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The Will to Imagine

A Justification of Skeptical Religion

by J. L. Schellenberg

Publication Year: 2009

The Will to Imagine completes J. L. Schellenberg's trilogy in the philosophy of religion, following his acclaimed Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion and The Wisdom to Doubt. This book marks a striking reversal in our understanding of the possibility of religious faith. Where other works treat religious skepticism as a dead end, The Will to Imagine argues that skepticism is the only point from which a proper beginning in religious inquiry-and in religion itself-can be made.

For Schellenberg, our immaturity as a species not only makes justified religious belief impossible but also provides the appropriate context for a type of faith response grounded in imagination rather than belief, directed not to theism but to ultimism, the heart of religion. This new and nonbelieving form of faith, he demonstrates, is quite capable of nourishing an authentic religious life while allowing for inquiry into ways of refining the generic idea that shapes its commitments. A singular feature of Schellenberg's book is his claim, developed in detail, that unsuccessful believers' arguments can successfully be recast as arguments for imaginative faith.

Out of the rational failure of traditional forms of religious belief, The Will to Imagine fashions an unconventional form of religion better fitted, Schellenberg argues, to the human species as it exists today and as we may hope it will evolve.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xvi

This book completes a phase of systematic thinking about religion and rationality developed within the conceptual and methodological framework of my Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion (hereafter Prolegomena) and carried to an interim conclusion by The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism (hereafter Skepticism). ...

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pp. 1-10

The new vistas to which I am seeking to draw our attention were rendered in broad strokes in the preface. Here I wish to clarify a few technical and conceptual details that readers unfamiliar with my Prolegomena or Skepticism will want to know about in order fully to understand how my vision is worked out in the chapters that follow. ...

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Part I. Purifying Faith: Why the Best Religion is the Most Skeptical

If my arguments in Prolegomena are sound, then the possibility of faith, which might seem to have been taken away by the results of Skepticism, has never been absent. Thousands of pages of apologetics have been premised on the view that no one can be religious, or procure the benefits of religion, without the attitude of religious belief. ...

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1. Ultimism and the Aims of Human Immaturity

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pp. 13-29

One of the main ways Skepticism opens up space for religion, as noted in the preface, is in what it has to say about our future, which may be ridiculously longer than the human past. Estimates vary, but it is about 50,000 years since the Earth first saw beings anatomically and behaviorally like us, capable of practicing some form of religion. ...

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2. Faith without Details, or How to Practice Skeptical Religion

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pp. 30-52

Since it is religious skepticism that pushes us in the direction of the simple brand of faith I will be defending, and because such faith is by definition adopted by one who is in doubt about religious claims, it is appropriate to refer to it as skeptical faith and to refer to the religion it instantiates as skeptical religion ...

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3. Simple Faith and the Complexities of Tradition

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pp. 53-66

There are various reasons for wondering how skeptical religion, as I have described it in the previous chapter, must or can be related to traditional religion. Perhaps, as suggested once or twice already, we wonder whether the relationship might add something to the substance of skeptical religiousness. ...

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Part II. Testing Faith: Is the Best Religion Good Enough (To Satisfy Reason’s Demands)?

So far in the book I have been concerned to establish that it is a simple or ultimistic or skeptical faith response that is justified for us early humans, if any is. This religious option must be regarded by the twenty-first-century religious skeptic as the only one worth pursuing. ...

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4. The Structure of Faith Justification

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pp. 69-74

Since the business of evaluating responses to ultimism—as indicated in the Introduction—is at bottom a comparative venture, any challenges to faith are at least implicitly claiming that some other response to ultimism is preferable to the faith response. ...

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5. How Skeptical Faith Is True to Reason

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pp. 75-96

What many will consider the strongest challenge to faith claims that the aim of staying true to reason should all things considered be pursued by all skeptics contemplating faith, and that this aim can only or best be pursued by not having faith. If this is true, then, of course, by P12, faith is unjustified. ...

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Part III. Renewing Faith (2): How Skeptical Proof Subsumes Believing Argument—Evidentialism

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pp. 97-100

We have witnessed how a variety of seemingly strong challenges to religious faith in the name of reason end up falling flat when the faith in question is the skeptical faith I am defending. It will be intriguing now to take this to the next level: might the arguments supporting religion ...

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6. Anselm’s Idea

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pp. 101-117

The ontological proof devised by Anselm (some six centuries before its name was invented by Kant) claims that the nature of God as ultimate—absolutely perfect or unsurpassably great—logically precludes God’s nonexistence. In Anselm’s famous phrase, God is “that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought,” ...

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7. Leibniz’s Ambition

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pp. 118-137

In the previous chapter it was discovered that from Anselmian reflection or, more grandly, the ontology of religion at least two reasons can be drawn that singly or in conjunction provide strong rational support for religious faith. We might call an argument citing either or both of those reasons an Anselmian argument for skeptical religion or, ...

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8. Paley’s Wonder

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pp. 138-156

In this chapter we descend from the heady heights of unsurpassable ideas and unsurpassed intellectual ambition to consider the contributions of William Paley, whose gaze was focused squarely on the details of the concrete natural world. Paley’s characteristic response to these details was a kind of admiring wonder at their order and exquisite beauty. ...

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Part IV. Renewing Faith (2): How Skeptical Proof Subsumes Believing Argument—Nonevidentialism

A number of influential figures in the history of philosophy of religion have felt the intellectual impotence of the theistic proofs as traditionally construed without being much perturbed by it—and this even when called upon to defend theistic belief. ...

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9. Pascal’s Wager

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pp. 159-182

Blaise Pascal is often credited with having founded decision theory, and the argument he gives for the prudential rationality of betting on God in a fragment near the middle of his Pensées is often presented by commentators as though its author had at his fingertips all the concepts and symbols from that area of study. ...

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10. Kant’s Postulate

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pp. 183-204

Pascal’s famous dominance argument, which appeals to selfinterest, is only one of many nonevidential maneuvers in which theists have indulged over the centuries, hoping to replace the multiply-punctured proofs of theism. Another comes to us from Immanuel Kant, who declared that in denying knowledge he was making room for faith. ...

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11. James’s Will

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pp. 205-234

The American psychologist, philosopher, and onetime artist, William James, was a passionate pluralist rather than a monist, more interested in the many than in any One, fascinated with diversity and—living as he did on the cusp of the twentieth century—with change of all kinds. ...

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Part V. Keeping Faith: Skeptical Religion as Reason’s Demand

Much earlier on, I said that by the end of the book we would see that not only is it possible to be true to reason while adopting faith, it is impossible to do so without it. Not only can faith satisfy reason’s demands, faith is itself a demand of reason. Or, in my terms: faith is both negatively and positively justified. ...

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12. Faith Is Positively Justified: The Many Modes of Religious Vision

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pp. 237-250

One thing the large plurality of arguments here immediately permits us to do is to cancel the ceteris paribus clause that (as I said in Chapter 6) should tacitly be seen as attaching to each of them. Any one of these arguments, by itself, even after the various defenses against objections I have provided, can say no more than that other things being equal, ...

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pp. 251-254

The results of the work here concluded are significant even for those who disagree with its main assumptions. Some may still have their doubts about my notion of faith, wondering whether the nonbelieving, imagination-based stance I have defended merits that label. ...

Appendix A: Definitions

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pp. 255-258

Appendix B: Principles

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pp. 259-262


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pp. 263-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780801459269
E-ISBN-10: 0801459265
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801478529
Print-ISBN-10: 0801447801

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1