Religious Positions RLST 105
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Theism: the belief that god(s) take a special interest in humans. (i.e. Answer prayers and Gives awards and punishments) Judaism, Christianity, Muslims and Hindus are theistic. Committed to revealed theology (religious truths shown through experiences – i.e. Visions, ceremonies and religious text. Believe god has characteristics of a person o Reason, volition, emotions and intention o Interacts with humans from beyond the world o Gods have special spheres of influence. Monotheism: one god. Polytheism: multiple gods. Deism: Gods do not intervene in human affairs. God is responsible for creating the universe. God makes no changes to the world, just sits back and watch. People pray as a religious commitment and endorsement/ thanking/ recognition of god. 2 types of deism: o Believe that organized religion is not justified because gods cannot change anything, it is fate. o Others believe that organized religion keeps the balance. Natural Theology: using rational intelligent human thinking to understand god and universe instead of religious text. Calvinist Doctrine of predestination: o First kind of deism o Form of Christianity o Do not believe any actions performed by humans will and can affect the world beyond gods will. o Preordained is every human being’s job. o God’s choice at birth for your salvation or damnation. o Hope to discover if they are destined to be saved or not. o Total depravity: human beings can be corrupted from birth. o Main goal Get confidence in the status of their souls. (many puritans believed this.) o Many argue that the puritans desire to work hard and abstain from worldly pleasures was the foundation of America. Reinvested money into communities Saving more money than spending it. o 1 amendment = product of deistic thinking. o Puritans didn’t believe that Jesus was a walking god. 46page story of Jesus’s life that focused on moral and leaves questions of divinity. Impossible to justify Jesus as divine. o The universe works in a clock work order. o Apologetics: attempt to demonstrate the compatibility of reason and Christianity. Pantheism: Belief that god is contained in everything o God permeates or is in sync with the universe. Everything is a part of a cosmic unity that is connected to god. Both do not believe in a personal relationship with god. o While each person may seem different, we are all human and a part of something bigger = god. Compare to waves of different ocean, still apart of 1 big ocean. Animism: emphasizes the belief that nonhumans and inanimate objects also have souls. Substance monists: o The universe is made up of one archetypal substance that operates on a guiding principal that is itself the origin and cause of all things The substance gives motion and order. o Philosopher Thales: argued that water was this substance bc every living thing that has a certain percentage of water making it up. Also stated that the stars and moon could be made of water and water couldn’t be modified. Thought things like ember (creates static electricity): contained small gods. o Philosopher Heraclitus: claimed that everything was made from fire. Thought earth and air was fire in different forms. All things were in a constant state of change. “One cannot step into the same river twice). Final remarks: god is not a person in pantheism. Agnosticism: (Thomas Huxley) Type 1: all humans suffer from a lack of access to knowledge about god. o Nothing about god is knowable. o By definition, god is beyond human comprehension. Type 2: views lack of understanding as approachable o Lack of knowledge is due to lack of evidence for religious claims. Skeptics: the view that we may not be able to gain knowledge of objective reality. We likely do not know much about god bc texts change and interpretation change overtime, making it likely we have no clue. Even original texts are in the eyes of skeptics bc they cannot assume as complete truth. Agnostics must also be open to both sides in the sense that if true proof presents itself, they won’t cling to their disbelief as hard as believers do to their god. Permanent agnostic: conceptual poverty. Atheism: God does not exist. o Strong atheist: know there is no god believing in propositions only supported by evidence. o Weak athiests: believe there is no god. o Karl Marx insisted that religion was a way to give people false hope to a perfect afterlife, a way to escape their suffering. Prevents freethinking Prevents revolution Preserves social order. Religion used to be the right hand of government. o Theocracies: overtly religious governments. Treated as anomalies today. People do not realize that religion also “rules” secular nations such as the United States. o Religion serves functional roles in Justifying morality. All elevate suffering from social inequality. Argument against using religion as oppression Christianity began as a counterculture movement. Many religions against government wars and policies. Karen Armstrong: o A religion created by humans as a form of art. To create mystery. o Attempt to find meaning in life. o Religion = natural to humanity Not forced upon by higher powers of nonspiritual authority. o Just bc it is natural does not mean it is valuable …. A vice versa. Medicine is not natural, but it saves millions of lives. o Is/ought fallacy: when someone argues things are a certain way because they just are. A successful arbument on how something ought to be cannot be derived from how something is. o She makes this case that religion has value bc it can come to us naturally. o Critique is important because it argues that people practice religious behaviors to better understand themselves. o Genetic Fallacy: an error one commits when one reaches a conclusion about a claim on the basis of factors relevant to its truth or falsehood. Just because god may exist in our genetics does not mean he exists entirely. Steven Pinker: pscyologist o Relatives watching over us c alim is projected bc the living hope that there is an afterlife Evolutionary biologists: o Group loyalties help survival o Religion/ religious acceptance is hereditary. Pascal Boyer: Psychologist o Explains that being watched over by god is a product of being acted upon by parents. Sum: reasons for religious acceptance doesn’t necessarily depend on the calims themselves. Post theism Form of atheism: Unde3rstqanding that god’s existence or nonexistence no longer matters. Science has reduced the need for god as an explination. God only exists to fill in the gap for things we are unsure of. Rejects idea that there are only 2 ways to make sense of the world. PL 203: Introduction to the Study of Religion Montgomery College Professor Daniel G. Jenkins Religious Positions There are many different religions in the world, and many people ascribe to each one. There are Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, to name but a few. However, there are prior categories of belief into which these and