The Unit 4 (Implications) exam will set you a choice of essay questions about the material in your Anthology. You will answer just one question. The question will look like this:
Dr Westphal presents a brief history of the philosophy of religion. He is interested in how the Enlightenment triggered a new approach to philosophy of religion and how two Enlightenment philosophers - David Hume and Immanuel Kant - effectively demolished all the old arguments and set philosophy on two new courses as a result. Merold Westphal teaches at a Jesuit College in New York and is writing within a Christian and Catholic framework. This might be why he has much more to say about Kant (who was positive towards religion, although quite hostile towards traditional Christianity) than Hume (who was an out-and-out atheist). In fact, Kant and Hegel are Dr Westphal's area of specialism.
Westphal starts off with a couple of quotes from the 19th century philosopher Hegel, complaining that (in his day) philosophers only ever write about religion, never God. Westphal calls writing philosophically about God PHILOSOPHICAL THEOLOGY and this would include things like proving God's existence, speculating about God's nature or purposes and trying to define God's powers. This is the sort of thing that philosophers are supposed to have lost interest in. It would also include speculating about the immortal soul, life after death, etc. PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION, on the other hand, means writing about people: their religious experiences, their religious morality, whether religion is good or bad for society, etc. Westphal agrees with Hegel that it is useful to make a distinction between philosophical theology and the philosophy of religion and he traces this distinction back to the work of IMMANUEL KANT in the previous century. Westphal admits that philosophical theology has made a comeback in the 20th/21st century, but these days it too goes by the name of "philosophy of religion" which suggests that Kant's ideas and terminology are still very influential.
It's worth thinking about the other two writers in this section of the Anthology. Are A.J. Ayer and Peter Donovan writing about religion, or about God?
Westphal's argument is that philosophy went through a phase of speculating about God and now it tends to speculate about religion instead. You could argue that there is a third phase - speculating about the meaning of religious language. This linguistic philosophy was developed by Wittgenstein (1889-1951) but a good example of it is in the essay by Ayer.
Westphal explains that there have always been two ways for philosophers to think about God: some appeal to REASON and some to REVELATION. Appealing to reason means using logic and drawing conclusions from the way the world is to try to understand God. These philosophers argue that the world was created by God, so we ought to be able to work out what God is like from looking at his handiwork. If human beings have been created "in the image of God" then we ought to be able to draw conclusions about God from studying human beings. The various Cosmological and Design Arguments are appealing to reason to work out that God exists. The Ontological Argument uses pure logic to show that God is a necessary Being. There have always been criticisms of this approach. Some critics say that, since God transcends human thought and is incomparably greater than anything humans can imagine, it is pointless and futile to try to understand him using reason. Other critics would go further, saying that using human reason to try to understand God is actually arrogant and blasphemous - humans are supposed to worship and obey God, not understand him.
Appealing to revelation means putting your trust in God to reveal himself, rather than trying to figure God out for yourself. God is supposed to reveal himself through Holy Scriptures (eg the Bible) or through visions sent to special saints or prophets. Philosophers who take this approach will spend a lot of time analysing the Bible, working out different levels of meaning and applying God's commandments to different situations in life. This approach ties in with Divine Command Theory in ethics. Instead of trying to prove God's existence through arguments or evidence, these philosophers need only point to the miracles in the Bible. The problem with this approach is that it demands that you accept that the Bible is completely true and therefore other religions are completely wrong. God's commands can't be questioned, even if they seem contradictory or senseless or downright evil.
There's always been a conflict between reason and revelation when it comes to religion. In the Middle Ages the SCHOLASTICS were philosophers (including the famous Thomas Aquinas) who struck a balance between reason and revelation, saying you could study the world and draw rational conclusions from it about God, but these conclusions still had to fit in with beliefs about God that come from revelation (ie the Bible or the teachings of the Church). In other words, reason could only take you so far and revelation had the power to "veto" the conclusions that reason might come up with.
