Religious Reasoning

Religion is central to the lives of many people across the world. They attend religious ceremonies and pray or meditate, sometimes several times a day. Even when they are not engaged in explicitly religious practices, religion also affects believers’ views in morality, politics, and even science. Critics of religion disdain these influences and claim that religions depend on false or unjustified beliefs, especially the belief that God exists. Both sides of this debate present ingenious arguments, which will be explored in this chapter.

What is religion? That’s not an easy question to answer. Religions are varied and complex. They include rituals, communities, institutions, texts, and be- liefs. You cannot understand religion as a whole by looking merely at reli- gious beliefs. Moreover, religious beliefs cover many topics, from the afterlife and the meaning of life to creation and miracles. You also cannot understand religion by considering only beliefs about God. Nonetheless, since belief in God is so central to so many religions, it is crucial to ask whether God exists.

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People who believe that God exists are called theists. People who deny the existence of God (or any other god) are called atheists. Many people accept neither belief and claim that we cannot know whether God exists. They are called agnostics.

It is also important to realize, however, that people who believe in a tradi- tional God within Christianity, say, usually deny the existence of other kinds of gods. Their position is, thus, theism with respect to their own religion and God but atheism regarding other religions and gods. Hence, when asking whether someone is a theist or an atheist, it is crucial to specify the kind of God at issue.

Who or what is God? Different religions include different beliefs about God or gods. Nonetheless, the dominant traditions in the Western world—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all derive from Abraham and share certain central beliefs about God. In traditional views, God is a per- son with the three “omnis“: omnipotent (or all-powerful), omniscient (or all-knowing), and omnibenevolent (or all-good). Some theologians add that God is omnipresent (or equally present at all spaces and times), but many see God as eternal or existing outside of all time and space.


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