Atheist Burnout and the Direction of Philosophy of Religion
September 6, 2010 — 11:22

Author: Robert Gressis  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism General  Comments: 120

You may have already seen this, but in case you haven’t, philosopher Keith Parsons, author of the 1990 God and the Burden of Proof, among many other articles, has quit philosophy of religion.
He writes:

I have to confess that I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position–no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory. BTW, in saying that I now consider the case for theism to be a fraud, I do not mean to charge that the people making that case are frauds who aim to fool us with claims they know to be empty. No, theistic philosophers and apologists are almost painfully earnest and honest; I don’t think there is a Bernie Madoff in the bunch. I just cannot take their arguments seriously any more, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote serious academic attention to it. I’ve turned the philosophy of religion courses over to a colleague.

In the comments, Theodore Drange, author of Nonbelief and Evil, adds, “I, too, have little interest in religion, which I regard to be a kind of insanity (loss of touch with reality) that advanced species perhaps go through in the course of their evolution.” (I should note that Drange did not exactly support Parsons’s decision, but instead pointed out that there are other things to talk about in the philosophy of religion besides the ontological status of theistic religious beliefs).
Finally, John Beversluis, author of C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, as well as professor of philosophy (emeritus) at Butler University, tells John Loftus that he independently arrived at the same conclusion as Parsons.
I have a trio of wonderings about this:
First, it makes me wonder how often this phenomenon occurs. Are there a substantial number of atheists who dabble in philosophy of religion and find the best theistic arguments and defenses so wanting that they decide, “no, not for me. These people [e.g., van Fraassen, Plantinga, van Inwagen, Adams, etc.] are smart, but they leave their brains at the door when they do philosophy of religion”? Personally, I doubt this; or at least, I doubt that it happens after they read the aforementioned authors, as most of the atheists I know have never read any of van Inwagen’s, Plantinga’s, etc.’s, philosophy of religion.
Second, what do these philosophers think is happening to those philosophers who do top-notch work in other fields but who are also orthodox Christians? Do they have a theory? If their theory is indeed “compartmentalized insanity”, have they looked into the psychological research on this? And what do they make of some of their smart atheist colleagues, like Quentin Smith, David Lewis, and William Rowe, who don’t share their disdain for their theistic counterparts?
Third and finally, if I am wrong in my first speculation, and it is indeed the case that many atheists who read the best and brightest of theistic philosophy of religion come away thinking that the case for theism is as weak as, say, the case for intelligent design (assuming, of course, that the case for intelligent design is indeed weak; if you don’t like that example, replace it with one you think is more apt), then should we expect philosophy of religion to become more and more dominated by religious theists? And if so, what will that mean for the direction of philosophy of religion? I expect that it would encourage more and more philosophers of religion to engage in philosophical theology and other such endeavors rather than defending the propriety of religious belief.
I’d love to hear what other people make of this, but I’d be especially curious to hear from atheists about this.

Comments:
  • lukeprog

    Plausibly, most scholars of the Koran believe it was dictated by the angel Gabriel. Most philosophers of religion think God exists. Most moral philosophers are moral realists.
    I think it was Gilbert Harmann who speculated that most moral philosophers are moral realists because if you don’t believe in morality, you’re unlikely to spend your career researching it. I suspect the same thing happens in many fields, and that philosophy of religion is one of them.
    Moreover, there are entire schools (BIOLA comes to mind) who are hell-bent on producing bright young philosophers who will “take back academia for God.” As far as I know, there aren’t even any university programs who have much interest in producing philosophers who will defend atheism in the philosophy of religion. Indeed, both my blog and Andrew Moon at Prosblogion have remarked on how little respect philosophy of religion enjoys in academia.
    So I suspect you are right, Robert, about the trajectory of this AOS. Philosophy of religion departments will, more and more, become theology departments, perhaps at the same time that the opposite occurs in Biblical studies, which are beginning to accept more mainstream methods and conclusions.

    September 6, 2010 — 12:21
  • Mike Almeida

    Indeed, both my blog and Andrew Moon at Prosblogion have remarked on how little respect philosophy of religion enjoys in academia.
    The argument is hard to follow. There are adduced statistics that worldwide, 99 departments don’t have many people who specialize in philosophy of religion. True. I think’s it’s ranked 12th. Here.
    12.Religion (12)
    13.Action (10)
    14.Law (9)
    15.Math (9)
    Of course, by the same reasoning, we would have to conclude that philosophy of mathematics is not taken seriously. Afterall, worldwide it’s 15th. But that’s absurd. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t take philosophy of mathematics seriously. I don’t know anyone who does not take philosophy of action or philosophy of law seriously, either. And both of those are ranked lower than philosophy of religion. I also don’t know anyone who would specialize in philosophy of mathematics or law or action and not also specialize in metaphysics or epistemology or ethics. That’s just good job sense.
    Things are as bad when you consider anyone who specializes narrowly in philosophy of physics or philosophy of biology, etc. Obviously, these are subcategories of philosophy of science, but there are specialists in these areas. There are some positions specifically in philosophy of physics and in philosophy of biology, but not many. Undoubtedly, you’ve got to be familiar with philosophical problems in the sciences generally to put yourself in a position to land a job. But again who doesn’t take philosophy of biology or philosophy of physics seriously? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. So the inferences from the data don’t seem especially strong.

    September 6, 2010 — 13:33
  • Mike Almeida

    Robert, I didn’t mean to move discussion away from the central point of the post. Sorry about that. On one of your main points, Parsons’ comments seem too grand to be credible. Maybe I’ll find it credible when the attitude moves him to discontinue working and publishing in the area. I don’t expect that will happen soon.

    September 6, 2010 — 13:45
  • christian

    I’m an atheist and I dabble in philosophy of religion. I don’t think the arguments for God’s existence are very strong. But I certainly take the position seriously.
    Analogously, I don’t think that the arguments for mereological nihilism, modal realism, evaluative nonfactualism, or nominalism about properties are very strong. I take these positions seriously though. I think philosophers should take these positions seriously. The degree to which we take a position seriously is not a simple function of how strong we think the arguments for that position are. It’s a bit more complex than that. We should take seriously positions that competent people, people who have thought long and hard about an issue, take seriously. Otherwise, and I’m really unsure how this should be formulated, we are treating ourselves as somehow epistemologically special (in a bad way).
    “Second, what do these philosophers think is happening to those philosophers who do top-notch work in other fields but who are also orthodox Christians?”
    It’s speculation. But I speculate that these philosophers don’t share a number of basic intuitions with those with whom they disagree at the end of inquiry. More moderately, I think there is a difference in credences with respect to a handful of propositions that play an important role in debates over God’s existence. So they update probabilities in different directions, and reasonably, while winding up with very different conclusions. Why is there this divergence in credences? I suspect that these smart Christian philosophers, in many cases, begin with deep-seated convictions and then work out a metaphysics that is both consistent with, and supports these convictions. However, their atheistic counterparts do not share these convictions. We’re often left wondering: why do you find these convictions plausible? And the explanations we receive (or I receive) just fail to be at all convincing.

    September 6, 2010 — 14:15
  • Gerald Priestland, a BBC reporter on religious matters, published a book in which he interviewed A.J.Ayer, shortly after his retirement, and asked him whether he respected colleagues who had religious beliefs. Ayer mentioned Dummett, who had just succeeded him as Wykeham Professor, and said he was an example of a first class philosopher who was also a religious believer. Ayer said the only explanation he could think of was that Dummett kept his religious beliefs strictly separated from his philosophical thinking. Priestland then went to interview Dummett, who said that there was an integral connection between his religious beliefs and the motives for doing philosophy. However, he added, Ayer just seemed to be tone-deaf when it came to religion.

    September 6, 2010 — 14:35
  • Robert Gressis

    Just for the record, and contrary to lukeprog’s inference: by saying that philosophers of religion are, more and more, going to investigate philosophical theology rather than the propriety of religious beliefs, I didn’t mean to suggest that philosophers of religion are just going to become adjuncts to theology departments, for two reasons:
    (1) I don’t know what goes on in theology departments, so I don’t know whether they would identify the things analytic philosophers of religion do, even when the latter do philosophical theology, as akin to what they (i.e., theologians) do. I suspect, however, that analytic philosophical theology is not like theology proper; if it were, books like Crisp’s and Rea’s Analytic Theology wouldn’t have to be written. Consequently, I don’t think philosophers of religion will do what is done in theology departments, or get absorbed into them.
    (2) What I in fact think will happen is something like this: just like philosophers of science eventually became exhausted with the demarcation problem, I think philosophers of religion won’t (unless they have continual atheistic prompting) keep on worrying so much about whether it’s permissible to believe religious claims in general, but will instead focus on more particular religious claims.

    September 6, 2010 — 15:02
  • Mike Almeida

    Just for the record, and contrary to lukeprog’s inference: by saying that philosophers of religion are, more and more, going to investigate philosophical theology rather than the propriety of religious beliefs, I didn’t mean to suggest that philosophers of religion are just going to become adjuncts to theology departments, for two reasons
    Yes, I was going to mention that conflation as well. For what it’s worth, there is another inference that goes from the number of people who are atheists to how seriously philosophy of religion is taken. It’s again not clear what the argument is supposed to be. Lot’s of very informed philosophers of mathematics don’t think there are mathematical objects; Harty Field, for instance. Should we conclude that Hartry does not take philosophy of mathematics seriously? Lot of philosophers are anti-realist about values (Mackie, for instance). Did Mackie not take ethics seriously? How’s the inference supposed to go from ‘I don’t think the object of your inquiry exists’ to ‘I don’t take your subject seriously’? It doesn’t follow in any of these cases.

    September 6, 2010 — 15:47
  • Gregory Lewis

    I’m no believer, but I dabble in Philosophy of Religion as a rank amateur. Apologies for being stupid.
    I’m not sure it’s all that surprising that Atheists have stories of religious people as crazy. It’s not exactly uncommon for Theists to tell Atheists they just aren’t properly functioning or similarly ‘rude’ responses (here’s looking at you, Trent. 😉 ) But I’m fairly friendly with regards to Theism: maybe I *am* the improperly functioning one after all. Yet I can see how that could resolve into unfriendly Atheism.
    Anyway, in order of the wonderings.
    1) I think, on reflection, maybe you can just decide ‘well, actually this is just crazy’. Maybe, even if you can’t give a very good argument for it, you have developed some overwhelming intuition that Theism is both wrong and stupid. Or maybe you’re convinced the arguments really are ‘on your side’ yet the other parties just refuse to accept them. If you really think that, I can see little motivation to keeping doing Philosophy of Religion. I don’t see why an Atheist *can’t* get to that sort of position, any more than one could go “How can you really think Atheists aren’t properly functioning? Haven’t you read Rowe, Schellenburg, etc.?
    2) I think, if you’re willing to be rude to an entire field, you aren’t going to worry too much about the case of Philosophers in other fields who are orthadox Christians. I don’t take Intelligent Design remotely seriously, yet I’m sure there are some scientists who believe it. I’m sure we can find some eminent people who believe all sorts of things that are just crazy. Many of them are philosophers. 😉
    3) I have no idea about the direction of PoR, but I don’t think it’s Theist dominance should be that surprising. If you are an Atheist, I can’t see many motivations to get seriously ‘into’ PoR except a) you aren’t confident of your Atheism, or b) you hope that it will help to ‘prove’ Atheism, and this is a good thing. Yet if like Parsons you’re convinced of Atheism yet also convinced that Theists will remain ignorant, I can’t see what would keep you there. Proper Atheist Philosophers of religion are welcome to correct me.

    September 6, 2010 — 16:27
  • Mike Almeida,
    You’ll notice that in my original post I conclude:

    What does this mean? I don’t know. But fear not, philosophy of religion fans! Philosophy of religion is still awesome.

    However, my post certainly suggests that I’m saying philosophy of religion is not taken seriously, as does my comment here at Prosblogion. So, I accept your criticism, and have amended the original post.

    September 6, 2010 — 16:43
  • anon

    Readers may be interested in this blog post:
    http://philpapers.org/bbs/thread.pl?tId=426
    See especially Jim Stone’s comment. He says this:
    I work a good deal in philosophy of religion and there is no question in my mind that many people work in it because they are believers. As they are also often very good philosophers, the atheists in the field tend to develop a healthy respect for theism,
    even though I doubt that they change their mind. Us atheists are surrounded, as it were, by a lot of very sophisticated and creative apologists for theism. The people I don’t like are the New Atheists, because they don’t seem to realize that the people with whom I must contend even exist.