The Enlightenment flourished in the 1700s and marked the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of Modern history. It was called the "enlightenment" because of the "light" of science and reason and the end of the "darkness" of superstition and religion. On the Continent, the philosophers of the Enlightenment tended to be RATIONALISTS. People like Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz thought that reason alone was capable of working out all knowledge - these philosophers made many great advances in mathematics. In England, philosophers tended to be EMPIRICISTS - people like Hobbes and Locke who thought that all knowledge came to us through the five senses and that everything we know is based on experience. Westphal argues that both of these groups of philosophers were united in their opposition to basing all knowledge on religious faith. This new attitude to religion is called DEISM and the deists rejected appeals to revelation and argued that reason and experience could tell us what we needed to know about God. Westphal suggests three factors behind the appeal of Deism:
Westphal argues that this created a shift in philosophers' interests, away from thinking about God and towards thinking about religion instead. Many philosophers of the Enlightenment thought that, even if God did exist, religions were human constructions. Some philosophers, like Auguste Comte, even argued for setting up new religions, based on science. This created a trend in philosophy that has continued right down to the present day, though Westphal notes that not all philosophers agree with this trend: he quotes Hegel complaining that philosophy is more concerned with religion than with God these days.
Deism was a very popular and influential approach. Deists usually believed in God, but were more interested in humans. They didn't think the answers could be found in a holy book, were suspicious of miracles and visions and thought that the real purpose of religion was to teach important moral lessons. This rational, reasonable view was actually quite radical at the time, but it was happy to find a place for religion in modern life (a reduced, stripped-down place) and to admit there were reasonable grounds for believing in God, immortal souls, etc. Westphal calls this attempt to define and justify a rational, tolerant form of religion "the Deist Project". However, Westphal argues that two philosophers - Hume and Kant - were about to deliver such a devastating challenge to rational basis of religion that Deism would be swept away as a result.
The conflict between reason and revelation is an important one but the Enlightenment didn't put an end to it. The last century has seen a rise in charismatic cults, religious fundamentalism and a popular interest in saints, angels, visions and prophecies (think about the popularity of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code"). In philosophy, the ideas of Scholaticism have made a return in subjects like Creation Science, Intelligent Design and Reformed Epistemology. Writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have responded to this with stinging attacks on religion, promoting the power of reason and science. Writers like these often call for "a return to Enlightenment values", meaning (amongst other things) a rejection of revelation in favour of reason.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was the last of the great Enlightenment philosophers and probably the most influential. He lived his whole life in Königsberg in Prussia, on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Kant produced a vast amount of thought on many topics, but is particularly known for his ideas about morality. For Kant, morality had to be its own reward and anything done for non-moral reasons (like hope of a reward, fear of punishment, etc) was morally compromised. Kant came up with a new formulation for the "Golden Rule", called the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE, which is stated as:
In other words, moral actions are the ones you would wish everyone to do. Kant's ideas laid some of the groundwork for Rule-Utilitarianism (which shares the idea that you shouldn't place more importance on your own happiness than other people's) and Situation Ethics (which emphasises the importance of having the right moral motivation - agape).
Kant exposed the flaws in the classical proofs for the existence of God - his criticism of the Ontological Argument was particularly inspired. Kant recognised the linguistic mistake in the Ontological Argument, pointing out that "existence" is not a PREDICATE (a property that something can possess or lack). After all, if you say "God does NOT exist", you don't mean that there IS a God but he lacks the property of existence - that would be simultaneously to deny and admit that there is a God. Kant suggests that by saying something exists you are not in any way adding to its description; instead, you are saying something about the world, that the world has this thing or object in it. If Kant is right, then the Ontological Argument fails because a God who exists and a God who doesn't exist have exactly the same properties (omnipotence, etc) and one is not greater than the other.
Kant does salvage the idea of God, however. Kant claims there is a MORAL argument for the existence of God. Kant argues that God is necessary to provide justice in the Afterlife, without which moral behaviour would be irrational. Kant calls this perfection of morality the SUMMUM BONUM. In some ways it is similar to the Iranaean Theodicy, suggesting that an Afterlife will enable us to make our journey towards perfection. In fact, Westphal suggests that Kant was moving away from a view of religion based on Augustine's theodicy towards one based on Augustine's great rival Pelagius. Back in the 5th century, Pelagius was a British monk who argued with Augustine. Pelagius thought that human beings were basically good and could get to Heaven through moral effort. Augustine argued in favour of original sin and human beings being absolutely helpless without God's saving grace. With the Roman Empire collapsing, Pelagius seemed to people to be wildly optimistic and Augustine won the argument. Kant shares Augustine's gloomy view of people being essentially evil (probably because he sets such incredibly high standards for any behaviour to count as "good"), but he adopts Pelagius' view that people can improve themselves through moral effort.
