God wafts in as atheist wind abates

Philosophy of Religion
October 26, 2001

The philosophy of religion has often come under suspicion from opposing factions. There are those who think that all religion is false, and that there is little point in wasting philosophical time on it. There are also some believers who think that it is even blasphemous to expose faith to a rational scrutiny that can be sceptical. Those who hold that faith needs reason have to steer a middle course between these extremes.

Yet now that the chill atheist winds of logical positivism have blown away, philosophers are once again eager to apply their reasoning to a wide range of issues concerning religion. In the words of Brian Davies, the philosophy of religion is "currently very big business". Its vigour is particularly apparent in the United States, but it is also shown in England in the numbers now taking AS and A levels in the subject. Indeed, this can act as a major stimulus to students to choose to read philosophy at university. In this country, too, the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, founded some seven years ago, is providing a much-needed focus for the study of the subject.

This volume attempts to meet this interest by providing an anthology of classical and contemporary writings on the subject, ranging from the attributes of God to questions about morality and religion, and the intelligibility of life after death. There is a fair sprinkling of the major names in the history of philosophy and theology, from Plato onwards. The major concern of the volume, however, is with contemporary authors from the US and Britain. The book thus provides a wonderful resource for intensive courses at university level in the philosophy of religion. Davies claims rather optimistically that the book can stand alone as an introduction, and that it presupposes no previous training in the philosophy of religion. Since many of the papers reproduced here came from learned journals in the field, proper understanding of their significance will require rather more background than Davies gives in his helpful introductions to the various sections.

The collection will be most useful when used in conjunction with a general introduction to the subject. It will then come into its own, providing students with source material laying out various relevant arguments. There is detailed advice on further reading, and this is commendably up-to-date. One caveat is that the scope of the book might seem narrowly conceived. There is no whiff of feminism in these pages, little discussion about the problem of the existence of different religions, and barely a glance at relations between science and religion. Nevertheless, no collection can cover everything, and this one offers a wide range of some of the best writing on the subject. It could all form the basis of a very searching course in the philosophy of religion.

Roger Trigg is professor of philosophy, University of Warwick.

Philosophy of Religion: A Guide and Anthology

Editor - Brian Davies
ISBN - 0 19 875194 X
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £18.99
Pages - 745

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