A Christian Appraisal of the Justification of Religious Faith in Soren Kierkegaard, John Henry Newman, and William James

Dissertation, Baylor University (2001)

Soren Kierkegaard , John Henry Newman , and William James all defended the right of persons to embrace religious beliefs that are not strictly warranted by empirical evidence and logical argumentation. Acknowledging that indisputable proof for religious truth claims is not available, all three nevertheless insisted that faith must not be hampered by the demands of reason narrowly conceived. There are, however, important differences in the way each relates faith and reason. Kierkegaard emphasizes discontinuity: faith is a divine gift that opens a sphere of truth inaccessible to objectifying rationality. John Henry Newman stresses continuity: faith ventures beyond evidence, but only as the mind itself bridges the gap between proof and certitude by a subtle and flexible exercise of the "illative sense." William James also emphasizes the continuity between faith and reason, but he goes much further than Newman in relativizing reason by exposing its passional nature. If due allowance is made for the inevitable distortion of summary statements, one might say that Kierkegaard sets faith against reason, Newman views faith as a kind of reason, and James interprets reason as a kind of faith. All three authors contribute important epistemological insights that are noted and discussed in the course of this study. It is argued, however, that William James offers the best model of the three for a contemporary justification of religious faith. In particular, this study maintains that James' religious epistemology can incorporate and transcend the best insights of Kierkegaard and Newman, and that his pragmatic method of verification provides a modest, but workable approach to the rational adjudication of religious truth claims
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