Michael W. Austin

Ideas that Matter.

Faith and Reason


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WEKU, had a discussion today (to be rebroadcast this Sunday at 6:00pm) on the topic of whether or not religion is obsolete in the 21st century.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!
Mike Austin

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.


  1. I do not see any empirical evidence in the link to Craig-s apology. Please explain what you call evidence.
    While you are at it, I would like for you to provide empirical evidence for the following event in Matthew 27 that occurs at the moment of Jesus’ death.

    “51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”

    The resurrection of multiple people is certainly more amazing than the resurrection of one man. Please cite one source that witnessed and recorded this amazing event. After all, this event was witnessed by “many people.”

    And by the way, please explain what happened after they appeared to many people. Did they crawl back into their graves, immediately ascend to heaven, or did they live another lifetime and die a second time? If there spouses were still alive, were they able to have additional children?

    I look forward to your scientific evidence of these events.

    • Ed (if I may),
      Thanks very much for taking the time to respond. My hope with this new website and blog is that it will be a place for interaction and discussion.

      The question about what counts as evidence in general is interesting. I take evidence broadly to be any fact, argument, proposition, experience, or inference that supports the claim that some proposition is true. This includes both scientific and empirical evidence, but goes beyond it as well.

      I classify Craig’s argument as a posteriori because he makes use of historical arguments and premises, and in that sense it is not a purely a priori argument. In a sense, this is scientific, as scientists must make use of testimony and memory as they engage in their work.

      As far as the Matthew 27 passage, I’ve not looked into it myself, as in my own research I’ve focused on arguments for and against the resurrection of Jesus. However, one possibility worth thinking about comes from Mike Licona (http://mikelicona.com/), who suggests that “Based on my reading of the Greco-Roman, Jewish, and biblical literature, I proposed that the raised saints are best interpreted as Matthew’s use of an apocalyptic symbol communicating that the Son of God had just died.” I’m not sure this is right, but I think any sound biblical interpretation must consider context and genre.

      Finally, I’m interested in your thoughts about what I said in my post with respect to scientism. Do you think science alone provides evidence, or are there other forms as well?

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