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I the Koran subject to interpretation or to be taken literally?

I'm curious why you raise this question only with respect to the Koran--and not with respect to other sacred literatures (or perhaps you have them all in mind). I'm no expert on the Koran but I am pretty sure that, first, your question has a false dichotomy: "interpretation" is a matter of determining the meaning of a text (or of a speaker), and sometimes the meaning you settle on is what might be called a literal one, so interpretation CAN itself be literal in nature. Presumably what you have in mind then is a different contrast--between metaphorical or symbolical interpretation v literal interpretation. But even there I would imagine (said without claim of expertise) that the Koran is filled with much symbolic/metaphorical language, not least because ordinary (non-sacred) speech is itself filled with such; it's rather hard to imagine a text in which every single sentence is possessed (or meant to possess) only literal meaning. THAT said, perhaps your question is actually a little different, something on...

Hi Philosophers, I have a burning question that is troubling me relating the religion versus science debate. I hope I articulate it well enough. Here goes. Mathematically, physicists are close to proving that a multiverse exists. Assuming they do prove this, and that as part of this proof it is deemed that infinity universes exist with both every conceivable and inconceivable possibility and outcome occurring throughout, then is it not fair to say that God certainly exists in at least one of these infinite possibility universes? Adversely, it is also fair to assume that God certainly does not exist in at least one of these universes? Then consider that if God certainly exists in at least one universe, and he is the all-seeing, all-knowing God that religion states he is, then how can he certainly not exist in at least one of the infinite universes? To say that God definitely exists is to, by definition of God, say that he exists everywhere and created everything, yet this notion within the multiverse...

Great question (and great response by Allen). Let me just add a tiny bit, by encouraging you to check out both Norman Malcolm's and Alvin Plantinga's work on the ontological argument. (The latter is a lot more technical and difficult, so start with the former.) From them you get something like the idea that if God exists at all, He exists necessarily (for God surely isn't a contingent being); to say that God exists necessarily is to say that He exists in every possible world. But now, if it's even possible that God exists -- i.e. the idea of God contains no contradictions -- then God would exist in at least one possible world. But if He exists at all He exists in every possible world, so if He exists in one PW He exists in every PW. Now is it possible that God exists? Does the idea of God involve any contradictions? Lots of discussion in the history of philosophical theology on that topic (lots of purported contradictions posed, then response to), but lots of people, even many ordinary atheists, think...

Does the principle of increased entropy support or challenge the Cosmological argument? I am getting mixed messages and am unsure which if any are valid.

Good question, and undoubtedly others are better equipped to give better or deeper answers. But I'll take a quick stab. First, there are at least several different categories of Cosmological Arguments, but I'm guessing you have in mind those involving design of some sort -- increasing entropy seems to suggest the cosmos tends toward disorder, which seems to undermine the notion that there is any sort of (intrinsic) or ultimate ordering. But now, with respect to design, what's to refute the idea that the increasing disorder is PART of the design, part of its aim? (the general problem with design arguments is that no one is ever very clear on just what the purported point of God creating the universe is .... But presumably introducing human beings to contemplate the universe (and God) is part of it, and why couldn't a cosmos with increasing entropy be something good for human beings to contemplate?) ... As far as other forms of Cosmological Args go, by my understanding they tend to involve...
Good question, and undoubtedly others are better equipped to give better or deeper answers. But I'll take a quick stab. First, there are at least several different categories of Cosmological Arguments, but I'm guessing you have in mind those involving design of some sort -- increasing entropy seems to suggest the cosmos tends toward disorder, which seems to undermine the notion that there is any sort of (intrinsic) or ultimate ordering. But now, with respect to design, what's to refute the idea that the increasing disorder is PART of the design, part of its aim? (the general problem with design arguments is that no one is ever very clear on just what the purported point of God creating the universe is .... But presumably introducing human beings to contemplate the universe (and God) is part of it, and why couldn't a cosmos with increasing entropy be something good for human beings to contemplate?) ... As far as other forms of Cosmological Args go, by my understanding they tend to involve...

If God exists, is there any proof that he involves himself in human affairs? It seems most if not all debate in contemporary philosophy centers around whether a deist God exists.

Great question, but just a short answer to start. By "involvement" you probably have in mind something like "miracles" (say, violations of the law of nature). But questions of "miraculousness" are VERY hard to prove, and so (I'm guessing) discussion of their occurrence is probably mostly limited to those who already are believers -- it's only AFTER you believe God exists that you're likely to treat some event as a miracle. (After all there is much we don't know or understand about the world, so the mere fact that something unusual or unlikely occurs is not very good evidence that a miracle has occurred, and thus itself not good evidence that God exists.) But you should also be aware that there is a long tradition of thinking of God's "involvement" in different ways. For example, it has traditionally been argued that God "continuously creates" the world -- see Descartes, Malebranche eg -- that God's activity is necessary to keep the world in existence, even while there is also good reason to...

Is it a contradiction to believe in God and also in science? I believe in evolution and look at the Big Bang theory skeptically, but I also believe in God as the creator of everything. Many have often told me that you can't really accept these theories and also believe in God without causing a contradiction, but I always thought of it as science answering how things happen, whereas my faith in God answers why things happen. What do you think?

