The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion

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The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion

William J. Wainwright (Editor), Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

The philosophy of religion as a distinct discipline is an innovation of the last 200 years, but its central topics--the existence and nature of the divine, humankind's relation to it, the nature of religion, and the place of religion in human life--have been with us since the inception of philosophy. Philosophers have long critically examined the truth of and rational justification for religious claims, and have explored such philosophically interesting phenomena as faith, religious experience, and the distinctive features of religious discourse. The second half of the twentieth century was an especially fruitful period, with philosophers using new developments in logic and epistemology to mount both sophisticated defenses of, and attacks on, religious claims. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion contains newly commissioned chapters by twenty-one prominent experts who cover the field in a comprehensive but accessible manner. Each chapter is expository, critical, and representative of a distinctive viewpoint. The Handbook is divided into two parts. The first, "Problems," covers the most frequently discussed topics, among them arguments for God's existence, the nature of God's attributes, religious pluralism, the problem of evil, and religious epistemology. The second, "Approaches," contains four essays assessing the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of practicing philosophy of religion--analytic, Wittgensteinian, continental, and feminist.


Introduction 3

Part I. Problems 13

1. Divine Power, Goodness, and Knowledge 15 2. Divine Sovereignty and Aseity 35 3. Nontheistic Conceptions of the Divine 59 4. The Ontological Argument 80 5. Cosmological and Design Arguments 116 6. Mysticism and Religious Experience 138 7. Pascal's Wagers and James's Will to Believe 168 8. The Problem of Evil 188 9. Religious Language 220 10. Religious Epistemology 245 11. God, Science, and Naturalism 272

12. Miracles 304 13. Faith and Revelation 323 14. Morality and Religion 344 15. Death and the Afterlife 366 16. Religious Diversity 392

Part II. Approaches 419

17. Analytic Philosophy of Religion 421 18. Wittgensteinianism 447 19. Continental Philosohy of Religion 472 20. Feminism and Analytic Philosophy of Religion 494


William J. Wainwright

The expression "philosophy of religion" did not come into general use until the nineteenth century, when it was employed to refer to the articulation and criticism of humanity's religious consciousness and its cultural expressions in thought, language, feeling, and practice. Historically, philosophical reflection on religious themes had two foci: first, God or Brahman or Nirvana or whatever else the object of religious thought, attitudes, feelings, and practice was believed to be, and, second, the human religious subject, that is, the thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and practices themselves. The first sort of philosophical reflection has had a long history. In the West, for example, discussions of the nature of God (whether he is unchanging, say, or knows the future, whether his existence can be rationally demonstrated, and the like) are incorporated in theological treatises such as Anselm's Proslogion and Monologion, Thomas Aquinas's Summas, Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, and al-Ghazali's Incoherence of the Philosophers. They also form part of influential metaphysical systems like Plato's, Plotinus's, Descartes', and Leibniz's. Hindu Vedanta and classical Buddhism included sophisticated discussions of the nature of the Brahman and of the Buddha, respectively. Many contemporary philosophers of religion continue to be engaged with these topics (see, for example, chapters 1 through 5 and 8). The most salient feature of this sort of philosophy of religion is its attempts to establish truths about God or the Absolute on the basis of unaided reason. Aquinas is instructive. Some truths about God can be known only with the help of revelation. Examples are his triune nature and incarnation. Other truths about him, such as his existence, simplicity, wisdom, and power, are included in his end p.3

revelation to us but can also be known through reason. And Aquinas proceeds to show how reason can establish them. What we would today call philosophy of religion (or natural theology) is thus an integral part of his systematic theology. Early modern philosophers like Descartes, Leibniz, and Locke are only incidentally concerned with purely theological issues, but they too insist that some important truths about God can be established by purely philosophical reflection. The notion that we should accept only those religious beliefs that can be established by reason was not commonly expressed until the later part of the seventeenth century, however, and not widely embraced until adopted by the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. The consequences of the new commitment to reason alone depended on whether important religious truths could be established by natural reason. Deists believed that they could. Human reason can prove the existence of God and immortality and discover basic moral principles. Because these religious beliefs are the only ones that can be established by unaided human reason, they alone are required of everyone. They are also the only beliefs needed for religious worship and practice. Beliefs wholly or partly based on some alleged revelation, on the other hand, are needless at best and pernicious at worst. Others, such as Hume, adopted a more skeptical attitude toward reason's possibilities. In their view, reason is unable to show that "God exists" or that any other important religious claim is significantly more probable than not. The only proper attitude for a reasonable person to take, therefore, is disbelief (atheism) or unbelief (agnosticism). The result of this insistence on reason alone was thus that religion either became desiccated, reduced to a few simple beliefs distilled from the rich traditional systems that had given life to them, or ceased to be a live option. Reaction was inevitable, and took two forms. One was a shift from theoretical to practical (moral) reason. Kant, for example, was convinced that "theoretical" or "speculative" reason could neither prove nor disprove God's existence or the immortality of the soul. Practical reason, on the other hand, provided a firm basis for a religion lying within the "boundaries of reason alone." The existence of God and an afterlife can't be established by theoretical reason. A belief in them, however, is a necessary presupposition of morality. Others, such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, shifted their attention from intellectual belief and moral conduct to religious feelings and experience. In their view, the latter, and not the former, are the root of humanity's religious life. Both approaches were widely influential in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The first fell into neglect with the waning of philosophical idealism in the first half of the twentieth century, although interest in it has recently resurfaced (see chapter 14). The second has continued to be attractive to many important philosophers of religion (see chapters 6 and 10). Philosophy of religion was comparatively neglected by academic philosophers in the first half of the twentieth century. There were several reasons for this. One was the widespread conviction that the traditional "proofs" were bankrupt. Be end p.4

