Wednesday, August 5, 2009

J. L. Schellenberg's "The Will to Imagine"

J. L. Schellenberg is Professor of Philosophy at Mount Saint Vincent University and Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at Dalhousie University. He is the author of Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion, The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism, and Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Will to Imagine: A Justification of Skeptical Religion, and reported the following:
The Will to Imagine is Book III of a philosophical trilogy that aims to take us through skepticism to a faith that can exist only on the other side. Page 99 is indeed revealing and I’ll get to how in a moment. But first let me provide some context.

In the early going of the book, I show that because of the immaturity of our species and the open evolutionary future, any faith that could possibly be rational for us will be skeptical in two ways: both nonbelieving and unwilling to commit itself to any sectarian content. It involves embracing in imagination – which remains to us even when belief is left behind – the more basic proposition all detailed, sectarian religious propositions can be seen as gesturing toward: that what is ultimate in reality is also of ultimate value and the source of an ultimate good for humanity and the world. I call this proposition ultimism. Ultimism, it’s worth noting, could be true even if traditional theism (the claim that there is a person-like God) is false or seriously questionable.

In the second part of the book I rebut criticisms designed to prove that imaginative faith focused on ultimism is in as much rational hot water as its sectarian, believing cousins. After showing how surprisingly easy it is to deal with these arguments, I turn in the third part, which page 99 introduces, to defending a central move of the book: the claim that old arguments for theism, refuted many times over, can be recast – adapted – in such a way as to strongly support skeptical religion.

The important point here is that not only can skeptical religion easily turn aside challenges; it can effectively issue its own challenge to all who are rationally and imaginatively minded, in the names of Anselm, Leibniz, Paley, Pascal, Kant, James, and many others. The common theme of the challenge, issued in these diverse ways, is that with skeptical faith we are in the best position to express and celebrate and also further develop all facets of the unique complexity of human lives and human communities.

It follows that the very religious arguments critics like Richard Dawkins love to disparage can rise again in a new case for skeptical religion that, quite ironically, is bursting with powerful evolutionary credentials. And all this is there on page 99!
Learn more about The Will to Imagine at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue