Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion
Peterson (Michael), Hasker (William), Reichenbach (Bruce) & Basinger (David)
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  1. The authors use the methods of current analytical philosophy to help the student to rationalize the main philosophical problems involved in a theistic understanding of God and the world.
  2. The chapters examine the important classical and contemporary problems, present the ideas of major philosophers, offer critiques (sometimes offering and defending new positions), and indicate some fruitful directions for further investigation.

Cover Blurb
  1. "A comprehensive, well-written, up-to-date, and theologically quite sophisticated introduction to the philosophy of religion. The book covers a great deal of ground with considerable rigor, and its clear, accessible style and inclusion of much general philosophy make it an excellent text for students approaching the subject for the first time."
    Robert Audi, University of Nebraska
  2. "The best book of its kind."
    George Mavrodes, University of Michigan
  3. Is there an omnipotent, omniscient deity? Can the existence of a good God be reconciled with the existence of evil? Are religion and science compatible? These are among the many perennial questions addressed in Reason and Religious Belief, which introduces students to both classical and contemporary issues in the philosophy of religion. The authors examine standard topics in the field—religious experience, faith and reason, theistic arguments, the problem of evil, religious language, miracles and life after death—as1 well as new topics that have been widely discussed in the last fifteen years, including Reformed epistemology, the philosophical analysis of theological doctrine, and the Kalam cosmological argument. Special attention is given to important subjects not often considered in other texts, such as process theism, religious pluralism, and the relation of religion and morality. Beginning each chapter with a concrete example or situation, Reason and Religious Belief draws the student into each issue and encourages thoughtful, intelligent response. Focusing mainly on issues surrounding classical theism, the book also deals where helpful with those issues related specifically to Judeo-Christian theism and to non-Western traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, making it especially well-rounded. Comprehensive and completely up-to-date, Reason and Religious Belief offers a sophisticated yet accessible introduction for students of the philosophy of religion.
  4. About the authors:
    • Michael Peterson is Professor of Philosophy at Asbury College, and is the author of Evil and the Christian God (1982) and Philosophy of Education: Issues and Options (1986).
    • William Hasker is Professor of Philosophy at Huntington College. His most recent book is God, Time, and Foreknowledge (1989).
    • Bruce Reichenbach is Professor of Philosophy at Augsburg College and is author of Evil and a Good God (1982).
    • David Basinger is Professor of Philosophy at Roberts Wesleyan College. He is author of Divine Power in Process Theism (1988).

  1. Reason and Religious Belief grows out of our many years of collective experience reflecting upon the issues in philosophy of religion and teaching them to undergraduate students. So, in our writing, we have been especially conscious of the need to communicate the issues in ways that students can understand.
  2. Perhaps more than anything else, though, the book was born out of long-standing friendship and intellectual interaction among the four of us. We dare to hope that the enjoyment and even the excitement of the type of philosophical discussion that we have shared will show through these pages and become contagious. Our different interests and specializations within the philosophy of religion are welded together by our complete agreement on the nature of the philosophical task in general: to analyze important concepts and evaluate major arguments, with the overall aim of finding the most reasonable position on any issue.
  3. We are grateful also to Robert Audi and George Mavrodes for reading and making valuable suggestions on earlier drafts of the manuscript.
    … April 1990.

