responsibility to secure for everyone, of whatever denomination or belief, “the just possession of these things belonging to this life.” ¶ A neat division, to be sure, which has the effect (not, I think, intended by Locke) of honoring religion by kicking it upstairs and out of sight. If the business of everyday life — commerce, science, medicine, law, agriculture, education, foreign policy, etc. — can be assigned to secular institutions employing secular reasons to justify actions, what is left to religious institutions and religious reasons is a private area of contemplation and worship, an area that can be safely and properly ignored when there are “real” decisions to be made. Let those who remain captives of ancient superstitions and fairy tales have their churches, chapels, synagogues, mosques, rituals and liturgical mumbo-jumbo; just don’t confuse the (pseudo) knowledge they traffic in with the knowledge needed to solve the world’s problems.

The Evidence for God

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If God exists, where can we find adequate evidence for God’s existence? In this book, Paul Moser offers a new perspective on the evidence for God that centers on a morally robust version of theism that is cognitively resilient. The resulting evidence for God is not speculative, abstract, or casual. Rather, it is morally and existentially challenging to humans, as they themselves responsively and willingly become evidence of God’s reality in receiving and reflecting God’s moral character for others. Moser calls this “personifying evidence of God,” because it requires the evidence to be personified in an intentional agent — such as a human — and thereby to be inherent evidence of an intentional agent. Contrasting this approach with skepticism, scientific naturalism, fideism, and natural theology, Moser also grapples with the potential problems of divine hiddenness, religious diversity, and vast evil. ~ Product Description

This Incredible Need to Believe

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Kristeva delivers a focused and insightful discussion of religious belief. With material culled from various interviews, articles and lectures, the book is less a unified argument than a sprawling analysis of religion in major psychological and philosophical literature (e.g., Freud, Arendt, Winnicot), fiction (e.g., Proust) and in private life (Kristeva makes wonderful use of Saint Teresa of Avila’s writings) underscored by her claim that sharable knowledge of the inner religious experience is possible and could develop into an important field of discourse. Kristeva provides neither an attack on nor a support of religious belief; her interest is in drawing other disciplines into the discussion. She uses psychoanalytic techniques to comprehend religious experience, the clash of religions, notions of genius, theories of suffering and sexuality and the debt modern humanism owes to Christianity’s emphasis on self-questioning. Compelling and remarkable for its staunch unwillingness to take sides, this book sets forth Kristeva’s most sustained treatment of religion in a format that will interest both scholars and anyone looking for an accessible introduction to her methods and preoccupations. ~ Publishers Weekly

Richard Swinburne on Understanding Revelation

Go Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all claim that God has given humans a revelation. Divine revelation may be either of God, or by God of propositional truth. Traditionally Christianity has claimed that the Christian revelation has involved both of these. God revealed himself in his acts in history; for example in the miracles by which he preserved the people of ancient Israel, and above all by becoming incarnate (that is human) as Jesus Christ, who was crucified and rose from the dead. And God also revealed to us propositional truths by the teaching of Jesus and his church. Some modern theologians have denied that Christianity involves any propositional revelation, but there can be little doubt that from the second century (and in my view from the first century) until the eighteenth century, Christians and non-Christians were virtually unanimous in supposing that it claimed to have such a revelation, and so it is worthwhile investigating its traditional claim. It is in any case very hard to see how it would be of great use to us for God to reveal himself in history (e.g. in the Exodus, or in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) unless we could understand the cosmic significance of what happened — e.g. that Jesus was God incarnate and that his life and death constituted an atonement for our sins. And how are we to know that unless with the history God provides its interpretation?

The Reconstruction of the Christian Revelation Claim

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Dr. Hackett provides, in digestible form, a comprehensive, systematic, and pervasively philosophical apologetic for the Christian revelation claim. Although the approach is seriously philosophical, the text is free as possible of the earmarks of technical scholarship-reflecting the author’s aspiration to "reach the common person who has a deep interest in such questions."

Eric Reitan on Corrupting Religion

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It is my conviction that theism and other forms of supernatural religion are born out of a combination of rational insight, profound experiences of a distinctive kind, and morally laudable hope… I believe that the germ of religion born from these sources needs to be refined and shaped by careful and humble reflection in open-minded discourse with others… But it is an unfortunate fact of history that the germ of this religious vision has consistently been co-opted for political and economic gain, corrupted by our more mean-spirited impulses, obscured by our blinkered and parochial thinking, and — perhaps — distorted by the kinds of impulse that Dawkins and Dennet take to be the evolutionary basis for religion itself. The results have been religious traditions that — while preserving the germ of what I might presumptuously call “true religion,” and while offering fleeting glimpses of what that germ might evolve into — are also laden with crud. ¶ And in some of the more pernicious modes of religious expression, the germ has been thrown away altogether and the crud has been lifted up. Human beings have been encouraged, indoctrinated, even coerced into the worship of rubbish.

