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A substantial body of literature has been produced in the twentieth century by religious and philosophical writers on the ethics of belief. Discussion of this topic has generally focused on the processes leading up to belief within the individual, so that it would not be inaccurate to say that for most of these writers ‘the ethics of belief’ means ‘the ethics of coming–to–believe’. There has been little attention among these writers, however, to the moral questions which surround the production or inducement of beliefs in others, to the ethics of persuasion. An extension of the ethics of belief to cover moral issues which arise in connection with persuasion seems reasonable; the ethics of belief, widely construed, might be said to encompass questions about both the production of beliefs within oneself and the inducement of beliefs in others.
In an article which appeared a few years ago, entitled ‘God's Death’ (Theology, 1977), A.D. Smith launched one of the most interesting of recent attacks on the traditional doctrine of the Incarnation. Focusing on the death of Christ, he claimed to demonstrate the logical impossibility of Jesus having been both human and divine. Each of the premises of his argument was said to be a commitment of orthodox theology. He thus presented his reasoning as displaying an internal incoherence in that way of thinking about divinity, humanity, and the person of Christ. The argument was basically quite simple: According to Christian theology and in concurrence with general thought on the matter, we must hold that human death involves the possibility of annihilation. As a man, Jesus of Nazareth faced and underwent a human death. He thus faced the possibility of annihilation. But orthodox theologians hold God to be of such an ontological status that no divine being could even possibly be annihilated. So no divine person could die a human death. From this follows the impossibility of the traditional claim that the Second Person of the divine Trinity became a man, lived a human life, and died a human death for us and our salvation. The qualitative difference between God and man is such as to render incarnational christology an incoherent theological stance.
Resurrection has been used as the conceptual basis for attempted solutions to two problems that occur in the context of western theism, the problem of cognitive meaning and the problem of theodicy. Because John Hick has proposed resurrection as a solution to both problems so extensively, and because Antony Flew and Terence Penelhum have examined those solutions so strenuously, I will use their writings to lay out the problem. My aim is to improve upon Hick by overcoming a weakness in his defence of resurrection. My narrower focus will be on resurrection and the ‘replica objection’, rather than the wider use of resurrection to solve problems of evil or the meaningfulness of theistic discourse, but some brief remarks on the wider problems will be necessary to set the stage.
In this article I shall concern myself with the question ‘Is some type of justification required in order for belief in God to be rational?’ Many philosophers and theologians in the past would have responded affirmatively to this question. However, in our own day, there are those who maintain that natural theology in any form is not necessary. This is because of the rise of a different understanding of the nature of religious belief. Unlike what most people in the past thought, religious belief is not in any sense arrived at or inferred on the basis of other known propositions. On the contrary, belief in God is taken to be as basic as a person's belief in the existence of himself, of the chair in which he is sitting, or the past. The old view that there must be a justification of religious belief, whether known or unknown, is held to be mistaken. One of the most outspoken advocates of this view is Alvin Plantinga. According to Plantinga the mature theist ought not to accept belief in God as a conclusion from other things he believes. Rather, he should accept it as basic, as a part of the bedrock of his noetic structure. ‘The mature theist commits himself to belief in God; this means that he accepts belief in God as basic.’
In their article ‘On Grading Religions, Seeking Truth, and Being Nice to People’ (Religious Studies, XIX, 75–80) Paul Griffiths and Delmas Lewis present my view of the relation between the world religions as a ‘nonjudgmental inclusivism’ which, in the interests of harmony and goodwill, denies that the different religions make conflicting truth–claims. Indeed, according to Griffiths and Lewis, I deny that they make any truth–claims at all. Thus ‘since the apparently incompatible truth–claims found in the world's major religious systems are not in fact truth–claims at all, there can be no incompatibility between them’ (p. 76). And so no arguments arise and we can all be nice to each other!
In this paper I shall formulate and defend what I take to be a fresh argument for the rationality of theistic belief. Specifically, I propose to establish the reasonableness of believing the following proposition to be true: Every possible world that includes the existence of perishable objects includes the existence of God. Success in this endeavour would, of course, ensure the reasonableness of believing that the possible world which happens to be actual – including, as it does, the existence of perishable objects – includes the existence of God. I intend to show that the reasonableness of believing the aforesaid proposition to be true is consequent upon careful scrutiny and explication of a doctrine that constitutes an absolutely indispensable ingredient of theistic metaphysics.