Faith is an irrational leap over the need for evidence. Faith has no intellectual merit. It is not a virtue. It has no method. It solves no problems. It is not worthy of thinking people.
John W. Loftus
Typically Philosophy of Religion (PoR), a subdisciple of its parent philosophy, concerns itself with evaluating the cases made for and against religious claims on behalf of deities and the miracles attributed to them, if any. It seeks to understand those claims (if possible) and to examine the arguments put forth, both pro and con, by the canons of reasons and evidence. The primary goal of PoR is not to merely understand religion.
That’s for a religion or comparative religion discipline or class. Believing PoR scholars put forth their arguments, and non-believing PoR scholars attempt to debunk them. Students in PoR classes are introduced to these arguments and made to think through them. This subdiscipline is to be found in many secular universities. I argue that it should be ended. It is unworthy of thinking people and should be ejected from secular institutions. I also argue that outside the secular university, most debates back and forth typically do not treat religion and its claims correctly, which also should be ended. And I show how PoR should be done properly, if it’s to be done at all.
Philosophy of religion should end for several good reasons.
Reason One: Because (a) the PoR discipline is dominated by Christian theists who (b) argue for the claims of their faith in these classes (c) when no other intellectual discipline in a secular university would tolerate faith or the belief in super natural beings and / or forces as explanations of particular phenomena or justify any conclusions.
First, it’s a fact that PoR is dominated by Christian philosophers. To demonstrate this, let us first determine religious attitudes among philosophers generally and then compare them to such attitudes among practitioners of PoR.
In 2009, David Chalmers of the Australian National University and David Bourget of London University surveyed professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views. The survey was completed by 3,226 respondents, including 1,803 philosophy faculty members and / or those with PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.
What did philosophers think about God?
Accept or lean towards:
atheism 678 / 931 (72.8%)
Accept or lean towards:
theism 136 / 931 (14.6%)
Other 171 / 931 (12.5%)
If we add in the “other”category, which would include adherents of New Age beliefs, deism, and agnosticism, then nearly 86 per cent of professional philosophers are non believers. Among those philosophers who are believers, I dare say most of them are probably not card-carrying evangelicals, since this poll data includes Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and those who merely accept the so-called philosopher’s god.
By contrast, Anthony Gottlieb reports that among specialists in the philosophy of religion, the ratio of philosophers who are more likely to favor theism is 72 to 19. Believers dominate this discipline.
Second, these Christian philosophers argue for the claims of their faith in these classes. The question is why any secular university should have a subdiscipline in which theism, Christian theism, Christian theology, or Christian apologetic is privileged and considered to the exclusion of other religions or apologetics. It shouldn’t. If this is the state of affairs, then the only reasonable response is to call for the end of that subdiscipline. Now!
Third, no other intellectual discipline in a secular university would tolerate faith-based claims. This is obvious. After all, we’re talking about secular universities, ones that do not take a stand on religion but try to teach subjects without reference to God, gods, supernatural forces, or beings as explanations.
Reason Two: Because the PoR is presently in a deep two-fold crisis.
First, philosophers of religion cannot even agree on what it is or how it should be taught.
Second, as atheist philosopher Keith Parsons wrote when he quit teaching the PoR: “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.
I agreed most emphatically with Parsons on this. The arguments in support of Christian theism have all been refuted. PoR should end as a discipline of higher learning.
Reason Three: Because the PoR as taught in the Western world, especially in the United States, is largely not taught correctly.
First, to teach PoR correctly, the professor should tell the truth about faith’s lack of epistemic status. Faith is an irrational leap over the need for evidence. Faith has no intellectual merit. It is not a virtue. It has no method. It solves no problems. It is not worthy of thinking people. Religion does not survive the requirement for sufficient objective evidence precisely because it’s based on faith.
Second, it is parochial in nature. The very issues discussed in most PoR classes, whether taught by secular or believing philosophers, are neither multicultural nor anthropologically oriented. The questions discussed are almost exclusively dominated by conservative (or evangelical) Christian philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and William Lane Craig, to mention a few. Discussing these issue legitimizes them to the exclusion of a more global perspective and presumes far too much. Why single out conservative Christian PoR as meriting respect over the millions of animists out there, or pantheists, or still others across the East?
Third, it doesn’t treat all religious claims and paranormal claims equally. The only mature way to deal with religious faiths is to treat their claims all the same, no matter how sophisticated some of them may be, by putting them all on an equal playing field. PoR should discuss Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist views and religious concepts. By extension, I would think, it should also discuss the views of other religions. Of course, if PoR classes did this and did it well, then they would be comparative religion classes.
Reason Four: Because there are plenty of other classes in the larger discipline of philosophy that already address issues such as critical thinking, epistemology, ethics, historical surveys of the PoR, and so on. Why should the PoR deserve more respect than that, given what I have just highlighted? That’s the question.
Reason Five: Because at every juncture, science disconfirms the claims of religious faith, making them at best unnecessary, as LaPlace once quipped to Napoleon.
Excerpts from ‘Free Inquiry’ October / November 2017
John W. Loftus was an ordained Minister and Instructor of apologetics before rejecting Christianity.