Westphal contrasts Kant with the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau because of their different ideas about human morality. Rousseau famously declared "Man is born free but is everywhere in chains" - this is part of his view that humans are innately good but that society corrupts them by making them selfish, fearful and materialistic. The secret to making people better is to change society and Rousseau was a big influence on the French Revolution. This optimistic view of human goodness is called HUMANISM and is quite typical of many Enlightenment philosophers. Kant, on the other hand, sees people as evil and goodness as something they must struggle for.
It's important to realise that, for Kant, morality, not God, is the important thing. Kant believed religion might help someone be good, even that a perfectly good person would be religious, but religion is certainly a means to an end. Kant was very hostile towards rituals, superstitions and church rules that got in the way of moral encouragement. He claimed these things offered "counterfeit service" to God - in other words, they are the "husk" that stops people getting at the moral "kernel" of religion. A church that treats rituals and superstitions as ends-in-themselves is what Kant calls a "fetish faith". An example of fetish faith might be insisting that people pray to saints, make the sign of the cross or avoid meat on Fridays, whether these things make people morally better or not. Westphal suggests that Kant was using Jesus Christ merely as a sort of moral role-model, not an actual saviour - in Kant's view, people are supposed to save themselves. Westphal calls this a DEMYTHOLOGISED Christianity: a religion that keeps Christian themes (the importance of selflessness, charity, mercy, justice) but which reinterprets them massively and gets rid of all the "externals", the counterfeit service and fetish faith stuff. (The word "demythologise" was coined by the 20th century Bible scholar Rudolph Bultmann and it isn't a word Kant actually used, but it does describe his attitude quite well).
Westphal sums up Kant's view on religion in three points:
Westphal goes on to describe two later philosophers who were inspired by Kant in one way or another: Georg Hegel (1770-1831) and Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834); he also makes links between Kant's ideas and the earlier thought of GE Lessing (1729-1781) and Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677).
GE Lessing was one of the great artists and thinkers of the Enlightenment in Germany. He argued fiercely against taking the Bible literally and against a belief in revelation. "Lessing's Ditch" is the name given to his argument that you can't use miracles to prove the existence of God, because there is no proof that miracles happen. Historical events can't prove God either, because historical events themselves are uncertain and hard to prove. Lessing believed in a "Christianity of Reason" stripped of having to depend on obscure historical events (like miracles, the life of Jesus, etc). In this way, he was a typical Deist and shared Kant's dislike of fetish faith. He was more of a humanist than Kant and less attached to the idea of God being important for morality and personal growth - he clearly thought art and theatre could do that.
Baruch Spinoza was a Jewish writer living in Amsterdam. The Netherlands was, in the 17th century, famous for its religious tolerance, but they weren't tolerant enough for Spinoza, whose wild and ahead-of-his-time ideas about God led to the local Jews excommunicating him. Baruch then changed his name to Benedict and carried on writing radical philosophical ideas. Spinoza suggested a sort of Pantheism, where God (Spinoza always calls God "Deus sive Natura" - "God or Nature") is the same as the natural world and has no personality. This view leads to the idea that God is present in everybody, that everyone is God. Spinoza's idea of the one-ness of Nature and God was very influential on many thinkers of the Enlightenment and (especially) the Romantic Era that came after it. Writers like Kant were much more intrigued by the idea of a God that is somehow within everyone (IMMANENT), rather than a God who is just some being "out there" (TRANSCENDENT).
Friedrich Schleiermacher was a German theologian whose attempt to reconcile Enlightenment values with traditional ideas about God earned him the title of "the Father of Modern Protestant Theology". Schleiermacher argues against Kant that humans can have some knowledge of God and puts an emphasis on "feeling" (we would say, religious experiences) rather than Kant's stress on morality. These feelings have to express themselves in specific ways, so Schleiermacher has no problem with religious practices that Kant would regard as fetishes - things like learning prayers, fasting during Lent or studying Bible stories. For Schleiermacher, these things become the symbols which enable people to have strong religious feelings/experiences. The important thing for Schleiermacher is that Christians bear in mind that these rituals, stories and images are there for a purpose (to trigger religious experiences) and have no value in-themselves.