other religions fall. Philosophers of religion have found it useful to describe distinct kinds of belief as follows: Theism Deism Pantheism Agnosticism Atheism Theism Theism is the belief in a God or gods that takes an interest and intervenes in human affairs. Theists believe in a God that answers prayers, that issues commands, that offers rewards to those who follow commands, and that metes out punishments to those who violate commands. The belief of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus is theistic, because in all of these religions God or gods are thought to exercise agency in the world and to interact in some way with human beings, whether through miracles, through offering revelations, or through delivering salvation. Theists are generally committed to revealed theology, the idea that religious truths can only be known through religious experiences such as visions and ceremonies, and through the study of religious texts. Theists also believe that God has the characteristics of a person, but that God transcends the world. That is, the theistic vision of the divine is of a being or beings that reason, have volition, emotions, and intention, while the theistic belief in transcendence means that God interacts with humans from beyond the world. Note that what makes theism distinctive from other kinds of faith is not the belief in one versus many gods, or many gods versus just one; those who believed in the ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Norse pantheons, to name a few examples, were also theists (though the belief in many gods is not limited to just the ancient world, either; present-day Hindus believe that there are many deities as well). We properly describe belief in the array of gods and goddesses described in those religious systems as theistic belief because in all of those systems the gods and goddesses Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins were thought to be active in the lives of human beings, they had the characteristics of persons, and although they were involved in the world they “lived” somewhere beyond it – Mt. Olympus, say, or Valhalla. When Athena assisted Odysseus in ousting the numerous suitors that had taken up residence in his home, when Anubis wrote names in the book of the dead in connection with his funerary role, and when Thor swung his hammer to make lightning and thunder, they were all interacting with human beings. And just as the living religions have complex systems of worship and prayer, so too did the ancient religions have complex systems of worship and prayer centered on acknowledging the various roles the gods and goddesses played in human life. The gods and goddesses were thought to have special spheres of influence, and different deities might be given offerings depending on whether one sought fertility, a good harvest, or a swift and successful war. In all cases, believers thought that the deities played an active role in the lives of human beings and were interested in what went on here on planet earth. Thus, the belief in just one God that takes an interest and intervenes in human affairs is described as monotheistic, where “mono” means “one.” Belief in the existence of many gods and goddesses who take an interest and intervene in human affairs is described as polytheistic, where “poly” means “many.” The most popular religions of the world – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – are monotheistic religions, and we will explore them in detail later in the course. Deism Deism describes belief in a God or gods who do not intervene in human affairs. For the deist, God is responsible for creating the universe, but does not change the world in response to the desires of human beings. Deism maintains that God created the natural laws that govern the universe, and that since putting these laws into effect God has not interrupted the routine functioning of those laws with miracles or other divine interventions; God simply watches the universe move from somewhere beyond the world. The deist view is that God is not unlike a machinist or programmer that, once the machine or program is complete, makes no changes and simply observes their work in motion. 2 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins When deists pray, they do so not out of a sense that God will intervene on their behalf, but because of a religious commitment to worship God. However, some deists also reject the need for organized religion in general, including worship, and merely acknowledge God’s existence. Thus, we can talk about two broad groups of deists: one that merely claims that God does not intervene in human affairs, and one that additionally endorses natural theology – the practice of using the rational intelligence of human beings, rather than appeal to scripture or religious authority, to understand God and the universe. Both types of deists played a prominent role in shaping the governance and economic culture of the United States. The Calvinist doctrine of predestination reflects a commitment to the first kind of deism. Calvinism is a form of Christianity, named for sixteenth century French religious reformer and theologian John Calvin. Although Calvinists worship God and believe in the divinity of Jesus, they do not believe that any actions of human beings will have any influence on the world beyond that which God wills. The Calvinists assert that God preordained every human deed at the moment of creation, and also claim that God decides ahead of time who is saved and who is condemned to hell; nothing a human being does – no amount of prayer or worship – can change God’s mind on the matter. God’s choice alone is responsible for each person’s salvation or damnation. Since Calvinists do not believe they can become saved, they hope instead to discover whether or not they are saved. Characteristics of those chosen by God for eternal salvation through Jesus, the Calvinists say, include commitment to hard work, to worshipping God, and to following God’s commandments. Thus, while a Calvinist cannot elicit God’s cooperation in satisfying her wishes, and cannot otherwise appeal to God for any change whatsoever in the divine plan, she may achieve some sort of confidence as to the status of her soul; if she works very hard, and if she worships God routinely and well, then she might be amongst the saved. The doctrine of predestination stems from the Calvinist doctrine of “total depravity,” in which human beings are construed as completely corrupted by original sin and incapable of choosing salvation when it is offered. Since human beings are incapable of choosing salvation for themselves, Calvinists assert the 3 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins primacy of God’s will in determining at the moment of creation who will exist and who among them will be saved. The Calvinist doctrines of total depravity and predestination were endorsed by other Protestant sects, including the Puritans. The Puritans were central to early