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Faith and Thought

by Rick Lewis

Some people say that philosophy and religion are two quite different, quite separate, independent activities, like, say, waterskiing and playing the violin. If they are right, somebody might happen to be both a philosopher and a deeply religious person at the same time without there being much connection between these two parts of their life. Actually, my waterskiing analogy may be a poor one, as you probably can’t water-ski and play the violin at the same time, though it might be fun to watch you try. Nonetheless, it might seem quite plausible for somebody interested in, for example, symbolic logic or philosophy of language to claim that their philosophical work had no effect on their religious opinions and observances, or vice versa.

We know that philosophy and religion are certainly compatible – after all, some great philosophers have also been great men of faith, like Aquinas and Augustine, Maimonides, Al-Ghazali and Kierkegaard. But in these cases the connections between their faith and their philosophical activities were rather strong – it wasn’t that they were philosophers who simply happened, in their spare time as it were, to be religious too. The strength of the connection between philosophy and religion is hardly surprising; as Joel Marks points out in his article, they deal with the same questions. Philosophy, like religion, is all-embracing in the sense of claiming to have something to say about all aspects of life, and consequently philosophers do often philosophise about religion and the claims that religions make. They ask: is there a God? How can we know? Can it be proved? If there is a God, why does the world contain so much suffering? If God knows everything that will ever happen, does that mean that we aren’t really free to make our own decisions? What do we mean by God, anyway? In this issue we have a number of articles on such questions. If you find them enjoyable or provocative, do write and say so. If you find them offensive, please contact our new complaints department, which is situated in a concrete bunker at the South Pole.

The death last year of the well-known American philosopher Prof. Richard Taylor saddened all of us at Philosophy Now. Among the lesser causes of that sadness was the thought that we’d carry no more of his excellent articles. How wrong we were. His widow has found two unpublished articles among his papers and very kindly offered them to the magazine. One of them, a lucid and provocative defence of religious myths, is included in this issue.

One curiosity is that some of the best present-day philosophers of religion are atheists. An example is William Rowe, who we interview in this issue. Another is the regular Philosophy Now contributor Antony Flew, whose groundbreaking arguments on the subject of religious belief are a standard part of the syllabus of theological colleges and undergraduate courses worldwide. Recently, though, there have been widespread rumours that his views on religion have undergone some changes. Reports that he has converted to Catholicism seem to be wildly mistaken, and based on some sort of hilarious misunderstanding. However, he does genuinely seem to have been having a bit of a rethink. His letter in this issue is unlikely to fully satisfy people’s curiosity on this point – in fact some might find it rather a tease. Nonetheless, those interested in Flew’s views will certainly find it intriguing while they are waiting for the definitive expression of his new position which may (he says) appear next year.

We’re also glad to welcome back Mary Midgley, who has contributed a long article on the mind/body problem, particularly examining the views of the ever-interesting Colin McGinn. As the article was much too good to cut, I’ve adopted a ‘dualist’ solution – we’re running it in two instalments. The first is here and the next will be in Issue 48.

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