Introduction to Philosophy/Philosophy of Religion

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Introduction[edit]

The Philosophy of Religion is the application of philosophical theories and arguments to religions and religious world views. Given the multitude of philosophies and religions in the world, it is easy to see how complex this field can become.

For the sake of clarity:

  • God will refer to the concept of a single, omnipotent deity as referred to by monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
  • Devil will refer to the concept of a single, evil being who is opposed to God.
  • Deity/Deities will refer to the concept of one or many supernatural beings of various qualities.

The Existence of God[edit]

Ontological Argument[edit]

First suggested by St. Anselm of Canterbury, the ontological argument attempts to prove the existence of God based on God's status as the greatest conceivable being. The argument is as follows:

  1. God is defined as the greatest conceivable being.
  2. A being which exists in reality is greater than a being which exists only in the mind.
  3. Either God exists in reality or he exists only in the mind.
  4. If God existed only in the mind, there would be a greater conceivable being: one with the same properties as God who also happened to exist in reality.
  5. Thus, God cannot exist only in the mind.
  6. Therefore, God exists in reality.

After its publication in Anselm's Monologion, the argument was criticized by a monk by the name of Gaunilo in "Reply on Behalf of the Fool", in which he argues that the same form of argument could be used to produce absurd conclusions such as the existence of a perfect island. The argument was later criticized by Immanuel Kant, who claimed that existence could not be predicated as a property of an object.

Contemporary versions of the ontological argument have been formulated by a variety of philosophers including Norman Malcolm and Alvin Plantinga.

Cosmological Argument[edit]

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) gave several different versions of this argument (known as the Five Ways) in his work Summa Theologica.

First Cause[edit]

The First Cause argument states that since many things are caused, God must be the First Cause. This is the second of the five ways.

The general argument follows:

  1. Things exist that are caused.
  2. Nothing can be self-caused.
  3. There can't be an infinite regress of causes.
  4. There must be a first cause that was not caused itself.
  5. The word God means uncaused first cause.
  6. God exists.

Contingency[edit]

  1. Every being is necessary or contingent.
  2. Not every being is contingent.
  3. There is a necessary being upon which contingent beings depend.
  4. God is defined as a necessary being upon which contingent beings depend.
  5. God exists.

Teleological Argument[edit]

William Paley (1743-1805) provides the most famous version of this argument with his watchmaker analogy in his book Natural Theology (1802). Briefly, the watchmaker is to the watch as God is to the Universe. Just as the watch with all its complex workings must have been created or made by an intelligent designer, so must the Universe with its even more complex workings have been designed by an intelligent and powerful creator.

His argument was refuted by David Hume (1711-1776) who believed the argument failed because it was too dependent on analogy and did not compare like to like. He also argued that we do not have knowledge of other universes to compare the design or lack thereof with our own.

Contemporary philosophers have devised several new forms of the teleological argument. Teleological arguments based on biological design are the underpinnings of the Intelligent Design movement. These have drawn much criticism from the scientific community as they usually rely on a denial of the theory of evolution. There have also been arguments based on fine-tuning: the fact that physical constants that govern properties such as the strength of the gravitational and electromagnetic forces are precisely the values necessary for intelligent life. Critics have responded with arguments based on the Anthropic principle, which points out that these constants must have values compatible with our existence or else we wouldn't be here to measure them.

Other Arguments[edit]

Philosophers have come up with a wide variety of arguments and argumentative strategies for the existence of God including:

  • The purported existence and unexplainability of miracles and near-death experiences.
  • The argument that transcendent moral facts require the backing of God to have any force.
  • The transcendental argument for the existence of God which argues that the existence of logic requires God.
  • Pascal's wager which argues that it is rational to believe in God even if he doesn't exist because of the benefits in doing so in the afterlife. This is not so much an argument for the existence of God as an argument for the benefits in believing in God.

Needless to say, these arguments are disputed by many and are often extremely complex.

The Nature of God[edit]

Theism[edit]

Theism is the general belief that Deity exists, but the qualities of Deity are not specified.

Monotheism[edit]

Monotheism is the belief that a single God exists. God is often seen as being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.

Polytheism[edit]

Polytheism is the belief that many deities exist. Religions such as Asatru, Shinto, and Hinduism are considered polytheistic.

Deism[edit]

Deism is the belief that God exists purely on a rational basis, with no reliance on faith-based religions, including Christianity. Therefore, such ideas as the Trinity and the Incarnation are, strictly speaking, not present in Deism. However, most Deists lean towards some religious influence; some Christianity, others Hinduism, others Paganism, and so on. Deists also tend to assert that the 'supreme being', whether they choose to call it God or not, created the universe and afterwards disassociated itself from the order of things. In deistic thought, God is the cause and the world is the effect; He is separate from it, and does not influence it. In 17th century England, a Deist movement began, including Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Charles Blount, and others. Some famous Deists include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.


Pantheism[edit]

"All is God". Any religious practice or philosophy that holds that all matter and physical forces are synonymous with God. Pantheists believe that all physical reality is God. Pantheists believe that the whole of the cosmos is sacred and that nature is divine.

Panentheism[edit]

Hold that God is separate from the universe and that Pantheism is impossible because {all} cannot be God if God is apart from it

Atheism[edit]

There are two forms of atheism, called strong atheism and weak atheism (sometimes called positive and negative atheism or gnostic and agnostic atheism). The former is defined as the positive belief that no god(s) exist, whereas the latter is characterized by denying or witholding assent to the positive assertion that their is/are god(s). Thus, strong atheism is a stronger statement than weak atheism, as it requires positive evidence for atheism, as opposed to weak atheism which requires only a lack of evidence for theism.

Thus, one does not necessarily need to believe anything to be an atheist. Anybody who does not believe in god is, by the definitions commonly held by the atheistic community, an atheist, whether s/he believes there is no god or whether s/he simply is not convinced that there is one.

Strictly speaking, the positive assertion that "no gods exist" is an unprovable assertion but, since all that is required of the Theist is a belief that the statement "God(s) exist(s)" is true and not irrefutable knowledge then it seems unreasonable to demand stronger justifaction from the atheist. However, this would seem to undermine the difference between "strong" and "weak" atheism unless these positions are to be judged on the balance of probability that the speaker gives to such statements. This in no way lessens the position of the atheist. For example, there are many unprovable statements, from those made about the existence of fairies to those concerning the existence of the pagan pantheon that we discount on a daily basis but can never, in fact, show to be false. The atheist puts statements about the existence of god in the same category.

Other Topics[edit]

Problem of Evil/Theodicy[edit]

The Problem of Evil is the problem of reconciling belief in a God who is benevolent or just with the universe, which has many apparent 'evils'.

A common theist response is the argument that humans were created with free will, and that it is humanity as opposed to God who is reponsible for evil's prescence in the universe.

However, this argument is only a partial refuation. It does not cover natural disasters, for example, or anything else beyond human control.

Mystical Experience[edit]

Miracles[edit]

Faith and Reason[edit]

Transcendentalism[edit]

See Also[edit]