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As a believer, I think that theism is more reasonable than atheism although I

As a believer, I think that theism is more reasonable than atheism although I think that atheists can have good reasons to believe that their worldview is true. Is this position rational? Put in another way, is it possible for me to claim that my worldview is the correct one while granting that the opposite worldview can be as reasonable as the one I hold to be true?

I hope you are right for I while I am a Christian philosopher (or a philosopher who is a Christian) I believe that many of my friends and colleagues who are atheists or agnostics or who accept Islam or a non-theistic view of God (as my Hindu philosopher colleague and friend) are just as reasonable as I am in the sense that each of them has intellectual integrity and has spent at least as much time intelligently reflecting on their convictions, earnestly seeking the truth in such matters. Still, I think each of us needs to hold that the reasons that justify our different beliefs are not defeated (undermined) by the reasons for incompatible beliefs. An atheist might be able to acknowledge that I am just as reasonable as she is, but she cannot (in my view) think that her reasoning is undermined by the evidence or reasoning that I undertake. Alternatively, consider a Christian-Muslim exchange (something I am deeply committed to). I accept a traditional Christian understanding of God incarnate on the basis of an historical argument and an argument from religious experience (I roughly following the reasoning of the Oxford based philosopher Richard Swinburne in his book on the incarnation). In doing so, I believe that I am committed to thinking that no one had decisive, irrefutable evidence against the incarnation that any reasonable person would or should accept. I can certainly recognize that my Muslim philosopher friend Mohammad is reasonable in only recognizing Jesus as a holy prophet (peace be upon him), but there is a limit here in terms of my not being able to accept that he knows (with certainty, based on irrefutable evidence) that Jesus was only a prophet.

Three other points are worth noting.

First, I believe that the above matter is not special to philosophy of religion, but it runs throughout metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, philosophy of law, philosophy of language, science, and so on. I have two colleagues that are Kantian and one that is Humean. They both cannot be right about the nature and normative status of ethical obligations, but as far as I can telly they are intellectual peers and regard each other as equally reasonable.

Second, it is partly because we do (in the practice of philosophy) believe that colleagues who disagree with us are equally reasonable that we are motivated to engage each other in debate and sustained arguments. Without that assumption / premise, the very landscape of philosophy would look more hostile (in my view) than it currently does.

Third, as a general point, I happen to think that the reasons why philosophers adopt the positions they do is highly complex and historically conditioned. My hypothesis is that philosophers form their views on different matters based on clusters of arguments, their view of certain concrete cases which they interpret differently in light of alternative theoretical commitments, the success or failure of thought experiments, their particular exposure to positions during their graduate education, and perhaps even psychological and sociological reasons. For example, one person might naturally rebel against the perceived status quo which is why he or she adopts a form of phenomenology in a department which is structuralist, whereas another person is an anti-realist about freedom in a philosophical libertarian culture. So, in offering this third suggestion, I suggest that we rarely have a case in which two philosophers disagree about X because they disagree about the evidential force of a single, separate line of reasoning. To give a concrete case, I think Philip Kitcher is just as reasonable as me or probably more reasonable than me philosophically (he is older, has been practicing philosophy longer at an elite university, while I am a mere College professor). I accept a cosmological argument for theism (you can find a good version in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy), whereas he does not. Imagine we read the same article. The reasons for our diverging in our assessments probably lies outside of the line of reasoning in the contribution. Kitcher, for example, adopts a form of pragmatism when it comes to ostensibly necessary truths that I think is mistaken. For us to debate the cosmological argument, we would probably need to debate the adequacy of his pragmatism, and then probably move on to ever greater areas of epistemology and metaphysics. Overall, then, I suggest (going back to my original response) two philosophers may be equal in intellectual integrity, equal in focussed, intelligent reasoning, equally in identifying the truth or most reasonable position(s), and yet reach divergent views, partly due to the highly complex, interwoven nature of philosophy.

Do you need to be religious in order to be Moral?

Do you need to be religious in order to be Moral?

I will try to resist this reply: that depends on what you mean by "religious" and "moral." But definitions do matter, and I will not be able to avoid appealing to definitions.

If you have a very broad definition of "religious" according to which being religious involves reverence, caring about what is sacred, being consistent (as when someone might say of an athlete that "she works-out religiouslyl") and if "morality" includes such elements, then, yes, there is an important (at least) intersection between being religious and being moral.

But if by "religious" one means that one adheres to religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.... then most philosophers have not thought that being religious is essential for being moral. In fact, many religious thinkers (theologians or sages) have insisted that morality (both the awareness of what is moral and the ability to live a moral life) is available for persons in general independent of one's religious beliefs and practices. There are various nuances, however, that I address below. Sorry if this reply might appear pedantic, when you probably are hoping for a 'yes' or 'no' response.

