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Questions of Belief

Spring 2011 | By Grant Flora. Photo by $photocredit.value.

What happens when you die? Is there a God? How do you know what you know? Why do we believe and why do we sometimes also doubt? The answers to these and other “Big Questions” do not yield easy answers — which is exactly what makes them compelling.

Tucked away in Beering Hall’s labyrinth of corridors and offices, CLA professors Michael Bergmann and Patrick Kain are examining such queries as part of their three-year project, “Knowing in Religion and Morality.” 

Bergmann, professor of philosophy and the project’s lead investigator, and Kain, associate professor of philosophy and co-principal investigator, were awarded a $350,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

“The John Templeton Foundation is very pleased to support the work of professors Bergmann and Kain,” says Michael J. Murray, the foundation’s executive vice president of programs and vice president of philosophy and theology. “Purdue is one of the leading institutions for research in philosophy of religion worldwide, and we are hopeful that this project will help the program continue to build its reputation as a hub for exciting scholarly breakthroughs.”

“Philosophers spend time thinking about perceptual skepticism,” Bergmann says.  “In the movie The Matrix, for example, people have computer-produced perceptions that are illusory but seem exactly like the real thing. They begin to question whether their own perceptions of the world are trustworthy and not illusory.

“I want to consider whether philosophers’ responses to this sort of perceptual skepticism, a kind of skepticism almost no one takes seriously, can be useful as guides in responding to moral and religious skepticism, which are much more common.”

Objections from evolutionary theory are also on the philosopher’s mind. “Is there an evolutionary origin of moral and religious belief and, if so, does this invalidate such belief?” asks Bergmann. He says the project will explore these and other issues from a variety of perspectives and disciplines and examine whether our skepticisms are related.

Fifteen participants are currently being selected for a 2011 summer seminar at Purdue led by Bergmann, a recognized authority on epistemology and philosophy of religion. Seminar topics will be based on the monograph he is preparing as part of the project, Perceptual, Moral, and Religious Skepticism, which defends moral and religious belief against skepticism.

Participants will work on writing projects related to the seminar’s topics, the best of which will be selected for presentation at a conference to be held at Purdue in September 2012.

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