The Will to Imagine

The Will to Imagine: A Justification of Skeptical Religion

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Will to Imagine
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5926-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. Introduction
    (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. I also wish to expose more clearly the structure of the working-out. Although the present volume’s central contentions and the main support it provides for them should be readily comprehended even by someone unfamiliar with the earlier ones, the three...


    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 11-12)

      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. But this view is false. Faith and skepticism are perfectly compatible.

      Now some who were religious in a traditional way before encountering skepticism may find in this fact a quick way home: the path from the dark valley through which they have...

    • CHAPTER 1 Ultimism and the Aims of Human Immaturity
      (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. Now contrast that with the fact, so routinely overlooked or neglected, that although the Sun will eventually scorch our planet, Earth may remain habitable for as long as another billion years more.¹ The moral of the story is that...

    • CHAPTER 2 Faith without Details, or How to Practice Skeptical Religion
      (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 (the descriptor “ultimistic” will also be used from time to time: the contrast readers may note with “theistic” is intentional). Now skeptical religion, as I have already suggested, would be considered by many to be something less than capable of satisfying...

    • CHAPTER 3 Simple Faith and the Complexities of Tradition
      (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. But a logically prior question is whether there can be any significant positive relationship here at all. And this gives rise to a new feasibility problem for skeptical religion. In this chapter, after articulating the problem in a bit more detail, we will discover various ways of bridging the gap between skeptical and...


    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 67-68)

      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. And, of course, getting clear about these things has permitted us to get a lot clearer also about exactly what this neglected faith response would involve, were it to be implemented. Having thus identified the target of our discussion, we must now move to consider arguments aimed at knocking it over...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Structure of Faith Justification
      (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. And in showing that no such challenge succeeds, we are showing that the faith response is at least as good a response as any other and so it is not the case that it should not be made— which is to say that it is negatively justified.

      My discussion of these matters derives its structure from four basic principles worked...

    • CHAPTER 5 How Skeptical Faith Is True to Reason
      (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. Now this “staying true to reason” may sound like a metaphor that needs to be cashed out. But I suggest that the challenge is plausibly viewed as intending it quite literally: any twenty-first-century skeptic who sees aright the situation she is in as she contemplates...


    • [PART III Introduction]
      (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—now that we have a form of religion appropriate to our time—be as strong as the challenges were weak? I think the answer is yes. Indeed, if ultimistic faith is really as rational as I have been (and shall be) claiming that it is, then any attack on...

    • CHAPTER 6 Anselm’s Idea
      (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,” and according to him, if that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought existed only in the mind, as the foolish disbeliever supposes, and not in reality, then that-than-which-a-greater-cannot-be-thought would be that-than-which-a-greater-can-be-thought (for then it could be thought to exist in reality as well as in the mind, which is greater than existence merely in the mind)—and this implies a contradiction. Hence, by reductio, what the...

    • CHAPTER 7 Leibniz’s Ambition
      (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, more provocatively, a skeptical ontological argument. In the present chapter I show that similar results can be achieved in connection with Leibniz’s cosmological argument and the issues and concerns suggested thereby.

      A central notion to be appropriated for our purposes here, as might be...

    • CHAPTER 8 Paley’s Wonder
      (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. Of course they also inspired him to a certain lofty intellectual ambition of his own: Paley is the best-known and most often cited representative of the teleological or design argument for theism, itself perhaps the best-known and most often cited of the so-called theistic proofs. What...


    • [PART IV Introduction]
      (pp. 157-158)

      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. The arguments of these other thinkers seem united in the thought that to solve the rational problems facing theism, we must look elsewhere than to evidence. For most such arguments, the central point is that we should respond positively to certain goods that would or might be realized by believing theistically even when the available evidence for the truth of...

    • CHAPTER 9 Pascal’s Wager
      (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. Now there is no doubt that he had some of its concepts, such as those involved in the so-called Expectation rule (more on this below), though as we’ll observe in a moment, his peculiar emphasis and aim in this fragment prevented him from applying these...

    • CHAPTER 10 Kant’s Postulate
      (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. Kant seeks to persuade human religious thought to stay off the theoretical path that leads to punctured proofs and tries to guide it instead to the promised land of morality, where, he thinks, we will find a proper justification for belief in God. His basic idea is that we must...

    • CHAPTER 11 James’s Will
      (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. In his work on religion he was quite prepared to accept the possibility of both a religious and a nonreligious layer of reality and of plurality within each. He never really believed in the truth of materialism. But, as we will see, he didn’t clearly believe in the truth of any of its contraries...


    • [PART V Introduction]
      (pp. 235-236)

      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. The time has come to make good on this claim.

      That is what I do in this last part of the book. Here I bring the principles from Chapter 4—in particular P9, P12, and P16—back into...

    • CHAPTER 12 Faith Is Positively Justified: The Many Modes of Religious Vision
      (pp. 237-250)

      Let’s begin by listing the various arguments for faith we found in Parts III and IV, in the order in which we harvested them:

      Anselm: The Alignment Argument

      The Imaginative Fulfillment Argument

      Leibniz: The Understanding Argument

      Paley: The Respect for Beauty Argument

      Pascal: The Skeptical Dominance Argument

      Kant: The Moral Commitment Argument

      James: The Competing Duties Argument

      The Ought-to-Be-True Argument

      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...

  10. Conclusion
    (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. To them, of course, I recommend the central reasoning of Prolegomena, which in a sustained and rigorous assault severs the link between religious faith and religious belief. But even readers unaware of or unconvinced by that discussion are in a position to draw the following important conclusion from the present work: there is a form of religion that may...

  11. APPENDIX A: Definitions
    (pp. 255-258)
  12. APPENDIX B: Principles
    (pp. 259-262)
  13. Index
    (pp. 263-268)