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6.2.13: Religious Language and Worldviews

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    The relationship of religious faith to reason is a very complex issue. It is also one of the most important issues in Philosophy of Religion and an issue that focuses on the core of the religious phenomena. There are several possible views. In the course of examining religious phenomena, specifically religious faith, with critical analysis there arise several different possible explanations for what religious language is and what it is meant to convey. The relation of reason to faith is a matter of the relation of religious language through which the religious faith is described and the faculties of reasoning and critical analysis. To explore this issue is to examine or search for the very core of religion itself!

    The Questions

    • Are religious people to be expected to believe in things that make no sense?

    • Are religious people expected to believe in things being true which are impossible?

    • Are religious people to be expected to believe in contradictory reports all being true at the same time?

    • What exactly is the relation of Religious Faith to Reasoning?

    • Are Faith and Reason compatible or not?

    • What is going on when religious people express their belief in unbelievable events or claims?

    World Views and Conceptual Frameworks

    In order to examine these issues and to enter into a serious dialogue with others who have considered these questions it is important to understand the meaning of certain important concepts that become involved in the ongoing discussion.

    Since the issues involve the basic ways in which people experience and think about their world the very concept of a basic and global perspective on life and experience must be examined. What is it? Where does it come from? How does it function? What is its importance?

    What is the relation of Reason to Faith?  Can or must a set of religious beliefs be rationally examined and understood?  Must they be consistent and coherent, make sense and be verifiable?

    Since the issues involved with examining sets of religious beliefs and they often contain or constitute the basic ways in which people experience and think about their world, the very concept of a basic and global perspective on life and experience must be examined. What is it? Where does it come from? How does it function? What is its importance?

    As each person interacts with others in a given environment they learn not only about things, (their names and features) but they learn from others the basic framework in which it is believed that those things are set. People learn a number of basic ideas through the very language that they learn to speak. These ideas are imbedded in the language itself. As long as all the users of the language use it in a similar fashion there is little reason for any one of them to begin to think about the underlying assumptions or basic ideas that are imbedded in that language.

    The use of ordinary language to express religious ideas about what is most important or most basic often leads others to begin the examination of the imbedded assumptions of ordinary language itself.

    For example, when people grow up hearing and speaking about such things as: having a "mind", "losing my mind", "what’s on your mind?", "are you out of your mind?"

    The result is that people in that culture that uses language this way have a belief that humans have something called a "mind" and that it is important and may be occupying a space in their body but is not part of it. These ideas about the existence and nature of the mind are imbedded in the language. There is not a sufficient amount of evidence to actually support these ideas and the evidence can be interpreted differently depending on whether or not one begins the examination of the evidence already with the belief in the existence of the mind.

    In order to examine these issues and to enter into a serious dialogue with others who have considered these questions it is important to understand the meaning of certain important concepts that become involved in the ongoing discussion.


    Conceptual Framework


    Linguistic Framework

    Form of Life or Language Games

    Basic Beliefs- Foundational Beliefs

    Evidentialist Position on Basic Belief Systems

    Coherentist Position on Basic Belief Systems


    People hold different views of various matters. The difference in those views is of different orders. Two or more people can view the same event from different physical perspectives or with different attitudes towards what they have viewed. Over and above those differences, people can view matters with very different ideas about what things mean what is valued, and what it takes to prove something, even what constitutes reality. When people share a common set of basic beliefs about what is real, true, known, valued and how one comes to know things then they share in what is known as a worldview.

    Conceptual Framework

    This is a set of ideas which establish a manner of viewing either all of reality or some well-defined portion of it. For example, physicists may view events using the framework of quantum mechanics or that of relativity theory. Their findings and explanations will differ accordingly.


    A set of profoundly unfalsifiable assumptions that govern all of a person’s other beliefs.

    Each person has such bliks and no one can escape having them. Some claim that these bliks can not be subjected to rational scrutiny. Others claim that they can and should be appraised rationally; that a gradual accumulation of evidence and reasoning can count against a blik and lead to its abandonment. For example, someone who believes in alien visitations to earth and government conspiracies to cover them up will experience official government reports and independent investigations of such phenomena and claims much differently from someone who does not hold those beliefs concerning extraterrestrials and government officials. Bliks are a “ belief which is strongly held, in spite of evidence to the contrary.” Bliks are “views that avoid debates.” R.M Hare


    Bliks by Kelly Dorsey (NCC, 2006)

    Bliks are beliefs that are strongly held, in spite of evidence to the contrary.  These bliks( beliefs) become the basis for other beliefs.  It was thought that that if a skeptic were to present data to a believer in opposition of that person’s blik, the believer would give up that blik.  However, due to the fact that bliks are so foundational, the believer will come up with a “rationalization” for the discrepancy rather than to give up on their conviction.  “A blik is not an assertion, not a concept, not a system of thought. It is what underlies the possibility of any kind of assertion about facts and their meanings. Hare writes: "Differences between bliks about the world cannot be settled by observation of what happens to the world. . . . It is by our bliks that we decide what is and what is not an explanation." Furthermore, because bliks are a basis for self-involving language, we care very deeply about our religious assertions. It becomes very important to have the right blik.(R. M. Hare in Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre, eds., New Essays in Philosophical Theology, pp. 100-101.)” 

    Hare also points out that people may agree about the facts and differ intensely about the interpretation:  "The facts that religious discourse deals with are perfectly ordinary empirical facts like what happens when you pray; but we are tempted to call them supernatural facts because our way of living is organized round them; they have for us value, relevance, importance, which they would not have if we were atheists" (Basil Mitchell, ed., Faith and Logic [London: George Allen & Unwin, 1957], pp. 189-90.)

    READ: The Language Gap and God: Religious Language and Christian Education by Randolph Crump Miller Published by Pilgrim Press, Philadelphia and Boston, 1970. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.  

    Another way of viewing bliks is to imagine them as mental filters.  Information will pass through filtration allowing fragments of reality be accepted, while other portions of reality which conflict with their blik will be sifted out. 

     “Hare says religious people have a religious blik.  Once you accept the religious blik, you have a brand-new way of looking at the world. Your frame of reference is radically altered, and with it, your evidentiary standards. Suddenly all sorts of things that previously did not count as evidence for God begin to count. Your evidentiary filter becomes much more porous. The existence of God becomes so obvious that nothing can falsify it.”

