Dr. Paul Draper on "What is Philosophy of Religion?"

Earlier I linked to what philosophers of religion think of Philosophy of Religion (PoR). The essay Jeff Lowder has linked to is by Paul Draper, who offers four suggestions on how to best approach the discipline in hopes of reforming it. I want to examine these suggestions in a little detail here.

Draper suggests (1) That philosophers of religion should "distance themselves in every way possible from apologetics, whether theistic or atheistic" since the goal of PoR should be "genuine inquiry."

First of all I see no reason why religious apologists in the classroom would accept such advice. Apologetics, in their minds, trump such dictatorial pronouncements without any teeth to them.

But what is atheistic apologetics? A few ideas come to mind, like obnoxious evangelism, presenting only one side to students to the exclusion of the other side, or teaching students what to think rather than how to think. What if atheist philosophers taught their students how to think in these classes? And what if it is very clear how we should think about these issues, such as there really can be no reasonable dispute? Peter Boghossian has challenged us to give faith-based claims no preferential treatment. I agree. There should be no dispute among atheist philosophers about this. Why not teach students the truth? Philosophers of religion are teaching their discipline in the wrong manner, as I argued here, saying
The "received model," the one I used, is that as instructors the main goal is to help students learn to think critically. The class could be on ethics or philosophy or the philosophy of religion, but for the most part these classes are little more than extensions of an Introduction to Critical Thinking class. The subject matter is important, since there is specific factual content to teach the students for each class, like Aristotle's view on ethics for an Ethics class, or Plato's Forms for a Introduction to Philosophy class, and Anselm's Ontological Argument for a Philosophy of Religion class. But the main goal is the same, to teach students to think critically, no matter what the subject matter is before them. In general, the philosophy instructor is not to "spoon feed" students the "answers" but let them hash it out themselves. If the class leans in one direction the instructor leans in the other, and vice versa, just to make the students think critically. Let them come to their own conclusions for the most part, is the model. It's not that the professor's conclusions didn't come through at times. It's just that they are not to argue for them much at all.
Draper says the goal would be genuine inquiry, which leads me to think he accepts the "received model" to some large degree. Dr. Peter Boghossian has challenged the "received model." He argues,
I believe our role as educators should be to teach students not just factual data, but the importance of critically examining beliefs by exposing them to facts, and then revising cherished notions when confronted with reliable but discomforting evidence....The primary goal of every academic should be to bring students’ beliefs into lawful alignment with reality.
He argues that faith is a cognitive malaise and should be given no credence in the classroom. I agree. I see no reason why any atheist philosopher would disagree. There is no genuine inquiring about this conclusion. We know faith cannot justify anything.

What Draper concedes in the fist half of his suggestion is what Hector Avalos has called for with regard to biblical studies. He calls for the end of biblical studies, that it should not have a religious orientation in the secular classroom. This acceptance alone goes a long way toward the same goal, even if religious apologists in the classroom won't accept it, and even if Draper thinks atheist philosophers should not press non-belief or skepticism upon students. Of course the second half of his suggestion is meant to silence atheist philosophers of religion by the same standards. But why? He either thinks the evidence favors non-belief as an atheist himself, or he thinks faith has epistemic warrant. Is he proposing that he will shut up if Christian apologists do? Why? Who is to monitor this compromise? Why should he accept it in the first place? The case against faith has been slammed shut in the last few decades.

(2) That philosophers of religion "use argument construction, less often as a method for making cases for the positions they hold, and more often as a method of testing those positions. This would require, of course, making a serious effort to construct arguments against one’s prior religious beliefs."

In other words, present the PoR according to the received model, except that religious professors should test their own faith based hypotheses. Would Draper equally say atheist philosophers should do the same? I'm sure religious apologists in the classroom would object to this advice if he's suggesting a one way street. And what possible testing can be done when it comes to faith based claims? We already know faith can provide no justification for anything.

(3) That philosophers of religion "make a conscious effort to allow, as J.L. Schellenberg puts it, 'the voice of authority to grow dim in our ears'. All too often, viable arguments and positions never occur to thinkers because dominant, traditional forms of religion overly influence those thinkers."

This is welcome advice except that religious professors would object, once again, that this is a one way street.

(4) That philosophers of religion should
make every effort to accept genuine risk. True inquiry requires risk, which is why philosophical inquiry is aided by doubt. In experimental science, balanced inquiry is easier (though still far from easy) to achieve. Even if a scientist is sure of some cherished hypothesis, testing that hypothesis by experiment is (in many cases) inherently risky. Apologetics by comparison is very safe insofar as pursuing it is very unlikely to result in apologists rejecting any of the central doctrines of the religious communities they serve. Philosophy should be riskier – philosophers of religion must be prepared to abandon cherished beliefs. But with that risk comes greater opportunities for growth and discovery, and for freeing oneself from service to inflexible orthodoxy.
Most apologists in the classroom already think they are open-minded but that their faith based claims have merit anyway. They would also say atheist philosophers should take this advice when it comes to being open-minded that faith based claims are justifiable. I'm sorry. We already know they aren't.

