Daniel Hill provides a brief introduction to some of the issues discussed and some of the key Christian thinkers in the Philosophy of Religion and Natural Theology. Further resources on most of the issues covered can be found on bethinking.org by using the search bar.

1. What Philosophy of Religion Is

Philosophy of religion is the interface between philosophy on the one hand and theology and religious studies on the other. It belongs to theology and religious studies in virtue of its subject matter, and to philosophy in virtue of its method. How we think of the philosophy of religion will then depend on how we think of its mother disciplines.

Suppose that we think of philosophy as the analysis of abstract and, in some sense, ultimate concepts. One way to define philosophy of religion then would be to say that it is the analysis of the concepts that we encounter in religion(s), just as philosophy of science is the analysis of the concepts that we encounter in science(s). The question then arises as to what these concepts are, ie. of how we are to think of theology and religious studies. It might be thought that one good candidate for philosophical analysis would be the concept of religion itself. Only a few philosophers of religion, however, have devoted time to this. John Hick and D.Z. Phillips have thought about it, but most philosophers of religion turn straight to the central concept of theology – the concept of God or the divine. This might be thought very Western-centred. It is perhaps natural, though, for Western philosophers to concentrate on concepts central to Western religions. Nevertheless, some Western philosophers of religion, such as Keith Yandell, have engaged in philosophical analysis of concepts central to Eastern religions, such as Buddhism.

1.1 Two sorts of philosopher

Philosophers of religion, like other philosophers, fall into one of two camps according to their choice of philosophical method: those influenced by 'continental philosophy', who tend to dominate theology departments, and 'analytical philosophers', who dominate the philosophy departments, at least at the main centres for philosophy of religion. So the analytical philosophers have tended to approach philosophy of religion with the tools that they are well-known for: logic, precision, clarity, and careful argumentation. The continentals generally go for the Big Questions of love, life, and death in the less formal and more literary style of their influences. It is important to remember that most philosophers of religion also work in other areas of philosophy.

1.2 Two sorts of Christian

Most philosophers of religion fall into one of two camps from the religious point of view too: the majority are either Roman Catholics or Reformed Calvinists. (There are a few important exceptions, such as William Alston and Peter van Inwagen, who are both Episcopalians, Robert Merrihew Adams and Marilyn McCord Adams, who are Methodists, and Richard Swinburne of Oxford, a member of the Orthodox Church.) Since the issues tackled by philosophers of religion are ultimate and general, there is a large amount of agreement between the Catholics and the Calvinists. There are relatively few philosophers of religion from other religions, though there are many atheists that have an interest in the subject – an interest that usually goes by way of trying to show that God doesn't exist or that Christians are irrational.

2. Where Do They Do It?

Nobody doubts that the world's leading centre for philosophy of religion is the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA, where almost everybody seems to be doing philosophy of religion. Yale University is fairly important too. In Britain the main centre is Oxford, which always has a Professor of Philosophy of Religion (a 'named chair'). Notre Dame itself seems to have cornered the market in philosophy of religion by recruiting both Roman Catholics and Reformed Calvinists.

2.1 Big Al

Notre Dame's brightest star is Alvin Plantinga, whom everyone agrees to be the current world-leader in the field. He is a product of the analytical school of philosophy and of the Dutch Reformed Church. Hence the Dutch surname; Plantinga himself once quipped that "there is a law-like generalisation that if an American philosopher's name ends in '-a' … then that philosopher is a graduate of Calvin College". (Calvin College was, when Plantinga wrote, the leading training ground for Reformed Calvinists, but now, like everyone else, they all seem to be going to Notre Dame.)

the burning question in philosophy of religion today is 'What sort of justification, if any, is needed for religious belief?'

One of Plantinga's most important early works was The Nature of Necessity (1967), which was essentially (if you'll excuse the pun) a treatise on modal logic, but which had some important applications to the philosophy of religion. Plantinga had already begun to explore these applications in his book God and Other Minds (1967), and the applications from The Nature of Necessity may be found in a slightly more popular version: God, Freedom, and Evil (1974). In these books Plantinga attempts to rebut arguments against belief in God (theistic belief), and to show how belief in God can be justified.