    September 6, 2010 — 16:47
  • Robert,
    Of course, theology is a wide field. Philosophical apologetics is not new. Nor is it entirely distinct from theology and general, especially in the Catholic tradition. There is quite a lot of overlap between some modes of 20th century Catholic theology and recent philosophical theology. But yes, philosophy of religion departments, even if they grow to be more theological, will have some characteristic features that are not widely shared by theology departments.
    I also suspect (and hope) that philosophers of religion will tire of the question as to whether belief in God is “rational.” They may focus instead on first-order questions about what is the case about God, as they have already been doing for centuries.
    Also, I’d like to clarify my comment comparing philosophy of religion to Biblical studies, but I’ll do that in a post over at Common Sense Atheism.

    September 6, 2010 — 16:49
  • Here is my promised short clarification about standards in philosophy of religion.

    September 6, 2010 — 17:34
  • Robert Gressis

    I posted my response over at lukeprog’s blog, but lukeprog pointed out a possible source of confusion in my post. When I wrote, “most of the atheists I know have never read any of van Inwagen’s, Plantinga’s, etc.’s, philosophy of religion”, I should have written “most of the atheist philosophers I know have never read any of van Inwagen’s, Plantinga’s, etc.’s, philosophy of religion.”

    September 6, 2010 — 17:59
  • Robert Gressis

    Luke, what do you mean by “philosophy of religion departments“? Are you talking about places like Biola, or philosophy departments that have a strong concentration of philosophers of religion, or …? Because I took you just to mean the field, “philosophy of religion”. If by “philosophy of religion departments” you mean just places like Biola (and are there other places like Biola? There are seminaries, sure, but I don’t know of any that are as philosophically minded as Biola), then the supposition that they are, basically, just theology departments is perhaps something I could agree to.

    September 6, 2010 — 18:02
  • Trent Dougherty

    I guess it falls to me to say this. I could put it more gently, but it’s hard to be motivated to do so given the rhetoric of these three. I shall *try* out of Christian charity to put this in a matter of fact way and not be “mean” though there’s no nice way to put it (and I am, after all, not a very good Christian, but I swear I try). I am aware I will be excoriated for these remarks by both Christians and non-Christians, but I feel strongly that, in light of their comments, the record needs to reflect the facts.
    None of these three do very good work in general. Their “quitting” philosophy of religion at this point would be like [insert retirement age mid-level sports person] saying they are quitting [the sport] because the other teams are jerks. It’s frankly embarrassing. John Beversluis doesn’t really do PR in the relevant sense, so I wont’ comment on that. But Parsons and Drange are old-school Internet Atheists who have almost no peer-reviewed putlications and “publish” books through Promethius Press. This is in a sense all “High School” stuff. They’re really not even playing the same game, so there’s really no sense in their saying their quitting it.
    I had to look to see where Parsons teaches and it turns out he’s not that far away, in Houston. His one book by an academic press is about *dinosaurs*. His enemies are not my friends. Looking through his CV, I saw maybe one original peer reviewed journal article in Philo. Through sheer Internet loudness he’s been asked to contribute to some volumes, but in general, he’s not what I’d call a “serious player” in the game, so, again, there’s really nothing for him to quit.
    Drange is in the same basic place, other than his dissertation, he’s published one book with Promethius. He has two Analysis papers on language stuff, which is great, but then two Philo articles and one Religious Studies piece.
    Now before the objections come howling down that I’m making some kind of ad hominem argument, just call down, get a glass of lemonade and relax. None of these facts are incompatible with someone doing fine scholarship. Some people–like the Maverick Philosopher–prefer to work in an alternative environment–but he’s proved himself in the peer-reviewed arena. In the typical case, a good philosopher will be able to publish in the usual forums. Parsons and Drange either haven’t really tried or they’ve failed (or whoever did their websites have failed to make it clear they have a publication record). The fact is, Promethius stuff and Infidels.org is not what I’d call “serious.”
    Part of what I mean by that is just that the average quality is very low–including, in my opinion, that of Parsons and Drange, and there’s no peer consensus to shout me down (though no doubt their Legion of Infidels will do so below). I think some good people have tried to make it better–Draper’s efforts, especially (I have mentioned before that I really respect him and I think some of his arguments are successful in that they reduce rationality of believing in God (though not in my view on balance)).
    And there are a few serious philosophers on their board, though in the one case that really puzzled me–Erik Wielenberg was glad to see that he doesn’t keep a page on there. (For goodness sake, look at their new item in the “kiosk” “Why choose Creationism?” I’d think this stuff would be as embarrassing to secularists as the creationism stuff is to me [The only remotely helpful stuff I ever found on there was some stuff on Swinburne by Gale and Smith, and it stood out so obviously that they’re the exception that prove the rule]).
    But here’s another point. For the most part, these guys aren’t even addressing the same questions or at least the same people that academic philosophers are. Their targets are often as outdated as their technology. Those of a certain age will no *exactly* what I’m talking about. They have, for example, a strange preoccupation with Young Earth Creationists. Now I have to admit, that in high school, I read me some Henry Morris and the like (though I had to look up his first name) and enjoyed arguing with Internet Atheists on BBS’s. But I graduated.
    One way to put it is that it’s a good thing someone announced that they were leaving the party, because if they hadn’t, I’d never have noticed.

    September 6, 2010 — 18:21
  • Trent Dougherty

    Can’t find where to edit comments, but you know what putlications are: it’s when you PUT something in a journal!
    “they’re” for “their” at one point. I blame Facebook for infecting me their (.ie. “there” just kidding).
    I’m amazed that I spelled “ad hominem” correctly.
    So upon re-reading this, it’s not super-nice, but it’s much nicer than they deserve and about as nice as I’m capable of at this point. If it was much less nice, I’d just choose not to post it, but it doesn’t seem mean either, so I’m keeping it up for now.

    September 6, 2010 — 18:30
  • Mike, I don’t think the analogy to philosophy of mathematics is on. Antirealists about mathematical objects don’t deny that applied mathematics gives us real knowledge. The same isn’t true with antirealists about religion.
    The analogy to moral philosophy, though, seems to me fairly apt, and I could see burnout being just as frequent an affliction for moral antirealists as for atheist philosophers of religion.
    As to how common it is for philosophical atheists to find philosophical defenses of theism obviously wanting, besides Dennett, only two come immediately to mind – Julian Baggini and Georges Rey. But I suspect that there are many more of this type who we don’t hear from. (Since they find the answers obvious, uninteresting and therefore not worth debating, it’s hard to see what value they’d place on risking being thought rude and arrogant by saying so.)

    September 6, 2010 — 19:15
  • Trent Dougherty

    If I had to guess why these guys are really “quitting” it would be that they’ve simply been upstaged. In the old days, Infidels.org was still a bit edgy and cutting edge (it started in 1995 which is almost exactly when the WWW started taking off. But now one can get one’s sarcasm with much more style, flair, and academic credentials (though irrelevant ones) from Richard Dawkins. Just compare the tacky, dated design of Infidels.org to the polished website of Dawkins. And of course you can watch Bill Mocker make fun of religious folk on Youtube if you want multimedia. The problem with Infidels.org for the most part not is that it’s just boring.
    [I went to check to see how many comments their blog got–not many at all–and saw that there’s actually a rating system and many were rated boring, LOL. I have to admit, I rated the post in question as boring.]

    September 6, 2010 — 19:19
  • Matthew Mullins

    @Trent
    I think this is an honest evaluation rather than a mean comment. Frankly, until Robert put up this post I hadn’t heard of these guys. (It’s not as though my shelves are short on atheists either.) Your last line hits the matter on the nose. Of course, none of this undermines Robert’s wonderings.

    September 6, 2010 — 19:24
  • John Schellenberg

    In response to your wonderings, Robert:
    (1) Atheists who read the writers you mention would, in my view, be wrong to judge that they “leave their brains at the door.” The work of theistic philosophers is often very clever. Another judgment may be more plausible, however: that the brains of many theistic philosophers have been put in the service of God and/or a religious community. If an atheist makes this judgment and also notes that philosophy of religion is presently dominated by theistic philosophers, and furthermore sees what they’ve been up to in recent decades, it may be tempting to conclude that nontheistic contributions in philosophy of religion will either be ignored or given a token acknowledgment or – where they call theism into question – met primarily as an opportunity for negative apologetics. Such thoughts can bring with them a certain weariness and frustration that could, I suppose, lead to dropping the subject and turning one’s philosophical attention elsewhere. I’m not sure what role such considerations played in Keith Parsons’ decision (if any). But they are definitely available to atheists today.
    (2) I’d answer this question – appropriately adjusted since I’m not one of the dabblers and I wouldn’t endorse either the “compartmentalized insanity” idea or disdain for believers – by reference to the religious loyalty I mentioned under (1).
    (3) Philosophy of religion will only be “more and more dominated by religious theists” if those who deny the common assumption that religion = theism fail to persevere. I myself think that both religion and the philosophy of religion are only getting started. If we try a bit harder to stay true to philosophy’s austere mandate that nothing shall eclipse the love of understanding as a motive for philosophizing, both theists tempted by religious loyalty and atheists tempted by a loyalty to naturalism (which can be just as inimical to ‘true philosophy’) may yet contribute to
    a future for philosophy of religion that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard.”

    September 6, 2010 — 19:50
  • Robert Gressis

    I should say, I’d heard of Parsons and Drange, but not good things. Since I hadn’t read them, though, I felt I shouldn’t include mention of their quality as philosophers.
    Nevertheless, while Drange, Parsons, and Beversluis can dismiss Plantinga, et al., as suffering from some kind of psychological problem, I wonder if they can do the same thing for Rowe, Draper, Smith, and David Lewis? Surely the fact that those guys take Plantinga and co. seriously must be very strange to them, no?
    Finally, regardless of what you think of Drange, Parsons, and Beversluis as philosophers, some philosophers who do otherwise good work, like Georges Rey, Alastair Norcross, and Peter Smith think the same of the top philosophers of religion–that they are frauds. Here, for instance, is Norcross on the top philosophers of religion: “It never ceases to amaze me what crazy views that lot (van Inwagen, Swinburne, Plantinga, the Adams family, etc.) have the gall to put into print.” (from http://claytonlittlejohn.blogspot.com/2008/07/quick-but-decisive-refutation.html) And here is Peter Smith on Murray’s and Rea’s introductory book on the philosophy of religion: “This is not a good book. In fact, as readers of this blog will have come to suspect, I think it really is overall a rather bad, too often weakly argued, one. It is published in a prestigious series, and — especially since student texts don’t tend to get widely reviewed — it could end up being widely read … corrupting the minds of the youth. What was CUP thinking of? (from http://logicmatters.blogspot.com/search?q=philosophy+of+religion+15).
    So I suspect that even if upstaging explains Parsons, Drange, and Beversluis, it doesn’t explain Norcross’s, Smith’s, and Rey’s equally dismissive treatment of top philosophers of religion.

    September 6, 2010 — 19:53
  • Mike Almeida

    Mike, I don’t think the analogy to philosophy of mathematics is on. Antirealists about mathematical objects don’t deny that applied mathematics gives us real knowledge. The same isn’t true with antirealists about religion.
    Hi Mike,
    I guess I don’t follow you. If you deny that there are mathematical objects–say, as some nominalists do, and as fictionalists do–then you think, as Field does, that mathematical claims are all false. How do mathematical claims give us knowledge, given that they’re all false? Maybe physics gives us knowledge, and physics applies mathematics, but any mathematical claim made in physics is likewise false.

    September 6, 2010 — 20:04
  • Robert Gressis

    I just realize, I badly mischaracterized Parsons, Norcross, Smith, and Rey. None of those guys think that top theists are frauds; rather, they think that the case for theism is a fraud, and that therefore, when it comes to advancing arguments for theism, Plantinga, et al. are no better than people earnestly advancing the case for intelligent design, denial of global warming, etc.
    My apologies to all those gents!

    September 6, 2010 — 20:11
  • Mike Almeida

    So I suspect that even if upstaging explains Parsons, Drange, and Beversluis, it doesn’t explain Norcross’s, Smith’s, and Rey’s equally dismissive treatment of top philosophers of religion.
    Both Norcross and Smith overstate their views in tones that I take to be mischevious, but not disrespectful. I once called Peter on this in a remark on Plantinga that I took to bizarrely underestimate his contribution. Peter replied that he was being ‘cheerfully abusive’. I think that’s true and I just failed to pick up the tone. I’d guess that Norcross would say the same. He’s too smart to believe that van Inwagen and Plantinga are in any category of philosophers other than the best. If he did believe that, I’d have overestimated him, and I haven’t.

    September 6, 2010 — 20:25
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Mike,
    I don’t know Alastair, though I would guess from his Internet style that he’s something of a cut-up in real life. That said, his remark on Clayton’s blog doesn’t show that he thinks that PvI, et al., are second-raters. Rather, I get the sense that he thinks that PvI and co. lose their philosophical abilities when they do philosophy of religion. Or do you think that Norcross and Smith don’t think even this much–that is, do you think that Norcross and Smith think that PvI’s, Robert Adams’s, and Plantinga’s work in the philosophy of religion is actually good, rather than so bad as to be laughable?