Draper ends by pleading with the Christian apologists to consider his suggestions with his last paragraph:
I realize, of course, that some philosophers who are sectarian theists might be unwilling to accept my recommendations. They might regard accepting them as in some way disloyal to their religious community or to their God. Yet in some sense such an attitude evinces a lack of faith. If there really is a God and if such a God wants us to engage in inquiry concerning ultimate reality, then surely such a God would want that inquiry to be balanced. The results of balanced inquiry, however, are unpredictable. For this reason, it is arguable that a theistic philosopher who decides to follow my advice...must have greater faith, greater trust in God, than one who decides to pursue the paradoxical path of the apologist." LINK.
This is welcome advice when it comes to Christian apologists, of course, by using their own language game of words against them. But again Christian apologists in the classroom use a Tu Quoque (or you too) on atheist philosophers, saying they would not be disloyal to their communities if they took seriously the goal of genuine (as opposed to atheist sectarian) inquiry.

Draper is trying to reform the discipline rather than revolutionize it. What he offers is a compromise that won't do much of anything to change the PoR as it's currently taught for one major reason: Most Christian apologists via PoR professors will not take seriously points 1-4, and skirt them by saying they should apply to atheist philosophers too. I simply see no reason why they would since apologetics for them trumps these suggestions. There is no teeth in what he's saying anyway, none at all. So we would be left in the same position we are in now.

Draper is advocating for a degree of secularization in the PoR, which I think is a start. However, nothing but the complete secularization of PoR departments is what we should call for since faith should not be advocated in any class taught in the secular universities. This is the only consistent position to take. Furthermore, in calling for this bold proposal, secular philosophers will be emboldened to do more than they're doing, just as Peter Boghossian is doing in his classes and Hector Avalos is doing in his.

Hector calls on biblical scholars to completely secularize their biblical studies classes because 1) This is right thing to do, given the mythical nature of these ancient pre-scientific documents, and 2) Because any other proposal would be inconsistent with the facts. He goes on to argue that secular professors should disabuse their students of the view that the Bible is relevant in today's society or divinely inspired. Peter Boghossian is calling for secular professors in the PoR to disabuse their students of faith as a means for gaining knowledge or a virtue. To truly call for the end of the PoR, following Hector Avalos's model, and what Boghossian has argued in his book, is to do just that. This may depend on pragmatic issues concerning the feasibility of doing so with one's students, and the administrators of a given college.

Why then would Draper not propose teaching the PoR in the right way and consistent with the facts? I don't get it, especially since his four suggestions are paper tigers with no teeth to them.

Compromise is helpful when there are people willing to compromise. I see no reason at all to think Christian theistic believers will compromise, so why not just tell it like it is? The bottom line is faith is unjustifiable. You know it. I know it. Draper should know it. Why doesn't he just say so? Why doesn't he propose to eliminate faith from the PoR just as Avalos proposed eliminating apologetics from biblical studies? Hector has balls, argues for what he thinks, and also walks the talk. So does Boghossian.

Think of it this way. Compromise can only take place when people put what they want on the table for negotiating purposes. Why then should anyone start out the negotiating process by proposing a middle position, one that no Christian will take seriously anyway? Why not state what you want, all of it? Why doesn't Draper? Or is it he doesn't think faith is always unreasonable unjustifiable and wrongheaded? If he does then we have the real dividing line between us, between philosophers who think faith has epistemic warrant from those who don't. I don't. I'm willing to put what I think on the table, argue for it and walk the talk.

This is what I think, as I wrote here at DC:
What's wrong with Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Haitian Voodoo, Animism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Scientology, Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, the Unification Church, and the many tribal and folk religions? Faith. You know it. I know it. We all know it. The adherents of these religions do not believe based on sufficient evidence because faith is a leap over the probabilities, an irrational leap over the probabilities. If they thought exclusively in terms of the probabilities they would not believe at all. Now that we've got that straight, what's wrong with Christianity? Faith. :-) You know it. I know it. We all should know it.
What sophisticated theologians have succeeded at doing is morphing a small ancient cult religion into something so foreign that even the original Christians would not recognize it. We know the origins of Christianity are bogus, as Jaco Gericke wrote in my anthology "The End of Christianity." If the source of their religion can be shown to have no reasonable basis in evidence then it's based on faith just as is Scientology. To be quite frank, I have come to the conclusion that Christianity, especially evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity, is no more to be respected than Scientology. I wonder how many people defending the PoR simply like to entertain and solve the intellectual puzzles put forth by Craig, Swinburne and Plantinga, rather than saying forthrightly these conclusions are bogus by reminding them of the actual basis for Christianity? The longer Scientology exists the more sophisticated their theologians will become. Christians have had about 2000 years to hone their skills at defending the utterly irrational, that's all.

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