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Blogosphere Skirmish on Whether Phil. of Religion Should Be Taught in Colleges

Here. I thought this was a joke when I first read about it (and of course it is among philosophers). In any case, the comments from Draper, Schellenberg, and Almeida are spot on, and the post itself says pretty much all else that needs to be said. Here I'll just say a few more things.

First, it's perhaps worth pointing to a more comprehensive list of readings on the topic of bias in philosophy of religion than the one in the post linked to above. Here you go.

Second, the fact that several in the field of philosophy of religion use the discipline as a means of engaging in partisan apologetics is irrelevant to whether the questions pursued in the field are worthy of research or teaching. It's only a reason not to follow their example, and to focus on the work of non-apologetically oriented philosophers of religion. There are of course very many who fall in this camp. Important examples include Paul Draper, J.L. Schellenberg, and Wes Morriston.

Third, as alluded to in the Daily Nous post, there is already a movement afoot in philosophy of religion to not only address the issue of bias and partisanship in philosophy of religion, but to pursue the discipline in a way that is overtly unmoored from the influence of theistic traditions in philosophy of religion. On this, see (e.g.) Schellenberg's recent trilogy and his Evolutionary Religion, and be on the lookout for books new and forthcoming from Oppy and Draper.

Finally, many of the criticisms floating around on this issue seem to conflate the philosophy of religion with the philosophy of theism, or even the philosophy of Christian theism.  The tacit claim of equivalence is of course false. There is thus much work to do in the field even for those who find the arguments against theism persuasive. 

On the current skirmish, one can do no better than quote J.L. Schellenberg's comment at the original post:
Having done philosophy of religion as an atheist for more than twenty years, I find the idea that atheistic belief should lead one to view philosophy of religion as useless or pernicious a bit out of touch with reality. Theistic work in philosophy of religion is, for cultural reasons, getting the lion’s share of attention. But this should not prevent us from noticing that the field is in fact rather well populated by non-theists. Rather, it gives us a reason to try to bring them – people like Paul Draper, Evan Fales, Steve Maitzen, Graham Oppy, Robin LePoidevin, William Rowe, and plenty of others — a lot more visibility. Those who call for an end to philosophy of religion might get some insight into just what they’re talking about (and then productively fall silent) if they consulted the work of people like these to discover why even an atheist might spend a lifetime doing philosophy of religion.

The answer is not that an atheist might spend a lifetime crawling through the minutiae of non-Christian or non-theistic religious belief systems. Here it is helpful to have formed some general conception of what philosophy of religion is about. Philosophy of religion, as I see it, involves bringing to bear on both actual and possible religious ideas and practices the resources of the rest of philosophy (ethics, epistemology, etc.) and, reciprocally, bringing to bear on the rest of philosophy the best results from philosophy of religion. If anyone thinks that the work of Christian philosophers exhausts either of these dimensions of the field, or that the most important such work has been completed if/when we recognize that there is no personal deity, they are sadly mistaken. Even if theism is false, other religious ideas – including the most fundamental (which should therefore be of greater interest to philosophers) – remain to be explored. Many of these ideas and explorations will not bring us into the embrace of some living religious tradition, but rather call for us to stretch our imaginations beyond the results of a few millenia of activity on the part of religious people.

Atheism, as I see it, therefore marks not the end of philosophy of religion but is something more like its beginning. Of course, if one is suffering from such common afflictions as the assumption that there are no real intellectual options in this realm other than traditional theism and metaphysical naturalism, or the virus that subtly turns one’s mind from a love of truth to an activist orientation, then one cannot be expected to make much sense of this. But philosophy is supposed to deliver us from such afflictions.


I want to ask about your second point, especially this: "It's only a reason not to follow their example, and to focus on the work of non-apologetically oriented philosophers of religion."

As you know, I have a line on the various evidential arguments from evil. Now consider the counterpossible where I get around to publishing it and philosophers actually take notice of my response. In that case, my argument would undoubtedly be used by Christian apologists - remember, again, that we are in impossible land!

So you are saying that you and other philosophers have a reason to not focus on - i.e., respond to? - my argument? (I suspect that I would be pinned as an apologetically oriented philosopher.)
exapologist said…
Hi James!

Sorry, I should've been clearer. The point was about following the example of non-apologetically oriented philosophers (re: striving to follow the arguments wherever they lead). The work of any philosopher who offers a decent argument should be considered.

I'd also like to emphasize that there are examples of both atheist and theist philosophers that are apologetically-orientied, and that there are examples of both that are not.

John W. Loftus said…
For myself I consider the case closed against recent work in the PoR, as does Dr. Keith Parsons who said:

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

I think a number of philosophers have made the case for atheism and naturalism about as well as it can be made. Graham Oppy, Jordan Howard Sobel, Nicholas Everitt, Michael Martin, Robin Le Poidevin and Richard Gale have produced works of enormous sophistication that devastate the theistic arguments in their classical and most recent formulations. Ted Drange, J.L. Schellenberg, Andrea Weisberger, and Nicholas Trakakis have presented powerful, and, in my view, unanswerable atheological arguments. Gregory Dawes has a terrific little book showing just what is wrong with theistic “explanations.” Erik Wielenberg shows very clearly that ethics does not need God. With honest humility, I really do not think that I have much to add to these extraordinary works.”

I have recently examined and found deficient Dr. Paul Draper's suggestions:

Cheers, thanks for the discussion.
John W. Loftus said…
Here we go, stay tuned:
exapologist said…
Hi John,

I guess I don't see how your remarks make an advance beyond those of Draper, Schellenberg, Almeida, Rea, and my own. Ah, well... :) I leave it to others to decide for themselves.

John W. Loftus said…
Hi guy, I hope all is well.

Then why did you say you thought this was a joke?

We may agree on the malaise but do we also agree on the solution?
exapologist said…
Hi John,

I mean no disrespect, but I just don't find the reasons persuasive. As alluded to in my post, I find the reasons I mentioned above (and those I pointed to in the Daily Nous post -- including the comments from Schellenerg, Rea, et al. -- sufficient. If you continue to find them persuasive, I recommend you to write up a paper and send it out for peer review to the appropriate venues.

John W. Loftus said…
I understood that such a proposal might be met with objections. I don't think a peer-reviewed paper could be long enough to deal adequately with the objections though. Keep in mind the discipline is only 60 years old. We did without it before that time and now with the trouncing of all major theistic arguments we can probably do without it again.
John W. Loftus said…
How is this as a solution:

Secularists should teach the Philosophy of Religion in the classroom the same way they write their books, although they should allow for student interaction and debate. If the discipline is to be taught then this is one of the ways to do it right.

This depends entirely on what a secularist professor thinks of the case for religion. If he or she thinks like I do that it has no merit at all, then this is a challenge for them to teach as they write. In other words, if they think the case is abysmal then why not teach what they think and let their students interact with it?
Chris King said…
Just an observation:

It seems illuminating to me that Loftus's view of philosophy of religion is that it is 60 years old.

If the philosophy of religion of the past 60 years is what he thinks can or should be disposed of in the classroom, then that leaves plenty of room for classes on what people like Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche have said about things like God, gods, immortality, and the soul. That's not to mention the room it leaves for discussion of the philosophical components of various strands of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Daoism, and Confucianism.

In other words, it looks like Loftus has a very particular view of what philosophy of religion is and a particular view of the kind of philosophy of religion class that he wants to see eliminated.
John W. Loftus said…
Here is my specific proposal:


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