I hear a lot of people say they believe in God because 'Who made us, the earth and the universe? It had to come from somewhere.' But if that's what you're basing your beliefs on, then shouldn't you want to know the answer to who made God? and who made who made God, and who made that? And shouldn't you be praying 'Oh all the things that made God and all the things that made them?' Ryan Gossger, Pottstown PA

A version of the story that Alex recounts about the sage is deployed by John Locke in Book II of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding , in order to suggest that the concept of substance makes no sense. Locke attributes the story to an 'Indian philosopher', and says that "the Indian...saying that the world was supported by a great elephant, was asked, what the elephant rested on; to which his answer was, a great tortoise. But being again pressed to know what gave support to the broad-back'd tortoise, replied, something, he know not what. And thus here, as in all other cases, where we use words without having clear and distinct ideas, we talk like children." Most theists would not take such considerations to apply to God, because God is a causa sui , a cause of his own existence. In this respect, God differs from all finite beings. The question now arises what reason there is to believe that God is the one and only causa sui . Arguments have been given to this effect throughout the...

What's the difference between a philosophy and a religion?

One might mark the difference between philosophy and religion by looking at the different bases given for claims in these two domains. Philosophical claims are justified by arguments, which provide reasons to believe those claims; religious claims need not rest on arguments, but appeal to faith. To be sure, philosophers have sought to give arguments for religious claims: such argument are part of what is called natural religion. Nevertheless, certain claims--such as the claim that Jesus is the son of God, or the doctrine of the Trinity--are recognized to lie outside the scope of rational justification, and therefore are considered to be part of revealed religion. Arguably, philosophy began to be distinguished from religion in the work of the Pre-Socratics, and one can track the emergence of rational justification for claims as one reads through their fragments.

Is it possible to deify an object, perhaps a penguin? If so, what qualities and/or properties would make it godlike? D.D.

In Chapter XII of Leviathan , Hobbes says that "there is almost nothing that has a name that has not been esteemed...in one place or another, a god or a devil....Men, women, a bird, a crocodile, a calf, a dog, a snake, an onion, a leek, [were] deified." Hobbes would probably say that somewhere, already, penguins have been deified. So it is certainly possible to deify a penguin. The question is whether one would be justified in deifying a penguin. Hobbes--and most Christians--would say no, because only a being with all the attributes of the Christian God (omniscience, omnipotence, etc.) is justly worshipped, but no finite being has such attributes, and consequently, no finite being ought to be worshipped. Perhaps other religious traditions would allow one to deify, and hence worship, a penguin. But I'm not familiar enough with other religious traditions to say.

Problem with the Problem Of Evil I've read here a few references to the Problem Of Evil and it brings to mind a small philosophical statement which I hold dear - Beauty in all things. To use the Katrina example for sake of continuity, is it not a short term and narrow view to say people have suffered? Let's assume anybody who has died in the event is not suffering. Those left behind probably are suffering but ultimately their life and those of onlookers may be bettered because of the experience; they may continue to lead more fulfilled lives than what they otherwise may have appreciated. Happiness comes from within and is not determined by what we have, what we've lost, or what we've been through. I concede that beauty in all things is partly just a psychological state, but I also believe rationally that positives can be found in the seemingly most negative situations. We have all experienced this in life first hand. Btw: wonderful website, thanks to all who contribute.

The problem of human suffering is indeed an instance of the problem of evil: it's the problem of physical evil (as opposed to the problem of moral evil, or sin, which arises from the fact that God allows agents to make bad choices and commit immoral acts). It is not clear to me that theists do respond to the problem by denying the reality of human suffering. Indeed, early modern philosophers, such as Leibniz and Malebranche, who grapple with the problem, admit the reality of human suffering, but deny that God is responsible for it. Leibniz, for example, argues that although God creates the world, he does not will that suffering takes place, but he rather wills the existence of the best possible world, a world that includes suffering, which he does not directly will, but merely permits. According to Leibniz, the suffering that takes place in this world is a necessary component of this world, the best possible world, which God creates because it is the best world. Sometimes this point is put in...