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Leave it to the Philosophers

Entry 1612, on 2013-12-30 at 09:44:06 (Rating 4, Religion)

When debating religious people (and others who have beliefs not necessarily based in reality) I often come across the idea that a supernatural world exists which cannot be understood by conventional methods, such as science, maths, or logic. Because this world isn't accessible to the techniques I prefer to rely on to explain other phenomena I am blocked from commenting on it. For example, some people might say I cannot justifiably comment on the existence of god because that is a question about the supernatural world which is beyond my preferred methods of discovery.

It's not just religious people who make this argument. Many scientists also use it, although I do get the impression that some find it a convenient way to avoid having to comment on contentious issues rather than genuinely believing it is true!

Famously, evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould developed the idea of "non-overlapping magisteria" which says that science and religion have different purposes and are useful to examine different areas of knowledge. He defined magisteria as "a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution", and claims "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)".

Well, maybe... but the thing which I find puzzling is why religion? Why does the examination of meaning and moral values require a supernatural element? Surely this is where philosophy would claim to have the ultimate mandate. But where would that leave religion? With nothing, and that's the problem. I guess Gould and others are just trying to be nice and avoid conflict with the extensive religious community in the US by giving it responsibility for an area of knowledge which it doesn't really deserve.

Look at religion's efforts in the past at discovering ultimate meaning and moral value. They haven't exactly been an outstanding success, have they? For example, for ultimate meaning. This is established through a childish myth involving an illogical and capricious god which no one should really take seriously. Is this really ultimate meaning? I say leave it to the philosophers!

And regarding moral values. Sure, there's a lot of positive philosophy in many religions, especially Christianity, but there is also a lot of superstition, intolerance, and lack of relevance. Again I would rather trust philosophy with this responsibility because it doesn't have to constantly work around an old myth.

Actually, what I have written above seems slightly harsh. Maybe religion does have a place but I don't think it has anything to do with establishing truth or meaning. Maybe it has a place in forming communities and maintaining historical myths and traditions. But that seems a rather diminished role to what religion has had in the past and what it sees itself as needing to communicate today.


Comment 5 (3809) by richard on 2014-01-03 at 08:19:23: (view earlier comments)

I struggle to see how to read your comment (4) Owen and come away with anything but that you mean 'leave it to atheist philosophers'. Sorry, but you have it backwards. First you say that religious people (who by your decree, are not deserving of the title 'real philosophers') have no choice but to say God did it., Then you contrast your real philosophers, who might conclude that same thing, but somehow they 'don't have to'. Seriously? Surely, it obvious to all that there is no 'having to do anything' involved for the religious. Religious philosophers are simply the philosophers that have come to the conclusion that God exists, after their investigations.

Read your last paragraoh again and please explain how you can mean anything but 'Leave it to the atheist philosophers'? Again, I have no problem with you having and expressing that opinion, but lets at least be honest about the fact that when you consider that a large part of philosophy involves the very question of Gods existence, disallowing that viewpoint a-priori is pretty much just philosophical bigotry. :-)


Comment 6 (3810) by OJB on 2014-01-03 at 08:51:14:

By "religious philosophers" I mean philosophers who are religious. If you are religious you have to believe in god and that's the problem. A philosopher who started out with no fixed idea either way and then found evidence for a god still shouldn't be religious, he should be a philosopher who thinks there is a god based on current best evidence but is prepared to change his mind if necessary.

The "religious philosophers" I have seen are people like William Lane Craig whose arguments are so pathetic that even I could refute the. Why does an intelligent person come up with such lame arguments? Because he has to so that his pre-existing belief in god (the Christian version in this case) can be supported.


Comment 7 (3811) by OJB on 2014-01-03 at 08:58:49:

By the way, I still think Craig is a philosopher (in fact he is a "religious philosopher") and his opinions cannot be completely ignored (all ideas are worthy of some consideration). But I think that his religiosity makes him a far less effective philosopher than he would be otherwise, and because of that he cannot make a particularly valuable contribution to the pursuit of truth or value (which is what I said in comment 4).


Comment 8 (3812) by richard on 2014-01-03 at 18:27:47:

Yes, your opinion was very clear both times. So as I understand your claim then, it's that it is fine to be a philosopher, but once a persons philosophical research leads them to a conclusion that it is reasonable to infer that God exists, they suddenly become completely incapable of further philosophy, OR the ability to 'change his mind if necessary'? Firstly, what evidence do you have that 'religious philosophers' like WLC and thousands of others, would not change their minds if necessary? Secondly, I am sorry, but I think we are still agreeing all along, but I will change the wording to 'Leave it to the non religious philosophers'. Is that more accurate?


Comment 9 (3813) by OJB on 2014-01-03 at 20:06:11:

Do you think there is a difference between someone who has found evidence indicating some sort of supernatural force - or god if you prefer - as a result of philosophical musings and someone who is religious? I think there is but maybe this gets back to defining words again - as it often does.

WLC is unlikely to change his mind because he's religious - not just a philosopher who thinks there is a god. For example he thinks the Shroud of Turin supports Christianity... pathetic! Only religious faith can make an intelligent person so stupid!


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