    September 6, 2010 — 20:49
  • hiero5ant

    Dashed off thoughts subject to morning revision:
    re 1) Yes, absolutely and unequivocally. I was a born again Christian appalled by Hovinds and Sprouls and Strobels when I started into philosophy of religion in the academy trying to find “the real deal”. There’s no there there. I was if anything more appalled, and would be merely an agnostic or unitarian today if it weren’t for this reading.
    re 2) I’d have to go on a case by case basis for “top notch” work in “other fields”. How other, and how top notch? I’ve got a pretty effortless retort for the top notch work by the inventor of the transistor and his views on race, for example.
    re 3) As a purely sociological phenomenon, probably your prediction is sound. Physics departments have ways of expelling perpetual motion machinists, but philosophy departments currently lack such a mechanism, and philosophy of religion, like aesthetics or comparative south-asian philosophy, is currently a backwater within a backwater in anglo-american departments.

    September 7, 2010 — 0:30
  • Robert Gressis

    I’m curious why you think you’d be agnostic or Unitarian but for reading Plantinga, van Inwagen, Swinburne, etc. Do you think that you would have thought, “well, there are a lot of smart people out there who are theists, so I can’t utterly discount what they have to say. I guess I’ll hedge my bets and go agnostic”?
    By top notch work in other fields, I was thinking of van Inwagen, Michael Rea, Plantinga, Dean Zimmerman, and Trenton Merricks in metaphysics; Robert Adams in metaethics, normative ethics, and Leibniz scholarship; Julia Annas in ancient philosophy; Bas van Fraassen in philosophy of science; Plantinga and Alston in epistemology; etc.
    I gather that philosophy of religion is supposed to be the backwater within a backwater in anglo-American departments, but I lost track of why you used two “backwaters”. Are anglo-American departments the first backwater, and is philosophy of religion the backwater within the backwater, or did I miss a step?

    September 7, 2010 — 2:51
  • Mike Almeida

    Rather, I get the sense that he thinks that PvI and co. lose their philosophical abilities when they do philosophy of religion. Or do you think that Norcross and Smith don’t think even this much–that is, do you think that Norcross and Smith think that PvI’s, Robert Adams’s, and Plantinga’s work in the philosophy of religion is actually good, rather than so bad as to be laughable?
    Most of the negative opinions of AP you’ll find are painfully uninformed about the problem under discussion, clueless about what would count as a solution, lost about what dialectical moves are legitimate in the context, etc. They confuse one problem with another, they confuse a proposed solution to one problem with a proposed solution to another. It’s utterly hopeless. But it doesn’t keep them from mouthing off some truly dopey opinion.
    I guess I think Norcross and Smith are too good to miss the cautious development and ingenious/brilliant solutions offered by AP and PvI to some extremely difficult problems in philosophy of religion. My first response would be to read their comments as serving some other rhetorical goal.

    September 7, 2010 — 7:42
  • I’d like to make one substantive point regarding Parsons “reasons” for quitting. He states in the post that “Erik Wielenberg shows very clearly that ethics does not need God.” I’ve read and reviewed Wielenberg’s two books. They are some of the best I’ve read–clear, concise, and on point. However, his explanation for ethics without God is that there are some necessary ethical truths, and that’s all there is to say about it. But this is a difficult terminus of explanation for the naturalist; given a naturalistic ontology such truths would stick out like a sore thumb. They don’t fit well in such a view.

    September 7, 2010 — 8:17
  • overseas

    Leiter has now opened a thread on this. Let’s see how “fair and balanced” the discussion gets…

    September 7, 2010 — 9:13
  • I had a chance to have lunch with Keith Parsons at the 2007 Greer-Heard point counterpoint forum in New Orleans. As I recall, it was right after William Lane Craig spoke.
    I asked him if, even though he wasn’t moved by theistic arguments, he thought a person was within the bounds of rationality if that person became a theist based on such arguments. He assented.
    Now this isn’t news; he made a similar comment in his debate with Craig (which can be found at reasonablefaith.org).
    But the point is, unless he’s changed his mind, he is willing to see his opponents as rational. On a similar vein, Richard Dawkins was willing to make a similar concession to John Lennox in their 2008 debate. Neither Parsons nor Dawkins are sympathetic to theism. But each was willing to concede the rationality of his opponents.
    I suggest this alone is a valuable contribution to be credited to the philosophy of religion.

    September 7, 2010 — 11:27
  • mohan.matthen

    It seems to me relatively rare that a philosophical argument is conclusive one way or another. They mostly show only that if you make certain plausible assumptions, you get into a difficulty if you don’t accept such-and-such. Frank Jackson’s Mary argument and Kripke’s pain argument are examples of inconclusive arguments of this sort. Some people find it easy to shrug them off — they are willing to say that Mary learns nothing about red when she first sees it, or that to feel pain is not necessarily to be in pain — while others find them compelling.
    Personally, I find these arguments to be paradigms of philosophy, even though I want to resist their conclusions. In light of this, I don’t find it surprising that Plantinga (for instance) finds his own arguments from proper function to be persuasive, while others fail to be moved by them. (His argument goes like this: We know something. We wouldn’t know anything if the proper function of our faculties was not to produce warrant. There is no proper function without God. Therefore, there is God.) It doesn’t mean that Plantinga’s argument is bad. I don’t think that arguments are bad simply because they are based on intuitions that some others don’t share. They are bad only when they are based either on a misformulation of intuitions or on non sequiturs. I don’t think Plantinga (for instance) falls into this kind of error.
    On the other hand, somebody who is unmoved by Plantinga’s argument might find it frustrating that when P tries to defend himself against critics, he doesn’t offer anything more persuasive than was to be found in his initial argument. After a few rounds of this, one might feel inclined to wash one’s hands of the whole thing — or at least to feel that one is learning nothing new. Perhaps this is what is happening with Parsons.
    If I am right in this way of approaching the question, it seems to me somewhat pointless asking how somebody as smart as Plantinga or van Inwagen could give such arguments, or whether they have checked their brains at the door, etc. Their arguments aren’t like ID arguments, are they? (Bad science. Uninformed about science. Etc.) They are just arguments that could, but often do not, persuade.
    Have I missed something?

    September 7, 2010 — 11:41
  • Julian Lord

    I’m a Literature person, though I’ve dabbled into the Philosophy of Religion for both personal and research reasons — if you don’t mind an outsider’s point of view.
    From a literary analytical point of view, there is a clear trend in the general “area” of philosophical discourse on religion (including by non-specialists in the public arena) towards including contents derived from theology or dogmatics, despite these not typically being centrally relevant philosophically. This trend has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the numbers of rank amateurs expressing opinions on the question of the existence of God, often in the most trite and hackneyed manner imaginable.
    But it is clearly just as much of a problem when and if some atheist apologists can have integrated these kinds of popular or non-specialist views into their arguments, whether for demagoguery or knee-jerk anti-religiosity or for other motives, as it is that some Christian and Muslim apologists (especially) can have integrated some theological notions foreign to the genres of philosophical discourse as such into their writings.
    These sorts of structures do not lead to dialogue, but rather to divisions and rank misunderstandings — additionally, the current ongoing *public* (not specialist) debate on questions relative to the existence of God is shudderingly ghastly in terms of basic intellectual quality, but it is nevertheless quite inevitable, from a purely literary point of view, that some of this ghastliness will make its way into the specialist discussion area. Which is deplorable, but simply a fact. Being unwilling to continue dealing with it is a rational response.

    September 7, 2010 — 12:51
  • https://me.yahoo.com/a/VeVm7GkGjsJ7xwH.k903N27vMLCxRZq1#0ed60

    I am an atheist; I think that the philosophy of religion is fantastic. My current attitude toward the philosophy of religion is similar to that expressed by Socrates at Apology 29d-e (well, minus the bit about following the god, naturally). Of course, Parsons has been at it significantly longer than I have.
    I think that the best work in the philosophy of religion is at least as good as the best work in any of the other areas of philosophy in which I’ve done susbtantial reading, which includes normative ethics, metaethics, the philosophy of mind, and epistemology.
    With respect to Robert’s third question: I think there are features of the philosophy of religion that are likely to continue to draw atheistic philosophers into the field. I’ll mention two sorts of features that are relevant to my own case. One is that the philosophy of religion has some great puzzles. The first topic that drew my interest in POR was omnipotence. There is a cluster of questions and puzzles surrounding omnipotence that are just fun to think about, regardless of one’s religious commitments.
    Second, arguments and theories in POR often connect with — and challenge — the arguments and theories of atheists in other areas of philosophy. In my case, I found myself doubting the existence of God yet thinking that there are objective ethical facts. Certain kinds of moral theistic arguments challenged the consistency of this combination of views, which drew me once again into POR.
    I should also point out that it seems to me that both of these features of POR can draw philosophers into the area even if those philosophers find the overall case for theism to be weak (though I take no position on the status of that case here).
    Parsons is right about one thing, though — that Wielenberg book decisively and irrefutably puts to rest the idea that objective morality requires a theistic foundation. Oddly, I have noticed that some philosophers continue to advance this now-obsolete view, but I’m sure that sort of thing will cease altogether once Wielenberg’s arguments have been properly absorbed by the POR community.
    😉

    September 7, 2010 — 13:00
  • Mike Almeida

    Leiter has now opened a thread on this. Let’s see how “fair and balanced” the discussion gets…
    So far it’s more or less a single rant about how “the” problem of evil hasn’t been solved. The definite article pretty clearly shows how informed the commenter is. I left a comment, though I expect I’ll regret having done so.

    September 7, 2010 — 13:00
  • Mark Murphy

    Though I like Wielenberg’s book and, like Wielenberg, am no divine command theorist, I think that it is pretty clear that those who proclaim that Wielenberg’s book is some sort of death blow to theistic ethics are pretty confused. The most remarkable fact about books of moral philosophy that try to make trouble for theistic views (here I have in mind Wielenberg’s and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s) is (a) how undemanding they are about what it would take to explain why moral facts exhibit the features (objectivity, universality, normativity, decisiveness, etc.) that they in fact exhibit and (b) how easy it is to produce rejoinders to what they take to be devastating objections to theistic moral theories.

    September 7, 2010 — 13:29
  • ZT

    Philosophy of religion is at least as good as any other area of philosophy. The arguments are at least as strong, the objections at least as interesting, the subject at least as important. I know this from studying philosophy of religion and other areas in philosophy, and comparing their quality.
    But this should also be clear to philosophers who have not studied philosophy of religion. The quality of philosophers of religion is shown from their contributions in other areas of philosophy. Not all areas of philosophy have this pedigree. There is not nearly the same evidence for the quality of, say, political or legal philosophy, and this is not to cast any doubt on the quality of work in those areas.

    September 7, 2010 — 13:48
  • Matthew G

    Parsons, Drange, and the Internet Infidels crew bring me back to the views I held as a teenager regarding Christianity. I was very cocksure in my opinions about Christianity being a crutch for idiots and weaklings. Little did I know how little I did know. I took a philosophy course in college and discovered the contemporary philosophers of religion. When I look back I cringe at the naive and nasty things I thought about Christianity; I see it was aimed more at Christians than Christianity. It was an attitude problem, purely emotional though dressed up as intellectual concerns. That description strikes me as fitting of Parsons and the others. Now, a guy like William Rowe—that’s a different story. Here is a serious man; here is a fellow traveler. I would say the same of Draper.
    So philosophy of religion made me take theism much more seriously. First I was interested only in natural theology, then religious epistemology. The two combined is an endless fascination and certainly no fraud!

    September 7, 2010 — 14:40
  • John W. Loftus

    Since you linked to my site let me say something on the topic, first acknowledging I have not read any of the comments. I’ll assume no one will jump down my throat for this utter disregard of Blogging etiquette, 😉
    The fact is that in western counties it’s obvious in philosophy of religion classes that the word “God” for most students means a specific kind of God, the Christian God. Not the god of the philosophers. Not the deistic god. Not the process god. Not the Eastern ONE. And the arguments for this particular Christian God must be treated respectfully by the philosophy instructor, otherwise why discuss them at all, right? He or she must give both sides on each argument so the students can think and discuss the issues on their own.
    Now to those of us who think Christianity is wildly improbable like I do, it’s like treating the arguments on behalf of Scientology respectfully.
    You just can’t do THAT for very long if that’s what you think of the arguments.
    That’s what Parsons and Beversluis think of the arguments.
    So this is what they’re doing because of it.
    In any case, nothing less than a scientific poll can determine how often this happens, and no one will step forward to fund such an exit poll assuming we can locate these philosophers as they exit.

    September 7, 2010 — 15:40
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi John,
    First, thanks for commenting on the site.
    Second, it seems to me that one difference between the arguments for scientology and the arguments for theism is that the arguers for theism are better versed in philosophy than the arguers for scientology. Just out of curiosity, why do you think that is? And a second question: have you ever argued–face to face, or over email–with highly respected philosophers of religion like Plantinga, et al.? If so, what has your experience been? If not, then do you think doing so would be likely to change your attitude towards them and their arguments?