    READ: The Problem of Religious Language by Sandra LaFave of West Valley College

     An example of a common religious blik shared by people of the Western religions is the belief in Creationism.  No matter what evidence is provided in support of the Theory of Evolution, including human remains that predate the supposed creation of Earth, their blik remains unscathed.  The reason for this is because if they discredit their blik, then other aspects of the religion might also become discredited.  Creating reasons for the inconsistencies are a defense mechanism in order to preserve their way of life and possibly their mental health.  If in fact the evidence against their blik was excepted by them and they did disregard that belief, a domino effect could take place.  In the end the believers are left confused.  If something they held as a basic truth was disproved, then the foundation for all their truths could be shaken.  Bliks effect they way a person perceives the world and therefore are subconsciously protected by the believer.


    Bilks also are a catalyst for bringing people together.  Those who own the same bliks seek each other out in order to support their belief.  The more people who believe something, the more credible the belief becomes to others.  This insures that certain religious bliks will be passed down to future generations.  

    Linguistic Framework

    Wittgenstein has observed that the limits of my language are the limits of my world. If a person does not have the words with which to think of something then it may be impossible for that person to think that the object of that thought even exists. On the other hand a person may live in a culture that has many words with which to think of things and so that person has more objects in the world than those people from cultures without the words. For example, Eskimos have many more words for "snow" than do other peoples. They experience snow differently. For them there are a far greater number of different forms of snow than the non-Eskimo experiences. Chinese languages use gerunds (action words) for nouns. Their view of reality is one which has a much greater amount of activity in it and less isolation of objects from one another than those people who are not raised with Chinese as their first or basic language.

    Form of Life or Language Games

    Wittgenstein has observed that humans enter into different uses of language in which the words take on different meanings. There are in life different situations or contexts in which the language usage and meaning may vary and these are repeatable and organized. They are referred to as language games or forms of life. A person could enter into several different language games during a lifetime. For example, there is the ordinary form of life and then the sports form of life. There is the scientific form of life and language game and there is the religious form of life and language game. To "steal" is wrong ordinarily but to "steal" a base is acceptable and commendable in baseball and to "steal" the opponent’s game plan or signals is acceptable in basketball or football. To " kill" one’s opponent means one thing on the streets and another in an athletic contest.

    READ this on Wittgenstein's Fideism 

    Basic Beliefs- Foundational Beliefs

    Whether it be religion or science or athletics or commerce there are certain basic beliefs upon which an entire set of ideas are built or constructed or rest. These basic ideas are not tested for their truthfulness or accuracy. They are not verified. They are not capable of being verified. Yet, the entire system of ideas rests upon them. For example, in science the idea of uniformity of nature is a "given" or basic idea and so is the very existence of an external universe that is separate and apart from the knower or experiencer. Likewise the process of reasoning known as Induction is accepted as a form of reasoning and verification. Yet there are no "proofs" that such ideas are "true".  Foundational beliefs are a “given.”  

    READ this on  Reformed Epistemology for some notion of the Basic or Foundational Beliefs

    Reformed Epistemology

    Evidentialist Position on Basic Belief Systems

    Some theorists hold that any and all basic belief systems must be and are subject to a method of verification that utilizes physical evidence and phenomenal evidence. This requires that there be physical events, objects and experiences that confirm the basic beliefs or at least a substantial number of them.

    READ this on Evidentialism The Rejection of Enlightenment Evidentialism

    Coherentist Position on Basic Belief Systems

    In this view the basic belief systems can not be verified or confirmed using actual evidence. It is enough for the believers to subject their belief systems to a rational examination utilizing the criteria of coherency. What is required for a believer is that the basic ideas be consistent with one another and make sense in reference to one another.

    IV. Relationship of Faith to Reason

    There are several possible views of the relationship of Faith to Reason. They are:

    1. Commensurable

    It is rational to believe in God and spirits and other religious claims.  Reason and Faith are compatible with one another as is Science and Religion because there is but one truth.

    This is the position of the single largest religious group on earth in 2004: the Roman Catholics and has been theirs for some time.  It was clearly offered by Thomas Aquinas and has recently been re affirmed by Pope John Paul II (1998)

    Compatible (Aquinas)

    The basic religious beliefs are compatible with reason. There are rational supports for those beliefs. Other beliefs may be strictly matters of faith resting upon the basic beliefs.

    For more detail: READ : On faith and reason

    Complete Harmony (Kant)

    Religious belief and Reason are in complete harmony with one another.

    B. Incommensurable

    It is NOT rational to believe in God, spirits and other religious claims.

    1. Irrational (Hume, Kierkegaard)

    Faith is opposed to reason and is firmly in the realm of the irrational.

    2.Transrational (Calvin, Barth)

    Religious faith is over and above reason and is not to be subject to criteria generally used by reasoning beings. To use reason on matters of faith is not only inappropriate but irreverent and faithless.

    For many of those who hold the transrational position religious faith may be rested upon revelation which is self-authenticating.

    The relation of Reason to Faith and Religious Language Use

    Logical Positivists came up with a principle that states that a statement or claim has meaning if and only if it can be proved or falsified empirically- with testing.  With this principle some have attempted to totally disprove the whole of religion claiming that religious languages is devoid of meaning because it is incapable of empirical verification or falsification.  But consider some points that are raised in a famous symposium.  It was titled  A "Symposium on Theology and Falsification," and the participants were Antony Flew, R. M. Hare and Basil Mitchell.

    READ this summary of the Symposium on Theology and Falsification by Allen Stairs

    Antony Flew

    Antony Flew maintains that serious truth claims must be capable of rational scrutiny. For such claims to be meaningful there must exist conditions that would count against the claim being true. This is to claim that the statement must be capable of being falsified. This is known as falsifiability.  If there are no conditions that would falsify the claim then for Flew the claim is meaningless and belief in it is not rational. Thus, Flew presents religious beliefs as resting upon meaningless claims because those claims can not be falsified.  Anthony Flew argued this point in the Parable of the Garden by John Wisdom.  Flew presented, in an essay he titled `Gods', written in 1944, that there are two men- a man who believes a gardener visits the garden unseen and unheard, giving order and life to the garden, and another man who doesn't believe in the gardener he, or any other person, has never seen. Anthony  Flew takes the position of the skeptic  to illustrate his point. How, exactly, does an invisible, intangible gardener differ from no gardener at all? His other argument against religious language was religious believers will let nothing count against their beliefs then they cannot be proved because they cannot be falsified.

