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Philosophy Of Religion

Philosophy Of Religion
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Complete required textbook reading and related questionnaire.


How Does One Know God Really Exists?
The project to show that it is rational to hold that the supernatural exists is one that has been taken up by the so-called “Reformed Epistemologists.” These
philosophers have attempted to show through evidentialism that there are “basic beliefs” by which one operates in the world, and that among these basic beliefs is the
belief that a deity exists. The problem is that this “basic belief” may not be universal and, in fact, one could easily hold that no deity exists as also a basic
belief. Not surprisingly, philosophers have noted this problem and those that maintain that a believing in the supernatural is a basic belief simply give notice to
this situation as one that is intrinsic to philosophical discussion. That is, one should not expect that asserting that belief in the supernatural is a basic belief
necessarily proves that the supernatural exists. On the other hand, it is a belief that has a set of conditions attached to it that make it seem that the supernatural
exists and is, therefore, rational.
Another issue with this “rational belief” as basic is whether the conditions are entirely psychological or inferred from external sources. Should one experience the
supernatural or the presence of something extra-rational, no one could deny that experience. And so the person who underwent such an incident could be said to have a
reason to believe that such a supernatural presence does exist. Again, however, this leads to the difficulty with sorting out just what is in actuality the case with
the way things are in the world. Does experiencing a supernatural presence mean that there actually is a supernatural presence in the world? As a fearful child left
alone in a dark basement is certain that there is an evil presence nearby (and s/he may even have nightmares about it), this is surely no proof that such an evil
presence exists in the world. Of course, it still may be rational for the child to hold that belief as “properly basic” to the circumstances s/he is in at the moment.
And yet, one cannot necessarily hold the religious person responsible for such beliefs in the same way one thinks that the child is simply succumbing to, well, child-
like fear. One would think that there is quite a bit of difference in the response of an adult as compared to the response of a child. After all, to use the “child-
in-a-dark-basement” example again, the next day the child may play in the basement and not think anything of the “fearful” experience. S/he may even invite her friends
over to play a game there or share a meal if not also have a birthday party where they can eat, play games, and give presents (without the parents being overly
concerned about any damage done to the upstairs “good” furniture). A child who is convinced of such a fearful presence may be subjugated to psychological counseling in
order to convince her that such a presence does not exist. In any case, it does not seem that most children sustain such fears throughout their daily routines whereas
religious adults do uphold their beliefs as a way to live throughout their lives, and very few people will think that such people need counseling.
Of course, this brings up the subject of how others view religious beliefs. Indeed, there is a presupposition on the part of some philosophers that such religious
commitments are simply nonsense as these experiences cannot undergo the burden of testing. Further, these philosophers will contend that when an adult has such a
religious experience it is often because the person already has a predilection to that belief, perhaps even a romantic way of looking at the world, as it were. Hence,
they hold that such experiences are actually “produced” by the psychological outlook of the person rather than a supernatural force or external entity imposing itself
upon the person’s mind. There is some truth here as it does make sense that, for example, Christians have distinct “Christian” experiences while Hindus have
experiences characteristic to their faith.
Still the religious philosopher may argue that the fact that there are a variety of experiences throughout humankind may well be a display of the supernatural. Well
aware of the criticism that most of these religious experiences may conflict as to what was perceived, religious philosophers will stress that there is some
commonality. A Hasidic mystic and a Sufi may well agree on many areas about their experiences (if any) concerning the supernatural. But of course here both are
informed by a monotheistic tradition whether Jewish (the Hasid) or Islamic (the Sufi). But what about the contrast between a theistic religion such as Christianity and
a mystical religion such as Hinduism? Can there be commonality among them that would show that these experiences are reliable guidelines for philosophers? This
question is one that will be explored in this lesson.

Confirm that you have read RRB, chapter 6 and PRGA, 83-94.
What seems to be the problem of personal religious experiences? [107-108]
Define “Evidentialism” and how “Reformed Epistemology” is a part of it. [108-109]
What are the two distinctions foundationalists make concerning beliefs? [109-110]
a. How does a strong foundationalist define properly basic belief ? [110]
b. What is wrong with the strong foundationalist definition? [110-112]
a. Explain Chisholm’s notion of a properly basic belief. [112-113]
b. What did Alvin Plantinga do to make this notion one that supported rational belief in a god? [113]
What are three objections to Plantinga’s idea of a properly basic belief and how does he answer them? [113-117]
a. What did William Alston claim about religious experience? [117-118]
b. What are the three objections to this claim and how did Alston reply to them? [118-120]
a. How would you compare the belief that something is true and knowing something is true? [120]
b. How does Plantinga use the notion of warrant to show that one may “know” God exists? [121-122]
c. What is the complaint about Plantinga’s view? Do you think Plantinga’s reply is adequate? [122-123]

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