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Key Terms in Philosophy of Religion

Continuum Key Terms in Philosophy The Key Terms series offers undergraduate students clear, concise and accessible introductions to core topics. Each book includes a comprehensive overview of the key terms, concepts, thinkers and texts in the area covered and ends with a guide to further resources. Available now: Key Terms in Logic, edited by Jon Williamson and Federica Russo Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind, Pete Mandik Key Terms in Philosophy forthcoming from Continuum: Aesthetics, Brent Kalar Ethics, Oskari Kuusela Political Philosophy, Jethro Butler

Key Terms in Philosophy of Religion

Raymond J. VanArragon

Continuum International Publishing Group The Tower Building 80 Maiden Lane 11 York Road Suite 704 London SE1 7NX New York, NY 10038 www.continuumbooks.com Raymond J. VanArragon 2010 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: HB: 978-1-4411-6013-3 PB: 978-1-4411-3867-5 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data VanArragon, Raymond J. Key terms in philosophy of religion / Raymond VanArragon. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN: 978-1-4411-6013-3 ISBN: 978-1-4411-3867-5 (pb) 1. ReligionPhilosophyTextbooks. 2. ReligionPhilosophyTerminology. I. Title. BL51.V335 2010 210.3dc22 2010005481

Typeset by Newgen Imaging Systems Pvt Ltd, Chennai, India Printed and bound in Great Britain by the MPG Books Group


Acknowledgments Preface

vi vii

Introduction to Philosophy of Religion Key Terms in Philosophy of Religion Key Thinkers in Philosophy of Religion Key Texts in Philosophy of Religion

1 7 123 142




My thanks to those philosophers who have taught me most about philosophy of religion, particularly Kelly James Clark, C. Stephen Evans, Alvin Plantinga, and Eleonore Stump. Thanks to William Ramsey, one of the best philosophy teachers I have ever come across, whose even-handedness and clarity of expression I have always sought to emulate. Thanks also to the many people who have helped me with this book by reading and evaluating entries: Derek Pierson, Matthew Schellenberg, Gary and Gretchen VanArragon, Joseph Vukov, my colleagues in the Philosophy Department at Bethel University, and especially my wife, Janel VanArragon. This book is dedicated to her and to our children, Caleb and Kathryn.

Preface: How to Read This Book

This book is organized as follows. The first chapter provides an introduction to our subject by briefly exploring the nature of religion, the relation of philosophy to religion (of reason to faith), the main topics in philosophy of religion, and the methods of philosophy. The second chapter, by far the longest in the book, covers key terms in philosophy of religion, while the third and fourth chapters cover key thinkers and key texts. Here are four points to guide you as you read. First, in the second chapter terms are listed alphabetically, with explanations of various lengths following each term. In the explanation of one term I often mention other terms (and thinkers and texts) covered elsewhere in the book. The first time one term is used in the explanation of another, that term is in bold print. If you see a bold-printed term in an explanation, you can infer that that term (or thinker, or text) has its own entry elsewhere in the book. (Sometimes a variation on a term is in bold, as when omnipotent is highlighted even though omnipotence is the term with the entry.) In general, my goal has been to make each terms explanation self-standing, so that the reader should be able to gain a good understanding of that term by reading the discussion that follows it, and without needing to flip through the book in order to understand the terms used in the explanation of the original term. Still, the explanations of bold-print terms, in the context of an entry for a different term, are bound to be cursory. Readers are encouraged to deepen their understanding by turning to entries for related terms as they see fit. Second, entries are intended to introduce readers to the concepts and debates, rather than give anything like a final word on them. For that reason, suggestions for further reading are included at the end of many entries, particularly those which leave off without resolution or where questions are indicated without being explored. Some of these readings can be found reprinted in different philosophy of religion anthologies currently on the market.



Third, entries in the third and fourth chapters are organized similarly to those in the second chapter, but are not necessarily self-standing. Full understanding of a thinkers contributions or the main issues in a text may require readers to flip back to terms in the previous chapter. (As before, terms, thinkers, and texts which are covered elsewhere in the book are listed in bold print the first time they come up in an entry.) Thus these chapters are largely intended to piggy-back on the second chaptera strategy that helps the reader to connect thinkers and texts with terms and concepts, and also prevents needless repetition. Finally, the book has a fairly thorough index. If you are curious about some concept from philosophy of religion that you dont find listed in the second chapter of the book, it may be that it is in fact discussed but doesnt have its own entry. In that case, it should be referenced in the index. (For terms, thinkers, and texts that do have their own entries, the entries page numbers are in bold type.) Note also that the index includes names of authors whose writings are recommended for further reading after entries in the second chapter, but are not explicitly discussed. My hope is that this book will be a useful resource for anyone interested in these topics. And who wouldnt find these topics interesting! Religion is of central importance in the lives of many people, and it represents a force to be reckoned with even for those who arent especially enamored of it. It seems essential, then, to subject religion to philosophical scrutiny, to analyze religious belief in general, its justification and legitimacy, the reasons for and against it, and to investigate some of the specific claims that particular religious traditions tend to make. Fortunately for us, work on these topics has been of particularly high quality in the last few decades, drawing on new insights and extending the debates from centuries past. I hope this book helps to draw you into the discussion.

Introduction to Philosophy of Religion

Philosophy of religion is the area of philosophy that takes philosophical methods and applies them to matters of religious concern. In other words, it applies reason to faith. The results of this applicationand the mere fact that it is madeare both fascinating and the source of enormous controversy. In this chapter well look briefly at what religion is, at different approaches to the application of philosophy to religion, at the topics that philosophy of religion typically focuses on, and at some basics of philosophical reasoning.

Nature of religionReligion is a phenomenon with which were all familiar. It typically involves acknowledgment of a divine reality and the requirement of obedience to it; it includes rites and ceremonies that mark the human relation to this reality; and it has enormous impact on the way that its adherents see the world and their place in it. There are a number of different world religions with millions and even billions of followers. The different religions make unique claims about the divine reality and also claim special access to it, either by way of direct revelation from the reality itself or through the witness of individuals who were or are especially attuned to it. So, different religions with their different traditions and histories make claims about the divine reality that their adherents buy into. But what is the nature of these claims? In answering this question, we can begin to see why there might be tension between the methods of philosophy and the content of religiona tension between reason and faith. Religious traditions often make claims that cannot be verified in scientific ways and which are in an important sense removed from our ordinary experience. Consider the following sample. The major theistic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) claim that there exists a God, a great invisible being who created everything and who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good; but of course we cannot see such a being, and millions of people believe there is no such thing.



Some of the great Eastern religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism, accept a doctrine of reincarnation which claims that after death people are born again as other people (or perhaps other creatures), a process that is repeated until some kind of enlightened goal is achieved. This doctrine seems difficult to prove. Christians believe that God is a trinity, one God but three persons, one of whom became human and whose death and subsequent resurrection made possible human salvation; Muslims believe that the Angel Gabriel appeared in visions to the prophet Muhammad; Jews and Christians believe that thousands of years ago God chose the people of Israel and led them from Egypt to the Promised Land, parting the Red Sea and destroying the Egyptian army in the process. These again are all eye-opening claims, and it seems profoundly difficult to verify any of t