religion, philosophy of

religion, philosophy of
Branch of philosophy that studies key metaphysical and epistemological concepts, principles, and problems of religion.

Topics considered include the existence and nature of God, the possibility of knowledge of God, human freedom (the free will problem), immortality, and the problems of moral and natural evil and suffering. Natural theology is the attempt to establish knowledge of God without dependence on revelation. Traditional arguments for the existence of God include the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, and the argument from design.

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      discipline concerned with the philosophical appraisal of human religious attitudes and of the real or imaginary objects of those attitudes, God or the gods. The philosophy of religion is an integral part of philosophy as such and embraces central issues regarding the nature and extent of human knowledge, the ultimate character of reality, and the foundations of morality.

Historical development

Ancient origins
 Philosophical interest in religion may be said to have originated in the West with the ancient Greeks. Many of the enduring questions in the philosophy of religion were first addressed by them, and the claims and controversies they developed served as a framework for subsequent philosophizing for more than 1,500 years. Plato (427–347 BCE), who developed the metaphysical theory of Forms (form) (abstract entities corresponding to the properties of particular objects), was also one of the first thinkers to consider the idea of creation and to attempt to prove the existence of God. Plato's student Aristotle (384–322 BCE) developed his own metaphysical theory of the first, or unmoved, mover of the universe, which many of his interpreters have identified with God. Aristotle's speculations began a tradition that later came to be known as natural theology—the attempt to provide a rational demonstration of the existence of God based on features of the natural world. The Stoicism of the Hellenistic Age (300 BCE–300 CE) was characterized by philosophical naturalism, including the idea of natural law (a system of right or justice thought to be inherent in nature); meanwhile, thinkers such as Titus Lucretius Carus in the 1st century BCE and Sextus Empiricus in the 3rd century CE taught a variety of skeptical (Skepticism) doctrines. Although not an original work of philosophy, De natura deorum (44 BCE; “The Nature of the Gods”), by the Roman statesman and scholar Marcus Tullius Cicero (Cicero, Marcus Tullius), is an invaluable source of information on ancient ideas about religion and the philosophical controversies they engendered.

      In the Hellenistic Age philosophy was considered not so much a set of theoretical reflections on issues of abiding human interest but a way of addressing how a person should conduct his life in the face of corruption and death. It was natural, therefore, that the various positions of Hellenistic philosophers should both rival and offer support to religion. A vivid vignette of the nature of these overlapping and competing philosophies is to be found in the account of the Apostle Paul (Paul, the Apostle, Saint)'s address at the Areopagitica in Athens, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts of the Apostles, The). Confronted by Stoics, Epicureans, and no doubt others, Paul attempted to identify their “unknown God” with the God and Father of Jesus (Jesus Christ) Christ.

      By the 3rd century, Christian (Christianity) thinkers had begun to adopt the ideas of Plato and of Neoplatonists (Neoplatonism) such as Plotinus. The most influential of these figures, St. Augustine of Hippo (Augustine, Saint) (354–430), elucidated the doctrine of God in terms of Plato's Forms. For Augustine, God, like the Forms, was eternal, incorruptible, and necessary. Yet Augustine also saw God as an agent of supreme power and the creator of the universe out of nothing. Augustine's alteration of Platonic thought shows that such thinkers did not take over Greek ideas uncritically; indeed, they may be seen as using Greek ideas to elucidate and defend scriptural teaching against pagan attack. They borrowed key Greek terms, such as person (soma; persona), nature (physis; natura), and substance (ousia; substantia), in an effort to clarify their own doctrines.

Medieval traditions
      The Platonism of Augustine exercised lasting influence on Christian theologians and was given renewed expression in the writings of the theologian and archbishop Anselm of Canterbury (Anselm of Canterbury, Saint) (1033–1109), whose ontological argument (Christianity) has remained at the centre of philosophical speculation about God's existence (see below Epistemological issues (religion, philosophy of)).

      In the 12th and 13th centuries the influence of Plato was gradually replaced by that of Aristotle, whose philosophical importance was most clearly demonstrated in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas (Aquinas, Thomas, Saint) (1225–74), the foremost philosopher of Scholasticism. Aquinas's grand achievement was to wed Aristotelian methods and ideas with the Augustinian tradition of viewing philosophy as an ally rather than an opponent of religion, thus providing a new philosophical direction for Christian theology.

