Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings
Peterson (Michael), Hasker (William), Reichenbach (Bruce) & Basinger (David)
Source: Peterson (Michael), Hasker (William), Reichenbach (Bruce) & Basinger (David) - Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings
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Introduction: Exploring the Philosophy of Religion (Full Text)

  1. Philosophy Engages Religion
    • Although philosophy is a sophisticated academic field, it reflects our fundamental human drive to understand. Academic philosophy, then, is important because it employs methods that aid our essential quest for understanding various aspects of our world. We could divide academic philosophy into a number of sub-disciplines according to the dimension of life that they study: philosophy of science, philosophy of history, philosophy of art, and so forth. The sub-discipline known as philosophy of religion is the critical examination of religious concepts and beliefs.
    • It is worth stressing that philosophy of religion is clearly a branch of philosophy and should not be confused with religion itself or even with theology. While religion is notoriously difficult to define, it is, at the least, a set of beliefs, actions, and experiences, both individual and collective, organized around some idea of Ultimate Reality that is recognized as sacred and in relation to which persons enter into a transformative process. Ultimate Reality may be understood as a unity or a plurality, personal or non-personal, divine or not, differing from religion to religion. But every cultural phenomenon that we call a religion contains these important elements.
    • Theology is a discipline that occurs largely within religion. It is concerned with the conceptual development and systematization of the key beliefs and doctrines of some specific religious faith. As justification for its claims, theology typically appeals to such sources as holy writings and accredited teachings within its own tradition. We may call it "sacred theology," since it is rooted in authoritative sources that contain sacred truths. Sometimes there is also an appeal to what all persons can know through observing the world and employing human reason in order to arrive at some truths of religion (a project that is often labelled "natural theology").
    • Philosophy of religion, however, does not have to be viewed as having its proper home within some specific religious tradition. No doubt, certain religious traditions nurture and strongly support the life of the mind, in general, and the philosophical investigation of their teachings, in particular, while a few religious traditions discourage or disparage rational probing. Nevertheless, philosophy of religion is a bona fide academic field that is as objective, rigorous, and systematic as possible. As such, it is not a dogmatic or parochial project but seeks to follow the best approaches to study religious concepts and beliefs. In this way, it seeks authentic intellectual engagement with religion in the arena of ideas.
    • The robust intellectual examination of religion involves a rich variety of philosophical activities: assessing the reasons that thoughtful people have offered for and against religious belief, logically investigating such concepts as God and faith, exploring the meaning of such theological terms as salvation and miracle, and even comparing elements across religious tradition for additional perspective. Whether religious believer or not, all are invited to meet, discuss, and debate in the wide-open space of philosophy of religion.
  2. The Resurgence Of Philosophy Of Religion
    • For over a century, the dominant approach to philosophy in the English-speaking world has been what we may call analysis. The analytic approach, broadly conceived, is concerned with the meaning, consistency, coherence, reasonableness, justification, and truth of our beliefs. The emphasis throughout is on the content of crucial concepts, as well as on the structure and soundness of arguments. Moreover, the analytic approach often seeks to bring insights and findings from other areas of philosophy to bear on the issues that it treats. It is not uncommon, for example, for analytic philosophers to display keen interest in the proper grounds of our claims to knowledge and belief.
    • Unfortunately, during the first half of the twentieth century, philosophical interest in religion fell on hard times at the hands of analytic philosophers. These philosophers were committed to positivism, which was an early phase in the development of the analytic movement that was determined to shape philosophy after the intellectual methods of modern science. Positivism embraced a strict form of empiricism, an epistemological position that bases knowledge on sensory experience or what can be inferred from experience. Thus, the many nonempirical claims of religion could make no pretense to being knowledge. In addition, the positivists advanced a theory of language that was centered on the verifiability principle, a criterion that all cognitively meaningful language must be empirically verifiable. According to this criterion, religious language is not cognitively meaningful and must settle for something like emotive meaning. While the extremely influential positivist movement was in its heyday, it was difficult and even embarrassing for any self-respecting intellectual to take religious claims seriously.
    • In the second half of the twentieth century, however, things began to change. In the 1960s and 1970s, many philosophers became interested in the work of the later Ludwig Wittgenstein. They widely believed that Wittgenstein provided a way to break from positivism's intellectual imperialism by advancing sophisticated insights into the context, meaning, and function of language. And some philosophers who were interested in religion were able to draw from Wittgenstein's writings fresh insights into the nature of religious language and thus, at that level, to rehabilitate the respectability of discussing religion. About the only exceptions to these trends in the larger analytic movement were Catholic philosophers, who themselves had roots in more ancient ideas. These classical ideas — stemming from such thinkers as Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas — made them less susceptible to the impact of positivism, on the one hand, and less in need of the new Wittgenstein ideas, on the other hand.
