The Presumption of Theism

Myth of SisyphusModern analytic philosophy of religion, so it seems, is largely dominated by purely theoretical and evidential considerations. That is, the question of whether or not theistic belief is rational is decided purely on the balance of total available public evidence as opposed to existential and pragmatic considerations. The addition of the term “public” to the last sentence is significant in that it exactly specifies the brand of evidence focussed on in academic philosophy of religion. That is, evidence available to all people as opposed to that available only to some. Clearly this generalization of academic philosophy of religion is not universally true (sans Plantinga, Alston, Wolterstorff, Flannagan et al), nevertheless it remains largely true that the prevailing attitude within the philosophical academy is that the rationality of theistic belief is tied, almost exclusively, to the total public evidence a person has.

However, I generally regard this perspective on religious epistemology as flawed. There doesn’t seem much reason to limit the question of whether or not theistic belief is rational to solely evidential considerations. Furthermore, it would employ demonstrably double standards in our reasoning to require that the rationality of theistic belief be determined by reference solely to evidential considerations while other rational beliefs remain immune to such scrutiny. Why, for example, should we subject the rationality of our belief in God to any greater scrutiny than we do to our belief that our cognitive faculties give us true ideas about reality?

With that in mind, we also need to ask why it is that we should exclude existential/pragmatic considerations from determining whether or not theistic belief is rational. It is this that my article principally concerns itself with, i.e. whether or not existential/pragmatic considerations can confer warrant or justification on our theistic belief. Can the question of “liveability”, by which I refer to our ability to live consistently and happily within that worldview, confer justification on that belief? Framed negatively, the question is “can the “unliveability” (by which I refer to a general inability to live consistently and happily within that worldview) of a worldview count against that system?”

It seems at least intuitively plausible that, aside from evidentiary considerations, the “liveability” of a possible worldview is a fairly major existential concern we have when deciding upon which to adopt. When I refer to “liveability”, I refer to our ability to live in such a way as to harmonize our worldview with other concerns in life such as happiness. Furthermore, it should seem at least intuitively plausible that where we lack determinate public evidence one way or the other, it is positively irrational to choose that worldview which is ultimately unliveable. For instance, suppose that on one worldview, if we live our lives consistently (that is to its logical consequences) then we can’t be happy. Suppose further, that in order to be happy on that worldview, we must delude ourselves and others. Suppose once again, that on another worldview we wouldn’t need to engage in such grand delusion in order to be happy. Suppose finally, that the total available public evidence between the two is ultimately indeterminate. In such a situation, it makes no sense whatsoever to go with that worldview which makes no sense of our common sense intuition by requiring us to delude ourselves and others in order to be happy. If we possess no reason to abandon our intuition, then quite simply we shouldn’t! Firstly, if such a move were permissible it would give us a reason to abandon other “intuitions” such as the one which states that our sense perception is reliable. Secondly, to ignore our intuition without sufficient reason involves an unjustified denial of the self, a veritable suicide…


The Presumption of Theism | MandM

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