The Saint is Our Evidence | Robert MacSwain
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Year 1
Grant Title:
Human Holiness as Divine Evidence: The Hagiological Argument for the Existence of God
Legal Organization:
The University of the South
Project Dates:
Start Date: 01 July 2019
End Date: 15 December 2020
Grant Amount:

What if religions saw ordinary saints as evidence of God? What if human holiness is divine evidence? Dr. Robert MacSwain, Associate Professor of Theology at The University of the South, is writing a book that identifies, classifies, and analyses an interesting but neglected argument for the existence of God along these lines: the “hagiological argument” or the argument from human holiness.

Human Holiness as Divine Evidence

While the argument from human holiness has been presented in various ways by a number of important philosophers and theologians since the early 20th century, it has not yet been recognized among the standard theistic arguments – ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral – and this despite the fact that in related disciplines such as church history and religious studies the investigation of saints and sanctity has been of major scholarly interest for several decades. 

In addition to the primary goal of bringing the hagiological argument as expressed in three different modes into the current conversation on theistic arguments and natural theology, a secondary goal of Dr. MacSwain’s project is to illustrate how the predominantly logical and analytical method of Anglophone philosophy of religion has been reluctant to grapple with the evidential and indeed even empirical significance of holy lives and bodies. 

Can We Prove the Existence of God?

The question of evidence of God is ambiguous and hard to agree on. Analytical arguments for or against God are important, but they just aren’t enough. After centuries of disagreements, full of dozens of theistic arguments, some quite obscure, one must wonder if the existence of God is intellectually unsolvable.

But what if there’s a set of evidence that we haven’t quite fully explored? And it’s discernible, abundant, and living and breathing right in front of us.

"The saint is our evidence." – Austin Farrer

Saints are attractive and fascinating and mysterious and disturbing all at once, which makes them an interesting but difficult topic of study. A saint can be defined as someone who is holy, and this includes any person from any religion.

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has suggested that instead of arguments, God gives us human beings who make God credible through their lives.

The Hagiological Argument

The book will be divided into two parts, the first of which will identify and define the components of the “hagiological argument” from various sources, and the second of which will then analyze three different forms of the argument. 

  1. Propositional: A technical argument for the existence of God, often through inference as the best explanation. Radical altruism is used an example of rational sacrifice.
  2. Perceptual: You feel the presence of God when you are with a specific person or people.
  3. Performative: This person is the argument for God. They are holiness personified and exemplified.

Calling All Saints

Where is evidence of God to be found? It may well be all around us in those exemplary, transformed, challenging, disturbing, holy, human lives we call saints. And if this is so, we may well become the argument we’ve been searching for.

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