Philosophical Theology and Christian Doctrine (Exploring the Philosophy of Religion)

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To find a God that is all-loving, all-merciful, totally just, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent requires us to go beyond these arguments of natural theology, ie. Finally, we want our belief in God to be firm rather than wavering cf. James , and it may be doubted whether our belief could be firm enough to allow us, say, to die for our faith, if it is based on a merely probabilistic argument. As for arguments against the existence of God, many of the arguments of the logical positivists, such as the one that talk about God is meaningless because it is unverifiable, have vanished without trace, along with the logical positivists themselves.

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One argument that has shown no sign of diminishing in popularity, still less vanishing, is the problem of evil. This may be expressed very roughly as follows. It is very rare these days to see the problem of evil held up as a knockdown argument for atheism. This is due to the pioneering work of Alvin Plantinga you guessed it , who has shown that it is impossibly difficult to establish any sound proof of God's non-existence using this argument.

He did this by arguing that it is possible that we have been given free will and that God cannot cause us to use our free will 'properly' as then we shouldn't be free. Plantinga further speculated that natural disasters might very well be due to demons misusing their God-given free will. Instead, atheists usually now present the argument as showing just that God's existence is improbable.

Debate continues to rage fiercely about whether it succeeds in this. If God did exist, should we necessarily know God's reasons for allowing suffering? People even disagree on whether the burden of proof here lies with the atheists or the believers. This brings up a distinction drawn by Plantinga between a theodicy and a defence. Plantinga claims to offer only a defence, that is a demonstration of why the atheist's arguments do not succeed. He says that he is not able to offer a theodicy, that is, an explanation of why God allows suffering.


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He puts forward his suggestions as mere possibilities; he does not claim that they are certainties. It seems that most people agree with Plantinga that the prospects for a successful theodicy, giving us for certain God's reasons for allowing evil, are not good.

However, some brave souls are trying to explain the existence of suffering: Richard Swinburne's book Providence came out in If you wish to know more, there is no shortage of literature — over articles and books have been written on the problem of evil since alone. I trust that the reader will therefore forgive the brevity of this survey.

Bertrand Russell famously gave voice to this argument when he said, upon being asked what he would say if he met God on his death, "Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence! As Plantinga remarks, "we may have our doubts as to just how that sort of a response would be received" Plantinga , p. This argument is not for the conclusion that God doesn't exist, but rather for the conclusion that it is irrational to believe in God, as there is no evidence. This argument depends on something like Clifford's principle, so-called after its famous proponent W.

Clifford, who said "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence" — see Clifford , reprinted in Stump and Murray , p. The problem with this principle — and others relevantly like it — is that they seem self-defeating. Just what is the evidence for Clifford's principle itself? In any case, do I really have sufficient evidence for everything I believe: not just my religious beliefs, but my moral beliefs, my political beliefs, my philosophical beliefs?

Even our general knowledge is largely based on trustingly accepting what we are told.


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  • So perhaps, contrary to Clifford, we do not need evidence to believe in God. This last reflection touches on the major question and discussion in the philosophy of religion at the moment: what sort of justification one needs for religious belief. In Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God , Plantinga suggested that religious belief might be a properly basic belief — in other words a belief that may rationally be held without being logically inferred from other beliefs.

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    Plantinga suggested that religious belief might be a properly basic belief — a belief that may rationally be held without being logically inferred from other beliefs. If Plantinga is right then all the discussion of arguments for religious belief suddenly seems less important, since the arguments aren't necessary for rationality and maybe aren't even any good for converting unbelievers.

    Since then Plantinga has turned his attention from justification to warrant "that property enough of which is what makes the difference between knowledge and mere true belief" — Plantinga , p. He has been arguing in his Warrant trilogy that a belief is warranted if it is produced by a cognitive mechanism functioning in accordance with its design plan. It seems pretty likely that if God designed us then it is part of God's design plan that we believe in God, so belief in God is rational and warranted and, if true, knowledge. This, of course, will do little to convince the atheist, but this does not worry Plantinga unduly.

    He views his main tasks as being the exposition of the truth about the epistemic status of theistic belief and the defence thereof against attacks, rather than attempts to convert sceptics to his position. In particular, if Plantinga is right, it shifts the burden of proof onto the atheist: if she or he wants to show that the theist is irrational then she or he will have to show that the theist has not been designed by God to believe in God. But this seems a very difficult thing to prove.

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    A different attempt at justification has come from William Alston who taught Plantinga when Plantinga was a graduate student. Alston has worked on the nature of religious experience, producing his book Perceiving God In it he claims that "putative direct awareness of God can provide justification for certain kinds of beliefs about God.

    Finally on this topic, Edinburgh University Press has now launched a series on religious epistemology called 'Reason and Religion'. Each volume in the series is an exploration of one of the ways of seeking justification for religious beliefs. Apart from the attempt to justify the claims of religion, the philosophy of religion has traditionally sought to understand and explain those claims.

    The central claim of western religions is that there is a God, and so western analytical philosophers of religion have spent a lot of their time trying to analyse that claim. This enterprise is usually called philosophical theology, though it belongs as much to metaphysics as it does to theology.

    In particular, debate has focussed on four of God's attributes: omnipotence, omniscience, eternity, and goodness. For each of these, discussion tends to involve puzzles, such as 'Can God create a stone too heavy for God to lift? Here debate has focussed around how to define omnipotence while solving the old chestnuts mentioned above, and also on the question of whether God's omnipotence means that he can make us freely do what he wants, with most philosophers thinking not.

    There is also debate about whether any realm is outside God's power: does God really create all the truths of mathematics, morals, and logic too? Could he have created them differently? Debate about omniscience has revolved around the question of whether God can know now what we shall freely do tomorrow. The argument goes something like this:. This is the view that accepts the argument, saying that it is not possible that God know what we shall freely do tomorrow, and so we are not free.

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    God has determined our every move, including the evil ones that we make. This response is typically made by Reformed Calvinists. This is the view that rejects the argument. This view says that it is possible that God foreknow what we shall freely do tomorrow. Usually those that take this line reject premiss 5 : I cannot tomorrow bring it about that God believed something yesterday. They insist that we can bring it about that God believed things in the past. Those that take this line hold on both to God's exhaustive and infallible foreknowledge on the one hand and to human freedom on the other.

    This view in fact subdivides into two sub-views:. Let us say that tomorrow I shall feel tired and therefore freely stay in bed. Let us further suppose that if I had not felt tired I should freely have decided to get up. On the Molinist view God knows from all eternity the conditional propositional that if I were to feel tired tomorrow I'd freely stay in bed tomorrow and he knows from all eternity also the conditional proposition that if I were not to feel tired tomorrow then I should freely get up tomorrow.

    Philosophical Theology and Christian Doctrine surveys and comments on recent work by philosophers of religion in the analytic tradition on the doctrines of the Christian creed.

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    The topics covered include creation, Incarnation, Trinity, salvation and eschatology, and the ultimate future of creation. It is a comprehensive survey of core Christian doctrines. Read more Read less. Special offers and product promotions Amazon Business : For business-exclusive pricing, quantity discounts and downloadable VAT invoices. Create a free account.