My local NPR affiliate, WEKU, had a discussion today (to be rebroadcast this Sunday at 6:00pm) on the topic of whether or not religion is obsolete in the 21st century. I sent an email in for discussion during the program, and after it was read on the air, Ed Hensley of the Kentucky Secular Society replied. I’ll post the email, summarize what Ed Hensley said, and then give my response, because I think these are crucial issues for how we approach questions concerning religious faith.
My email (it was sent off quickly via iPhone, so I’d like to edit it here, but won’t!):
I am a philosophy professor at EKU. What do your guests think about the relationship between faith and reason? I think there are good philosophical arguments for theism, and there has been a renaissance in Christian philosophy over the past 40 years by people like Marilyn Adams, Eleonore Stump, Alvin Plantinga, and William Lane Craig. We assume too quickly that there is no evidence for theism, but there are important arguments to consider. We should follow the evidence, and it may surprise us where we end up if we do that.
Thanks for discussing these important topics!
Ed Hensley commented that William Lane Craig’s arguments are all a priori, that is, they are independent of empirical experience and evidence. He then stated that only a posteriori data count as actual evidence. First, this is not the case. Craig offers several a posteriori arguments (see here for one example).
But second, and more fundamentally, to discount all a priori arguments, arguments based purely on reason, is a crucial mistake. In fact, science itself rests on a priori commitments. For example, there is no non-circular way to argue that our five senses are trustworthy, or that our cognitive capacities are reliable, or even that memory is accurate, based on empirical evidence alone.
What I think is being advocated by many is not science, but scientism, which is the view that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge or the best kind of knowledge. But this is not a scientific claim. It is a philosophical claim about science. Science rests on certain philosophical claims about knowledge, our access to the world, and logical inferences. Science rests on the a priori, and with that in mind we should also consider other forms of a priori arguments, including those having to do with religious belief and knowledge.