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Introduction to Philosophy of Religion

Introduction to Philosophy of Religion

Abstract: Philosophy of religion is breifly characterized, and natural and deductive theology are defined.

  1. From raising the initial question of Socrates, "What should be your central concern in life?," we have moved to the question of Tolstoy and Camus, "What is the meaning of Life?"
    1. In order to answer this question, another question can be raised first about the existence of God, for this second question has great relevance to the first one. The second question can be put…
      1. Axiologically—Is the source of the meaning of life God?
      2. Epistemologically—Can we prove God exists?
      3. Ontologically—Does God exist? What is God?
    2. Hence, we turn our attention to the arguments for the existence of God.
  2. This task is properly in the philosophy of religion; philosophy of religion has as its main concern an epistemological task. Let us consider for a moment what this statement means. The epistemological task includes inquiring as to…
    1. whether religious knowledge is a special kind of knowledge,
    2. how religious knowledge is obtained, and
    3. the implications of religious knowledge for conduct.
  3. Philosophy of religion is not explicitly concerned with…
    1. the history of religion,
    2. comparative religions, or
    3. specific religious beliefs or church doctrines…
      except insofar as these concerns illume the epistemological task.
  4. Philosophers investigate two broad kinds of religious knowledge claims.
    1. Natural Theology: the attempt to prove the existence of God, and sometimes questions about human immortality, from premisses provided by reasoning from observations of the ordinary course of nature (à posteriori proofs). Knowledge obtained by revelation from supernatural sources are ruled out.
    2. Deductive Theology: the attempt to prove the existence of God from premisses known to be true by reason alone, independently of sensory experience (à priori proofs).
  5. Revealed theology or religious knowledge-claims based on faith or revelation is generally considered to be beyond the scope of philosophy and is usually considered to be under the province of the subject of religion.
  6. For this class, the study of philosophy of religion is used as a kind of stalking horse for elucidation of a number of philosophical concepts which have been influential in logic, mathematics, and science. It is vitally important to realize that, for example, the numerous objections to arguments for God's existence or the nature of God have not settled these issues and are not the final positions on these subjects. The arguments and objections represent a gentle way into a complex array of concepts still debated in contemporary philosophical circles. All of the objections listed in these notes have been countered in one way or another, and the philosophical terminiology has sharpened and evolved in many different directions.
Further Reading:
  • Ars Disputandi: Alternative Title: The Online Journal for Philosophy of Religion. Peer-reviewed online journal covers contemporary debate in the philosophy of religion, including articles on the history of the philosophy of religion, natural theology, and philosophical theology.
  • “Does Evolution Explain Human Nature?” The John Templeton Foundation compiled essay answers to this question from the following contemporary notables: “Obviously, Says the Monkey” by Frans de Waal, C.H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory University and researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center; “Except Where It Matters” by Simon Conway Morris, Professor of Evolutionary Paleobiology at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of St. John's College, and a member of the Royal Society; “Quite Well” by Lynn Margulis, Distinguished Professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Eastman Professor at Balliol College, Oxford, and member of the National Academy of Sciences; “Not Entirely” by Francis Collins, physician and geneticist noted for his leadership in directing the Human Genome Project; “More Fully By the Day” by Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico; “Not Yet” by Joan Roughgarden, Professor of Biology at Stanford University; “In Part” by Martin Nowak, Professor of Biology and Mathematics at Harvard University, Director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics; “Yes” by Robert Wright, author of The Moral Animal and Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny; “Only Up To a Point” by Francisco J. Ayala, Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine and winner of the National Medal of Science; “Yes, But …” by Eva Jablonka, evolutionary biologist, Professor at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University; “Totally, For a Martian” by Jeffrey Schloss, Distinguished Professor, Chair of Biology at Westmont College; “Yes and No” by David Sloan Wilson, Director of EvoS, Binghamton University's Evolutionary Studies Program.
  • “Does the Universe Have a Purpose?” The John Templeton Foundation compiled essay answers to this question from the following contemporary notables: “Unlikely” by Lawrence M. Krauss, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Case Western Reserve University; “Yes” by David Gelernter, Professor of Computer Science at Yale and National fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; “Perhaps” by Paul Davies physicist, cosmologist, and astrobiologist and the director of the Beyond Center at Arizona State University; “No” by Peter William Atkins, a Fellow and Professor of Chemistry at Lincoln College, Oxford; “Indeed” by Nancey Murphy, Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary; “Yes” by Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard University and a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; “Very Likely” by Bruno Guiderdoni, astrophysicist and the Director of the Observatory of Lyon, France; “No” by Christian de Duve, a biochemist and Nobel Prize recipient in Physiology and Medicine; “Yes” by John F. Haught, Senior Fellow, Science and Religion, Georgetown University; &ldlquo;Not Sure” by Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and the Director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium; &ldqo;Certainly” by Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a UN Messenger of Peace; “I Hope So” by Elie Wiesel, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and Professor at Boston University.
  • Natural Theology. This brief characterization of natural theology is drawn from the Internet Encyclopedial of Philosophy.
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“A great deal more is necessary for the establishment of an assertion, than that an adversary cannot disprove it. A thousand possibilities may be affirmed which are susceptible neither of proof nor of disproof; and surely it were the worst of logic to accept as proof, the mere circumstance that they are beyond the reach of disproof.” Thomas Chalmers, On Natural Theology (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1850), 124.

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