    Introduction xi
  1. Thinking about God: The Search for the Ultimate – 3
    • Defining Religion – 3
    • The Manifold Study of Religion – 6
    • What Is Philosophy of Religion? – 6
    • The God of Theism – 9
    • The Nature of Our Task – 10
  2. Religious Experience: What Does It Mean to Encounter the Divine? – 13
    • Types of Religious Experience – 14
    • Religious Experience as a Feeling – 16
    • Religious Experience as Perceptual Experience – 17
    • Religious Experience as Giving a Supernatural Explanation – 20
    • Is There a Common Core to Religious Experience? – 22
    • Can Religious Experience Justify Religious Belief? – 26
  3. Faith and Reason: How Are They Related? – 32
    • Can Reason Be Trusted? – 32
    • Strong Rationalism – 34
    • Fideism – 37
    • Critical Rationalism – 41
  4. The Divine Attributes: What Is God Like? – 48
    • Perfect and Worthy of Worship – 50
    • Necessary and Self-Existent – 52
    • Personal Creator and Sustainer – 54
    • All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and Perfectly Good – 56
    • God and Human Freedom – 59
    • God Eternal — Timeless or Everlasting – 61
  5. Theistic Arguments: The Case for God's Existence – 68
    • Theistic Arguments as Proofs – 68
    • The Ontological Argument – 70
    • Contemporary Versions of the Ontological Argument – 73
    • The Kalam Cosmological Argument – 74
    • The Thomistic Cosmological Argument – 76
    • The Analogical Teleological Argument – 80
    • The Inductive Teleological Argument – 81
    • The Moral Argument – 85
    • Cumulative Case Arguments and God – 87
  6. The Problem of Evil: The Case against God's Existence – 92
    • The Logical Problem of Evil – 94
    • The Evidential Problem of Evil – 97
    • Defense and Theodicy – 100
    • A Range of Responses – 103
    • Some Important Global Theodicies – 107
    • Theodicy and the Assessment of Theism – 111
  7. Knowing God without Arguments: Does Theism Need a Basis? – 117
    • Evidentialism – 118
    • Critique of Evidentialism – 119
    • Plantinga on Properly Basic Beliefs – 122
    • Alston on Perceiving God – 127
    • Observations – 130
  8. Religious Language: How Can We Speak Meaningfully of God? – 136
    • Human Language and the Infinite 137
    • The Theory of Analogy – 138
    • Problems of Meaning and Verification – 141
    • The Functions of Religious Discourse – 145
    • Literal or Symbolic Talk of God? – 148
  9. Miracles: Does God Intervene in Earthly Affairs? – 156
    • Miracles Defined – 156
    • Miracles as Historical Events – 159
    • Miracles as Unexplainable Events – 164
    • Miracles as Acts of God – 167
    • Practical Considerations – 170
  10. Life after Death2: Are There Reasons for Hope? – 174
    • Terminology – 175
    • Concepts of Life after Death3 – 176
    • Personal Identity and the Soul – 178
    • Criticism of the Soul-Concept – 181
    • The Self as a Psychophysical Unity4 – 183
    • A Posteriori Arguments for Life after Death5 – 187
    • A Priori Arguments for Life after Death6 – 190
    • Prospects – 191
  11. Religion and Science: Compatible or Incompatible? – 196
    • Do Religion and Science Conflict? – 198
    • Are Religion and Science Compartmentalized? – 200
    • The Question of Complementarity – 202
    • Theology and the Social Sciences – 207
    • In What Kind of World Does Science Work? – 210
  12. Religious Pluralism: How Can We Understand Religious Diversity? – 219
    • Religious Diversity – 220
    • Exclusivism – 221
    • Pluralism – 223
    • Critique of Pluralism – 225
    • Inclusivism – 228
    • Criteria for Assessing Religions – 230
  13. Religious Ethics: The Relation of God to Morality – 235
    • The Source of Religious Ethical Truth – 236
    • The Authoritative Basis of Religious Ethical Truth – 238
    • The Acquisition of Religiously Based Ethical Truth – 241
    • The Significance of Religiously Based Ethical Truth – 245
    • Current Issues – 249
  14. Philosophy and Theological Doctrine: Can Philosophy Illumine Religious Belief? – 254
    • The Incarnation – 255
    • The Atonement – 258
    • The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit – 261
    • Petitionary Prayer – 264
    • Revelation – 267
    • Doctrine and Interpretation – 270
  15. The Continuing Quest: God and the Human Venture – 274
    • The Intellectual Process – 275
    • Philosophical Activity and Religious Faith – 276
    • Where Do We Go From Here? – 278

"Peterson (Michael), Hasker (William), Reichenbach (Bruce) & Basinger (David) - Theistic Arguments: The Case for God's Existence"

Source: Peterson (Michael L.) - Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, Chapter 5, pp. 68-91