    READ Flew's Theology and Falsification

    R.M Hare

    Hare maintains that Flew’s criteria for rationality should not apply to religious beliefs. Such beliefs are based upon and constitute a blik, which is a set of profoundly unfalsifiable assumptions, which people use to order their lives. There are a variety of such bliks. Science operates with its own blik and so religion is to be treated no differently. He coined the term `blik' to describe a state where you will not allow anything to count against your beliefs.

    READ  Hare's Reply to Flew

    READ  Flew's Reply to Hare

    Basil Mitchell

    Basil Mitchell's response to all of this was an attempt to take a position between Flew and Hare that held that religious believers do actually see things that count against their beliefs. Only they don't believe these things ultimately count against their beliefs.  Professor Mitchell takes a compromise position between Hare and Flew. He argues that bliks exist but he holds that a gradual accumulation of evidence should be able to overturn or remove a blik. Religious beliefs are either:

    1. provisional hypotheses
    2. significant articles of faith
    3. empty or meaningless statements that make no difference in experience or to life.

    The religious person can not accept position (1) and must avoid slipping into (3) which leaves only (2) and continued belief.

    Mitchell provides another parable.  This one is about the resistance movement and a stranger. A member of the resistance movement of an occupied country meets a stranger who claims to be the resistance leader. The stranger seems truthful and trustworthy enough to the member of the resistance movement, and he places his trust in him wholly. The stranger's behavior is highly ambiguous, and at times his trust is tried, at other times his trust in the stranger is strengthened. This is how Mitchell's parable differs from Hare's: the partisan in the resistance parable admits that many things may and do count against his belief,  whereas, the believer who has a blik about dons doesn't admit that anything counts against his blik. Nothing can count against bliks.

    According to Basil Mitchel, “evidence can be found which counts for and against such beliefs, but once a commitment to believe has been made, neither the partisan nor the religious believer will allow anything to count decisively against their beliefs.”   So then what Mitchell has argued is that religious believers do not actually have bliks.   Allen Stairs describes Mitchell's position as presenting the case that " the partisan in Mitchell's parable has been moved by the stranger enough to trust that even when it seems otherwise, the stranger really is on his side. The religious believer has a similar attitude of trust in God, Mitchell claims. The trust is not without a sense of tension and conflict -- if it were, it would be the sort of meaningless non-assertion that Flew attacks. But the believer has committed himself or herself to not abandoning belief in the face of seeming evidence to the contrary, because the believer has adopted an attitude of faith." -- the Symposium on Theology and Falsification by Allen Stairs

    So Mitchell's argument is straightforward- religious beliefs are a matter of fact which can be proved or disproved. The stranger knows whose side he is on. After the war the ambiguity of the stranger's behavior will be capable of being resolved. In the same way, many religious claims such as including the existence or non-existence of a deity or characteristics of a deity such as it being all loving or all powerful or having concern for humans will also be capable of being proven or disproven.  Mitchell claimed he had demonstrated that religious language is meaningful.  For Mitchell all that remains is to prove or disprove the truth of the claims.

    Flew's response to Mitchell

    Flew was critical of Mitchell's attempt to argue by analogy using the parable of the partisan and the stranger.  This was because Flew thought that the analogy was comparing a mere mortal human being to a deity.  The stranger is only a human being and as Allen Stairs puts it " That makes it easy to explain why he does not always appear to be on our side. But God is not limited in any way; no excuses could be made for God's lapses. However, Mitchell could surely point out: it isn't a matter of making specific excuses. It is a matter of having faith that there is some explanation, even if we can't see what it is -- of saying that we don't understand, but we trust. The question Flew would presumably ask is: don't we understand well enough?" -- the Symposium on Theology and Falsification by Allen Stairs

    As is often the case in Philosophy careful examination of positions reveals the assumptions held by the Philosophers.  With Flew and Hare it may appear that they start with different assumptions about what it might mean to believe in God in the first place.   For Flew it appears that a belief in God and religious practice involve at least some "truth" claims, i.e., some statements that are testable, that is, that could be checked to "see" if they were "true" or "false." Flew approaches the language used by religious people as being similar to ordinary language when making claims about what is real and what exists.  Hare may not be thinking of religious language in the same way.  Hare appear to think that there is more to religious beliefs and the use of religious language than to be simply a set of sentences that make propositions or claims about what is or is not the case.  What else could religious language be doing then?  

    With religion there is a form of life or language game, as Wittgenstein and the fideists would have it. Religious language is used differently than elsewhere in life.  The same words take on different meaning and expressions function in different ways.  In the religious form of life language is conveying VALUE and MEANING without which it is difficult for a human to live.  Many of the most basic beliefs in the religious form of life are not subject to empirical verification from the science form of life.  The claims appear to be empirical claims but they are not.

    • There is an antelope in the field.
    • There is a deity in heaven.
    • There is the Tao in all.

    The first claim may be subjected to the techniques of empirical verification/falsification.  It has a potential truth value.

    The other two claims are not subject to such empirical examination and verification or falsification.  They are non-falsifiable claims.  They have an immunity to being examined by science.  Why?

    The later claims are in the religious form of life and they are AXIOLOGICAL claims.  They are claims about what a person believes and such beliefs are expression of what a person values most in life and what thereby provides for order and meaning in life. 

    For more on considering language about a deity and religious language as Axiological rather than as making Ontological claims : READ: Nicholas Rescher, On Faith And Belief

    Michael Scriven

    Professor Scriven argues for atheism on rational grounds. He holds that one should hold a belief based upon reason. There is not a rational argument to compel belief in a deity.  None of the arguments offered to prove that a deity exists is rationally convincing.  None of them lead to the conclusion that there is a deity without any flaw or weakness in the argumentation. Therefore there are only two choices: agnosticism and atheism. For Scriven one can be an agnostic if there is as much evidence for a position as against it. There being no compelling rational argument for belief in a deity, Scriven concludes that agnosticism must be rejected and atheism is the position which reason obliges one to take in the absence of any evidence and compelling arguments to the contrary. Again, there being no compelling proof for the existence of a deity, atheism is the rational conclusion.