    September 7, 2010 — 15:48
  • Fan of John W. Loftus

    John W. Loftus is a truly gifted man. He specialises in the Big Picture. This is true and it’s no joke. He gathers as much of the relevant material as a mortal can possibly muster and he tries to make sense of it. Confound it though, all of the Big Picture specialists are gone.
    He knows as much about the Big Picture (i.e., the forest) as you guys do about any one of the trees (or a species of tree in that forest.
    Do you understand this? Do you think this could make him more dangerous then any given specialist when it comes to the Christian faith, since he is a Big Picture Specialist about all things Christian?
    I am amazed that you guys are not familiar with him. He has conversed with Christian philosophers, like Tim McGrew and Victor Reppert. Once again their knowledge of their tree or species of trees can’t compare to his Big Picture understanding. Wait till you guys see his OTF.

    September 7, 2010 — 16:09
  • John W. Loftus

    Robert thanks for the kind welcome. I’ve discussed philosophy of religion with Keith and I think we both agree that most of the time the religious philosopher is doing little more than special pleading. So, if this is what we think then it really doesn’t matter if the adherents of Scientology are philosophically minded or not. It’s special pleading just the same. The reason why Christians have more philosophical sophistication is because they’ve been around a lot longer which only means they have been able to change through philosophical analysis the Biblical concept of God into something different known since Anselm as perfect being theology. Give them time and they too will change what they think through philosophical analysis as the decades turn into centuries and as they find ways to claim a progressive revelation like Christians have done.
    And to your last set of question you must never have heard of me before. Check my blog and books out: Debunking Christianity.

    September 7, 2010 — 16:33
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi John,
    No, I’ve heard of you before. I know you were a student of William Lane Craig, I know of The Christian Delusion, and I know that you’ve been trying to get a debate with Craig, but to no avail. I haven’t read your work or your blog very closely, though, so I don’t know if you’ve ever appeared at conferences and argued in person with people like Swinburne, Plantinga, etc., or if you’ve had productive email exchanges with them. The reason I ask is that in my experience, I find actually talking to these people face to face makes a big difference to how good you find their arguments; often, it’s hard to avoid misunderstanding what they mean, no matter how gifted a philosopher you are, how well they write, etc. I think these are really difficult issues, so I think it’s easy to get the wrong idea about things. But, if you’ve actually had regularly conversations with them and still find them to be pretty bad reasoners when it comes to theism, Christianity, etc., then, well, that would be interesting too.

    September 7, 2010 — 16:42
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Fan,
    I have no doubt that John is a very smart man who quite probably knows a heck of a lot more about Christianity, religion, etc., than I do. That said, Fan, I think you may also be underestimating the intelligence and learning of people like Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, Eleonore Stump, Robert Adams, Marilyn Adams, William Alston, etc. I would bet that at least one of them has a degree of learning about Christianity and philosophy of religion that would rival John’s.
    But again, I don’t know very much about John’s work–I am willing to make the bet only because the people I mentioned are at the very top of the field, so I should think at least one of them has learning enough to match just about anyone in the world.

    September 7, 2010 — 16:49
  • John W. Loftus

    Robert I have talked face to face with a Mormon scholar at the last years SBL where I did a presentation. No, it didn’t change my mind. I have talked face to face with a lot of Christian scholars but not Plantinga or Swinburne, does that make a difference?
    Cheers.

    September 7, 2010 — 17:14
  • Anonymous

    It looks like Fan is just taking the mickey out of John W. Loftus. Most of the post from Fan is actually John’s words spoken about himself taken from Victor Reppert’s Blog.

    September 7, 2010 — 17:32
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi John,
    I think it makes a difference, just because perhaps those folks are in your league in a way that your typical Christian scholar may not be. But it may not make any difference; different people are always going to find different philosophical claims and approaches more or less intelligible.

    September 7, 2010 — 18:32
  • Robert Gressis

    Oh. Well, I feel weird now.

    September 7, 2010 — 18:32
  • John W. Loftus

    I have detractors and we have a history Robert. To read at the end of that history just isn’t fair. In any case I’m not here to win any friends. I’m here to change the religious landscape.

    September 7, 2010 — 18:42
  • John W. Loftus
    September 7, 2010 — 19:14
  • John W. Loftus

    These detractors and I don’t get along but any Christian scholar who treats me with respect gets my respect in turn.

    September 7, 2010 — 19:15
  • Eric

    I just posted the following at Leiter Reports:
    If a small-town theistic philosopher of religion had decided after years of study that he found the arguments for atheism (or against theism) so bad that he could no longer take them seriously enough to teach them, would it (1) merit a full-blown Leiter report, and if (1), (2) be met with the same degree of seriousness and respect in the comments section as Parsons’ announcement has?

    September 7, 2010 — 19:31
  • Anonymous

    I just wanted to enjoin everyone to follow the link in Loftus’ last post, and objectively consider the level of philosophical sophistication of the discussion there. It’s literally terrible. But see for yourself.
    (BTW, I’m an atheist, a philosophy grad student at a top department, and someone who has never heard of Loftus before. I’m not one of these ‘enemies’ he imagines he has (“people are mean to me on the internet!”). But seriously, don’t take him seriously before clicking on that link.)

    September 7, 2010 — 19:32
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Anonymous,
    Maybe John was just having a bad couple of days. Goodness knows I’ve said things while stressed that I’ve regretted. In any event, I don’t think it’s profitable to discuss the strengths or weaknesses of John’s reasoning in a couple of Internet threads.

    September 7, 2010 — 19:51
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Eric,
    I’m pretty sure, but not positive, that the answer to (1) is “no”. As for (2), I’m much more confident that the answer would be “no”. But that is itself an interesting phenomenon. I think Fritz Warfield’s observation about the philosophy of religion is especially telling: it’s odd that so many people who know so little about the subfield comment on the merits of its practitioners with so much confidence. I have suspicions about what explains it–my guess is an ideology and/or peer pressure–, but I don’t have much empirical evidence for those suspicions other than personal experience.

    September 7, 2010 — 19:55
  • Keith DeRose

    Just a word about “how little respect philosophy of religion enjoys”–an issue discussed in the first few comments here. Mike A is right that this isn’t showed by the statistics lukeprog cites on the blog post linked to in the very first comment. But I do think there’s good reason to think that phil. rel. gets little respect–at least within philosophy. The sociologist Kieran Healy did a statistical analysis of some of the results of the Philosophical Gourmet Report surveys. (I think these were based on the 2006 surveys.) One thing he studied was (controlling for various things) how much of an effect it had on the overall evaluations of a dept. to be relatively strong in various sub-fields. The big losers were philosophy of religion, history of medieval, and continental philosophy. (The big winner was metaphysics.) The effect of being strong in phil. rel. on a dept’s overall score came out to precisely zero. So that looks like quite literally “no respect” (cue Rodney Dangerfield). But it could be worse: the effect of being relatively strong in medieval on one’s overall evaluation was actually negative (though by a small enough margin that it was statistically insignificant). Continental was insignificantly positive.
    (Healy’s paper, “Status and Specialization in Philosophy” doesn’t seem to be available on-line now. I don’t know why.)
    Keep in mind, however, that this are the scores given by PGR evaluators–who likely are not a good cross-section of the discipline.
    Still, PGR evaluators are probably, on the whole, fairly well-connected philosophers whose opinions have significant effect within the discipline, and these results do suggest that feeling of little or no respect that many philosophers of religion seem to have is not wholly illusory.

    September 7, 2010 — 20:20
  • Mike, I don’t think it’s quite right to say that Field thinks that “all mathematical claims are false.” What he would say, I think, is that all mathematical statements are true on a nominalist, physicalist interpretation.
    In any case, even a fictionalist will grant that physics has given us knowledge – if only contingently – through its use of mathematics. (Hence the “unreasonable effectiveness” puzzle.) And that’s enough to distinguish philosophy of mathematics from philosophy of morals or religion. (If God is a fiction, for example, there is no corresponding, residual puzzle about how the Bible gives us such reliable knowledge; quite the opposite, in fact.)

    September 7, 2010 — 20:39
  • John Alexander

    “Philosophy of religion is at least as good as any other area of philosophy.”
    This might not be saying much for the rest of philosophy.

    September 7, 2010 — 22:27
  • Robert Gressis

    Perhaps not! One of philosophy’s distinguished practitioners, Peter van Inwagen, has recently written that there is no example of a successful argument for a substantive, controversial philosophical conclusion. So you’re in good company.
    Of course, having philosophical views seems unavoidable, so maybe we’re all stuck spitting in the wind.

    September 7, 2010 — 22:32
  • John

    I notice that most of the discussion/argument is limited to Christianity, and its exoteric expressions too.
    What about the rest of the Great Tradition?
    These two references provide a unique critique of what is called religion in this day and age.
    http://www.beezone.com/up/criticismcuresheart.html
    http://www.adidam.org/teaching/aletheon/truth-religion.aspx
    Of course the above “Philosopher” is completely unacceptable to both conventional exoteric religionists (and “theologians”), and non-religious philosophers.

    September 7, 2010 — 23:26
  • Robert,
    Sorry, yes, the phrase “philosophy of religion departments” is weird. I was trying to refer to places like BIOLA along with the field in general, but I should have just said “philosophy of religion”, then.

    September 8, 2010 — 0:03
  • Keith DeRose,
    Thanks for your informative comment!

    September 8, 2010 — 0:16
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Keith,
    I can’t think, off the top of my head, for what would explain why metaphysics has so much respect but philosophy of religion so little. Do you have any thoughts?

    September 8, 2010 — 0:41
  • J. Edward Hackett

    To all,
    Greetings.
    I was wondering if all the theists and atheists in the room considered that the nature of philosophy of religion is one that privileges an epistemically situated subject. That is, the problems of philosophy of religion, like other problems in philosophy, start at the level of beliefs/intuitions we have about a given problem and the evidential reasons why we support these beliefs. In principle, however, it would seem that there are different structures of the subject involved in religion that lie outside the scope of this neatly crafted epistemic moment.
    So, is good philosophy of religion only that which plays the game of solving problems from the point of view of the epistemic-belief holder? Does philosophy of religion get a bad rap from others since it calls upon sources of evidence construed as inaccessible to a normal understanding of the epistemically situated subject?
    Just wondering about the background assumptions informing everyone’s judgments about “good philosophy of religion.”

    September 8, 2010 — 1:37
  • Tedla

    I’ve followed comments about the issue of Philosophy of Religion (PoR) under discussion. Now I decided to add the following thoughts since I did not see any comment—unless it’s escaped me– that should have underscored the following facts about contemporary analytic PoR.
    A good working knowledge of contemporary analytic PoR requires competence in a number of areas of philosophy, which is quite unlike for other sub-disciplines of philosophy, if I’m not mistaken. As an example, let’s take Quentin Smith and William L. Craig—both of them my former professors—just to see how much work they had/have to do in order to address crucial issues in PoR: Their interest (their being philosophical opponents does not matter) in issues in PoR led them to work in areas of philosophy such as philosophy of time, philosophy of science (cosmology and physics), philosophy of language, metaphysics, among other sub-disciplines in philosophy. Look at Quentin Smith’s website: http://www.qsmithwmu.com/ as evidence for what calls for some reflection on the issue under discussion.
    One can add other prominent figures in analytic PoR just to make the above salient observation about what it takes to do good PoR. Take Plantinga, Alston, Swinburne, E. Stump, Paul Moser, etc., just to see how much of their expertise in other areas of philosophy (epistemology, metaphysics, medieval philosophy, philosophy of science, etc) they bring to inform and illuminate issues in philosophy of religion. How often do we observe such things happening in political philosophy, ethics, etc?
    I wish some of those who’ve been participating in this discussion have read Quentin Smith’s essay, “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism” (http://www.qsmithwmu.com/metaphilosophy_of_naturalism.htm ) just to see what one of the most prominent atheists of our time has said about the issue under discussion but in a different context.
    One final observation: I find it very hard to take professional philosophers seriously when they claim that arguments for theism are bad or unpersuasive or inferior or not on a par with arguments in other areas of philosophy. It seems that some philosophers want to judge the success or failure of philosophical arguments, esp., when it comes to arguments for theism, based on the number of converts. Philosophers rarely change their philosophical views about almost anything. Just think about how often you, readers, have changed your philosophical views just based on the quality of philosophical arguments or evidence presented for a philosophical view. [It’s worth noting the fact that some philosophers don’t even believe philosophical views they defend in print!] The claim that “I’ve not found good philosophical arguments for theism and that is why I’m not a theist or I quit teaching PoR” is only a smoke screen. I submit that the truth is much more complicated than what is being said on blog discussions like here. Let’s face the fact: How often do we, philosophers, complain about non-PoR arguments IN THE SAME WAY we complain about arguments for theism? Though we, philosophers, don’t need reminders, I think this would help us to be more realistic about our profession: philosophical arguments for theism or atheism are PHILOSOPHICAL arguments at the end of the day and as such they share all the virtues and vices arguments for anything philosophical view share. Arguments for theism need not be faulted for what is not unique about them.