A wonderful, rich, and controversial question -- and there are lots of people out there thinking about it. (I happen to like Paul Davies on this subject -- but see also very recent books by Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga ...) Just a quick thought for here. If someone says there's a contradiction they have to be able to state explicitly what it is. You get quick contradictions if perhaps you read the bible very literally and then listen to scientific theories of the creation of the universe, and/or the development of human beings. But lots of deeply religious people do not think the bible is to be read entirely literally, including such famous thinkers as Maimonides, Aquinas, and others. Given what you say it sounds like you're in the 'non-literal' camp ... but then to be sure you're NOT accepting contradictions you need to spell out as explicitly as you can just what science says about creation and what the Bible says, and satisfy yourself they are consistent ... As for your latter point, well --...

If, as some apologists say, God never changes; surely, then, God lived an infinity before creating the world. One wonders why he changed in order to create people. If for companionship, why are so many people flawed by whatever criteris one uses? This is a very enjoyable blog. JH

Great question -- one that deep thinkers have been worrying about ever since they came up with the idea of God! As the great 4th century Catholic thinker Augustine said, when asked what God was doing all that time before creating the universe he was tempted to answer: preparing Hell for those who ask stupid questions! ... But then he recognized that it was an important question, and gave his own answer to it: since one of the things that God creates is time itself, there IS no time 'before' the creation of the universe -- so you don't have to say what God was doing! ... Now whether this answers your question or not -- i.e. WHY did God create anything -- is not clear, but it may take away a little incentive for raising that question: if God never 'changed' (from not creating to creating), then perhaps we don't need to look for a 'cause' to his changing in the way you framed the question .... hope that's useful! (If you're interested, I present some of the classic answers to this question in my...

I've taken an introductory class in the philosophy of religion and I've read some introductory materials about it on the internet. I'm sort of disappointed with the kinds of questions that are considered central to the philosophy of religion because it seems like other questions can be just as central but they aren't mentioned. One of the central questions of the philosophy of religion is whether or not God existence can be proved. While that is undoubtedly an important question "proof" seems to be a high standard even in philosophy and a "succinct" proof that can be written in a formulaic manner is an even higher standard. If you want to argue whether or not Bill Gates is a good man it isn't necessary to prove his existence. You can however attempt to characterize his behavior within a context and from that attempt to evaluate whether he is a good or a bad person. Should not the philosophy of religion, for at least some important strands of religious thinking, work in a similar vein? That is it would...

Thanks for your comments/questions. It's perhaps hard to judge what is 'central' to a discipline or a pursuit, particularly one with as long and varied a history as the 'phil. of religion' (broadly construed). In fact lots more ink (or parchment space) has been devoted to questions of God's nature (perhaps) than to God's existence (as well as to the relationship between God's nature/existence of course, a la the ontological argument). [My own book, The God Question, presents the rather long history of discussion of different aspects of God's nature ...] And anyway re: the kinds of things you lean to at the end of your comments: it seems to me that many of the traditional ways of attempting to prove God's existence proceed exactly as you recommend, ie by 'considering whether the world can be evaluated in terms of God's existence.' The classical versions of cosmological and teleological arguments, as well as their more contemporary updates, seem to do precisely that [again my book presents a number of...

Is atheism a scientific worldview? Many people who try to promote atheism seem to think so.

Well much depends on what "scientific" is taken to mean (obviously), and there are plenty of philosophers who think that science strongly supports, provides evidence for, theism -- or at least that science is essentially neutral on the question of theism/atheism. But what does seem deniable is that actual scientific research, and its many applications, makes no explicit reference to God -- so that would seem to support the idea that science works in an atheist framework, on the assumption of atheism, and has managed to be pretty darn successful in so doing. That doesn't mean that various scientific results are not consistent with theism (though of course we want to recognize the difference between believing in "God" in general and believing all the numerous details of any particular religion); but it does suggest that atheism and science have a kind of natural fit, in a way in which theism -- especially when entwined with all the details of the particular religions -- does not. IMHO, anyway! ...

Is religion the true enemy of freedom in a democratic society since it teaches us that we have to think a certain way or is science since it teaches us that nobody is truly free but a product of deterministic forces?

Or another mode of reply: First suppose that science DOES suggest determinism. How would anything be different in our lives? Wouldn't democratic processes work precisely the same way as they have been? (After all, our behavior has been deterministic all along, so why would discovering/proving/merely believing that it is deterministic change anything?) Or since 'freedom' seems to be the larger concern for you, again, what would be different? All the cases where we've held people responsible for their behaviors, we still would hold them, wouldn't we? we'd still lock up bad people, teach our children to be good, etc.... So it isn't clear to me why scientific results would threaten anything, really. Ditto for religion: if we think religions are in the business of generating true claims about the world, then, where they succeed, we should be happy to endorse their claims (assuming we want the truth). Whichever dogmatic religions you're thinking of ARE dogmatic because they believe they have the truth...

Is it logical to infer a higher power given how extraordinary human life is?

If by 'logical' you mean 'a decent argument can be constructed of this form' then i would say the answer is yes -- but if you mean 'an absolutely convincing argument ...' then, well, you don't find too many of those anywhere in philosophy -- my favorite version of the kind of argument that Allen Stairs mentions is some version of the fine-tuning argument -- which observes how perfectly fine-tuned features of the universe seem to be, such that they could easily have been otherwise, and yet had they been otherwise then human life (conscious, rational, moral life) would not have been possible -- and goes from there to argue that it is reasonable to think this didn't occur by chance -- a good source on this topic would be any of Paul Davies' recent books ... best, ap

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