The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, Faith

By Bracken, Joseph A. | Theological Studies, December 2012 | Go to article overview

The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, Faith


Bracken, Joseph A., Theological Studies


THE PREDICAMENT OF BELIEF: SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY, FAITH. By Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp. New York: Oxford University, 2011. Pp. x + 184. $29.95.

The volume treats the "predicament" of contemporary Christian belief, that is, the real possibility of genuine doubt about the rationality of core religious beliefs. Clayton and Knapp meet this challenge first by frankly admitting their own doubts about the rationality of some basic Christian beliefs, and then by making clear how they resolved these doubts in favor of a new understanding of those same beliefs. This approach, to say the least, is unusual in the conventional defense of Christian doctrine. It is curiously akin to the style, if not the precise content, of Augustine's Confessions.

The authors present their case in eight closely reasoned chapters: (1) evaluation of honest reasons for doubt; (2) Ultimate Reality (UR) as the mindlike and agentlike numinous Reality that purposely brought into existence the universe or multiverses of which ours is only one; (3) the problem of evil and alleged divine action to deal with it; (4) the plurality of religions dealing with UR; (5 and 6) the scandal of particularity, first, with Christian belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and then with Christian belief in the doctrine of the Trinity; (7) inevitable degrees of rational justification for one's beliefs in the eyes of a relevant community of experts; and (8) ongoing church identity, given such a broad range of beliefs among its members.

In what follows I will make a few comments about the obvious strength and the possible weakness of this approach in the eyes of some readers. Then I will offer what could be called a "long shot" alternative in case the actual response to the book is somehow less positive than what the authors hoped would be the case.

The strength of C. and K.'s approach is easy to detect. The authors are painstakingly honest in evaluating what they see as problematic issues in accepting their own religious beliefs as at least reasonable grounds for hope, given the absence of direct empirical evidence. The weakness is that some theists may be unimpressed by the authors' minimalist understanding of UR/God as a mindlike and agentlike reality but not necessarily as a person in the conventional sense (36). Likewise, some Christians might even be offended by the claim that the postmortem appearances of the risen Jesus were personal but nonphysical (97). …

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