    C.S. Lewis

    Dr. Lewis maintains that there is an accumulation of evidence in the life of a believer that becomes self-authenticating.  In this sense religious beliefs can be claimed by the believer to be valuable and "true".  The sense of their being "true " would not be the same sense as when scientists assert that a claim is true.  In the later sense the claim has been empirically verified.  In the former sense in the religious form of life or language game the religious belief is self authenticated as being a fulfillment of what was expected by believing in the claim.  It is so authenticated by individual believers each in his or her own way.  In the latter sense of true there is a public process of verifying the claim by a community of scientists.  So it is the same word "true" but with two different meanings in the two different languages: science and faith.

    Pragmatic Approach

    In this view whether the ideas or claims of a religion are true or not or make sense or not is not that important as those questions may not be resolvable. What is important is whether or not there are reasons for a person to be a believer and what difference it makes in the world to be a believer.

    Whether or not to believe becomes a matter for reasoning and calculating in terms of its consequences and not the veracity of the claims or the coherency of the set of religious beliefs.

    Pascal’s Wager

    This French thinker held that one should use reason to determine whether or not to believe in the existence of God. He utilized a rationalization as the basis for belief. He thought that a person should conduct an evaluation of the advantages of belief and weigh them against the disadvantages; a cost-benefit analysis. The result of his "calculations" was that he thought it far more reasonable to believe than not to for the rewards are greater and the possible disadvantages are far less if one is mistaken and it turns out that there is no deity at all.

    Table of possible consequences:


    God Exists

    God does not exist

    Believe in God

    Rewards are great

    Loss of a finite amount of pleasure

    Don’t Believe in God

    Eternal suffering

    Gain a finite amount of pleasure

    Therefore , it is better to believe!!!

     As summarized by Louis Pojman:

    “If I believe in God and God exists I win eternal happiness and infinite gain. If God does not exist, I suffer minor inconvenience. If I do not believe in God, and God exists, I lose eternal bliss. I suffer infinite loss infinite loss unhappiness.” “If I do not believe in God, and God does not exist “I gain a finite amount of pleasure.” 

    Non-Epistemic proofs are arguments for the existence of God that are not knowledge-based arguments. If understood properly, the non-epistemic proof should invoke a personal response. The power of Pascal's Wager is not found in valid rules of inference but in probability and possible outcomes. The Wager appeals to the gambler in us - not the philosopher. Other non-epistemic proofs have been formulated based on pragmatic concerns, beauty, morality, and more.


    Problem with Pascal's Wager:  Clifford vs James

    W.K. Clifford argues against such a wager and the Ethics of Belief.  He claims that we should never hold a belief without sufficient justification.    The moral foundation for promoting the use of reason in drawing conclusions is argued in The Ethics of Belief (1877) ( Originally published in Contemporary Review, 1877)  wherein  William K. Clifford  concludes that :

    We may believe what goes beyond our experience, only when it is inferred from that experience by the assumption that what we do not know is like what we know.

    We may believe the statement of another person, when there is reasonable ground for supposing that he knows the matter of which he speaks, and that he is speaking the truth so far as he knows it.

    It is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence; and where it is presumption to doubt and to investigate, there it is worse than presumption to believe.

    READ: Clifford, W. K.  “The Ethics of Belief.”  Lectures and Essays.  London:  Macmillan, 1879.

    Summary by Meghan Ramsay, QCC 2004

    In his essay, W.K. Clifford opposes the pragmatic justifications, like Pascal’s wager, for belief in the existence of a deity.  Clifford maintains that beliefs based upon insufficient evidence are always wrong.  In essence, believing in something just because it may prove to be beneficial in the long run is not genuine belief.  To illustrate his point, Clifford gives an example of a ship owner who sees that his ship is old and in need of repairs.  However, the ship owner manages to convince himself that his ship has made many voyages from which it has always returned safely, and he begins to sincerely believe that this trip will be no different than all of the previous ones.  Although the evidence before him suggests danger for the passengers, the owner has faith and lets the ship sail.  Clifford points out that if the ship sinks, the owner will be directly responsible for the deaths that occur as a result of his negligence.  Clifford also points out that even if the ship managed to make the voyage, the owner would still be guilty, he just wouldn’t be found out, as the question has to do with the foundation for his belief rather than the outcome.  In this case, the ship owner had no right to believe that the ship would be safe because of the evidence before him.  Clifford points out that it is not so much the belief that must be judged but the actions following the belief.  Even though the ship owner believed in the seaworthiness of his ship, he could have taken the precaution of having it examined before putting the lives of others on the line.  Yet Clifford points out that when acting in a way that is opposite of one’s belief, it seems to condemn the belief.  For example, if the ship owner truly believed that his ship was sound, he would have no reason to have it examined.  The examination would suggest that the owner did indeed have some doubts.  Clifford maintains that it is one’s duty to investigate both sides of an issue, and when one holds a belief that is not based upon evidence he looses his objectivity and is unable to perform that duty.  Additionally, Clifford points out that beliefs are all incredibly significant, as they lay the foundation for accepting or rejecting all other beliefs and provide the framework for future action.  Additionally, one’s beliefs are not private.  Beliefs are passed on within society and to future generations.  Beliefs which are based upon evidence and have been thoroughly investigated allow humanity to have mastery over more of the world, but when those beliefs are unfounded and contrary to evidence, the mastery resulting is counterfeit.  Clifford argues that beliefs that are unfounded are deceptive, as they make humans feel stronger and more knowledgeable when they really aren’t. 

                Clifford suggests that holding beliefs based upon insufficient evidence can lead to the downfall of society.  Even if these beliefs turn out to be true, society will suffer, as people will stop examining the issues with an open mind.  Humans will no longer inquire as to the validity of their beliefs.  They will become gullible and susceptible to fraud, hastening the downfall of civilization.  Thus, holding these unfounded beliefs and suppressing doubts is a sin against humanity.   

