Consider all. Test All. Hold on to the good.

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Religious Knowledge

Os Guinness on Bad Faith

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Without truth we cannot answer the fundamental objection that faith in God is simply a form of “bad faith” or “poor faith.” The wilder accusation of “bad faith” … is one of the deepest and most damaging charges against these faiths in the last two centuries. Jews and Christians believe, critics say, not because of good reasons but because they are afraid not to believe. Without faith, they would be naked to the alternatives, such as the terror of meaninglessness or the nameless dread of unspecified guilt. Faith is therefore a handy shield to ward off the fear, a comforting tune to whistle in the darkness; it is, however, fundamentally untrue, irrational, and illegitimate — and therefore “inauthentic” and “bad faith.”

Richard John Neuhaus on Catholicism

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Priests and academics born into Catholicism tend to know all the inside stories, the flaws and foibles and legendary figures of the Church, and can regale one another with the rich lore of its characters and scandals. It is one big extended family. In that company, status is often contingent upon demonstrating that one has transcended the “Catholic ghetto.” That explains, at least in large part, why dissent from official teaching carries the panache of being sophisticated. The disposition is: “Yes, I am a Catholic (or a priest, or a theologian), but I think for myself.” The remarkably improbable assumption is that what one thinks up by oneself is more interesting than what the Church teaches.

Alvin Plantinga Defining Christian Belief

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Christian belief is produced by a cognitive process (the “internal instigation of the Holy Spirit” [in Aquinas’ words] or the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” [in Calvin’s words] functioning properly in an appropriate epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth.

The Myth of Certainty

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Do you resent the smugness of closed-minded skepticism on the one hand but feel equally uncomfortable with the smugness of closed-minded Christianity on the other? If so, then The Myth of Certainty is for you. Daniel Taylor suggests a path to committed faith that is both consistent with the tradition of Christian orthodoxy and sensitive to the pluralism, complexity and relativism of our age. The case for the questioning Christian is made with both incisive analysis and lively storytelling. Brief fictional interludes provide an alternate way of exploring topics at hand and vividly depict the real-life dilemmas reflective Christians often face. Taylor affirms a call to throw off the paralysis of uncertainty and to risk commitment to God without forfeiting the God-given gift of an inquiring mind. Throughout he demonstrates clearly how much the world and the church need question askers. ~ Product Description

Alvin Plantinga on Religion as a Placebo

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[I]s this posture in fact possible for a human being: can a person accept it, and accept it authentically, without bad faith or doublethink? I am to remain a Christian, to take part in Christian worship, to accept the splendid and powerful doctrines of traditional Christianity. However, I am also to take it that these doctrines are only mythologically true: they are literally false, although accepting them (i.e., accepting them as true, as literally true) puts or tends to put one into the right relation with the Real. And how can I possibly accept them, adopt that attitude toward them, if I think they are only mythologically true — that is, really false? I could, indeed, believe that they are mythologically true; believing that, however, doesn’t move one toward the right kind of life; it is only believing the teachings themselves that allegedly has that salutary effect. Once I am sufficiently enlightened, once I see that those doctrines are not true, I can no longer take the stance with respect to them that leads to the hoped-for practical result. I am left, instead, in the position of a sad and disillusioned Gnostic. I no longer hold Christian belief; I recognize, as I think, that it is in fact false. I also see, of course, that those who do accept it as true are mistaken, deluded; but at any rate they are in the fortunate position of enjoying the comfort and strength and consolation these false beliefs bring; they are also being moved closer to the right kind of life.

Truth and Religious Belief

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This book contains a thorough and balanced series of dialogues introducing key topics in philosophy of religion, such as: the existence and nature of God, the problem of evil, religious pluralism, the nature of religious experience, immortality, and the meaning of life. A realistic cast of characters in a natural setting engages in a series of thought-provoking conversations; the dialogue format of these conversations captures typical student attitudes and questions concerning religious belief; allows comparison of important themes throughout the dialogues; encourages the interjection of insights, observations, questions, and objections; and introduces related points when they would naturally arise, instead of relegating them to a later chapter. As well as presenting a detailed and probing discussion, each dialogue includes a list of key terms, a set of study questions, and a bibliography – all of which make this an excellent text for courses in philosophy of religion and introductory philosophy classes. ~ Product Description

Michael Martin on God, Mystery, and Evil

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On most interpretations of the theistic God, He desires His creatures to love Him. However, the mystery of evil conflicts with this desire. It is difficult for rational humans to love God when they do not understand why there is so much evil. If the reasons for evil are beyond humans’ ken, God could at least make THIS abundantly clear. Why does He not do so? Moreover, why does not an all-powerful God have the power to raise human intelligence so humans can understand why there is so much evil? If there is reason for not doing this, then why is THIS not made clear? There is mystery on top of mystery here which seems to conflict explicitly with God’s desire to be loved.