British colonization of what is now the United States. At odds with the Anglican Church, the official Church of England, the Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 under the leadership of Governor John Winthrop, a Puritan minister. The English government approved the Puritanical mission because they hoped to profit from the colony, and the Puritans agreed to the plan because it meant they could worship as they chose. Other Puritan ministers reacting to repressive religious policies in England followed, including John Cotton, Roger Williams, and Thomas Hooker. Together they established a Puritan culture in New England that lasted into the eighteenth century. The success of capitalism in the United States is attributed by some historians to the Puritan desire to work hard and to abstain from worldly pleasures. In addition to striving tirelessly in their endeavors, Puritans eschewed ostentatious displays of wealth and unnecessary expenditures. This meant that when American Protestants operated in the markets created by the industrial revolution, money was continually reinvested in communities and in additional business ventures, generating further wealth. This habit of safeguarding wealth rather than using money merely for personal enjoyment became the hallmark of successful capitalists, and the Protestant trend toward saving rather than spending meant that with the rise of banking still more capital was made available for business enterprises. The Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams, and Thomas Paine, as well as other Framers of the Constitution of the United States of America, were deists. Deistic principles figure prominently in their political speeches, publications, private letters, and in their contributions to the Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of religion, is a product of deistic thinking. However, far from endorsing a Calvinist or Puritanical notion of predestination, the Founders evinced a commitment to Enlightenment principles of objective, rational inquiry in understanding the universe – and these principles exclude the possibility 4 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins of God suspending laws of nature to perform miracles. The Founders also vociferously advanced the idea that the rational, deliberative capacities of human beings can be employed to understand God and the Bible. For instance, Thomas Jefferson edited the four Gospels of the New Testament in part to remove what he saw as supernatural elements, and what was left formed The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, also known as The Jefferson Bible, a forty-six page story of Jesus’ life that focuses on his moral philosophy and leaves open the question of his divinity. Jefferson’s efforts are consistent with a broader deist tendency to regard the divinity of Jesus as rationally unjustifiable and therefore impossible. It is worth reiterating that although the deists regard as repugnant to reason the possibility of miracles or divine intervention, they assert that through rational, objective inquiry it can be known that the universe was created by a supremely intelligent being. The universe, they argue, evinces a clockwork order, and God is the architect of that order. This conception of God as the designer of a self- sustaining universe can be seen in the work of physicists Isaac Newton and Samuel Clarke, who, while not deists themselves, argued in the early eighteenth century that the order revealed by the Newtonian physical system entailed the existence of a creator God. Clarke went on to additionally argue that the necessity of a divine legislator and an afterlife can be demonstrated through reason. Neither Clarke nor Newton qualify as deists, however, because they didn’t dismiss the possibility of divine intervention, they embraced revealed theology, and they espoused belief in the divinity of Christ; thus, merely believing that God is the creator of physical laws is not enough to make one a deist. The deistic ideas of Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, and others can be traced to the work of English philosopher John Locke. While not a deist, Locke engaged in apologetics, that is, he attempted to demonstrate the compatibility of reason and Christianity. His On the Reasonableness of Christianity directly influenced the major deists who followed. John Toland, an Irish philosopher, argued in his Christianity Not Mysterious that all religious claims are amenable to being understood through reason, and that anything that isn’t amenable to reason is nonsense. Anthony Collins, an English philosopher, asserted in his A Discourse of Freethinking not only that there is nothing above reason, but that the rational evaluation of religious claims is mandated by the Bible. Matthew Tindal, English Philosopher, maintained 5 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins in his Christianity as Old as the Creation that God would not have created a universe that is impenetrable to understanding through reason. All of these philosophers, in turn, influenced the American deist canon, including Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, Elihu Palmer’s Principles of Nature, and Ethan Allen’s Reason: The Only Oracle of Man. Ethan Allen in particular endorsed deistic principles not just because reason warranted them, but also because he thought it was ethically justifiable to be deist. Let’s conclude the summary of the deist position with a quote from Allen’s Reason. It epitomizes the deist’s commitment to denouncing the possibility of miracles, though it still asserts that God exists. The claim that morality depends in some way on religion is one that will receive greater attention later in the course: “I am persuaded that if mankind would dare to exercise their reason as freely on those divine topics as they do in the common concerns of life, they would, in a great measure, rid themselves of their blindness and superstition, gain more exalted ideas of God and their obligations to him and one another, be proportionally delighted and blessed with the views of his moral government, make better members of society, and acquire many powerful incentives to the practice of morality, which is the last and greatest perfection that human nature is capable of.” – Ethan Allen. Chapter I Section I - Of Reforming Mankind from Superstition and Error, and the Good Consequences of it. Reason: The Only Oracle of Man. A Compendious System of Natural Religion, 1784. Pantheism Pantheism is the belief that God is contained in everything – in every rock, tree, blade of grass, animal, human being, piece of furniture, distant galaxy, donkey, puddle, proton, and star. In this way, pantheists understand God to be immanent rather than transcendent. Remember, to believe that God is transcendent is to believe that God interacts with human beings from beyond the sensible world. To believe that God is immanent, by contrast, is to believe that God either permeates the