Can philosophy of religion be an acceptable form of proselytism/apologetics?
November 3, 2012 — 6:00

Author: Helen De Cruz  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 60

Let me be clear from the outset: the majority of work in analytic philosophy of religion (PoR) does not aim to proselytize, but is concerned with fairly technical topics, such as the possibility of creaturely free will in heaven, the compatibility of specific divine attributes, or the evidential problem of evil. But some portion of PoR is clearly aimed at convincing the reader that religious belief (usually, Christianity, given the demographics of academic philosophy) is reasonable. To this end, philosophers construct sophisticated arguments, for instance, to show that religious belief does not require evidence, that religious faith is also, or even primarily, a matter of practical rationality, that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of theism, etc. Plantinga and Swinburne are good examples. Such philosophy of religion can be plausibly regarded as a form of proselytism–I’m using a wider term than the usual “apologetics”, as apologetics is the more narrow notion of systematically defending a particular religious position. But I’m not entirely happy with the term proselytism either, since I also think that some of this PoR is aimed at those people who have religious faith, but who are wavering, for instance, because others tell them their faith is not rational. So I’ll settle for proselytism cum apologetics as a not entirely satisfactory term for this type of PoR. Is it acceptable for philosophers of religion to engage in proselytism/apologetics?


Since many PoR authors are theists (according to 2 surveys – PhilPapers and my own – between 70 and 75%) it is perhaps not surprising that personal religious beliefs play a role in PoR. A passion for mathematics, an interest in science, a love of art, can be great motivations to engage in the philosophy of mathematics, science or art, respectively. But philosophers who engage in apologetic/proselytizing PoR clearly go beyond that. They are not only driven by a personal passion, but by a will to effect real-life changes in the world. In particular, I think it is plausible that they want public opinion to be more favorably disposed towards the religious beliefs they are propagating. This is not unique to PoR. No-one is surprised that practical ethicists who think animal suffering should be avoided write papers and books on the ethics of our dealings with animals, and that they hope to improve the way we treat animals. Or that political philosophers who believe that say, liberalism, is the best political view, hope to nudge real-world politics in adopting their liberalist views.
Nevertheless, the situation for PoR seems to be different. In an earlier blogpost, Kenny Pearce admonishes PoR practitioners not to engage in apologetics/proselytism. He writes: “Philosophy of religion, as practiced by religious believers, is often confused with apologetics. (Perhaps it is even so confused, on occasion, by some of its practitioners.)” and “[apologetics] is not the aim of the philosopher (qua philosopher). The philosopher aims instead to discover arguments which are such that people holding certain views (which real people do, or at least are likely to, hold) will, upon considering the arguments, be rationally obligated to endorse the conclusion.” He furthermore insists “the philosopher [unlike the apologist] is not concerned with what will actually convince people, but only about what people rationally ought to be convinced by.” In an unpublished paper, Ryan Nichols and Paul Draper argue that PoR is in a dire state, because there is a conflict of interest. Ryan writes in a comment on an earlier blogpost of mine that surveys the results of a survey on natural theology “My reading of the situation is that philosophy of religion is unhealthy, and further that your data are best understood as demonstrating a statistically significant conflict of interest.”
I am wondering, though, why it would not be permissible for PoRs to engage in some form of apologetics or proselytism. My sense is that these reservations stem from an overtly narrow notion of philosophy as a discipline that does not aim to affect real changes in the world. If it is permissible for political philosophers, practical ethicists, and even philosophers of science (think of writings against Intelligent Design by philosophers of science like Michael Ruse) to try to affect public opinion, why would it not be permissible for PoRs who honestly believe the ideas they are promulgating? Perhaps this is because there is something morally or epistemic suspect with proselytism an sich (in the strictly religious sense). However, as H.E. Baber has argued, there are good practical reasons for why a religious believer would engage in proselytism. Perhaps there are also good epistemic reasons: if one is convinced that a given position is correct, why would one not seek to convince others that it is correct?
Let me stress that I do think a division of cognitive labor is a healthy and desirable thing, and since we are (I hope) seeking truth as philosophers, it is desirable that not *all* PoR is of the proselytizing/apologetic. And moreover, I think given confirmation bias that it is desirable that PoR is practiced by people from various perspectives: atheists, agnostics, religious believers (not only or mainly Christians, preferably). Even if we do not seek to actively engage in proselytism/apologetics, our philosophical writings will be influenced by our prior views. To take a less laden example, a contextualist in epistemology will come up with plausible philosophical arguments for why contextualism is true, even if she is dispassionately engaged in seeking the truth. Similarly, even when we are not writing apologetics, our prior religious beliefs or lack thereof will influence our conclusions. But I do not think this overall aim of rationality and truth-seeking is incompatible with engaging in apologetics/proselytism. I do not think that authors who engage in this form of PoR are confused about the nature or aims of philosophy, but rather, that they employ philosophy to affect desired changes in the world. I think this is a legitimate use of philosophy (as in the examples of political philosophy and practical ethics).

Comments:
  • Brock Mason

    Overall, I thoroughly agree with this post. I only have one critique: “Let me stress that I do think a division of cognitive labor is a healthy and desirable thing, and since we are (I hope) seeking truth as philosophers, it is desirable that not *all* PoR is of the proselytizing/apologetic.” I’m not quite sure what this comment is supposed to mean, and it seems to conflict with the overall tenor of the argument. It seems to suggest that apologetics is a non-truth-seeking enterprise. That, of course, makes no sense. Apologetics is defending a position you hold to be true using reason and arguments. How is that not a truth-seeking enterprise? I think the problem is about bad apologetics, dogmatism, or irrationality, not apologetics. Everything, in a sense, is apologetics–defending some particular position you hold to be true and that you think should be held by others for a variety of reasons. What exactly does this comment suggest? That it’s good for some people to not do apologetics because it’s not a truth-seeking enterprise? If true, doesn’t that conflict with the overall argument?

    November 4, 2012 — 16:05
  • Helen De Cruz

    Dear Brock (If I may): Thank you very much for the comment, and allow me to clarify. Of course, I do not believe that apologetics is a non-truth seeking enterprise. It would be weird if apologists did not sincerely believe, and try to rationally defend, the positions they advocate. But overall, an important element of apologetics is to defend what one already believed before. Let me give an example: suppose you sincerely believe that the physical resurrection of Christ is a historical fact. You could then engage in apologetics to rationally defend that belief, for instance in a Bayesian argument from miracles, as the McGrews recently have done. That is a truth-seeking enterprise. But overall, given that apologetics is done mostly by Christian theists (and western Christian theists), some positions are not, or insufficiently, considered by apologists. Also, it may help to have critics (e.g., atheists, agnostics) to point out possible weaknesses in apologetic arguments. Given confirmation bias, we do not always see such weaknesses. Thus, I think it is conducive to the overall truth-seeking endeavor that is philosophy if a variety of perspectives is heard. I do not mean to say that apologetics and truth-seeking are incompatible. I believe they are.

    November 4, 2012 — 16:29
  • hiero5ant

    Apologetics is defending a position you hold to be true using reason and arguments. How is that not a truth-seeking enterprise?
    Is that a rhetorical question, or are you being serious?

    November 4, 2012 — 20:38
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    “Proselytism” and “apologetics” sound preachy, but the fact remains that theism makes so much sense, is such good news, and is such a blessing in practical life, that one has the moral duty to share it with others. Now as Peter van Inwagen writes in his “The Problem of Evil, Air, & Silence” the reason for preferring theism is rarely some argument for the existence of God, but rather some direct apprehension of the truth of theism. Helen above writes that religion is a matter of practical rationality. But then the best way to share theism with others is not through arguments, but through the power of example, by becoming one oneself a witness to the presence of Christ. This is the natural way of revealing truth, for on theism truth is not an abstract but a personal property. But then “active proselytizing/apologetics” or “defending a position you hold to be true using reason and arguments” is rendered the path for the weaker of faith.
    But if others insist on arguments, why not? There are some good arguments for theism (or against naturalism), certainly much better than the arguments for naturalism (or against theism). Philosophy is a very interesting and useful (and also pleasurable) intellectual enterprise. The point though is that religious self-transformation (or “repentance” in Christian speak, or “illumination” in Buddhism) is not an intellectual process.

    November 5, 2012 — 5:56
  • Helen De Cruz

    Danielos: Thanks, that is a good observation. I agree that in many instances, religious self-transformation is not effected by argument, but often by non-doxastic considerations, such as a life-transforming or traumatic experience, the example of others etc. Nevertheless, I submit that arguments do have an important role to play, indirectly, because they lay out what are reasonable options. Nobody, especially in this day and age, wants to be brandished as irrational. Religious arguments play an important role in outlining that particular beliefs are reasonable. So if we take AP’s WCB – this book would not have been written in the way it was written, had AP lived in a culture where Christianity is regarded, in general, as a view that is self-evidently true. It is clearly written in a time and culture where naturalism is the intellectually respectable default position. So while the reason for preferring theism is rarely an argument, one of the reasons for no longer holding theism might be that theism is less intellectually respectable than naturalism. Apologetic/proselytizing PoR can be a weight in opposite side of the scale, and thus, indirectly contribute to a climate where theism can be considered as a live option.

    November 5, 2012 — 6:44
  • Heath White

    Since proselytism-cum-apologetics (as described) is a matter of motive, while arguments are judged by their validity and conformity with evidence, there is no necessary conflict between doing PCA and doing philosophy. The objection would have to be that one’s motive was skewing one’s evaluation of the arguments. This is, of course, always a danger.
    But not just for theists. Arguments for atheism often have a proselytizing character, as any perusal of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett et al will quickly reveal. The bland dismissal of PoR as a swamp of wishful thinking and conflicted interest might itself be a product of wishful thinking and conflicted interest. It is somewhere between naïve and disingenuous to hold that religious people are full of bias and sloppy thinking around their key beliefs, while non-religious people are paragons of cool reason about theirs.
    Given that all parties to PoR debates might have their evaluation of arguments skewed by their pre-philosophical motives, what to do? I suggest: each do the best they can. Try to follow reasons as well as possible; try to evaluate evidence fairly; try to keep the discipline open to alternative voices. Where practically important issues are at stake, each should feel free to try to persuade others, so long as it can be done with honesty and integrity. Among professional philosophers this mostly amounts to presenting the best argument one can come up with.

    November 5, 2012 — 7:59
  • Helen De Cruz

    Heath: I agree that atheist arguments (in PoR and wider) often have a proselytizing character as well. Motives will play a role in many areas of philosophy (but especially in those where the position we adopt have real-life practical consequences, such as practical ethics, philosophy of religion, and political philosophy). Theists are not unique in being biased. But if there is a diversity of voices (as you also point out), bias need not preclude doing good philosophy. I am in favor of the Sperber-Mercier model of reasoning as inherently argumentative. Humans are all subject to confirmation bias, i.e., they are inclined to consider mainly evidence and arguments in favor of their prior beliefs, and tend to disregard/overlook/evaluate less positively. In the light of this, good philosophical work is done when we keep in mind what an opponent might reasonably say, and to see whether one’s argument is still cogent, given these objections. Proselytizing-cum-apologetic work is especially the type of work that will elicit controversy and debate. That’s why I think that a lot of excellent work in contemporary analytic POR is proselytizing-cum-apologetic.

    November 5, 2012 — 8:16
  • I think that for the most part you’re only going to avoid proselytizing in scholarship (philosophy, science, etc.) when (a) the scholar doesn’t think the truth is important in this matter or (b) doesn’t care much about other people. If you think the truth is important in this matter and care about other people, for the most part you will try to convince them.
    Granted, maybe some scholars will have a more or less worked out theory on which convincing others stifles their ideas, but that mainly applies in cases of differences of power. (Thus, a faculty member should be more cautious about trying to convince undergraduates than about trying to convince graduate students, and more cautious about trying to convince graduate students than trying to convince faculty, with further subdivisions as needed.)

    November 5, 2012 — 10:16
  • Mark McLeod-Harrison

    It seems Pruss is right when he notes that only people who don’t care about other people or care about the truth would be able to avoid proselytizing. He also seems right that what counts a being convincing depends on power issues. But it is more complicated than that when we are talking about religious issues, including conversion from one view to another. We can learn something here from the Buddha who thought that people must be open to the truth (receptive to it and its implications) before one should present the whole truth to them. In order to know whether something oversteps the bounds from providing evidence to being being coercive, we need to know our audience. Being receptive to truth may require little argumentation; just hearing the truth might be enough. Perhaps for others, however, detailed argumentation is needed. But even there, surely few are convinced by argumentation alone. There is something about one’s openness to truth that is central.

    November 6, 2012 — 10:16
  • Helen De Cruz

    This is an interesting issue. One can clearly go too far in proselytism: forced conversions are clearly morally impermissible, but so are, more subtly, teaching creationism in schools, or attempts to undermine secularism by way of promoting a postsecular society.
    But given that we do have several sides of the debate in western society (thankfully, and because we do live in a secular society!), philosophers of religion can show a side that is perhaps not generally shown to the public. Stephen Evans wrote about this in his recent Natural Signs (2010) “In the contemporary Western intellectual world, a naturalistic world view is often taken for granted, or expressly affirmed as the only respectable “scientific” view of reality […] As social beings, humans are inevitably influenced by what other humans think […] Regardless of upbringing, people may be influenced by intellectuals, such as Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris who argue—or at least loudly assert—that belief in God no longer makes sense or is not rational any more. In such an intellectual climate, some people simply fail to take religious beliefs in any form seriously, whether those beliefs be thin or abstract, or rich and concrete. In such a world, natural theology may have real value. For, if it is successful, and there are rational grounds for belief in God, atheism as a kind of “default position” can no longer be taken for granted (p. 10). Within this context, it does make sense to present one’s case in the form of an argument.

    November 6, 2012 — 11:05
  • Andrew Moon

    Helen,
    It looks like there’s mostly been only agreement with your post, and it seems right to me too. I’m interested in arguments to the contrary.
    “why it would not be permissible for PoRs to engage in some form of apologetics or proselytism. My sense is that these reservations stem from…”
    Here are possible psychological reasons for the reservation. Many have encountered or heard of religious proselytizers who do not think reflectively, give bad arguments, do so out of a sense of guilt, do so obnoxiously, and so on. In most of these cases, the motive of the proselytizer that is most salient to the proselytizee is not that the proselytizer wants to spread truth but something else. This creates in proselytizees a bad taste in their mouths for ANY religious proselytization, including that by professional philosophers of the highest intellectual caliber.

    November 6, 2012 — 15:03
  • Another reason one might have to oppose proselytization is if one had a nonrealist or pluralist view of religious claims.
    If realism is false with regard to religious claims, one might see proselytization (except in the cases where one is trying to get someone to move from a pragmatically less good to a a pragmatically better set of religious beliefs) as an unacceptable way of (a) decreasing the variety in the world and (b) doing so in ways that does not fit with the particular character of each individual, much as it would be unacceptable to try to get every painter to be an impressionist (wonderful as the impressionists were) or every musician to play the cello.
    If pluralism is true in the sense that many sets of religious views (including atheism and agnosticism? here one remembers the story of Russell’s gaoler who upon seeing the Russell filled out that he was an agnostic said that we all worship the same God in our own ways) equally well express equally important truths, and none do better than these sets, again one might see a significant value in a variety of religious views, and hence oppose proselytization between these sets.
    That said, every sane person favors some cases of proselytization.

    November 7, 2012 — 10:21
  • Dan Johnson

    Andrew, that’s a good point. People often defend philosophical/religious views and give arguments for purposes other than a concern for the truth. Maybe they want to dominate others, or they want to show others how smart they are in order to feel good about themselves, or any number of other less-than-savory motives. (Merold Westphal’s work on appropriating the “hermeneutics of suspicion” for religious purposes is very helpful here; he is right, I think , to say that using truths about God for these disreputable purposes amounts to breaking the third commandment.)
    I’m just not sure that this point applies in any special way to “proselytizing”, or at least to religious proselytizing. Pick a random session at an APA meeting — the odds are good that half (I’m being generous) of the comments from the audience will not be aimed at helping seek the truth but at making the commenter look good or the presenter look bad. “See how smart I am, and how stupid you are!” This is really a point that applies to any debate over just about anything.

    November 7, 2012 — 12:06
  • Helen De Cruz

    Andrew and Dan: thanks for these comments. I asked the question originally because my sense is that proselytism (within certain boundaries, e.g., no forced conversions, compulsory religious teaching in state schools etc) is permissible, and using philosophy for proselytism purposes is permissible. Nevertheless, the aim of proselytism is not to seek truth, but (in the best cases) persuade others to find it, or (in worst cases) use whatever means are handy, including bad argumentation, to persuade people to hold your beliefs. On the other hand, as Dan points out, this is not unique to philosophy of religion.
    In PoR we can think of at least two ways in which proselytism can take place. One is to present, in the best possible light, theism as a viable and reasonable option, as you could read in the C Stephen Evans quote I put earlier in comments.
    But it can also strike one as perhaps overtly instrumental. For instance, this comes the introduction to an edited volume on Christian philosophy by Craig and Moreland “One of the awesome tasks of Christian philosophers is to help turn the contemporary intellectual tie in such a way as to foster a socio-cultural milieu in which Christian faith can be regarded as an intellectually credible option for thinking men and women…Since philosophy is foundational to every discipline of the university, philosophy is the most strategic discipline to be influenced for Christ. (Moreland & Craig, 2003, 2). The worry might be that the philosophical discipline of PoR might become subordinated to its broader proselytizing aims.

    November 7, 2012 — 12:25
  • erik meade

    Should there be different concerns for those of us at State Universities. As employees of the state we might, on the one hand, wish to carefully avoid using our positions to advance particular religious beliefs. On the other hand our faculty code of ethics states that “[Professors’] primary responsibility to their subject is to seek and to state the truth as they see it.” There is some tension there…
    (Also I note that non-theist faculty members seem to exhibit no such caution when advancing naturalism.)

    November 7, 2012 — 12:53
  • Of course, this proselytizing will be for Christianity, right? But what sort? Judging from the authors cited, it will be for White Evangelical Protestant Christianity (WEPC). It will not be for Pentacostalism, nor for Mormonism, nor for Judaism, nor for Islam. And I dare say nobody will be using Philosophy of *Religion* to proselytize for either Wicca or Asatru. Not even, I imagine, for Buddhism. Nor for pantheism, nor for religious naturalism. So where is the concern for truth in all of this? If you’re not a WEPC, it won’t look like there’s any concern for truth at all — it will look like mere ideology, or, worse, like activism.

    November 7, 2012 — 12:55
  • Helen De Cruz

    Eric: I don’t find it per se problematic that people who proselytize will do so from a perspective that not everyone agrees with. However, the power dynamics in analytic PoR that you highlight are, I think, a reason for concern. I should add that there are quite some Catholic POR people active, many young people as well as senior philosophers. And there are not only evangelicals, but also mainline protestants, Russian Orthodox, Muslim and Hindu philosophers of religion. But non-protestant, non-Catholic philosophers of religion are indeed far and few between.
    Even if we are not religious pluralists (if we are there is even more reason, see Alex’ comment), it is advantageous to hear a variety of perspectives. And even if one is a white, evangelical protestant Christian, it is advantageous to hear other perspectives, because one is often less aware of the weaknesses of one’s own arguments and views (confirmation bias). I think that truth is often found by engaging in dialogue and debate, rather than in homogeneous communities.

    November 7, 2012 — 13:05
  • John Purssey

    I am not very conversant with PoR, but perhaps you could respond to a couple of points.
    1) You state “One can clearly go too far in proselytism: forced conversions are clearly morally impermissible, but so are, more subtly, teaching creationism in schools, or attempts to undermine secularism by way of promoting a postsecular society.” Now while I am in agreement with you on this position, it is clear that many would disagree. Many people have been coerced into conversion (at least externally) throughout history. Does not this represent theology informing the assumptions of a philosophy? As this may be abhorrent to us, is this not the case that we have a very different theology to inform our philosophy.
    2) There are many “proofs” for the existence of God. In Aquinas’ time, and until the modern era, the existence of God was taken for granted and so they were used by people who already believed in the existence of God. That they are not so appropriate for proselytising seems to have passed many people by.
    My own view on the value of PoR is that it demonstrates that being religious/spiritual does not mean that you have taken leave of rationality or are unintelligent.

    November 7, 2012 — 18:34
  • Andrew Moon

    To add to what I said earlier, religious proselytization is unique in that it happens in the real world. Nobody outside of philosophy has the strong agenda to get other people to believe in universals or concrete possible worlds. Hence, there’s no bad taste in philosophers’ minds when Armstrong or Lewis evangelize/proselytize/act-as-apologists for their views. But there is a bad taste in people’s mouths with religious proselytization (since it sometimes happens poorly in the real world), and hence, the immediate (I think, unwarranted) inference by some that philosophers of religion should avoid all religious proselytization. (Ethical/political proselytization is probably somewhere in the middle; it’s not seen as often as religious proselytization but more so than metaphysics.)

    November 8, 2012 — 1:18
  • Dan Johnson

    Helen, you say:
    “The aim of proselytism is not to seek truth, but (in the best cases) persuade others to find it…”
    This sentiment seems to pervade a lot of the posts here. I think that this is an oversimplification that harms the discussion. When I give an argument (say, for the existence of God), I am never merely trying to persuade others. I have lots of aims in giving the argument. I am often trying to persuade others. But I am also trying to persuade others reasonably; that is, I only want them to be persuaded if the argument captures good reasons (for them, given their background beliefs) to believe the conclusion. I am also at the very same time interested in engaging in a discussion — I am interested if my interlocutors have objections that I haven’t thought of before. I am also interested in deepening the level and rigor of the conversation. I am also interested in building a human relationship with the people to whom I am speaking, which is valuable independently of the more cognitive goals I am pursuing (like the goods of true and rational beliefs and the good of rational persuasion). And I have many other aims in addition.
    In other words, when I proselytize by means of PoR, I am never just proselytizing (in the sense you mean it, where the only goal of proselytizing is persuasion). Or, as I would prefer to say, I deny that the only aim of proselytizing is persuasion. There are lots of aims. I suspect that Craig and Moreland (who you quote) are in the same situation — they aren’t just interested in persuasion. They are interested in persuasion and many other goals besides, many of which can be sought at the same time through the practice of PoR.

    November 8, 2012 — 11:04
  • Dan Johnson

    Oh, and here is a really obvious point that I don’t think anyone has made, though Alex’s comments come close:
    Suppose I think that you need to believe in God (and believe some other things) in order to be saved from sin and spend an eternity with God. And suppose I am reasonable in so believing.
    Then suppose I don’t care if anyone believes in God, and I never try to persuade them to do so. Doesn’t that imply that I don’t care about them, or at least not enough to speak up to try to help them? Isn’t that like watching them walk off a cliff while looking at me and never say anything to warn them?
    That’s why I’m never offended when my Catholic friends passionately and vigorously try to persuade me to convert to Catholicism. I know that they think that being a member of the Catholic church is important for the condition of my soul, and so their proselytizing is an expression of concern for me. I’ll be offended when they stop trying to persuade me — because that means they’ve stopped caring.
    And if philosophy of religion is so divorced from the ordinary course of life that we can’t employ it in order to pursue our good and the good of others, then why on earth should we give a crap about philosophy of religion?

    November 8, 2012 — 11:11
  • Helen De Cruz

    John Purssey:
    1. Like philosophers in the past, current philosophers of religion are influenced by present-day values, like freedom of speech and opinion, human rights etc. Forced conversions clearly violate this. Even if one cares about things like other people missing out on the this- and other-worldly benefits of religion, such values also need to be considered, especially in a pluralistic society. I know there are some who believe they can use lots of measures and should fight secularism (e.g., getting compulsory classes on creationism in the curriculum), but I think this goes too far, no matter what the benefits of religious belief are.
    2. There are many arguments (rather than proofs) for the existence of God. While the existence of God in the past, e.g., the time of the scholastic writers, was more widely endorsed than it is today, there nevertheless have always been atheists (there are allusions to atheists (e.g., the “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.” (Ps 14). And Anselm references this fool in his Proslogion. Aquinas wrote the Summa contra Gentiles as a guideline to defend the Christian truth (e.g., against Jewish and Muslim interlocutors). Nevertheless, a recent survey I conducted among philosophers does seem to indicate that arguments for God’s existence are most convincing to those who already believe, and conversely, that arguments for atheism (with the exception of the argument from evil, which most respondents, theists atheist and agnostics, evaluate as strong), see here: http://www.academia.edu/1438058/Results_of_my_survey_on_natural_theological_arguments

    November 8, 2012 — 11:42
  • Helen De Cruz

    Andrew: perhaps the closest analogy to PoR proselytism are the writings in ethics, particularly in those areas where the authors care passionately about having the things they advise implemented. For instance, work on reproductive rights (abortion, cloning etc), work on animal rights and treatment of animals. It seems to me that authors in these fields (e.g., Peter Singer) aim to proselytize just as passionately as some authors in POR.
    Dan Johnson: I agree that proselytizing cannot be easily divorced from other goals and features of the POR I have in mind. In fact, even “ordinary” proselytizers engage in discussion, debate etc with their interlocutors. Last week I was in Cornmarket Street, Oxford, where I witnessed a conversation between an evangelical Christian who was handing out religious tracts and a passerby who was given the tract (none of them were philosophers, but the discussion quickly delved into topics like the problem of evil, the epistemic justification of religious exclusivism etc). It was a really interesting debate – the passerby was honestly considering these topics (he had just read The God Delusion and wanted to hear what the other side has to say). The open air missionary was carefully responding to the questions.
    As I said earlier: it is perhaps *especially* in debate that we can reason well. While the primary aim of proselytism might not be seeking truth, I think it is not incompatible with seeking and finding truth, for instance, where are weaknesses in particular arguments for God’s existence. The proselytizing philosopher of religion will get frequently confronted with counterarguments, and this is helpful for the discipline.

