In Defense of Peter Boghossian's Tweet About the Philosophy of Religion

Jeff Lowder has produced what he called a "reductio ad absurdum argument against Boghossian’s ridiculous tweet." A big brouhaha is taking place because of it. Me? I try to first understand what someone is saying before I criticize it. I try to state the argument better than the original if I can, something neither Justin Schieber nor Taylor Carr have done in addition to Lowder.

Here's Boghossian's tweet:
Being published in the philosophy of religion should disqualify one from sitting at the adult table. — Peter Boghossian (@peterboghossian) June 15, 2014.
Jeff quotes this tweet and proceeds to put together a very impressive list of atheist philosophers. It was a complete surprise to see my name in that list, by the way, for which I am very thankful. Jeff's point is that if published philosophers of religion should be disqualified to sit at the adult table then so should published atheist philosophers of religion. Since it's clear these atheist philosophers of religion are not to be disqualified as childish, therefore Boghossion's claim is absurd. Stay with me. I'm about to defend Boghossion. After all, I consider myself to be his bulldog.

I want to first explain why I'm doing this. It would seem I'm looking for controversy and love the attention. I've been blasted for this but it is not the case at all. If there is any over-riding motive to defending what an atheist writes it's because I am trying to keep us united as much as possible. I am trying to mediate our differences as they come up, and as I have something to say about them. Of course, I get shot at from both sides sometimes but that's what happens if you have that goal and are willing to offer unasked for advice.

It's interesting to me but also disheartening to see so much division among atheists. Some of it is important of course, but much of it isn't. Much of it is pure politics and the jostling of positions, rather than trying to find agreement in a higher purpose that looks beyond our differences. Some of it is mere nickpicking, making a mountain out of a mole hill. Whenever you find another atheist to be wrong about something and feel led to say it then also consider what he or she has to offer, and say that as well. Many of these nitpickers attack atheists who are actually doing something to change the religious landscape, and no one gets everything right all of the time. So there will be plenty to nitpick about. Usually the nitpickers haven't done anything by comparison to promote atheist causes. It's probably the nature of the beast. It's disheartening just the same. I feel bad for the atheists who are being picked on, especially my friend Peter Boghossian.

So with that said, here goes.

I've spoken with Peter and he stands by what he said, although he didn't exactly say why. Let me try to be charitable with him.

The only reason the philosophy of religion exists is because there are people who believe without sufficient evidence and seek to defend by logic what doesn't have sufficient evidence for it. The only reason why atheist philosophers enter this discipline is because, as C.S.Lewis said, "Good philosophy must exist because bad philosophy must be answered." In other words, if no one accepted anything based on insufficient evidence this discipline wouldn't even exist.

When talking he and I agreed that we have no respect for a scientifically uninformed philosophy, or a scientifically uninformed philosophy of religion. But look at what this does. Any scientifically informed philosophy of religion authors worthy of the name are atheists, and they only enter in the field because of bad philosophy, the kind that Peter is writing about. So people who do bad philosophy of religion without sufficient evidence should be disqualified to sit at the proverbial adult table, and if this were to take place then the discipline might not even exist. After all, if there was no bad philosophy then good philosophy wouldn't have to exist (per C.S. Lewis above). What we would have instead is neurology, physics, astronomy, psychology, etc.

Now, that's the most charitable explanation of what Boghossian is saying. If I understand him correctly there is more meat to his tweet than first meets the eye. You can still disagree with him, of course, but his point is deeper than an uncharitable understanding might lead some people to conclude. At the very minimum he's being a provocateur, which is good enough. At the most he's calling for an end to scientifically uninformed philosophy of religion, perhaps in the same way as Dr. Hector Avalos has called for the end of biblical studies in his book on the subject. I fully support Avalos's project so why wouldn't I also fully support what Boghossian is probably saying? I do.