God, Reason, and Theistic Proofs

By Stephen T. Davis

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Bibliographic Data

Stephen T. Davis.God, Reason, and Theistic Proofs. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.
ISBN: 0802844502 (US, Eerdmans)) or 0748609202 and 0748607994 (UK)
Pages: 204.
Bibliography, index.

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  1. What is a Theistic Proof?
    1. Defining the concept
    2. The goal of a theistic proof
    3. Assumptions of theistic proofs
    4. What if a theistic proof were successful
    5. Do theistic proofs accomplish anything?
  2. The Ontological Argument
    1. Introduction
    2. Anselm's argument
    3. Gaulino's criticisms of the OA
    4. Kant's criticism
    5. Rowe's criticism
    6. Two brief 'refutations' of the OA
  3. Theistic Proofs and Religious Realism
    1. Religious nonrealism
    2. Anselm on 'conceiving'
    3. D. Z. Phillips' position
    4. Anselm against Phillips
    5. Conclusion
  4. The Cosmological argument
    1. Introduction: Aquinas' version of the CA
    2. The Third Way
    3. Why ia inifinite regress impossible in a hierarchical series?
    4. Criticism of the CA
  5. Theistic Proofs and Foundationalism
    1. Introduction
    2. Reformed Epistemology
    3. Analysing Plantinga's argument
    4. Criticism of foundationalism
  6. The Design argument
    1. Introduction
    2. Paly's version of the DA
    3. Hume's objections
    4. Evolution as a criticism of the DA
    5. Newer versions of teh DA
    6. Criticism of newer DAs
    7. Conclusion
    8. Swinburne and Bayes' Theorem
  7. Religious Experience
    1. Introduction
    2. Religious Experience as a theistic proof
    3. Swinburne's arguement
    4. Objection to the argument
    5. Conclusion
  8. Other Theistic Proofs
    1. Ontological argument number 2
    2. A generic cosmological argument
    3. The moral argument
    4. The Kalaam cosmological argument
  9. Alternatives to Theistic Proofs
    1. Introduction
    2. Pascal's Wager
    3. Criticism of the Wager
    4. James' argument
    5. Objections to James' argument
  10. Conclusion
    1. Introduction
    2. How important is the existence of God?
    3. Do theistic proofs prove the existence of God?
    4. The value of theistic proofs


Review by Bruno Gedressac


Copyright March 1998, Bruno D. Gedressac, The Hague, The Netherlands

Note: this review was also published in Perspective on Science and Christian Faith vol. 51, no. 1,  (March 1999), pp. 50-51.


Davis, professor of philosophy at McKenna College, has written papers dealing with theistic proofs, as well as books in the field of philosophy of religion. In this book, which is simultaneously published by Edinburgh University, he exposes and evaluates the major theistic proofs, and tackles the issue of their relationship to the theistic faith.

Davis' book begins with a few basic notions of logic and philosophy; it seems to be intended for those without any prior knowledge of philosophy. However, in the following chapters he fails to introduce all philosophical terms, and this may produce some difficulty for the reader. Davis alternates chapters dealing with specific proofs with chapters devoted to a metadiscussion about the proofs. This is possibly done to be more entertaining instead of boring the reader with long discussions on the same topic. For reasons of clarity, I would have preferred a more orderly fitting of the chapters. In this review, I will not follow his order.

Davis first tackles Anselm's ontological argument and devotes to its defense a chapter disproportionately too long. Even if the argument is correct, it is very difficult for me, possibly because of my scientific background, to see in it anything more than a tricky word play. I do not think that it would have much appeal to scientists as a proof for God's existence. Concerning the cosmological argument, he briefly defends Aquinas' versions, as well as his own hierarchical version. He mentions Richard Taylor's defense of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, but unfortunately omits Norman Geisler's vital defense of the Principle of Existential Causation, which is strongly defended in Geisler's Philosophy of Religion. The third argument Davis defends is the teleological argument and he does it quite well. Concerning the argument from religious experience, he argues that it constitutes a proof that naturalism is false, but that it cannot vindicate a religious view more than another. He does not seem to know about Keith Yandell's The Epistemology of Religious Experience, where Yandell convincingly argues that numinous experiences (of the same kind as those in the Bible) provide valid evidence and that enlightenment (Eastern) experiences do not. The moral and Kalaam arguments are too briefly treated; Davis made a mistake here by giving a counterexample that is actually irrelevant to the first argument about the impossibility of actual infinites.

Davis criticizes the non-realist view of religion. He also deals with Plantinga's critic of classical foundationalism (CF). He objects that such a critic leads to relativism. He could have shown that Plantinga himself uses CF for making his critic, and therefore begs the question. Neither did he point out that CF is not self-referentially incoherent, as Plantinga thinks, because unlike the Verification Principle, CF allows for self-evident beliefs and can therefore refer to itself as self-evident. I miss James Sennett's Modality, Probability, and Rationality: a Critical Examination of Alvin Plantinga's Philosophy in Davis' bibliography. Davis ends by defending Pascal's wager and James' argument in cases where one cannot make a rational choice between one religion and atheism.

The book ends with a discussion on the importance of God's existence and a general evaluation of the proofs and their role. I can recommend this book to those who want to read a good, well documented introduction to theistic proofs before reading more specific works such as J. P. Moreland's seminal book Scaling the Secular City or those by Norman Geisler, William Craig, and Richard Swinburne. This book might be as well of interest to those who are already read in the subject and want to read a comprehensive view and meditation about it.


Copyright March 1998, Bruno D. Gedressac, The Hague, The Netherlands

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