I'm a first year student of philosophy at UCLA, and I am interested primarily in philosophy of religion. I've just taken an introductory logic course which covered symbolization, sentential logic, and quantification. There are numerous other logic courses offered through the department, including metalogic, modal logic, etc, and I was wondering if AskPhilosophers could recommend a logic course to take? More specifically, I want to take a logic course that is related or will aid me in my studies in philosophy of religion. Maybe modal logic, since it deals with necessity and possibility? Thanks.

Contra Smith, I congratulate you on having an interest in philosophy of religion, one of the most exciting areas of philosophical inquiry. Actually, many who have been drawn to philosophy have often begun with a fascination with philosophical reflection on religion (Colin McGinn's autobiography notes his first being drawn to philosophy of religion by his encounter with the ontological argument). It is impossible to take seriously the history of philosophy without undertaking philosophy of religion or undertaking deep study of philosophical work on ideas that are religiously significant. For a history of philosophy of religion in the modern era, you might check out my book Evidence and Faith; Philosophy and religion since the seventeenth century. It provides a good sourse book for future study of this rich area of inquiry. As for logic, yes, I think modal argument is great.

Does it makes sense to pray if God's existence hasn't been rationally proven independently of faith? Does the meaning of the practice of praying depend on philosophical proofs of God's existence?

I agree with Professor Leaman. I might only add that today most theists do not traffic in "proofs" for God's existence. There are very few, if any, universally acknowledged proofs in philosophy. These days, we more often simply refer to good or bad arguments. It also might be added that hope is often identified as a virtue in some religious traditions, and hope may well serve as a sufficient ground for prayer, even when actual belief is not in play.

Suppose I agree with theists that "God exists" is a necessary proposition, and so is either a tautology or contradiction. That seems to indicate that the probability of "God exists" is either 1 or 0. Suppose also that I don't know which it is, but I find the evidential argument from evil convincing, and so rate the probability of "God exists" at, say, 0.2. But if the probability of "God exists" is either 1 or 0, then it can't be 0.2 - that would be like saying that "God exists" is a contingent proposition, which I've accepted it isn't. How then can I apply probabilistic reasoning to "God exists" at all? If I can, then how should I explain the apparent conflict?

Interesting points. I take it that the most reasonable reply for a defender of the ontological argument to make is to claim that Prefoessor Smith's world is not in fact possible. If one can make a case for abstracta (properties or propositions necessarily existing) then there cannot be a world where only a single pencil exists. For a good case for such a Platonic position, see Roderick Chisholm's Person and Object. R.M. Adams also has a good discussion of the difficulty of imagining / conceiving of God's non-existence. I take this up in a modest book: Philosophy of Religion: A Beginner's Guide (Oneworld Press, Oxford) or in more detail in a discussion of Hume and necessity in Evidence and Faith: Philosophy and religion since the seventeenth century (Cambridge University Press).

However hard I try, I cannot shrug off the impression that philosophy asks all the truly important questions, but has always been somewhat vague when it comes to giving staightforward answers to those very questions. Do people have to turn to religion to get final answers? Because one thing is for sure: they are looking for those final answers.

I might add a modest point that could be helpful: It may not be helpful to see philosophy on the one side and religion on the other side of a great divide in terms of "final answers" and the offering of clear answers. Many philosophers today and in the past have adopted religious convictions, and many religious traditions (east and west) have either shaped or been shaped by philosohical inquiry. Within each of the great world religions there are multiple philosophically significant traditions that are experimental and speculative (non-dogmatic). So, for example, in Christianity there are materialists (Christian materialism is a new movement with philosophers like Peter van Inwagen and Lynne Baker) and dualists, nominalists and realists, utilitarians and virtue theorists, those who accept the static or dynamic theory of time (the so-called A series and B series), those who are libertarians versus compatabilists, and so on. And there is a similar diversity of views among philosophers in Jewish, Muslim,...

I suggested to a friend that atheists and theists were rather similar, in that they take a position on god's existence ahead of time and argue it dogmatically, whereas philosophers are willing to evaluate the arguments and to tentatively adopt the one that they prefer for whatever reason. It's not to say that philosophers can't have a deep faith in a god or a lack thereof, but they don't see their work as defending that belief in the face of any possible objection. But if this is true, and I think it is, how about someone who refuses to budge from what seem like moral truisms? Must a philosopher, in order to maintain integrity, put every principle on the chopping block: that if it's wrong for you to do something, all else equal, it's wrong for me to do it, or that causing people pain is wrong? Must a philosopher at least be open to the possibility that these notions are fundamentally flawed?

I agree with the two other replies, that neither theists nor atheists need be dogmatic. I would, however, like to offer a brief word on behalf of certain convictions that one seems to know (with or without argument) and such convictions are beyond negotiation. For example, I think all of us know that it is morally wrong (I am going to use a grotesque example) to skin and salt babies. However, I can imagine a utilitarian argument justifying this under extreme (though perhaps quite implausable) conditions. In such a case, I think a person might well retain her moral integrity by simply holding her position that such an act is wrong and not justified, even if she can think of no good objection to the utilitarian argument. By analogy, I think we can imagine the following: a person has had what she takes to be a compelling, even miraculous experience of God. I happen to think that there are good versions of arguments from religious experience (see work by Jerome Gellman, William Alston), but let's...