Many religious thinkers believe that religion involves far more than "morality" --the worship of God, for example, which is sometimes described as a duty but often portrayed as a great, transcendent experience that goes beyond the realm of morality --just as, on a minor scale, the pursuit of something aesthetic (beauty in the arts) might involve matters that extend beyond (without being in conflict with) morality and ethics. It would be hard to put the greatness of Beethoven's Ode to Joy in narrowly moral / ethical terms.

I suggest that three of the many interesting, debated questions that bear on your question concern (1) whether acknowledging morality as an objective, binding code that calls for (or demands) our allegiance requires a religiously oriented worldview; (2) the extent that religion itself can be reduced to morality and (3) the extent to which religion can either enhance or conflict with moral beliefs and practice (as captured, for example, from a secular point of view).

On the first point, you might find the work of George Mavrodes interesting or challenging. He proposes that an acknowledgement of objective morality requires viewing the world in teleological (purposive or, in his case, theistic terms). Probably the leading advocate for that position today is C. Stephen Evans. On the second point, Kant would be your key reference point. Scholarship on Kant is divided and complex, but more often than not he is seen as a key promoter of the view that at the very heart of Christianity, and all religions when properly purified through philosophical criticism, is ethics. In terms of the third category, perhaps there is no more provocative philosopher for you to engage than Kierkegaard in his dramatic, extraordinary work: Either/Or.

For my own views, check out A beginner's guide: philosophy of religion.

Is not the very concept of religion toxic to humanity? Never before has any

Is not the very concept of religion toxic to humanity? Never before has any species encountered a larger source of hate, bigotry and ultimate and utter lack of ethical direction. Surely such notions of fairies in the clouds ought not be taken seriously in a current day society, especially when such deluded notions can be used to promote acts such as crusades, act against contraception and promote the sexual abuse of children.

I have a feeling you aren't asking if the concept of religion is toxic; you're asking if religion is toxic. But I was a bit puzzled by this:

"Never before has any species encountered a larger source of hate, bigotry and ultimate and utter lack of ethical direction."

After all, bigotry and ethical direction or the lack thereof don't apply to any non-human species that I know of.

But let that pass. I gather you're not a fan of religion. The issue, however, seems to be whether religion is worse than, say, nationalism, tribalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, warped ideology, and general human bloody-mindedness. I suppose that's an empirical question, and God knows that there's a lot of evil that's been done in the name of all these things. But it's at least a somewhat mixed bag, isn't it? For it's a matter of plain fact, that very good things have been done in the name of religion, along with the very bad, and some of the noblest ideals I can think of have deep religious roots. (Buddhist notions of compassion, for instance—or the Christian concept of agape.)

The horrors of Nazism, Stalinism and Mao's cultural revolution weren't committed in the name of any deity, though their vileness arguably surpasses anything that was. There's a lot of evil in the world, and it's perpetrated by the "godly" and the ungodly alike.

This isn't meant to absolve religion of responsibility for the many wrongs it has caused. Furthermore, religion as it's often practiced has its own original sin: believers are often encouraged to believe things with enormous moral consequences, even though there's acres of room for sane people to believe otherwise. But (say I) there's no inherent reason why religious impulses have to be accompanied by dogmatic belief in claims that are both optional and unknowable, let alone execrable. After all, if there's a being worthy of the name "God," that being has to pass the test of moral perfection. This has a consequence: it means that religious ideas that don't stand up to moral scrutiny should be rejected by the believer on the grounds that no God would endorse them. Following supposed "commandments" blindly without asking whether a truly divine being could have issued them is a form of idolatry—the worst kind, in fact. But notice that this means bad religion, unlike a good many bad ideas, contains its own potential cure.

Is an act less moral if it is done by a Christian to an atheist? It seems to be

Is an act less moral if it is done by a Christian to an atheist? It seems to be this way because Christians only act morally because they're told to by god. Atheists have no need to be good but seem to act that way because they logically realise that it is the right thing to do. Not from fear of god/hell.

Is it always non-racist to criticize a religion? Even if we disregard ethnic

Is it always non-racist to criticize a religion? Even if we disregard ethnic religions such as Shinto or Judaism, the reality remains that any religion and its branches will always have one predominant majority ethnic group practicing it, usually of the religion's or the branch's founding race. To say that one can simply change to another religion or no religion anytime at will is to assume that one's culture of which race is a central component whether one realizes it or not, and one's religion are mutually exclusive, as if the matter is a logic game. One might argue that it's the culture, not the race that's being criticized, but then culture arises from race (among other factors), doesn't it?