    William James argues that there is sufficient justification.  There is a practical justification when one considers that we must make a decision and that believing can place one in a much better position.

    READ: James, William.  The Will to Believe.  New York:  Longmans, Green & Co., 1897.

    Summary by Meghan Ramsay, QCC 2004`

                In his response to W.K. Clifford, William James points out that there are two ways of viewing humanity’s duty in terms of opinion and belief.  He points out that we are commanded to know the truth and avoid error.  However, knowing the truth and avoiding errors are not one commandment stated in two ways.  Instead, they are separable, and stressing one over the other will provide vastly different results.  James maintains that those who place the avoidance of error above knowing the truth (such as W.K. Clifford), are keeping their minds in a constant state of suspense out of fear of being duped.  James likens this to a general telling his soldiers to avoid battle so that they do not suffer any injuries.  Victories over neither foes nor nature are won by not taking action.  Thus, James says, he is willing to face the occasional falsehood or dupe in order to eventually arrive at a true belief.  James does take into account that there are times when we can postpone making a decision until more sufficient evidence is provided.  However, we can only postpone making up our minds if the option is not a crucial one with earth-shattering consequences.  James points out that often the need to act is not so critical and urgent that we must risk acting upon a false belief than on no belief at all. 

    James then moves into religious beliefs.  He states that religion essentially states two things: 

    1. The best things are those which are eternal. 
    2. Belief in the first affirmation betters us now and forever.

    James says that although the skeptic says he is awaiting more evidence before making his decision, he has, in all actuality already decided.  The skeptic, according to James has decided that it is better and wiser to dismiss the belief in these two affirmations for fear of being duped than it is to believe and hope that they are true.  In essence, by choosing to wait, the skeptic joins the side of the non-believer.  Since no one is absolutely certain as to the existence of God, one must make the choice whether or not to believe or wait for more proof.  However, choosing to wait is not considered being inactive—it’ is just as much an act as that of believing.  Ultimately, James concludes that whether to believe or not is up to the individual.  He maintains that one “enters at his/her own risk” (or does not enter at all at his/her own risk), and he concludes that no one should be intolerant of another’s choice whether to believe or not. 


    Notes on W.K. Clifford and William James


    READ:  Philip L. Quinn, Gale on a Pragmatic Argument for Religious Belief  PHILO,  Volume 6, Number 1.   

    Abstract: This paper is a study of a pragmatic argument for belief in the existence of God constructed and criticized by Richard Gale. The argument's conclusion is that religious belief is morally permissible under certain circumstances. Gale contends that this moral permission is defeated in the circumstances in question both because it violates the principle of universalizability and because belief produces an evil that outweighs the good it promotes. My counterargument tries to show that neither of the reasons invoked by Gale suffices to defeat the moral permission established by the original argument.


    Other Problems with Pascal's Wager:

    Based on this work:   Richard T. Hull  Pascal's Wager: Not a Good BetFree Inquiry , Vol 25, No. 1. , Dec. 2004/Jan.2005

    1. Many Gods Problem:

    If a skeptic were to accept Pascal's invitation to believe in what deity would that person place their psychological commitment to believe?  There are different conception of the deity in different religions of the West and the East.  If the deity does exist and it is the one and only and it does pay attention to what humans do and it will reward and punish then the would-be believer needs more than Pascal's argument to arrive at  the proper conclusion as to exactly which conception of a deity to place trust and hope in in order to avoid the possibly vindictive deity who would punish both non-believers and those who believed in a "false" or inaccurate conception of the deity.

    While " Pascal clearly intended his argument to persuade the reader to adopt belief in Christianity... the same argument can be given , with suitable substitution for the word God and its associated concept, for any other religion."

    2. The assumption that believing in God has no different result than not believing in god , if there is no god. This is not always the case however.  If a person chooses to believe in a deity and that belief leads a person to certain actions such as using prayer in the place of medication for illnesses for which there are known cures then there is a decided difference.  A believer in the deity of the Christians or Islamic people might lead a person to a negative regard for others or even into physical acts of violence towards infidels.

    3. "a similar argument could be given for believing in any supernatural conception of the world: forces that determine earthquakes, tornadoes, or floods or the supposed power of other humans to make magic, do psychic surgery or read minds."   

    It would appear that Pascal's approach would have appeal for those who do not want to use the intellect to its fullest extent and investigate all claims about what exists or does not exist.  It would appeal to those who want to have some being to appeal to for favor or exemption from harms and ills or favor for support against those they would oppose.


    Fideism is a view of religious belief that holds that faith must be held without the use of reason or even against reason. Faith does not need reason. Faith creates its own justification. There are two possible variations of fideism.

    1. faith as against reason
    2. faith as above reason

    Soren Kierkegaard

    For Kierkegaard faith is the highest human virtue. Faith is necessary for human fulfillment. It is above reason. Genuine faith is beyond the end of reason. Faith is higher than reason. Faith is the result of human striving. Faith should be the result of a subjective experience. The only way to know God is through such an experience that is extremely subjective and personal.

    Robert Adams

    Professor Adams argues against Kierkegaard’s approach to faith. He argues against the approximation, postponement and passion arguments. For Adams, A person is justified in believing in a set of claims (S) if that person is willing to sacrifice everything else to obtain it even if there is but a small chance of success.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein

    For the British Philosopher, Wittgenstein, the religious believer is participating in a unique form of language or language game when speaking of religious matters. The ideas, concepts and claims of the religious believer can not be fully understood by someone who is not participating in the same language game or form of life as the religious believers. The claims of the religious language game can not be subjected to the rules of another language game, such as science. To attempt to do so would be absurd.  Wittgenstein has studied and observed the different types of linguistic framework.  He has found that in some cultures there may exist different meanings for the same word.  This leads him to believe that there are different usages of language, with different meanings.  He has categorized then as language games or forms of life.  He believes that a single person can enter into many different language games in his own lifetime.  Some examples of these games are science, sports, and religions.  So when a person claims that something exists it means one thing in the religious form of life and another in the scientific form of life.