Extract (Full Text)
  • The Ontological Argument
    1. Without doubt the most intriguing and puzzling of the theistic arguments is the ontological argument. According to the Christian theologian Anselm (1033-1109), we can form the concept or idea of a being than which none greater can be conceived. That is, the idea of a being than which none greater can be conceived exists in some mind. But that than which none greater can be conceived cannot exist only in the mind or understanding. Suppose it were to exist only in the mind. Then it would not be what it is, the being than which none greater can be conceived, for existence in reality is greater than existence only in the mind. But the concept of a being than which none greater can be conceived is what we started with. Hence this being must exist in reality as well as in the mind. This being we name God.
    2. We might formalize the argument as follows.
      1. A person can have the idea of a being than which none greater can be conceived.
      2. Suppose this being exists only as an idea in the mind.
      3. Existence in reality is greater than existence only in the mind.
      4. Therefore, we can conceive of a being that is greater than a being than which none greater can be conceived—that is, a being that also exists in reality.
      5. But there can be no being greater than that (than) which none greater can be conceived.
      6. Therefore, the being than which none greater can be conceived must also exist in reality.
    3. Anselm does not deny that some persons can fail to see that God exists. However, for him this is because they have not properly understood the concept of God. Once one sees what God really is, his existence is undeniable.
    4. There seems to be something seriously wrong with an argument that, like Anselm's, moves from a premise about ideas in our minds to establishing that something exists in reality. Yet despite these suspicions, it is difficult to discern precisely where it is vulnerable and to make a strong case that this is a vice rather than a virtue.
    5. One who tried to discern the flaw was the monk Gaunilo, a contemporary of Anselm. Gaunilo suggested that the first premise of Anselm's argument is false, that one cannot conceive of a being than which none greater can be conceived. This being (whom we call God) is unlike any other reality. When I conceive of "humans," I know what the term means because I have had experience with humans. But when I hear the words, "being than which none greater can be conceived," I can understand the meaning of the individual words, but I cannot understand the being that they signify. I can form concepts of things that are finite and familiar to me, but not of a transcendent God.
    6. But Anselm's point is not that we can completely comprehend God's nature, that we can know God as God knows himself. Rather, he holds that we can know enough about God to know that, at the very least, he must be a being than which none greater can be conceived. And should the fool who denies God's existence reflect on what it is to be God, that fool cannot but understand that God exists.
    7. Gaunilo also wondered whether one could use Anselm's argument form to prove the existence of all sorts of unreal things. Suppose, he argued, I conceive if an island more excellent than any other, an island that has inestimable wealth and delights. But that which exists in reality is more excellent than that which exists solely in the mind. Therefore this island exists. By this argument we could (absurdly) prove the existence of all manner of imaginary and nonexistent things.
    8. Anselm never directly or adequately replied to the argument, but others have. One reply is that the argument Anselm developed applies only to things capable of having perfections. It does not apply to such things as islands because they are finite and hence incapable of perfection. The properties that would make an island perfect might include mineral wealth, smoothness of sand, number of palm trees, and abundance of fruits. But for any island one thinks of with these properties, one can think of an island with more of them. These properties have no intrinsic maximum. There is no limit to these characteristics, which one could designate as the perfect state. But the properties that apply to a being than which none greater can be conceived include properties for which there are maximums: knowledge, power, and moral perfection. Hence, the form of Anselm's argument cannot be used, as Gaunilo suggested, to establish the existence of all sorts of nonexistent, finite things.
    9. But might there not be some nonexistent things possessing properties with maximums that could then be plugged into Anselm's argument form? Consider the concept of a ten-thousand dollar bill a greater than which cannot be conceived. Would an argument similar to Anselm's show that this necessarily exists? Of course, there could be a greater bill — say a one million dollar bill - but that is not the point. The point is that there could not be a greater ten-thousand dollar bill, for any bill with this property is worth its maximum. One might question whether its other properties have intrinsic maxima—for example, being unwrinkled or of uniform color—but these are irrelevant to the essence of this bill—that is, of being a bill of a certain denomination. In this essential aspect there is a maximum, and hence, using Anselm's argument form, such a bill would have to exist. Perhaps Gaunilo was correct in his thesis, but only chose the wrong example in the island.
    10. A different criticism of Anselm's argument focuses on premise 3. For Anselm existence is a perfection. A perfection is something that makes whatever has it better or greater. For example, to say that health is a perfection is to say that being healthy is better, all else being equal, than being not-healthy. Similarly, to say that existence is a perfection is to say that something is better or greater because it exists, all else being equal. Or put another way, it is better for a thing to exist than to not exist. One has to be careful here. Anselm is not saying that it is better for us that things exist rather than not exist. This is obviously false, since there are many things — dust on my furniture, typing errors, mosquitoes, cancer—that I would be better without. Rather, Anselm's point is that it is better for the thing itself to exist in reality than merely as a concept in a mind.
