Fiction and the Agnostic

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.24204/ejpr.v12i3.3415

Abstract

Consider the agnostic who thinks that reason and evidence are neutral on the question of God’s existence, and as a result neither believes that God exists nor believes that God does not exist. Can such an agnostic live a genuinely religious life – even one in which God is the central animating idea? They might do so by accepting Pascal’s Wager: the expected rewards will always be greater if one bets on God’s existence than if one does not. Or they might accept William James’s argument that religious beliefs are properly activated by our passional nature. But both of these routes involve abandoning the initial agnosticism, and so are open to charges of irrationality. In this paper I explore a third route to the religious life, suggested by Pascal’s discussion, one which uses fiction and make-believe as the central prop. It might seem that this too entails abandoning agnosticism in favour of the view that religion just is fiction. I suggest, however, that there is a phenomenon which I term “serious make-believe” in which one can remain agnostic about whether the object of make-believe is real or a useful fiction. Applied to religion, the result is a religious life that is both genuinely engaged (and not merely experimental) and yet, by remaining agnostic, cannot be accused of irrationality.

References

Bart, Benjamin F. 1955. “Abêtir’ in Pascal and Montaigne”. Romance Philology 9, no. 1: 1–6.

Bourne, Craig, and Emily Caddick Bourne. 2016. Time and Fiction. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Braithwaite, Richard. 1955. “An Empiricist’s View of Religious Belief”. In Philosophy of Religion, edited by Basil Mitchell, 72–91. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Bunzl, Martin. 2004. “Counterfactual History: A User’s Guide”. The American Historical Review 109, no. 3: 845–58. doi:10.1086/530560.

Clifford, William K. 1877. “The Ethics of Belief”. Contemporary Review 29: 289–309.

Field, Hartry. 1980. Science without Numbers. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

—. 1989. Realism Mathematics, and Modality. New York, NY: Basil Blackwell.

Huxley, Thomas H. 1889 [1904]. “Agnosticism”. In Collected Essays Vol. V: Science and Christian, 209–62. London: Macmillan.

—. 1889 [1904]. “Agnosticism and Christianity”. In Collected Essays Vol. V: Science and Christian, 309–65. London: Macmillan.

—. 1889 [1904]. Collected Essays Vol. V: Science and Christian. London: Macmillan.

James, William. 1897. The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. New York, NY: Longmans Green.

Kalderon, Mark E., ed. 2005. Fictionalism in Metaphysics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Le Poidevin, Robin. 2019. Religious Fictionalism. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

—. 2020. “The New Agnosticism”. In Agnosticism: Explorations in Philosophy and Religious Thought, edited by Gavin Hyman and Francis Fallon. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Mackie, John L. 1983. The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Pascal, Blaise. 1670 [1966]. Pensées. Translated and edited by Alban John Krailsheimer. London: Penguin.

Scott, Michael. 2013. Religious Language. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Downloads

Published

2020-09-24

How to Cite

Le Poidevin, Robin. 2020. “Fiction and the Agnostic”. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 12 (3):163-81. https://doi.org/10.24204/ejpr.v12i3.3415.

Issue

Section

Munich Lectures in Philosophy of Religion