Philosophy of Religion

Chapter 8  Religious Language World Views and Reason 

Section 7 The Role of Reason

What might the role of reason be in the life of a religious person? How can a religious person use reason within the religious life? How can a person use reason with religious beliefs?

John Hick

For Hick religious experiences generate religious beliefs. These beliefs are natural beliefs. They are overwhelmingly evident to the believer.

Alvin Plantinga

Professor Plantinga opposes the view of religious beliefs that subjects them to verification to the need for evidence to support claims. Plantinga holds that religious beliefs are foundational beliefs or basic beliefs. Belief in the existence of God is a proper and basic belief that is part of the set of foundational beliefs.

Michael Martin

Martin opposes Plantinga’s view. Martin hold claims that Plantinga’s view leads to radical and absurd relativism wherein any beliefs may become basic and called rational simply because one chooses to hold them. Martin thinks that on Plantinga’s view anyone could justify any belief system.

Louis Pojman

Pojman rejects the foundationalist view of religious beliefs and in its place he prefers a coherentist view. In this view religious belief systems, indeed all such systems, are subject to reason. A belief system is a web or network of mutually supportive beliefs. Some beliefs in the set are more privileged than others because they are more self evident to the believer. Few of the beliefs are sustained outside of the system. All believers access the beliefs within the system (world view) from personal interpretive perspectives. The goal of the use of rational processes upon such systems of beliefs is a set of optimally rational positions. Pojman holds that that it is difficult but not impossible to be critically rational about religious belief and experiences.

All religious experiences must be scrutinized rationally, honestly.

All religious belief must be justified.

All religious belief systems should be coherent.

Religious beliefs sometimes consist of conflicting accounts that impedes coherency that reason demands. Physical or phenomenal evidence to substantiate religious beliefs is impossible to produce. Religious experiences usually occur privately, and are subjective, making it impossible to be justified, and scrutinized rationally and honestly. It is more logical to trust and believe that which is reasonably evidenced, than that which is absent of reason and evidence. Reason can discredit many religious experiences. In the absence of evidence, veracity is questionable. That which is contradictory or incoherent can be reasonably rejected. 


Pojman, Louis P., ed.  “Can Religious Belief Be Rational?,” Philosophy of Religion, An Anthology.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1998.   

 Summary by Meghan Ramsay, QCC 2004

Pojman argues that there is an ethical duty to believe what is supported by the best evidence available.  Since a person’s beliefs can have an affect on the well-being of others, one is compelled to maintain an open mind towards criticism and investigation.  Pojman likens the believer to a doctor who must keep up with the newest trends in medicine to avoid being negligent.  Pojman points out that beliefs which are the most rational, justifiable beliefs are more likely to be true than beliefs that go against rationality and justification.  Pojman also argues the case for “soft-perspectivism” in which he states that there are certain universal inductive and deductive rules of inference.  Thus, humans are capable of understanding the worldviews of others.  In comparing one’s own views to that of others, one is more equipped to find flaws in his/her beliefs and disregard weak and irrational explanations.   

Pojman also explains that rationality does not imply neutrality.  While many think that in order for someone to use reason and to be able to accept criticism of his/her beliefs, s/he must be neutral.  This, according to Pojman, is not the case.  Neutrality implies inaction or passivism.  However, one need not remain on the sidelines in order to rationally believe.  Instead, one must remain impartial, which implies action.  When one is impartial, s/he is actively involved in the conflict because s/he objective and eventually choose a side.  Rather than a bystander (neutral), one must be a judge who is willing to hear both sides of the case and make a well informed, objective decision when it comes to religious beliefs.   

While he states that rationality leans towards truth, Pojman admits that rationality and truth are not mutually exclusive.  Pojman states that there are two components that make up rational judgment:  intention and capacity-behavioral.  One must have the intention of seeking the truth, s/he must revere the truth even when there may be a discrepancy between the truth and one’s desires.  Additionally, one must be capable to make impartial judgments—to be willing and able to make judgments that hold an “ideal standard of evidence” above self-interest and emotion. 

Additionally, Pojman argues that one cannot immediately abandon his/her beliefs when faced with an obstacle.  He uses the analogy of a researcher with a hypothesis that comes into conflict with evidence.  The researcher does not immediately dismiss the hypothesis as false.  Instead, s/he surrounds it with ad hoc theories which cushion the core hypothesis and resolve the obstacles.  However, after a certain point of tearing down and putting up new ad hoc hypotheses, the researcher must eventually decide whether or not it is rational to go on believing in his/her core hypothesis.  The same holds true for religious beliefs.  The believer can cushion his/her core belief with other ad hoc explanations until the point where a decision must be made.   

Although many philosophers argue that one should hold off on believing until there is irrefutable evidence proclaiming that belief to be true, Pojman argues that one must simply make an educated and objective decision, again, much like a judge or a jury.     

