A Bit on Philosophy, Science and Religion
What is Philosophy?
The word “philosophy” literally means “love of wisdom.” While wisdom is a critical part of philosophy, the nature of wisdom has been extensively debated. In fact, there are some philosophers who have claimed that philosophy, in the current sense, has nothing to do with wisdom at all.
Philosophy and Science
From both a historical and a theoretical standpoint, the sciences arose from philosophy and so there is a special relationship between the two areas. Both address similar (and even identical) questions and employ similar (and even identical) methods. Both are concerned with the origin of the universe, the nature of the mind, the nature of space-time, the foundations of ethics, the basis of human behavior and so on. Both employ observations, symbolic logic, mathematics, hypothesis testing and so forth.
Because of these similarities, the boundaries between science and philosophy are somewhat vague. This often leads to controversy over what counts as scientific and what belongs in the realm of philosophy. It is a common mistake to assume that science is concrete and provides definite answers and that philosophy is merely theoretical and provides no definite answers. However, the facts of the matter are that both are highly theoretical and are swamped in unanswered questions and intellectual controversy.
Philosophy and Religion
Philosophy and religion are distinct areas and have experienced both conflict and cooperation through the centuries. Currently though, faith (religion) is often seen as being in conflict with reason (philosophy). This conflict dates back to the origin of philosophy-the discipline began by offering alternative explanations to those given by Greek religion. In many respects this tradition of competition has remained strong. Contemporary philosophers are often regarded as atheists and anti-religious and faith is often seen as irrational or beyond reason. In the past, early Christian thinkers blamed philosophy for many of the early heresies. Some religious thinkers claimed took reason as a threat to faith and something that misleads people.
Despite the existence of conflict between the two disciplines, there is also extensive overlap. Philosophers and religious thinkers address many of the same problems such as the existence of God, the nature of morality, the origin of the universe, and the purpose of existence.
Although many contemporary philosophers are atheists or at least agnostics, many philosophers have been religious thinkers and many religious thinkers have been philosophers. Among these thinkers are Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, and Berkeley. These thinkers and others made use of reason to defend and support religion.
One important debate in both philosophy and religion has been over defining the proper sphere of each. Some thinkers take the spheres to overlap in some degree so that philosophy can address some, but not all, matters in religion and vice versa. On this view, philosophers and religious thinkers have legitimate concerns within each others’ disciplines. Naturally, thinkers vary in their view about the extent of the overlap.
On one extreme, some thinkers take the spheres to overlap completely so that one can address all the matters of the other. One view is that religion should be used to address all allegedly philosophical problems. For example, questions about reality and morality are to be addressed by religion and not by a distinct discipline of philosophy. Another view is that philosophy/reason should be used to address all allegedly religious problems. A third view is that religion and philosophy can be used interchangeably-truth is truth, no matter how one reaches it.
On the other extreme, some thinkers take the spheres to have no intersection at all-each must stick to its own domain. On this view, religious methods are useless in dealing with philosophical matters and reason has no role in religious matters. Some scientific and philosophical thinkers, such as Freud, take the religious sphere to be ‘empty’ and hold that religion should be studied purely in scientific terms. One example of this is the view that religion should be looked at entirely as a psychological or sociological phenomenon. Freud, for example, took religious belief to be a psychological phenomenon and even wrote a work on religion entitled The Future of an Illusion. As another example, Marx considered religion to be “the opiate of the masses” and regarded it as a social phenomenon without a metaphysical foundation.