Your opening question, I think, is relatively easy to answer: it's not *always* non-racist to criticize a religion. Sometimes it is racist because the criticism is motivated by racist attitudes. You may, for example, loathe race X, and you know that all of them are, say Christian. With that clearly in mind, you criticize Christianity, and this is an expression of your racism towards X. Another example: you are trying to compare religions, to see which ones you think are particularly "bad." You notice that Religion "R" is practiced predominately by white people, and you hate white people. This biases you to criticize R more harshly than other religions, and you conclude that R is the worst religion. This is again a criticism of a religion that is, at least in some sense, racist. So it is possible to launch a racist criticism of religion.
I'm not so sure about your suggestions relating to this question, though. Consider the two most popular religions on earth (I may actually be wrong about this... but at least some years ago these were the demographic facts as I learned them): Christianity and Islam. Christianity is followed by millions of white and millions of Hispanics (not to mention millions of Africans and millions of Asians...). It started out, of course, in the middle east--we count Semitic peoples as "Caucasian" but that's never stopped white racism against Semitic people. Those are different races, and I don't think it's accurate to say that Christianity is dominantly white or dominantly Hispanic, for example. One may associate Christianity with Europe, so one who is racist may criticize Christianity in a racist spirit; but it doesn't follow that *any* criticism of Christianity is racism against Europeans. One may just criticize the doctrines and policies of Christianity, as they are believed and followed throughout the world's peoples. Now consider Islam. Iranians, East and South Asians, and several African ethnicities are not Arab. Here, though you might think that Islam is "predominantly" an Arab religion, I think the suggestion would go wrong exactly when it comes to the issue at hand: critics of Islam often have the beliefs and policies of practitioners from those other ethnicities in mind. An Indian critic of Islam may well have Pakistanis predominantly in mind, not any of the Arab nationalities. And, while we're at it, we should note that the most populous Muslim country (at least as far as I know) is not an Arab country (it's Indonesia). So, this leads me to have doubts about your assumption, that religions generally are associated with a single ethnicity, especially as we consider religions as the target of criticism. Finally, I also have doubts about the suggestion that culture arises from race, but this is an even larger question, about which many, many more facts would need to be brought to bear.
To sum up: for what it's worth, I think clearly some criticisms of religion are motivated by racism. But we shouldn't dismiss *all* criticism of a religion as mere racism. Other philosophers here may disagree with me, so please don't take what I've written as "the philosophers' view." There has been some discussion about particular cases that may be relevant to your interest here. For example, see the Sam Harris controversy concerning his remarks on Islam (though of course you may have had this in mind originally).

Should a brief history of the principles of the world religions and philosophers

Should a brief history of the principles of the world religions and philosophers be part of public school curriculum?

I believe that if one's education in public school did not include some attention the world religions (a study of their history, teachings), then one's education would be profoundly incomplete. I think that it would be impossible to claim to be well educated in the history of Europe, the near and middle East, Asia, the Americas, Africa without some knowledge of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. One might be well educated in math, physics, chemistry, biology without such a background, but once one comes to terms with history, culture, art, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, medicine... I propose that it would be very difficult to avoid "a brief history of the principles [and history] of the world religions." You asked about the principles of philosophers as well as religion and, on that point, I also think it would be hard to claim to be well educated without some exposure to the philosophical principles that underlie a culture's history and governance. In my country, the United States, being self-aware about the history of the USA would, I believe, require understanding the philosophical principles behind the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the causes behind the Civil War, and so on.

Is science held to a lesser standard of proof than religion for analytic

Is science held to a lesser standard of proof than religion for analytic philosophers?

Interesting question. To begin, matters of "proof" are rarely involved in analytical philosophy of religion. In fact, the days of when any philosopher claims to "prove" a thesis in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, philosophy of science etc seem past. Philosophers for a while seem to settle on advancing good or cogent arguments (or plausible counter-arguments and counter-examples) rather than claiming to prove a point. Though there are some philosophers who do think they have proofs. Galen Strawson, for example, claims (wrongly, in my view) to have proven that no person is morally responsible for any of their acts.

Proofs to one side, it is interesting to wonder whether the evidential standards differ among analytic philosophers when they consider claims in science and claims in or about religion. Roger Trigg is an interesting philosopher who contend that science requires a philosophical foundation and that foundation invites or provides some evidence for theism. Richard Swinburne takes up and defends a similar position. In general, however, many philosophers today subscribe to the greater authority of the sciences (especially the natural or physical sciences) rather than the authority of religious teachings. For a balanced approach you might look at the two volume work Science and Religion in Dialogue edited by Melville Stewart (published by Wiley-Blackwell).

Is atheism a valid philosophical stance to take, from an academic point of view?