Pojman also argues that it is possible to approach the Bible and other Scriptures within a rationalist point of view.  He argues that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, often focuses on “evidence, acts of deliverance, and the testimony of the saints and prophets who hear God’s voice…”  While he mentions these points, Pojman also explicitly states that he is not attempting to claim that the Bible is fully based upon reason. 


Louis Pojman

Faith without Belief?

Is it possible to have faith without belief? Pojman thinks that it is. He substitutes an interim assent with hope.

Importance of Belief as a religious attitude

    1. intellectual and emotional end to doubt
    2. guides action

Faith as Hope

    1. the object of desire may not obtain
    2. hope precludes certainty
    3. hope entails desire for a state of affairs
    4. hope disposes one to bring about a state of affairs

Hope does not entail belief but a more proactive attitude favoring the desired state of affairs.

Pojman recommends that people live imaginatively in hope. Religious believers can give interim assent with honest doubt. Decisive assent (firm belief) should not be a requirement for religious participation and for salvation. Interim assent and hope should be enough. It is a position which reason can support.

“Faith Without Belief?” by Louis P. Pojman

Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004) 

Pojman argues that it is possible for one to have religious faith based upon hope rather than steadfast belief that the object of the faith exists.  There are many people who have doubts as to the existence of God, yet they maintain faith based upon hope rather than a will to believe or a Pascalian viewing of selective evidence.  Pojman argues that one can live an experimental faith, in which he hopes that the existence of God is true, and he believes that such an existence would be a good thing.  Even if the hopeful believer finds it only slightly probable that this God exists, the fact that he hopes for the existence to be true gives him faith.  One who has hope in God rather than undoubted belief is, Pojman argues, more apt to have an open mind towards evidence.  Although the hopeful man does not act out of complete certainty as the believer does, he still acts as though God exists, and his occasional doubt or skepticism provides him with the opportunity to notice inconsistencies, problems, or evidence that the believer pays no mind to.  Although some would argue that the man who only hopes for the existence of God is not entitled to the same benefits of salvation as the believer, Pojman disagrees.  Instead, Pojman finds that there may be just as much virtue in doubt as there is in belief.  He certainly holds that the man who lives in doubtful hope is more virtuous than the man who simply pretends to believe or the man who believes simply because it may prove beneficial in the future (i.e. Pascal’s wager).   

Some argue that this idea of experimental faith set forth by Pojman is objectionable because the experimental believer lacks the complete commitment that believers find necessary for religious faith.  Pojman cites philosopher Gary Gutting who argues that experimental faith or “interim assent” is inadequate because rather than longing for God as the believer is required to do, the man living with experimental faith only longs to conclude whether or not God exists.  Additionally, Gutting argues that religious belief requires complete acceptance of the implications of the beliefs, and in constantly doubting or reflecting upon the truth, the man with only hope is incapable of the complete abandonment and sacrifice required by the believers.  Finally, it is typical of many religious believers to equate non-belief as being fundamentally bad.  Thus the man living in experimental faith is also bad, and thus, not worth of salvation.   

In reaction to Gutting’s claims, Pojman argues that since there is not irrefutable evidence for belief, it seems that believers have not fully examined their beliefs—that they are closed minded.  Additionally, Pojman argues that perhaps the traditional religions place too much emphasis on having a firm set of beliefs.  Pojman also argues that the hoper in God can use his longing for the truth as a method of worshipping and longing for God, thus refuting Guttings first objection to experimental faith.  In response to the idea that the hoper is less able to surrender to the life of complete sacrifice led by true believers, Pojman argues that while it is true that a hoper in God might not be as fanatic or willing to die for God as the believer, the hoper still lives as if God exists—he behaves in accordance with the moral principles set forth by this possible God and he lives as this possible God would expect him to live.  Finally, in response to Gutting’s third argument, Pojman once again reiterates that living as if God exists while balancing both hopes and doubts must certainly be good—especially in comparison to those who believe only because they have tricked themselves into belief.   

In conclusion, Pojman states that it is not necessary to have undoubted belief in God in order to have faith.  Instead, one can use his doubts to attempt to arrive at a clearer answer, and in the meantime he can live a “dedicated and worshipful moral life” based upon the hope that God exists.   

Pojman, Louis P. “Faith Without Belief.”  Faith and Philosophy3.2 (April, 1986). 

Other works by Pojman, Louis P. include "Faith and Doubt or Does Faith Entail Belief?”, in Richard M. Gale and Alexander R. Pruss, eds., The Existence of God, (Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2001.

"Religious Belief and the Will"  by Louis P. Pojman in The Journal of Religion, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan., 1989), pp. 129-130 and the book  Religious Belief and the Will.  (London and New York: Routledge & Kegen Paul, 1986)

Analysis of Pojman's position on Faith without Belief is offered in "Christian Faith and Belief" by Alexander R. Pruss in  Faith and Philosophy, 2001.

For a look at Christian apologetics see: Faith Has Its Reasons by Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, Jr..


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