    September 8, 2010 — 2:09
  • Tedla, that is a very good description of PoR as I understand it, and as I have dabbled in it in the non-Anglo-American vieille Sorbonne tradition of Philosophy.
    J. Edward, concerning the epistemology and the ontology, I think that Philosophy and therefore Philosophers should only accept truths as such where they have been demonstrated as such, or as the more plausible hypotheses, in material Science/Natural Philosophy, or where they are necessary components of whichever school (rather than topic) of Philosophy.
    Taking either the existence or the non-existence of God as one’s starting point will just produce bad Philosophy, because the question is typically irrelevant, and is not an actual scientific hypothesis having features of verifiability and falsifiability, and also as there is no reason at all why one’s personal beliefs should be considered as somehow implicitly more correct than those of others — as a Literature person, I often find it infuriating that basic training in the techniques of literary analysis are not a mandatory part of basic philosophy studies, because there are so many non-issues that philosophers can decide to take seriously simply by virtue of not having been educated towards a technical understanding of how a personal reading works, both in theory and in practise.
    Philosophical positions that have been informed by theology have the relative weakness that questions of the existence of God are typically of no relevance whatsoever to theological discourse. Philosophical positions that have been informed by atheism have the reciprocal weakness that they are arguing against this very same non-Philosophy, thereby becoming non-Philosophy themselves by virtue of taking the theology at face value (or at least pretending to do so).
    I can’t help but feel that this question of the existence of God is a complete time-waster in PoR, simply by virtue of the fact that Religion never even conceives of the non-existence of God. It is a concept that simply does not belong to religious philosophy in general, so that any PoR dabblers imagining it to be relevant are quite simply off-topic in my opinion. This does not mean that an atheistic or agnostic approach can’t be an interesting one, but rather that the introduction of specifically atheistic concepts into Philosophy of Religion is unlikely a priori to produce either relevance or factuality concerning the philosophies of the religions.
    And yet I see that this question appears to be a dominant one in some people’s expressed opinions in here. 🙁

    September 8, 2010 — 4:09
  • Mike Almeida

    I don’t think it’s quite right to say that Field thinks that “all mathematical claims are false.” What he would say, I think, is that all mathematical statements are true on a nominalist, physicalist interpretation.
    Fictionalists about mathematics maintain that mathematical propositions are not literally true. They are useful fictions. I don’t doubt that mathematical propositions can be useful to physicists, but no such proposition is true, so they cannot express the truth in physics.

    September 8, 2010 — 6:33
  • J. Edward Hackett

    @Julian,
    Well, I do not know what it means to have inherited philosophy from Fr. 10, but I can venture a guess that non-Anglo-American approximates my area of research as a phenomenologist/Continental philosopher (Marion? Henry? or the other side like Janicaud?) with a background in analytic ethics. I could be off base entirely. That being said, I do have a few questions for you.
    First, I do not know what it means to be demonstrated as such. Demonstrated how? Through the phenomenological validity of various experiences or a demonstration in more conceptual/argumentative terms? Next, rarely do I find that philosophical problems are falsifiable or verifiable in the same way that scientific questions are limited by empirical methods. A seminar in philosophy of mind convinced me of that long ago.
    Secondly, why can’t we simply think of the existence of God as one of many issues in PoR? I do not see a reason to privilege one area of inquiry as a bad/good starting point over the problem of, say, the existence of miracles or the epistemic problem of testimony.
    My main point for asking the question is that analytic construal to certain problematics tend to oversimplify human life into just the basic orientation of human knowing. As if philosophy could not have a different orientation that allows for a greater range of our lived-experience when it comes to religion? In truth, I was thinking of something like Kierkegaard and his exploration of faith. I wondered if people were talking about a narrow range of philosophy when thinking of “bad philosophy” since the philosophy of religion is larger than simply analytic approaches.

    September 8, 2010 — 6:37
  • Mike Almeida

    Just a word about “how little respect philosophy of religion enjoys”–an issue discussed in the first few comments here.
    Lots of points are conflated in this thread (and in the Leiter discussion). I don’t doubt that there’s the bias you describe and I’ve no doubt it’s largely due to a bias against religion generally, to advance a salient explanation. But the larger conclusions drawn are simply false, for instance conclusions about the relative sophistication of work in philosophy of religion and conclusions about the best work in philosophy of religion as compared to other subdisciplines. It’s annoying not to see these obvious distinctions drawn and underscored. It’s equally annoying not to see the salient explanations for the attitude to philosophy or religion advanced. The best work in philosophy of religion is as good as the best work in any other area in philosophy. And the philosophical sophistication in philosophy of religion is no better displayed in other areas in philosophy. To draw another obvious distinction, all of this said with proper qualifications. There’s bad work everywhere.

    September 8, 2010 — 6:50
  • “[M]athematical propositions can be useful to physicists, but no such proposition is true, so they cannot express the truth in physics.”
    Right, and that usefulness to physicists distinguishes it from “fictional” religious propositions, yes?

    September 8, 2010 — 9:37
  • John Alexander

    Peter
    I am familiar with PvI’s argument. I think that his book, The Problem of Evil, is quite interesting. One question that I do have is, why do we care that anyone of Parson’s standing (it seems that most think he is, at best, a second rate philosopher) has decided not to teach POR anymore? It is not as if AP decided that determinism was true or that Stephen Hawking now thinks that God created the universe. Seems to me that a lot of effort is being expanded to prove to those that already think POR is relevant and important that it is relevant and important while probably not convincing anyone who thinks that POR is a waste of intellectual effort that it is not a waste of intellectual effort. We are not ‘spitting in the wind’ we are ‘pissing in each others boots.’ Time to move on!

    September 8, 2010 — 9:59
  • Mike Almeida

    Right, and that usefulness to physicists distinguishes it from “fictional” religious propositions, yes?
    I don’t know, Mike. A fictionalist account of religious discourse might be useful in anthropology, for instance, or sociology. My guess is that this is just what anthropologists would say, if they thought hard about the ontological commitments of the cultural explanations they advance. I think there could be some interesting accounts of religious language in fictionalist semantics and it’s relation to moral language. There are lots of possibilities, but I haven’t thought about it hard enough.

    September 8, 2010 — 10:37
  • Keith DeRose

    I can’t think, off the top of my head, for what would explain why metaphysics has so much respect but philosophy of religion so little.
    Robert: that’s esp. puzzling given the amount of overlap among the top practitioners of the two areas.

    September 8, 2010 — 10:52
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi John,
    I can’t speak for Peter, but I found Parsons’s announcement interesting because I originally thought he was something of a big deal in philosophy of religion–from what I remember, he edited Philo, the leading atheist journal, for a time, and I’ve seen his book in university libraries from time to time. That said, even if Parsons is not a big deal, the question of how many atheists don’t do philosophy of religion because they Parsonsian reactions to the best work in the field intrigues me. It would be an interesting result, to say the least, that people don’t take PvI seriously because he thinks it is true for all we know that our ancestors had preternatural powers, but that those same people take David Lewis deadly seriously despite the fact that the centerpiece of his metaphysics was the claim that all possible worlds are as real as the actual world. However, it seems, from what I can tell on Leiter’s thread, that atheist philosophers who have disdain for philosophy of religion actually aren’t very familiar with it. And that in and of itself is also interesting–it raises the question, why does this subfield, among all the others, and which attracts philosophers whose accomplishments in other, respected fields are considered absolutely first-rate…why does this subfield attract scorn from the uninformed in a way that, say, normative ethics or feminist philosophy doesn’t? My best guess is that the scorn is explained for ideological reasons, but I would feel more comfortable doing a survey on the issue rather than just shooting from the hip.

    September 8, 2010 — 11:05
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Keith,
    That’s exactly the source of my puzzlement as well, which I alluded to in my previous comment. What do you think of my proposed explanation, that the reasons are ideological?

    September 8, 2010 — 11:06
  • By quitting “philosophy of religion,” they get all the peer advantages of apostasy without having been an actual believer. It’s brilliant!

    September 8, 2010 — 15:13
  • Mike, there’s no doubt that religious fictions are in some sense “useful” in doing, say, anthropology – after all, one thing anthropology does is examine cultural myths (which remains at least agnostic about their truth or falsity). But within anthropology, one mythology is as good as the next. And in any case, no set of religious fictions stands at the root of discoveries in anthropology generally.
    Mathematics, I take it, is a clearly different sort of case: the use of mathematics stands at the fundaments of several major discoveries, not just in physics, but in all the “hard” sciences. Indeed, the use of mathematics is often one feature taken to distinguish “hard” from “soft” science. So I just don’t see how these two kinds of anti-realism (i.e., mathematical v. religious) are comparable.

    September 8, 2010 — 20:13
  • Mike Almeida

    Mike D.
    The objection you raised initially (at September 6, 2010 7:15 PM | Reply) was the following.
    I don’t think the analogy to philosophy of mathematics is on. Antirealists about mathematical objects don’t deny that applied mathematics gives us real knowledge. The same isn’t true with antirealists about religion
    But as I said, fictionalists about mathematics do not take mathematical propositions to be literally true. So we do not have mathematical knowledge. If religious claims turn out ot be fictional, then we would not have religious knowledge either. But of course both sorts of discourse might be useful in other sciences. Religious phenomena play important explanatory roles in various cultures, even if strictly there are no religous objects. Similarly for mathematics. But now you add,
    Mathematics, I take it, is a clearly different sort of case: the use of mathematics stands at the fundaments of several major discoveries, not just in physics, but in all the “hard” sciences. Indeed, the use of mathematics is often one feature taken to distinguish “hard” from “soft” science. So I just don’t see how these two kinds of anti-realism (i.e., mathematical v. religious) are comparable.
    I guess that says that math plays a bigger role in the ‘hard sciences’ than does religion in anthropology and sociology. I wouldn’t know how to gauge that, but it does not conflict with anything I’ve said. In both cases we have disciplines whose objects don’t exist playing an important role in discoveries in other sciences.

    September 9, 2010 — 8:12
  • Here are a couple of speculations regarding why metaphysics should be deemed so much higher than phil religion by so many philosophers.
    (1) Prominent work in metaphysics has obvious applications to and implications for other areas of philosophy. E.g., metaphysical work involving the nature of possibility, causation, laws, and dispositions is highly relevant to debates in philosophy of mind (my own AOS) — indeed, it would be practically impossible for many Phil Mind debates to proceed without terminology introduced and honed by metaphysicians. In contrast, prominent work in Phil Religion is nowhere near as indispensable for work in Phil Mind — philosophy of mind can proceed perfectly fine with an extreme minimum of references to work in Phil Religion. I suspect that similar claims are true regarding the comparative usefulness of work in Metaphysics in Phil Language, Epistemology, and Phil Science. Given these differences, it’s not at all surprising that many philosophers should take Metaphysics to be of much greater significance than Phil Religion.
    (2) To people outside of Phil Religion, there is the common perception that Phil Religion is dominated by people who are primarily driven by the desire to defend — no matter how great the intellectual contortions this requires — beliefs that they were antecedently indoctrinated with, beliefs that most of the rest of us take to be quite implausible. (So, e.g., PvI tries to reconcile his antecedent belief in an afterlife with mind/body materialism by suggesting that our corpses are magically spirited away and replaced with duplicate corpses when we die, a claim that could be takenly seriously only by someone who was already in the grip of a dogma.) Such contortionism might be interesting as a sort of circus freak show, and it might even require a great deal of skill, but it’s not at all surprising that many philosophers would deem such contortionism to be far from the most important work in philosophy. In contrast, metaphysicians strike other philosophers not to be in the grip of false dogmas, and instead to be on an open-minded quest for truth, so it’s easier for us to take metaphysicians seriously.
    Before people flame me too much, please note that I haven’t endorsed any of these common perceptions as true. For all I’ve said, there may be many important ways in which cutting-edge work in Phil Religion would help to illuminate debates in other areas; it may be that many practitioners of Phil Religion are open-minded questers for truth rather than closed-minded defenders of dogma; it may be that some religious dogmas that seem highly implausible to most philosophers outside PoR are actually true; and it may be that metaphysics is (even) more dominated by pig-headed dogmatists than is phil religion. I’m just trying to say that there’s a lot more to philosophers’ elevation of Metaphysics over Phil Religion than mere anti-religion bias, as Mike A suggested it mostly was.

