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← Why am I reading theology?

Baron Scarpia's Avatar Jump to comment 17 by Baron Scarpia

I very much doubt that philosophy of religion can really be classed as theology. Any more, at least, than philosophy of physics can be called physics.

The trouble is that a lot of theology is based around stuff that philosophers wouldn't look at. The letters of Paul? The concept of the Trinity? How salvation works? Not a philosopher's concern. The theologian usually starts with the assumption that god exists and works from there. The philosopher won't even concede that. This is why you don't find courses on Christian ethics in philosophy departments; god's kind of a big assumption to shoe-horn in.

Of course theology faculties do like to talk a lot about religious ethics and the like, and they may even class it as philosophy, but it's not the philosophy you'd actually come across in a typical philosophy department. The amount of cross-over is just about zero.

The large exception is when theologians actually bother to ask themselves what evidence they have for god. Since you're not meant to guess the answer in advance, this is a game philosophers can also play. Secular philosophers tend to be rather better at it (the answer's no), but this doesn't prevent the theologians from going on about it.

(I once saw a wonderful question in a Theology BA examination - 'Does David Hume have any alternative to the theology he so elegantly ravages?' You could see the vitriol dripping off the question paper.)

On the other hand, there's no reason why even atheist philosophers can't join in with theologians on occasion. JL Mackie, who wrote an entire book claiming that the arguments for god were rubbish, spent a whole chapter on the problem of evil. It wasn't necessary, as if there's no god there's no problem of evil, but Mackie was being evil himself. He wanted to show that even if a theistic god existed, religions such as Christianity were still rife with inconsistencies. I could also point to Plato's view that even if god exists, you can't use him as a source of morality. So sometimes philosophers can have a great game of It Gets Worse with theologians, who may even be forced to Swinburne themselves to get out of the trap.

Still, such things are rare. Usually philosophers are quite happy getting on without theologians, and vice versa. Even if you said David Hume was doing theology with the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, there's still very little overlap.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 22:35:16 UTC | #846180