      Aquinas, however, was only the first among many equals in philosophical reflection on the nature of religion in this period. The rediscovery of the philosophical writings of Aristotle by Islamic scholars ushered in a period of intense philosophical activity, not only in the schools of Islam (Islām) but also among Jewish (Judaism) and Christian thinkers. From the late 9th to the early 14th century, philosophers as diverse as al-Fārābī (Fārābī, al-), Avicenna, al-Ghazālī (Ghazālī, al-), Moses Maimonides (Maimonides, Moses), and John Duns Scotus (Duns Scotus, John) explored reason and revelation, creation and time, and the nature of divine and human action.

      In the late Middle Ages the cooperation between philosophy and theology broke down. Later medieval theologians such as William of Ockham (Ockham, William of) moved away from the Platonic and Aristotelian discourse that had dominated both philosophy and theology. Ockham and other nominalists (nominalism) of the period rejected the claim that the properties displayed by objects (e.g., redness and roundness) are universals that exist independently of the objects themselves. In addition, a strong theological voluntarism shifted the focus of theological discourse away from God's intellect and the rationality of his creation and toward the absolute power and arbitrariness of God's will.

      Philosophers and theologians of the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation looked upon Scholasticism as a highly sophisticated but needlessly speculative welding of pagan philosophy and Christian theology that tended to obscure authentic Christian themes. Renaissance thinkers rejected the medieval tradition in favour of the pristine sources of Western philosophy in Classical civilization. The Reformers emphasized both the supremacy of Scripture and the relative inability of the unaided human mind to reason about God in a reliable fashion. But although both movements were critical of medieval thought, neither was free of its influence.

 In the 17th century the philosophy of religion was taken in new directions by René Descartes (Descartes, René) in France and John Locke (Locke, John) in England. The significance of Descartes and Locke lay in the fact that they were self-confessedly philosophical innovators. In Descartes's Rationalism (the view that reason is the chief source of human knowledge), God is displaced from the centre of philosophical thought and becomes the guarantor of the reliability of sense experience. Locke's more modest Empiricism (the view that the chief source of human knowledge is experience) led to the development of a more “reasonable” approach to religion in which reason was held to constrain any appeal to divine revelation. Their English and Continental followers—such as John Toland (Toland, John), Matthew Tindal, baron d'Holbach (Holbach, Paul-Henri Dietrich, baron d'), and Claude-Adrien Helvétius (Helvétius, Claude-Adrien)—rejected tradition and hence the authority of reports of miracles (miracle) and revelation. Eschewing mystery in religion, they appealed to a universal “religion of nature,” or natural religion, which could be established on the basis of propositions that any intelligent and reasonable person would accept.

  Enlightenment thinking on religion culminated in the late 18th century in the work of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (Kant, Immanuel). Kant argued that time, space, causation, and substance—among other features of reality—are innate conceptual categories through which the human mind imposes order on experience. There can be no knowledge of matters allegedly existing beyond these categories; thus, there can be no knowledge of God and, hence, no theological knowledge. Having thus written off any metaphysical justification of religion, Kant introduced a conception of religion that arose from his idea of morality. Morally right acts, he held, are those aimed at bringing about the highest good (summum bonum), a state in which people are rewarded with happiness in proportion to the level of virtue they achieve. But one cannot rationally will to bring about the highest good unless one believes that such a state is possible, and it is possible only in an eternal afterlife ordered by God. The existence of God and the immortality of the soul can thus be “postulated” as rational conditions of morality, even though they cannot be proved theoretically. In this way religion, for Kant, was a matter of practical reason, concerned with what people ought to do, rather than of theoretical reason, concerned with what people have good reason to think is true (see below Religion and morality (religion, philosophy of)).

