Philosophy of religion

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Philosophy of religion is a branch of philosophy concerned with questions regarding religion, including the nature and existence of God, the examination of religious experience, analysis of religious vocabulary and texts, and the relationship of religion and science.[1] It is an ancient discipline, being found in the earliest known manuscripts concerning philosophy, and relates to many other branches of philosophy and general thought, including metaphysics, logic, and history.[2] Philosophy of religion is frequently discussed outside of academia through popular books and debates, mostly regarding the existence of God and problem of evil.

The philosophy of religion differs from religious philosophy in that it seeks to discuss questions regarding the nature of religion as a whole, rather than examining the problems brought forth by a particular belief system. It is designed such that it can be carried out dispassionately by those who identify as believers or non-believers.[3]

As a part of metaphysics[edit]

Aristotle

Philosophy of religion has classically been regarded as a part of metaphysics. In Aristotle's Metaphysics, the necessarily prior cause of eternal motion was an unmoved mover, who, like the object of desire, or of thought, inspires motion without itself being moved.[4] This, according to Aristotle, is God, the subject of study in theology. Today, however, philosophers have adopted the term philosophy of religion for the subject, and typically it is regarded as a separate field of specialization, although it is also still treated by some, particularly Catholic philosophers, as a part of metaphysics.

Questions asked[edit]

Kierkegaard

Theologians, distinct from philosophers of religion, often consider the existence of God as axiomatic or self-evident and explain, justify or support religious claims by rationalization or intuitive metaphors. In contrast, philosophers of religion examine and critique the epistemological, logical, aesthetic and ethical foundations inherent in the claims of a religion. Whereas a theologian elaborates rationally or experientially on the nature of God, a philosopher of religion is more interested in asking what may be knowable and opinable regarding religion's claims.[citation needed]

Other questions studied in the philosophy of religion include what, if anything, would give us good reason to believe that a miracle has occurred, what is the relationship between faith and reason, what is the relationship between morality and religion, what is the status of religious language, and does petitionary prayer (sometimes still called impetratory prayer) make sense?

Going beyond metaphysics, the philosophy of religion also addresses questions in areas such as epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophical logic, and moral philosophy. See also world view.

What is God?[edit]

Religious symbols, from left to right:
row 1: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism
row 2: Islam, Buddhism, Shinto
row 3: Sikhism, Bahai, Jainism

Among theists, some believe there is just one God (monotheism), while others believe in many gods (polytheism). Some Hindus have a widely followed monistic philosophy that can be said to be neither monotheistic nor polytheistic. Within these two broad categories (monotheism and polytheism) there is a wide variety of possible beliefs. For example, among the monotheists deists believe that the one God is like a watchmaker who wound up the universe and does not intervene further in the universe, and some theists believe that God continues to be active in the universe. Ignostics object that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of God can be meaningfully discussed.

Rationality of belief[edit]

Aquinas

Positions[edit]

The second question, "Do we have any good reason to think that God does or does not exist?", is equally important in the philosophy of religion. There are several main positions with regard to the existence of God that one might take:

  1. Theism - the belief in the existence of one or more divinities or deities.
    1. Pantheism - the belief that God exists as all things of the cosmos, that God is one and all is God; God is immanent.
    2. Panentheism - the belief that God encompasses all things of the cosmos but that God is greater than the cosmos; God is both immanent and transcendent.
    3. Deism - the belief that God does exist but does not interfere with human life and the laws of the universe; God is transcendent.
    4. Monotheism - the belief that a single deity exists which rules the universe as a separate and individual entity.
    5. Polytheism - the belief that multiple deities exist which rule the universe as separate and individual entities.
    6. Henotheism - the belief that multiple deities may or may not exist, though there is a single supreme deity.
    7. Henology - believing that multiple avatars of a deity exist, which represent unique aspects of the ultimate deity.
  2. Agnosticism - the belief that the existence or non-existence of deities or God is currently unknown or unknowable and cannot be proven. A weaker form of this might be defined as simply a lack of certainty about gods' existence or nonexistence.[citation needed]
  3. Atheism - the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.[5][6]
    1. Strong atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.[7][8]
    2. Weak atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.[8][9][10]
  4. Apatheism - the lack of caring whether any supreme being exists, or lack thereof

These are not mutually exclusive positions. For example, agnostic theists choose to believe God exists while asserting that knowledge of God's existence is inherently unknowable. Similarly, agnostic atheists reject belief in the existence of all deities, while asserting that whether any such entities exist or not is inherently unknowable.