In Search of a Confident Faith

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In Search of a Confident Faith is an excellent comprehensive apologetic for establishing trust in God "for real." I wanted to review this book due to my own interest in Christians becoming confident in their faith. The book reaffirms the Christian faith as one of propositional knowledge confirmed through personal experience; but does so at a very accessible level. Moreland and Issler address many helpful points concerning the influence of Western culture in creating doubt in Christians’ faith. First, the authors address the misuse of the term "faith" in today’s culture as a "blind leap" or as in place of reason. The term historically entailed a much richer meaning of trust and confidence, which crucially required the proper exercise of reason, evidence, and knowledge. Second, they describe the essential role of knowledge in the Christian faith; through a look at the Biblical view of knowledge, through breaking down the concept of knowledge, and through addressing our plausibility structures (explained more thoroughly later). Third, the authors attend to intellectual and emotional doubts: both through logical arguments and then through practical steps in handling these doubts. Fourth, Moreland and Issler handle doubt caused by low expectations of God’s intervention into a believer’s life and make practical suggestions for increasing trust in God. Their writing systematically and carefully treats each area without losing interest or bogging down in terminology. ~ Mary Jo Sharp @ Amazon.com

The Defense of the Faith

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The Defense of the Faith is Van Til’s book about the subject for which he is most famous, presuppositional apologetics. I know many Christians wish to be able to defend their faith and to be “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope” that they have (I Peter 3:15). … “Presuppositional” means that the argument for the truth of the claims of Scripture focuses on the presuppositions, or assumptions, of non-Christian thought, and it is founded on and proceeds according to the presuppositions of Biblical, Christian thought. The most foundational idea of non-Christian thought is the idea of human autonomy. According to the Bible, the unbeliever’s heart is naturally at war with God after the fall. God has revealed that He is the Creator, and that man, whether he wants to or not, must always ultimately face the fact the he is the creature, and is responsible to and dependent on God. He knows that this is true. However, after the fall, the unbeliever does not want to be responsible to or dependent on God. He suppresses the truth that he knows in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:21). He wants to determine for himself the significance and purpose of his life. He makes his own mind the ultimate criterion for all interpretation and for all activity. The claims of God are not satisfactory to him, so he rejects them. The mind of the creature sits in judgment over its Creator. Thus all human reasoning and interpretation is inescapably and fundamentally ethical by nature. Van Til’s argument is that a truly Biblical apologetic must confront the unbeliever at this very point. … ~ B.C. Richards at Amazon.com

Knowledge of God

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Is belief in God epistemically justified? That’s the question at the heart of this volume in the Great Debates in Philosophy series, with Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley each addressing this fundamental question with distinctive arguments from opposing perspectives. The first half of the book contains each philosopher’s explanation of his particular view; the second half allows them to directly respond to each other’s arguments, in a lively and engaging conversation. Knowledge of God offers the reader a one of a kind, interactive discussion. “It’s difficult to locate this book, since, in the series, there is already a book entitled Atheism and Theism. The difference is that this book is more focused on the rationality of theism — is it reasonable to believe in God — than the question of God’s existence (though the latter obviously informs the former). The book is divided into six sections. Both authors get a 75 page opening statement, a 35 page response, and a final 15 page rejoinder.” ~ Timothy Perrine at Amazon.com

The Elusive God

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Three questions motivate this book’s account of evidence for the existence of God. First, if God’s existence is hidden, why suppose He exists at all? Second, if God exists, why is He hidden, particularly if God seeks to communicate with people? Third, what are the implications of divine hiddenness for philosophy, theology, and religion’s supposed knowledge of God? This book answers these questions on the basis of a new account of evidence and knowledge of divine reality that challenges skepticism about God’s existence. The central thesis is that we should expect evidence of divine reality to be purposively available to humans, that is, available only in a manner suitable to divine purposes in self-revelation. This lesson generates a seismic shift in our understanding of evidence and knowledge of divine reality. The result is a needed reorienting of religious epistemology to accommodate the character and purposes of an authoritative, perfectly loving God. An interview with Moser is available on the Evangelical Philosophical Society blog.

Paul K. Moser on Kerygmatic Philosophy

Go The disturbing God acknowledged by Jewish and Christian theism is not static but dynamic, interactive, and elusive. In particular, this God reveals himself to some people at times and hides himself from some people at times, for the sake of gaining fellowship with people. As a result, this God is cognitively elusive, since the claim that this God exists is not obviously true or even beyond evidentially grounded doubt for all capable mature inquirers. Let’s think of the God in question as “the living God” in virtue of this God’s being personally interactive with some agents and cognitively nimble and dynamic rather than functionally or cognitively static. This God, more specifically, is elusive for good reasons, that is, for reasonable divine purposes that fit with God’s unique character of being worthy of worship and thus being morally perfect. Accordingly, we should expect any evidence of God’s existence for humans to be purposively available to humans, that is, available to humans in a way that conforms to God’s perfectly good purposes for humans. This paper explores the striking consequences of this position for natural theology in particular and for theistic philosophy in general. It outlines an epistemology of God’s existence that is pneumatic, owing to a personal divine Spirit (who cannot be reduced to Calvin’s sensus divinitatis), and that is thus foreign to secular epistemology and to much philosophy of religion. It is also an incarnational epistemology, given its cognitive role for God’s Spirit dwelling in humans, in such a way that they become a temple of God’s Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). We may think of incarnational epistemology as requiring that human inquirers themselves become evidence of God’s reality in virtue of becoming God’s temple. In this approach, characteristic evidence of God’s reality is increasingly available to me as I myself am increasingly willing to become such evidence.

