This is Philosophy of Religion
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This is Philosophy of Religion

An Introduction

Neil A. Manson

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eBook - ePub

This is Philosophy of Religion

An Introduction

Neil A. Manson

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About This Book

A reader-friendly introduction to theessentialconcepts, theories, andquestions in analytic philosophy of religion

Does God exist? If so, what is God's relationship to us? Do we have free will? This is Philosophy of Religion surveys foundational topics in the philosophy of religion using a clear and accessible style. Straightforward and easy to comprehend for those with no prior philosophical background, this engaging introduction familiarizes readers with the vocabulary, methods, and major concepts in the philosophy of religion, and invites them to think through questions which arise in the intersection of philosophy, theology, and religious studies. Part of the popularThis is Philosophyseries, this book applies the basic investigative methods of philosophy to questions of religion, faith, and morality.

Chapters offer a framework for thinking about religion, present arguments for and against the existence of God, discuss religious diversity, consider the intellectual co-existence of faith and reason, and examine different theories about why people are religious. Examples and illustrations taken from popular culture reinforce the subject's contemporaryrelevance, andare complemented by a wealth of online resources for instructors on the This is Philosophy series site that encourage further reading and strengthen student comprehension of key concepts.

A dependable introduction to the philosophy of religion, Thisis Philosophy of Religion is an ideal gateway to the discipline for readers who want to engage with questions about religion and contemplate the philosophical implications of religious belief.

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If you are reading this book, you are almost certainly taking a philosophy class. There is a good chance you are coming into it not having read much philosophy. So you may have several questions at the start. What is philosophy? What is religion? And how is philosophy even relevant to religion? We will address those questions in this chapter.

1.1 What Philosophy Is

The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek roots philo (love) and sophia (wisdom). So one basic definition of philosophy is that it is the pursuit of wisdom, where wisdom is understood as some sort of deep insight into or understanding of the truth. Another definition says that philosophy addresses the “big questions” about the meaning of life, the nature of the universe, and whether we know anything for sure. The answers to these big questions are often presupposed in other areas of thought such as mathematics, physics, politics, history, and psychology. These big questions fall under more specific fields and subfields of philosophy. There are enough of those subfields of philosophy to fill up an encyclopedia, but we can focus on just a few main branches.
Metaphysics concerns the nature of reality – for example, whether everything that exists is a physical thing or whether there are nonphysical things too (things such as souls, God, and numbers). Epistemology concerns belief, justification, rationality, and knowledge – for example, what it takes for a belief to count as knowledge rather than just opinion. Ethics concerns moral right and wrong, as well as value judgments generally – for example, what the scope and extent of human rights is. Logic concerns the standards for proper reasoning – for example, what it takes for one set of propositions to guarantee the truth of a further proposition. These specific categories, in turn, have subcategories themselves, and many big questions fall under more than one category. For example, some people think morality is real or objective, while others think morality is just a social or cultural construction. The dispute between these two sorts of people concerns not only ethics, but also metaphysics, epistemology, and the nature of language.
Despite this diversity of philosophical categories, however, philosophy (or, at least, the analytic approach to philosophy taken in this book) involves a commitment to providing logical arguments for one’s views. It also involves conceptual analysis. In the next section we will get an initial sense of what logic, arguments, and conceptual analysis are by using examples that are relevant to some of the material covered later in this book.

1.2 Basic Tools of Philosophy: Logic and Analysis

As we have already seen, logic is the study of reasoning. You probably have a good sense already that many people reason very poorly. They form generalizations much too quickly. They base their opinions on irrelevant factors such as emotion and popularity. They try to reject views they do not like by criticizing the character of the people with whom they disagree rather than their ideas. Indeed, poor reasoning is so common that there are innumerable books, lectures, websites, and podcasts about it. But if some people reason poorly there must be such a thing as reasoning well. Logicians are the philosophers who specialize in the study of logic. They attempt to identify and develop these good forms of reasoning. They do so with the help of a toolkit of basic ideas. Let us familiarize ourselves with these basic tools.