    November 8, 2012 — 12:01
  • I hope my comment here is not out of line but I felt compelled to add my perspective as an undergraduate student of philosophy at a public university. I should also add that I’m active member of the student group Secular Student Alliance on my campus and I regularly come in contact and dialogue with religious apologists and proselytizers of all stripes who exist outside academia.
    I think philosophers and the philosophy of religion as a sub-discipline fills a very basic and crucial role to the public when it comes to the contentious topic of religion by providing a basic foundation for a fruitful conversation. Religious apologists/proselytizers and their unbelieving counterparts often bolster their case by making use of well known philosophical arguments, but do so poorly. I’ve had to ask faculty to present to secular groups and campus ministries to explain the basics of Anselm’s Ontological argument or Plantinga’s ELAAN, simply because people using those arguments or dismissing them outright didn’t have a good grasp of them to begin with. Once people actually understood the basics and were able to see the complexity of issues involved, the quality of the conversation is heightened. I think any philosopher worth their salt can perform this function.
    I also think one needs to take into account that a believer who works in a philosophy department is not simply going to be an uninformed lay believer, but well read in their own religious tradition and its overlap with modern philosophy. This type of sophistication and rigor doesn’t lend itself to crass or gaudy acts of proselytizing, much less overtly apologetic overtones in professional literature. It is hard for me to imagine a professor of philosophy engaging in an act of proselytizing with a student or colleague outside of a personal relationship that allowed for it. Perhaps I’m being too optimistic here.
    Lastly, I think the inherent difficulty in trying to demarcate apologetics from say, a vigorous and informed defense of a philosophical problem/doctrine is too murky to call. Given the real differences between religious traditions about the subject (e.g. Reformed Christianity compared with Sunni Islamic Da’wah), I don’t think any meaningful criteria of apologetics could be constructed to fit all traditions.

    November 8, 2012 — 15:19
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Loving God, or falling in love for that matter, is in some ways irrational, or perhaps I should say transcends rationality.
    But if the goal is to demonstrate the rationality of the religious worldview, or that religion is an intellectually respectable position, I think that apologetics (i.e. the defense of religion) is not the best way to go. As if often the case with properties that are difficult to measure differences are best demonstrated by comparison. Thus I think the best way to go would be to demonstrate the comparative irrationality of naturalism. In my view naturalism suffers from an increasing number of serious conceptual problems, and perhaps the most effective way to convince people that religion is intellectually sound is by demonstrating how intellectually unsound the alternative of naturalism is. For example I think that Plantinga reaches more people through his argument about the deep conflict between science and religion, than through his sophisticated epistemology about theistic warrant.
    Another good way towards the same goal is to move to have philosophy taught seriously at the secondary education. It seems to me that much of the nowadays fashionable dominance of naturalism is based on the general lack of critical thinking. And I think logic should be taught even earlier. I have half a mind to try and teach my 8-year-old daughter the basics of Boolean algebra next summer.
    As for regarding naturalism as the default position, I wonder if that’s warranted. Given how the world seems to be infused with esthetic and moral values, how our interaction with the world seems to be characterized by freedom of choice, how the way we choose seems to be deeply meaningful and indeed seems to possess transcendent or even eternal significance (“what we do in life echoes in eternity” says the Roman general to his soldiers in the movie “Gladiator”) – I would say that prima facie the world seems to be religious.
    Finally, that natural scientists tend to be naturalists is no wonder, given that to a hammer everything looks like a nail.

    November 8, 2012 — 19:11
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Oops, above I meant of course Plantinga’s argument about the deep conflict between science and naturalism, not science and religion.
    Speaking of which I think it is a good idea to strengthen the teaching of natural science in the curriculum of philosophy, and that especially PoR students should study more physics. After all, on theism, physics makes visible a deep part of God’s thinking. And makes a lot of trouble for naturalism. Indeed the deep mathematical nature of the order present in physical phenomena which modern science has uncovered is in my view the strongest yet version of the argument from design.

    November 9, 2012 — 2:21
  • Andrew:
    “Many have encountered or heard of religious proselytizers who do not think reflectively, give bad arguments, do so out of a sense of guilt, do so obnoxiously, and so on. In most of these cases, the motive of the proselytizer that is most salient to the proselytizee is not that the proselytizer wants to spread truth but something else.”
    I may be naive, but I have no reason to doubt that in most cases, a central motive really is to spread a truth that will help the proselytizee be happy, either in this life or the next. I suppose there must be a number of proselytizers who don’t care about the proselytizee at all–say, they are motivated simply by a believed divine command or a desire to fit in with a group.
    This is compatible with what you say, of course, since the central motive need not be the one most salient to the proselytizee.

    November 9, 2012 — 11:54
  • Helen De Cruz

    Hi Patrick: thank you for providing this interesting perspective. You observe that philosophy of religion can help to heighten the level conversations about the rationality of theism, and that is very valuable in itself. I agree: even if one holds that religious belief is in some sense basic, or not based on argument, it nevertheless seems desirable to me that one can provide, if prompted, some reasoned motivation for why one is a believer or a non-believer (or an agnostic). I don’t think that professors of philosophy often engage in crass acts of proselytism of the sort you refer to (e.g., directly addressing students and try to convince them to think as they do).
    But that being said, I do think that POR can be a more subtle form of apologetics/proselytism as those who practice it sometimes have an agenda of making religious belief more or (in the case of atheist apologetics/proselytism) less palatable by presenting reasoned arguments. I don’t know in how far this agenda plays. I suspect for some authors, like Craig, who also run other forms of ministry, it is important. For others, POR might simply be a personal interest, much like someone who likes art and then decides to specialize in philosophy of art. But because religious world views are the sort of views we care about, and care what others think about, I think that POR is particularly prone to apologetic/proselytizing writing.

    November 9, 2012 — 12:37
  • Gordon Knight

    The problem,if there is one, is of intellectual honesty. If I want to persuade you of z X really really badly, I may not give the objections to X their intellectual due. Of course I also may–I might think replying to the strongest versions of these objections helps me in persuading you–but I don’t have to.. Its a rhetorical gambit.
    But this problem may arise with respect to any philosohical view that we are committed to. We may start out with wonder and curiosity and open to alternative world views, but after we make a stand “Rationalism is true–i wrote about it my thesis” it is psychologically hard to give up on it…

    November 10, 2012 — 2:32
  • It’s an interesting question which objections intellectual honesty requires one to give. There are, after all, infinitely many objections to anything.
    Here’s an objection to evolutionary theory: if unicorns evolved, then evolutionary theory is true; but unicorns didn’t evolve, so evolutionary theory is false. The only problem is that the objection is fallacious. Am I obligated to give it when I try to convince someone of evolutionary theory?
    Here’s an objection to the Pythagorean Theorem: there is a right-angled triangle of sides 3, 4 and 5, but 3^2+4^2=26 and 5^2=25. The only problem with this objection is that it’s unsound. Am I obligated to give it when I try to convince someone of the Pythagorean Theorem?
    Suggestions off the top of my head:
    1. You are obligated to give any objections you can think of that sound plausible. Problem 1: Plausible to whom? Problem 2: A paradox (say, the Strengthened Liar) is an argument to a contradiction from propositions all of which are very plausible, and then by explosion one can argue to anything. With some cleverness one can disguise the reliance on the paradox, and get what looks like a complicated but very plausibly sound argument against the conclusion one was trying to convince the other of.
    2. You are obligated to give any objections that are currently considered serious by the relevant intellectual community. Problem: Why? Suppose the relevant community is full of people who can’t do arithmetic and are taken in by the objection to the Pythagorean Theorem.
    3. You are obligated to give any objections that in fact would constitute significant non-misleading evidence against the thesis you are arguing for. This seems the most reasonable move. But it’s still tricky to figure out what all the terms here mean. And one may well think that many of the objections under consideration in Philosophy of Religion are merely misleading evidence.
    In practice, I guess I end up discussing the union of the objections that I expect not very atypical readers to come up with with objections that I find compelling, perhaps minus those that I find compelling only because of idiosyncratic views of my own. Don’t know if there is any principled justification of this.

