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Published on Aug 1, 2012
A long tradition maintains that knowledge of God is naturally available to any human being, without the aid of special divine grace or revelation. St Paul declares that those who fail to recognize the divine authorship of the world are "without excuse". But the universe as scrutinized by an impartial and rational spectator can seem blank or inscrutable, and those who do not see it as the work of a divine creator do not seem guilty of any error of logic or observation. This paper suggests that in order to defend the idea of natural knowledge of God we need a different kind of religious epistemology— one that, rather than trying to make religious knowledge conform to a neutral, secular-style epistemic template, takes account of the special conditions under which God, if he exists, might be expected to manifest himself. The paper concludes by arguing that our responses to value, including our experience of natural beauty and of moral goodness, can be construed as manifestations of the divine. Such 'intimations of the transcendent', do not qualify as scientific evidence on the one hand, nor on the other hand do they presuppose divine intervention or miraculous revelation; nevertheless they are a part of our human experience that, if we are open and attentive, we cannot in integrity ignore.
John Cottingham is Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop College, University of London, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Reading University, and an Honorary Fellow of St John's College, Oxford.