Since then Plantinga has broadened his concerns into general epistemology, in other words, the study of how we can know things. He has written a trilogy on warrant (warrant is "that property enough of which is what makes the difference between knowledge and mere true belief" – Plantinga (2000), p.xi). The first two volumes, which appeared in 1993, are Warrant: The Current Debate (1993) and Warrant and Proper Function (1993). The third volume, Warrant and Christian Belief (2000), appeared quite recently. The topics that Plantinga has written on have been the most important ones in the philosophy of religion over the past thirty years, important because he has written on them. As a result of his work, the burning question in philosophy of religion today is 'What sort of justification, if any, is needed for religious belief?'. Let us look at this next.

3. Religious Epistemology

3.1 Arguing for God's existence

Traditionally, philosophers of religion have answered 'deductively or inductively sound arguments' to the above question [ie. 'What sort of justification, if any, is needed for religious belief?'], and a large part of the philosophy of religion has consisted of the advancement of arguments designed to support the conclusion that there is a God. There are three very important ones:

3.1.1 The Ontological Argument

This had been written off (like so much else in the philosophy of religion) until Plantinga revived it in The Nature of Necessity in a new, modal, version. The argument was originally put forward in AD 1078 by Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his work Proslogion, though it is hotly disputed whether his version actually is an argument or rather an investigation into God's mode of existence. Anselm's argument had the following steps:

  1. God is, by definition, that than which nothing greater can be conceived.
  2. It is greater to exist than not to exist.
  3. Suppose God does not exist; then we can conceive of something greater than God, viz. a being like God but that exists.
  4. If we can conceive of something greater than God then we can conceive of something greater than that than which nothing greater can be conceived.
  5. It is not possible to conceive of something greater than that than which nothing greater can be conceived.
  6. Therefore it is not possible to conceive of something greater than God.
  7. Therefore our supposition that God does not exist was false.
  8. Therefore God exists.

Anselm then proceeds to show that God exists necessarily, ie. that he has to exist, he couldn't have failed to exist.

Plantinga's modal version, however, contains the following steps:

  1. God is a logically / metaphysically necessary being.
  2. Therefore God exists in every possible world or no possible world.
  3. It's logically / metaphysically possible that God exist.
  4. So God exists in at least one possible world.
  5. So God exists in every possible world.
  6. So God exists in the actual world.
  7. So God exists.

Plantinga's move from the alleged possibility of God's necessary existence to God's actual necessary existence is legitimated by a system of modal logic known as 'S5'. There is still much debate about Plantinga's argument and how to understand Anselm's version. Graham Oppy has even recently written a whole book just on the ontological argument: Ontological Arguments and Belief in God (1995).

3.1.2 The Cosmological Argument

This also has many forms, one being that if there exists a contingent being, ie. a being that might have existed or might not have existed, there must exist a necessary being, ie. a being that had to exist, that couldn't have not existed, to, as it were, explain its existence. More formally:

  1. There exists at least one contingent being.
  2. For every contingent thing that exists there exists another being to explain its existence ('The Principle of Sufficient Reason').
  3. It is impossible that there be an infinite chain of contingent beings each explaining another.
  4. It is impossible that there be a circular chain of contingent beings each explaining another.
  5. Therefore there exists a necessary being.

This, although classically expounded by Aquinas, G.W. von Leibniz and others, has also received some recent consideration in the literature, with one of the sharpest contemporary philosophers of religion, Peter van Inwagen, propounding a surprising a priori version of the argument in his book Metaphysics (1993). His version goes like this:

  1. Possibly, there exists at least one contingent being.
  2. For every contingent thing that exists there exists another being to explain its existence ('The Principle of Sufficient Reason').
  3. It is impossible that there be an infinite chain of contingent beings each explaining another.
  4. It is impossible that there be a circular chain of contingent beings each explaining another.
  5. Possibly, therefore, there exists a necessary being.
  6. Necessarily, therefore, there exists a necessary being.
  7. Actually, therefore, there exists a necessary being.

Van Inwagen does not endorse this argument – in fact, he rejects it; he merely puts it forward for consideration. It is notable because nobody had given it quite this formulation before.

