PM5360: Philosophy of religion

Philosophy of religion is the branch of philosophy concerned with analysing the claims of religion using the tools of philosophy. It draws on a number of distinct areas of philosophy, including epistemology, metaphysics and ethics. Maratreanism is deeply interested in the philosophy of religion, as supplying tools with which to better understand and to demonstrate its truth.

Philosophy of religion is distinct from but related to theology. The difference is that theology starts from a position of assuming a certain religion is true, and then seeks to reason from there. Philosophy of religion, by contrast, does not assume the truth of any particular religion, but aims to restrict itself to assumptions which can be agreed upon by people of any religion or none, and then seeks to analyse and evaluate religious beliefs from that basis. However, the two disciplines overlap in the area of natural theology, which refers to attempts to demonstrate the truth of particular religious doctrines from a neutral basis.

Some of the major questions addressed by philosophy of religion include:

  • Does God (or gods) exist?
  • Is the concept of 'God' coherent?
  • Are any of the various philosophical arguments which have been proposed to prove the existence of God valid?
  • Is a life after death possible? And if so, are there any good reasons to believe there is one?
  • Is religious faith valid?
  • Can religious doctrines properly be considered basic beliefs, as argued for instance by Alvin Plantinga?
  • Is it permissible to believe in religious doctrines on the basis of pragmatic considerations? (Pascal's wager, William James' will to believe)
  • Can ethics be defined in terms of God's nature or commands, and are there any logical problems in such a definition?
  • Are the specific doctrines of various religions, such as the Christian Trinity, coherent?


The term god is used in two different senses:

  • in lower case, god, it refers to a deity, most commonly a male deity specifically, but also sometimes in a way which is inclusive of female deities (goddesses) or neuter deities also
  • in upper case, God, it refers to the one single god believed in by some forms of monotheism - or, other forms of monotheism would prefer to speak of an ultimate deity of which the other deities are somehow reflections. Equivalently to this sense, the female form is Goddess

Maratreanism believes in the existence of the Goddess Maratrea. Although the central vessel of Maratreanism prefers to see the divine as female, it does not object to those who prefer to perceive it as male; thus she is also he, and Goddess is also God. Indeed, in certain of the auxiliary ecclesia, the deity is conceived as male rather than female.

"Classical theism" (the main view of traditional Christianity/Judaism/Islam) believes that the deity has certain attributes. Maratreanism sees things rather differently:

  • omniscience, meaning knowing everything. Frequently interpreted as having infinite knowledge. Maratreanism insists that the deity knows only finitely many things, yet nonetheless knows all that anyone knows and can know, and whatever the deity knows not is known by none and can be known by none and is not that it might be known.
  • omnipresence, meaning present everywhere. According to Maratreanism, the fulness of the divine is not by its nature present anywhere in particular, but it can cause itself to be present whenever and wherever it wishes. Of course, all minds are of one essence with the divine, yet a diminutive expression of that essence - thus, in a sense, the divine is present everywhere - in all minds, in all their experiences, and in all the patterns in their experiences. However, in the fullest sense, the divine is present only in itself, and present to those who are not fully itself only when it so wishes to be.
  • omnipotence, meaning all powerful. Frequently interpreted as having infinite power. Maratreanism insists that the deity can do only finitely many things, yet nonetheless can do anything that anyone does and can do, and whatever the deity cannot do is done by none and can be done by none and is not that it might be done. To refute arguments such as "Can Maratrea create a rock so heavy she cannot lift it?" or "Can Maratrea create a square circle", or "I can do something Maratrea can't do, I can prove this sentence true", let us specify that we are concerned with distinct real acts which the deity might do, or distinct real powers that a deity might have, not acts or powers which differ purely linguistically or indexically, or acts or powers which don't actually exist.


Monotheism — belief in only one god. Related but distinct are monolatrism — other gods exist, but only mine is worthy of being worshipped; henotheism — other gods exist, and those gods may be the right god for others to worship, but my god is the only right god for me to worship; and kathenotheism — worshipping only one god at a time (on Mondays we worship the Great Lord Morris, Morris and Morris alone!)

There is a distinction between inclusive monotheism and exclusive monotheism. Inclusive monotheists believe in one ultimate deity, but they are willing to accept many different gods as being different names, forms, aspects, emanantions, representatives, servants, etc., of this one ultimate deity. Inclusive monotheism is compatible with polytheism; worship of many different gods is seen as a way of worshipping the one God indirectly. By contrast, exclusive monotheists believe that all gods other than their own are false gods, either non-existent, or demons masquerading as Gods, or so on. The worship of other deities is seen as sinful. Historically, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have adopted the exclusive monotheist position; the majority today still are exclusive monotheists, but some liberal Christians have turned to inclusive monotheism instead.

