On the latest episode of Parker’s Pensées podcast, Parker Settecase interviews Paul Herrick about his recently published book, Philosophy, Reasoned Belief, and Faith: An Introduction. The episode is titled “Learn Philosophy Through Philosophy of Religion.”
In the following blog post, Paul Herrick expands on some of the issues he discussed during the podcast, including his personal journey to becoming a philosopher and his hope that Philosophy, Reasoned Belief, and Faith helps students as lost and confused as he was in his youth find their way.
I was raised Roman Catholic. However, in my early twenties, I began doubting all my religious beliefs. I shared my doubts with our parish priest, but I was not satisfied with the answers he gave me. The religious books he loaned me, including Question Box by Fathers Rumble and Carty, did not help. As my questions expanded, I began doubting the other beliefs forming my worldview, including my political beliefs and my beliefs about human nature. When I look back, I see that my belief in God played a pivotal role in my belief system: Doubts about God’s existence led to doubts about nearly everything else.
It was during this troubled period in my life that I first heard about philosophy and decided to go to the public library to see what this strange subject had to offer. After leafing through the first few books, I was intrigued. I had dropped out of college and was driving a semi up and down the West Coast at the time, hauling 40,000 pounds of frozen beef from Seattle to San Francisco and 40,000 pounds of sausages back up each week. I began taking home an armload of philosophy books every week or two, to be read at truck stops and rest areas along the way.
I initially thought philosophers were radicals who rejected all traditional beliefs while proposing the most unusual ideas imaginable. For example, is it possible that the material world doesn’t exist and that things like trees and mountains are just ideas inside my mind? What of value, I wondered, could come from pondering strange questions like this?
I eventually discovered that my first impression of the discipline was completely wrong. Philosophy is full of fascinating arguments about the very questions that were troubling me, and many of these are deep arguments for the existence of God. As I studied the classic arguments for God’s existence, and the objections to those arguments, I eventually concluded that nothing makes logical sense if the universe is a random accident and there is no being such as God. Reason, I came to believe, when followed carefully, points the mind toward God as the source of all things, toward theism rather than atheism.
As I studied the history of philosophy, I came to see that theism has actually been the mainstream in philosophy from the beginning. The history of philosophy is full of fascinating arguments for God’s existence—reasons to believe that have convinced the greatest philosophical minds of history.
I tried to convey this classical and God-centered understanding of philosophy in my new book, Philosophy, Reasoned Belief, and Faith: An Introduction. Although it’s a textbook with arguments and counterarguments on every issue, the theme running from chapter 1 through chapter 13 is that reason, when followed sincerely and with an open heart, points the soul toward God. In my book, students examine ten or so different aspects of life, self, and the world, in each case confronting philosophical arguments that start with our experiences and then point, step by step, toward God as the ultimate source. This may sound like special pleading, but the discerning reader will find the very same dialectic in the philosophies of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus, Descartes, Leibniz—to mention a few of the greats. And the same elevation of the mind toward God can be found today in the profound philosophies of Plantinga, Swinburne, Robert Adams, and many other Christian philosophers who count among the greatest of our day.
So, in some ways, Philosophy, Reasoned Belief, and Faith reflects my personal journey. But in other ways, it reflects the philosophical quest for God that began with Thales in the 6th century BC, the founder of philosophy, and that continues today in colleges, graduate schools, and coffee shops around the world. I hope my book kindles an interest in philosophy among students seeking to answer the big questions of life. But most of all, I hope it helps students as lost and confused as I was in my youth find their way.