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The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism Hardcover – May 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

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"Schellenberg's book provides an interesting and thought provoking case for Categorical Religious Skepticism. . . . Like his other books, The Wisdom to Doubt is well written and clear. Helpful charts and figures facilitate a better understanding of the text. His arguments become clearer and easier to grasp, and more challenging, the more time one spends thinking through them. I encourage readers to carefully attend to his arguments or risk missing a good opportunity to be challenged."―Erik Baldwin, Kinesis



"This is a brilliant work, full of original thinking and unhurriedly persuasive argument. The project it carries forward is a major new departure in the philosophy of religion, and should break much of the deadlock in contemporary debate."―Terence Penelhum, University of Calgary

"The Wisdom to Doubt is extraordinarily well structured; moreover, it is stuffed with powerful arguments that are passionately expressed and enlightening. Those who are serious about the philosophy of religion will have to come to terms with it."―Daniel Howard-Snyder, Western Washington University

"The Wisdom to Doubt is a major contribution to the philosophical discussion of religion and carries profound import for anyone interested in the study of religious phenomena. Schellenberg's construction of 'an edifice of doubt' here embraces a generalized religious skepticism that includes the claims of a naturalism prone to overestimating the accomplishments of science and underestimating the potential of religion. The book provides a sophisticated and systematic treatment of the arguments for and against the existence of an ultimate salvific reality, and in the process reveals a wisdom in rising above religious and irreligious belief which are both just 'too neat and tidy, too smooth and definite for our world.' In showing that it is 'abundantly clear that the truth about religion is unclear' Schellenberg provides a basis for different kinds of study of religion and religions that will appeal to many scholars within and beyond the walls of philosophy."―Donald Wiebe, Trinity College, University of Toronto

From the Back Cover

"The Wisdom to Doubt is extraordinarily well structured; moreover, it is stuffed with powerful arguments that are passionately expressed and enlightening. Those who are serious about the philosophy of religion will have to come to terms with it."--Daniel Howard-Snyder, Western Washington University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (May 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080144554X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801445545
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,810,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By John W. Loftus VINE VOICE on July 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a very important work by a top-notch philosopher who argues for "complete religious skepticism." He argues against any belief in "ultimism," which is based upon religious claims that entail "there is an ultimate and salvic reality." (p.3). In his words, "the categorical skepticism I am defending, as the name suggests, is doubt that embraces any and all religious claims," whether it's "religious belief" or religious disbelief." (p. 50) He says "our skeptic is not just an agnostic. (Indeed, his stance is compatible with atheism, since...atheism does not entail the denial of ultimism.)" (p. 3)

The book contains three parts and is not as technical as one would think. You won't find any symbolic logic to worry about deciphering. The arguments are understandable to the college student. You might first have to wade through the "Introduction" where he defines various terms he uses, although, if you've read his previous book, Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca: Cornell, 2005), you would already be familiar with them.

In Part One he argues for religious skepticism based on four distinct categories of thought called "modes," which he later combines into one. In the "Subject Mode" the author argues that human beings are limited in understanding. There is available evidence that is neglected and/or inaccessible to us. There is unrecognized evidence that is undiscovered and undiscoverable by all of us. In the "Object Mode" the author argues that it's probably beyond finite humans beings to understand Ultimate reality, since it must be "something infinitely profound." (p. 51) As such, we may have inadequate and incoherent conceptions of it.

In the "Retrospective Mode" the author considers the human past with regard to religious claims.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A. Customer on September 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
John Schellenberg's book is a highly original and interesting piece of philosophy. His topic is "Ultimism"--the claim that there is an ultimate reality, and that it is salvific in nature. His main thesis will be that we should "sit the fence" epistemically regarding Ultimism--neither affirming it nor denying it. The first part of his book contains four different defenses of this thesis--arguing from, among other things, the object of Ultimism (is it knowable or unknowable by humans?), our evidence for Ultimism, human inability to appropriate experience the divine, etc. In the second part of his book, Schellenberg engages arguments for naturalism, and arguments from religious experience for theism. Naturalism, of course, denies Ultimism, and theism affirms it. Schellenberg argues that neither can support their respective theses-- "Ultimism is false" and "Ultimism is true"-- and attempts to undercut both. In the third part of his book, Schellenberg provides four arguments against theism--two versions of his "divine hiddenness" argument, an argument for horrors, and an argument from the existence of free will. His thought here is that, even if Ultimism may be true, the theistic version of Ultimism must be false.

This book has many virtues. Many of the arguments are original and interesting. The book can be appreciated at different levels, from professional philosophers to undergraduates. He treats many issues in epistemology, including Plantinga and Alston's religious epistemology, "skeptical" theism, the nature of evidence, etc. Schellenberg's treatment of naturalism is particularly interesting. Further, contained within is his most sophisticated formulation of the problem of hiddenness--i.e.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Wisdom to Doubt Skepticism
I am writing this review today because the Divine hiddenness argument (DHA) and J.L. Schellenberg’s work in promoting the DHA are being discussed and debated in the religious/atheism blogosphere these days, oftentimes initiated by atheists who are convinced that the DHA is a strong argument in support of God’s alleged non-existence. This has prompted me to return to Schellenberg’s “The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism” (2007) for a second look and further study and analysis. The outcome of this is to endorse his book as a deep, thoughtful and well-written philosophical analysis of religious belief, but to raise cautions about his fundamental argument and his suggestion that religious skepticism should lead the skeptic to embrace atheism. Allow me to explain my reasons:

First, Schellenberg declares in his Introduction that the “higher-level goal” of philosophy of religion is to determine “…whether religious practice is justified.” (p. 6). Here is where my “wisdom to doubt” begins. Is it the role of the philosopher to determine whether or not MY religious practice is justified? Or the religious practice of a particular cultural or religious group justified? Or whether religion as an artifact of human civilization is justified? Schellenberg clearly comes down on the side of atheism throughout his book, with many clues along the way as to his preference in terms of the fate of religious practice. Take for example his discussion chapter titled “The bearing of pragmatic considerations” and specifically, his treatise of “The benefits of disbelief” p. 124-128.
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