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The Wisdom to Doubt

A Justification of Religious Skepticism

by J. L. Schellenberg

Publication Year: 2007

The Wisdom to Doubt is a major contribution to the contemporary literature on the epistemology of religious belief. Continuing the inquiry begun in his previous book, Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion, J. L. Schellenberg here argues that given our limitations and especially our immaturity as a species, there is no reasonable choice but to withhold judgment about the existence of an ultimate salvific reality. Schellenberg defends this conclusion against arguments from religious experience and naturalistic arguments that might seem to make either religious belief or religious disbelief preferable to his skeptical stance. In so doing, he canvasses virtually all of the important recent work on the epistemology of religion. Of particular interest is his call for at least skepticism about theism, the most common religious claim among philosophers.

The Wisdom to Doubt expands the author's well-known hiddenness argument against theism and situates it within a larger atheistic argument, itself made to serve the purposes of his broader skeptical case. That case need not, on Schellenberg's view, lead to a dead end but rather functions as a gateway to important new insights about intellectual tasks and religious possibilities.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-x

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Preface: An Uncertain Heritage

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pp. xi-xiv

Philosophical skeptics of every description are linked by history to the Pyrrhonian skeptikoi of ancient Greece. But while in its original meaning the label applied to these famous doubters advertises an inquisitive and inquiring turn of mind (something made use of by Sextus Empiricus when he says that skeptics, unlike dogmatists, ...

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pp. 1-10

Reason requires us to be religious skeptics. This, as suggested in the Preface, is because of all that the past has prevented us from seeing and all we must suppose the future may hold in store, in light of what we know about common human intellectual failings and the special ambitions and failings bound up with religious and irreligious belief. ...

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Part I. Finitude and the Future: Seven Modes of Religious Skepticism

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pp. 11-14

The human tendency to form beliefs, it may be, is best understood in evolutionary terms, as bound up with the conditions of our survival in earlier times, and as unavoidable even today in many of the particular contexts of our lives. Whatever the case, for big-brained humans this believing tendency is all too easily, ...

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1. The Subject Mode

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pp. 15-49

To say that human attempts to gain reliable information about the world are challenged by our finitude is not to court controversy. This is undoubtedly one of the most obvious facts about us. One would hardly know it, though, given the regularity with which it is overlooked or neglected by intellectually greedy humans ...

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2. The Object Mode

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pp. 50-68

The categorical skepticism I am defending, as the name suggests, is a doubt that embraces any and all religious claims. It is natural, therefore, to suspect that its doubting arises because of something shared by members of that set of claims. This suspicion is borne out by my arguments in this book, and nowhere more so than in this chapter. ...

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3. The Retrospective Mode

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pp. 69-90

It is obvious that in cultures where science is undeveloped we do not expect anyone to be discerning truths in electrodynamics or particle physics. But then perhaps something similar applies where truths about ultimate things are concerned. ...

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4. The Prospective Mode

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pp. 91-107

The fourth distinctive mode of reasoning on behalf of a generalized religious skepticism I shall develop looks into the future instead of the past; it considers what may lie ahead rather than what lies behind us. It is the Prospective Mode. We human beings pay considerable attention to the past ...

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5. The Modes Combined: Limitation, Immaturity, Presumption

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pp. 108-117

The four modes of religious skepticism developed in previous chapters—Subject, Object, Retrospective, and Prospective—can be represented schematically (Figure 3). ...

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6.The Bearing of Pragmatic Considerations

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pp. 118-130

To the conclusion of the previous chapter, a proviso must now be added: provided that there are no non-truth-oriented, pragmatic considerations with sufficient countervailing force. Everything we have said so far in the book has been said on the assumption that only truth-oriented or epistemic considerations are relevant ...

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Part II. Cradles of Conviction: The Modes Applied and Fortified

The collection of arguments developed in Part 1 itself illustrates the human limitations and immaturity of which some members of the collection spoke, since fairly obvious and elementary and commonsensical in many of its contentions, and yet revealing much that has not been adequately considered to date. ...

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7. An Answer to Naturalism

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pp. 133-159

What is naturalism? Earlier in the book I referred to it as the thesis that there is nothing beyond the world of nature. This interpretation has many adherents in the literature. According to Sterling P. Lamprecht, for example, naturalism “regards everything that exists or occurs to be conditioned in its existence ...

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8. The Questionableness of Religious Experience

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pp. 160-190

From time immemorial, human beings have had experiences that produced or sustained religious beliefs. Any such experience—even the experience of intellectually sensing that a religious conclusion follows from a set of apparently true premises—qualifies as a religious experience in the broadest sense and might be linked to justificatory concerns. ...

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Part III. God and the Gaps: The Modes Illustrated and Vindicated

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pp. 191-194

Let us take stock of where we are. I have been urging us to be skeptics about ultimism. Various modes of reasoning in support of such skepticism were developed in Part 1. In Part 2, the most general and widely influential sources of nonskeptical complacency were identified, examined, and shown to be lacking in force. ...

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9. Hiddenness Arguments I

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pp. 195-226

My central purpose in this chapter is to develop the first, more general sort of hiddenness argument. But in order to establish a context from which the central hiddenness claim can naturally and persuasively be extracted, let me start by exposing some central parameters—a modest framework of concept and precept ...

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10. Hiddenness Arguments II

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pp. 227-242

It is a familiar observation in philosophy of religion that someone wishing to develop an argument from evil can argue not only from evil in general but more narrowly from this or that type of evil. The most commonly mentioned types are natural and moral evil, and recently there has also been discussion of horrific or horrendous evil ...

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11. The Argument from Horrors

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pp. 243-269

In this chapter I turn from the much-neglected and little-explored territory I have labeled the problem of Divine hiddenness to the much-traveled (one might say trampled) neighboring territory of the problem of evil. Superhighways crisscross this philosophical province. ...

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12. The Free-Will Offense

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pp. 270-290

In the last two sections of the previous chapter I (at most points) went along with the common assumption that for finite personal creatures to achieve their deepest good in relation to God, they must be given incompatibilist free will. Here I challenge that assumption. ...

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13. Consolidating Forces The Arguments Combined

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pp. 291-296

The four ways of arguing for atheism represented by the last four chapters—including the two kinds of hiddenness argumentation, the argument from horrors, and the free-will offense—can be represented schematically (Figure 5). ...

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14. Closing the Case: Seven Proofs and a Skeptical Conclusion

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pp. 297-309

In the previous five chapters I developed seven new arguments (or forms of argument) for atheism. My main aim in this final chapter of Part 3 is to show the role that can be played by my seven arguments in justifying at least skepticism about theism given various assumptions theists might make ...

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pp. 310-312

It seems abundantly clear that the truth about religion is unclear. Responses to religion involving belief—whether that be religious (perhaps theistic) or irreligious belief—are too neat and tidy, too smooth and definite for our world. The religious landscape is in many ways rough and snarled and forbidding. ...

Appendix A. Definitions

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pp. 313-316

Appendix B. Principles

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pp. 317-320


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pp. 321-326

E-ISBN-13: 9780801462399
E-ISBN-10: 0801462398
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801478512
Print-ISBN-10: 080144554X

Page Count: 344
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1