Thomas Nagel on the Fear of Religion

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In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehood. I am talking about something much deeper — namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that… My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.

The Nature and Value of Religious Experien

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If you take a poll in a typical Christian congregation, you will discover that the majority of church members have had very deep encounters with God. Most have had at least a few occasions of dramatic answer to prayer, some have seen physical healings of various sorts, and many have had moments when God was intensely real to them. Moreover, these phenomena happen not only to individual believers, they also occur when Christians gather together in community. Speaking more generally, it is safe to say that millions upon millions of people worldwide have had some sort of religious experience at one time or another. What should we make of these facts? Do they provide evidence for the existence of God? For the truth of Christianity? How is a naturalist supposed to take these facts?

R. Douglas Geivett Channeling Relativism

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[Speaking rhetorically] The mere suggestion that Jesus might be the only way to achieve authentic religious fulfillment smacks of bigoted narrowness and rigid exclusiveness. While these are qualities that we have come to expect from obtuse religious zealots, they surely are unworthy of the general run of humanity, if not of God himself — if he should happen to exist. And the idea that humans can acquire specific religious knowledge that holds the key to the entire human condition is, well, pretentious at the least. The attitude is simply incompatible with enlightened awareness of our cognitive limitations.

R. Douglas Geivett on Revelation

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The proliferation of religious options is ample testimony that humans everywhere desire meaningful contact with ultimate religious reality. But human religious diversity signals that something is amiss. It is impossible to discern a consistent pattern among the innumerable human strategies for seeking spiritual fulfillment. The sad track record of religious activity initiated by humans suggest that the conditions for genuine spiritual satisfaction must be set by our Creator and communicated in an accessible and compelling way to us his creatures.

William Lane Craig on Assent

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Therefore, when a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.

William Lane Craig on Rejecting the Spirit

Go The Bible says all men are without excuse. Even those who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God's Holy Spirit.

Knowledge of God

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In this essay I shall explore the possibilities for knowledge of God that are opened up by recent developments in epistemology that go under the title externalism; more specifically, I shall be concerned with the version of externalism known as reliabilism. I shall set this up with a consideration of how those possibilities look from a more internalist epistemological stance. I shall be working from within the Christian tradition, though I take my remarks to have a wider bearing.

Plantinga, Pluralism and Justified Religious Belief

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According to Alvin Plantinga, it has been widely held since the Enlightenment that if theistic beliefs are to be considered rational, they must be based on propositional evidence. It is not enough for the theist just to refute objections. The theist "must also have something like an argument for [such a] belief, or some positive reason to think that the belief is true." But this is incorrect, Plantinga argues. Basic beliefs are beliefs not based on propositional evidence; such beliefs are "properly basic in a set of circumstances" if they can be so affirmed in those circumstances "without either violating an epistemic duty or displaying some kind of noetic defect." And, according to Plantinga, theistic beliefs can be properly basic. For example, he argues that "under widely realized conditions it is perfectly rational, reasonable, intellectually respectable and acceptable to believe there is such a person as God without believing it on the basis of evidence — propositional evidence vs. the kind instanced by ‘the evidence of the senses’." But can a properly basic belief such as this have any epistemic credibility (warrant) if it is not conferred by other propositions whose epistemic status is not in question? Yes, Plantinga replies. There are two significantly different ways in which a proposition can acquire warrant. There is propositional warrant — warrant conferred by an evidential line of reasoning from other beliefs. However, there is also nonpropositional warrant.

The Experiential Basis of Theism

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Alston notes two pillars that he believes, in tandem, support theistic belief: the general consideration of natural theology and the experience of God. For Alston, the latter bears the greater weight and he goes on to explore how such experience contributes appropriate epistemic support to theism.