    November 10, 2012 — 9:02
  • Thanks for linking my article!
    I proselytize at every opportunity. And I sure as hell don’t proselytize for “White Evangelical Protestant Christianity (WEPC)” for which I have no sympathy.
    I proselytize because I want to promote religiosity so that (1) church infrastructure–buildings and their furnishings, ceremonies, and practices–will be supported and (2) so that Christianity will maintain sufficient “critical mass,” particularly amongst educated upper middle class people, to remain respectable. I like church buildings and ceremonies; I want them financed, and I want to live in a social environment where my religious beliefs are socially acceptable.
    My motives for proselytizing are completely self-serving. So what?

    November 10, 2012 — 13:54
  • Eric:
    “Of course, this proselytizing will be for Christianity, right? But what sort? Judging from the authors cited, it will be for White Evangelical Protestant Christianity (WEPC). … So where is the concern for truth in all of this?”
    Suppose on the contrary that Smith, a white evangelical Protestant Christian, started proselytizing for Eastern Orthodoxy. Would that show “concern for truth”? To the contrary! In proselytizing for Eastern Orthodoxy, Smith would be proselytizing against what she takes to be true. She would therefore be failing to show a concern for truth.
    It is only when she proselytizes for the beliefs that she actually holds that Smith can be showing proper “concern for truth”.
    Indeed, that Smith believes what she proselytizes for is (defeasible) evidence that Smith is acting out of concern for truth.

    November 10, 2012 — 21:09
  • Helen De Cruz

    Eric & Alex: I think we need to disentangle two ways of being concerned with truth. First, of course, someone who proselytizes, be they practical ethicists who want to promote animal wellbeing, political philosophers who want to further an ideology, or PORs who want to further religious beliefs, is concerned with truth. I think that such a person will honestly believe what she tries to propagate philosophically.
    Second, we can be concerned with truth as a community of philosophers. And then, there is the worry that proselytizers, if they are too homogeneous a community, will not be engaged in critical dialogue. POR then degenerates into an echo chamber of a very specific group, say, for instance, white evangelical protestantism. So I think that it’s important POR be as diverse as it can be. This will improve overall quality of argument (as people who do not agree will sooner spot weaknesses in proselytizing-cum-apologetic POR arguments). However, this does not detract from the individual rationality of proselytizers.

    November 11, 2012 — 6:35
  • Helen:
    There may be some proselytizers who aren’t concerned with truth, or at least aren’t centrally concerned with the truth, who proselytize to fit in with a group, or because they believe that some philosophical or religious view is pragmatically good, or for some other such reason.
    I agree about the echo-chamber worry.
    There may be interesting cases where short-term individual epistemic rationality isn’t what best contributes to long-term group epistemic rationality. For instance (what I say is inspired by some of Patrick Grimm’s computer simulations) imagine a group of investigators seeking to find the best theory of something. For simplicity, suppose they agree on how to measure the goodness of a theory, but they start with different theories. At any given time, each investigator has a theory, which she is tweaking to try to improve it. Moreover, each investigator knows all the other investigators’ theories.
    At each time, an investigator has the following choices:
    1. Adopt another investigator’s theory.
    2. Tweak her theory in some random way, evaluate the tweak, and adopt the new theory if it’s better than the old one, and maybe also if it’s close to as good.
    3. Stay pat.
    Intuitively, in terms of short-term epistemic value, one will do best at any given time to adopt the best theory (remember, that they all agree on how to measure that) currently defended by any researcher. After all, that will maximize one’s immediate score, if score is identified with the value of the theory.
    The problem with that is that then the researchers all agree with one another, and are likely to get stuck in local maxima: theories that are better than all of their tweaks, but aren’t the overall best theories.
    A community of stubborn researchers who often ignore other researchers’ better theories, but aren’t so stubborn that they will never switch to a significantly better theory (think of some random procedure, where the bigger the difference in value, the more likely one is to switch), may well do better in the long run in terms of getting to the best theory. But this is at the cost of individually sticking to poorer theories in the short-term.
    One can, I suppose, combine the benefits of the two by having a monolithic group of investigators who accept the same theory, but who each explore a different pet theory that they think is likely wrong.

    November 11, 2012 — 14:07
  • Alexander:
    Analytic philosophy of religion differs from truth-seeking disciplines in one important way: in truth-seeking disciplines, one starts with the evidence, and reviews the arguments for various alternative positions, and provisionally accepts the option that appears to be the strongest; in philosophy of religion, one is almost certain to just happen to have been born into the religion one defends, and one won’t change, no matter how weak the evidence, no matter how strong the counter-arguments.
    Analytic philosophy of religion merely reflects contemporary demographics: it’s white evangelical protestant Christianity (WECP) because that’s what’s socially dominant in the USA recently. Analytic philosophy of religion studies what it studies because and almost entirely because of the natal conditions of those who practice it. But birth has nothing to do with truth, nothing at all.
    I do not believe that WEPC philosophers of religion have any desire to pursue falsity. I do not believe they are biased or dishonest. They’re just defending what they were raised to believe, and they both inherited and pursue this desire honestly. But that’s not philosophy; it’s not seeking the truth – it’s merely continuing to be who you were raised to be. As somebody once said, it’s not philosophy if you already know the answers.
    Let me sharpen this point: I am surprised that I have not yet seen a single article on Wiccan theology in the analytic philosophy of religion journals. Why not? As a philosopher, rather than merely as a Christian, shouldn’t you, Alex, be able to provide a purely dispassionate defense of Wicca, insofar as it is rational?
    — Eric

    November 11, 2012 — 21:03
  • “in truth-seeking disciplines, one starts with the evidence, and reviews the arguments for various alternative positions, and provisionally accepts the option that appears to be the strongest”
    Could be. Or it could be that one provisionally accepts the position held by one’s PhD thesis director, or the position held in the Department where one has done one’s PhD, or a position that won’t get one ostracized from the scholarly community.
    “Analytic philosophy of religion studies what it studies because and almost entirely because of the natal conditions of those who practice it.”
    First of all, speaking anecdotally, I expect that not insignificant numbers of philosophers of religion have switched between Protestantism and Catholicism at some point in their lives; moreover, even larger numbers have probably switched between Protestant denominations; and yet larger ones within Protestant denominations.
    That said, with the exception of the question of divine simplicity (on which philosophers of religion are significantly divided), most of the issues typically discussed by philosophers of religion are common ground between Catholicism and most Protestant denomination. Many are common ground between Christianity, Islam, Judaism and even some eastern theisms.
    Since the vast majority of members of our society are theists, it is unsurprising that the vast majority of philosophers of religion grew up as theists. That most of the philosophers of religion are still theists could then simply reflect the fact that that’s where the evidence points.
    Or it could be that theistic undergraduate and graduate students who evaluate the evidence as pointing against theism don’t go into philosophy of religion, because philosophy of religion is of marginal importance to philosophy unless theism is true. Those who do go into philosophy of religion have, perhaps, typically evaluated the evidence as being in favor of theism.
    This is all speculation. The point is that the data can be variously explained.
    As for Wicca, maybe it’s just that the evidence for it isn’t very good, and arguing against non-major religious views like that isn’t very interesting.

    November 12, 2012 — 7:49
  • Alexander,
    You raise many very interesting questions about belief-formation among philosophers; they are especially interesting because they are empirically surveyable.
    Still, merely shifting from White Evangelical Protestant Christianity (WEPC) up one level to Abrahamic monotheism doesn’t change the epistemic issues at all. We are all very much aware of the sociological fact that Abrahamic monotheism dominates the West.
    But here is where you show your hand: “philosophy of religion is of marginal importance to philosophy unless theism is true”. Isn’t that tantamount to saying that religion is just identical to theism? And that is surely both false and increasingly socially contested.
    If theism turns out to be just plain unbelievable, or if massive numbers of Americans (and Europeans, and other Westerners) switch out of theism, then surely there will still be religions, and surely they will be of interest to philosophy.
    Focusing on America, it is clear that the religious landscape is shifting rapidly, and in deeply fascinating ways. You’re already aware of Mormonism, neo-paganisms (mainly Wicca), Afro-American syncretisms (e.g. spiritisms focused on the Orixas), New Age religions, spiritual atheisms, transhumanism and singularitarianism, religious naturalisms, and on and on. Are you seriously saying that none of these new religious movements have any conceptual content worthy of philosophical investigation?
    As you know, White Christianity is no longer the default religion in America. Why should philosophy of White Christianity remain the default philosophy of religion? I can easily see a time, in one or two generations, if present trends continue, in which White Christianity becomes a minority religion in the USA, with WEPC a very small minority. You would then say that there will be no PoR. I would say that PoR will flourish.
    – Eric

