Dr. Jaco Gericke Now Agrees With Me. Who's Next? Dr. Keith Parsons?

Previously I challenged Jaco Gericke to reconsider my call to end the Philosophy of Religion [POR] discipline in secular universities, based on Dr. Peter Boghossian's call to revolutionize our academic institutions and by using the same method Dr. Hector Avalos pioneered with regard to ending biblical studies, seen in his excellent book, The End of Biblical Studies.Well, I am happy to report that Gericke now agrees with me.


Later Gericke added, "Of course, I have to admit I am biased towards keeping the field alive as I have a vested interest in there being a market for what I do. Also, perhaps not everyone needs all that theory to know that Christianity is not true or to tell evangelists to f-off." My response to him is that such a bias is not a good reason to prefer retaining the discipline in secular universities, nor is a vested interest any better.

Who's next? Two years ago I challenged Dr. Keith Parsons to reconsider teaching POR classes again after quiting, based on the arguments of Peter Boghossian. In the comments section you can read my most vocal and ignorant critic, Taylor Carr, agreeing that Parsons should reconsider teaching in the POR again as Boghossian and I have argued. Strange that! What changed his mind? Parsons initially misunderstood what we meant, which is common, for he initially thought it meant teaching students what to think (Parsons and Boghossian exchange thoughts in the comments). In the end Parsons wrote:
When the claims are epistemological rather than scientific, which ones are so beyond a reasonable doubt? Shamelessly oversimplifying, consider these two:

1) Scientific method is a reliable belief-forming process.

2) Faith is not a reliable belief-forming process.

Now, I certainly agree that scientific method constitutes (or encompasses) reliable belief-forming processes and that (pace postmodernists, social constructivists, epistemological relativists, etc.) there is no reasonable doubt that these cognitive processes are indeed reliable means to knowledge of objective, external, non-socially-constructed reality. I would have no hesitation at all about presenting (1) to a class as simply so, though, of course, I would elaborate and flesh out just how scientific procedures work and what makes them so effective (as I do in my book Copernican Questions).

What about (2)? Should I present it to a class with the same degree of aplomb? First, of course, I have to consider practical matters. I teach in Texas, and if an instructor is perceived as too truculently anti-religious, the students just clam up and you can practically see the mental doors slamming. In that case, your chances of effecting any sort of enlightenment are nil. Still, even Texas students (maybe especially Texas students!) need to have their assumptions challenged, so what do we do? I would assert (2) to a class but I would be very careful to say just what I meant by “faith.” I would make it abundantly clear that what I was attacking was something like “faith” in the sense defined by Ambrose Bierce: “Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.” “Faith” is a vague term, and to attack it without proper and careful qualification would be perceived as an attack on religious belief per se and—at least in these here parts—would certainly be wholly counterproductive.
Notice that in his last comment Parsons says he just could not do it because the students wouldn't like it. Now I understand this, I do, but then he doesn't offer a principled objection to what Boghossian or Avalos or Jerry Coyne or James Lindsay or I have argued. He merely offers a practical objection.

So here are a few questions for Dr. Parsons, my good reasonable friend. What is your principled objection to what Boghossian and Avalos are arguing for and doing in their classes? Do you think Nietzsche was wrong to call for and predict the death of God? Why, if so? If not, are we wrong to call for and predict the death of the philosophy of religion? Is the practical issue considered by you to be a serious objection to our arguments? Do you think faith has any epistemic warrant at all? Yes or no? Should we think exclusively in terms of the probabilities? Yes or no? If we think exclusively in terms of the probabilities then is there any need for faith as an explanation or justification for knowledge? Wouldn't belief at that point always be "belief without evidence"? And finally, shouldn't secular professors in philosophy of religion classes do what all other professors do in their respective intellectual disciplines in secular universities, by disallowing faith as an explanation or justification for knowledge claims about the nature of nature?

The dividing line in this debate is between philosophers who think faith has epistemic warrant and those who don't. I don't. Neither do professors Boghossian, Avalos, Jerry Coyne or James Lindsay and a growing number of others, which now includes professor Jaco Gericke. Why should faith be granted any privilege at all in our secular universities when no other discipline of learning can appeal to faith in God, gods, goddesses or supernatural forces as explanations or justifications for knowledge claims? I don't think it should, especially in a secular university.

Atheist philosophers of religion who take the time to read what Boghossian, Avalos, Coyne, Lindsay and myself have written, rather than caricatures by Carr and links by Jeff Lowder, should have no objection to our call for the end of the POR, none, since they agree with us that faith is never justifiable as an explanation or claim to knowledge about the nature of nature. The only people warranted to teach the POR in secular universities would be secular philosophers of religion who agree that faith is unwarranted and unjustified. No religious professor can teach it like this so they should not be teaching it at all. Unfortunately for believers, faith is the basis for all religions, therefore religions are all false. Secular philosophers of religion who do teach it should seek to disabuse their students of the notion that faith is a virtue, or a reliable method for gaining knowledge about the nature of nature. So they would be undermining, or ending this discipline, just as Peter Boghossian does in his philosophy classes at Portland State University, and Hector Avalos does in his biblical studies classes at Iowa State University.

Ed Brayton said it himself:
Here's the thing about faith: It defends every single position equally well, which means it defends none well. Imagine this conversation:

Christian: I believe the Bible is the word of God and my defense for that position is faith.

Muslim: I believe the Quran is the word of God and my defense for that position is faith.

Neither one can say anything at all to the other in opposition to their defense of their position without undermining their own defense. Faith provides no means at all of discerning true claims from false claims. This is why faith is almost always used as a get-out-of-logic free card, as a means of insulating one's claims from rational criticism.
I see no reason at all to think theistic POR professors in secular universities don't have this kind of faith, even if it's a more sophisticated version of that theology (as Jerry Coyne describes them). It's faith just the same and they should not be allowed to teach in secular universities, not only because it's a secular university but more importantly because faith is always unjustifiable. Theistic philosophers of religion should be drummed out of these POR departments, or the departments themselves closed down, precisely because they offer faith as an explanation when no other intellectual discipline in a secular university would tolerate it. That includes Christian philosopher of religion Dr. Victor Reppert, a lifelong friend of Keith Parsons, who perhaps holds Parsons back from endorsing what reason tells him is right (one never knows, it can happen to us all).

No personal offense intended Keith, as I greatly value your friendship and intellectual capabilities.

[For other posts on this issue click on the tag below].

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