    September 9, 2010 — 13:00
  • Dan Johnson

    Justin,
    Your use of van Inwagen as an example is perhaps not well-taken. You are aware than PvI is an adult convert to theism, and that his conversion happened fairly late in his adult life (he was 40 or so, I think)? He already had many well-established philosophical beliefs before he became a theist and a Christian. So he is definitely not an example of someone who is doing “intellectual contortions” to accommodate beliefs he was “antecedently indoctrinated with.”
    In any case, why should having deep commitments that will always trump other beliefs lead to intellectual dishonesty? With respect to any argument, it is always possible to deny one of the premises instead of accepting the conclusion — the Quine/Duhem problem is relevant here. If coherentism is true, when two of your beliefs conflict, you can revise either of them to preserve rationality; and something similar holds even if foundationalism is true. Having a set of beliefs which you always choose to protect in a conflict by giving up the conflicting beliefs rather than the protected ones need not imply that you are not evaluating the arguments honestly and fairly — quite the opposite, since you did revise your belief system on the basis of the argument, after all!
    In philosophical discussion I will always consider, with Moore, the fact that I have hands and that I know that I have hands to be unrevisable commitments. (Of course, if someone cuts them off things will be different.) I’ll always deny some premise in a skeptical argument, even if all the premises look very plausible. Why can’t I treat my faith the same way? Again, that need not interfere with my evaluating the arguments fairly and honestly.

    September 9, 2010 — 21:51
  • Dustin Crummett

    I thought van Inwagen proposed the body swap scenario as a means of reconciling physicalism and eternal life *before* he converted?

    September 9, 2010 — 22:50
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Dustin,
    You’re right, van Inwagen formulated that story in 1978, but he converted in the ’80s. In addition, he doesn’t, in fact, believe that God swaps people’s bodies. Here’s his actual position:
    “My goal in ‘The Possibility of Resurrection’ was to argue for the metaphysical possibility of the Resurrection of the Dead. My method was to tell a story, a story I hoped my readers would grant was a metaphysically possible story, in which God accomplished the Resurrection of the Dead. But I was, I now think, too ready to identify the possibility of the Resurrection with the story I told to establish it. I am now inclined to think that there may well be other ways in which an omnipotent being could accomplish the Resurrection of the Dead than the way that was described int he story I told, ways I am unable even to form an idea of because I lack the conceptual resources to do so. … I am inclined now to think of the description that I gave in ‘The Possibility of Resurrection’ of how an omnipotent being could accomplish the Resurrection of the Dead as a ‘just-so story’: Although it serves to establish a possibility, it probably isn’t true.” (The Possibility of Resurrection, 50-51)
    In addition, despite what Craig Duncan writes in the thread on the Leiter Reports, van Inwagen doesn’t believe that our ancestors had preternatural powers. He writes, “Here is another question you might want to ask: whether I believe the story I have put into Theist’s mouth [i.e., van Inwagen’s own free will defense]. Well, I believe parts of it, and I don’t disbelieve any of it. … I am not at all sure about ‘preternatural powers’, for example … But I believe and don’t believe is not really much to the point. The story I have told is, I remind you, only supposed to be a defense.” (The Problem of Evil, 92)

    September 9, 2010 — 23:10
  • “You are aware than PvI is an adult convert to theism, and that his conversion happened fairly late in his adult life (he was 40 or so, I think)?”
    I think van Inwagen’s psycho-religious autobiography is a little richer than that:
    “I must also have absorbed the idea that Jesus was the Son of God, for, after my family had joined a Unitarian congregation, my father sternly informed me (presumably in response to some casual theological remark of mine) that we Unitarians did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Well, I was shocked. I had thought that everyone believed that…. I have a memory of walking through a hallway at my school–I think we’ve got to about age thirteen–and saying defiantly to myself, ‘I can believe that Jesus is the Son of God if I want to.'”
    Thirty-five years later, he arguably proved himself correct.

    September 10, 2010 — 8:36
  • Edward T. Babinski

    ATHEIST BURNOUT?
    Philosophers, theologians and entire seminaries have left the conservaitve Christian foundations of their youth, and that involves far more change than simply burning out on discussing a particular subject. It involves a change in point of view.

    September 10, 2010 — 11:46
  • jordan.nwc

    Given everything else that’s been said (so far) regarding the history of an agents beliefs and reasoning processes…
    I suppose that only those philosophers (or adults), who satisfy either one of the following conditions, should be looked upon non-suspiciously as regards rationality:
    1.) Their beliefs, regarding some issue, are different (in some significant way)now from those they had when they were young.
    2.) If their beliefs are not different from the way described in (1), then they must have held those beliefs when their cognitive faculties were fully developed (‘defiance’ being a mark of partial development).
    3.) If (2), then those beliefs must have also NOT come about from the relevant persuasive discussions of others.
    ———-
    Perhaps we should increasingly be using these sorts of analysis, WHEREVER APPLICABLE, for deciding upon the truth or rationality of any belief: whether in philosophy, anthropology (how ironic), biology, history, and on and on.
    And to use a form of argumentation much too prevalent in the blogosphere (regarding the issue this thread is concerned with)… the above remarks are utterly, uncontroversially, clearly implausible.

    September 10, 2010 — 12:10
  • Thanks for letting me know more about PvI’s personal history (of which I was completely ignorant). As I noted at the end of my post, I was discussing common perceptions of Phil Religion, and wasn’t meaning to stake a claim about their factuality. So even if PvI was a late convert, who for some strange reason went through all these intellectual contortions before he found himself firmly in the grip of a dogma, it still may be that the common perception outside Phil Religion is that much of Phil Religion is geared towards finding ways to defend antecedently held dogmas. Sorry if van Inwagen’s body-snatchers were (arguably) a poor example of this. Out of curiosity, do y’all think the general perception I described (namely that PoR is dominated by people defending their antecedently indoctrinated dogmas) was wrong, or did you just think PvI happens to be an exception to it?
    Dan asked what would be so bad about a field filled with defenders of antecedently held dogmas? I’m happy to grant that good arguments are good arguments, no matter the motivation of the people who make them. But, (1) ceteris paribus, a field whose practitioners are engaged in an open-minded quest for the truth is more likely to produce good arguments for interesting conclusions than is a field filled with people who will closed-mindedly defend their old dogmas come what may, and (2) it’s a lot more interesting and productive to pursue topics with open-minded enquirers rather than closed-minded ones. So, it seems like outsiders’ perceptions of the motivations of a field’s practitioners can be relevant to how highly they’ll think of that field.
    [By the way, this site’s “Captcha” rejects me more often than it accepts me. Should I start worrying about whether I’m actually human? Seriously though, it’s really frustrating, and perhaps should be fixed.]

    September 10, 2010 — 12:40
  • Robert Gressis

    Justin Fisher asked,
    “do y’all think the general perception I described (namely that PoR is dominated by people defending their antecedently indoctrinated dogmas) was wrong, or did you just think PvI happens to be an exception to it?”
    I think it’s probably right, though my confidence is just slightly over 50%. Before discussing that in too much detail, though, I want to note something that I don’t think has been mentioned: a lot of philosophers were raised as religious adherents, but abandoned their faith after a period of questioning, whether in elementary school, high school, or college. Or they abandoned their faith after first encountering philosophical critiques of it. In some cases, this may happen after they read the best that has been thought and said on both sides. But I doubt that that happens very often. Instead, what I think more commonly happens is this:
    (1) You’ve got a smart kid, who is passionate about philosophical questions–smart enough, anyway, to end up as a philosophy professor.
    (2) Said kid is raised as a religious adherent. Her parents and religious educators are either not as smart as she is, or not as passionate about philosophical questions as she is. Consequently, the reasons they give her for hewing to the religion of her upbringing are often weak sauce–maybe just “it makes your life better” or “because the Bible says so” or some Pascalian wager (the latter is the reason I was offered from my Dad, who is definitely smarter than I am but not passionate about philosophy).
    (3) Said kid finds such reasons unpersuasive–either she cuts right through them herself, raising tough questions that her parents and religious educators have contort to answer, or she reads a pop-atheist tract or work of philosophy and it convinces her. I suspect that what usually happens is something in this order: (3.1) the reasons she hears on behalf of religious faith are bad; (3.2) she thinks of prima facie plausible counterarguments; (3.3) those who originally forwarded the religious reasons have objectively bad responses but nonetheless adhere to religious belief; (3.4) she comes to associate religious belief with muddle-headedness and then reads a book critical of religion by a philosopher or by someone like Dawkins; (3.5) she becomes a convinced atheist, and develops the attitude that religious believers believe what they do just because of indoctrination (or somesuch); (3.6) she becomes a philosopher, quite capable of argumentation; (3.7) she reads a bit of philosophy of religion, finds it unpersuasive, and concludes that its adherents believe its claims because of indoctrination.
    Perhaps what distinguishes religious philosophers from non-religious philosophers is a difference at (2)/(3.1) and (3.3)–maybe his (I’ve changed the sex now, to make it easier to follow) religious educators were in fact very sharp, or his parents were philosophically sophisticated–or a difference at (3.4); maybe instead of reading Dawkins (or whomever) to confirm his suspicion he reads C.S. Lewis (or whomever) to challenge his suspicion (this latter is indeed what I did). So, he never becomes a convinced atheist, but instead a convinced or tentative theist. Or perhaps an agnostic who finds the reasons on both sides pretty strong. But let’s say he becomes a convinced theist and then becomes a philosopher and remains a convinced theist and does work in philosophy of religion. The atheist who goes through (1)-(3.7) will read his work and find it lacking, and will think that indoctrination explains it. And this is because (a), in a real sense, the theist was indoctrinated–as was the atheist, but via a different process–and (b) the atheist’s reactions and intuitions were formed, in fact, by some pretty bad arguments (I assume that most of us in high school give pretty bad arguments in favor of what we believe), but when she became sophisticated she made them tighter; similarly, the theist came to believe what he believed also in virtue of bad arguments but came to make them tighter. And in both cases, each will blame the other’s upbringing as the source of their differences. And each will be, in a sense, right!

    September 10, 2010 — 13:06
  • Dan Johnson

    Justin,
    You said: “But, (1) ceteris paribus, a field whose practitioners are engaged in an open-minded quest for the truth is more likely to produce good arguments for interesting conclusions than is a field filled with people who will closed-mindedly defend their old dogmas come what may, and (2) it’s a lot more interesting and productive to pursue topics with open-minded enquirers rather than closed-minded ones.”
    This is a really interesting issue! Here’s what I think: if the goal is to have original arguments and interesting, new thoughts, the best state of affairs is to have a mix of people!
    On the one hand, it is not ideal to have only people with no convictions, because having convictions will motivate people to see creative solutions to problems for those convictions, creative solutions that those less convicted won’t be motivated to find. For example, I’m a pretty committed Calvinist, and as a result I’ve been able (after much hard thinking) to come up with interesting solutions to problems advanced against Calvinism, solutions that my non-Calvinist brethren weren’t motivated to find and so didn’t think up themselves.
    On the other hand, it is not ideal to have everybody in the discussion share the same convictions — because they won’t be motivated to find interesting and hard problems for those convictions, problems the solutions for which may reveal new and important truths.
    So the best situation is to have a mix of people, with a mix of perspectives and commitments. So we in the philosophy of religion definitely need and should welcome the input of atheists and other skeptics — and I think that at least the big names have always been welcoming of those sorts of inputs. However, mutatis mutandis, the naturalist establishment should also eagerly accept the input of those with very different fundamental commitments and perspectives than they have. It can only do them good.
    Humans aren’t particularly good at welcoming those who are different than they are, and academia (despite its trumpeted commitment to diversity) isn’t all that much better than the great mass of humanity in this respect.

    September 10, 2010 — 14:13
  • John Alexander

    Robert (et.al.)
    I am just going to state this for what it is worth (probably not much). Why I do not believe in God has nothing to do with arguments, it has to do with an image that I saw on TV which I shall refer to as the ‘starving Madonna with child.’ The image appeared on a news story in the mid-1970,s of the drought and starvation that was taking place in Biafra. It showed a mother holding her child. The child’s head had dropped from her breast(which was incapable of producing milk given her physical condition)much like Christ in David’s Pieta. The child’s eyes were closed and mouth was open (possibly she was dead). I should mention that as I was watching this my wife was nursing our newborn son. Out of the child’s mouth, eyes, and ears were coming maggots (or some such insect). It was horrific and from that point on no argument has made sense, nor do they seem terribly relevant.
    I was raised in a Congregational Christian family. My father was a well-known and widely respected minister and I considered following in his footsteps. That ended forever that moment, (although I will admit that I had been wavering for a few years before this event because of an incident I had in the service – why would a God of love want me to kill my fellow beings). 99.9% of the people who exist have never heard to Plantinga, Hume, Rowe, Parsons(I trust we all enjoyed the irony with his name), not to mention the cosmological, ontological, or teleological arguments for the existence of God, the free-will defense, or the evidential problem of evil. But they all know evil!
    I know what I have said is easily dismissed. I know the counter-arguments, but they seem hollow and forced. Some might think I need ministerial counseling not philosophy, but this is why I do not believe in God. It has nothing to do with the arguments. Paradoxically, a similar story can be told by someone who is a theist (John Wisdom, you know). I remember my son Micah saying upon his visit to Auschwitz that he had never been in a place that convinced him more that there was no God and at the same time convinced that there must be one. Go figure – I cannot.