    November 12, 2012 — 10:00
  • Helen De Cruz

    Eric & Alex: I do not think a priori that non-Abrahamic theistic views are not worthy of philosophical defense. There is excellent classical Hindu natural theology (which I’m learning about quite recently, in a book by Mackenzie Brown on the design argument in Hindu natural theology) which indicates that, for instance, some forms of polytheism are philosophically interesting and rationally defensible. Unfortunately, there is not much present-day POR outside of Abrahamic monotheism, which is indeed surprising, given the rise of, e.g., Mormonism.
    Abrahamic monotheism is a small portion of the epistemic possibility space of supernaturalist positions. So I find it a bit problematic that our discipline isn’t more diverse. Nevertheless, I also think that work in Christian POR has demonstrated that Christian monotheism is a philosophically defensible, rational and interesting position.
    Eric: I do not think the Millian objection that the accident of your birth determines your beliefs has all that much force. After all, if I was not born in the western world, 20th century, I may not have believed in the truth of evolutionary theory. Am I rationally unjustified in believing that evolutionary theory is true? I am at least entitled to provisionally hold this belief as true, to examine it, and to support it through argument.

    November 12, 2012 — 12:06
  • Helen –
    I do not claim that accidents of birth determine anybody’s beliefs. Nor would I claim that if one is raised to believe that P, then P is not rationally justified. I did indeed inherit much of my scientific belief; but I inherited it from a community already shaped by truth-seeking practices – that is, a community which, in this case, gained those beliefs by practicing the scientific method. My point about birth and PoR goes mainly to the lack of diversity.
    Alex raised the interesing issue of empirical surveys of analytic philosophers of religion. I would venture this guess: they are mostly male and almost exclusively white. This is interesting because the forms of Western religion that are not discussed in analytic POR include forms that have African roots or that incorporate the female into the divine. Here I’m thinking especially of the Orixa-centered religions, Wicca, and even Mormonism.
    You are absolutely right that the space of philosophically defensible supernaturalist religions is much larger than Abrahamic monotheism. (And I certainly wouldn’t charge you with being exclusivist!) I agree entirely both that Christian monotheism is philosophically defensible, and also that the lack of theological diversity in analytic POR is troubling. Why isn’t POR more theologically diverse?
    If Christian theology is philosophically defensible, then so is Wiccan theology, so is Orixa-centered theology, and so is Mormon theology. Those three are very close to Christianity anyway. And, as for numbers, I’ve seen estimates that maybe up to 100 million people in Africa and the Americas practice something like Orixa-centered religion.
    I once was a WEPC myself. When I studied Wicca, and Orixa-centered religion, I found them to be astonishingly coherent (far more so than I ever found Christianity to be). Of course, since I’m not a supernaturalist, I couldn’t follow either of those religions. Yet I also find them much easier to naturalize than Christianity.
    – Eric

    November 12, 2012 — 14:28
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Eric,
    You ask “why isn’t POR more theologically diverse?” by which I take it you mean “why isn’t POR more religiously diverse?”
    Since it is natural that philosophers will tend to deal with questions that are considered significant in their environment, and since theism and naturalism are the main ontological worldviews in the West, it is natural that PoR in the West should deal primarily with arguments for or against theism or naturalism. And since analytic philosophy is mainly done in the Anglican part of the world (US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand), it is not really surprising that the analytic philosophy that deals with theism and naturalism is found mainly there.
    On the other hand, as Helen notes, there are other great religions which are the subject of philosophical study. After all “philosophy of Hinduism” gets 89,000 hits in the Internet, significantly more than “philosophy of theism” or “philosophy of Christianity”. “Philosophy of Wicca” with 32,000 hits does quite well too. Now to my knowledge there are no arguments for Wicca published in reputable philosophical journals, but this probably only evidences that there are no serious arguments for Wicca around. If, as you say, you find Wicca to be more coherent than Christianity, or more intellectually preferable in some other way, then you have some material for submitting a paper right there.
    “I inherited [my scientific beliefs] from a community already shaped by truth-seeking practices – that is, a community which, in this case, gained those beliefs by practicing the scientific method.”
    Me too. Further I inherited my Christian beliefs from a community also shaped by truth-seeking practices – in this case mainly by the methods of prayer, the study of the Gospels, the study of natural theology and philosophy of religion, and also by way of the revelation of mystics. These truth-seeking practices are not of course the ones of the scientific method, which is natural enough given that their subject matter is metaphysics and not the physical sciences. (Which physical sciences are in comparison a much simpler business anyway, since they deal with a relatively small and measurable portion of the human condition, namely our experience of physical phenomena.)
    The question you might raise at this point is why I think these practices are truth-seeking. Well, for the same reason I think the scientific practices are truth-seeking, namely because I observe that they work. I empirically find that their deliverances work very well indeed, both theoretically and practically, and certainly much better than the deliverances of the competing metaphysics of naturalism. Thus theism gives me both an intellectual satisfying understanding of the nature of reality and of the human condition, as well as the practical means to benefit from that knowledge, as I in fact do every day of my life. To put this last bit plainly, whereas using scientific knowledge I find I can transform matter around me in ways I desire, using theistic knowledge I find I can transform myself and the whole of my experience of life in ways I desire. Both empirical successes warrant my trust in the respective methods that produce the relevant knowledge.

    November 12, 2012 — 18:15
  • “You’re already aware of Mormonism, neo-paganisms (mainly Wicca), Afro-American syncretisms (e.g. spiritisms focused on the Orixas), New Age religions, spiritual atheisms, transhumanism and singularitarianism, religious naturalisms, and on and on. Are you seriously saying that none of these new religious movements have any conceptual content worthy of philosophical investigation?”
    I didn’t say that they wouldn’t be worthy of philosophical investigation. I said that they would be of marginal importance to philosophy. There are many things of marginal importance that are, nonetheless, worth investigating out of a healthy intellectual curiosity. I think quite a lot of contemporary analytic philosophy–including work of mine–probably falls into that category.
    Nonetheless, “marginal” may have been an exaggeration. But in any case, much less importance than if theism is true.
    It is a necessary being’s actions that can answer the ultimate explanatory questions. It is the hypothesis of a perfect (and maybe: simple) being that (a) has the amazing simplicity of formulation–the theory that there is a being that has all perfections–accompanied by a great explanatory power and (b) can answer all our heart’s possible ultimately defensible longings. Of course, these are substantive philosophical theses, but they are true. 🙂 We can argue about them if you like.
    It would be very interesting to find out that there are billions of powerful finite spirits in the world. I guess it might refute naturalism (though that’s not completely clear), and if so then that’s of more than marginal importance to philosophy, especially if interacting with these spirits is in fact important for our lives to go well morally. But fundamentally, that’s still just a finite number of finite persons, more like the discovery of a race of powerful aliens than a radical philosophical thesis.
    Now, some of these non-Western religions do accept a necessarily existent perfect being. In that case, the investigation of what they take the attributes of this perfect being–including such ultimately indefensible* attributes as identity with the world–may well refine our understanding of what a perfect being is like. But then they are pretty close to theism, anyway.
    “If theism turns out to be just plain unbelievable, or if massive numbers of Americans (and Europeans, and other Westerners) switch out of theism, then surely there will still be religions, and surely they will be of interest to philosophy.”
    My evaluation of the evidence available to us is that the best theory of the world on which there is no necessarily existing perfect being is naturalism. In other words, the following material conditional is true, and the evidence for it significantly exceeds the evidence for the falsity of the antecedent:
    1. If there is no necessarily existing perfect being, then naturalism is true.
    I think you (like most philosophers outside of philosophy of religion) tend to agree with 1, because from what you say, it sounds like you accept naturalism. And if naturalism is true, Philosophy of Religion is not very philosophically important, just as if error theory about morality were true, ethics would not be very philosophically important. Sure, one can study the role false religious or ethical beliefs play in people’s lives, but that’s perhaps more a job for the sociologist or psychologist than the philosopher.
    Footnote:
    *A perfect being doesn’t have horrendous evils in itself. Of course, a discussion can be had about this.

    November 12, 2012 — 20:08
  • Note:
    In regard to 1, obviously, all the evidence for the falsity of the antecedent is evidence for 1 (since I stipulated it to be a material conditional). I wasn’t claiming that amount of *extra* evidence for 1, over and beyond the evidence for the falsity of the antecedent, was greater than the amount of evidence for the falsity of the antecedent. Just that there was a significant amount of extra evidence for 1.