1.2.1 Propositions and Their Qualities

A proposition is something that can be either true or false. A proposition claims to represent some fact about the world, and either it does (in which case it is true) or it does not (in which case it is false). Typically, propositions are expressed by declarative sentences. From the logician’s perspective, the same proposition – for example, “I love you” – can be expressed by a variety of declarative sentences, including sentences in different languages. Consider the following declarative sentences.
God exists. (English)
Est Deus. (Latin)
Gött existiert. (German)
Dios existe. (Spanish)
These sentences all convey the same information and have the same content; they all express the same proposition. The Relationships Between Propositions

Logicians identify several important ways in which propositions can stand in relationship to one another. One proposition entails another if the truth of the first guarantees the truth of the second. For example “Andrea is over six feet tall” entails “Andrea is over five feet tall.” Furthermore, a set of propositions is consistent if it is possible for them all to be true and is inconsistent if it is not possible for them all to be true. “Andrea is over six feet tall” and “Andrea has red hair” are consistent, whereas “Andrea is over six feet tall” and “Andrea is under five feet tall” are inconsistent. While those examples are clear, it is not always clear whether one proposition entails another, or whether a set of propositions is consistent. Indeed, questions about entailment and consistency are some of the most fundamental and intensely debated of all religious questions. Consider these four propositions: (i) God can do anything; (ii) God knows everything; (iii) God is perfectly good; and (iv) there is pain, suffering, and horrendous evil in the world. Are they consistent? That is, is it possible that all four of those propositions are true? Many articles and books have been written on that very question. It is called the problem of evil. We will encounter it later. Modal Propositions

Most propositions are about the way things were, are, or will be. For example, “Germany won the Men’s World Cup in 2014” is a true proposition about the way things were. But some propositions are about the way things could be, could not be, or must be. Logicians call these modal propositions. Consider the proposition “Germany could not have lost the Men’s World Cup in 2014.” It is quite different from the first proposition, and it seems to be false. (Germany only beat Argentina 1–0, and they did so in extra time.) Logicians define three modes a proposition can take: necessity, impossibility, and contingency. A necessary proposition has to be true; it is not possible that it be false. For example, “All triangles have three sides” is necessary (or necessarily true or a necessity). An impossible proposition has to be false; it is not possible that it be true. For example, “All squares have eleven sides” is impossible (or necessarily false or an impossibility). A contingent proposition is neither necessary nor impossible. A contingently true proposition might have been false, and a contingently false proposition might have been true. So, “Germany won the Men’s World Cup in 2014” is contingently true and “Argentina won the Men’s World Cup in 2014” is contingently false.
Many important religious questions concern the modal status of propositions. Consider this proposition about God and creation: “At the beginning of time, God created the universe.” Many theists (people who believe that God exists) believe that this proposition is true. But does being a theist require that you think that this proposition is necessarily true? Perhaps not.
Some theists say it is not necessarily true. They say that God was free not to create the universe at all. God might have done no creating, in which case reality would have consisted of God but nothing else. Other theists say it is necessarily true. Given God’s very nature as a good, loving being, God had to create a world with beings other than God – beings that are capable of loving and being loved by God. God would not be perfectly good if God did not create such a world and such beings.
Some theists say it is possible that God is responsible for the existence of the universe, but that the universe never came into existence at any particular point in time. Some say this because they think that it is possible that the universe is eternal and so is God: they are coeternal. Some say this because they think that time itself depends on the existence of the universe, so that it makes no sense to talk about times prior to or outside of the universe. Despite denying that the universe came into existence at a particular point in time, these theists also say that, if it were not for God, the universe would not exist. So, for them, “At the beginning of time, God created the universe” is not necessarily true, even though they do think that the universe is completely dependent on God.
Atheists (people who believe that God does not exist) of course think that “At the beginning of time, God created the universe” is false. They think that, somehow, the universe exists uncreated – either because it exists of its own nature or because it exists for no reason at all. But even some theists think it is possible that the universe exists for no reason at all. That is, they admit that it is possible that the universe exists without existing for any reason or because of any prior cause. They think that “At the beginning of time, God created the universe” is true, not because it is necessarily true, but merely because it is the best overall explanation of what science tells us about the universe.
We will return to many of these questions about God and creation later in this book. For now, just remember that questions about modality – questions concerning whether a proposition is necessary, is impossible, or is neither – are some of the most important questions in philosophy and in religion. A Priori and A Posteriori Propositions

Another important distinction among propositions concerns the ways we are capable of coming to know them. What philosophers call a priori knowledge of a subject (treat a priori as all one word) is knowledge capable of being had about that subject independently of any experience with that subject. For example, you can know a priori that if you roll two six-sided dice, the probability of getting a seven is one in six. (Here is the proof. There are six ways the first die can come out and six ways the second die can come out. That means there are thirty-six possible combinations for the sum of the two dice. Of those thirty-six possibilities, six of them add up to the number seven: 1 + 6, 2 + 5, 3 + 4, 4 + 3, 5 + 2, and 6 + 1.) So, in order to know that the probability of getting a seven is one in six, you do not need to spend hours and hours rolling dice. No experience of playing board games or casino games is necessary. You can work out the answer in your head or on a sheet of paper. In other words, you c...

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