universe or is synonymous with it. Pantheists maintain that all that exists is in some way a manifestation of God’s nature, and that everything is part of a cosmic 6 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins unity that is essentially divine. You might think of pantheism as asserting that the universe is like a sponge soaked with water, with God as the water or with God as both sponge and water. Pantheism is to be distinguished from animism, the belief that not just humans but also non-human animals and inanimate objects have souls. Animists emphasize the uniqueness of each individual soul, while pantheists stress the related, indivisible nature of the divine essence. This essence is understood to be a current running through all of existence. Pantheism and animism might be combined, but neither position entails the other. While Irish freethinker John Toland may have coined the term “pantheist,” it was seventeenth century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza who made the first philosophically thorough attempt at explaining and defending pantheism in his Ethics. Spinoza rejected religious claims that ascribe human-like qualities to God, such as human motives and emotions, and this is characteristic of pantheism in general; according to the pantheists, God is not a person, not even a divine, transcendent person, and the relationship one can have with God, if any, is not personal. Spinoza asserted that while each individual person appears to be distinct from other people and from the world around them, this distinctness is more illusory than real; we are only distinct from one another the way that individual waves on the surface of the ocean are distinct from one another. And just as waves are all made of water, human beings – along with everything that exists – are all made of God. Individual lives, then, are just ripples on the surface of God. Pantheism dates at least to the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers of the 6 and 5h th century BCE. So-called because they came from the Greek philosophical tradition that existed before Socrates (but, their fans assert, not because they are inferior to Socrates), many of the Pre-Socratics were substance monists. That is, they maintained that the universe and all of its contents – including the gods – are made of one archetypal, fundamental substance that operates according to a guiding 7 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins principle that is itself the origin and cause of all things. This subtance, they said, is the life-giving energy behind all motion and order. For example, the Pre-Socratic philosopher Thales asserted that the world is made entirely of water. The fundamental principle of all things, or arche, would have to be fluid enough to account for the variety of shapes of things we encounter on earth, Thales reasoned. It would also have to be nutritive and supporting enough to sustain life, would have to be able to account for motion, and would have to seem to be present in everything; thus, water is a good candidate. Thales asserted that everything comes from water, and that, despite appearances, everything is water with some additional attributes that make it appear to be what it is instead of water. For example, Thales thought that human beings, the moon, corn, and his writing desk were all water in some slightly altered form or with some additional attributes, but he thought that water itself could not be divided or substantially modified in any way. Thus, Thales asserted, the principles that dictate the movement of water are the principles that dictate the motion of all things in the universe. Since that which gives a thing motion is its soul, water is the soul of all things. Thales also thought that any natural, nonliving object that seemed to contain any inherent power, such as amber, with its power to create the static electricity, or a lodestone, with its magnetic properties, contained small gods. Since Thales found the world at large to be full of motion and power, he thought that the world generally was full of gods; but these gods were, he asserted, also made of water, the soul and essence of all things. Thus, Thales’ philosophy is pantheistic, not animistic, because he is dedicated to the idea that gods are everywhere, in everything, and that these gods are not personal but are instead impersonal forces guided by a fundamental arche. Heraclitus, another Pre-Socratic philosopher, maintained that fire was the basic element out of which everything in the world was made: “This world-order, the same of all, no god nor man did create, but it ever was and is and will be: everliving fire, kindling in measures and being quenched in measures.” 8 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins Heraclitus thought that what seemed to be distinct substances, such as earth and air, was actually fire in different forms. What’s more, Heraclitus thought that all things were in a constant state of change, and he is credited with making the famous claim that one cannot step into the same river twice. What Heraclitus meant was that no object is a static, unchanging object, but that each object, in being in a constant state of flux, is thereby made what it is. The pre-Socratics construed the universe pantheistically because they were committed to understanding the universe as an orderly whole that is immune to the caprice and whimsy of gods and goddesses. If you have ever read the ancient Greek myths and legends, you are well aware that this view stands in stark contrast to the th understanding of the world that prevailed in the Mediterranean in the 6 century BCE. As Patricia Curd, contemporary philosopher at Purdue University, remarks on the essentially rational nature of Pre-Socratic pantheistic philosophy: 1 “Hesiod's world, like Homer's, is one that is god-saturated, where the gods may intervene in all aspects of the world, from the weather to mundane particulars of human life, reaching into the natural world order from outside, in a way that humans must accept but cannot ultimately understand. The Pre-Socratics reject this account, instead seeing the world as a kosmos, an ordered natural arrangement that is inherently intelligible and not subject to supra-natural intervention.” Pantheism is also present in Hellenistic philosophies, such as Stoicism, which held that God is immanent in the universe and directs the action of everything from within. Additionally, Pantheism seems to be present in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism described by Lao-Tzu, sine the Tao is understood to be the original, undifferentiated cosmic force out of which yin, yang, and all other things are made. The spirituality of Native American tribes historically centers on a pantheistic view of the interconnectedness of all living things, and this idea is also espoused by indigenous religions around the world. Writers, too, such as Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, have articulated pantheistic themes in their work. And Hinduism, while polytheistic on its surface, is very pantheistic; all of the gods and goddesses, the Hindu mystics say, are themselves part of an indivisible Absolute. 