Faith, demonstration, and the epistemic character of religious belief in J.H. Newman

William Sweet, St Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS B2G 2W5 Canada

This paper examines the views of John Henry Newman concerning the (cognitive) character of religious faith and the place for a rational demonstration for religious belief.

My focus is not the adequacy of Newman’s arguments, but to examine his analysis of the phenomenon of ‘religious belief’ and to establish what he takes belief and the epistemic standards relevant to determining the meaning and truth of religious belief to be.

I will argue that Newman’s account of belief allows one to see why philosophical argument--particularly, argument based on religious experience--is employed by some religious believers as grounds for understanding and defending particular beliefs. I will also argue that, while Newman’s account allows for a better understanding of the relation of ‘grounds for belief’ to faith than provided by many of his (near) contemporaries (e.g., Paley, Whately, James), it still fails to represent adequately the distinctive epistemic character of religious belief.