Philosophy of Religion by Neostocism


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The philosophy of religion is one of the most fascinating areas of philosophy. It addresses not only the perennial question Is there a God?, but also the questions If there is, then what is he like? and, most importantly of all, What does that mean for us?


These are questions that everyone should ask at some point. This site attempts to demystify the philosophy of religion, and so to help people to reach views on these questions.


The first section of the site, Arguments for the Existence of God, explains those arguments that seek to establish a positive answer to the question Is there a God?


Even if successful, none of these proves exactly the same thing; the ontological argument purports to prove the existence of a perfect being, the cosmological argument the existence of necessary or eternal Creator, and the teleological argument the existence of a Creator concerned with humanity, for example. If any of these arguments is successful, then, then it tells us not only of the existence of God, but also something of what that God is like.


The second section of the Neostocism site, Arguments for Atheism, explains those arguments that answer the question Is there a God? in the negative. Many of these arguments seek to exploit a perceived incoherence in the traditional doctrines concerning God’s nature, raising questions as to how those doctrines are best formulated; for instance, the challenge If God is just, then how can he also be forgiving? has led theists to understand both God’s justice and his forgiveness in ways that can be reconciled, and the challenge If God is all-knowing, then how can our choices be free? has prompted a simliar approach to divine omniscience and human freedom. The arguments for atheism, then, no less than the arguments for theism, shape the way that theists conceive of God.


The third question, What does that mean for us?, is asked less often than the previous two, and so is covered less explicitly by this survey of the philosophy of religion. What follows is admittedly an oversimplification, but accurately reflects common responses to this question.


The implications of classical theism, if it is accepted in all of its details, are clear enough: If God exists then we were created for a purpose; we are valued, loved. If God exists then we also have an incentive, not to mention a moral duty, to fulfil this purpose; our eternal fate hangs on whether we follow God, as we were created to, or rebel against his authority. Classical theism is therefore often felt to restrict our freedom, but to do so not because we are unimportant, but because we are important and so have a duty of care to ourselves and to others. Theism thus affirms our value even as it constrains our freedom.


Atheism exerts pressure in the opposite direction; it affirms our freedom but, it is often thought, threatens to compromise our value. In general, those who have lacked belief in a next life have thought that this makes our choices in this life more urgent. Sartre, for instance, thought that the absence of a divine Creator who defines who we are gives us absolute freedom to define ourselves; each of us is his own Creator. Atheism is also, however, associated with a pessimistic view of human value. If we were not placed here on purpose, but are the accidental product of random processes, and if we came from the dust and will return to it, then in what sense are we important? There are two ways to go on this question: atheists can argue that value is about what we are, not why or how we got here, thus affirming that we are special despite our inauspicious origins, or can accept that we have no special value, but argue that it is better to reconcile oneself to this fact than it is to deceive oneself with religious belief.