Philosophy of religion

Philosophy of religion

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Philosophy of religion is a branch of philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 concerned with questions regarding religion
Religion
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

, including the nature and existence of God
Existence of God
Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others. In philosophical terms, arguments for and against the existence of God involve primarily the sub-disciplines of epistemology and ontology , but also of the theory of value, since...

, the examination of religious experience, analysis of religious language and texts, and the relationship of religion and science. 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
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

, logic
Logic
In philosophy, Logic is the formal systematic study of the principles of valid inference and correct reasoning. Logic is used in most intellectual activities, but is studied primarily in the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, semantics, and computer science...

, and history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

. Philosophy of religion is frequently discussed outside of academia
Academia
Academia is the community of students and scholars engaged in higher education and research.-Etymology:The word comes from the akademeia in ancient Greece. Outside the city walls of Athens, the gymnasium was made famous by Plato as a center of learning...

 through popular books and debates, mostly regarding the existence of God and problem of evil
Problem of evil
In the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil is the question of how to explain evil if there exists a deity that is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient . Some philosophers have claimed that the existences of such a god and of evil are logically incompatible or unlikely...

.

The philosophy of religion differs from religious philosophy
Religious philosophy
Religious philosophy is philosophical thinking that is inspired and directed by religion. Depending on religion, there are different philosophies for each religion:*Buddhist philosophy*Christian philosophy*Hindu philosophy*Islamic 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
Religious belief
Religious belief is a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny. Such a state may relate to the existence, characteristics and worship of a deity or deities, divine intervention in the universe and human life, or values and practices centered on the teachings of a...

 or non-believers.

As a part of metaphysics



Philosophy of religion has classically been regarded as a part of metaphysics. In Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

's Metaphysics, he described first causes
Primum movens
Primum movens , usually referred to as the Prime mover or first cause in English, is a term used in the philosophy of Aristotle, in the theological cosmological argument for the existence of God, and in cosmogony, the source of the cosmos or "all-being".-Aristotle's ontology:In book 12 of his...

 as one of the subjects of his investigation. For Aristotle, the first cause was the unmoved mover, a being which set the universe into motion without itself being in motion, which has been read as God, particularly when Aristotle's work became prevalent again in the Medieval West. This Prime Mover, first cause, argument later came to be called natural theology
Natural theology
Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

 by rationalist
Rationalism
In epistemology and in its modern sense, rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" . In more technical terms, it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive"...

 philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Today, 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
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 philosophers, as a part of metaphysics.

In the historical relationship between metaphysics and philosophy of religion, the traditional objects of religious discussion have been very special sorts of entities (such as gods, angels, supernatural forces, and the like) and events, abilities, or processes (the creation of the universe, the ability to do or know anything, interaction between humans and gods, and so forth). Metaphysicians (and ontologists
Ontology
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

 in particular) are focused on understanding what it is for something to exist — what it is for something to be an entity, event, ability, or process. Because many members of religious traditions believe in things that exist in profoundly different ways from more everyday things, objects of religious belief both create particular philosophical problems and define central metaphysical concepts.

Questions asked




Theologians
Theology
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

, 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.

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
Philosophy of language
Philosophy of language is the reasoned inquiry into the nature, origins, and usage of language. As a topic, the philosophy of language for analytic philosophers is concerned with four central problems: the nature of meaning, language use, language cognition, and the relationship between language...

, philosophical logic
Philosophical logic
Philosophical logic is a term introduced by Bertrand Russell to represent his idea that the workings of natural language and thought can only be adequately represented by an artificial language; essentially it was his formalization program for the natural language...

, and moral philosophy. See also world view
World view
A comprehensive world view is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and...

.

What is God?



The question "What is God?" is sometimes also phrased as "What is the meaning of the word God?" Most philosophers expect a definition as an answer to this question, but rather than describing the way the word is used: they want to know the essence of what it means to be God. Western philosophers typically concern themselves with the God of monotheistic religions (see the nature of God in Western theology
The nature of God in Western theology
The nature of God in monotheistic religions is a broad topic in Western philosophy of religion and theology, with a very old and distinguished history; it was one of the central topics in medieval philosophy....

), but discussions also concern themselves with other conceptions of the divine.

The Western, monotheistic conception of God (discussed below) has been the primary source of investigation in philosophy of religion. Among those who believe in supernatural beings, some believe there is just one God (monotheism
Monotheism
Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

), while others, such as Hindus
Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

, believe in many different deities (polytheism
Polytheism
Polytheism is the belief of multiple deities also usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own mythologies and rituals....

 while maintaining that all are manifestations of one God. Hindus also have a widely followed monistic philosophy that can be said to be neither monotheistic nor polytheistic (see Advaita Vedanta
Advaita Vedanta
Advaita Vedanta is considered to be the most influential and most dominant sub-school of the Vedānta school of Hindu philosophy. Other major sub-schools of Vedānta are Dvaita and ; while the minor ones include Suddhadvaita, Dvaitadvaita and Achintya Bhedabheda...