Philosophy of Religion

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A comprehensive and authoritative overview of the most important ideas and arguments in this resurgent field. The text moves beyond the borders of Western theism to more accurately reflect the nature of the twenty-first-century world. Featuring eighteen original essays from leading scholars, this collection offers a wide variety of viewpoints for a well balanced perspective on both traditional and cutting-edge topics in philosophy of religion. Designed for course use, this accessible text includes study questions and annotated further reading lists to stimulate reflection and provide opportunities for deeper exploration of the fundamental questions of the nature of religion.

Douglas Wilson on Tasting It to Test It

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When I said that Jesus is good for the world because he is the life of the world, you just tossed this away. You said, “You cannot possibly ‘know’ this. Nor can you present any evidence for it.” Actually, I believe I can present evidence for what I know. But evidence comes to us like food, and that is why we say grace over it. And we are supposed to eat it, not push it around on the plate – and if we don’t give thanks, it never tastes right. But here is some evidence for you, in no particular order. The engineering that went into ankles. The taste of beer. That Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, just like he said. A woman’s neck. Bees fooling around in the flower bed. The ability of acorns to manufacture enormous oaks out of stuff they find in the air and dirt. Forgiveness of sin. Storms out of the North, the kind with lightning. Joyous laughter (diaphragm spasms to the atheistic materialist). The ocean at night with a full moon. Delta blues. The peacock that lives in my yard. Sunrise, in color. Baptizing babies. The pleasure of sneezing. Eye contact. Having your feet removed from the miry clay, and established forever on the rock. You may say none of this tastes right to you. But suppose you were to bow your head and say grace over all of it. Try it that way.

Scientific Explanation and Religious Belief

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The science-and-religion dialogue has become an established part of the wider cultural conversation about the respective roles of science and religion within democratic societies. By reflecting on the matrix of science, religion and politics, this volume constitutes a major contribution to the science-and-religion dialogue. It is not only required reading for philosophers, scientists and theologians, but will be of interest to all those engaged in the larger cultural conversation about the relationship between science and religion. ~ Product Description

Anthony Kenny on Humility and Agnosticism

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Humility is a virtue which concerns one’s assessment of one’s own merits and defects in comparison with others. The virtues, as Aristotle taught us, concern particular passions; they assist reason to control these passions. The relevant passion in this quarter is the raging tempest of self-love: our inclination to overvalue our own gifts, overesteem our own opinions and place excessive importance on getting our own way. Humility is the virtue that counteracts this prejudice. It does so not by making the judgment that one’s own gifts are lesser than others, or that one’s own opinions are falser than others — for that, as St Thomas says, would often lead to falsehood. It does so, rather, by making the presumption that others’ talents are greater, others’ opinions more likely to be right. Like all presumptions, the presumption of humility is rebuttable; it may be that for a particular purpose one’s own gifts are more adapted than those of one’s neighbours; on a particular topic it may be that one is right and one’s neighbour wrong. But only by approaching each conflict of interest and opinion with this presumption can one hope to escape the myopia that magnifies everything to do with oneself by comparison with everything to do with others.

The Rationality of Theism

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This book is a collection of thirteen essays which, in one way or another, defend the thesis that a personal God exists. I disagree with the notion that these essays are “brand new” in that much of the material in several of the essays (e.g., Craig on the Kalam cosmological argument, Moreland on the argument from consciousness, and Collins on the teleological argument) has been published elsewhere, whether in books or academic philosophy journals. Thus, I think the description overly hypes the book. Moreover, given that an essay on aparticular topic will, pretty much necessarily, not approach the depth and rigor that a book-length treatment of a given topic would, there is a danger that a person who reads only these essays will be left with a more or less truncated picture of what a robust defense of theism on any particular front looks like. Again, the back cover statement that the book, “[aims] to offer comprehensive theistic replies to the traditional arguments against the existence of God…” seems a bit overblown. Nonetheless, this books makes an important contribution to the analytic philosophy of religion in at least two ways. First, it gives the reader a feel for what kinds of arguments for theism are currently being presented. Second, it benefits the non-expert in that it brings together under one cover a collection of material that would otherwise only be found by those already familiar with the relevant literature. Both of these are very good things, I think. ~ J. Wisdom at Amazon.com

Philosophy of Religion: Second Edition

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Is there any basis in reality for a religious experience? Is there any basis in reason for belief in God? Is it even possible to speak meaningfully of a transcendent being? And how does one account for evil? The authors answer these questions, representing the four most important issues in the philosophy of religion, in a comprehensive way and “form the perspective of classical theism.” They support this position with in-depth argumentation, taking into account both classical and contemporary writers. ~ Wipf and Stock