George Hegel was a giant of a figure in German philosophy and hugely influential. He set himself the task of rebuilding the philosophy of religion after Kant. For Hegel, philosophical religion is greatly superior to traditional religion because traditional religion completely dependents on sets of stories, images and rituals that are completely contingent - of their time and place - whereas religion is supposed to be concerned with something Eternal and Infinite. Hegel regarded Schleiermacher's "feelings" as just as contingent as other traditional religious ideas. For Hegel, traditional religion had to go and a new philosophical religion needed to take its place. Westphal makes a number of distinctions about Hegel's ideas:
Hegel's views are termed IDEALIST because he believed that ideas are more important than experiences. Westphal explains an "idealist" version of Christianity that isn't concerned about saving sinners from Hell, but focuses on lifting the human personality up so that it becomes part of the Infinite Mind of God - people will realise that they are God and live their lives in powerful, purposeful, unafraid ways. Hegel believed that religious people frequently experienced this sort of EPIPHANY, but mistook it for an encounter with Someone Other, as if God was outside them rather than inside them. Hegel thought that all religions produced these epiphanies (more or less) but Christianity is the "consummate religion" because it goes straight to the heart of the matter - Jesus is both God and man. According to Hegel, religious people mistake this as meaning there was something special or supernatural about Jesus; for Hegel, this myth should show us that human beings are actually themselves divine.
There's no denying that Kant was a very important philosopher, but Westphal's references to Spinoza and Lessing show that other people were thinking along similar lines in the 17th and 18th centuries.
You could argue that Kant didn't in fact have the impact that Westphal credits him with. After all, traditional religion is still with us and shows no sign of going away. People have not been keen on getting rid of the "externals" and having a rational, tolerant "demythologised" religion. The current arguments in the Anglican Communion over attitudes to homosexuality and the ordination of openly gay priests and bishops (and, indeed, women) shows that what Kant called "fetish faith" is still alive and kicking. In fact, you could argue that Schleiermacher had more influence than Kant, helping to shape a Protestant philosophy based on religious experiences with a "pick and mix" approach to externals that has made this branch of Christianity very adaptable in a changing society.
Meanwhile, many people now find Spinoza's Pantheism or Hegel's Panentheism a more appealing worldview than Christianity (traditional or demythologised) and this sort of popular spirituality turns up in a lot of Hollywood films (particularly Avatar and the Star Wars films).
"Hermeneutics" means the study of how to interpret things, so "Biblical hermeneutics" would be a course on different ways of interpreting the Bible. "The hermeneutics of suspicion" would mean a philosophical stance of interpreting things suspiciously. Westphal makes a distinction between SCEPTICISM and SUSPICION. Scepticism goes back to the Ancient Greeks and involves questioning what it is possible to know with any certainty. To be sceptical about religion is to question someone's basis for knowing that God exists, that the Bible is true or that sex before marriage is wrong. Scepticism demands PROOF and normally sets very high (maybe impossibly high) standards. SUSPICION on the other hand asks awkward questions about motives. Westphal defines philosophical SUSPICION as questioning the motives of religious believers, rather than their arguments. In his book The Natural History of Religion, David Hume suggests that religious believers are actually motivated by fear and self-interest.
The Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) often described himself as a Deist, but this was simply to avoid controversy in a largely Christian society. In reality, he was clearly an atheist. Rather than trying to rescue a kernel of "good" religion by disposing of the husk of "bad" religion, Hume asked whether religion might not be "bad to the bone".
A similar view was later taken by Karl Marx (1813-1883), who was less interested in individual people's motives to be religious and more concerned with the function that religion has in society. Marx believed that religion's function is to justify the power of the ruling classes by persuading the workers to accept their inferior position as "the will of God" and hope for an ilusory reward in Heaven rather than fighting for justice in this world.
A different idea with a similar basis comes from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Nietzsche regarded Christianity as a "slave morality" which encouraged people to humiliate themselves, deny or repress their true feelings and live thwarted unfulfilled lives. Rather than being "life-denying", Nietzsche wanted people to live in a "life-affirming" way, like masters rather than slaves. Nietzsche cleverly explains the appeal of the slave-mentality: poor people embrace religion because it helps them view their overlords as "bad" and themselves as "good" while letting themselves off the hook for having to do anything about it. The oppressed people get to feel morally superior to their oppressors because they think God is on their side.