lievers and nonbelievers alike were persuaded that Hume and Kant had clearly exposed their fatal weaknesses. Another was the demise of nineteenth-century idealism. The twentieth-century heirs of the German and Anglo-American idealists (Hastings Rashdall, W. R. Sorley, A. C. Ewing, and A. E. Taylor, among others) had many interesting things to say about God, immortality, and humanity's religious life. But their views increasingly fell on deaf ears as analytic philosophy replaced idealism as the dominant approach among English-speaking academics. (The "process philosophy" of A. N. Whitehead and his followers emerged as an alternative to idealism and analytic philosophy that could accommodate religious interests. It was never more than a minority viewpoint, however, and finds itself today in much the same position that philosophical idealism was in in the early part of the twentieth century; its demise too seems immanent.) This is not to say that nothing of interest to philosophers of religion was transpiring during this period. Five developments were especially important. The first was the impact of theologians like Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and Paul Tillich on philosophers interested in religion. The second was the influence of religious existentialism, including both the rediscovery of S?ren Kierkegaard and the work of contemporaries like Gabriel Marcel and Martin Buber. A third was the renewal of Thomism by Jacques Maritain, Etienne Gilson, and others. A fourth was the rise of religious phenomenology; Rudolf Otto and others tried to accurately describe human religious experience as it appears to those who have it. Finally, philosophers who were sympathetic to religious impulses and feelings yet deeply skeptical of religious metaphysics attempted to reconstruct religion in a way that would preserve what was thought to be valuable in it while discarding the chaff. Thus, John Dewey suggested that the proper object of faith isn't supernatural beings but "the unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and actions," or the "active relation" between these ideals and the "forces in nature and society that generate and support" them. In Dewey's view, "any activity pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of a conviction of its general and enduring value is religious in quality"1 (see chapter 9). After a half century of comparative neglect, analytic philosophers began to take an interest in religion in the 1950s. Their attention was initially focused on questions of religious language. Were sentences like "God forgives my sins" used to express factual claims, or did they instead express the speaker's attitudes or commitments? If those who uttered them did express factual claims, what kind of claims were they? Could they be empirically verified or falsified, for example, and, if they could not, were they really cognitively meaningful? (For more on this debate, see chapters 9, 10, 18, and 19.) What was unanticipated was that the young analytic philosophers of religion who were being trained during this period were to become responsible for a resurgence of philosophical theology that began in the mid-1960s and continues to dominate the field in English-speaking countries today. The revival was fueled by a comparative loss of interest in the question of religious language's cognitive meaningfulness (it being generally thought that attempts to show that religious sentences do not express true or false factual claims had been unsuccessful), and a conviction that Hume's and Kant's allegedly devastating criticisms of philosophical theology did not withstand careful scrutiny. On the positive side, developments in modal logic, probability theory, and so on offered tools for introducing a new clarity and rigor to traditional disputes.

Three features of the revival are especially noteworthy. The first was a renewed interest in the scholastics and in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophical theology. There were at least two reasons for this. One was the discovery that issues central to the debates of the 1960s and 1970s had already been examined with a sophistication and depth lacking in most nineteenth- and early twentieth-century discussions of the same problems. The other was the fact that a significant number of analytic philosophers of religion were practicing Christian or Jewish theists. Figures such as Aquinas, Scotus, Maimonides, Samuel Clark, and Jonathan Edwards were attractive models for these philosophers for two reasons. There is a broad similarity between the philosophical approaches of these medieval and early modern thinkers and contemporary analytic philosophers: precise definitions, careful distinctions, and rigorous argumentation are features of both. In addition, these predecessors were self-consciously Jewish or Christian; a conviction of the truth or splendor of Judaism or Christianity pervades their work. They were thus appealing models for contemporary philosophers of religion with similar commitments. A second feature of contemporary analytic philosophy of religion is the wide array of topics it addresses. The first fifteen years or so of the period in question were dominated by discussions of issues traditionally central to the philosophy of religion: Is the concept of God coherent? Are there good reasons for thinking that God exists? Is the existence of evil a decisive reason for denying God's existence? However, beginning in the 1980s, a number of Christian analytic philosophers turned their attention to such specifically Christian doctrines as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement. Most of the articles and books on these topics were attempts to show that the doctrines in question were coherent or rational. But some were more interested in the bearing of theological doctrines on problems internal to the traditions that include them. Marilyn Adams, for example, has argued that Christian martyrdom and Christ's passion have important implications for Christian responses to the problem of evil, and Robert Oakes has made similar claims for the Jewish mystical doctrine of God's withdrawal (tzimzum). Still other analytic philosophers of religion have tried to show that theism can cast light on problems in other areas of philosophy--that it can give a better account of the logical features of natural laws, for example, or of the nature of end p.6

numbers, sets, and other mathematical objects, or of the apparent objectivity of moral claims.2 (On the last, see chapter 14.) A third characteristic of recent philosophy of religion is its turn toward epistemology. Medieval and seventeenth-century philosophical theology exhibited a feature that has been insufficiently appreciated since the eighteenth century and is especially prominent in Augustine and Anselm: its devotional setting. Anselm's inquiry, for instance, is punctuated by prayers to arouse his emotions and stir his will. His inquiry is a divinehuman collaboration in which he continually prays for assistance and offers praise and thanksgiving for the light he has received. His project as a whole is framed by a desire to "contemplate God" or "see God's face." Anselm's attempt to understand what he believes by finding reasons for it is largely a means to this end.3 Several hundred years later,


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