Religious Epistemology

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When it comes to religious belief there are several kinds of important epistemological questions. For example, what is the evidence for God’s existence? Are there good arguments for the existence of God? Does it really matter if a religion or a God exists? Is the presence of evil and suffering in the world evidence against belief in God or general theism? Are religions essentially the same? What about the question of pluralism? Is it even possible that some religious doctrines can be rationally hold? What about the nature of faith? Does reason support religious faith or is blind? And what about cogent arguments for theistic belief? These are vitally important questions which invite much deliberation and reflection for the thoughtful believer.

Moreover, there are a few major views when it comes to religious epistemology. Firstly, according to “evidentialism” the source of positive epistemic status for religious belief is reason. Reason would include our rational faculties such as perception, memory, intuition, testimony etc. According to the evidentialist rational arguments in favour of religious belief are required for rational acceptance of that belief. In this context several popular and widely defended & promoted arguments used to ground theistic belief; these include, but are not limited to, the Kalam Cosmological argument, the argument from Fine-Tuning, the Ontological and Moral arguments, as well as Jesus’ resurrection. I’d refer readers to a nice introduction to theistic arguments provided by apologist John Oakes (1). There are prominent contemporary thinkers who hold to this view, especially in regards to Christian theism. One wouldn’t have to look much further than the likes of William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne, all of whom have contributed to natural theology.

The other view is widely associated with Thomas Aquinas (see his work Summa Theologiae) and John Calvin (1559). They believed that belief in God is first and foremost whereas the teachings of Christianity is second. To them these two beliefs can be rationally accepted even if there are no cogent arguments for them grounded in reason. Essentially these beliefs have an epistemic warrant independent of reason. Professor and Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has a high view of this perspective, “To use Calvin’s terminology, there is the Sensus Divinitatis, which is a source of belief in God, and the Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit, which is the source of belief in the distinctive doctrines of Christianity. Beliefs produced by these sources go beyond reason in the sense that the source of their warrant is not the deliverances of reason; of course it does not follow that such beliefs are irrational, or contrary to reason; nor does it follow that there is something especially dicey or insecure, or chancy about them, as if faith were necessarily blind or a leap in the dark” (2). On this view, continues Plantinga, “religion and faith have a source of properly rational belief independent of reason and science; it would therefore be possible for religion and faith to correct as well as be corrected by science and reason… There is some reason to think that if theism is indeed true, if indeed there is an all-powerful, all-knowing perfectly good person who has created the world and created human beings in his image, then religious belief would be independent of arguments from reason; it would not require such argument for rationality or positive epistemic status.”


1. Oakes, J. 2010. Twelve Syllogistic Arguments for the Existence of God. Available.

2. Plantinga, A. Religion and Science. Available.

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