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