Michael Martin on Religious Experience

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Religious experiences are like those induced by drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and sleep deprivation: They tell no uniform or coherent story, and there is no plausible theory to account for discrepancies among them.

Michael Martin on the Absence of God

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Since experiences of God are good grounds for the existence of God, are not experiences of the absence of God good grounds for the nonexistence of God? After all, many people have tried to experience God and have failed. Cannot these experiences of the absence of God be used by atheists to counter the theistic argument based on experience of the presence of God?

John Hick on the Many Faces of God

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Kant distinguished between noumenon and phenomenon, or between a Ding an sich and that thing as it appears to human consciousness… In this strand of Kant’s thought — not the only strand, but the one which I am seeking to press into service in the epistemology of religion — the noumenal world exists independently of our perception of it and the phenomenal world is that same world as it appears to our human consciousness… I want to say that the noumenal Real is experienced and thought by different human mentalities, forming and formed by different religious traditions, as the range of gods and absolutes which the phenomenology of religion reports.

Miracles and Justified Belief: Further Clarification

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In an ongoing dialogue in this journal (Sophia), Robert Larmer and I have been discussing whether the undisputed occurrence of certain conceivable events — for instance, astonishing healings — could require all honest, thoughtful individuals to acknowledge that God has supernaturally intervened in earthly affairs. I have not denied that a theist (or nontheist) could justifiably consider the occurrence of certain possible (or even actual) events to be strong evidence for theism — for the existence of a God who benevolently intervenes in earthly affairs. But nontheists, I have argued, can justifiably maintain that evil — that the amount and nature of human pain and suffering — stands as strong evidence against God’s existence. Furthermore, I have argued, nontheists can justifiably maintain that the evidence against God’s existence generated by evil would outweigh any amount of evidence for theism that might be produced by any conceivable set of events. And for this reason I have continued to deny that there exists any conceivable context in which a person who did not acknowledge that God has intervened in earthly affairs could justifiably be accused of having conducted herself in a nonrational manner.

Miracles and Natural Explanations

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In response to Robert A. Larmer, Basinger argues: “There is little basis upon which to claim that all proponents of solely natural causation are guilty of dogmatic, uncritical, question-begging reasoning. To claim emphatically that there is in fact no God (and thus no divine causal intervention) may be an unwarranted metaphysical contention. But the nontheist need not be making any such ontological claim. She can simply be saying that, while this epistemological contention is debatable, its affirmation is not necessarily any more dogmatic or question begging than the belief that the ‘total’ evidence makes theistic belief (and thus the possibility of divine intervention) most reasonable.”

Jerry Gill on Faith as a Leap

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On the other hand, there are those who disdain the apologetic task altogether, either because they believe that Christian faith is entirely a gift of God or because they advocate religious commitment as a “leap of faith”. Such thinkers would quote Pascal: “The heart has reasons that reason knows not of”. What those who take this approach overlook is that it proves too much. If Christian belief is justified by faith alone, then so is every other form of belief on the commitment market, since the devotees of each are equally convinced they are right. Besides, it is important to notice that Pascal still called the reasons which are not known by reason, “reasons”.

The Miracle of Theism

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In The Miracle of Theism, J.L. Mackie examines the arguments for and against the existence of God from an atheistic perspective. John Mackie is a highly respected twentieth century philosopher and along with Anthony Flew has been one of the most capable contemporary proponents of atheism. Written almost a quarter of a century ago, “The Miracle of Theism” remains a classic in the field of religious philosophy and is widely considered to be one of the best-stated arguments for atheism in print. Unfortunately, many popular works supporting the atheistic perspective come across as unduly angry and self-righteous. In contrast, Mackie’s work is a much-needed breath of fresh air. One may disagree with Mackie while at the same time respecting his views. ~ A Reader at Amazon.com

The Justification of Religious Belief

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Can the existence of God be demonstrated? Is the very idea of God logically incoherent? What is the nature of the arguments for and against the existence of God, and how do they relate to other kinds of arguments? Is a rational choice between belief and non-belief possible? “The problem before us is that, if systems of religous belief require and admit of rational justification, as has been argued, they ought only to be accepted more or less…”