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The Logic of Religious Thinking

1955 to 1957
University of Aberdeen

This book contains a revised version of Gifford Lectures given at the University of Aberdeen in 1956–1957. These were not published until 1979, more than twenty years after they were given and three years after the author’s death. But the text, though edited for publication by W. D. Hudson, comprises almost entirely Hodge’s own revisions.

The volume is divided into four sections of four short chapters.

In Part I, ‘The Problem of God’, Hodges considers developments within Anglo-Saxon philosophy during the first half of the twentieth century and their impact upon natural theology. In his view, there has been a revolution in the subject, and the topic of God must now be approached in the light of them. A central part of this revolutionary change is a shift of attention from ‘things’ to ‘words’, and this means that philosophy must become an investigation into language rather than into metaphysical reality. Although this might be taken to suggest that we cannot seriously continue with natural theology (to the study of which Lord Gifford made his bequest), Hodges argues that there is still scope for a new and different type of natural theology so that it is still possible to be ‘in line with the age-long tradition to which Lord Gifford pointed us, but … in an age and intellectual situation which he could not have foreseen’. This new natural theology will investigate ‘God’, rather than God, which is to say religious language rather than metaphysical theory.

In the three chapters that follow, the dimensions of this new intellectual situation that make God problematic are explored. The first is the altered conception of knowledge and evidence that the success of natural science has brought about, and the supreme status of empirical verification as the only satisfactory basis of knowledge. By this standard, knowledge of God seems impossible.

Empiricism’s challenge to theological assertion seems even more devastating, however, since allied to the verification principle of logical positivism, it appears to deny even meaningfulness to religious utterances. And as religious responses to the traditional difficulties surrounding the existence of evil illustrate, religious language is flexible to a degree that empties it of meaning. In answer to this contention, Hodges finds an important distinction between standard and non-standard uses of religious language. Both may be said to lay relatively little store by metaphysical truth, but the standard use cannot dispense with the idea of ‘reality assertions’. Perhaps, however, the realities with which religion is concerned go beyond knowledge.

In Part II, the sources of religious belief are investigated, and once again the metaphysical theories characteristic of old-style natural theology are found to be of relatively little importance. “The Genesis of God’ is to be in action, vision and feeling rather than in reflective thought. In any case, none of the classic arguments of philosophical theology is cogent—it is not metaphysical speculation but the mystery of the universe and the meaningfulness of human life that prompt religion to be taken seriously.

Accordingly, Part III turns to the concepts of religious experience and religious faith. Religious experience is extremely varied, and chapter 9 explores its variations, ranging from a general experience of life as a human being through religious disciple to the higher flights of mystical experience. None of these phenomena singly or in combination can be construed as empirical evidence for God’s reality, but they point to and underline the fact that the ‘activation’ of religious belief requires both experience and an ‘interpretative concept’ of God. Once belief in God is ‘activated’, the philosophical task of understanding what it is for God to be replaces the more familiar question of whether he exists. Arriving at some understanding of God as ipsum esse (being itself) involves the distinction between self and non-self and finite and infinite. Grappling with these distinctions implies an understanding of what it is to be a human being.

What this shows is that religion is a matter of ‘holding commerce with a reality which is not known and cannot be known’ except by such commerce. This means that the intensity of the commerce, its limits and its meaning are never final, may not even be fixed and cannot have any theoretical guarantee. Their hold upon us, consequently, is a matter of faith and commitment, the subject of the final chapter in Part III.

Part IV considers some further issues related to theistic belief in the contemporary world and explores the possibility of alternative atheistic attempts to bestow meaning and value on human life. Hodges finds deep difficulties here too, but they are not such that the debate can be decided in favour of theism on rational grounds. A final chapter summarises the conclusions of the lectures, and considers briefly the position of someone, like Hodges himself, who is both a practising theist and an analytical philosopher.

Gordon Graham