9 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins What all of these different manifestations of pantheism have in common is commitment to the idea that God is identical with the natural world – that is, that God is immanent and is not transcendent – and that God is not a person. Agnosticism There are two types of agnosticism. One type refers to the belief that all human beings suffer from an irremediable lack of epistemic access to God. This kind of agnostic contends that nothing about God is knowable; that we cannot know how best to worship God, how to live our lives in accordance with God’s wishes (because we cannot know what those wishes are), or even whether or not God exists. One reason why this might be, some agnostics of this sort reason, is that God is by definition beyond our ability to comprehend. So even if God exists, we can expect everything about God to be ineffable, including the existence of evidence irrefutably demonstrating God’s existence. Of course, a world in which the very existence of evidence for God’s existence is beyond our ken is indistinguishable from a world in which there is no evidence for God’s existence, and indeed, from a world in which there simply is no God. More simply, if God does not exist, we would also expect there to be no evidence of God’s existence. Thus, we cannot know with certainty whether God does or does not exist. The other kind of agnostic views the epistemic gap as potentially surmountable. This kind of agnostic contends that while nothing about God is known to them, it is possible for them to come to know things about God. Usually, it is thought that gaining knowledge about God is dependent upon being presented with objective evidence. For this kind of agnostic, then, lack of knowledge about God is due to lack of evidence for religious claims. It is worth pointing out that since nearly everyone on earth has been exposed to some religious doctrine or other, either orally or in writing, that neither kind of appeal counts, for the agnostic, as evidence. It is also worth noting that an insistence on objective evidence is consistent with Enlightenment-era principles of 10 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins rationalism, and with the general emphasis in philosophy on justifying beliefs through more than mere appeal to authority. Agnosticism is to be distinguished from atheism in that atheism contends that God’s existence or nonexistence is knowable, and, more crucially, is known – specifically, atheists claim to know that God does not exist. The term “agnostic” was coined by nineteenth-century English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, who earned the nickname “Darwin’s Bulldog” for fiercely championing the theory of evolution. In his famous 1860 debate on evolution against English bishop Samuel Wilberforce, for example, Huxley is reputed to have remarked: “If then, said I the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means of influence and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion, I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.” While Huxley thought that evolution accurately described how human beings came to exist in the absence of any intelligent design, he also thought that no person would ever be able to know the ultimate origin and cause of the universe itself. In this way, Huxley left the questions of God’s existence and nature unanswered. While many have gravitated to this idea, the ideology of agnosticism antedates Huxley; it is as old as philosophical skepticism itself. In epistemology, skepticism is the view that we may not be able to gain knowledge of objective reality or of some feature of it. Famous Enlightenment-era philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant expounded upon the idea that the world might be different from the way we perceive it to be, and their epistemological theories were preceded by the more thoroughgoing methodological skepticism of Rene Descartes. Sometimes referred to as “the Father of Modern Philosophy,” Descartes employed “radical doubt” in trying to discover what he could know to be true for certain. Radical doubt required him to suspend belief in anything which could for even a moment be doubted. If a belief could be considered false for any possible reason, 11 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins however outlandish and improbable that reason may seem, Descartes considered it false. The agnostic approach to the God issue is similar to Descartes’ approach to knowledge of the world generally. Thus, the question for believers is whether or not there is any chance their belief in God is false. If there is any chance that they are 2 wrong, then they cannot know for certain that God exists. For example, if there is a chance that one might be wrong in asserting that God condones or prohibits a certain kind of behavior, or that one might be mistaken in thinking that God has the attributes commonly attributed to him, that one might be wrong in thinking that God exists at all, then indubitable knowledge of God is impossible. Indeed, the agnostic argues that there are numerous ways in which one might be incorrect in their beliefs about God. One such way has already been mentioned; if God is indeed that being which is beyond our ability to conceive, then we simply cannot conceive of God, and that’s that; thus, anything we do conceive of is not God, even when we (erroneously) call it such. Another way in which one might be incorrect in their beliefs about God stems from what has been referred to by some as the dubious veracity of religious texts. That is, since the religious texts that form the bases of many beliefs about God are modified over time, in their interpretation if not in their content outright – and in some cases quite drastically – the agnostic argues that it is likely that we do not know anything about God. Even if the texts were unmodified, some agnostics say, we have little reason to accept them as irrefutable evidence of the truthfulness of religious principles. Twentieth-century philosopher Bertrand Russell alluded to just this, in his Why I am Not a Christian, when he said that: “A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. “ 12 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins However, Russell was one of those agnostics who said that he was willing to be persuaded by the evidence should it present itself. As he wrote in his What is an Agnostic?: I think that if I heard a voice from the sky predicting all that was going to happen to me during the next twenty-four hours, including events that would have seemed highly improbable, and if all these events then produced to happen, I might perhaps be convinced at least of the existence of some superhuman intelligence. As some thinkers