Natural theology[edit]

The attempt to provide proofs or arguments for the existence of God is one aspect of what is known as natural theology or the natural theistic project. This strand of natural theology attempts to justify belief in God by independent grounds. There is plenty of philosophical literature on faith (especially fideism) and other subjects generally considered to be outside the realm of natural theology. Perhaps most of philosophy of religion is predicated on natural theology's assumption that the existence of God can be justified or warranted on rational grounds. There has been considerable philosophical and theological debate about the kinds of proofs, justifications and arguments that are appropriate for this discourse.[11]

The philosopher Alvin Plantinga has shifted his focus to justifying belief in God (that is, those who believe in God, for whatever reasons, are rational in doing so) through Reformed epistemology, in the context of a theory of warrant and proper cognitive function.

Other reactions to natural theology are those of Wittgensteinian philosophers of religion, most notably D. Z. Phillips. Phillips rejects "natural theology" and its evidentialist approach as confused, in favor of a grammatical approach which investigates the meaning of belief in God. For Phillips, belief in God is not a proposition with a particular truth value, but a form of life. Consequently, the question of whether God exists confuses the logical categories which govern theistic language with those that govern other forms of discourse (most notably, scientific discourse). According to Phillips, the question of whether or not God exists cannot be "objectively" answered by philosophy because the categories of truth and falsity, which are necessary for asking the question, have no application in the religious contexts wherein religious belief has its sense and meaning. In other words, the question cannot be answered because it cannot be asked without entering into confusion. As Phillips sees things, the job of the philosopher is not to investigate the "rationality" of belief in God but to elucidate its meaning.

Analytic philosophy of religion[edit]

As with the study of ethics, early analytic philosophy tended to avoid the study of philosophy of religion, largely dismissing (as per the logical positivists view) the subject as part of metaphysics and therefore meaningless.[12] The collapse of logical positivism renewed interest in philosophy of religion, prompting philosophers like William Alston, John Mackie, Alvin Plantinga, Robert Merrihew Adams, Richard Swinburne, and Antony Flew not only to introduce new problems, but to re-open classical topics such as the nature of miracles, theistic arguments, the problem of evil, (see existence of God) the rationality of belief in God, concepts of the nature of God, and many more.[13]

Plantinga, Mackie and Flew debated the logical validity of the free will defense as a way to solve the problem of evil.[14] Alston, grappling with the consequences of analytic philosophy of language, worked on the nature of religious language. Adams worked on the relationship of faith and morality.[15] Analytic epistemology and metaphysics has formed the basis for a number of philosophically-sophisticated theistic arguments, like those of the reformed epistemologists like Plantinga.

Analytic philosophy of religion has also been preoccupied with Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as his interpretation of Søren Kierkegaard's philosophy of religion.[16] Using first-hand remarks (which would later be published in Philosophical Investigations, Culture and Value, and other works), philosophers such as Peter Winch and Norman Malcolm developed what has come to be known as contemplative philosophy, a Wittgensteinian school of thought rooted in the "Swansea tradition" and which includes Wittgensteinians such as Rush Rhees, Peter Winch and D. Z. Phillips, among others. The name "contemplative philosophy" was first coined by D. Z. Phillips in Philosophy's Cool Place, which rests on an interpretation of a passage from Wittgenstein's "Culture and Value."[17] This interpretation was first labeled, "Wittgensteinian Fideism," by Kai Nielsen but those who consider themselves Wittgensteinians in the Swansea tradition have relentlessly and repeatedly rejected this construal as a caricature of Wittgenstein's considered position; this is especially true of D. Z. Phillips.[18] Responding to this interpretation, Kai Nielsen and D.Z. Phillips became two of the most prominent philosophers on Wittgenstein's philosophy of religion.[19]

The Problem of Discussing Religion[edit]

Religion is a difficult subject to discuss since it would be difficult to be objective about because it is such a personal topic, meaning subjective claims are always expressed. An Objective claim to test the existence of a supernatural all powerful deity/deities would be the law of non-contradiction meaning that such a belief is either real or imaginary.[20] Due to the fact, that there cannot be a middle ground between the two possibilities of existence versus non-existence. This means that a Supernatural all powerful deity/deities can only be real or imaginary, not both. Throughout articles Authors would start with an objective claim and relate them back to validate their individual subjective claim. Furthermore this could explain the obvious bias illustrated throughout this page. Elaine Howard Ecklund, Ph.D. survey of 1700 natural and social scientists in the university environment shows fifty- four percent of university scientists claim that Religion in the Academic life would be dangerous if it went wrong, particularly in the science department. She concludes her article with her difficulty with the upbringing of religious studies, as the director of the religion and public life program at Rice University.[21]

Problem of evil[edit]