Philosophy of religion since the 19th century
      It is a short but significant step from postulating the existence of God as a condition of morality to regarding the idea of God as a “projection” of human concerns. It is a step that a number of thinkers after Kant—including the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (Feuerbach, Ludwig) and the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (Freud, Sigmund)—readily took. They saw religion as compensation for, and therefore an escape from, unhappy aspects of the human condition. A notable and influential example of this approach is that of Karl Marx (Marx, Karl), who saw religion as “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” Along with those who viewed the idea of God as projection were thinkers, sometimes under the influence of modern science, who neither accepted nor rejected God's existence. The English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (Huxley, T.H.) coined the term agnosticism as a name for the view that there is no conclusive evidence for or against the existence of God. However, many scientists, like the American botanist Asa Gray (Gray, Asa), sought ways of harmonizing scientific advances with orthodox Christianity.

      Forms of religion based on Idealism (a philosophical movement that stressed the spiritual or ideational in the interpretation of experience) abandoned the idea of a transcendent God and identified the divine with wholly immanent attitudes or processes. Friedrich Schleiermacher (Schleiermacher, Friedrich), for example, saw religion as the feeling of absolute dependence or the recognition of contingency, while G.W.F. Hegel (Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich), the greatest of the idealists, identified true religion with the development of the entire world order. Not only is God in history; God is history. These views, often raised against mechanistic (mechanism) and utilitarian (Utilitarianism) attitudes in the 19th century, were attractive because of the vague religiosity, sometimes of a pantheistic (pantheism) character, that they encouraged.

      During the 20th century philosophical interests were secularized, with the consequence that the strong link between mainstream philosophy and the discussion of religious questions was weakened. In the 1920s and '30s the logical positivists (Logical Positivism), and later the noncognitivists, declared that metaphysical and theological (as well as ethical (ethics) and aesthetic (aesthetics)) sentences are literally meaningless because they cannot be verified through sense experience. Sentences about the qualities of God or about the nature of spiritual experience, for example, make claims about entities or events that cannot be empirically observed or demonstrated. Thus, sentences such as “God is love” and “divine grace works upon the soul” are empty of cognitive content and therefore neither true nor false.

      The widespread abandonment of logical positivism in the 1950s and '60s (due in part to its inability to account for the meaningfulness of certain scientific propositions and counterfactual truths), led to a revival of traditional metaphysics and a consequent resurgence of interest in themes in the philosophy of religion that had engaged thinkers before Kant, such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm) (1646–1716). As a result, contemporary philosophy of religion, certainly in the English-speaking world, has much more in common with medieval philosophy than it does with the philosophy of the 19th century. Continental (continental philosophy) (German and French) philosophy of religion, however, continues to be rooted in the more iconoclastic tradition of Feuerbach and Freud.

Main philosophical themes
      The main themes that arise in the philosophy of religion have been shaped by issues concerning the relation between human language and thought on the one hand and the nature of the divine on the other. If it is possible neither to think nor to speak about God, then it is obviously impossible to argue philosophically about him. The difficulties can be seen by considering some extreme positions. If language about God or the divine is totally equivocal, then saying that God is good or claiming to know that God is good bears no relation whatever to standards of human goodness. If language about God is wholly anthropomorphic, then God is reduced to human proportions, eliminating any transcendent reference. Yet if God is utterly transcendent, it is doubtful that humans could possess an adequate concept of him or form true propositions about him.

      While philosophers have varied a great deal in their accounts of language about God (though all acknowledge the use of metaphors and models in conveying understanding), they have generally recognized that some element of univocity is indispensable if there are to be credible claims to reason about God's reality. It is sometimes argued that such language is best expressed in negative terms: God is infinite (not finite), timeless (not in time), and so on.

Epistemological issues
      The main epistemological question in the philosophy of religion is: Can God be known? This apparently simple question quickly leads to issues of considerable complexity. There are two main areas of debate: (1) whether it is possible to prove the existence of God—and, if not, whether there is nevertheless a sense in which religious belief is reasonable—and (2) whether knowledge of God is obtainable from sources other than human reason and sense experience.

