Belief in a Good and Loving God: a Case Study in the Varieties of a Religious Belief

In Andrew Moore (ed.), God, Mind and Knowledge. Farnham, UK: Routledge. pp. 67-86 (2014)
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There has been much recent debate over the meaning of the claim that God is good and loving. Although the participants in this debate strongly disagree over the correct analysis of the claim, there is nonetheless agreement across all parties that there is a single correct analysis. This paper aims to overthrow this consensus, by showing that sentences such as ‘There is a good and loving God’ are often used to express a variety of beliefs with quite different logico-grammatical characteristics. Belief in a good and loving God might range from being an evidentially grounded and empirically falsifiable ontological hypothesis, all the way to being a belief which is both ungrounded and unfalsifiable, and more akin to an attitude than to an hypothesis. The logical variety exhibited by the belief in a good and loving God often gives rise, in turn, to people holding that belief in a way that is indeterminate, mixed, or fluid between those different varieties. That is, someone’s belief in a good and loving God may hover indeterminately between more than one logical variety of the belief; or it may mix together some of the logical characteristics of different varieties of the belief; or it may change from having one logical character to another and perhaps back again. These properties are often masked by the fact that the belief is always expressed by the same sentence regardless of any indeterminacy, mixedness, or fluidity. Though these properties are rarely discussed by analytic philosophers of religion, logico-grammatical variety, indeterminacy, mixedness, and fluidity are pervasive in religious beliefs and utterances, and account for much of those beliefs and utterances' real-life complexity. This paper will make a start at an examination of these important properties by using the belief in a good and loving God as a representative case study.
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