have pointed out, if agnostics are to be intellectually consistent they must be willing to be persuaded by such evidence. To do otherwise would be to cling tenaciously to the idea that God is unknowable despite evidence to the contrary, in a manner very similar to that in which those of religious faith presently claim that they can know (versus merely believe) that God does exist despite the lack of objective supporting evidence. This is a logical extension of the criticism of British biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins, who distinguishes between what he calls “Temporary Agnostics in Practice” and “Permanent Agnostics in Principle” in his book The God Delusion. Dawkins argues that permanent agnosticism in principle reflects a kind of conceptual poverty, because the permanent agnostic is committed to their position even if the evidence suggests otherwise. The only defensible way to approach any problem, Dawkins argues, is to be persuaded by what evidence there is. So, unlike permanent agnosticism, temporary agnosticism en route to a position dictated by the available evidence is justifiable. But, Dawkins argues, one position or another must eventually be adopted, because eventually one will be confronted with enough evidence to know, if not with certainty, then with as much certainty as is possible that God either does or does not exist. And, for Dawkins, the evidence indicates that God does not exist. Atheism Atheism is the position that God does not exist. Philosophers sometimes make a distinction between strong atheism and weak atheism. Strong atheists make the 13 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins claim that they know there is no God, while weak atheists, narrowly defined, merely believe that there is no God. 3 Strong Atheists generally begin by accepting the epistemological claim that if the available evidence does not indicate the truthfulness of a proposition, it can be said that the proposition is false. Knowledge, they say, consists in believed propositions that are supported by the evidence. Further, they hold that believing a proposition in the absence of evidence is irrational. Adding to these the more highly debated premise that there is no objectively verifiable evidence for God’s existence, strong atheists conclude that they know God does not exist. We will discuss arguments for God’s existence later in this course. Weak atheists do not find the lack of evidence for God’s existence conclusive; what is needed to have knowledge of God’s nonexistence is evidence against God’s existence, they say. But, since proving something’s non-existence is difficult, if not impossible, weak atheists argue, all they are capable of doing is believing that God does not exist. Atheists are sometimes asked to explain the persistence of religion in the alleged absence of its truthfulness. Why, some theists ask , do people continue to believe in religion if religious claims are false? Different atheists answer this question in different ways. Some focus on social factors, others on the psychological, while, more recently, some have attempted to explain religious tendencies in terms of features selected for by evolution. Karl Marx, who advanced the idea of socialism in the nineteenth century, described religion as an analgesic many people turn to in the face of suffering. As Marx famously said in his A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the masses.” Marx thought that religion serves to numb the pain many people experience as a result of poverty and unfair dealings, and that it thereby helps maintain the status quo. If people can be led to believe that injustices will be corrected in the afterlife – that the wicked will be punished, and that the good-but-poor will enjoy the treasures 14 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins of heaven – they will accept inequality and strife in this life, Marx said. In short, religion makes the have-nots satisfied, and thereby prevents revolution. Thus, one reason why religion might persist despite its being false, atheists claim, is because those in power wish to preserve their hegemony – their wealth, their status, their access to resources, or what have you – and they promote religion to accomplish just that. Just as religion may preserve social order on a broad scale, some argue that religion is necessary to promote moral behavior at the level of the individual. If people did not think that God would judge them and hold them accountable for what they do, the thinking goes, they would kill, cheat, lie, steal, rape, commit adultery, abandon their children, and otherwise do all sorts of other terrible things that religion stops them from doing. The atheist points out that this belief – true or not – goes a long way towards explaining the persistence of religious ideals. That is, whether or not it is true that some people can only be ruled by the threat of damnation or with the promise of eternal reward, a widespread belief among rulers that people would run amok in the absence of religion would certainly ensure the promotion of religion irrespective of the truthfulness of religious claims. And, whether or not it is true that morality depends upon religion, a great many people, not just rulers of nations, seem to believe that it is. Secular humanism and non-religious ethics are relatively recent inventions, after all, and religion was the right hand of government, if not inextricable from governance, for millennia prior to the American Revolution. While the overtly religious governments or theocracies in the world today, especially in Muslim countries, are treated as anomalies by some political scholars, arguably theocracy is the rule, not the exception. Indeed, religion continues to exert much influence on both policy and concepts of morality even in supposedly secular nations like the United States. Although to some the consistent, enduring connection between religion, governance, and moral norms suggests that religious claims are true, again, the atheist argues that the persistence of religious claims can be best explained through estimations of their usefulness in preventing moral depravity. 15 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins On the face of it these claims make good sense, since religion does serve the functional roles described. Religion does alleviate the suffering stemming from social inequality, and it does help some people who would otherwise engage in immoral behavior refrain from doing so; but that doesn’t mean that religion persists because it is intentionally designed by rulers to do these things. Indeed, religion has not always served to oppress and control, and many religious sects have been pitted against governments, not utilized by them. For example, Christianity, while used by some to control the populace, began as a counter- cultural movement. Its role in defying perceived injustice persisted into the twentieth century with the liberation theology of Latin America, and the religiously- fueled resistance to the Vietnam War effort in the United States. Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan, for instance, a member of the rebel group “The Catonsville Nine,” famously burned draft cards in Catonsville, Maryland, in protest of the war. And, more often than they are forced to accept religious ideas at the point of a sword, it seems that people willingly embrace spiritual ideas. As historian of religion Karen Armstrong writes in her A History of God: …my study of the history of religion has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals. Indeed, there is a case for arguing that Homo sapiens is also Homo religiosus. Men and women started to worship gods as soon as they became recognizably human; they created religions at the same time as they created works of art. This was not simply because they wanted to propitiate powerful forces; these early faiths expressed the wonder and mystery that seem always to have been an essential component of the human experience of this beautiful yet terrifying world. Like art, religion has been an attempt to find meaning and value in life, despite the suffering that flesh is heir to. Like any other human activity, religion can be abused, but it seems to have been something that we have always done. It was not tacked on to a primordially secular nature by manipulative kings and priests but was natural to humanity. It is worth taking a moment to see what is and what is not valuable about Armstrong’s observation. If religion does come naturally to us, it is not necessarily better than things that are the result of care and effort. Violence, for example, might 16 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins come more naturally to some people than a calm discussion of disputes, but that does not mean violence is more valuable, or more right, than efforts to peacefully resolve differences. We do lots of things that are unnatural that we are not only unwilling to go without, but whose abolition would also be a moral wrong. For example, the use of antibiotics saves millions of lives a year, and though it is unnatural it would undoubtedly be morally repugnant to destroy all existing antibiotics and their means of production. In philosophy, when someone argues that something ought to be a certain way simply because it is that way, we say that they have committed an error in their reasoning. This error is so prevalent that it has been given its own name. Scottish philosopher David Hume called this error the is/ought fallacy, because a successful argument for how something ought to be cannot be derived from how something is. So, we cannot say that religion has value just because it might come naturally to us, and Armstrong’s suggestion that it does therefore falls flat. What makes Armstrong’s quote important, instead, is her suggestion that human beings naturally gravitate to religion. Rather than being the victims of power-hungry forces that use religion for their own ends, human beings might routinely elect to engage in religious behavior in an effort to understand themselves and their context. This hypothesis serves as an alternative to the social explanation of the persistence of religion often advocated by atheists. However, atheists acknowledge that such considerations could motivate religious behavior even if religious claims themselves are false, and their position is bolstered by recent research into the psychological, biological and evolutionary underpinnings of religious behavior. For example, Psychologist Steven Pinker in his How the Mind Works, argues that the idea that deceased relatives are watching over us might spring directly from the recognition that we ourselves might one day become ancestors who would very much like to persist beyond bodily death. Evolutionary biologists argue that the group loyalties engendered by religion help us survive, and so it is only natural that those human beings who continue to exist are prone to engage in religious behavior; those human beings whose genes make them predisposed to religiosity are just the descendents of those beings who happened to survive the various 17 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins challenges of the last two hundred thousand years. Present-day humans continue to exhibit religious behavior, then, precisely because they are genetic heirs to that success. And psychologist Pascal Boyer explains that our sense of being watched over by an omniscient God might be a product of being acted upon as babies by other poorly-understood beneficent agents – our parents. Again, the point is that while religious behavior might come naturally to human beings, there are reasons for this that do not depend upon the truthfulness of claims about the existence of God or about any other religious matter. Of course, critics of the evolutionary approach point out that the pendulum swings the other way as well – just because we can explain our ability to formulate certain propositions in terms of our genes, along with our willingness to accept them, does not mean that those propositions are false. For example, my ability to do math is the product of biology and thus of evolutionary forces; but that does not mean that one plus one does not equal two. Those who claim that being able to explain the origins of mathematical reasoning biologically is indicative of the inherent falsehood of all mathematical claims are guilty of the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy is an error in reasoning one commits when one reaches a conclusion about a claim on the basis of its origin rather than on the basis of factors relevant to its truth or falsehood. One plus one does equal two, and the fact that we can explain how we reach that conclusion in terms of physiological processes ultimately made possible by genes does nothing to change its veracity. Similarly, just because the tendency to believe in God might be explained genetically doesn’t mean that God does not exist. Nevertheless, biological explanations for religious behavior abound, and, clearly, there are many ways that atheists justify atheism. Perhaps not so clearly, there are lots of ways of being an atheist. Most atheists as are as unobtrusive in their beliefs as are most theists, but, like some theists, there are some kinds of atheists that are more vocal than others, and it tends to be these atheists that the most press. In this way, atheism is to be distinguished from antitheism, sometimes called “New Atheism.” Atheism, at a bare minimum, entails believing that there is no God, while antitheists go further to argue that belief in God is a detriment to mankind and should not be tolerated. Neurologist Sam Harris, biologist Richard Dawkins, and journalist Christopher Hitchens have published bestselling books advocating 18 Religious Positions Professor Daniel G. Jenkins antitheism, including The End of Faith, The God Delusion, and God is Not Great, respectively. Atheism is also to be