Is atheism a valid philosophical stance to take, from an academic point of view? I've recently been collecting university-published books, including on the topics of religion and philosophy and I noticed a pattern that there were far more books and university fellows dedicated to christianity and other forms of theism. Does this mean atheism is merely a curiosity in academics or have I been buying the wrong books?

Atheism is, indeed, a respectable philosophical stance. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism would provide a helpful overview, and for contemporary reflection on atheism you might check out the Oxford University Press book Philosophers Without God, edited by a panelist on this website. Michael Martin's book Atheism is a massive sustained argument for atheism. There are, indeed, many positive philosophical works on theism and Christianity in particular. I happen to be a Christian philosopher (or a philosopher who is a Christian) so I do not think you have been buying the wrong books! But I study and engage with the excellent and growing body of philosophical works that advance atheistic positions and I recommend these to you.

Somewhat related to your question, please allow me to add an observation about the concept or category of *atheism.* English usage of the term may be somewhat fluid, but I am inclined to think that if someone (a philosopher or professor in some other field or, really, anyone at all) has never given any serious thought about theism (the belief that God exists), then it might be more accurate to think of them as *non-theists* rather than atheists. The reason for this is that the term "atheism" suggests (or so I suggest) a rejection of theism which (again, in my mind) suggests theism has been entertained. An analogy might be this: imagine a philosopher who has never really thought about Hegel. It would be odd to think of her as anti-Hegelian, but it would not be odd to think of a philosopher like Kierkegaard who studied Hegel's work closely and rejected it as anti-Hegelian. In terms of those philosophers who self-identify as atheists, there is a wide spectrum of viewpoints. One philosopher, William Rowe, who is an excellent philosopher (widely recognized as excellent by both atheists and theists), describes himself as a "friendly atheist." You can do a search for the term and find some interesting references on the web. What Rowe meant was not so much that he would (for example) gladly buy you a drink whether or not you are an atheist (on this matter, I can't say as I have never met him), but he means that while he thinks that atheism is true, he believes that atheism is not the only option for rational persons. He believes, for example, that while the problem of evil provides a person with a good reason for thinking atheism is true, a person can reasonably think that the existence and quantity of evil is compatible with believing in an all good God.

I consider myself a socially liberal agnostic from the South. I turn 40 soon

I consider myself a socially liberal agnostic from the South. I turn 40 soon and was a Christian until I was 32 growing up in a southern Baptist family. While discussing today's world and politics with my family and friends, when I don't have an answer that satisfies them they usually change topics by calling me a "liberal" as if it is some sort of hurtful slur. I don't understand this b/c I actually know the definition and their is nothing hurtful about it. My biggest problem with them using this label is that, the one man they taught me to worship for most of my life preached feeding the poor (food stamps), healing the sick (socialized meds), and overly emphasized passivism (turning the other cheek/avoiding conflict), three very liberal ideas that seem to me common logical sense, yet they oppose those people that receive these services that they don't think deserve them. Am I missing something or should I be offended by being called this? The rhetoric I hear from Christians these days about...

I've never quite forgiven Ronald Reagan for making "liberal" into a slur, but letting that pass...

I don't think there's necessarily any inconsistency here. Jesus told us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and turn the other cheek. But he didn't say that the government should be in charge of all this. In fact Jesus had more or less nothing to say about how secular government should be set up (unless you can extract a political theory from his cryptic remark about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's. It's consistent for someone to feel a duty to do what Jesus commanded and also to believe that the government shouldn't coercively extract money from people to carry out this mandate.

As it happens, I'm a liberal and am quite happy to see government tax us to feed people, cure them, educate them, and so on. But I don't think politically conservative Christians are automatically guilty of confusion, let alone bad faith.

I often heard atheists argued that even if a God exists, it does not mean it has

I often heard atheists argued that even if a God exists, it does not mean it has to be a good or infinite or one God. They are implying that it is possible that there be an evil or finite or many gods. Are these reasonable assumptions or is it the case that God has to be necessarily good, infinite and one?

Eugene Marshall's very helpful response explains that many different kinds of Gods, or even many Gods, might be compatible with the various different arguments for God's existence. I'd like to add just a minor, other point. If you take the Hebrew bible (or "old testament") very seriously, you might think there is also a biblical basis for rejecting the idea that God is wholly good, and even (depending on what parts you take seriously) that there is more than one god. So, some people might even think that there is a biblical basis for some of these accounts of God(s). Howard Wettstein has a nice essay on the former (I mean on God's not being wholly good), entitled "God's Struggles." Jeanine Diller also has some stuff on this. As for the idea that multiple Gods can be found in the Hebrew Bible, I think that's more of a stretch but I've heard some atheists appeal to that interpretative possibility.