Gary Cutting, Philosophy and Faith


1.      FAITH

2.      Why believe?

         a.      “It’s just faith”

3.      What is faith?

         a.      “Believing means never having to explain why?”

         b.      Faith like being under the spell of a really plausible salesperson?

                   i.       “How are my students’ warm feelings of certainty as they hug one another at Sunday Mass in their dorm really any different from the trust they might experience while under the spell of a really plausible salesperson? ”

         c.      Cutting believes faith not an intellectual blind leap but grounded in evidence and argument



5.      “The dirty secret: Philosophers have never been able to find arguments that settle the question of God’s existence or any of the other “big questions” we’ve been discussing for 2500 years.”

         a.      Philosophers (the supposed experts) disagree about the validity of arguments for God’s existence

         b.      So one might think philosophy can’t help think about religious faith

6.      Reply: But philosophers only disagree on most subtle and sophisticated versions of arguments for and against God

         a.      Don’t disagree about more popular arguments to which theists and atheists typically appeal (and none of those arguments are successful according to philosophical consensus, Cutting claims)

7.      Neither atheists nor theists have won the philosophical debate and this suggests agnostics win

         a.      Neither side of debate has made its case

         b.      Agnosticism is position supported by consensus of expert philosophical opinion



9.      Cutting believes the strongest argument for religious belief is the idea that religious beliefs as basic beliefs

10.    Basic beliefs

         a.      We have no good arguments for them

         b.      Basic truths we live by, but can’t prove

         c.      Everyday life is based on basic beliefs for which we have no good arguments

11.    Examples of basic beliefs:

         a.      No more basic truths from which we can prove that

                   i.       The past is a good guide to the future

                            (1)    For an attempt to prove that it is presupposes that it is

                   ii.      Our memories are reliable

                   iii.     Other people have conscious inner life

         b.      We believe these things simply from our experience in the world

12.    Core religious beliefs can have same status as these basic but unproven beliefs

         a.      “Through exp of natural beauty, moral obligation, loving and being loved, we may develop an abiding sense of the reality of an extraordinarily good and powerful being who cares about us”

         b.      Why aren’t these as good reasons for belief in God as experiences of living give reason for belief in other minds or knowledge of past and future?

13.    Weakness of this argument is that it only supports a general God and not one that concretely and continually is involved in our existence

         a.      A God who has moral norms wants us to follow and who wants our worship


14.    Not clear that such religious experience can sustain faith in a specific religion

         a.      E.g., that Jesus and the Bible are the way to salvation and not Mohammed and the Koran?

         b.      Each religion rejects certainty of the others and so why privilege one’s own faith?

         c.      If you’d been born in Saudi Arabia, wouldn’t you be a Muslim?

15.    Those who take their faith seriously need to reflect on these questions and philosophy can help with that

Study questions Cutting on Faith and Philosophy

1.      What role (positive and negative) does Cutting see for philosophy in regards to religious beliefs?

2.      Does philosophical consensus support atheism or theism?

3.      What are basic beliefs and in what way might religious beliefs be basic?