From the some of the questions I see submitted to this site, it seems that many people expect philosophers to affirm that their faith / superstitious beliefs have some positive value or grounding in reality. I cannot however think of many modern philosophers who would support such a belief system, so my question is: why do people feel that philosophy will be more supportive of faith-based belief systems than science?

Maybe there is some contrast in stereotypes, with scientists seen as more down to earth and philosophers seen as more speculative, and this leads folk to think that philosophers are more likely to take ungrounded claims seriously. Here is another possibiliity. The great skeptical tradition in philosophy is an epistemic leveler. In light of Descartes' sceptical arguments about the external world and Hume's sceptical arguments about induction, the warrant for scientific claims can seem no better than any other claims. This train of thought may of course lead one to put less weight on science; but it may also lead one to take other sorts of claims more seriously. (Like many philosophers, however, I prefer to try to show what it wrong with those sceptical arguments.)

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to a line out of Woody Allen's most recent movie, "Match Point," in which the lead character opines that " is the path of least resistance..." My tentative conclusion is that this may be true for what I call "megachurch faith," but perhaps not for thinkers like St. Augustine or Maimonides who struggled in their faith. What do your philosophers think about this proposition?

I agree with you. We may be inclined to believe something, even though we don't have sufficient evidence for it. If we follow our inclinations, we might describe this as an act of faith and also as following the path of least resistance. But sometimes people feel that they ought to have a certain belief they are not inclined to have. We might say that they are stuggling to acquire faith, and this may be a path of great resistance. I should add that don't myself find either of these paths very attractive. What attracts me is the idea of tailoring one's beliefs according to the strength of the evidence. But this must be understood in a way that is compatible with the fact that the great bulk of what we believe we believe not because we saw it or worked it out for ourselves, but because someone else told us. There is a sense in which all those beliefs based on testimony are acts of faith, though this faith need not be wholly uncritical.

I'm in year 11 and obviously heading to my HSC and there are so many people expecting so much from me, but I don't know if I can live up to them. Since I'm the youngest in my family and my brothers and sisters never got into university, my mother hopes to raise atleast one child of hers makes it to uni. I could do what I like doing and live a happy life but it means not making it to uni. Can you please give me some suggestions on what to do. From Daniel H.

Daniel, university is not the be all and end all of life, but I think it is well worthwhile. There are three obvious benefits. The first is that it is a lot of fun. The second is that it is a mind-expanding experience, and that is something that most people value for the rest of their lives. The third is that it gives you many more options for your future. Being a university teacher, I may be biased, but I also see how much students are getting out of their university experience. I say go for it.

What is naive realism? For that matter, what is realism?

'Realism' is used in a number of senses. One of the most common is the idea that there is determinate world out there independent of us and that we can know something about it. This contrasts for example with idealism, according to which everything that exists is mental. 'Naive Realism' may be mean thinking that something is mind independent when one should know better. Thus a philosopher who thinks that colours are really just sensations (and perhaps even a philosopher who thinks that colours are powers to produce sensations) may call another philosopher who thinks that colours are as much 'out there' as shapes a naive realist. More generally, 'naive realism' is often used to refer to the view that we see things directly and that they have the properties they seem to have.

Can we really benefit from philosophy? Are we reaching a cumulative understanding of the universe or gaining any proof? Philsophy has destroyed the faith of believer; as far as I have seen, it has only increased the vigour of the sceptic. Would it be fair to say then that philosophy has only revealed the limitations of what we can know? Are we left in an unresolved epistemological crisis?

I have considerable sympathy for your sentiment that philosophy has increased the vigour of the sceptic. But that may be a good thing. For if the sceptic is right -- if some of our beliefs don't have the warrant we supposed them to have -- then it may be good to know this. Moreover, grappling with the sceptic is mind-expanding and, for some of us, a great deal of fun.

In relation to the debate raging in the US about evolution and Intelligent Design, I would like to know whether positing the existence and prior activity of an intelligent designer is a scientific or a philosophical question. Is it scientifically conceivable that the existence of a designer and of things having come about purposefully as opposed to randomly could ever be deduced from available or putative evidence?

It's not going to be possible to deduce intelligent design from scientific evidence, but no scientific theory can be deduced from evidence, only more or less supported by it. And I agree with Richard that there could in principle be good evidence for the existence of an an intelligent designer. Of course we have such evidence all the time for the human case. For example, archeologists working on a dig have to decide whether a given object is likely to be a natural product or a human artifact, and they often have excellent evidence for the latter hypothesis, i.e. for intelligent (human) design. But an inference to a non-human and perhaps divine designer seems crucially different in a number of respects. First of all, we have loads of independent evidence for the existence of human intelligent designers, but not for extra-terrestial or divine designers. Second, there really is no other remotely plausible explanation for the existence of say a finely wrought neclace than intelligent design,...

What is the reasoning behind the existentialist claim that existence precedes essence?

I'm no expert in this area, and I don't know what the reasoning behind the claim is, but as I understand it the meaning of the slogan is that people are not born with an essential nature, but must choose their own identity. (Did Sartre have any children?)