Testimony, Belief and Unbelief in the Problem of Faith and Reason

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis evaluates two current theories of propositional faith, and explores the prospects of each theory for responding to the perennial problem of faith and reason (PFR). According to the first theory – the non-doxastic theory of faith (NDT) – faith that p does not require belief that p. NDT can be used to respond to the PFR when we accept that beliefs held on faith do not meet the required standards for epistemic justification, but deny that all instances of faith require belief. Where someone’s faith does not involve belief, her faith may be adequately responsive to the epistemic reasons in her possession. According to the second theory – the divine testimony theory (DTT) – faith requires trusting the testimony of a divine being where this involves believing the testimony. One can look to defend DTT by drawing from the significant resources that have recently been developed in the philosophy of testimony to assess the standards of justification in contexts of divine testimony. DTT takes the PFR head on, but addresses it from a fresh perspective. In this thesis I defend three claims. First, NDT is untenable as a theory of faith and hence fails as a response to the PFR. Second, DTT is defensible as a theory of faith. Third, by using the resources from the epistemology of testimony one can use DTT to defend the justification of propositional faith held on divine testimony, and hence can adequately respond to the PFR. Chapter 1 presents a version of the PFR by setting out a fairly typical account of epistemic justification, and shows precisely how NDT and DTT can be used to respond to the PFR. Chapter 2 defends DTT as a theory of faith within the Abrahamic religions by giving an analysis of both trust and trust in testimony, and tying these accounts to Abrahamic faith. Chapter 3 presents the non-doxastic theory of faith as both an objection to DTT, and as a response to the PFR in its own right. NDT is rejected on the grounds that the arguments used in its favour ultimately fail, and that it cannot distinguish faith from kinds of pretence like fictionalism. Chapter 4 looks at several ways by which God might be thought to speak to people, and Chapter 5 develops an epistemological theory of faith in divine testimony. By using the resources from general theories of testimony, Chapter 5 considers and rejects several ways of defending DTT before augmenting the work of Alvin Plantinga to give a robust and defensible theory of the justification of beliefs held on divine testimony, and a promising response to the PFR. The Conclusion suggests ways of advancing the research from this thesis.
Date of Award31 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMichael Scott (Supervisor) & Christopher Daly (Supervisor)

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