I find the philosophy of religion immensely interesting. Recently I watched a YouTube video in which a well known Christian philosopher/theologian, William Lane Craig, explained how the Anglo-American world had been "utterly transformed" and had undergone a "renaissance of Christian philosophy" since the 1960s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=902MJirWkdM&feature=related [starts at around the 7:40 mark]). Do you agree with these statements? Moreover, how well respected is Dr. Craig? Is he generally viewed as a top notch philosopher? I also wonder whether the very best arguments on the atheistic side are really being discussed. It seems there is some disdain among philosophers regarding the so-called "new atheists": Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. Who are the top contemporary atheists working in philosophy today? I'd really be interested in reading some of their work. I would really appreciate multiple perspectives on these questions. Thanks a lot.

I actually think Craig is right: the philosophy of religion in the Anglophone world is booming,if you consider publications in the top presses (Oxford, Cambridge, Blackwell, Routledge), conferences and organizations --the British Society of Philosophy of Religion in the UK is very well subscribed to and the Society of Christian Philosophers in the USA is the largest society in the American Philosohical Association. Many presidents of the APA and officers in the APA have been SCP members: Phil Quinn, Alvin Plantinga, William Alston, R.M. Adams, etc. I suggest that the case for theism, like the case for atheism and agnosticism, has never been more vigorously developed. Check out the current Blackwell companion to natural theology and the magisterial Oxford companion to natural theology,forthcoming next year. There will be a Routledge Companion to Theism also out in 2011. My colleagues mention William Rowe and the late J.L. Mackie, both very fine philosophers. But I would pair...

PS to the last positing. Here are just some of the theists who are active in the UK or are recently retired, who have impecable credentials philosophically: Oxford: Daniel Robinson, Brian Leftow, Tim Mawson, Brian Davies (now at Fordham), Keith Ward (now in London but formerly Christ Church), R.M. Adams and Marilyn Adams (just moved to UNC -Chapel Hill). Still affiliated with Oxford but retired Richard Swinburne, John Lucas, Michael Dummett, Basil Mitchell. John Foster died about two years ago, but he was a brilliant philosopher of the first rank, the leading exponent of idealism and a theist. Cambridge: Douglas Hedley, Brian Hebblethwaite, Sarah Coakley (I believe she is now in Cambridge, but not positive), Janet Soskice, others... John Cottingham (Reading), John Haldane (St. Andrews), Mark Wynn (Exeter), Victoria Harrison (Glasgow), Tim Chappell (Open University), Daniel Hill, and many more. Also, one should bear in mind that there are more categories than "cheerful atheists" and ...

Are there page to page commentaries on difficult philosophical works that explain more simply what's being said so that the average person at least has a fighting chance of knowing what the work says. Where does a person obtain those sorts of commentaries?

Yes. Actually a great deal of Medieval philosophy (for Jews, Christians, and Muslims) consisted in commentaries (often on Plato and Aristotle), and in modern philosophy there is a famous example of C.D. Broad highly detailed commentary on the work of McTaggart. There are highly detailed modern commentaries on much of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant (multiple volumes), Hegel, and Wittgenstein, to name a few. A good university or college library will carry some of these, and you can find the volumes by simply searching the stacks electronically or (as I still prefer) in person. As far as accessibility is concerned, Blackewell, Routledge and other British presses (including Oxford and Cambridge) do have short, very clear introductions to very difficult philosophers (Robert Solomon has a nice short intro to Hegel). But once you have gotten through the introductions, some of the commentaries are very much worthy of patient attention. Broad's on McTaggart is well...

Is there any good Eastern Philosophy that is not religiously or mystically inclined? I want to get a good grounding in World Philosophy rather than just Western Philosophy, but in my brief research of Eastern Philosophy it seems to turn into theology.

Your request raises an interesting issue. A great deal of philosophy, east and west, has some of what may be called religious inclinations, as does philosophy out of Africa (pre and post-colonial) and the Americas. But that should not deter you if you are uninterested in such an inclination, as the philosophy that has been generated from Hindu, Buddhist and other traditions in India and China (and elsewhere) contain a massive amount of philosophical arguments that can be engaged from a secular perspective. There are multiple Buddhist arguments about the nature of identity, for example, to delight a secular philosopher who is interested in metaphysics. And Moism in China can provide a good focus if your interest is in ethics and utilitarianism. In terms of access to philosophy from around the globe, I recommend the Blackwell Companion dedicated to world philosophy.

I've been thinking a lot about Utopianism and the people who strive toward a certain type of communal perfection. It seems to be a distinctly human longing and one that recurs constantly through history, even though all previous attempts to create utopias (in life: Fruitlands, Oneida, Fourierism, 1960s experiments in communalism; and even in literature: Thomas More, Christine de Pizan, Campanella) typically end in disaster. How do utopias benefit humanity when all they are is a series of failure after failure? Is there something "higher" or "more truthful" gained from such experiments?

Good question. Perhaps there are at least two points to bear in mind in reply: the literature that is classified as utopia (and recall "utopia" means " no place") often is NOT about some ideal place that its authors hope to encourage establishing. This is pretty clear in Thomas More's Utopia --which contains much satire and fun. It also seems true in Christine de Pizan's City of Ladies, and is probably true also of Plato's ideal polis in the Republic (though this is quite controversial). Second, there is a view sometimes called ethical idealism, according to which we should seek the ideal even if it is virtually certain we will never attain it. Presumably this is the way at least some Christians act: they set out to fully imitate Christ or be sinless, even though they also believe that they will not perfectly attain this. Ethical idealism is in tension with a position associated with Kant that "ought implies can." According to the latter, an essential condition for you to have a duty to do X is...

Pages