    • During the past thirty years or so among professional philosophers, the status of philosophy of religion has been drastically changed. For one thing, philosophers now know well that the positivistic principle of verifiability was inadequate even for science, let alone for religion. For another thing, freedom from positivism paved the way for a lot of new, high-quality work in other areas of philosophy, such as logic, epistemology, and metaphysics. In the past few decades, this work has contributed to fresh investigations into religion that go well beyond the old questions of whether religious language has meaning. The situation has also changed because of the notable increase in the number of practicing philosophers who not only espouse some form of personal religious faith, but address issues of faith from within the discipline of philosophy. Even many nonbelievers and outright opponents of religious faith have come to respect its rational integrity and are joining in vigorous debate and discussion. All this brings an energy and vibrancy to philosophy of religion that is palpable. It is not surprising, then, that students' interest in academic philosophy of religion, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, is at a measurable high.
    • These are exciting days in philosophy of religion. Academic publishing in the area has exploded. Over the past several decades, studies of eminent medieval philosophers have blossomed (e.g., on Augustine, Anselm, Boethius, Aquinas, and Ockham). Many good discussions of celebrated modern thinkers have been produced (e.g., on Locke, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant). And debates abound over the new and creative proposals that have been advanced by contemporary figures in philosophy (e.g., on Hick, Plantinga, Swinburne, and Mackie).
  3. The Focus Of Philosophy Of Religion And The Project Of This Book
    • Philosophy of religion has gone from a virtual outcast in analytic philosophy to one of the most active areas in scholarship today. This shift has tracked the shift in focus in how business is done in the field. Instead of being driven by inordinate concern with whether non-empirical concepts can have meaning according to a narrow criterion of meaning, philosophy in general, and philosophy of religion, in particular, have returned somewhat to the more straightforward and more traditional considerations of truth, knowledge, reality, and values. We may say that second-order obsessions have given way to first-order questions — and that this is all to the good. In this context, the renewed philosophical interest in religion has largely focused on classical theism. Classical theism is the belief that a transcendent spiritual being exists who is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good and who is the personal creator and sustainer of the world. Although theism itself is not a living religion, it is part of the essential belief-framework of three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The discussion of classical theism leads naturally in a number of rich directions — to efforts that unfold and defend a theistic perspective, as well as to efforts to critique and refute it, to studies of how it is embedded within the larger ambit of full-blooded religious life, to proposals of alternative or modified versions of theism, and even to inquiries into nontheistic religious perspectives.
    • This book of readings is situated within the analytic tradition in the philosophy of religion and its strong interest in the beliefs, activities, and experiences that are tied to theistic religions. The selections presented here reflect the fact that the bulk of philosophical work in this tradition has dealt with specifically Christian theism. Yet, since it is inherent in the nature of analytic philosophy to be interested in all relevant concepts and arguments, the broad scope of this book seeks to bring ideas from other philosophical and religious traditions into the discussion. Contemporary life faces us with a wide diversity of people, cultures, and perspectives that provide important and stimulating material for philosophical analysis and reflection. New ideas, different methodologies, divergent worldviews, and challenging arguments must be taken into account. So, while remaining analytic in approach and theistic in central focus, the present anthology includes readings that represent continental, feminist, and Asian contributions.
    • The best primary works on the important themes in philosophy of religion today are included here. Since this anthology employs a comprehensive scheme of organization, it can be used as the sole text in a course or in conjunction with a secondary text. The reader will be interested to know that there is a particularly close fit between this book of primary source readings and our own secondary text, "Peterson (Michael), Hasker (William), Reichenbach (Bruce) & Basinger (David) - Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion" (Oxford University Press). Many courses use the two books together.
    • The structure of this anthology is straightforward. It consists of seventy-three selections that are arranged into fourteen thematic parts: the nature of religion, religious experience, faith and reason, the divine attributes, arguments about God's existence, knowing God without arguments, the problem of evil, divine action, religious language, miracles, life after death1, religion and science, religious diversity, and religion and morality. To maximize its pedagogical value, this anthology includes an overall introduction to each of the fourteen major parts, as well as a brief synopsis of each individual selection. Study questions follow each selection, and suggested readings are included at the end of each major part.
    • Whether or not one has a religious point of view, the relevance of religion to human life is undeniable. To work through this anthology is to take a refreshing and worthwhile journey, a journey of the human intellect seeking philosophical understanding in religion. Thoughtful persons who explore the issues presented here will be rewarded by gaining deeper insights into an important dimension of human existence.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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