This unit is intended to begin philosophical thinking at GCSE, focussed on matters linked to the Philosophy of Religion. It encourages candidates to reflect upon ultimate questions about the meaning and purpose of life, and to develop their own reasoned response to those questions. In the examination, candidates will be expected to illustrate their answers by reference to actual arguments put forward by philosophers in relation to the issues. This unit allows candidates to use examples from one or more of the six major world religions of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism.
Hick argues for what he calls the “pluralistic hypothesis”: that Ultimate Reality is ineffable and beyond our understanding but that its presence can be experienced through various spiritual practices and linguistic systems offered within the religions. The great world religions, then, constitute very different but equally valid ways of conceiving, experiencing, and responding to Ultimate Reality. He uses different analogies to describe his hypothesis, including an ambiguous picture of a duck-rabbit. A culture that has ducks but no familiarity with rabbits would see the ambiguous diagram as a duck. People in this culture would not even be aware of the ambiguity. So too with the culture that has rabbits but no familiarity with ducks. People in this culture would see the diagram as a rabbit. Hick’s point is that the ineffable is experienced in the different traditions as Vishnu, or as Allah, or as Yahweh, or as the Tao, and so on, depending on one’s individual and cultural concepts.
Giving rationalists more tools to convince discussion partners is good, and in particular, I’ve found that being able to frame your thinking in terms that the theist will already accept is effective. (Salespeople will tell you that’s no surprise.) But there are two caveats. First, I think we (atheists) often focus too much on debates, as opposed to setting an example through long-term social contacts with theists and living a good life in front of them. I’m often hesitant to place great value on debates in terms of convincing the discussion partner or the audience. My favorite stat: when Hitch and D’Souza met in Colorado, they interviewed audience members before and after, and even Darth Hitchens himself scored only a 3% conversion.