Philosophy of religion
or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad,|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
Philosophy of religion is the branch of philosophy concerned with analysing the claims of religion using the tools of philosophy. It draws on a number of distinct areas of philosophy, including epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics.
Philosophy of religion and theology
Theoretically, philosophy of religion is distinct from but related to theology. Theology assumes a certain religion is true, and then seeks to reason from there. To theologians, the sacred texts of the relevant religion are considered authoritative; the Bible, the Buddhist Sutras, the Qur'an, etc. Naturally, theologians only accept the sacred texts of their own religion or denomination and reject others. Theologists work from within a religion, attempting to understand the nature of God (or gods), and the world at large by studying the existing religious structures, any holy texts, and their theological precursors. Theology is rarely interested in other religions or other interpretations of texts, unless it is to reinforce that a particular theology is "the right one".
Philosophy of religion, by contrast, examines religion(s) from the outside, attempting to apply logic, reason, and research to understand religion on a more humanistic and scientific level without assuming the truth of any particular religion. Philosophy of religion aims to restrict itself to assumptions which can be agreed upon by people of any religion or none, and then seeks to analyze and evaluate religious beliefs from that basis. Leading philosophers may be considered authoritative, but disagreement should be acceptable, provided the critic has sound arguments. Philosophy of religion criticises religion when this is reasonable, though the two are not necessarily opposed.
However, the two disciplines overlap in the area of natural theology, which refers to attempts to demonstrate the truth of particular religious doctrines from a neutral basis.
Also, in practice, people whose job title is "philosopher of religion" tend to espouse a lot of theology, and theologians often take cover under a claim of philosophy.
Some of the major questions addressed by philosophy of religion include:
- Does God (or gods) exist?
- Is the concept of 'God' coherent?
- Is the existence of evil a problem for the existence of God?
- Are the specific doctrines of various religions, such as the Christian Trinity, coherent?
- Are any of the various philosophical arguments which have been proposed to prove or disprove the existence of God valid?
- Is a life after death possible? And if so, are there any good reasons to believe there is one?
- Is religious faith valid?
- Can religious doctrines properly be considered basic beliefs, as argued for instance by Alvin Plantinga?
- Is it permissible to believe in religious doctrines on the basis of pragmatic considerations? (Pascal's wager, William James' will to believe)
- Can ethics be defined in terms of God's nature or commands, and are there any logical problems in such a definition?
- Philosophy of Religion: Philosophy of Religious Belief, Theism, Practice Reasons atheists should study the Philosophy of Religion