3.1.3 The Argument from Design

Historically, this argument was proposed by many philosophers, and given classic formulation with a famous 'watch on the heath' example by William Paley in his Natural Theology (1802). Paley's argument goes something like this:

  1. Watches display order.
  2. The universe displays order.
  3. Like things have like causes, for the most part.
  4. The cause of the watch is an intelligent designer.
  5. Therefore, probably, the cause of the universe is an intelligent designer.

This argument, however, had already been severely attacked by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), and received another severe blow in the form of the theory of evolution. More recently Richard Swinburne, Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford, has given a new version of the argument from design using probability theory in his book The Existence of God. There has been some debate over how appropriate and how successful it is to use the tools of the philosophy of science to show that God's existence is more probable than not. The basic structure of the argument is:

  1. There exists order in the world.
  2. The order in the world is probably not due to chance.
  3. The order in the world is not (totally) due to humans.
  4. The order in the world cannot be explained by science.
  5. Therefore, the order in the world is probably due to and explained by God.
  6. Therefore, probably, God exists.

Recent versions (including Swinburne's) are considerably more complex than this simplified scheme.

3.2 Analysis

Although the arguments have long been favoured as apologetic tools to convince the sceptic of God's existence there are some reasons to be dubious about their cogency. All of them have disputable premisses and it seems presumptuous to think that any atheist that rejected them would be irrational. Plantinga suggested a more gentle strategy, at least concerning the ontological argument: he thinks that this argument does not show that God exists, but does show that it is rational to believe in God, since it is, he claimed, clearly rational to believe its premisses.

To find a God that is all-loving, all-merciful, totally just, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent requires us to go beyond these arguments of natural theology

Even if the arguments are sound the Christian will note that they do not tell us very much about what God is like: they tell us that he is a necessary being, that he is the cause of order, but not much more. To find a God that is all-loving, all-merciful, totally just, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent requires us to go beyond these arguments of natural theology, ie. theology without the use of special revelation such as the Bible. Finally, we want our belief in God to be firm rather than wavering (cf. James 1:6), and it may be doubted whether our belief could be firm enough to allow us, say, to die for our faith, if it is based on a merely probabilistic argument.

3.3 Arguments against God's existence

As for arguments against the existence of God, many of the arguments of the logical positivists, such as the one that talk about God is meaningless because it is unverifiable, have vanished without trace, along with the logical positivists themselves. One argument that has shown no sign of diminishing in popularity, still less vanishing, is the problem of evil.

3.3.1 The Problem of Evil

This may be expressed very roughly as follows. The set of propositions {(1)-(4)} is inconsistent, so at least one of them is wrong:

  1. God is good, and therefore wants to remove evil.
  2. God is omniscient, and therefore knows that there is evil.
  3. God is omnipotent, and therefore can remove evil.
  4. Evil exists.

It is very rare these days to see the problem of evil held up as a knockdown argument for atheism. This is due to the pioneering work of Alvin Plantinga (you guessed it), who has shown that it is impossibly difficult to establish any sound proof of God's non-existence using this argument. He did this by arguing that it is possible that we have been given free will and that God cannot cause us to use our free will 'properly' as then we shouldn't be free. Plantinga further speculated that natural disasters might very well be due to demons misusing their God-given free will.

Instead, atheists usually now present the argument as showing just that God's existence is improbable. Debate continues to rage fiercely about whether it succeeds in this. If God did exist, should we necessarily know God's reasons for allowing suffering? 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 2000. If you wish to know more, there is no shortage of literature – over 3600 articles and books have been written on the problem of evil since 1960 alone. I trust that the reader will therefore forgive the brevity of this survey.

3.3.2 The Lack of Evidence

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!" (quoted in Salmon (1978), p.176, as cited by Plantinga in Plantinga (1983)). As Plantinga remarks, "we may have our doubts as to just how that sort of a response would be received" (Plantinga (1983), p.104).

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. K. Clifford, who said "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence" – see Clifford (1886), reprinted in Stump and Murray (1999), p.273. 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.

