Should Philosophy of Religion Be Ended?


According to Peter Boghossian, John Loftus, James A. Lindsay, Jerry Coyne, and others, the academic discipline known as Philosophy of Religion has no legitimate place in a modern secular university. Now our friend over at the Skeptic Zone blog, IM Skeptical, has joined their ranks. Taking a paper by James N. Anderson and Greg Welty, "The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic," as emblematic for the entire discipline of Philosophy of Religion (or PoR), he proceeds to critique their argument and draw this grand conclusion: "It [theistic philosophy] is entirely based on theistic assumptions. It does not provide any assurance that those assumptions are true. Those assumptions are never properly justified."
 
Now I certainly would not accept Skeptical's critique as valid. For example, he disputes Anderson and Welty's premise, "The laws of logic are necessary truths" on the grounds that, well, no one knows what is possible and what is not. A world in which logical truths are not necessary truths "would be," he says, "a world of chaos (by our standards), but does that mean such a world can't possibly exist? I don't know, and neither does anyone else, despite any claims to the contrary." But Skeptical's brash denial of the premise that logical axioms are necessarily true misses the point. The whole purpose for the philosophical notion of modal logic and possible worlds is to ascertain what may be possible or necessary according to the rules of logic. Clearly if there is any world at all that is "not possible," it's one in which the rules of logic do not hold!
 
Given Skeptical's premise, then, he has no basis for asserting it, for the very reason that our world – according to his premise, not mine – may in fact be a world in which logical truths do not hold necessarily. We may think that arguments in which the premises are true and the conclusion follows from them are sound, when actually they are not – but of course that's just the sort of thing to expect of an illogical world. In an illogical world, what would appear chaotic ("by our standards") in a logical world might well appear logical instead. Propositions that are actually false would appear true, and vice-versa. In short: If logical truths aren't true in every possible world, there's no possible means of determining whether or not they are true in ours.
 
Nor would I agree that all the arguments by theist philosophers of religion are "based on theist premises." Take Plantinga's now-famous "free will defense," acknowledged widely by philosophers theist and atheist alike as an effective response to the logical argument from evil: The free will defense is actually based on atheistic premises, as laid out by noted unbelievers such as Epicurus, Hume and J.L. Mackie. Plantinga merely points out that the set of premises supporting the argument from evil as a reductio ad absurdum are not, strictly speaking, logically contradictory, and therefore the reductio fails. He then proposes human free will as one possible reason God might have for permitting evil.
 
But stepping back from Skeptical's atheistic world of logically impossible possibilities, and from the theistic world of plain old-fashioned logical possibilities, to the issue at hand: Skeptical's larger point seems to be that PoR, as practiced by Christian theists, amounts to a large and expensive exercise in question-begging apologetics. I don't think that's true but let's say he's right. I would think that if this were really the case, the various atheist, non-theist and non-Christian philosophers within the discipline of PoR could simply point that out, or at least could point out the many instances of question-begging. Indeed the discipline is largely dedicated to exploring just those sorts or arguments. Meanwhile, either religion is worth arguing or it's not. My message to the critics of PoR is this: If religion is not worth arguing about, then by all means don't argue about it. But if you argue about it, expect counterarguments. I say that only because it seems to me as if the atheist critics of PoR are more than willing to make grand pronouncements about religion being indefensible, but are not willing to defend those very pronouncements. Or at least I can imagine no other reason why they would be moving to do away with PoR in the first place.
 
 

Comments

im-skeptical said…
Atheist PoRs (like Parsons and Oppy) agree that theistic arguments are bad. The difference between them and me is that they think teaching bad philosophy is OK.
Joe Hinman said…
Boghozzian is a extremist, practically a nazi, Loftus is an idiot.
Joe Hinman said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Hinman said…
Atheist PoRs (like Parsons and Oppy) agree that theistic arguments are bad. The difference between them and me is that they think teaching bad philosophy is OK.

Parson's does not accept Boghozzian, He;s totally against that kind of thing,He is certainly at odds with Loftius who insults him. Parson's has never see my Giod arguments but he likes my argument that he has seen,
im-skeptical said…
Good argument, Joe.
Joe Hinman said…
Skepie hre is what Parsons said to me

Keith Parsons Joe Hinman • 6 days ago
Joe,

I put you in a totally different category than the "average fundie." I have enjoyed many high-quality discussions with you. Some commentators, like one with whom I just had an exchange in another comments section, seem to get nasty because they have nothing insightful to say. I know that is not the case with you, so I am asking you and the others to cool it. When I go to a comments box and see insults, it is like visual pollution. Jeez, don't we hear enough that shit from the likes of Donald Trump?!?!


im-skeptical said…
Joe,

He puts up with your crappy arguments because you don't treat him the way you treat so many others. I don't think he actually believes you make good arguments. You don't.
Joe Hinman said…
yes except he said what he said. hie has not reason to humanizer.you don't know anything you're uneducated and unread, and your not worth my time.
im-skeptical said…
You see? If you spoke that way to Parsons, he wouldn't give you the time of day, either. But he wants to encourage civil discourse. That's what he was saying in the comment you cited. He did tell you that your conversation (not directed at him) was "pointless and juvenile" bickering.