Arguments for the existence of God

Philosophers have proposed many arguments for the existence of God over the centuries and millennia. Maratreanism generally does not try to prove the existence of Maratrea using any of the above arguments. It does not consider them to be particularly convincing, or to represent a particularly useful approach.

  • cosmological argument: the argument that the universe needs a cause, which we call God. The universe is argued to be the kind of entity which is not sufficient to explain its own existence, some external explanation is necessary. Historically, the major objection has been the idea of an infinite regress of causes (in a beginningless universe), obviating the need for any first cause. Thus, most variants of this argument involve attacking the rationality of the idea of an infinite regress of causes, and proposing the idea of a first uncaused cause (God) as superior. Variants include:
    • the argument in fieri - an in fieri cause, causes something to come into existence, to begin existing, but which after its commencement can continue to exist independently of that cause. Thus, a builder is needed to build a house, but once built the house will stand without the builder's intervention. So, God is argued to be necessary to explain the beginning of the universe's existence (creation), but after that initial creation the universe can sustain itself in existence.
    • the argument in esse - an in esse cause, causes something to remain in existence, to be existing, without the continue presence of which that thing would cease to exist. A fire requires the continued presence of air and fuel, the withdrawal of which will cause the fire to cease. So, God is argued to be necessary to explain the sustaining of the universe in existence. Whereas in fieri causation is generally temporal (the cause comes before the effect), in esse causation is atemporal (the cause and the effect are simultaneous). It is argued that, even if an infinite regress of in fieri causes is coherent, an infinite regress of in esse causes is not.
    • the argument from contingency draws a distinction between necessary beings (beings which must exist due to their very nature) and contingent beings (beings which might or might not exist). It is argued that the universe is a contingent being - it could have been other than it is, or it might not have existed at all. Contingent beings cannot explain their own existence, only necessary beings can do that. Thus, it order to explain the existence of the universe, there must exist a necessary being which created it (God).
    • the kalam argument originates in mediaeval Islamic theology, but in modern times has been popularised in Christian circles (especially by William Lane Craig). It is based on the principle that whatever begins to exist must have a cause. The universe began to exist, so it must have a cause external to itself (God); whereas God does not need a cause, since God never began to exist.
  • teleological argument (or argument from design): unlike the cosmological argument, which seeks to prove the existence of God based on the bare fact of the universe's existence, the teleological argument points to certain perceived features of reality - the intricate balance of biological systems, the precisely tuned nature of the laws of physics - to point to the existence of a designer (God).
    • some of the earliest versions of this argument focused on evidence of design in biological systems. William Paley compared the eye to a watch - we believe a watch must have an intelligent designer, due to its complexity and precise arrangement of parts necessary for it to function; yet the same traits exist in biological systems, to an even greater extent - thus biological systems must have a designer also. The widespread acceptance of the theory of evolution lead to a reduction in this variant of the argument for a while, although it has more recently been revived by the Intelligent Design movement as an alternative to evolutionary theory
    • a more recent version is the argument from the fine tuning, which points to the very precise values various constants in the laws of physics have; if they had even slightly different values, life would be impossible. It is argued that such precisely tuned values could not have been explained by chance, and there must have been an intelligent designer (God) who chose them in such a way so as to make life possible
  • ontological argument: this argument bases itself on the concept of God itself. It argues that the concept of God includes the idea of God's existence in such a way that from mere consideration of that concept we can rationally conclude that God must exist. The most famous variant is that of Anselm, who argued that God is defined as the most perfect being imaginable; but an existent God would be more perfect than a non-existent God, thus to be true to his own definition, God must exist. Descartes' variant does not refer to perfection, but argues that since the concept of God clearly contains the idea of necessary existence, it follows that God must possess necessary existence, and thus must exist. Kurt Gödel attempted to base an ontological argument on modal logic; others have followed in his footsteps (such as Alvin Plantinga), although their arguments differ in details
  • moral argument: the existence of God is necessary for morality to be possible. We ought to believe in whatever is necessary for morality. Hence, we ought to believe in God. If we ought to believe in something, it must be true. Hence God must exist.
  • argument from religious experience: many people, whether mystics or ordinary religious believers, have claimed to have experienced God directly in religious experience. This is sufficient evidence to believe in the existence of God, just as the visual experience of a tree is sufficient evidence to believe in the existence of that tree.
  • argument from degree: for every property that exists in varying degrees, there must exist an object which has that property in the greatest possible degree. Hence there must exist a being which possesses every property in the maximal possible degree, which is God.
  • argument from miracles: There exists reliable testimonies of miracles (such as in the Bible). Thus, we can conclude these miracles occurred. The most reasonable explanation of the occurrence of these miracles is that God exists to cause them. Hence, we can conclude that God exists.
  • argument from beauty: the experience of beauty leads inevitably to the conclusion that beauty somehow transcends material existence. Atheistic materialism cannot explain this experience, other than to reject it as fallacious. Theism can explain this experience, in that beauty is an aspect of God, and the beauties of this world are imperfect reflections of the perfect divine beauty. Hence the experience of beauty supports belief in God rather than atheism.
  • argument from consciousness: Human consciousness cannot be fully explained by scientific materialism. The existence of God can more fully explain human conscious. Thus, from the existence of human consciousness, we should conclude that God exists, as the best explanation of its existence.
  • argument from reason: Atheistic materialism cannot justify the validity of reason; yet atheistic materialism depends on reason for its own justification, thus atheistic materialism is self-defeating. But if God exists, then the validity of reason is justified. Thus belief in God is rationally preferable to atheistic materialism.
  • argument from desire: whatever we desire, there exists some object which can fulfill that desire. Yet there exist desires in human beings which cannot be fulfilled by anything in this material universe. Thus, there must exist something beyond this material universe that can fulfill those desires, and that something is God.
  • Christological argument: the life and person of Jesus Christ constitutes proof of the existence of God, as God's self-revelation to humanity. Different variants of this aspect point to different aspects of Jesus' life and person for their justification: his great wisdom, his claims to divinity, his proof of those claims through his miracles, especially his resurrection.
  • argument from love: Many who have experienced love agree that there is something about it which is inherently non-material. Materialist atheism cannot explain this experience except by declaring it to be non-veridical. Theism can explain this experience, since God is immaterial, love is a major attribute of God, and non-divine love is an imperfect reflection of the perfection of divine love. Hence, we should believe in God as the best explanation for our own experience of love.
  • trademark argument: due to Descartes, the only reasonable explanation for the idea of God is that God exists to cause us to have this idea.
  • transcendental argument: Knowledge, science, reason and morality are only possible if God exists. Thus, to deny God's existence is self-defeating and self-contradictory, since in denying his existence you are making use of those faculties which can only exist due to his existence. Thus, God must exist. Well-known proponents of this argument include Immanuel Kant and Cornelius Van Til.
  • pragmatic argument: we will be happier and live better and more fulfilling lives in we believe in God, therefore we ought to believe in God. Related to this is Pascal's wager - if God exists and we don't believe in him, we may be punished eternally, whereas if he exists and we believe in him, we may be eternally rewarded. Since the payoff for believing in him when he exists in infinite, and the downside for not believing in him when he exists is also infinite, we ought to believe in God - if our belief is wrong and he does not exist, we have not lost much (at the most, we might have avoided certain pleasures in life out of the belief that they offended God).

