PHIL 331 Chapter 6: Faith and Reason
Religious Belief and Faith
Some religious thinkers have argued that the very nature of religion requires that its beliefs rest on faith, not
reason. But if religious belief were based on reason, reason would either establish the belief beyond question or it
would merely render the belief probable. 1 case – reason proves the belief, the informed intellect would compel
belief and leave no room for the exercise of a free decision. 2 case – where reason merely shows the belief to
be probable, if religious belief rested entirely on reason then the unconditional acceptance of religious belief
would be unwarranted and absurd. Faith would be the acceptance of certain statements concerning God and his
activities. It can also be faith in certain persons or institutions.
Aquinas: A Traditional Way
Aquinas says that faith falls between knowledge and opinion. Faith shares with knowledge the aspect of an
intellectual assent that is firm and sure. But in order that the act of faith be a free act, it is necessary that the
intellect not be compelled by conclusive evidence that yields knowledge. Faith lacks conclusive evidence. The
difficulties with Aquinas’ classic treatment of faith and reason reduce basically to two. 1 it accords to reason the
power of proving certain basic claims about god (that he exists, that he is supremely good, is creator of the world)
which many nowadays would think, “exceed all the ability of human reason.” 2 it makes faith somewhat
dependent on reason for determining which statements God has indeed revealed, is certainly true; no doubt can
be made of it.
James: A Radical View
To understand James’ view of faith that is not subject to the two difficulties affecting Aquinas’ treatment of faith
and reason we need to go over Clifford’s Ship-owner: “The Ethics of Belief”, to which James replies to.
• In the case of the ship-owner, a man sends a ship out to see solely on the belief that it would be safe,
without inspecting the ship thoroughly. Instead of arriving at his belief by carefully inspecting the ship’s
condition, the ship-owner had arrived at his belief without any adequate evidence at all. Taking up a belief
on insufficient evidence is, Clifford argues, completely unjustified and wrong. “It is wrong always,
everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Therefore, no one can be
justified in believing theism without adequate evidence. (BE AGONISTIC)
James agrees with Clifford’s fundamental claim that a person is to be judged (praised or blamed) in terms of
beliefs as well as actions. Also, that it is not the content of a person’s belief, which determines how he is to be
judged, but the way in which he arrives at the belief. Divide Clifford’s view into rules governing beliefs, James
agrees with the first.
1. If an individual is aware of evidence against a hypothesis and aware of no good evidence in support of it,
and nevertheless allows himself to believe it because of some private satisfaction, he had done a wrong.
2. If an individual has no evidence for a belief and no evidence against a belief; it is wrong for him to accept
or reject the belief; it is his duty to suspend judgment on the matter and wait for the evidence.
According to James, there are only two determinants of our beliefs: reason and the passions. Reason weighs a
belief in terms of the evidence for or against it, and directs us to believe in accordance with the evidence. The
passions are all the factors, other than intellectual, that lead us to accept or reject a hypothesi