How will these resources help you? 

With a posteriori, inductive and a priori, deductive arguments for God’s existence featuring in most if not all A-level Religious Studies and Philosophy specifications, and some (to a lesser degree of detail) GCSE specifications, this resource list will provide helpful and accessible introductions, overviews and summaries of the main opposing paradigms of knowledge and how these sit within the context of religious studies and the history of western philosophical thought. 

What do we know and how do we know it?

The Story of Philosophy: A History of Western Thought

by James Garvey and Jeremy Stangroom, published by Quercus Publishing, (2012), 9780857385642

This book documents a chronological journey through western thought, drawing attention to shifts in thinking and opposing ideas in a clear and accessible way. With regards to the concern for truth and knowledge, Chapters 3 and 4 in particular take the reader through the major paradigms (theories of knowledge) that developed from the philosophies of key thinkers such as Aquinas, Descartes and Hume. Extracts of this book can be shared with students as extra-curricular reading or a flipped learning style activity, to provide context, aid understanding, and assist with the evaluation of such ideas. 

Reason and revelation

Thomas Aquinas, part 3: scripture, reason and the being of God

by Tina Beattie, published by The Guardian, (2012)

This article is part of a series providing a concise but accessible overview of Aquinas’ philosophical outlook and contributions to western Christian thought and culture. This article outlines Aquinas’ revolutionary belief that truth could be known through human reason and empirical knowledge of the world, rather than just through revelation (scripture) alone. Aquinas believed that because God was the source of both revelation and reason (as the creator of the world and mankind Imago Dei – Genesis 1:26), then philosophical reasoning also serves as a source of spiritual truth, and Christian beliefs as found in revelation can be rationally demonstrated.

This article can be used as extra-curricular reading or a stretch activity. Students can be guided by questions such as: Why does Aquinas believe reason can lead to truth? How does Aquinas interpret the Bible? What would Aquinas think when reason and revelation contradict, e.g., science tells us the world was the result of the Big Bang but Genesis 1 says God created the world in seven days? How might Aquinas’ arguments for God’s existence best be understood in light of his philosophical outlook? 

Rationalism and the quest for certainty

Cartesian Skepticism – Neo, Meet René: Crash Course Philosophy #5

published by CrashCourse, YouTube, (2016)

This video introduces the philosophical origins of modern rationalism. That is, the view that knowledge should be attained by reason alone because past and sense experience could be doubted. This video explains Descartes’ Cartesian scepticism and how he arrives at knowledge which he believed to be certain, a priori.

This video could be used as an introduction to the rationalist/empiricist debate, complementing students’ evaluation of a posteriori and a priori arguments for God’s existence. Students can be guided to discuss examples of when empirical sense experience can be mistaken, in contrast to knowledge that appears to be innate, and what they believe to be the more reliable and why. Discussion could also cover the impact of Descartes’ rationalism on western thought, in terms of what that meant for Christian teaching and beliefs grounded in medieval assumptions (such as the work of Aquinas) but also the newly emerging scientific method of the enlightenment era. 

Empiricism and the problems of causation

In Our Time: David Hume

by Melvyn Bragg, published by BBC Radio 4, (2011)

This episode introduces and discusses the philosophy and theory of knowledge of David Hume. Guest speakers include philosophy professors Peter Millican, Helen Beebee and James Harris. The rise of empiricism in opposition to rationalism is discussed, along with its profound impact and contribution to modern thought. Hume’s belief that knowledge can only be gained by direct sense experience is explored with clear examples, in addition to the inevitable problems of causation and induction that Hume’s empirical scepticism give rise to.
The episode could be used as a homework task for students to develop their understanding of Hume’s philosophy, the problems of causation and induction, Hume’s basis for his later criticisms of a posteriori arguments for God’s existence, and the influence Hume had on subsequent modern thought. 

Further materials

The Philosopher’s Arms, Series 4, Episode 3: Induction by Matthew Sweet, published by BBC Radio 4, (2014) Listen to this podcast
Hume 2018/4: Induction and Belief by Professor Peter Millican, published by Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford Podcasts, (2018) Watch this lecture
Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction by Jennifer Nagel, published by Oxford University Press, (2014), 9780199661268 Find this book
Rebecca Neale is a teacher of Religious Studies with over a decade of experience, an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has an MSc in Teaching and Learning from the University of Oxford. Rebecca has several years’ experience as a senior examiner, is currently a Principal Examiner for Religious Studies, and is a published author of Religious Studies resources and textbooks.

Text © Rebecca Neale, 2023