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Advocating progressive values and equality for humanists, atheists, and freethinkers
  1. On this page
  2. Aims and objectives
  3. BA Philosophy, Religion and Ethics - Undergraduate degree study - VV56 - University of Birmingham
  4. Is religion based on fear?
  5. Greek Philosophy

Humanists affirm that humans have the freedom to give meaning, value, and purpose to their lives by their own independent thought, free inquiry, and responsible, creative activity. Humanists stand for the building of a more humane, just, compassionate, and democratic society using a pragmatic ethics based on human reason, experience, and reliable knowledge-an ethics that judges the consequences of human actions by the well-being of all life on Earth.

On this page

Humanism is a philosophy of life that considers the welfare of humankind — rather than the welfare of a supposed God or gods — to be of paramount importance. Humanism maintains there is no evidence a supernatural power ever needed or wanted anything from people, ever communicated to them, or ever interfered with the laws of nature to assist or harm anyone.

History shows that those efforts are most effective when they involve both compassion and the scientific method — which includes reliance on reason, evidence, and free inquiry. Humanism says people can find purpose in life and maximize their long-term happiness by developing their talents and using those talents for the service of humanity. Humanists believe that this approach to life is more productive and leads to a deeper and longer-lasting satisfaction than a hedonistic pursuit of material or sensual pleasures that soon fade.

While service to others is a major focus of Humanism, recreation and relaxation are not ignored, for these too are necessary for long-term health and happiness.

Aims and objectives

The key is moderation in all things. Humanism considers the universe to be the result of an extremely long and complex evolution under immutable laws of nature. Humanists view this natural world as wondrous and precious, and as offering limitless opportunities for exploration, fascination, creativity, companionship, and joy. Because science cannot now and probably never will be able to explain the ultimate origin or destiny of the universe, I think Humanism can include more than atheists and agnostics.

The lack of definite answers to these ultimate questions leaves room for reasonable people to hypothesize about the origin of the natural universe, and even to hope for some form of life beyond this one. 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. 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.

BA Philosophy, Religion and Ethics - Undergraduate degree study - VV56 - University of Birmingham

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.

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.

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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. 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.

Is religion based on fear?

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. 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?

Greek Philosophy

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. 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.

Furthermore, God knows that I shall in fact feel tired tomorrow. There is no obvious reason why God should not know this, as this is not a proposition about a future free action. But then God can deduce from the true proposition that I shall feel tired tomorrow and the true proposition that if I were to feel tired tomorrow I'd freely stay in bed tomorrow the true proposition that I shall freely stay in bed tomorrow. So, God can have infallible and exhaustive foreknowledge of the future, including our free future actions, thanks to his knowledge of what we should freely do in certain circumstances.

Knowledge of this sort is called God's 'middle knowledge' because it comes between his knowledge of necessary truths and his free knowledge of what he has freely decided to do.


It is also called 'Molinism' after Luis de Molina, who first came up with the view, though there appear to be examples of it in the Bible: 1 Samuel and Matthew This view holds that God knows our future free actions, but not by middle knowledge. A frequent metaphor used here is that God has a 'time telescope' that enables him to look into far-off times just as a normal telescope helps one to look into far-off places.

The idea is that God 'sees' the future just as one might see something happening a distance away; just as my seeing somebody performing an action some distance away doesn't prevent the person from performing it freely, so God's foresight of our actions doesn't prevent them from being performed freely. This is the view that accepts the argument, but, instead of rejecting human freedom as Calvinistic indeterminists do, it rejects the view that God knows today what we shall freely do tomorrow.

This view denies that God has exhaustive and infallible foreknowledge of future free actions. This has recently been the subject of much controversy within the evangelical community. Eternity is also still a 'hot' issue, the question here being whether to understand God's eternity as timelessness, or as everlastingness in time. So what do you think? Does God exist or not?