    11. But is existence a perfection? Norman Malcolm (1911- ), for one, is dubious. “The doctrine that existence is a perfection is remarkably queer.... A king might desire that his next chancellor should have knowledge, wit, and resolution; but it is ludicrous to add that the king's desire is to have a chancellor who exists. Suppose that two royal counselors, A and B, were asked to draw up separately descriptions of the most perfect chancellor they could conceive, and that the descriptions they produced were identical except that A included existence in his list of attributes of a perfect chancellor and B did not. One and the same person could satisfy both descriptions. More to the point, any person who satisfied A's description would necessarily satisfy B's description and vice versa.”
    12. But, contrary to Malcolm, one could argue that A and B do not produce the same description of the perfect chancellor, for a nonexistent chancellor could satisfy description B but not satisfy description A1. We could assume that all descriptions assume the existence of what is being described, but that begs the issue in question.
    13. To ask whether existence is a perfection is to ask whether existence is a property, for every perfection is a property. When we say, "God is good," good is a perfection and property of God. The problem is that the word exist functions differently from other property words. For example, it makes sense to say, “Some libraries do not have good organization," but not to say, "Some libraries do not exist." Yet from an example like this it does not follow that "exist" is not a property, only that if it is one, it is an unusual one. But whether this unusualness is enough to vitiate Anselm's argument is unclear. Perhaps the problem has less to do with whether existence is a property than with the fact that there are different kinds of existences—in the understanding, in reality, in mythology—and that it is not clear how or on what grounds these are comparable.
  • Contemporary Versions of the Ontological Argument
    1. Recent philosophers claim to have found a second, more persuasive argument in Anselm. For example, Charles Hartshorne (1897- ) notes that while great attention has been paid to the above Anselmian argument, a second, more persuasive argument in Anselm's Proslogium has been largely ignored. A major difference between the two arguments is how existence is to be treated. Hartshorne agrees with critics of Anselm that one cannot always treat existence as a property. However, it does not follow that existence is never a property. Although existence per se is not a property, necessary existence is. Consequently, for any two objects, if one exists necessarily and the other not (that is, exists contingently, such that it could either exist or not exist), the first is greater than the second.
    2. It follows, then, that if God's existence were contingent, his existence would be by sheer chance or luck, or due to some cause, and he would not be the best conceivable being. But God, as the greatest possible being, possesses existence2. Therefore, God's existence is either logically necessary or logically impossible. God's existence is not logically impossible. Hence, it is logically necessary3.
    3. To make their argument succeed, Hartshorne and others interpret the necessity of God's existence as logically necessary existence (existence the denial of which is or entails a self-contradiction). But why should one think that God (or anything, for that matter) possesses logically necessary existence? Some have thought that Anselm, in his alleged second argument, held this view of God, but there is textual evidence to the contrary. John Hick (1922- ), for example, argues that Anselm did not mean the modern notion of logical necessity, but ontological or factual necessity. Such a necessary being is not dependent on any other being for its existence; it has its existence from itself. It can neither come into nor pass out of existence. If it exists, it always has and always will exist. If it does not now exist, it never has and never will exist.
    4. Modern Anselmians reply that logical necessity is indeed required for an adequate conception of God. God must be conceived as maximally perfect, as exemplifying "necessarily a maximally perfect set of compossible [mutually compatible] great-making properties." And since necessary existence is a great-making property, God cannot not-exist. If a maximally perfect being (God) is possible, a maximally perfect being (God) exists. The debated issue concerns not only the status of necessary existence as an alleged great-making property, but the very conception of God himself.
    5. It is not hard to see that for many, the jury on this argument is still out. For some, the ontological argument is obviously fallacious; one cannot argue from concepts to reality. For others, it is sound, but perhaps not a proof as delineated above, since one does not know the truth of the premises apart from the truth of the conclusion. Alvin Plantinga (1932- ) writes “I think [the main premise-that maximal greatness is possibly instantiated] is true; hence I think this version of the ontological argument is sound. But here we must be careful; we must ask whether this argument is a successful piece of natural theology, whether it proves the existence of God. And the answer must be, I think, that it does not.... Not everyone who understands and reflects on its central premise ... will accept it. Still, it is evident ... that there is nothing contrary to reason or irrational in accepting this premise. What I claim for this argument, therefore, is that it establishes, not the truth of theism, but its rational acceptability.”

COMMENT: Hard copy of section on the Ontological Argument (pp. 70-74) filed in "Various - Heythrop Essays & Supporting Material (Boxes)".

In-Page Footnotes ("Peterson (Michael), Hasker (William), Reichenbach (Bruce) & Basinger (David) - Theistic Arguments: The Case for God's Existence")

Footnote 1: See "Shaffer (Jerome) - Existence, Predication, and the Ontological Argument".

Footnote 2: Plantinga notes that one can dispense with the supposition that necessary existence is a perfection by arguing for the possibility that there exists a being with maximal greatness. A being has maximal greatness in any given world only if it has maximal excellence — which entails omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection — in every world. Hence, if God's existence is possible (or if maximal greatness can be instantiated), then God exists necessarily. "Plantinga (Alvin) - The Ontological Argument", pp. 108-12.

Footnote 3: Hartshorne is careful to insist that though this argument establishes God's necessary existence, it does not establish his actuality or concreteness. For Hartshorne, God in his actuality has contingent properties; he is not necessarily unsurpassable, immutable, and independent. The ontological argument, then, establishes that God exists, but it does not tell us how; it does not give us his content.

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