    Norman Malcolm

    The American philosopher, Norman Malcolm shared in Wittgenstein’s view. He held that religious beliefs are not to be treated as hypotheses as in science. Religious beliefs participate in another language game and form of life. Malcolm held that religious beliefs are groundless beliefs. Just as science has a set of basic beliefs that are not capable of verification upon which others are built or depend, so too does religion have such beliefs. Such beliefs can not and should not be rationally justified. They do not need such support. Science proceeds with the beliefs that (1) things don’t just vanish, (2) the uniformity of nature and (3) self-knowledge of our own intentions.

    Science and religion are two different language games and one should not submit the claims of one system of thought to the criteria or rules of another language game or system of thought. Neither is in any greater need for justification or support than the other is.

    The word "true " in the science language game has a different meaning than the word "true" does in the religious language game.  Religious beliefs can be claimed by the believer to be valuable and "true".  The sense of their being "true " would not be the same sense as when scientists assert that a claim is true.  In the later sense the claim has been empirically verified.  In the former sense in the religious form of life or language game the religious belief is self authenticated as being a fulfillment of what was expected by believing in the claim.  It is so authenticated by individual believers each in his or her own way.  In the latter sense of true there is a public process of verifying the claim by a community of scientists.  So it is the same word "true" but with two different meanings in the two different languages: science and faith.

    Michael Martin

    This American holds that while Wittgenstein and Malcolm may be correct concerning the variety of language games there must be some common conceptual framework with which the various forms of life or language games can be evaluated. He holds that there must be some criteria for rational assessment. Therefore, analysis and evaluation of all worldviews is possible and ought to be performed by rational beings. This is based on the following:

    1. It is possible to distinguish one form of life from another
    2. Each form of life has its own standards
    3. External criticism is possible and does exist

    e.g., the argument for the existence of god may be considered as compelling within the religious form of life but not compelling or invalid external to the religious form of life.

    Martin concludes that fideism is no more successful than the traditional or existential and pragmatic approaches to religious faith.


    Martin, Michael.  “A Critique of Fideism.”  Atheism:  A Philosophical Justification.  Philadelphia:  Temple University Press, 1990. 

    Summary by Meghan Ramsay, QCC 2004

    Michael Martin disagrees with the notion held by Wittgensteinian fideists that religions cannot be examined and criticized externally.  Martin argues that religions and their language games can be criticized from the outside and this external evaluation and critique is necessary as the adherents to the faith may be blind to contradictions and problems.  For Martin, an outsider’s eyes are often needed to shed light on inconsistencies.  Although Wittgenstein and other fideists argue that religions have their own language which cannot be taken out of context.  To the Wittgensteinians, the language of religion is specific to religion.  However, Martin argues that this is not exactly the case.  Martin makes it clear that it is certainly possible for a scientist and a religious person to hold a dialogue, just as it is possible for a Christian and a non-Christian to do so, or a Catholic and a Baptist to do so.  Martin maintains that religious language as a whole is neither compartmentalized from all other languages and the languages of each sect are not compartmentalized from the other sects.   

    Additionally, the Wittgenstein fideists argue that religious belief is groundless—it is agreed upon and embedded because of common training.  The fideists believe that within the religious language game, religious beliefs can be justified.  However, they admit that there is no justification for the game itself.  Malcom, a Wittgenstein student, argues that the belief in God is similar to our belief that objects do not vanish into thin air (another groundless belief).  However, Martin points out that there are not many sane persons in our society that question the idea that objects do not vanish into thin air, yet there are many people who question the existence of God or find it difficult to defend the belief in the existence of God.   

    In reply to the idea that a religious belief is reasonable within the language game but becomes unreasonable when viewed from outside the game, Martin says that it is unclear  how an argument could be both reasonable and unreasonable at the same time, unless, of course, religious language is so incredibly compartmentalized.  However, the idea of complete compartmentalization was refuted earlier in the essay.  In conclusion, Martin finds Wittgensteinian fideism unsuccessful in explaining religious faith.   


    This next article considers the reasonableness of belief in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God (‘God,’ for short), the nature of reason, the claim that belief in God is not rational, defenses that it is rational, and approaches that recommend groundless belief in God or philosophical fideism.

    READ Religious Epistemology  

    Conclusion: "Is belief in God rational? The evidentialist objector says “No” due to the lack of evidence. Theists who say “Yes” fall into two main categories: those who claim that there is sufficient evidence and those who claim that evidence is not necessary. Theistic evidentialists contend that there is enough evidence to ground rational belief in God, while Reformed epistemologists contend that evidence is not necessary to ground rational belief in God (but that belief in God is grounded in various characteristic religious experiences). Philosophical fideists deny that belief in God belongs in the realm of the rational. And, of course, all of these theistic claims are widely and enthusiastically disputed by philosophical non-theists."

    READ Reformed Epistemology     From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Reformed epistemology is the title given to a broad body of epistemological viewpoints relating to God's existence that have been offered by a group of Protestant Christian philosophers that includes Alvin PlantingaWilliam Alston, and Nicholas Wolterstorff among others. Rather than a body of arguments, reformed epistemology refers more to the epistemological stance that belief in God is properly basic, and therefore no argument for His existence is needed. It has been said the title comes from the fact that this view represent a continuation of the thinking about the relationship between faith and reason found in the 16th century Reformers, particularly John Calvin.

    Reformed epistemology aims to demonstrate the failure of objections that theistic Christian belief is unjustified, unreasonable, intellectually sub-par or otherwise epistemically-challenged in some way. Rationalistsfoundationalists and evidentialists claim that theistic belief is rational only if there is propositional and or physical evidence for it, of which they assert there is none.

    Reformed epistemology seeks to defend faith as rational by demonstrating that epistemic propositions of theistic belief are properly basic and hence justified; as opposed to the truth of theistic belief. Reformed epistemology grew out of the parity argument presented by Alvin Plantinga in his book 'God and Other Minds' of 1967. There Plantinga concluded that belief in other minds is rational, hence, belief in God is also rational. Later, Plantinga in his 1999 book 'Warranted Christian Belief' argues that theistic belief has 'warrant' because there is an epistemically possible model according to which theistic belief is justified in a basic way. In epistemology, warrant refers to that part of the theory of justification that deals with understanding how beliefs can be justified or warranted. Plantinga contends that this model is likely true if theistic belief is true; and on the other hand, the model is unlikely to be true if theism is false. This connection between the truth of theism and its positive epistemic status implies that the goal of showing theistic belief to be externally rational or warranted requires reasons for supposing that theism is true.

