This blog is for students who may be new to the topic of philosophy of religion. It is especially aimed at those who are following the A-level OCR Religious Studies course, but I intend it not to be limited to purely topics on the specification. I keep it updated with material, usually things I am thinking about because I am looking at them in class with my students.
Philosophy means ‘the love of wisdom’ and has its roots in ancient Greece. The father of philosophy is considered to be Socrates, who developed a dialogue of question and answer that aimed at uncovering assumptions and arriving at truth. This is known as the Socratic method. However this method came about, what is certain is that it placed a new value on the use of reason (or logos, in Greek) in order to penetrate to the heart of what was true. The dialogues which we have are written by Plato, a student of Socrates, and they present Socrates questioning various characters , firstly drawing out their beliefs, opinions and assumptions, and by asking them to provide the basis for their belief , leading them through a process of doubt in order to try and arrive at a stronger basis for them or even to destroy them and think of new and better ones. It is in this sense that Western Philosophy has been called “footnotes to Plato”, as this rational process has influenced all that has come since, including science and religion.
For a very good overview of the pre-socratic philosophers, see this link: http://www.thebigview.com/greeks/
I have arranged the posts on this website into categories to make it easier to find something you might be interested in. If you are new to the OCR Religious Studies A-Level course, I recommend reading the posts on philosophical foundations.
A very good overview of some of the issues in religious experience
This is the essay title I would like you to do Year 13. Treat it as you would any of the other arguments for God. Use the handouts but also refer to other philosophers and thinkers such as Swinburne and Freud.
This post is for my Year 13 Philosophers! If you go to the online text of William James found here you will see the first lecture in which he presents his main aims and methodology. I would like you to find out a bit more about this by reading one of the sections of this first lecture (set out below), and commenting in the comments box on this post what you think James is trying to do. Some possible things to look at might be: What is the method that James uses to examine religious experience? What does he present in the lectures? Why does James think it is important to distinguish questions of fact from questions of value? What are his criticisms of materialism, and freudian psychological explanations of religion? Why is the origin of a religious experience useless to assess its value? If you are stuck I recommend taking a look at my summaries of the aims and conclusions elsewhere on this site.
Lecture 1 – Religion and Neurology
Introduction: the course is not anthropological, but deals with personal documents;
Questions of fact and questions of value;
In point of fact, the religious are often neurotic;
Criticism of medical materialism, which condemns religion on that account;
Theory that religion has a sexual origin refuted;
All states of mind are neurally conditioned;
Their significance must be tested not by their origin but by the value of their fruits;
Three criteria of value; origin useless as a criterion;
Advantages of the psychopathic temperament when a superior intellect goes with it; especially for the religious life
Candidates should be able to demonstrate
knowledge and understanding of the following in
relation to God and religious belief:
• arguments from religious experience from
• the aims and main conclusions drawn by
William James in The Varieties of Religious
• the following different forms of religious
experience: visions, voices, ‘numinous’
experience, conversion experience, corporate
• the concept of revelation through sacred
Candidates should be able to discuss these
areas critically and their strengths and
Questions on the topic usually take one of two distinct types: either analysis of one form of religious experience such as visions, or a broader question asking for a general critical assessment of arguments from religious experience. The revelation topic is slightly different and generally questions focus on analysis of how God might be revealed in scripture.
Dave Webster has an interesting video here where he uses Kierkegaard to discuss whether there is any point to theistic arguments. My own view is that he is probably not far from Aquinas on this, as someone has pointed out that the actual percentage of the Summa devoted to arguments for God is absolutely miniscule. It’s almost like he wants to get them done as quickly as possible and move on, to show that reason is not dumb when it comes to God, but that there are more important things to do in Theology! I’m not sure whether I entirely agree though, that faith begins and ends in aloneness, fear and anxiety. This seems to ignore the massive social element in religion, but maybe this was the inessential part for Kierkegaard? I don’t know his thought well enough to say.
A decent short video which may help to understand the ontological argument