distinguished from the position of posttheism, which maintains that understanding the world in terms of God’s existence or non- existence is no longer useful. This is exactly what philosopher Friederich Nietzsche meant when he said, famously, that “God is dead” – that God is no longer a viable hypothesis through which to explain the universe or the human condition. Posttheism is consistent with the notion that science has reduced the omnipotent God of the Western Judeo-Christian tradition to a “God of the gaps” – that is, a God that remains useful as a concept only insofar as science has not yet explained all things. As science progresses, the thinking goes, there will be less work for the concept of God to do, and, eventually, no work at all. Posttheism is contrasted with atheism because posttheism is also postatheistic; posttheism rejects the idea that we can only make sense of the world through adopting one of two opposed positions – i.e., God versus no God. Where the theist and atheist see duality, the posttheist sees plurality. Epilogue There are many different kinds of faith, and each is supported in different ways. In this course we will explore many of these ideas in great detail, including various forms of theism, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will examine the pantheist themes in the Eastern religions Hinduism and Buddhism, and we will analyze different arguments for God’s existence. Before we can do this, however, we must look at different epistemological positions on what counts as knowledge, and on what it is rational to believe. This is exactly what we will be doing next. 19 1 Hesiod was the author of Theogeny, an epic poem about the birth of the Greek gods, while Homer was the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. 2 Interestingly, Descartes argued in his Meditations that he could know that God exists. However, his argument does not withstand scrutiny (or even his own radical doubt) and his reasons for advancing it are difficult to interpret. Deeper exploration of the issue is beyond our purview here, but is addressed more fully in Introduction to Philosophy. 3 Some define weak atheism so broadly as to include all those who do not affirm God’s existence. However, since such a categorization fails to draw a distinction between agnosticism and atheism, and since it would, by default, have us consider all newborn babies to be atheists, such a broad definition of weak atheism is not so useful. Additionally, some prefer to distinguish between gnostic atheists, who claim to know that God does not exist, and agnostic atheists, who merely believe that God does not exist. Because the terms might serve to confuse atheism and agnosticism, I have avoided their use here. Religious Positions Review Questions 1. What is theism? Is the difference between theism and other categories of belief dependent upon the belief in one versus many deities? the belief that god(s) take a special interest in humans. (i.e. Answer prayers and Gives awards and punishments) Yes 2. What is natural theology? What is apologetics? What is revealed theology? using rational intelligent human thinking to understand god and universe instead of religious text. demonstrating the compatibility of reason and Christianity the idea that religious truths can only be known through religious experiences such as visions and ceremonies, and through the study of religious texts 3. Explain why we can categorize the Calvinists and the Puritans as deists. Be sure to reference the concept of “total depravity”. The puratins believed that any actions performed by humans will and can effect the world beyond god’s will and that everyone’s destiny and fate was written long before they were born. In attempt to stay hopeful in their future salvation, they deprived themselves of any pleasures that could remotely be translated to sin, this helped build America because people were being selfless and investing in their land, environment and economy 4. Explain how pantheism is to be distinguished from animism. 5. What does it mean to say that God is immanent? What does it mean to say that God is transcendent? 6. With reference to specific aspects of their philosophy, explain why Spinoza and the PreSocratics can be best described as pantheists. 7. What are the two different kinds of agnostic? all humans suffer from a lack of access to knowledge about god. views lack of understanding as approachable 8. What is philosophical skepticism, and how is it related to agnosticism? The view that we may not be able to gain knowledge of objective reality. We likely do not know much about god bc texts change and interpretation change overtime, making it likely we have no clue. Even original texts are in the eyes of skeptics bc they cannot assume as complete truth. 9. Why does Richard Dawkins think that what he calls “Permanent Agnosticism in Principle” is an indefensible position? Agnostics must also be open to both sides in the sense that if true proof presents itself, they won’t cling to their disbelief as hard as believers do to their god. 10. Distinguish between strong atheism and weak atheism. Strong atheist: know there is no god believing in propositions only supported by evidence. Weak atheists: believe there is no god. 11. Generally speaking, how do atheists support atheism? 12. Briefly describe two ways mentioned in the lecture in which atheists explain the persistence of religion. Evolutionary biologists: o Group loyalties help survival o Religion/ religious acceptance is hereditary. Pascal Boyer: Psychologist o Explains that being watched over by god is a product of being acted upon by parents. 13. What did Karl Marx mean when he said that “religion is the opium of the masses”? How does Karen Armstrong respond to this view of religion? Karl Marx insisted that religion was a way to give people false hope to a perfect afterlife, a way to escape their suffering. Prevents freethinking Prevents revolution Preserves social order. Critique is important because it argues that people practice religious behaviors to better understand themselves. 14. What is the is/ought fallacy, and how is it used by some theists to defend theism? What is the genetic fallacy, and how is it used by some atheists to defend atheism? Is/ought fallacy: when someone argues things are a certain way because they just are. i. A successful arbument on how something ought to be cannot be derived from how something is. Genetic Fallacy: an error one commits when one reaches a conclusion about a claim on the basis of factors relevant to its truth or falsehood. Just because god may exist in our genetics does not mean he exists entirely. 15. How is atheism different from antitheism and posttheism? Some athiests believe or know that god does not exist Antitheism asserts that god does not exists and is against concept of god expecially in the effects of society. Postheism: god’s existence does not matter bc science gives answers.
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