- “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him” are the first words of Julian Barnes’ book on death, Nothing to be Frightened Of. (Barnes 2008, 1) Nonbelievers (like Barnes) who are wistful and even nonbelievers (like Nietzscheans) who say, “good riddance” may be intrigued by the topic of reason and religion.
- What is religion? Daniel Dennett’s definition is a good starting point: Religions are “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.” (Dennett 2006, 9) Religions are complex social phenomena that encompass a congeries of institutions, hierarchies of human authorities, beliefs, doctrines superstitions, public rituals, private practices, prescribed and proscribed behavior. In the vast arrays of practices and doctrines that make up religions, reason has a sprawling role.
- The three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — endorse a personal God. In these religions, God is conceived as the creator of the universe, who cares for his creatures. He is maximally excellent in power, knowledge and goodness. Philosophical questions about reason and the Abrahamic religions tend to arise with regard to beliefs about God — his existence, his nature, and his relation to us. To avoid getting lost in the ungainly array of activities and beliefs that mark religions generally, I’ll confine attention to arguments about a single question: Is it reasonable to believe in a personal God? I shall confine discussion to the epistemic reasonableness of personal theism.
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