).

Within these two broad categories (monotheism and polytheism) there is a wide variety of possible beliefs, although there are relatively few popular ways of believing. For example, among the monotheists deists
Deism
Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

 believe that the one God is like a watchmaker who wound up the universe and now does not intervene in the universe at all and some theists
Theism
Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.In a more specific sense, theism refers to a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God's relationship to the universe....

 believe that God continues to be active in the universe.

Buddhism deals less with metaphysics and more with ontological questions and generally is not concerned with the existence of a creator God but focuses on a state called Nirvana (See also Mu
Mu (negative)
or Wu , is a word which has been translated variously as "not", "nothing", "without", "nothingness", "non existent", "non being", or evocatively simply as "no thing"...

).

Rationality of belief




Positions


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
    Theism
    Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.In a more specific sense, theism refers to a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God's relationship to the universe....

     - the belief in the existence of one or more divinities or deities.
    1. Pantheism
      Pantheism
      Pantheism is the view that the Universe and God are identical. Pantheists thus do not believe in a personal, anthropomorphic or creator god. The word derives from the Greek meaning "all" and the Greek meaning "God". As such, Pantheism denotes the idea that "God" is best seen as a process of...

       - the belief that God exists as all things of the cosmos, that God is one and all is God; God is immanent.
    2. Panentheism
      Panentheism
      Panentheism is a belief system which posits that God exists, interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it...

       - 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
      Deism
      Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

       - the belief that God does exist but does not interfere with human life and the laws of the universe; God is transcendent.
    4. Monotheism
      Monotheism
      Monotheism is the belief in the existence of one and only one god. Monotheism is characteristic of the Baha'i Faith, Christianity, Druzism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Samaritanism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.While they profess the existence of only one deity, monotheistic religions may still...

       - the belief that a single deity exists which rules the universe as a separate and individual entity.
    5. Polytheism
      Polytheism
      Polytheism is the belief of multiple deities also usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own mythologies and rituals....

       - the belief that multiple deities exist which rule the universe as separate and individual entities.
    6. Henotheism
      Henotheism
      Henotheism is the belief and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities...

       - the belief that multiple deities may or may not exist, though there is a single supreme deity.
    7. Henology
      Henology
      Henology is the philosophical account or discourse on "The One" that appears most notably in the philosophy of Plotinus. Reiner Schürmann describes it as a "metaphysics of radical transcendence" that extends beyond being and intellection...

       - believing that multiple avatars of a deity exist, which represent unique aspects of the ultimate deity.
  2. Agnosticism
    Agnosticism
    Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable....

     - the belief that the existence or non-existence of deities is currently unknown or unknowable, or that the existence of a God or of gods cannot be proven.
  3. Atheism
    Atheism
    Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

     - the rejection of belief
    Belief
    Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.-Belief, knowledge and epistemology:The terms belief and knowledge are used differently in philosophy....

     in the existence of deities
    Existence of God
    Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others. In philosophical terms, arguments for and against the existence of God involve primarily the sub-disciplines of epistemology and ontology , but also of the theory of value, since...

    .
    1. Strong atheism
      Strong atheism
      Positive atheism is a term popularly used to describe the form of atheism that maintains that "There is no god" is a true statement. Negative atheism refers to any other type of non-theism, wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deity, but does not explicitly claim that the...

       is specifically the position that there are no deities
      Deity
      A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

      .
    2. Weak atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.


There are not mutually exclusive positions. For example, agnostic theists
Agnostic theism
Agnostic theism is the philosophical view that encompasses both theism and agnosticism. An agnostic theist believes the proposition at least one deity exists is true, but regards the truth or falsehood of this proposition as unknown or inherently unknowable...

 choose to believe God exists while asserting that knowledge of God's existence is inherently unknowable. Similarly, agnostic atheists
Agnostic atheism
Agnostic atheism, also called atheistic agnosticism, is a philosophical position that encompasses both atheism and agnosticism. Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not hold a belief in the existence of any deity and agnostic because they claim that the existence of a deity is either...

 reject belief in the existence of all deities, while asserting that whether any such entities exist or not is inherently unknowable.

Natural theology


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
Fideism
Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths...

) 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.

The philosopher Alvin Plantinga
Alvin Plantinga
Alvin Carl Plantinga is an American analytic philosopher and the emeritus John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is known for his work in philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics, and Christian apologetics...