    Those of faith have frequently criticized Reformed epistemology for favoring or for being exclusively committed to negative apologetics, counter-arguments to arguments that faith is not rational, and that it offers no reasons for supposing that theism or Christianity is true, so-called positive apologetics.

    Criticisms from those critical of or neutral to faith as rational have included that Reformed epistemology rests on the presupposition that there is religious truth, but does not present any argument to show that there is any. Another common criticism is that as a tool for discriminating justified from unjustified constituent beliefs, Reformed epistemology falls short; that it springs forth from a presupposition that within each of us resides a doxastic mechanism that generates religious convictions, belief in God, etc., supporting the conclusion that such beliefs are innate, hence properly basic.

    Now after the first overview of the basic positions the reader is better prepared to read this work providing another overview of the positions on religion and reason or religion and epistemology.

    READ The Epistemology of Religion

    VII. Role of Reason

    What might the role of reason be in the life of a religious person? How can a religious person use reason within the religious life? How can a person use reason with religious beliefs?

    John Hick

    For Hick religious experiences generate religious beliefs. These beliefs are natural beliefs. They are overwhelmingly evident to the believer.

    Alvin Plantinga

    Professor Plantinga opposes the view of religious beliefs that subjects them to verification to the need for evidence to support claims. Plantinga holds that religious beliefs are foundational beliefs or basic beliefs. Belief in the existence of God is a proper and basic belief that is part of the set of foundational beliefs.

    Michael Martin

    Martin opposes Plantinga’s view. Martin hold claims that Plantinga’s view leads to radical and absurd relativism wherein any beliefs may become basic and called rational simply because one chooses to hold them. Martin thinks that on Plantinga’s view anyone could justify any belief system.

    Louis Pojman

    Pojman rejects the foundationalist view of religious beliefs and in its place he prefers a coherentist view. In this view religious belief systems, indeed all such systems, are subject to reason. A belief system is a web or network of mutually supportive beliefs. Some beliefs in the set are more privileged than others because they are more self evident to the believer. Few of the beliefs are sustained outside of the system. All believers access the beliefs within the system (world view) from personal interpretive perspectives. The goal of the use of rational processes upon such systems of beliefs is a set of optimally rational positions. Pojman holds that that it is difficult but not impossible to be critically rational about religious belief and experiences.

    All religious experiences must be scrutinized rationally, honestly.

    All religious belief must be justified.

    All religious belief systems should be coherent.

    Religious beliefs sometimes consist of conflicting accounts that impedes coherency that reason demands. Physical or phenomenal evidence to substantiate religious beliefs is impossible to produce. Religious experiences usually occur privately, and are subjective, making it impossible to be justified, and scrutinized rationally and honestly. It is more logical to trust and believe that which is reasonably evidenced, than that which is absent of reason and evidence. Reason can discredit many religious experiences. In the absence of evidence, veracity is questionable. That which is contradictory or incoherent can be reasonably rejected. 


    Pojman, Louis P., ed.  “Can Religious Belief Be Rational?,” Philosophy of Religion, An Anthology.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1998.   

     Summary by Meghan Ramsay, QCC 2004

    Pojman argues that there is an ethical duty to believe what is supported by the best evidence available.  Since a person’s beliefs can have an affect on the well-being of others, one is compelled to maintain an open mind towards criticism and investigation.  Pojman likens the believer to a doctor who must keep up with the newest trends in medicine to avoid being negligent.  Pojman points out that beliefs which are the most rational, justifiable beliefs are more likely to be true than beliefs that go against rationality and justification.  Pojman also argues the case for “soft-perspectivism” in which he states that there are certain universal inductive and deductive rules of inference.  Thus, humans are capable of understanding the worldviews of others.  In comparing one’s own views to that of others, one is more equipped to find flaws in his/her beliefs and disregard weak and irrational explanations.   

    Pojman also explains that rationality does not imply neutrality.  While many think that in order for someone to use reason and to be able to accept criticism of his/her beliefs, s/he must be neutral.  This, according to Pojman, is not the case.  Neutrality implies inaction or passivism.  However, one need not remain on the sidelines in order to rationally believe.  Instead, one must remain impartial, which implies action.  When one is impartial, s/he is actively involved in the conflict because s/he objective and eventually choose a side.  Rather than a bystander (neutral), one must be a judge who is willing to hear both sides of the case and make a well informed, objective decision when it comes to religious beliefs.   

    While he states that rationality leans towards truth, Pojman admits that rationality and truth are not mutually exclusive.  Pojman states that there are two components that make up rational judgment:  intention and capacity-behavioral.  One must have the intention of seeking the truth, s/he must revere the truth even when there may be a discrepancy between the truth and one’s desires.  Additionally, one must be capable to make impartial judgments—to be willing and able to make judgments that hold an “ideal standard of evidence” above self-interest and emotion. 

    Additionally, Pojman argues that one cannot immediately abandon his/her beliefs when faced with an obstacle.  He uses the analogy of a researcher with a hypothesis that comes into conflict with evidence.  The researcher does not immediately dismiss the hypothesis as false.  Instead, s/he surrounds it with ad hoc theories which cushion the core hypothesis and resolve the obstacles.  However, after a certain point of tearing down and putting up new ad hoc hypotheses, the researcher must eventually decide whether or not it is rational to go on believing in his/her core hypothesis.  The same holds true for religious beliefs.  The believer can cushion his/her core belief with other ad hoc explanations until the point where a decision must be made.   

    Although many philosophers argue that one should hold off on believing until there is irrefutable evidence proclaiming that belief to be true, Pojman argues that one must simply make an educated and objective decision, again, much like a judge or a jury.     

    Pojman also argues that it is possible to approach the Bible and other Scriptures within a rationalist point of view.  He argues that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, often focuses on “evidence, acts of deliverance, and the testimony of the saints and prophets who hear God’s voice…”  While he mentions these points, Pojman also explicitly states that he is not attempting to claim that the Bible is fully based upon reason. 


    Louis Pojman

    Faith without Belief?

