Peirce on the Epistemology of Religious Belief

Dissertation, Saint Louis University (1994)

This dissertation fleshes out the consequences of Charles Peirce's epistemology for understanding religious belief. Chapter 1 examines Peirce's criticism of Cartesianism with its emphasis on subjective certainty. Chapter 2 examines his evolutionary-inspired, belief-doubt-inquiry theory of belief, his description of the four different methods of fixing belief , and his critical common sensism. ;Chapter 3 structures Peirce's fragmentary remarks on religious belief by using his own belief-doubt-inquiry theory of belief. This organization reveals Peirce's view that religious belief begins in instinctual experience which provides an acritical awareness of God. Doubt of religious belief is largely the result of two things: the inability of theologians to successfully integrate religious belief with scientific progress and false scientific assumptions. We conclude this chapter by examining Peirce's general strategies for removing religious doubt. ;Chapter 4 examines the three arguments of Peirce's "Neglected Argument," his only systematic writing on the epistemology of religious belief. The Humble Argument describes the acritical process of initially coming to believe in God. The Neglected Argument is a defense of basing belief on acritical, instinctual experience. The Scientific Argument applies Peirce's account of the scientific method to the claim that God is real. In this argument Peirce argues that religious belief can be defended scientifically. ;Chapter 5 examines Peirce's account of miracles and extends his epistemology to the doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture. We point out the unscientific manner in which Princeton theologians defended this doctrine. ;Chapter 6 summarizes Peirce's epistemology of religious belief and provides an overall evaluation of his account of the fixation of religious belief. We conclude that Peirce's epistemology, while helpful in accounting for the beliefs which make up a religious world view, does not fully account for the volitional elements of religious belief
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