Can religious arguments persuade?

Faust, Jennifer
February 2008
International Journal for Philosophy of Religion;Feb2008, Vol. 63 Issue 1-3, p71
Academic Journal
In his famous essay “The Ethics of Belief,” William K. Clifford claimed “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” (Clifford’s essay was originally published in Contemporary Review in 1877; it is presently in print in Madigan (1999)). One might claim that a corollary to Clifford’s Law is that it is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to withhold belief when faced with sufficient evidence. Seeming to operate on this principle, many religious philosophers—from St. Anselm to Alvin Plantinga—have claimed that non-believers are psychologically or cognitively deficient if they refuse to believe in the existence of God, when presented with evidence for His existence in the form of relevant experience or religious arguments that are prima facie unassailable. Similarly, many atheists fail to see how believers can confront the problem of evil and still assert their belief in a benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient Creator. In this paper, I propose to explain why religious arguments so often fail to persuade (I take the term ‘religious argument’ to include arguments whose conclusions are either assertions or denials of religious claims). In doing so, I first offer an account of persuasion and then apply it to religious arguments. I go on to argue that at least some religious arguments commit a form of question-begging, which I call “begging the doxastic question.”~An argument begs the doxastic question, on my account, when a subject would find the argument persuasive only if she antecedently believes the argument’s conclusion. This form of question begging is not, strictly speaking, a case of circularity and thus, is not a fallacy; rather, it would explain why one coming to the argument would fail to be persuaded by it unless he already accepted its conclusion. This has the effect, when applied to religious argumentation, that religious arguments are rarely persuasive, which raises the further question: what good are religious arguments? I end by suggesting some non-persuasive functions of religious argument. Finally, I suggest that a full understanding of religious argumentation should give evidentialists pause, for religious beliefs look less like belief states that are sensitive to evidentiary states and more like framework principles or fundamental commitments.


Related Articles

  • Structure and Content in "The Will to Believe". Kasser, Jeffrey L. // Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society;Summer2015, Vol. 51 Issue 3, p320 

    This paper argues that sustained attention to the highlighted structure of William James's "The Will to Believe" yields surprising insights into the essay. "Highlighted structure" includes James's announcements of his intentions, his section breaks, and, especially, patterns of repetition and...

  • CLIFFORD, William Kingdon (1845-79). Madigan, Timothy J. // Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy;2006, Vol. 1, p641 

    An encyclopedia entry for British philosopher William Kingdon Clifford is presented. Clifford was born on May 4, 1845 in Exeter, England and died on March 3, 1879 in Madeira, Portugal. It provides background on his family, education and career as a mathematician and educator. His philosophical...

  • Evolution and the Normativity of Epistemic Reasons. Street, Sharon // Canadian Journal of Philosophy;Dec2009 Supplement, Vol. 35, p213 

    The article discusses epistemic normativity, arguing that antirealism should apply both to practical reason and to questions of knowledge in order to be consistent. It is said that there are no normative facts calling for belief or action that are independent of evaluative attitudes. The author...

  • Restricting the Scope of the Ethics of Belief: Haack's Alternative to Clifford and James. Christian, Rose Ann // Journal of the American Academy of Religion;Sep2009, Vol. 77 Issue 3, p461 

    In “‘The Ethics of Belief’ Reconsidered,” Susan Haack sets about to determine the relation of epistemic to ethical appraisal. She promotes her account as an alternative to the “morally over demanding” position of W. K. Clifford and the “epistemically...

  • The virtues of belief: toward a non-evidentialist ethics of belief-formation. Amesbury, Richard // International Journal for Philosophy of Religion;Feb2008, Vol. 63 Issue 1-3, p25 

    William Kingdon Clifford famously argued that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” His ethics of belief can be construed as involving two distinct theses—a moral claim (that it is wrong to hold beliefs to which one...

  • SHIPWRECKED OR HOLDING WATER? IN DEFENSE OF ALVIN PLANTINGA'S WARRANTED CHRISTIAN BELIEVER. de Ridder, Jeroen; Berger, Mathanja // Philo;Spring/Summer2013, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p42 

    Herman Philipse argues that Christian belief cannot be war-ranted in Alvin Plantinga's sense. More specifically, he thinks it is impossi-ble for intellectually responsible and modern believers to hold their reli-gious beliefs in the manner of properly basic beliefs, not on the basis of explicit...

  • Why so negative about negative theology? The search for a plantinga-proof apophaticism. Lebens, Samuel // International Journal for Philosophy of Religion;Dec2014, Vol. 76 Issue 3, p259 

    In his warranted christian belief, Alvin Plantinga launches a forceful attack on apophaticism, the view that God is in some sense or other beyond description. This paper explores his attack before searching for a Plantinga-proof formulation of apophaticism.

  • Physician Apologies and General Admissions of Fault: Amending the Federal Rules of Evidence. PEARLMUTTER, MARIA // Ohio State Law Journal;2011, Vol. 72 Issue 3, p687 

    The article explores on the possibility that the Federal Rules of Evidence may be amended to exclude admission of such apologies such as general admissions of fault in the U.S. It summarizes apology research and current initiatives for background information. It discusses the inadequacy of...

  • Mind Over Skepticism. Stackhouse Jr., John G. // Christianity Today;06/11/2001, Vol. 45 Issue 8, p74 

    Features philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Difference Plantinga has made; Three possible defeaters for the model of Christian belief; What the Free Will Defense concludes.


Read the Article


Sorry, but this item is not currently available from your library.

Try another library?
Sign out of this library

Other Topics