      Proofs of the existence of God are usually classified as either a priori (a priori knowledge) or a posteriori—that is, based on the idea of God itself or based on experience. An example of the latter is the cosmological argument, which appeals to the notion of causation to conclude either that there is a first cause or that there is a necessary being from whom all contingent beings derive their existence. Other versions of this approach include the appeal to contingency—to the fact that whatever exists might not have existed and therefore calls for explanation—and the appeal to the principle of sufficient reason (sufficient reason, principle of), which claims that for anything that exists there must be a sufficient reason why it exists. The arguments by Aquinas known as the Five Ways—the argument from motion, from efficient causation, from contingency, from degrees of perfection, and from final causes or ends in nature—are generally regarded as cosmological. Something must be the first or prime mover, the first efficient cause, the necessary ground of contingent beings, the supreme perfection that imperfect beings approach, and the intelligent guide of natural things toward their ends. This, Aquinas said, is God. The most common criticism of the cosmological argument has been that the phenomenon that God's existence purportedly accounts for does not in fact need to be explained.

      The argument from design also starts from human experience: in this case the perception of order and purpose in the natural world. The argument claims that the universe is strongly analogous, in its order and regularity, to an artifact such as a watch; because the existence of the watch justifies the presumption of a watchmaker, the existence of the universe justifies the presumption of a divine creator of the universe, or God. Despite the powerful criticisms of the Scottish philosopher David Hume (Hume, David) (1711–76)—e.g., that the evidence is compatible with a large number of hypotheses, such as polytheism or a god of limited power, that are as plausible as or more plausible than monotheism—the argument from design continued to be very popular in the 19th century. According to a more recent version of the argument, known as intelligent design, biological organisms display a kind of complexity (“irreducible complexity”) that could not have come about through the gradual adaptation of their parts through natural selection; therefore, the argument concludes, such organisms must have been created in their present form by an intelligent designer. Other modern variants of the argument attempt to ground theistic belief in patterns of reasoning that are characteristic of the natural sciences, appealing to simplicity and economy of explanation of the order and regularity of the universe.

 Perhaps the most sophisticated and challenging argument for the existence of God is the ontological argument, propounded by Anselm of Canterbury. According to Anselm, the concept of God as the most perfect being—a being greater than which none can be conceived—entails that God exists, because a being who was otherwise all perfect and who failed to exist would be less great than a being who was all perfect and who did exist. This argument has exercised an abiding fascination for philosophers; some contend that it attempts to “define” God into existence, while others continue to defend it and to develop new versions.

      It may be possible (or impossible) to prove the existence of God, but it may be unnecessary to do so in order for belief in God to be reasonable. Perhaps the requirement of a proof is too stringent, and perhaps there are other ways of establishing God's existence. Chief among these is the appeal to religious experience—a personal, direct acquaintance with God or an experience of God mediated through a religious tradition. Some forms of mysticism appeal to religious tradition to establish the significance and appropriateness of religious experiences. Interpretations of such experiences, however, typically cannot be independently verified.

      Religions typically defend their core beliefs by combining evidential, moral, and historical claims as well as those that concern human spirituality. Because these claims together reflect the religion's conception of what knowledge of God is, they must be taken into account when endeavouring to establish whether any particular belief within the religion is reasonable.

 The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) also appeal to revelation, or to claims that God has spoken through appointed messengers to disclose matters which would otherwise be inaccessible. In Christianity these matters have included the doctrine of creation, the Trinity, and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Various attempts have been made to establish the reasonableness of the appeal to revelation through the witness of the church and through signs and miracles, all of which are thought to herald the authentic voice of God. (This is the context in which Hume's classic critique of the credibility of reported miracles must be understood.) Yet appeals to revelation by the various religions conflict with each other, and the appeal to revelation itself is open to the charge of circularity.

Metaphysical issues
The idea of God
      The claim that there is a God raises metaphysical questions about the nature of reality and existence. In general, it can be said that there is not one concept of God but many, even among monotheistic (monotheism) traditions. The Abrahamic religions are theistic (theism); God is both the creator of the world and the one who sustains it. Theism, with its equal stress on divine transcendence of the universe and immanence within it, constitutes a somewhat uneasy conceptual midpoint between Deism and pantheism. Deist conceptions of the divine see God as the creator of a universe that continues to exist, without his intervention, under the physical impulses that he first imparted to it. In pantheism, God is identified with the universe as a whole. Theism itself has numerous subvarieties, such as occasionalism, which holds that the only real cause in the universe is God; thus, all other causes are simply signs of coincidence and conjunction between kinds of events occurring within the created order. For example, heat is not what causes the water in a teakettle to boil but is simply what uniformly occurs before the water boils. God himself is the cause of the boiling.