    November 12, 2012 — 20:10
  • Alex,
    It would be very nice if there were a philosophically sophisticated Mormon on this site to argue with you. They do exist, but they aren’t here. And that’s the problem of the lack of diversity. It would also be nice if there were a philosophically sophisticated neo-pagan on this site to argue with you. They too exist, but they aren’t here.
    And the religious naturalists aren’t here. Nor are the spiritual atheists. As a theological naturalist, I say that there is an infinite hierarchy of natural gods. To put it far too stupidly, they are computing machines on which universes run as software on hardware. Presumably, this is of some philosophical interest, since philosophers have been interested enough to publish my articles on it and to invite me to talk about it.
    Mostly, the only people on this site are White Evangelical Protestant Christians. For myself, that very fact is a philosophical problem. I take it that this was the very issue that Helen was concerned about originally.
    – Eric

    November 12, 2012 — 22:38
  • Helen De Cruz

    Eric & Alex: I think Eric is correct in flagging the homogeneity of POR as a philosophical problem. Computer simulations, real-world studies with groups of people who have to solve a problem and analytical models have all shown that we learn more about the truth when groups are heterogeneous. But for the moment, we have no real sense of how homogeneous POR exactly is, as we rely perhaps mainly on reasoning by example. And even when we just go by example, there are still plenty of Catholics, mainline protestants, some Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish philosophers of religion. I’m thinking of setting up a short survey to see in some actual demographics of POR (religious affiliation, gender, age, etc). I’ve done an earlier survey but did not ask for some factors that might be of demographic interest, such as religious affiliation.

    November 13, 2012 — 7:00
  • I am divided on this, so let me just say a bunch of things that point in different directions. I am not arguing for any definite conclusion, just throwing out considerations that I don’t know how to bring together to a conclusion, or what conclusion to bring them to. Think of it as an exercise intramental diversity. 🙂
    1. Most philosophers of religion interact with philosophers in other fields, of whom only a minority are theists. Granted those philosophers in other fields aren’t very diverse either: they are by and large naturalists.
    2. So one way to put the problem of diversity is that current analytic philosophy seems to be dominated by naturalists (the larger camp) and Christians. (The “white” part–an odd designator as part of a description of a nonracialist religion–may be a part of the general lack of racial diversity in philosophy.)
    3. I am not sure we always learn more about truth in intellectually diverse settings. Here’s a thought experiment. Which extended years-long research project will generate more progress to truth? Getting together 60 of the top string theorists in the world or getting together 20 of the top string theorists in the world, plus 40 top scientists divided equally among the adherents of two main alternatives?
    I don’t know, but let me speculate.
    If string theory is false, the monolithic project will generate less progress to truth. But it will also generate significantly more in the way of internal refinement of string theory.
    If string theory is true, I would speculate each project will have its advantages. The monolithic project is apt to discover more in the way of further theoretical truths of physics. The diverse project is apt to discover more in the way of arguments for string theory, but less in the way of further theoretical truths of physics (after all, two thirds of the participants of the project will be developing the consequences of false assumptions), since the string theorists will spend more of their time arguing against the other camps and hence less giving refinements. Though they might also come to some refinements that they otherwise didn’t by seeing interesting analogies with what the other camps are doing.
    4. Now imagine an impartial observer who doesn’t know which of the three theories is true, but can fund three projects with sixty researchers. She has a choice between funding three monolithic projects of 60 researchers each, each refining one of the three theories, or three diverse projects, each one involving 60 researchers evenly divided between the three theories. And suppose that at the end of whichever three projects are being funded, there is a big free-for-all conference.
    Which strategy will better contribute to truth? It’s hard to say. The three diverse projects seem to me apt to result in less depth of development of each theory. But at the same time, they are more likely to result in a verdict as to which (if any) of the three theories is true. The three monolithic projects are apt to result in deeper development of each theory, thereby enabling perhaps a more reliable judgment–but will it actually be made?–as to which (if any) theory is true.
    5. I think the value of intellectual diversity may need to be considered relative to a problem. Suppose I am working on a very technical issue in Bayesianism (not a hypothetical). I will benefit quite a bit relative to that problem from having other Bayesians around who have different approaches to that technical issue. But I might derive little benefit from non-Bayesian epistemologists (I might, of course, but the more technical the issue, the less likely such benefit is).
    Likewise, if I am working on a refinement and defense of Molinism, I will benefit quite a bit from having theistic compatibilists, open theists, mere foreknowledge theorists and Jon Kvanvig (I don’t know how to classify his latest view) around. But I might not benefit very much from having atheists, qua atheists, around. (I could benefit greatly from having atheists qua philosophers working on conditionals around, of course.) If I am working on a defense of theism, I would likely benefit quite a bit from having non-theists, qua non-theists, to talk to, on the other hand.
    6. A caution. We should not bemoan the lack of young earth creationists in geology or biology departments or geocentrists in astronomy departments. The presence of such would benefit the departments in some respects, of course: it would force the mainstream faculty to give less strawman-like presentations of these untenable views. But the benefit of getting the truth right on this beats that. (Whether this is analogous to any situation in philosophy, I don’t know. Maybe the very few remaining positivists are like geocentrists, long refuted by self-refutation and Goedel.)

    November 13, 2012 — 9:12
  • Dan Johnson

    Alex’s latest post is very interesting, because it questions the simple “diversity of views increases the likelihood of getting at truth” thesis that seems to be running through Helen’s and Eric’s posts.
    Here is another reason to question that thesis, or at least its status as a generally applicable truth. I haven’t heard any mention of the fact that, according to many religions, one’s ability to gain knowledge of ultimate reality (God, Brahman, etc.) is tied up with one’s moral condition. The knowledge of ultimate reality is not achievable in a “purely dispassionate” manner, to use Eric’s terminology. Sin interferes with the faculties that grant theological knowledge and grace is necessary for that knowledge to be restored (Christianity); desire and attachment are the source of illusions that mislead as to the nature of reality (the Vedic traditions and Buddhism); Daoism has a similar view; and so forth. Kierkegaard famously thought that dispassionate reason was actually opposed to Christianity, and this isn’t to the credit of dispassionate reason.
    How does this affect the claim that diversity of views is good for seeking truth? Well, it suggests that the diversity of views isn’t really all that directly connected one way or the other with whether the truth about ultimate reality is reached. Whether the truth is reached will have a lot more to do with the moral condition of the inquirers, which (as far as I can tell) doesn’t seem to be correlated one way or the other with the diversity of the larger group of inquirers.
    I wonder if the whole “diversity of inquirers helps truth” thesis was built for the natural sciences in the first place (though Alex has given us reason to question even that). Knowledge of the natural world doesn’t seem tied up with the moral condition of the inquirer in the way that knowledge of ultimate reality is, at least according to many religions.
    Maybe this is yet another example of how debates about method (how we ought to investigate in order to discover the truth) are not neutral with respect to the worldviews that the methods are supposed to decide between.
    Fascinating discussion.

    November 13, 2012 — 9:59
  • Eric:
    “To put it far too stupidly, they are computing machines on which universes run as software on hardware. Presumably, this is of some philosophical interest, since philosophers have been interested enough to publish my articles on it and to invite me to talk about it.”
    Off-hand, this doesn’t strike me as a religious hypothesis, though certainly it is of much philosophical interest, as it deeply affects the fundamental picture of who we are.
    I think a religious hypothesis needs to involve what Otto calls the “numinous”.

    November 13, 2012 — 10:14
  • Helen De Cruz

    Don Johnson: Interesting observations. The pervasive belief that our moral condition interferes with us getting any form of religious knowledge, at least through reason and experience alone, provides us with a clear disanalogy between science and religion. Of course, if our cognition is marred by the noetic effects of sin, our scientific endeavors aren’t going to be reliably truth-conducive either. However, the crucial difference is that many religious worldviews (unlike science) take this view into account, so this explicit acknowledgment will complicate matters for an overall epistemology of religion.
    Another disanalogy might be that while scientists can pick elements from rival theories (the Kuhnian view of incommensurability of theories having been tempered to some extent), it’s not easy to see how this fruitful cross-fertilization could work in POR. For instance, the view that the world is in fact an illusion, emanating from Brahman, as espoused Hindu philosophers like Sankara (8th century AD) could perhaps be taken up by idealist western Christian philosophers of religion, but I hardly see it gaining general acceptance in Christian POR, precisely because there are conceptual differences on creation between hinduism and Christianity.
    Alex: I agree that diversity is not always a good thing. But while we have good reasons to discount young earth creationism in geology, I’m not sure if we have equally good grounds to discount, without taking into serious consideration, views of say, Mormons who work in POR. The analogy with positivism is more apt, but positivists have taken ample opportunity to develop and propagate their theories – we know what they’re about and what their arguments are worth.

