Introducing the philosophy of religion
Introducing the philosophy of religion

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Introducing the philosophy of religion

Argument or blind faith?

In asking whether ‘religion is something that you can argue about’ (Question (K) in the list in the previous section), I’m not asking whether it’s possible to have a conflict or a row about religion. All too obviously, that’s perfectly possible – history is full of such conflicts. What I’m asking is whether religion is something we can argue philosophically about. And in philosophy, argument doesn’t mean having a row or a conflict between different viewpoints. Philosophical argument is about giving evidence, perhaps even proofs, for your viewpoint – evidence or proofs that you hope others might be convinced by.

argument

In philosophy, an argument for a claim is a series of statements that somebody makes or might make, giving reasons to believe that claim.

evidence

Evidence for a claim means facts or experiences or data or any reasonable assumptions that can be given to support a claim – the kind of things that someone might mention in a good argument for the claim.

So can there be successful philosophical arguments about God and religion? Here is a little dialogue between three people – Ada, Bert and Carl – who give different answers to this question. Which of them are you nearest to agreeing with?

Ada
Yes, there can be philosophical argument about God and religion. And the upshot of the philosophical arguments is to prove that God exists.
Bert
Yes, there can be philosophical argument about God and religion. And the upshot of the philosophical arguments is to prove that God doesn’t exist.
Carl
Well, one of you has got to be wrong! I think your arguments cancel out. There can’t be a proof of God’s existence such as Ada believes in, when some people, like Bert for instance, are so sure that there’s a proof of God’s non-existence.
Ada
Wait a minute, Carl. You think that just because Bert disagrees with me about religion, I can’t be right? And just because I disagree with Bert, he can’t be right? But that’s ridiculous. People might disagree about whether the earth is flat. In fact, they do! That doesn’t mean that no one can be right about whether the earth is flat. Same with religion. Just because people disagree about religion, that doesn’t mean that no one is right about religion.
Bert
Exactly. Just because Ada thinks there is a God, it doesn’t mean there is one. Ada is the one who’s the flat-earther here.
Carl
But the thing is, if we were talking about whether the earth is flat, we could discuss the arguments. We could prove that the earth isn’t flat, and that would be the end of the question. What happens with God and religion isn’t like that. There aren’t any proofs one way or the other. There aren’t even any arguments.
Ada
No, there are arguments on both sides. I have arguments for believing in God, and Bert has arguments for not believing. It’s just that my arguments are convincing, and Bert’s aren’t.
Bert
Well, they might convince you, but they shouldn’t!
Carl
OK, so you do both offer arguments. But I don’t think either of you believes what you believe because of your arguments. I think it’s blind faith on both sides. Your arguments are just a pretence. They’re an excuse for believing what you want to believe anyway. If you want a long word, they’re a rationalisation!
Ada
Carl, I’ve spent years thinking about all this. I’ve been really careful and logical in examining the evidence. I believe in God because that’s the position the evidence supports. There’s nothing blind about my faith! Given the evidence, faith in God is the only reasonable position.
Bert
And I can say the same. I’ve spent years thinking about it, too, and I don’t disbelieve in God just because I feel like it! I disbelieve in God because that’s the position the evidence supports. There’s nothing blind about my lack of faith! Given the evidence, disbelief in God is the only reasonable position.
 
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