3.4 Is Belief Rational?

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. This question was first raised by Plantinga in a book he edited with a fellow Reformed Calvinist, Nicholas Wolterstorff, until recently Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale. 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 (2000), p.xi). 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. 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 (1991). In it he claims that "putative direct awareness of God can provide justification for certain kinds of beliefs about God." Since its publication a very lively debate has raged over whether this is true, and over questions such as whether perception always involves conceptualization, and whether religious experiences of different religious traditions are comparable or not.

Finally on this topic, Edinburgh University Press has now launched a series on religious epistemology called 'Reason and Religion'. This series is edited by Paul Helm, formerly Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion at King's College London, and formerly President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, and currently J.I. Packer Professor of Philosophical Theology at Regent College, Vancouver. Each volume in the series is an exploration of one of the ways of seeking justification for religious beliefs.

4. Philosophical Theology

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?' or 'Can God create a person that knows a secret that even God does not know?'.

4.1 Omnipotence

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?

4.2 Omniscience

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:

  1. If I'm free I'll be able freely to get up tomorrow and freely to stay in bed tomorrow.
  2. If I'll freely get up tomorrow then God believed that yesterday.
  3. If I'll freely stay in bed tomorrow then God believed that yesterday.
  4. So either God believed yesterday that I'd freely get up tomorrow or God believed yesterday that I'd freely stay in bed tomorrow.
  5. I cannot tomorrow bring it about that God believed something yesterday.
  6. Suppose God believed yesterday that I'd freely get up tomorrow.
  7. Then if I freely stayed in bed tomorrow I'd make God's belief false.
  8. This is impossible so it is impossible that I freely stay in bed tomorrow.
  9. Suppose God believed yesterday that I'd freely stay in bed tomorrow.
  10. Then if I freely got up tomorrow I'd make God's belief false.
  11. This is impossible so it is impossible that I freely get up tomorrow.
  12. On either supposition that I freely get up tomorrow or that I freely stay in bed tomorrow we have an impossibility.
  13. Therefore our supposition that I am free is false.

There are four major ways to respond to this argument:

4.2.1 Determinism (Calvinism)

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.

4.2.2 Indeterminism (Arminianism)

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:

4.2.2.1 Molinism

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 23:7-13 and Matthew 11:21.

4.2.2.2 Simple Foreknowledge

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.

4.2.2.3 Indeterminism (Openness)

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. In fact, Paternoster recently published a book, Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, in which Greg Boyd of Bethel College defended the openness view against David Hunt for the simple foreknowledge view, against William Lane Craig for the middle knowledge / Molinist view, and against Paul Helm for the Calvinist / determinist view.

4.3 Eternity

Eternity is also still a 'hot' issue, the question here being whether to understand God's eternity as timelessness, or as everlastingness in time. There are two intervening views: the relative timelessness view, which holds that God exists in his own time, which is different from ours and which cannot be measured by ours, and, secondly, the view that God exists timelessly sans creation and in time when he has created it.

Paternoster has recently published a book on this debate also, God and Time: Four Views, in which Paul Helm defends the view that God is absolutely outside time, Alan Padgett claims that God is relatively timeless, William Lane Craig suggests that God is timeless and temporal, and Nick Wolterstorff defends the view that God is unqualifiedly in time. This debate has some implications for the debate about whether God knows the future too.

4.4 Goodness

As for divine goodness, apart from the issues raised by evil, the questions being widely discussed include whether God can really be praised for doing good if it is impossible for God to do evil. It is suggested by some that God cannot qualify as good unless it is possible for him to do wrong. Others resist this suggestion, though some think of God as being 'beyond morals', while others hold that perhaps God can, but does not, sin.

5. Religious Language

Other traditional issues within the philosophy of religion such as the nature of religious language have been rather quiet lately (perhaps because Alvin Plantinga hasn't written anything on them). The questions here concern whether language about God should be understood as literal or as in some way analogical or metaphorical. When one says that God is wise, does one mean by 'wise' what one means when we says that one's grandma is wise? Or do we mean something totally different? William Alston has written some helpful essays on this, collected in his Divine Nature and Human Language (1989).