Westphal claims that this sort of "suspicious" philosophy is still very widespread, obviously among secular anti-religious philosophers but even among some religious ones. He mentions the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), who was a Christian thinker. Kierkegaard strongly criticised Hegel (and therefore Kant) but also disapproved of a lot of bourgeois (conventional, middle-class) Christianity by pointing out how Christians tended to be too comfortable and satisfied with the society they lived in, whereas true followers of Jesus would not "fit in" to society in such a cosy way - they'd be challenging things, exposing injustice, trying to change the world.
What Westphal refers to as the "hermeneutics of suspicion" is amusingly referred to by C.S. Lewis as "Bulverism", named after the fictional philosopher E. Bulver who once overheard his parents arguing whether two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third and his mother defeated her husband by saying, "Oh you say that because you are a man!" You can read Lewis' complete article here. Lewis is very critical of this sort of "suspicion" and thinks it gets in the way of real philosophy.
Westphal might be stretching things by linking this suspicion to a school of thought started by David Hume. After all, Christianity has always been concerned with motivation and has the idea that God can see into people's hearts and is unimpressed with people who go through the outward behaviour of piety but don't have the real feelings of humility and compassion. In the Bible, this view is clear from the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican and Jesus' many condemnations of hypocrisy. Centuries later, Thomas Aquinas maintained that "interior acts" (moral intentions) are more important than "exterior acts" (behaviour). You could argue that the "hermeneutics of suspicion" actually comes from Christianity itself, not from the atheist Hume.
Westphal's argument is that philosophy went through a phase of speculating about God and now it tends to speculate about religion instead. I agree with this but I think there are other developments Westphal hasn't considered, such as speculating about the meaning of religious language. This linguistic philosophy was developed by Wittgenstein but a good example of it is the Logical Positivist philosophy of A.J. Ayer that would dismiss "God-talk" as meaningless. This view developed into the anti-realist perspective on epistemology which would say that religious language can never correspond to a God "out there" but always refers to the "Language Game" of the speaker's community of belief.
The conflict between reason and revelation described by Westphal is important but the Enlightenment didn't put an end to it. The last century has seen a rise in charismatic cults, religious fundamentalism and a popular interest in saints, angels, visions and prophecies. In philosophy, the ideas of Scholaticism have made a return in subjects like Creation Science, Intelligent Design and Reformed Epistemology. Writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have responded to this with stinging attacks on religion, promoting the power of reason and science. Writers like these often call for "a return to Enlightenment values", meaning (amongst other things) a rejection of revelation in favour of reason.
I would say Kant didn't in fact have the impact that Westphal credits him with. After all, traditional religion is still with us and shows no sign of going away. People have not been keen on getting rid of the "externals" and having a rational, tolerant "demythologised" religion. The current arguments in the Anglican Communion over attitudes to homosexuality and the ordination of openly gay priests and bishops (and, indeed, women) shows that what Kant called "fetish faith" is still alive and kicking. In fact, in some ways Schleiermacher had more influence than Kant, helping to shape a Protestant philosophy based on religious experiences with a "pick and mix" approach to externals that has made this branch of Christianity very adaptable in a changing society, particularly in America where "mega-churches" offering inspirational religious experiences draw huge congregations. Meanwhile, many people now find Spinoza's Pantheism or Hegel's Panentheism a more appealing worldview than Christianity (traditional or demythologised) and this sort of popular spirituality turns up in a lot of Hollywood films (particularly Avatar and the Star Wars films).
What Westphal refers to as the "hermeneutics of suspicion" might not have started with David Hume. After all, Christianity has always been concerned with motivation and has the idea that God can see into people's hearts and is unimpressed with people who go through the outward behaviour of piety but don't have the real feelings of humility and compassion. In the Bible, this view is clear from the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican where the respectable Pharisee is condemned because he goes through the right rituals of worship but for the wrong reasons. Centuries later, Thomas Aquinas maintained that "interior acts" (moral intentions) are more important than "exterior acts" (behaviour). In some ways the "hermeneutics of suspicion" actually comes from Christianity itself, not from the atheist Hume. (523 words)
Enter Hume and Kant. Their combined critique of the ontological, cosmological and teleological proofs of the existence of God was a devastating blow to the many forms of both the scholastic and the deistic projects that built on the foundation of those proofs. The widespread (if temporary) belief that Hume and especially Kant had said the last word on the subject is what Hegel referred to as the assumption that we cannot know God and must therefore only talk about religion. The pressing issue became: what can philosophy say about the religious dimension of human life now that the metaphysical proofs of God’s existence have been taken away?
