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Your friend asks you to explain how philosophy is related to religion. How do you answer?

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This is a question which clearly invites generalizations, all of which will be open to dispute as the definitions of religion and philosophy are so hotly disputed. It is reasonably safe to say that religion and philosophy are both attempts to explain the universe and our place in it. It is also true that in most societies, philosophy started within the framework of religion but then came at some point to question that framework. Beyond this, one need to ask which religion and which philosophy?

The relationship between ancient Greek philosophy and both the Christian and Muslim religions is an interesting case for consideration. Though religion is probably older than philosophy, Greek philosophy precedes both Christianity and Islam. Much of the religious debate of the middle ages, both within and between Christianity and Islam, centered around the philosophy of Aristotle. Islamic scholars like Avicenna and Christian theologians like Aquinas both claimed Aristotle as a precursor of their religions. Similar claims were later made about Plato, who became more influential during the Renaissance.

Philosophy has often been used as a tool to defend or attack religion. It has not always been quite obvious which of these they were doing. The God of Descartes or Spinoza, for instance, is so different from the God of the Bible that a traditional Christian might regard both men as atheists. Indeed, the whole process of philosophy throughout the middle ages until the eighteenth century might be viewed as a slow distortion of the personal God of the Bible into a pantheist principle that a Christian would not even recognize. This dichotomy between what a religious person understands by God and what a philosopher might mean by the same word has probably done as much to create the twenty-first century divide between religion and philosophy as the explicit criticisms of religion by Hume or Nietzsche. What is clear is that the two disciplines, intertwined throughout much of history, are now entirely distinct.

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Philosophy is the most critical and comprehensive thought process developed by human beings. It is quite different from religion in that where Philosophy is both critical and comprehensive, Religion is comprehensive but not necessarily critical. Religion attempts to offer a view of all of life and the universe and to offer answers to most , if not all, of the most basic and important questions which occur to humans all over the planet. The answers offered by Religion are not often subject to the careful scrutiny of reason and logic. Indeed many religious beliefs defy logic and seem to be unreasonable. Religion has its basis in belief. Philosophy , on the other hand, is a critic of belief and belief systems. Philosophy subjects what some would be satisfied in believing to severe examination. Philosophy looks for rational explications and justifications for beliefs. Philosophy has its basis in reason.

Theology deals with thinking about religious beliefs in a rational manner but it presumes faith. Theologians employ reason to make their beliefs appear more clearly and to wherever possible have beliefs satisfy the dictates of reason. Theologians begin with a set of beliefs as foundational or fundamental and in some sense not subject to possible disbelief or to truly critical analysis. Philosophers examine, indeed they look for, all assumptions and suppositions of any system of thought or belief. For philosophers there are no ideas to be accepted on faith.

Philosophy of religion is the philosophical examination of the themes and concepts involved in religious traditions as well as the broader philosophical task of reflecting on matters of religious significance including the nature of religion itself, alternative concepts of God or ultimate reality, and the religious significance of general features of the cosmos (e.g., the laws of nature, the emergence of consciousness) and of historical events (e.g., the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, the Holocaust). Philosophy of religion also includes the investigation and assessment of worldviews (such as secular naturalism) that are alternatives to religious worldviews. Philosophy of religion involves all the main areas of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, value theory (including moral theory and applied ethics), philosophy of language, science, history, politics, art, and so on.