    November 13, 2012 — 11:27
  • Helen:
    “The pervasive belief that our moral condition interferes with us getting any form of religious knowledge, at least through reason and experience alone, provides us with a clear disanalogy between science and religion.”
    I would say, though Dan might not, that “any form” is an overstatement. So the difference will be one of degree (obviously some aspects of the moral condition do interfere with the acquisition of scientific knowledge). But it may still be large.
    I am inclined to say that what is true of religion here is even more applicable to ethics.

    November 13, 2012 — 16:54
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    I think Dan Johnson makes several valid points. In my own religious tradition, Eastern Orthodoxy, it is thought that knowledge of God comes not through philosophical argument but through direct apprehension, be it in prayer, taking part in the life of the church, and so on. (Which seems to comport well with Plantinga’s epistemology about warrant by the way.) Thus it is not particularly surprising that relatively fewer eastern orthodox philosophers specialize in philosophy of religion. It is not that philosophy of religion is considered to be misleading or dangerous or anything like that, but rather that it is considered to be somehow substandard or ineffective, some kind of an intellectual game that only peripherally helps people get to the truth. Indeed the very concept of “truth” is understood differently, namely as being fundamentally a personal property, and only indirectly a property of propositions. Thus to know the truth is to know the person that embodies it, i.e. Christ. And the best way to know that person is to become follow and become like Him. This is, if you will, a more mystical and direct method of knowing. And if Christianity is true then, clearly, it has much going for it.
    I also agree with Dan’s point that knowing the ultimate reality is “tied up” with one’s moral condition, or, as the Gospels say “The pure of heart shall see God”. But I would like to suggest that this should not be understood in a restrictive way. To think about God is a form of prayer too, and thus through thought alone one can also intellectually acquaint oneself with God. (Roughly said – I am overlooking here the fact that there is no such process as “thought alone” nor such thing as “intellectual acquaintance”). What I mean is a little like the biologist who discovers a lot of knowledge about apples but hasn’t actually tasted an apple.
    Finally I fully agree with Dan’s “debates about method (how we ought to investigate in order to discover the truth) are not neutral with respect to the worldviews that the methods are supposed to decide between.” Metaphysics is where the epistemological buck stops. Viable metaphysical worldviews cannot be unseated or even only made less probable by philosophical argument. Thus, for example, given that metaphysical naturalism appears to be compatible with the normal human condition (i.e. with all the data we have, whether objective, subjective, a priori, or whatever), naturalism is rendered unfalsifiable, since any argument against naturalism must be based on some methodology which is not warranted if naturalism is true, and thus every such argument is really begging the question.

    November 16, 2012 — 3:40
  • Ryan Smith

    There’s a perspective issue at play here. Philosophers of ethics, Philosophers of feminism, and political philosophers are all obviously trying to convince people of things regularly, perhaps even most of the time. But when you are trying to convince people of something, it’s easy to think of yourself as just ‘sharing your findings’ or ‘contributing to the dialog’ or some other stance that eliminates the power, politics, and persuasion from your actions. When that OTHER person is trying to persuade people that his or her religion is the right one, or their stance on theism is the right one (and we don’t agree with them that it is), we have a hard time seeing what they are doing as a neutral contribution because they are wrong. If we are an atheist, we think their entire FIELD is wrong. That’s practically the only usage of the word ‘proselytize’ in common speech these days, after all- ‘some other guy trying to manipulate people into believing something I know to be false’.
    Theistic philosophers engaging in apologetics aren’t doing anything any different than other philosophers advocating a view- it’s just spoken of differently because of the demographic proportions of theists inside the field, vs. theists outside the field judging those within.

    November 20, 2012 — 16:49
  • “When that OTHER person is trying to persuade people that his or her religion is the right one, or their stance on theism is the right one (and we don’t agree with them that it is), we have a hard time seeing what they are doing as a neutral contribution because they are wrong.”
    I think that’s a part of the story. But a little more needs to be said about why theism is different in this regard from other positions. Peter van Inwagen is trying to convince people that the only complex unities are organic unities. Most philosophers think he’s wrong. But they don’t conclude that he is proselytizing in any objectionable sense.
    By the way, “findings” seems veridical, so we wouldn’t talk of PvI sharing his findings if we disagreed with him. But we would talk of him contributing to the dialog.

    November 20, 2012 — 17:58
  • Ryan & Alex –
    I doubt that anybody is going to legislate that your children be forced to study the metaphysics of PVI in grade school. Or that you can’t marry somebody you love because of some difference of opinion about the existence of numbers. Or that our nation needs to go to war because some people don’t believe in modal realism. Or that people who don’t affirm the proper version of deontology don’t deserve basic legal rights. Or that if you don’t literally believe in On the Plurality of Worlds, you’ll be tortured forever. Or that if you disagree with S5, then you deserve to get hate mail and death threats.
    Theism supports religious communities. And those communities have lots of power. And, in the name of theism, they perform lots of actions. And those actions can be harmful or helpful to individuals or societies. Theism, indeed, is very different.
    – Eric

    November 21, 2012 — 10:24
  • Wow!
    I am sure it will not strain anyone’s memory to think of modern societies explicitly non-theist that force children to study things antithetical to the wishes of their parents. And view people that don’t hold the party line as not worthy to be afforded basic rights, and/or are tortured forever etc…
    ~BW

    November 28, 2012 — 19:14
  • Rob

    Helen De Cruz: Does feminist scholarship that attempts to advance feminist views bother you?

    December 5, 2012 — 1:47
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    Nice post, Helen.
    My sense is that the heart of the matter comes down to a clash of primary objectives: for the apologist, the goal is to persuade (or build a relationship), for the philosopher, it is to seek understanding/truth. It’s not that those goals contradict each other. It’s that an apologist for X may be *less good* at discovering that X is mistaken. That’s the worry.
    The heart of a philosopher is to discover. For the apologist, it is to persuade. These aims aren’t incompatible. But we all know how easy it is for the second to occlude the first.
    Your fascinating research on cognitive bias obviously relates. Is Smith an apologist for X because he was first a philosopher about X (who takes himself to have discovered a sound basis for X), or is it the other way around? Obviously, the answer will vary for different Smiths and different X’s.
    A significant value of your post, as I see it, is that it invites people to become more aware of the ways in which various (noble) aims can get in the way of one another. For the philosopher, that awareness can help her/him be a better philosopher.

    December 7, 2012 — 2:19
  • And yet a part of the philosopher’s task is not just to discover, but to disseminate discoveries.

    December 7, 2012 — 7:41
  • Helen De Cruz

    Hi Josh: I agree with you that being an apologist for X can get in the wayof discovering weaknesses in X. I envisage that there are many real-world cases where Smith becomes an apologist for X *after* having become convinced of the truth of X, by having discovered a sound basis for X. Does this place Smith in a better epistemic position with respect to X?
    To take an example: I used to be agnostic about whether or not false beliefs can have warrant, but I am now convinced by reading work by others (not by my own philosophical investigation) that, on balance, the arguments that false beliefs cannot have warrant are better than those that false beliefs can have warrant. Suppose I then become an apologist for the view that false beliefs cannot have warrant. I’m wondering whether this places me in a better epistemic position to endorse the claim “false beliefs cannot have warrant” than if I had started out with that idea with no firm basis whatsoever, and immediately set out to write arguments in favor of it (in effect a form of apologetics/proselytism rather than dispassionate philosophical discourse).
    In both cases we have a form of belief polarization, roughly, this is the tendency by which initially held beliefs get strengthened as one encounters more evidence, even if some of this evidence is not at all in support of the initially-held hypothesis (and gets ignored). Now it seems to me that belief polarization is very hard to avoid, no matter if one arrives at one’s position through careful deliberation or through non-rational factors (e.g., suppose one’s supervisor held X, or one was raised to hold X-beliefs).

    December 7, 2012 — 11:59
  • Joshua Rasmussen

    Yes, good points, Helen. (And, Alex, I agree.)

    December 7, 2012 — 15:41
  • Is there any point to attending an atheist church?

    [X-posted at NewApps] These reflections are inspired by my reading of Howard Wettstein’s book “The significance of religious experience” (OUP), Gutting’s piece in the Stone on agnosticism, and a recent BBC report on an atheist church in London. I am de…

    February 6, 2013 — 13:02
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