Enter Hume and Kant, again. It is not surprising that two thinkers who were as concerned as they were about the religious dimension of human life and who were as convinced as they were that the metaphysical foundations of scholastic and deistic philosophical theology had crumbled should point in new directions. But how different are those directions!
From Westphal, M. The emergence of modern philosophy of religion in Quinn, P. & Taliaferro, C. (eds) A Companion to Philosophy of Religion (Blackwell, 2002)
(a) In this passage, Westphal traces the comparatively recent history in the philosophy of religion, which, he argues, has moved away from debates about the existence of God to debates about religion in general. The reason for this, he claims, is that Hume and Kant had served to offer sufficiently decisive blows to the classical arguments for the existence of God as to render them totally ineffectual. As a result, he argues, ‘the metaphysical proofs of God’s existence have been taken away.’
David Hume is, of course, well known for his incisive critiques of the classical arguments. In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion he aims a decisive blow at the Design Argument, undermining the foundations of the analogical form of the argument and rendering it useful only in so far as it highlights the appearance of apparent design in the world, but in no way proving the existence of the God of classical theism. Like Bertrand Russell two centuries later, he dismissed the central premise of the Cosmological Argument - the need for a necessary being which underpins the universe and provides the explanation for its existence. Similarly he found the Ontological Argument wanting for its reliance on the incoherent concept of necessity, maintaining that any being that could be conceived to exist could also be conceived not to exist, and that it was a ‘great partiality’ to claim that God was so completely different that his non-existence was inconceivable.
Kant famously rejected all the classical arguments for the existence of God, arguing that only the existence of morality could point towards the existence of God who acted as a guarantor of the summum bonum. He attacked Anselm’s and Descartes’ presumption that existence could be predicated of a thing or being, arguing that it added nothing to our understanding of something. £100 in the mind was still £100 in reality, thus God in the mind and God in reality would be the same - existence is not a great making property.
Westphal claims that once these classic arguments had been destroyed there was no longer any room for, or need for, philosophers to debate God’s existence or pursue the arguments further. He alludes to Hegel’s claim that since God cannot be known all that can be discussed is religion. The view that God cannot be known is not unfamiliar in the philosophy of religion. The religious language faces this problem constantly; how do we speak of the transcendent God in the limited language of humans? The via negativa offered one way around this: we speak of God in terms of what he is not rather than what he is and thus avoid the problem of it being impossible to say what God is. Non cognitive language has also served to deal with this problem. The use of mythological and symbolic language serves to express the unexpressible, since speaking of God as a rock or shepherd is evidently not literal, and yet somehow conveys attributes of God which we somehow cannot otherwise express. We cannot fully know God’s attributes, but we can come close to them by clever use of language.
However, the logical extension to the view that we cannot know God is that we cannot speak of him at all, the view which was at the heart of the Logical Positivists’ critique of religious language. The early philosophy of Wittgenstein had proposed that ‘Of that which we cannot speak, we must remain silent’, and the work of the Positivists seemed to succeed in making clear that God could be neither known since there was nothing to know, nor spoken of.
Radical critiques of religious language of this kind expose an atheism rooted in a scientific method which focuses on the belief that nothing which cannot be empirically verified or proved to be analytically true can be meaningful. Thus, since it is impossible to prove the existence of God, it is meaningless even to ask questions of God’s existence. To this way of thinking, to ask whether the Design Argument serves to prove the existence of God is itself a meaningless question, since proving the existence of a non-empirical being is impossible - there are no observations that can be made.
However, as Westphal suggests, there are other directions in which the philosophy of religion can go. Rather than discussing the question of God’s existence, it is possible to analyse the manifestations of belief in God. Identifying the purpose and function of religion, leading in many cases to a thorough going critique of it has come to dominate a good deal of contemporary studies of religion, most particularly the popularist approaches offered by quasi-philosophers such as Richard Dawkins. And interestingly, it is not just academics who have begun to explore the ‘religious dimensions of human life.’ We live in an age where there is an intense interest in spirituality of all kinds, whether it be rooted in theistic beliefs or not. New Religious Movements, psychics, mediums, alternative and holistic medicine, angels, guiding spirits, crystals, even unicorns, are seen to offer a legitimate way of exploring human spirituality. Many of these approaches incorporate an idea of God, explicitly or implicitly, but not because they are based on any of the classical ideas of God evident in the traditional arguments.