 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
Reformed epistemology
In the philosophy of religion, reformed epistemology is a school of thought regarding the epistemology of belief in God put forward by a group of Protestant Christian philosophers, most notably, Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Michael C. Rea...

, 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
D. Z. Phillips
Dewi Zephaniah Phillips , known as D. Z. Phillips, Dewi Z, or simply DZ, was a leading proponent of Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion and had a long academic career spanning five decades...

. 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


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. The collapse of logical positivism
Logical positivism
Logical positivism is a philosophy that combines empiricism—the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge—with a version of rationalism incorporating mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs and deductions of epistemology.It may be considered as a type of analytic...

 renewed interest in philosophy of religion, prompting philosophers like William Alston
William Alston
William Payne Alston was an American philosopher. He made influential contributions to the philosophy of language, epistemology and Christian philosophy. He earned his Ph.D...

, John Mackie
J. L. Mackie
John Leslie Mackie was an Australian philosopher, originally from Sydney. He made significant contributions to the philosophy of religion, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language, and is perhaps best known for his views on meta-ethics, especially his defence of moral skepticism.He authored six...

, 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 miracle
Miracle
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

s, theistic arguments, the problem of evil, (see existence of God
Existence of God
Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, scientists, and others. In philosophical terms, arguments for and against the existence of God involve primarily the sub-disciplines of epistemology and ontology , but also of the theory of value, since...

) the rationality of belief in God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

, concepts of the nature of God, and many more.

Plantinga, Mackie and Flew debated the logical validity of the free will defense as a way to solve the problem of evil. 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. Analytic epistemology and metaphysics has formed the basis for a number of philosophically-sophisticated theistic arguments, like those of the reformed epistemologists
Reformed epistemology
In the philosophy of religion, reformed epistemology is a school of thought regarding the epistemology of belief in God put forward by a group of Protestant Christian philosophers, most notably, Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Michael C. Rea...

 like Plantinga.

Analytic philosophy of religion has also been preoccupied with Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He was professor in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947...

, as well as his interpretation of Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish Christian philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was a critic of idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel...

's philosophy of religion. Using first-hand remarks (which would later be published in Philosophical Investigations
Philosophical Investigations
Philosophical Investigations is, along with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, one of the most influential works by the 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein...

, Culture and Value, and other works), philosophers such as Peter Winch
Peter Winch
Peter Guy Winch was a British philosopher known for his contributions to the philosophy of social science, Wittgenstein scholarship, ethics, and the philosophy of religion...

 and Norman Malcolm
Norman Malcolm
Norman Malcolm was an American philosopher, born in Selden, Kansas. He studied philosophy with O.K. Bouwsma at the University of Nebraska, then enrolled as a graduate student at Harvard University in 1933....

 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
Rush Rhees
Rush Rhees was a philosopher at Swansea University from 1940 to 1966Rhees is principally known as a student, friend, and literary executor of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. With G. E. M. Anscombe, he edited Wittgenstein's posthumous Philosophical Investigations , a highly influential work...

, 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." 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 caricature of Wittgenstein's considered position; this is especially true of D. Z. Phillips. Responding to this interpretation, Kai Nielsen and D.Z. Phillips became two of the most prominent philosophers on Wittgenstein's philosophy of religion.

See also


  • Comparative theology
    Comparative theology
    Comparative Theology is a branch of Christian theology which study the religious diversity and its comparison, as well as theological reflection upon it. Comparative Theology requires the introduction and learning of other religious traditions directly through shared experience...

  • Evolutionary origin of religions
    Evolutionary origin of religions
    The evolutionary origin of religions theorizes about the emergence of religious behavior during the course of human evolution.- Nonhuman religious behavior :...

  • Evolutionary psychology of religion
    Evolutionary psychology of religion
    The evolutionary psychology of religion is the study of religious belief using evolutionary psychology principles. It is one approach to the psychology of religion. As with all other organs and organ functions, the brain and cognition's functional structure have been argued to have a genetic basis,...

  • Issues in Science and Religion
    Issues in Science and Religion
    Issues in Science and Religion is a book by Ian Barbour. A biography provided by the John Templeton Foundation and published by PBS online states this book "has been credited with literally creating the contemporary field of science and religion."...

  • Major world religions
  • Theodicy
    Theodicy
    Theodicy is a theological and philosophical study which attempts to prove God's intrinsic or foundational nature of omnibenevolence , omniscience , and omnipotence . Theodicy is usually concerned with the God of the Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, due to the relevant...

  • Theology
    Theology
    Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

  • Theories of religion
    Theories of religion
    Theories of religion can be divided into substantive theories and functional or reductionist theories...

  • Worldview

Further reading

  • Al-Nawawi Forty Hadiths and Commentary, by Arabic Virtual Translation Center; (2010) ISBN 9781456367350 (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