“Even if we cannot prove them with absolute certainty”

“Even if we cannot prove them with absolute certainty” October 4, 2020


A view of Manhattan
Where Alister McGrath delivered this lecture.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


Yet another passage from Alister McGrath’s “Twilight of Atheism” talk as it appears, transcript, in Eric Metaxas, ed., Life, God, and Other Small Topics: Conversations from Socrates in the City (New York: Plume/Penguin, 2011):


Some of you may have read Terry Eagleton’s very interesting review of Dawkins’s The God Delusion in the London Review of Books, and one of the points he makes — and again, it’s an intriguing point that you may like to think about — is that all of us are perfectly used to holding certain beliefs as true or even reliable, even though we cannot prove them to be absolutely true.  That’s just the way life is, Terry Eagleton says, and therefore, we ought to expect that the best we can hope to show is there are good reasons for thinking that these beliefs are true, even if we cannot prove them with absolute certainty.

Just think of a hypothetical experiment.  I want you to imagine that you have a leading atheist philosopher sharing this platform with me, and both this philosopher and I are challenged to prove our beliefs.  I would try very hard to give you the reasons why I believe in God, and I’m sure I would do it reasonably well.  However, I would not be able to prove my case with knock-down certainty, but neither would my opponent.  The whole argument — whether there is a God, whether there isn’t — is stalemated and has been so for many years.  Intriguingly, that brings us to the position that the person who says there is a God and the person who says there is no God are actually taking their positions as a matter of faith.  So, it’s an intriguing possibility to think about that. . . .

I believe passionately that religious belief does need to be challenged.  Why do you believe that?  Can you give us reasons for thinking this makes sense?  It’s about being held accountable in the public arena, and I’m very, very happy to do that.  I think it’s very necessary and very important. . . .

[T]here are many Christian writers who already do this, and I’m slightly surprised when I read Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett, who seem to have managed to have gotten to this point in their lives without actually having encountered people like Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, C. S. Lewis even, and Thomas Aquinas, all of whom, I think, give good indications of what the intellectual basis of faith might be.  (255)


Posted from Park City, Utah



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