One thing you'll have a hard time finding is a quote of Parsons saying that he agrees with the argument you make. Because he doesn't. But he doesn't like to be blunt and tell you directly "That's stupid." He'd rather carry on a "high-quality" discussion (that is, lacking in the kind of gutter-sniping that he claims to despise).

I try to engage your arguments, and for the most part, ignore your juvenile behavior. But I'm not afraid to point out when you say something that makes no sense (which you often do). For example, I have addressed your ridiculous butchering of Jean-Paul Sartre's philosophy here.
Joe Hinman said…
You see? If you spoke that way to Parsons, he wouldn't give you the time of day, either. But he wants to encourage civil discourse. That's what he was saying in the comment you cited. He did tell you that your conversation (not directed at him) was "pointless and juvenile" bickering.

you forfeited the right to civil discourse by being dishonest about methodology and by being arrogant and ignorant and trying to brow beat your way through bits you don't understand, parsons doesn't do that stuff because he doesn't criticize things he doesn't know about, and also youj are banned but you keep coming back,

One thing you'll have a hard time finding is a quote of Parsons saying that he agrees with the argument you make. Because he doesn't.

wrong we agree a lot on politics.



But he doesn't like to be blunt and tell you directly "That's stupid." He'd rather carry on a "high-quality" discussion (that is, lacking in the kind of gutter-sniping that he claims to despise).

you ignorance leads you to fill in the gaps with ideology. you arrogance leads you to imagine that you are always right.

I try to engage your arguments, and for the most part, ignore your juvenile behavior. But I'm not afraid to point out when you say something that makes no sense (which you often do). For example, I have addressed your ridiculous butchering of Jean-Paul Sartre's philosophy here.

when that happens it's usually because you know so little you lack the background to see the profound nature of my arguments.
Joe Hinman said…
Skepie never bothers to read beyond the first line, he's so sure he's right he just doesn't have to. Most of the back and forth yamering between us was about him forcing me to repeat arguments i had already given and him not listening to them again.
Don McIntosh said…
"Atheist PoRs (like Parsons and Oppy) agree that theistic arguments are bad."

Yes, in one sense that explains why they are atheists. But in another sense it doesn't explain anything: to generalize that theistic arguments are "bad" says nothing of why they are bad. In philosophy, as both Parsons and Oppy seem to realize, having specific, defensible reasons for holding a position is rather important. (Otherwise the statement that theistic arguments are "bad" has all the rational content of a schoolyard insult.)

"The difference between them and me is that they think teaching bad philosophy is OK."

More importantly, they (especially Oppy) are willing to engage the arguments themselves, rather than "refute" all of theism by simply pronouncing it unworthy of their time or attention. (Parsons publicly said "goodbye to all that" a few years ago but seems to have gradually re-immersed himself.)
im-skeptical said…
In philosophy, as both Parsons and Oppy seem to realize, having specific, defensible reasons for holding a position is rather important. ... they (especially Oppy) are willing to engage the arguments themselves, rather than "refute" all of theism by simply pronouncing it unworthy of their time or attention.

That's right. And having engaged the arguments, the conclusion is that they are bad arguments. Now, you seem to be making the accusation that others (like myself) don't do that. But I challenge you to show where I have simply dismissed "all of theism" without addressing the arguments. I do address arguments, even if you don't like what I have to say about them. I keep hearing this again and gain. But it is YOU who refuses to engage on the real issues: "I would refute the rest of your post if I thought it worth the time and trouble. Thankfully, I don't."
Don McIntosh said…
Skeptical, you posted a message calling for the end of Philosophy of Religion, based on your personal critique of a single article whose argument is founded, so you say, on "theistic premises" (such as "The laws of logic are necessary truths") – a critique of which the authors are probably unaware and therefore have had no opportunity to rebut. You further asserted that all theistic arguments are like this.

