Philosophy of Religion involves the study of the nature and basis for religious beliefs. It often focuses on the areas of God’s existence, the soul, the afterlife, the problem of evil, and miracles.
God’s Existence Religious people have often offered arguments for God’s existence. Thomas Aquinas promoted the cosmological and teleological arguments. The cosmological argument asserts that our world is a contingent thing. Since all contingent beings must have a cause, the world must have been created by God. The teleological argument claims that the appearance of design in the universe indicates that there must be a designer who designed the world. Immanuel Kant promoted the moral law argument for God’s existence which asserts that the inner sense of right and wrong within each person is evidence that God exists. Anselm promoted the ontological argument in which the very idea of God’s existence is proof that he exists. Philosophers have heavily debated the validity of these arguments. Blaise Pascal offered a different argument now known as Pascal’s Wager. The Wager states that one is better off believing in God because the consequences of not believing are far worse. If one chooses not to believe in God and is wrong, one will face an eternity in hell. If one chooses to believe in God and he does not exist, then nothing is lost. Thus, it is best to wager one’s life on God’s existence.
The Soul/Afterlife Another major area within religion is the soul. Most religions assert that humans possess an immaterial part called the soul that is the real person. This soul is thought to exist after physical death. Socrates and many ancient Greek philosophers believed in the immortality of the soul. Rene Descartes believed in dualism—the view that every person has a soul and a body. Those who hold to a materialist or monistic worldview often deny that there is a soul that is separate from the body.
Problem of Evil The biggest problem facing religions is the existence of evil in the world. If God is all-powerful and all-good, how can there be tragedies and evil in the world? “Theodicy” is a title that describes the attempt to defend traditional views of God in light of evil. Various theodicies have been offered. Irenaeus argued that this present world is a “vale of tears” that prepares us for a coming better world to follow. Augustine stated that evil exists because of the free will that God granted human beings. Gottfried Leibniz argued that evil is necessary and that God could not have allowed this world to exist without it.
Miracles The major world religions have miracle accounts which allegedly give testimony to the validity of their faiths, but since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century there has been great skepticism toward miracle accounts. David Hume offered the classic refutation of miracles claiming that a report of a miracle was most likely mistaken. Issues regarding miracles include, “How can we know a miracle really happened?” And, “If a miracle has occurred, what does that mean for us now?”
Most of the discussion regard philosophy of religion has been centered on Judeo-Christian concepts of God. In recent decades, though, more attention has been given to Eastern religions and concepts that are found in Hinduism and Buddhism.