      An important object of metaphysical reflection is God's nature, or the properties of that nature. Is God simple or complex? If omniscience, omnipotence, and beauty are part of the divine perfection, what exactly are these properties? Is timeless eternity part of God's perfection? Can an omnipotent being will that there be a four-sided triangle or change the past? Does an omniscient being know the future actions of free agents? (If so, how can they be free?) Does an omniscient being who is timelessly eternal know what time it is now?

God and the universe
 Whatever may have been the influence of Classical philosophy on the Abrahamic religions, they have not, in general, accepted the Greek idea of the eternity of matter but have stressed the contingency of the universe as the free creation of God. It has been argued, most notably and influentially by Aquinas, that neither the eternity of matter nor the doctrine of creation can be established by reason alone; thus, the belief that the universe is not eternal and was created by God must be derived from revelation. Some, including Augustine, have claimed that God created the universe from a standpoint outside time; others claim that God, like the universe, is in time.

      It is at points such as these in the philosophy of religion that philosophical arguments have less to do with establishing the truth of some proposition and more to do with working out a consistent and intelligible account of religious doctrine. At least since Augustine, philosophers in the Abrahamic religions have seen one of their tasks to be the achievement of a greater understanding of their own faith. They have examined the logical consequences of religious doctrines and sought to establish their consistency with the consequences of other beliefs, as illustrated in the remainder of this section.

God and human action
      Philosophical reflection on the nature of God has typically assumed that God is the sum of perfection and is omnipotent and omniscient. Questions have arisen not only about the exact meaning of these claims but also about their consistency with widespread beliefs about human beings, chiefly the belief that they usually act freely and responsibly and should be held accountable for their actions. If God, being omniscient, knows the future, then God presumably knows what each person will do in the future. But if these actions are known by God, how can the person be free not to do them? And if the person is not free not to do them, how can he be held accountable for what he does? Even more difficult, perhaps, is the question: If God is omnipotent and exercises providential control over his creation, how can people be other than puppets?

      Various strategies have been devised to overcome or to diminish the force of such difficulties. It has been supposed, for example, that God is outside time and so does not, strictly speaking, know anything beforehand. It has also been suggested that God does not know what humans will freely do before they actually do it. Some thinkers have drawn a distinction between the first cause of all that happens, which is God, and secondary causes, including humans and other creatures. And some philosophers of religion have been content with a conception of human freedom that is consistent with causal determinism, the view that all events and choices are determined by previously existing causes. According to them, an action is free if it is voluntary and uncoerced, and an action can be voluntary and uncoerced even though it is causally determined. These issues remain the subject of vigorous debate among contemporary philosophers.

The soul and immortality
      The belief in life after death, which is maintained by each of the Abrahamic religions, raises the metaphysical question of how the human person is to be defined. Some form of mind-body dualism (mind–body dualism), whether Platonic or Cartesian (Cartesianism), in which the mind or soul survives the death of the body, has been favoured by many theologians. Others have claimed that some version of physicalism or Materialism is most consistent with scriptural ideas about the resurrection of the body. The former group has a tendency to disparage or downplay the importance of embodiment; the latter group, however, faces the problem of giving an account of the continuity of the person across the temporal gap between bodily death and bodily resurrection.

Religion and morality
      Another concern of philosophers of religion is whether morality is dependent upon religion or is independent of it. Among those who take the former view, some say that morality depends upon religion in the way in which eating depends upon having an appetite: Religion provides the motivation that makes people behave morally. To prove this, however, it would be necessary to determine whether the behaviour of religious people is generally morally superior to that of nonreligious people. Others hold that morality depends on religion because the very idea of morality makes sense only if there is a God who sets objective standards or who will reward and punish people in the life to come. Otherwise, it is claimed, morality is a matter either of individual preference or of cultural or social convention.

      Many of those who believe that morality is independent of religion have claimed that moral truths can be adequately discerned through reason, conscience, or moral intuition. In this connection it is worth noting that those who believe that religion is the basis of morality face the following dilemma: If the commands issued by God are morally obligatory, then that is because either: (1) they express independently justified moral values, or (2) God's commands are necessarily morally good. If alternative 1 is true, then morality is independent of religion. If alternative 2 is true, then what is morally good seems to depend implausibly on God's whim: if God commanded the torture of human infants, then it would be morally good to torture human infants. But this is absurd. This problem was first raised by Plato in his dialogue Euthyphro.