For my part I never claimed that atheistic arguments are collectively bad (so bad that they should have no place in a University, for example). But I do consider some atheistic arguments more interesting than others. That applies to your arguments. My opening post here was a reply to a post of yours, which should tell you that I have no qualms about answering (some of) your arguments. But I didn't bother much with your previous allegation – that I know nothing about science and my arguments are straw men – because it's not worth my trouble to try and prove otherwise. If it's important for you to declare that I’m ignorant of science – or lazy, or dishonest, or cowardly, or whatever else – I won't try to stop you.
im-skeptical said…
Don,

I am encouraged by what you say here - that you might actually be willing to have some reasoned discussion. Give me some time, and I'll provide a response that addresses the issues you raise in this post.

On the other hand, perhaps there's a tendency for both of us to stretch the others' statements a bit too far and then become upset about something that was not actually said. You were evidently bothered by what you perceived in my earlier post: "that I know nothing about science and my arguments are straw men". But I said neither of those things. I pointed out a specific area of science (QM) where your understanding falls short (and I explained exactly why), and I said that a specific argument you presented was a straw man (because it's not a true representation of the atheistic argument, and that's what you proceeded to shoot down). But I did not extend those statements to all areas of science, or to all arguments.

You offered good advice, but then failed to follow it yourself:
The subtleties and nuances of the language we speak make reasonable conversation dependent on taking at least a minimally charitable interpretation of our partners in communication. Skeptical routinely takes the most uncharitable interpretation possible of what we say – resulting in a "straw man" of his own making, not ours (again the irony runs deep here) – then expects us to prove that skeptical interpretation false before we can discuss anything of substance. It's a technique reserved for advanced trolls.

I encourage you and Joe both to be a little more charitable in reading what I say, and I'll try to do the same.

BK said…
The argument that the Philosophy of Religion has no legitimate place in a modern secular university is a truism. Of course, if the university is committed to secular, atheistic principles, arguments for the existence of God are necessarily unworthy of consideration. In the view of the secularist, it is akin to arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin without any reason to believe that angels exist.

However, if the university is a true university committed to the idea of truth, then the Philosophy of Religion is both a necessary and respected member of the field of study. It is an idea that has been debated by philosophers (often concluding that God is necessary) almost since the beginning of Philosophical discourse. It is only the limited-thinking of a small number of secularists today who believe that their narrow viewpoints constitute the whole of philosophical thinking and has sounded the death knell to religious thought.

Logic has not come close to proving that God or a god or gods does or do not exist. Science, while helpful to the secularists due to the way that it is interpreted and communicated, has also failed to demonstrate that God, a god or gods does or do not exist. I swear, this entire argument about the legitimacy of the Philosophy of Religion is more akin to arguing over angels dancing on the head of a pin than anything that is actually discussed in philosophy.
Don McIntosh said…
Skeptical, thanks for the comments. I think you are probably correct in that we both do tend to overstate things and then overreact. I am all for reasonable, friendly dialogue, if it can be had. (We should both realize that takes a lot of patience and hard work.) Looking forward to reading your reply.

In the meantime I'll need you to please explain how the following comments do not imply that I am woefully ignorant, not only of QM but of the whole enterprise of science: "Don discusses the idea of 'causality in science' without any real understanding of what that means." Then, "So Don, proceeds to formulate something that might be called a 'virtual argument', based on his poor understanding of science." Finally, "Don makes a snarky comment based on his lack of understanding of science:..."

Now if those were examples of the sorts of overstatements you mentioned, that's fine, but you seem to have suggested that your remarks were actually fairly measured, while I was the one who overreacted: "I did not extend those statements to all areas of science," you said, "or to all arguments." Now if you genuinely don't mean to extend those statements to all areas of science, or to all my arguments (as a theist), I would think you need to edit two posts at your blog: The "Argument from Non-Causality" post (for reasons given in my remarks directly above) and the "Why Philosophy of Science Should End" post (for reasons given in my opening post of this thread).
im-skeptical said…
I have made reply at my blog. (4 comments)
im-skeptical said…
Don, when I said "science" I was referring specifically to QM, which was, after all, the what your post was about. I wasn't talking about chemistry, or biology, or any number of other areas of science. My wording was somewhat ambiguous in that regard, and that was a source of misunderstanding.

The remark about not extending to "all arguments" refers specifically to the accusation of defining your arguments as straw men. I said that about one specific argument only.
im-skeptical said…
I would think you need to edit two posts at your blog: The "Argument from Non-Causality" post (for reasons given in my remarks directly above) and the "Why Philosophy of Science Should End" post (for reasons given in my opening post of this thread).

It appears you don't want to respond. I'm sorry to hear that. You seem to be demanding that I go back and change my posts, after I explained exactly what I meant, because you still want to interpret in a way that was not intended. Meanwhile, I don't see you explaining retracting any of your own ad hominem attacks on me at all. I can only assume that you meant all of it. This is kind of a lopsided game, isn't it? OK. Have it your way. I shall expect no reasoned discourse from you.

