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The Advent and Advancement of Natural theology

Fideism and Evidentialism

3.4 The Advent and Advancement of Natural theology

of reason, and should not seek it” (Quinn & Taliaferro, 2000, p. 376). But even fideists are of different types, and all do not subscribe to faith without any reference to reason. While some fideists argue about faith without reason (Quinn & Taliaferro, 2000), other fideists emphasize faith in matters that go beyond reason (Carroll, 2008). So, even if we concede to the new atheists’

position that reason does not play a part in theism, we can, at best say, that it refers to one group of believers. And even in that group, not all will be blind to reason.

issues only through reason. It may be talking about God’s authority, revelations, and human affairs appealing to the believers’ faith. What we need to concern about is if there is any scope for reason in these scriptures. We have to admit the answer as yes. We can claim the seed of having reason in the religious context is sanctioned in the scriptures. Are the atheists going to deny this?

In the first chapter, I have already discussed how the seed of having faith and reason in the religious context is sanctioned in the scriptures. The seeds of reason as present in the scriptures are taken up and used by the theologians in understanding the divinity without reference to any of the scriptures. Theologians like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas use reason to understand religion. Though according to these theologians, faith is more important than reason; they never denied reason. They try to prove God’s existence through arguments. This suggests they give reason its due within the scope of religious understanding. I have discussed the views of these theologians already in the second chapter. Even thinkers like Descartes do approve that theology is an exercise concerned with validating God’s existence without the help of scriptures and without banking on faith.

But the new atheists conveniently sideline this entire group of natural theologians and their effort to prove God’s existence. I am not saying they gave convincing proof of God’s existence.

Rather, I want to point out that many theologians made serious attempts to prove God’s existence through employing reason and without reference to any revealed scriptures. Natural theology “is the program for inquiring by the light of natural reason alone into whatever truths of natural reason human beings might be able to find about God” (Brent, n.d).

In a sense, natural theology is making its attempt to ‘prove’ God’s existence through natural reason. It doesn’t go into the question of the possibility of God’s non-existence; that is, atheists’

position. For the theologians, there are two possibilities: either they utilize natural theology, or if they fail in whatever way, they shall opt for revealed theology. That is why we find theologians who question the attempt to understand God by reason and go to the other position of accepting God through revelation and revealed scriptures.

We have seen that scriptures and theologians do allow and employ reason. The new atheists may think the reason that theologians employed cannot be considered as reason. In their understanding, reason is essentially tied to the evidence, which is obtained through sense experiences. But this position is not non-contentious. The rationalist school championed by philosophers like Rene Descartes does not believe in the certainty of knowledge obtained through sense experiences. He says, “what we know a priori is certain, beyond even the slightest doubt, while what we believe, or even know, on the basis of sense experience is at least somewhat uncertain” (Descartes, [1628]1988). But on the other hand, for the empiricist school of thought, reason, if at all any, should be based on sense experiences. John Locke says,

Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper void of all characters, without any ideas. How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety?

Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from experience (Locke, 1854, p. 75).

The new atheists favor the empiricist tradition. Hence, they insist on evidence and sense- experiences. For them, anything that is without evidence is irrational. As mentioned, Dawkins asserts that “faith is blind trust without evidence and even against the evidence” (Taylor J. E., n.d).

So, for them, faith in God’s existence is irrational, as it is without evidence. But one can see that the empiricist position may not help in getting certain knowledge. Empiricism is based on empirical evidence, and it is slippery. “Those who place it at the centre of their epistemology tend

to either give accounts that are too narrow to be realistic, or too underdescribed to do away with the slipperiness” (Garvey, 2010, p. 13). But McCormick opines that the impossibility of proving the new atheists’ position may even lead them to use faith to hold on to their position. And in that sense, science is as much a religious ideology as religion is (McCormick, 2008). But still, the new atheists take it as their task that they should not encourage people to hold on to faith. Dawkins says, “I do everything in my power to warn people against faith itself” (Dawkins R. , 2006, p. 306).

So, on one side, they are not able to prove the non-existence of God. Still, they stick to that idea based on their faith. And they are hell-bent on asking people to shed their faith. If we follow McCormick’s criticism, we must accept all the new atheist group members as inflexible. The atheist people have been criticizing religion as a thing that talks about only faith. But in McCormick’s opinion, atheists also do need faith.