    September 10, 2010 — 16:00
  • Mike Almeida

    I’m just trying to say that there’s a lot more to philosophers’ elevation of Metaphysics over Phil Religion than mere anti-religion bias, as Mike A suggested it mostly was.
    Justin,
    These are interesting comments. Sorry that you’re having trouble posting. You write,
    In contrast, prominent work in Phil Religion is nowhere near as indispensable for work in Phil Mind — philosophy of mind can proceed perfectly fine with an extreme minimum of references to work in Phil Religion
    Doesn’t this miss something obvious? Work in philosophy of mind in general assumes something like naturalism is true. So nothing we could say would be considered helpful. Apriori what we have to say is beside the point.
    In contrast, metaphysicians strike other philosophers not to be in the grip of false dogmas, and instead to be on an open-minded quest for truth, so it’s easier for us to take metaphysicians seriously.
    First, there isn’t anyone engaged in an ‘open-minded quest for truth’, or no one I know of. Everyone has pretty much ruled out apriori certain positions. As I’ve said, there is no chance of getting heard among naturalist philosophers of mind if you’re working with certain theistic assumptions. It’s impossible. And it isn’t because these philosophers have open-mindedly considered the merits of theism and ruled out the view. Take an honest look at the comments on Leiter (not all, but the vast majority) and you’ll see how little the commentators know about the arguments in philosophy of religion. Not a whole lot. So clearly they have not been open-mindedly considering the arguments for and against theism. They have simply ruled it out on the basis of some comments of some other graduate student or some instructor. I’m pretty familiar with the phenomenon, since I went to a graduate school at which the area was deemed unworthy of serious discussion, and you get that message pretty clearly with no arguments. It was a view that I maintained, again with no arguments, for a long time. I’m certain I’m not alone in this experience; I’ll bet it generalizes really well. And this is why I claimed that it was the basis of these negative attitudes to phil religion.

    September 10, 2010 — 17:17
  • Mike Almeida

    So even if PvI was a late convert, who for some strange reason went through all these intellectual contortions before he found himself firmly in the grip of a dogma, it still may be that the common perception outside Phil Religion is that much of Phil Religion is geared towards finding ways to defend antecedently held dogmas.
    Justin,
    I find the language tendentious. Philosophers regularly contort themselves to retain dogmas. Epiphenomenalism is not a contortion? Only one in the grip of a dogma could deny it. Interminable solutions (and epi-solutions) to Gettier problems are not intellectual contortions? Interminable ‘solutions’ to skeptical problems are not intellectual contortions? You have to share the dogma to deny it.
    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not accusing the naturalist of being a dogmatist. Not at all. I’m saying that the same tendentious language can be used to described the complex intellectual efforts to preserve any foundational belief–beliefs such as naturalism or non-naturalism. It is not uniquely applicable to the non-naturalist, though I’m sure that’s how it looks to the naturalist.

    September 10, 2010 — 17:27
  • graham veale

    Perhaps I could quote Plantinga’s “Oh Felix Culpa!”
    “Objections to it consist much more in amused contempt or instinctive revulsion than in reasoned refutation. They are like those incredulous stares David Lewis complains of–not much by way of considered thought. But how much evidential value should be attached to a thing like that?”
    Plantinga is talking about one argument that meets with stares of incredulity. Perhaps we could apply this paragraph to the way that some philosophers view Philosophy of Religion. Beyond a lot of rhetoric and posturing, precisely what arguments are on offer here?

    September 10, 2010 — 18:53
  • graham veale

    To quote Paul Moser – who apparently knows a little bit about epistemology and philosophy in general –
    “Lacking volitional transformation, we may be blinded from evidence of God’s reality by our own counterfeit “intelligence” and “wisdom.” (This theme recurs throughout the Jewish and Christian scriptures.) We may then lack the kind of sincere openness, humility, gratitude, and filial obedience appropriate to relating, cognitively and otherwise, to the God of the universe. We will then have assigned the authority of God to ourselves or to some other part of creation.”
    Now wouldn’t an open-minded quest for truth accept that this is at least possibly true? Isn’t there just the slightest chance that philosophy might learn from religion?
    Another point – Parsons, and his more qualified defenders, may want to keep in mind that many scientists (and pragmatic British politicians) view the entire field of philosophy with an incredulous stare. Should we take this disdain seriously? Should philosophers continually defend their worth? After all, some of analytic philosophies’ cultured despisers are quite bright.
    People of vast intelligence can, after agonising reflection and self-examination, reach religious conclusions. And some people of equal intelligence will disagree. When the disagreements cannot be decisively resolved in the journals, perhaps academics could find something more productive to do with their time?

    September 10, 2010 — 19:21
  • “In both cases we have disciplines whose objects don’t exist playing an important role in discoveries in other sciences.”
    But this just restates the “useful” argument by substituting the word “important.” The question is whether mathematics and religion are “useful” or “important” to science in ways that are comparable. It’s hard to see that they are. Religious myths – like other arts, crafts, stories, traditions, mores, literature – are “important” to anthropology only as particular objects of study; whereas mathematics was “important” to science as a general method of discovery.
    With that, I’ll leave the last word to you, if you’d care to take it.
    [I’m reposting this comment from a day or so ago; I just noticed it didn’t take.]

    September 11, 2010 — 8:36
  • Mike Almeida

    It’s hard to see that they are. Religious myths – like other arts, crafts, stories, traditions, mores, literature – are “important” to anthropology only as particular objects of study; whereas mathematics was “important” to science as a general method of discovery.
    If they’re both fictions, then they’re both ‘myths’. You have the math myth and the religion myth. Both play a role in the sciences. Various religious beliefs play an explanatory role in the development of cultures, not merely the role of quaint artifact. So these too function in the discovery of cultural fact. So, to take an example, if you want to learn why a certain culture abandoned a particular region suddenly in a certain year, you might do well to consider the religious signficance of that year.

    September 11, 2010 — 12:37
  • John H.

    On religious indoctrination:
    I was raised as a poorly-churched Methodist, but I lost my faith in middle school. I quickly became a nihilist, and lived accordingly; I did for a time believe in an impersonal Godhead and practiced occultism, but I became thoroughly disillusioned – i.e. I was empirically testing it and it didn’t work – and returned to my atheist ways. In late high school I became an eliminative materialist (I spent many a day reading the Stanford Encyclopedia or Cambridge Dictionary).
    It wasn’t until I came across the likes of WLC, Swinburne and Plantinga that I started to change my mind. Initially, I believed on the basis of argument; although I don’t consider the arguments to be as strong as I once did, they nevertheless appear to make a decent probabilistic case. What brought me to mature faith was personal experience, and reading Plantinga helped me realize I wasn’t irrational for trusting it.
    The point is just this: the arguments, post-hoc or not, can convince at least some impartial parties, and to dismiss religious belief as indoctrination is an inadequate hypothesis. It also seems to me that there is a phenomenon of naturalist indoctrination at least as strong as a religious one.

    September 11, 2010 — 14:27
  • Jonathan Livengood

    To Justin Fisher and those replying to Justin Fisher:
    Many respondents seem to have the impression that Justin is asserting, e.g. that PoR involves intellectual contortions that could only make sense given a commitment to some dogma. But I don’t think he actually asserted anything intended to be descriptive of PoR itself. Rather, he was asserting (or rather hypothesizing) something about how PoR is typically perceived or conceived by non-PoR folks. At least, that’s the way I read him. Justin, am I reading you right? (Also, yes, you are clearly a spambot ;))
    I myself am an outsider to PoR having only passing familiarity with only some of the arguments. Since I do not have a good sense of the arguments in PoR, I will not attempt to pass judgment on them. Keep those facts in mind as I set up and ask a question. Discussion of religious commitments among my colleagues seems always to involve attacks by atheists and defenses by theists. Are there any arguments in PoR that really put pressure on atheists to defend themselves? If so, what are they, and how do atheists usually defend themselves?

    September 11, 2010 — 15:51
  • Excellent points, veale.

    September 11, 2010 — 18:06
  • Andrew Moon

    Jonathan Livengood,
    Well, the standard arguments for God’s existence should put pressure on atheists (or agnostics) to defend themselves. William Rowe (I think he’s agnostic) has responded to various versions of the cosmological argument, and Quentin Smith and a host of others have spent time responding to W.L. Craig’s Kalam cosmological argument. Brad Monton has been responding to the fine-tuning argument, especially as wielded by Robin Collins. This is all just for starters. (And of course, there are all of Swinburne’s many arguments.)
    More recently, Plantinga has leveled some attacks on atheism. First, he argues that belief in the conjunction of naturalism (or atheism) and evolution results in a defeater for belief in naturalism. This is his well known evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN), and the argument has received responses from philosophers as wide ranging as Jerry Fodor, Brandon Fitelsen, Elliott Sober, William Ramsey, Evan Fales, and Michael Tooley. Second, he argues that if naturalism is true, then there are no proper functions in the biological world. Since there are proper functions, naturalism is false. Third, he argues that if naturalism is true, then there are no beliefs; since there are beliefs, naturalism is false. Each of these arguments are laid out and responded to by Michael Tooley in the book “Knowledge of God”:
    http://www.amazon.com/Knowledge-God-Great-Debates-Philosophy/dp/0631193642/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1284270598&sr=1-1
    We did a reading group on this book a couple of years back. See here:
    http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2008/06/knowledge-of-go.html
    I had the honor of kicking it off.
    Lastly, I think that Michael Rea’s arguments that naturalism leads either to skepticism about other minds or dualism is very powerful and has not been responded to in the literature. Most people I give this argument to in conversation tend to be pretty impressed by it. The argument is found in his book here:
    http://www.amazon.com/World-without-Design-Ontological-Consequences/dp/0199247617/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1284271311&sr=1-1
    (Let me know if you’re interested in page numbers.)
    Overall, I find the literature in PoR to be extremely interesting and deep. It’s unfortunate that so many in philosophy are missing out.

    September 12, 2010 — 1:04
  • Andrew Moon

    Something’s been bothering me about Parson’s quote, this discussion, and the Leiter discussion.
    Suppose, as Parsons says, that since “the case for theism is a fraud”, philosophy of religion is not worth taking seriously. Put in standard form:
    1) Arguments for theism are not very good.
    2) Therefore, philosophy of religion is not worth taking seriously.
    The non sequitur becomes obvious when we see that Plantinga himself might agree with (1); he at least thinks that they’re not very good insofar as they are not convincing to a lot of smart people.
    I think that many people (in this blog and Leiter’s blog) are running together the de jure (justification/rationality/warrant) question and the de facto (truth) question. Suppose we’re not making much success with the de facto question, as Parsons accuses. Still, it’s the de jure question that philosophers of religion have been making the clearest amount of progress in (in my opinion); this is where Plantinga, Alston, Wolterstorff (PAW) and others have been focusing so much of their attention.
    So, I’m leaving this comment in the hopes that people will remember the distinction between the truth of theism on the one hand and the justification/rationality/warrant of belief in it on the other. (To many reading this blog, this distinction’s super obvious, as it was nicely made in the preface of Warranted Christian Belief; but I don’t think everybody is aware of it after reading some of the comments.) And, I hope it’s clear that what I take to be Parsons’ argument is invalid.

    September 12, 2010 — 19:45
  • Andrew Moon

    Dear John,
    I see how visual images or even life experiences can be extremely powerful in moving someone to disbelieve in God. This challenges my theism from time to time as well.
    I found Michael Bergmann’s recent talk here
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_-rVTJeMIc&feature=PlayList&p=09BDB6146C7C0F03&index=0
    to be helpful. Hopefully, his argument won’t seem as hollow and forced.

    September 12, 2010 — 20:02
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    According to Justin, the perception of philosophers who do philosophy of religion is that they “will closed-mindedly defend their old dogmas come what may”.
    Suppose I find myself, as I do, believing the traditional Christian story. And suppose I find myself, as I do, interested in philosophy in general. As a thinking fellow, I consider arguments against the traditional Christian story (arguments developed, of course, by those who do philosophy of religion). I consider the various arguments, replies, replies to the replies, and so on. I consider them honestly, or in a way that I genuinely believe to be honest. Suppose I’m perfectly willing to deny the existence of God, as I am, if I were to view the evidence, on the whole, as supporting that position. Or, at any rate, I genuinely believe that I’m so willing. (I genuinely think of myself as open-minded.)
    But at the end of the day, I conclude that the evidence does *not* favor atheism.
    What evidence could anyone have that I am thereby “closed-mindedly defending my old dogmas come what may”?
    I can certainly see someone thinking that I believe crazy things, am serious deluded, and so on. I tell myself, someone might say about me, that I’m being open-minded, but that’s a kind of self-delusion.
    Maybe that’s true of me! But that’s a much different charge than the claim that I “will closed-mindedly defend [my] old dogmas come what may”.
    I just don’t see what evidence someone could have that the latter charge is correct in my case. (Maybe my friends and colleagues say these sorts of things about me when I’m not around, I suppose. But I doubt it.) And, I can’t see how anyone has any reason to believe my case is special. Wouldn’t the vast majority of theists who do philosophy of religion say something similar about themselves? (I suppose there might be rare cases where a theist might claim that they aren’t really interested in the truth.)
    So it’s difficult, at best, for me to see how anyone could have evidence for the claim that theists who do philosophy of religion “will closed-mindedly defend their old dogmas come what may”.
    Or does that just mean something like, “won’t change their minds”?