The topic was very important when the logical positivists ruled philosophy because theists were busy trying to find a way of construing religious language that A.J. Ayer would declare meaningful. Now that this threat has been lifted, philosophers of religion feel free to say that they mean what they say (and that they say what they mean).

6. 'Christian Philosophy'

Two growth areas for philosophy of religion at the moment are its expansion into other areas of philosophy, through what is sometimes called 'Christian Philosophy', and its expansion into other areas of theology. This is all due, of course, to Alvin Plantinga, who in his inaugural lecture at the University of Notre Dame, 'Advice to Christian Philosophers' (1984), suggested that the people of his title shouldn't feel obliged to follow the current trends and interests in contemporary secular philosophy, but should instead fulfil their obligation to the Christian church by philosophizing about issues of importance to the church.

Alvin Plantinga suggested that Christian Philosophers should philosophise about issues of importance to the church

Plantinga also urged Christian philosophers not to forget their religious commitments when working in other branches of philosophy. Quite a few, particularly at Notre Dame, have taken up his challenge and one of the results is the book Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy (1990). In it Christian philosophers bring their faith to bear on several unlikely topics, such as the analysis of counterfactuals.

As for the first part of Plantinga's request, perhaps the most systematic treatment of issues arising from the Christian creeds is Richard Swinburne's tetralogy. The first volume of this is Responsibility and Atonement, which is about humankind's sinfulness, guilt, and God's salvation of humans by the atonement. The second volume, Revelation, discusses what it would be for a sacred book, such as the Bible, to be a revelation from God. The third, The Christian God, deals with the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. The fourth volume, Providence and the Problem of Evil, tries to explain why God allows suffering.

Out of all these issues, the doctrine of the Trinity has perhaps seized the philosophical imagination the most, and provoked the liveliest debate. It should be emphasized that Professor Swinburne's works and most of the philosophical discussion arising differ from the standard theological treatments of these issues by using the tools of analytical philosophy. It is not uncommon to find in the journals detailed use of formal logic to discuss the Trinity, for example.

7. Conclusion

Many Christian students are apprehensive about studying philosophy of religion thinking that it may damage their faith by opening them up the writings of atheists. Others think that philosophy of religion is a presumptuous discipline; as Alexander Pope wrote "Presume not then the ways of God to scan; the proper study of mankind is man". Others yet think that since philosophy of religion is not explicitly based on the Bible it is illegitimate.

[I have] found that studying philosophy of religion has deepened my faith, enlivened my evangelism, and enriched my knowledge

To respond to these objections, it should be said first that it can be helpful and important for a Christian to study objections to the faith; an understanding of these may help in evangelism and apologetics. It may even deepen one's own faith or remove misconceptions that one has. As for Pope's comment, C.H. Spurgeon famously retorted "the proper study of God's elect is the Godhead". It is entirely proper for the Christian to want to think hard about the God that he or she worships – provided, of course, that he or she remembers that he or she may not have all the answers.

Finally, it is true that many of the questions discussed in the philosophy of religion are not dealt with in the Bible. This, however, is true of most non-theological disciplines, such as motor mechanics or modern French literature. In fact, since the philosophy of religion does not, for the most part, deal with questions answered in the Bible it is a very congenial discipline for the Christian that takes the Bible seriously. This is so for the simple reason that then one is not trying to fight others that are trying to knock down the Bible. This author, for one, has found that studying philosophy of religion has deepened his faith, enlivened his evangelism, and enriched his knowledge.

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Charles Taliaferro, Contemporary Philosophy of Religion (Blackwell, Malden, 1988).

Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics (OUP, Oxford, 1993).

Nicholas Wolterstorff, 'God Everlasting', in Orlebeke & Smedes (1975) and reprinted in Cahn and Shatz (1982), pp.77-98.

Keith E. Yandell, Philosophy of Religion: a contemporary introduction (Routledge, London, 1999).


I would like to thank Paul Helm, Martin Stone and Richard Swinburne for all their help in preparing an earlier version of this article. Any remaining errors are my own.

© Daniel Hill
This article was first published in Philosophy Now.

This article is published on bethinking.org by the kind permission of the author.