John Whittaker on proofs of God’s existence

John Whittaker on rational proofs of God’s existence

The impression that one gets from most philosophers of religion is that religious conversions might be, and perhaps should be, brought about by the justification of God’s existence on rational grounds. To me this ideal of evidentiary justification seems so far removed from the actual life of believers that those who defend it seem almost hopelessly out of touch. It is true that they have many powerful slogans on their side: ‘a rational belief is a well-grounded belief,’ ‘it is a moral failure to believe something on the basis of insufficient evidence,’ etc., etc. And so none of us should be surprised by the well-meant desire of such philosophers to square religious belief with this ideal. Yet these philosophers fail to notice that the very character of religious beliefs is altered when they are represented as hypotheses before the bar of what passes for reason. The point of those beliefs is lost as they are realigned with the evidence of natural theology or with the arguments of abstract philosophy. ‘Maybe their point is lost,’ they may say, ‘but it can be reinstalled at a later time; what matters is that philosophers have found a way of justifying religious beliefs according to the standard ideal of a rational conviction.’ But the religious point of these beliefs cannot be reinstalled at a later time. Or if it is, the means by which this is done render the philosophical proofs beside the point.

from “Can a Purely Grammatical Inquiry be Religiously Persuasive?” in Philosophy and the Grammar of Religious Belief, (St. Martin’s Press, 1995), 352.

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