    September 13, 2010 — 22:33
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Jonathan,
    I think that the claim that religious philosophers “will close-mindedly defend their old dogmas come what may” is supposed to follow from one of the two following descriptions of the situation:
    (1) The arguments on behalf of religious claims–e.g., theism, the divinity of Jesus, the reality of an afterlife, etc.–are so transparently awful that the best explanation for why otherwise capable philosophers defend them is that they are in the grip of an ideology. Thus, the fact that some philosophers still maintain theism despite Mackie, Rowe, and Schellenberg can only be explained by the fact that they aren’t really open to the conclusion of Mackie’s, Rowe’s, and Schellenberg’s arguments.
    (2) The arguments for various religious claims aren’t transparently bad, but many people in PoR are religious. However, religion is at least partially about commitment, not about tentatively holding on to various doctrines on the basis of argument and evidence. Consequently, since people who argue for propositions crucial to the maintenance of their religion are also practicing Christians (or Muslims, or Jews, or …), it follows that the best description for their attitude to their own beliefs is “close-minded maintenance” of them.
    Obviously, I disagree with (1), and while I can see how someone could hold it about PoR, I can see how someone could hold it with regard to any philosophical position.
    As for (2), I don’t think it accurately describes how many believers think about the claims of the religion they endorse–often, there is a lot of doubt, soul-seeking, dark nights of the soul, etc.–but even regarding those for whom it’s true, the same could be said of other philosophers regarding, say, egalitarianism or feminism or (perhaps even) belief in the external world.

    September 14, 2010 — 9:26
  • This might be a slight tangent but I would be interested in knowing who are having more children: people prone to religion or atheists. If, as I would naively think, people prone to religion have significantly more children then that too will have an impact on the future of religious thought.

    September 14, 2010 — 11:05
  • Jonathan,
    I am *not* saying that folks in PoR will close-mindedly defend their dogma come what may. I am *not* saying that folks in PoR are engaged in special pleading. And I am *not* saying that psychological stories are needed to explain why people are theists.
    I am reporting an observation about how *other* philosophers perceive (or conceive of) PoR. I might be wrong in my observation or I might be wrong in generalizing from it. But, arguments directed at me to the effect that PoR does not involve intellectual contortions in defense of a foregone conclusion are misdirected. I’m not asserting what you are disagreeing with.
    And as far as I can tell, neither is Justin. (Although he is probably more favorably disposed to the negative view of PoR than I am.)
    I also didn’t say that these other philosophers (assuming that my reporting is right) have good reasons for their views. In fact, I tend to think they do not.
    My worry was that people were replying to Justin as if he had confidently asserted that folks in PoR are closed-minded apologists. That is, Justin’s respondents were doing what you just did with me: attack the position described by arguing that it is not justified. If you think that the observation I have made is wrong, then the way to confute it is to point out that philosophers don’t generally regard folks in PoR in the way I say they do. I can very well believe that I’m wrong, since I no doubt spend my days with a biased sample. On the other hand, I would not be surprised to learn that many philosophers believe some things without any evidence.

    September 14, 2010 — 12:56
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    Jonathan,
    The only claim I made about Justin was this:
    “According to Justin, the perception of philosophers who do philosophy of religion is that they “will closed-mindedly defend their old dogmas come what may”.”
    Hence I did not “reply to Justin as if he confidently asserted that folks in PoR are closed-minded apologists” as you say I did. I noted that he thought this was the perception, and then went on to question how anyone could have evidence for that belief, i.e., the belief that philosophers who do philosophy of religion will “closed-mindedly defend their old dogmas come what may”. (That claim, of course, is different than the claim that the perception of them is that they will do so.) I did not claim that anyone believed that they will do so, as you’ll see if you read my comment. I only wondered what sort of evidence someone might have for thinking that’s what they’ll do.
    What’s more, I wasn’t directing my comments at you. (If I were, I would have addressed you.) It’s not at all clear to me why you thought I was directing any of my comments at you. If you’ll read my post, you’ll see that I did not make any assertions about you.
    Just to make clear what, it seems to me, was already clear. I was not addressing the claim that philosophers perceive theists as X. I was addressing the claim that theists are X. In particular, I was wondering how anyone could have evidence that theists are X. (X = “someone who will closed-mindedly defend their old dogmas come what may”.)
    Of course, if it turns out, as I suspect it will, that in the vast majority of cases no one has any evidence that theists are X, then there is a puzzle: Why is it, exactly, that, as Justin claims, they are perceived as such?

    September 14, 2010 — 16:07
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    Robert,
    Thanks.
    To continue the discussion: Suppose I am in the grip of ideology. (To be honest, I’m not sure what that means. That I believe certain propositions entailed by the ideology? That I believe them firmly? But never mind that, for now.) And let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that it follows that I won’t change my mind about a range of my beliefs. Does it follow that I will closed-mindedly defend my old dogmas come what may? That depends, I suppose. If by “closed minded” all that is meant is “will not change her mind”, then I suppose I might be closed-minded in that sense. And I suppose it’s fairly easy to tell if someone is like that. Just see if she ever changes her mind. It will turn out that a huge number of philosophers will be folks who will closed-mindedly defend old dogmas come what may.
    I take it, though, that there’s to be something special about theists in this regard. So the perception can’t just be that they don’t in fact change their minds. What is it? How, exactly, are we perceived when we’re perceived as folks who will closed-mindedly defend old dogma come what may? That we just don’t care about the truth?

    September 14, 2010 — 16:29
  • Mike Almeida

    Jonathan,
    What’s being flagged in the complaint that ‘theists close-minded defend their positions’, I think, is not merely the tenacity and ingenuity with which theists defend their views, but the perception that they will go to any length to defend it. It’s frustrating to atheists, though I can’t see what exactly is dialectically wrong with it. It is the counterpart of the atheological approach on which they will take any position to avoid theism. Some atheists say that even if it were proven that certain living organisms are the product of design, they’d not believe that God exists. They’d sooner believe that our planet was seeded by aliens. It’s frustrating, but I’m not sure that they’re doing anything wrong in proposing the alien hypothesis.

    September 14, 2010 — 17:12
  • Jonathan,
    My mistake. Somehow, I thought your comment was a reply to mine. Sorry about that.

    September 14, 2010 — 17:52
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    Mike,
    Thanks. I assume the quantifier is restricted. (Surely folks don’t think they’d go to *any* length to defend their views.) So, any idea how the restriction goes?
    Contrast these theses:
    Theists will go to any length to defend their views, even so far as asserting something the theists themselves believe to be false (or not supported by the evidence).
    Theists will go to any length to defend their views, even so far as asserting something that the theists should believe to be false (or not supported by the evidence).
    Surely philosophers don’t think of theists in the first way, do they?

    September 14, 2010 — 20:17
  • soku

    “Lastly, I think that Michael Rea’s arguments that naturalism leads either to skepticism about other minds or dualism is very powerful and has not been responded to in the literature. Most people I give this argument to in conversation tend to be pretty impressed by it. The argument is found in his book here:
    http://www.amazon.com/World-without-Design-Ontological-Consequences/dp/0199247617/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1284271311&sr=1-1
    (Let me know if you’re interested in page numbers.)”
    Could you please share the page numbers? I’m intrigued as I recently read Robert Koons chapter in “The Waning of Materialism” and he mention Michael Rea’s arguments.

    September 14, 2010 — 23:28
  • Robert Gressis

    Hi Soku,
    You can read a critical review of Rea’s book here:
    http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=1368

    September 15, 2010 — 2:49
  • Mike Almeida

    Thanks. I assume the quantifier is restricted. (Surely folks don’t think they’d go to *any* length to defend their views.) So, any idea how the restriction goes?
    The distinction between going to lengths one believes and going to lengths one does not believe seems way too simple. When you decide to bite a bullet and accept p, do you believe p? I think the answer is ‘not entirely’. There’s the whole range of bullet-biting ‘beliefs’ that (i) one would prefer not to believe and (ii) one commits oneself to in order not to abandon theism. I’m not sure what the rules are for permissible bullet biting, but if you have to (say) give up modus ponens in order to retain theism, then I’d guess you’re close to violating one of the rules of permissible bullet biting. I think the perception is (and I think this is exactly right in some cases) that theists will shamelessly bite any bullet necessary to preserve their beliefs.

    September 15, 2010 — 8:31
  • soku

    Hi Professor Gressis,
    Thanks for the link to the review. It is greatly appreciated.

    September 15, 2010 — 22:09
  • Andrew Moon

    Hi Soku,
    It’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but after thumbing through the book right now, I think that the really key chapters are 4 and 7.

    September 15, 2010 — 23:11
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    It’s easy for us to get the impression that a group of believers in X aren’t being too rational when we (i) believe we are aware of most of the same relevant data as those believers and (ii) find X unlikely with respect to that data. I suspect that many non-theists meet conditions (i) and (ii) with respect to believers in theism. My own sense, however, is that there’s a tremendous amount of relevant data (empirical and conceptual) that individuals collect over their lives, and that the amount of overlaps of awareness between theists and non-theists is (much) less than people (on both sides) tend to think… Part of my reason for this is that when I talk with non-theist philosophers about some of the data-points that incline me toward theism, they very often say something like, “I never considered that before; I’d like to think more about it” or “I never considered that before; here’s my initial reaction.” (And points may be brought up that lead me to say something similar.)

    September 16, 2010 — 9:48
  • Josh:
    Are the non-theist philosophers knowledgeable in philosophy of religion? For it is not surprising that you, who know a lot of philosophy of religion, should have a bunch of data points they don’t, if they’re not knowledgeable in philosophy of religion.

    September 17, 2010 — 11:39
  • Alex,
    That’s a good point. I often wonder how much it really matters that most philosophers are atheists when it happens to be the case that most of them have probably only scratched the surface on the literature in philosophy of religion. For that matter, what about these people (e.g. Dawkins) who make much of the fact that so many scientists are atheists? Are we to suppose that these scientists are in a better position to judge the matter than a scientifically-informed philosopher of religion?
    It seems to me that the fact that there are extremely intelligent theists who have studied these issues in depth (including some of the contributors on this blog) ought to at least give pause to the confident atheist who hasn’t thought about the arguments as much. Unfortunately I seem to simply get accused of argument from authority whenever I make that obvious point to staunch atheists, even though I’m open about being a non-believer myself.

    September 17, 2010 — 23:07
  • Hans vd Schans

    Landon Hedrick:

    Are we to suppose that these scientists are in a better position to judge the matter than a scientifically-informed philosopher of religion?

    Yes, you should suppose that. Scientists study how the world fits together and in all fields see that there is no need for any gods, no sign of any gods, and indeed no space for any gods. Philosophers of religion play with words. With words you can concoct a need, imagine signs and create as much space as you wish.

    It seems to me that the fact that there are extremely intelligent theists who have studied these issues in depth … ought to at least give pause to the confident atheist who hasn’t thought about the arguments as much.

    No, intelligent people often have bad, even stupid, ideas; intelligence is not one-dimensional (for example, Isaac Newton, one of physics’s all-time greats, had some wacky theological ideas, but his physics was spot-on). Your point is one that infuriates many intelligent atheists: you’re suggesting that there are excellent arguments out there supporting theism, but us atheists never get to hear these arguments (or any other evidence) for the existence of gods or the rationality of belief. We are just told they exist and that we must go looking for them. No! The burden of proof is on the one making the claim, that gods exist. There is no burden of proof on the null hypothesis.
    Atheism and theism are not equipotent claims; the atheist view is that that world is it appears, natural and complete (while never claiming to fully understand it), theists claims that there is a whole fantastical layer of stuff that cannot be experienced or understood, violates reason and causality, contradicts what we see directly nature and (usually) has various implications on what people should believe and how they should act. That is a huuuuge>/i> onus of proof.
    Anyway, if these gods are so super, evidence for them shouldn’t be down to petty word play, but perhaps that view invalidates the entire discipline of philosophy of religion! At least Thor (not a god much worshipped nowadays) makes a lot of noise to demonstrate his existence all through the winter.

    October 4, 2010 — 11:16