      According to another perspective, derived from Kant, not only is it not the case that morality depends on religion, but in fact the reverse is true. As discussed above, in the Kantian tradition, the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are “postulates” of practical reason, or rational conditions of willing to bring about the highest good. Alternatively, they are conditions of adhering strictly to the moral law, which demands that one perform morally right acts only because they are right and not for any other reason, such as the goodness or badness of their consequences. Only in an eternal afterlife ordered by God would such perfection be possible.

The problem of evil
      Perhaps the most difficult issue concerning the relation between morality and belief in God is the problem of evil (evil, problem of). If God exists and is omnipotent and perfectly good, why does God allow horrendous evils such as the Holocaust? Why is any evil at all allowed by the divine? The problem is of ancient origins and has long been discussed by philosophers and theologians in the Abrahamic religions in relation to the Fall of Man—the expulsion, whether literal or metaphorical, of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (Eden, Garden of).

      Few (if any) philosophers and theologians have been prepared to claim, with Leibniz, that the existing world is the best of all possible worlds. If it were not, Leibniz argued, what sufficient reason (sufficient reason, principle of) would God have had to create it? Apart from Leibniz's view, three positive strategies have been developed. One stresses the importance of free will in accounting for moral evil (resulting from free human actions) as opposed to natural evil (resulting from natural events such as earthquakes and plagues); it argues that a world in which people act freely, albeit sometimes in an evil way, is to be preferred to a world of automata who do only what is right. Another strategy stresses the idea that some evils are a logical precondition for the existence of certain goods. The virtues of compassion, patience, and forgiveness, for example, can be developed only in response to certain needs or weaknesses. A world that contains these goods is better than one in which their exercise and development is impossible. The third approach emphasizes the “cognitive distance” between human understanding and God's will, noting that humans cannot know in detail what the justification of God's permission of evil might be. It is possible, of course, to combine these three positions, or elements of them, in attempting to offer an overall response to the problem of evil.

      Some thinkers have approached evil, or certain evils, from the opposite direction. They have argued not that evil presents an overwhelming problem for theism but that it provides an argument for a life after death in which the injustices and inequities of the present life are remedied.

Philosophy, religion, and religions
      There is some tension within the practice of the philosophy of religion between those who philosophize about religion in general or about abstract religious concepts and those who consider the concrete expressions of religion in one of the great faiths. In the 19th century, when the term philosophy of religion became current, the first attempts were made to define or characterize the essence of religion in phenomenological (Phenomenology) or psychological terms such as the recognition of contingency, the feeling of absolute dependence, or the sense of awe before the sacred. It must be said, however, that approaching religion in this rather abstract way has no great potential for offering philosophical illumination, nor does it raise many serious philosophical issues.

      A similar tension afflicts the discussion of religious pluralism. Some philosophers of religion see the world's religions as offering multiple embodiments of one basic religious or ethical stance. These religions are understood as ways of gaining cognitive access to the divine. The problem with offering such a metareligious account lies in the danger of misdescribing the beliefs and attitudes of the adherents of these traditions. For, it seems likely, whatever theorists of religion may say is really true of such people, they themselves will typically see their own religion as offering an exclusive salvific message and goal.

      Because Western philosophy of religion tends to concentrate upon the philosophical traditions of the Abrahamic religions, it may appear that it unduly neglects the philosophical traditions of the other great faiths, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. To this charge there are two replies. The first is that, as a matter of fact, the relation between Western philosophy and the Abrahamic religions has been very rich, particularly so in the case of Christianity. This is attested by the vast literature on issues of philosophy within these religious traditions. However, the idea that the Abrahamic religions have been subjected to one rigid, oppressive, philosophical orthodoxy is wide of the mark. Rather, the interaction between philosophical argument and Abrahamic theologies has been very diverse, with a wide variety of positions being expressed and defended. What has united these various and often conflicting positions is a sense of common indebtedness to the philosophical traditions originating in Greece and Rome. This remains so even when religious thinkers in the fideistic tradition—which regards faith as being based not on evidence but rather on an act of will—have tried to repudiate the claims of reason and argument in the name of faith.

