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Philosophy: The Way of the Agnostic (and the Shroud)

clip_image001Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews has a very interesting article, The Way of the Agnostic in the Opinion pages of the NY Times:

. . . But believers such as Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne and Peter van Inwagen, to cite just a few examples, have well-thought-out reasons for their belief that call for serious discussion. Their belief cannot be dismissed as on a par with children’s beliefs in Santa and the Easter Bunny. We may well not find their reasons decisive, but it would be very difficult to show that no rational person could believe for the reasons that they do.

I think of Swinburne’s Credulity principle – believing what we see even if it is hard to swallow scientifically – and I think of the shroud and how this principle is one reason, if not the primary reason, by which I believe it is real. And then I think more about how much the shroud can be the grounding for other beliefs.

Knowledge, if it exists, adds a major dimension to religious commitment. But love and understanding, even without knowledge, are tremendous gifts; and religious knowledge claims are hard to support. We should, then, make room for those who embrace a religion as a source of love and understanding but remain agnostic about the religion’s knowledge claims. We should, for example, countenance those who are Christians while doubting the literal truth of, say, the Trinity and the Resurrection. I wager, in fact, that many professed Christians are not at all sure about the truth of these doctrines —and other believers have similar doubts. They are, quite properly, religious agnostics.

. . . and then, well, I believe in the Resurrection anyway, but . . . I guess I can be like Plantinga, Swinburne and others in this regard. Well, Swinburne anyway; Plantinga makes me reach for the wine bottle before I get through his incomprehensible-for-me modal logic.

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