    Is it possible to have faith without belief? Pojman thinks that it is. He substitutes an interim assent with hope.

    Importance of Belief as a religious attitude

    1. intellectual and emotional end to doubt
    2. guides action

    Faith as Hope

    1. the object of desire may not obtain
    2. hope precludes certainty
    3. hope entails desire for a state of affairs
    4. hope disposes one to bring about a state of affairs

    Hope does not entail belief but a more proactive attitude favoring the desired state of affairs.

    Pojman recommends that people live imaginatively in hope. Religious believers can give interim assent with honest doubt. Decisive assent (firm belief) should not be a requirement for religious participation and for salvation. Interim assent and hope should be enough. It is a position which reason can support.

    “Faith Without Belief?” by Louis P. Pojman

    Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004) 

    Pojman argues that it is possible for one to have religious faith based upon hope rather than steadfast belief that the object of the faith exists.  There are many people who have doubts as to the existence of God, yet they maintain faith based upon hope rather than a will to believe or a Pascalian viewing of selective evidence.  Pojman argues that one can live an experimental faith, in which he hopes that the existence of God is true, and he believes that such an existence would be a good thing.  Even if the hopeful believer finds it only slightly probable that this God exists, the fact that he hopes for the existence to be true gives him faith.  One who has hope in God rather than undoubted belief is, Pojman argues, more apt to have an open mind towards evidence.  Although the hopeful man does not act out of complete certainty as the believer does, he still acts as though God exists, and his occasional doubt or skepticism provides him with the opportunity to notice inconsistencies, problems, or evidence that the believer pays no mind to.  Although some would argue that the man who only hopes for the existence of God is not entitled to the same benefits of salvation as the believer, Pojman disagrees.  Instead, Pojman finds that there may be just as much virtue in doubt as there is in belief.  He certainly holds that the man who lives in doubtful hope is more virtuous than the man who simply pretends to believe or the man who believes simply because it may prove beneficial in the future (i.e. Pascal’s wager).   

    Some argue that this idea of experimental faith set forth by Pojman is objectionable because the experimental believer lacks the complete commitment that believers find necessary for religious faith.  Pojman cites philosopher Gary Gutting who argues that experimental faith or “interim assent” is inadequate because rather than longing for God as the believer is required to do, the man living with experimental faith only longs to conclude whether or not God exists.  Additionally, Gutting argues that religious belief requires complete acceptance of the implications of the beliefs, and in constantly doubting or reflecting upon the truth, the man with only hope is incapable of the complete abandonment and sacrifice required by the believers.  Finally, it is typical of many religious believers to equate non-belief as being fundamentally bad.  Thus the man living in experimental faith is also bad, and thus, not worth of salvation.   

    In reaction to Gutting’s claims, Pojman argues that since there is not irrefutable evidence for belief, it seems that believers have not fully examined their beliefs—that they are closed minded.  Additionally, Pojman argues that perhaps the traditional religions place too much emphasis on having a firm set of beliefs.  Pojman also argues that the hoper in God can use his longing for the truth as a method of worshipping and longing for God, thus refuting Guttings first objection to experimental faith.  In response to the idea that the hoper is less able to surrender to the life of complete sacrifice led by true believers, Pojman argues that while it is true that a hoper in God might not be as fanatic or willing to die for God as the believer, the hoper still lives as if God exists—he behaves in accordance with the moral principles set forth by this possible God and he lives as this possible God would expect him to live.  Finally, in response to Gutting’s third argument, Pojman once again reiterates that living as if God exists while balancing both hopes and doubts must certainly be good—especially in comparison to those who believe only because they have tricked themselves into belief.   

    In conclusion, Pojman states that it is not necessary to have undoubted belief in God in order to have faith.  Instead, one can use his doubts to attempt to arrive at a clearer answer, and in the meantime he can live a “dedicated and worshipful moral life” based upon the hope that God exists.   

    Pojman, Louis P. “Faith Without Belief.”  Faith and Philosophy.  3.2 (April, 1986). 

    Final Questions

    After examining religious language from a variety of perspectives and examining a variety of positions on the basic questions what questions are left unresolved? All the original issues and questions have been considered from a number of different perspectives and with a few different set of initial assumptions or worldviews and conceptual frameworks. What then is the result? The following questions remain as most important and, in some way, fundamental to understanding what religion is about :

    1. Are religious beliefs subject to rational analysis and evaluation?
    2. Are religious beliefs subject to scientific investigation for veracity?
    3. Must religious beliefs satisfy the criteria of reasoning?
    4. Is religious belief to be based upon a suspension of reasoning?
    5. Are religious beliefs above reason or at least separate from reason?
    6. If religious beliefs are not to be subject to reasoning or to scientific verification, how are humans who are rational beings to deal with them?

    What are the possible positions that one can have on the issue of the relation of reason to faith?   There are several and they include these:

    1.Commensurable: Religious beliefs can be subject to reason and if they are they will be found to be quite reasonable and the basic claims.

    2.Incommenserable : Religious beliefs should not be subject to reason as they are not reasonable and they do not need to be.

    A. Irrational (Hume, Kierkegaard)  It is NOT rational to believe in God, spirits and other religious claims. Faith is opposed to reason and is firmly in the realm of the irrational.

    B.Transrational (Calvin, Barth) Religious faith is over and above reason and is not to be subject to criteria generally used by reasoning beings. To use reason on matters of faith is not only inappropriate but irreverent and faithless.

    For many of those who hold the transrational position religious faith may be rested upon revelation which is self-authenticating.

    3. Fideism: This is a view of religious belief that faith must be held without the use of reason or even against reason. Faith does not need reason. Faith creates its own justification. There are two possible variations of fideism.

    1. faith as against reason
    2. faith as above reason

    4. Coherentist: There is a role for reason in relation to religious beliefs. It may be limited but there is a role.  Reason can not be used to determine the veracity of the reports and the veridical nature of accounts or to verify the claims made within the religious system.  Yet, sets of religious beliefs or religious belief systems are at least subject to the use of reason upon them to the extent that they can be critically examined for the degree to which they are coherent and avoid inconsistencies and contradictions.

    Which position is the one that makes the most sense and is supported by reasoning and evidence?

    6.2.13: Religious Language and Worldviews is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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