      The second reply is that these other traditions are unlikely to contain within them distinct types of argument and reflection that are not already present in the Abrahamic religions. This is not a claim of cultural superiority but a reasonable hypothesis based upon the historical richness of Western philosophy (philosophy, Western). This hypothesis is being given some confirmation by the fact that there is a growing body of secondary literature within Western philosophy on the ideas and arguments of, for example, Buddhist thinkers. In this sense it may be said to be a purely contingent, historical fact that Buddhism, say, has not attracted a tradition of philosophical argumentation in the way that the Abrahamic religions have.

Realism and antirealism

 A renewed concern of philosophers of religion in the late 20th and early 21st centuries was to determine the sense in which religious claims may be said to be true. The responses to this question took two broad forms. According to the view known as realism, if God exists, then he exists objectively, or independently of and apart from human efforts to understand his reality. Thus, “God exists” is true if and only if God exists; whether or not a world of cognizers believes that he exists is irrelevant. According to antirealism, the claim that God exists is true or false only relative to the beliefs or practices of some human group. Some antirealists make use of the work of the Austrian-born British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (Wittgenstein, Ludwig) (1889–1951), particularly his concepts of “language game” and “form of life.” According to some uses of these ideas, religion is a system of social activities or practices involving specific forms of language, and such language is meaningful only within the activities in which it plays a role. The attempt to assess expressions of religious belief by criteria derived from other language games, such as those of science, is therefore mistaken. The strongest forms of antirealism stress the idea that the human mind “constructs” reality, including religious reality, through categories bestowed on it by culture, by one or more language-games, or by some other aspect of human endeavour. Weaker forms define truth in one of a variety of epistemic terms—e.g., a proposition is true just in case it is verifiable in principle, or just in case it is in some sense pragmatically useful—and draw on a more general suspicion of or skepticism about religion stemming from Kant, Feuerbach, and Freud.

      Antirealism emphasizes the plurality of religious positions and the validity of each position insofar as it is faithful to its own criteria of belief. The idea of objective truth and the possibility of knowing the truth is dismissed. Various postmodern attitudes to religion appeal to both epistemological relativism and certain connections between knowledge and the possession of power, including political power and patriarchy.

      As the preceding discussion indicates, although contemporary philosophy of religion continues to address traditional questions about the relation between faith and reason, it is now increasingly characterized by efforts to determine the epistemic status of religious belief rather than by attempts to secure religious knowledge. Even the tradition of natural theology is no longer concerned with proving the existence of God but with the more modest project of making belief in God reasonable, or rebutting objections to the charge that such belief is unreasonable, or showing that God's existence is the best explanation of the unity and diversity of the natural order.

Paul Helm

Additional Reading

Classic and general works
Classic texts include Plato, “Timaeus,” trans. by Benjamin Jowett, in Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (eds.), The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Including the Letters (1961, reissued 1989); Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, 22 vol., 2nd ed. rev. (1927–35), trans. by Fathers of the English Dominican Province; Anselm, St. Anselm's Proslogion, trans. by M.J. Charlesworth (1965, reprinted 1979); Augustine, Confessions, trans. by Henry Chadwick (1991); John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2 vol., compiled by Alexander Campbell Fraser (1894, reprinted 1959); and David Hume, “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,” in Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. by L.A. Selby-Bigge, 3rd ed. rev. by P.H. Nidditch (1975).Paul Helm (ed.), Faith and Reason (1999), includes a wide selection of primary sources. Notable general introductions to the philosophy of religion include M.W.F. Stone, “The Philosophy of Religion,” chapter 5 in A.C. Grayling (ed.), Philosophy 2: Further Through the Subject (1998), pp. 267–350; Charles Talliaferro, Contemporary Philosophy of Religion (1998); and Brian Davies, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, 3rd ed. (2004). Contemporary multiauthored overviews of the subject may be found in Philip L. Quinn and Charles Taliaferro (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Religion (1997); and Brian Davies (ed.), Philosophy of Religion: A Guide to the Subject (1998).