Regarding what I said in Why Philosophy of Science Should End, you seem to be upset that I said theistic arguments are based on unjustified assumptions, even though that statement was not about you or directed at you. It was my primary justification for decrying the teaching of bad methods of argumentation to philosophy students. Perhaps you think I'm wrong. So go ahead and challenge me on what I have claimed. Show me a theistic argument for God that you think doesn't make some unjustified assumption. I will show you exactly where the assumption is included in that argument. You can't do it, because I'm right.
Don McIntosh said…
"You can't do it, because I'm right."

There are (at least) two possible reasons why I wouldn't bother to answer your arguments further:

1. I cannot show that you that you are wrong, because you are right; I now realize this and therefore I realize that to further disagree with you has become a losing proposition for me.

2. I have become bored with this discussion, partly because I am not nearly as impressed with your latest round of arguments as you are, and partly because there is not much point to it anyway, since you have (clearly) already decided that you are right.

I am telling you now that (2) is correct. But this being the Internet, you are of course free to say that I am lying and assert that actually (1) is correct.

im-skeptical said…
I have become bored with this discussion, partly because I am not nearly as impressed with your latest round of arguments as you are, and partly because there is not much point to it anyway, since you have (clearly) already decided that you are right.

What's the point of presenting an argument if it can't be debated? You think I'm brash for saying that I'm right, but aren't you saying the same thing? Between the two of us, I'm the one who is willing to engage in discussion and debate the issues.
Don McIntosh said…
Skeptical, when you declared your intention to interpret my posts more charitably, I believed you (charitably). When I looked over the replies on your site, though, most of what I saw were extremely uncharitable interpretations (refusing to acknowledge what I clearly meant by referring to the argument from evil reductio as an atheist position, for example). It’s almost like you’re trying to maximize disagreement. As I mentioned before that sort of thing doesn’t interest me in the least.

But look on the bright side. You posted a four part rebuttal to my post that went totally unchallenged. Now you can boast that you won the debate.
JBsptfn said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
im-skeptical said…
refusing to acknowledge what I clearly meant by referring to the argument from evil reductio as an atheist position, for example

Hold on a minute. I was replying to what you said. You said "The free will defense is actually based on atheistic premises". If you meant something completely different from what you said, how am I supposed to know that? I'm all for making a charitable interpretation, but you need to communicate what you mean. Yes, I agree that atheists believe that the argument from evil is effective. But its premises are theistic premises, and Plantinga's defense supports those premises. There is nothing about Plantinga's defense that depends on any atheistic assumption or premise. So if I have (understandably) not understood what you meant, why don't you just explain it further so that I do understand? It's not as if I refuse to debate the substance of your argument.
Don McIntosh said…
Skeptical, the argument from evil (an atheistic argument) takes a set of theological propositions (theistic premises if you prefer) at face value to create a reductio ad absurdum, in an attempt to demonstrate that theism is incoherent. The free will defense (a theist argument) takes the argument from evil reductio (an atheistic premise) at face value to demonstrate that there is actually no contradiction in the set of theological propositions used to create the reductio in the first place.

How are you supposed to know that? Well for one thing, as we have already discussed, you have to be charitable in your interpretations. An interpretation in which I am simply unable to discern any difference between theistic and atheistic propositions is decidedly uncharitable (though it probably wins style points with the home crowd at the "Skeptic Zone"). Additionally you have to be relatively honest and intelligent. As of now I am convinced only that you are relatively intelligent.
Don McIntosh said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
im-skeptical said…
Don,

The problem here seems to be simply failure to get across the meaning of what we are trying to express. When you say the argument from evil is "an atheistic premise", it is quite confusing, because there is no atheistic premise anywhere in that argument. The argument succeeds because the theistic premises and logic are absurd. Your use of the word "premises" in particular doesn't make sense. That word has a particular meaning that can be found in the dictionary. It is a proposition that forms the basis of a logical argument. There are no atheistic premises in the argument. But you seem to be using it to mean the argument itself, as if "the argument from evil" is a premise, or something like that. Sorry, but I never heard the word "premise" used in that manner.

So how am I supposed to know that? You need to explain what you mean, if you expect me to understand you. This is not an issue of charitable interpretation. Your use of the word doesn't comply with the dictionary definition, and then you call me uncharitable for not understanding what you meant. And not only that, but you resume your childish ad hominem attacks.

I think we can see who's making an effort here, and who's not.
Don McIntosh said…
Skeptical,

Honestly I think you're right. I believe it is the job of the presenter to explain himself as clearly as possible without stooping to personal insults or insinuations when misunderstood. Forgive me the lapse of patience.

Don Mc
im-skeptical said…
Let's hope we can move on in a spirit of friendly debate.

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