Argument from design

Argument from design - a proposed argument for the existence of God.

One particular variant of it is the argument from the fine-tuning of physical constants. This argument fails for the following reasons:

  • It bifurcates the laws of physics into constants and the equations into which those constants are placed. It asks us to consider what would happen were the constants changed but the equations stayed the same. But what if we permitted the equations to change also? Then we must admit we have no idea. Even if it is clear that the current equations with different constants cannot produce life, completely different equations (and constants) might still be life-producing. We do not know enough about mathematical physics to say, and may well never. This bifurcation of the laws of physics into constants and equations is more likely an artifact of the human mind's attempt to understand the cosmos than a fundamental property of reality itself
  • The argument wants us to conclude that it is highly unlikely that a life-producing set of physical constants could be arrived at by chance. But, how do we ascribe probabilities to sets of possible physical constants? Are they all supposed to be equally likely? Or are some more likely than others? Given these constants are real numbers, and therefore there are infinitely many possible values of them, how does one pick an element at random from an infinite set? What is the probability of picking one such element? And it gets even worse if we reject the bifurcation of the laws of physics into constants and equations -- what is the probability of a particular equation being part of the laws of physics? To speak of probabilities here seems to be just abusing the concept of probability in a situation in which it is meaningless.

Now, if we assume some kind of multiverse theory, then speaking of probabilities of physical constants having certain values, or of certain equations being part of the laws of physics, might have some meaning -- we could look to the distribution of those constant values or laws in different universes across the multiverse to define their probability. But, supporters of the argument from fine-tuning cannot turn to these considerations to make their argument coherent, since if there is such a multiverse then there is no need for the God they are seeking to prove either.