Historical and language studies
L.P. Gerson, God and Greek Philosophy: Studies in the Early History of Natural Theology (1990), provides historical orientation. Paul Helm, Faith and Understanding (1997), discusses the “faith seeking understanding” tradition. Richard Popkin, The History of Scepticism: From Savanarola to Bayle, rev. and expanded ed. (2003), is a study of Renaissance skepticism and its impact on philosophy and religion. Peter Byrne, Natural Religion and the Nature of Religion (1989), examines deism and the Enlightenment. Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism (1993), discusses Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud.A brief, noncognitivist account of religious language is developed in R.B. Braithwaite, An Empiricist's View of the Nature of Religious Belief (1955, reprinted 1977). A cognitivist account of religious language is defended against verificationism in Raeburne S. Heimbeck, Theology and Meaning (1969). Other valuable studies of religious language include Janet Martin Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language (1985); William P. Alston, Divine Nature and Human Language (1989); J.F. Ross, Portraying Analogy (1981); and Ian T. Ramsey, Religious Language (1957, reissued 1993).

Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, 2nd ed. (2004), and Faith and Reason, 2nd ed. (2005); and Stephen T. Davis, God, Reason and Theistic Proofs (1997), approach the existence of God from the tradition of natural theology. Paul Helm, Faith with Reason (2000), discusses general issues of faith and reason. William P. Alston, Perceiving God (1991), defends religious experience as a source of the knowledge of God. Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff (eds.), Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (1983); and Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (1993), and Warranted Christian Belief (2000), develop an alternative to this traditional evidentialist approach, arguing that proof is unnecessary to show that religious belief is reasonable. Paul Helm, The Divine Revelation (1982); Richard Swinburne, Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy, 2nd ed. (2007); and Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse, Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks (1995), discuss revelation.

There are numerous works on the idea of God, among them Richard M. Gale, On the Nature and Existence of God (1991); Paul Helm, A Study of God Without Time (1988, reissued 1997); Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil (1974); Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism, rev ed. (1993); and Peter van Inwagen, God, Knowledge & Mystery (1995). Anthony Kenny, The God of the Philosophers (1979, reissued 1986), combines contemporary discussion and historical reflection. William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith, Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology (1993); Keith Ward, Rational Theology and the Creativity of God (1982); William Hasker, God, Time , and Knowledge (1989, reissued 1998); and John B. Cobb and David Ray Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1976), discuss God and the universe. Thomas V. Morris (ed.), Divine and Human Action (1988); Paul Helm, The Providence of God (1993); and Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence (1998), examine the place of God in human action. The nature of miracles is discussed in J. Houston, Reported Miracles:A Critique of Hume (1994); and Richard Swinburne, The Concept of Miracle (1970).Charles Taliaferro, Consciousness and the Mind of God (1994, reissued 2005), offers a defense of mind-body dualism; while D.Z. Phillips, Death and Immortality (1970), is skeptical about the very idea of bodily survival.

Religion and morality
Avi Sagi and David Statman, Religion and Morality (1995; originally published in Hebrew, 1993), offers a first-class survey of the issues. John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, 2nd ed. (1977, reissued 1985), contains much valuable historical material and defends what he calls an “Irenaean,” soul-making theodicy. Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil (1998), offers a theodicy in terms of greater good. Peter Byrne, The Moral Interpretation of Religion (1998), discusses the Kantian tradition of understanding religion in moral terms, as well as 20th-century variants. Philip L.Quinn and Kevin Meeker (eds.), The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity (2000), provides arguments for and against exclusivism and pluralism. John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion, 2nd ed. (2004), defends a form of pluralism; as does Peter Byrne, Prolegomena to Religious Pluralism (1995).

Realism and antirealism
Joseph Runzo, Is God Real? (1993); Roger Trigg, Reason and Commitment (1973); D.Z. Phillips, Faith and Philosophical Enquiry (1970). Alvin Plantinga, “How to Be an Anti-Realist,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 56(1):47–70 (Sept. 1982). Cyril Barrett (ed.), L. Wittgenstein: Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief (1966), has been an influential source of contemporary antirealism. Grace M. Jantzen, Becoming Divine (1998), relies on Continental philosophy to outline a feminist philosophy of religion.Paul Helm

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