Major philosophers of religion[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Alston, William P. "Problems of Philosophy of Religion." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1967.
  2. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Philosophy of Religion."
  3. ^ Evans, C. Stephen (1985). Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith. InterVarsity Press. p. 16. ISBN 0-87784-343-0. 
  4. ^ Aristotle, Professor Barry D. Smith, Crandall University
  5. ^ Nielsen, Kai (2010). "Atheism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2011-04-09. "Atheism, in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings.... Instead of saying that an atheist is someone who believes that it is false or probably false that there is a God, a more adequate characterization of atheism consists in the more complex claim that to be an atheist is to be someone who rejects belief in God for the following reasons (which reason is stressed depends on how God is being conceived)..." 
  6. ^ Edwards, Paul (2005) [1967]. "Atheism". In Donald M. Borchert. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). MacMillan Reference USA (Gale). p. 359. ISBN 978-0-02-865780-6. "On our definition, an 'atheist' is a person who rejects belief in God, regardless of whether or not his reason for the rejection is the claim that 'God exists' expresses a false proposition. People frequently adopt an attitude of rejection toward a position for reasons other than that it is a false proposition. It is common among contemporary philosophers, and indeed it was not uncommon in earlier centuries, to reject positions on the ground that they are meaningless. Sometimes, too, a theory is rejected on such grounds as that it is sterile or redundant or capricious, and there are many other considerations which in certain contexts are generally agreed to constitute good grounds for rejecting an assertion." (page 175 in 1967 edition)
  7. ^ Rowe, William L. (1998). "Atheism". In Edward Craig. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-07310-3. Retrieved 2011-04-09. "As commonly understood, atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God. So an atheist is someone who disbelieves in God, whereas a theist is someone who believes in God. Another meaning of "atheism" is simply nonbelief in the existence of God, rather than positive belief in the nonexistence of God. ...an atheist, in the broader sense of the term, is someone who disbelieves in every form of deity, not just the God of traditional Western theology." 
  8. ^ a b Cline, Austin (2006). "Strong Atheism vs. Weak Atheism: What's the Difference?". about.com. Retrieved 2011-04-09. 
  9. ^ Religioustolerance.org's short article on Definitions of the term "Atheism" suggests that there is no consensus on the definition of the term. Simon Blackburn summarizes the situation in The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy: "Atheism. Either the lack of belief in a god, or the belief that there is none". Most dictionaries (see the OneLook query for "atheism") first list one of the more narrow definitions.
  10. ^ Runes, Dagobert D.(editor) (1942 edition). Dictionary of Philosophy. New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams & Co. Philosophical Library. ISBN 0-06-463461-2. Retrieved 2011-04-09. "(a) the belief that there is no God; (b) Some philosophers have been called "atheistic" because they have not held to a belief in a personal God. Atheism in this sense means "not theistic". The former meaning of the term is a literal rendering. The latter meaning is a less rigorous use of the term though widely current in the history of thought"  – entry by Vergilius Ferm
  11. ^ see e.g. Antony Flew, John Polkinghorne, Keith Ward and Richard Swinburne
  12. ^ (a notable exception is the series of Michael B. Forest's 1934-36 Mind articles involving the Christian doctrine of creation and the rise of modern science).
  13. ^ Peterson, Michael et al. (2003). Reason and Religious Belief
  14. ^ Mackie, John L. (1982). The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God
  15. ^ Adams, Robert M. (1987). The Virtue of Faith And Other Essays in Philosophical Theology
  16. ^ Creegan, Charles. (1989). Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard: Religion, Individuality and Philosophical Method
  17. ^ Phillips, D. Z. (1999). Philosophy's Cool Place. Cornell University Press. The quote is from Wittgenstein's Culture and Value (2e): "My ideal is a certain coolness. A temple providing a setting for the passions without meddling with them.
  18. ^ Fideism entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  19. ^ Nielsen, Kai and D.Z. Phillips. (2005). Wittgensteinian Fideism?
  20. ^ "Is religion subjective or objective?". allston dee. 11 February 2012. Retrieved 11 February 2012. 
  21. ^ "Why University Scientists Do Not Discuss Religion". Elaine Howard Ecklund, Ph.D. 25 January 2011. Retrieved 25 January 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Al-Nawawi Forty Hadiths and Commentary, by Arabic Virtual Translation Center; (2010) ISBN 978-1-4563-6735-0 (Philosophy of Religion from an Islamic Point of View)
  • The London Philosophy Study Guide offers many suggestions on what to read, depending on the student's familiarity with the subject: Philosophy of Religion
  • William L. Rowe, William J. Wainwright, Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, Third Ed. (Florida: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1998)
  • Religious Studies is an international journal for the philosophy of religion. It is available online and in print and has a fully searchable online archive dating back to Issue 1 in 1965. It currently publishes four issues per year.

External links[edit]