Nevertheless, it is open to question whether Westphal is right to say that philosophy has nothing left to say about the existence of God and still less that the metaphysical foundations of deistic philosophy have crumbled. As I will explore in the next answer, I believe that the emergence of an overwhelming interest in the religious experience and dimension of mankind has not disposed of it altogether.
(b) I believe that it is self evidently not true that Hume and Kant had the last word on arguments for the existence of God. Certainly, their work has been enormously influential and their criticisms strong enough to force the proponents of the classical arguments back to their desks for another round, but this is not to say that those arguments do not continue to have life.
Firstly, it is quite evident that the arguments still draw a considerable degree of scholarly interest. Predominant among theistic philosophers of religion who return to the arguments today is Richard Swinburne who claims that the probability of the existence of God is rendered highly likely on the basis of several factors including the appearance of the world - in other words, a form of the design argument. He supports a cumulative case for the existence of God, incorporating miracles and religious experience, so perhaps it is true to say that the three classical arguments are not sufficient to prove the existence of God. However, they continue to go some way in pointing in the direction of God. Although it may appear that science has undermined the Design and Cosmological Arguments, alternatively, we may argue that they are enhanced by an appreciation of what science has revealed about the world. Although the Ontological Argument is no more than a word game which tells us nothing about the reality of things, it is popular (convincing?) enough to continue to be revisited by modern scholars, Plantinga and Malcolm among them.
However, I think it is true to say that those who have genuine belief in God do not do so because they have found these arguments convincing. Belief in God arises out of personal experience, upbringing, circumstances, culture, even coincidence, but I don’t think it arises out of a review of the classical arguments. It may well be true to say that metaphysical proofs of God’s existence no longer have any meaning to the believer, even if Anselm was so inspired by the Ontological proof that he no longer feared any challenges to his faith.
Furthermore, I think Westphal is right to say that an interest in the religious dimensions of human life has become the primary direction in which philosophy of religion has travelled. But interestingly, it is in atheism that interest has predominantly arisen. It is a regular occurrence to see leading articles in the national newspapers from outspoken atheists (with Richard Dawkins at the helm) condemning the outdated, extremist, violent, delusional beliefs of the inadequate, dangerous and uneducated religious believer in the modern world. Some respond – Alister McGrath and Keith Ward have both recently produced direct responses to the attacks of Richard Dawkins - but the public interest and awareness is aroused far more by the irate attack rather than the reasoned response. In ‘The God Delusion’ Dawkins does attempt to offer a critique of the classical arguments, for example, calling the Ontological Argument ‘infantile’ in its reasoning, and suggesting that Aquinas’s Fourth Way (From the Gradation of Things) could as easily prove that God was the smelliest of all beings as it aims to prove that he is the highest in all goodness. Dawkins’ attacks are unrefined and aimed to ridicule rather than to offer substantial philosophical critique, but although I believe that it is wrong to say that metaphysical arguments for the existence of God have lost ground completely, it is true to say that for most people interested in religion, they have long ceased to be the primary focus.
This is a passage which can lead to a range of legitimate responses, in which candidates may choose to focus very closely on Hume and Kant, and even Hegel, if their studies have taken them in that direction, or to respond more broadly. This answer has done a bit of both and done so with great confidence. The candidate has taken the wording of the passage very much to heart and has alluded directly to the exact words on a number of occasions, but without ever falling into repetition of chunks of the text for lack of anything else to say. Whilst they have kept the focus initially on arguments for the existence of God, they have also drawn on their studies of religious language and shown some broader understanding of spirituality in the modern world. Reference to scholars is frequent but not unreasonably dominating - we are clear that the candidate has their own understanding of the passage. In all, an exceptional response.
Bear in mind - please! - that this is meant to be an "exceptional" answer and it wasn't written by a student - it was written by the examiner. A response like this would almost certainly score 100% and, frankly, quite a few responses less confident and informed than this could also score 100%. Never mind: it's still a good example of the GENERAL WAY to go about answering this question.