My previous entry, “Atheist Burnout and the Direction of Philosophy of Religion”, which was inspired by Keith Parsons’s public decision to quit the philosophy of religion, generated a very nice discussion about whether or not atheists think the case for theism is, as Keith Parsons, put it, “a fraud”, why some atheists might think smart philosophers work in philosophy of religion, and what direction we should expect to see philosophy of religion take in the future. In addition, at around the same time Brian Leiter independently found Parsons’s announcement and generated a discussion on his blog. A number of people weighed in on both discussions, and I thank everyone who did so.
There were some interesting results from the discussions. First, there were, broadly speaking, two reactions to Parsons’s announcement: those who agreed with him that the case for theism is so weak as to call for a special explanation for why smart philosophers make it, and those who disagreed. I shall call the members of the first camp
“Unfriendly Atheists”“psychologizers” (although this camp might include two theists, namely Howard Wettstein and Jon Cogburn; I can’t tell how to classify them) and members of the second camp “Theists/ Friendly Atheistsnon-psychologizers”. The members of the unfriendly atheistpsychologizers’ camp include:
- hiero5ant [anonymous]
- John W. Loftus [independent scholar]
- Anon (grad student who does not wish to anger anyone higher on the food chain) [anonymous graduate student]
- kurt [philosopher at a Roman Catholic school]
- Greg Janzen [University of Calgary–can’t tell if he is a graduate student or faculty]
- Blinn Combs [graduate student at UT, Austin(?)]
- Brian Leiter [University of Chicago]
- Allin Cottrell [economist, Wake Forest University]
Arguably, Craig Duncan (Ithaca College) and John Schellenberg (Mount Saint Vincent University) count as
unfriendly atheistspsychologizers, but their case is complicated by the fact that, on the one hand, both Duncan and Schellenberg seem to think that the quality of philosophical work in PoR is often very high, but on the other hand, both think that there are psychological factors going in PoR that shapes the work of its theistic practitioners, factors that exist to a lesser degree in other areas of philosophy.
The list of theists/
friendly atheistsnon-psychologizers is as follows:
- christian [anonymous]
- mohan matthen [University of Toronto]
- https://me.yahoo.com/a/VeVm7GkGjsJ7xwH.k903N27vMLCxRZq1#0ed60 [anonymous]
- ZT [anonymous]
- tedla [anonymous]
- John H. [anonymous]
- Ken Taylor [Stanford University]
- John Fischer [UC, Riverside]
- L.A. Paul [
University of ArizonaUNC, Chapel Hill]
- indignant idealist [anonymous]
What conclusions can we draw from these lists?
First, I don’t think we can draw any conclusions from them. The lists are too small to be indicative of anything about philosophy in general. Although the results of the debate were interesting (as I said above) I don’t think we’ve really learned too much from this debate.
Second, if you want to be irresponsible and take these lists to be indicative of larger truths about the field, then it seems that there a lot of non-believing philosophers who don’t accept philosophy of religion’s conclusions but who take it as seriously as they take any branch of philosophy, while there are about an equal number of non-believers who don’t take its conclusions seriously and also think the case for theism is so weak as to require a psychological explanation for why so many otherwise smart philosophers take it seriously.
Third, I can’t help but to be cheered by the fact that Mohan Matthen, Ken Taylor, John Martin Fischer, and L.A. Paul, all of whom are philosophers with impressive accomplishments, take philosophy of religion seriously. By contrast, the only philosopher I noticed with an equally impressive reputation who thinks the philosophy of religion requires some psychological diagnosis is Brian Leiter, but as Leiter indicated, he seems to think the same is true of large portions of moral philosophy–that is, he doesn’t think that philosophy of religion suffers from a unique badness of argumentation.
That said, a lot of the participants in the debate are anonymous, so many of them could have been philosophers with equally impressive reputations. Moreover, I’m not well-versed regarding everything that happens in philosophy; it could certainly be that some of the critics of PoR have immensely impressive credentials and accomplishments, and that I just haven’t heard of them. And finally, the critics of PoR with less impressive credentials and accomplishments may be excellent philosophers–credentials and accomplishments aren’t everything. (Finally, lest anyone think I haven’t noticed this, I know very well that my accomplishments are nothing to write home about!)