On Ending the Philosophy of Religion Discipline

I intend to do a series of posts on my call to end the philosophy of religion (PoR) discipline in secular universities, by answering the following questions: 1) Why do I propose ending PoR as a subdiscipline of Philosophy proper in the secular universities?; 2) What should we know when it comes to ending the PoR?; 3) What exactly is my proposal?; 4) What are the best ways to examine the claims of religion?; 5) What are some practical steps to help facilitate this proposal?; and 6) Why do secular philosophers of religion object to this proposal? In this post I intend to answer question #1. To read further posts in this series click on the tag below, "Ending Philosophy of Religion."
Why do I propose ending the PoR as a 
subdiscipline of Philosophy proper 
in the secular universities?

1) Because the PoR as taught in the western world, especially in the United States, is largely not taught correctly.

(a) To teach it correctly the professor should tell the truth about the lack of epistemic status of faith. 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. I do not think any Christian theist is actually an evidentialist, but rather stricken with so many cognitive biases it should make them dizzy when they stand up. They merely feign being evidentialists, that's all. They present nothing but a dressed up presuppositionalism, based on special pleading and begging the question. A true evidentialist does not presuppose one's own conclusion. Rather, he or she looks for sufficient objective evidence and does not count negative evidence as evidence. Negative evidence is the so-called evidence from phenomena that cannot yet be explained by science. Evidentialists also adopt the scientific method and methodological naturalism. Christianity does not survive the requirement for sufficient objective evidence precisely because it is based on faith. In fact, someday soon I'm going to write about the fact that the apologetical method most Christians reject by far (at least 83% of them, but probably more) is evidentialism, and those who say they embrace it are deluded).

(b) It is parochial in nature. The very issues discussed in most all of these classes, whether taught by secular or believing philosophers, are not multicultural or anthropologically oriented. The questions discussed are almost exclusively dominated by recent analytical conservative (or evangelical) Christian philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and William Lane Craig, to mention a few. That is simply too narrow of a focus, and not representative of the field itself. Discussing these issues legitimizes them to the exclusion of a global perspective. It presumes way too much.

(c) It doesn't treat all religious claims the same. The only mature way to deal with religious faiths is to treat their claims all the same, no matter how sophisticated some of them argue, by putting them all on an equal playing field. If the PoR did this then Comparative Religions classes, or a similar focus, would be the ideal. Why single out conservative Christian PoR as meriting respect over against the millions of animists out there, or pantheists, or still others, some of which seem on the surface to be quite ridiculous from the perspective of the Occident?

2) Because the PoR is presently in a deep twofold crisis.

(a) First, philosophers of religion cannot even agree on what it is or how it should be taught as one can see quite plainly here.

(b) Second, as 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. BTW, in saying that I now consider the case for theism to be a fraud, I do not mean to charge that the people making that case are frauds who aim to fool us with claims they know to be empty. No, theistic philosophers and apologists are almost painfully earnest and honest; I don’t think there isn't a Bernie Madoff in the bunch. I just cannot take their arguments seriously any more, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote serious academic attention to it. I’ve turned the philosophy of religion courses over to a colleague.

I think a number of philosophers have made the case for atheism and naturalism about as well as it can be made. Graham Oppy, Jordan Howard Sobel, Nicholas Everitt, Michael Martin, Robin Le Poidevin and Richard Gale have produced works of enormous sophistication that devastate the theistic arguments in their classical and most recent formulations. Ted Drange, J.L. Schellenberg, Andrea Weisberger, and Nicholas Trakakis have presented powerful, and, in my view, unanswerable atheological arguments. Gregory Dawes has a terrific little book showing just what is wrong with theistic “explanations.” Erik Wielenberg shows very clearly that ethics does not need God. With honest humility, I really do not think that I have much to add to these extraordinary works.”
I agree most emphatically with Parsons on this. The arguments in support of Christian theism have all been refuted.

3) Because at every juncture science is disconfirming the claims of religious faith, making them at best unnecessary, as LaPlace once quipped to Napoleon. Here are some examples with regard to Christianity.

4) 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 supernatural beings and/or forces, as an explanation or justification.

(a) First, it's a fact that the field is dominated by Christian philosophers.

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 taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students, which can be seen here. The question that interests me is what philosophers think about God.
God: theism or atheism?
Accept or lean toward: atheism 678 / 931 (72.8%)
Accept or lean toward: theism 136 / 931 (14.6%)
Other 117 / 931 (12.5%)
If we add in the "other" category, which would include New Age beliefs, Deism, and Agnosticism, then upwards to 86% of them are not theists. Among those philosophers who are theists I dare say most of them are probably not card carrying Evangelicals, since this includes Catholics, Muslims, Jews and those who merely accept the philosopher's god.

So much for William Lane Craig's claim that there is at the present time a renaissance of Christian philosophy in today's world. *cough*

Anthony Gottlieb reports however, that among specialists in the philosophy of religion, the ratio of philosophers more likely to favor theism is 72:19. Link.

(b) Second, these Christian philosophers argue for the claims of their faith in these classes.

It seems clear that believing philosophers are simply more interested in the philosophy of religion so they gravitate toward teaching it. I think the PoR is the last bastion of Christians who want to avoid the question of the lack of sufficient evidence for supernatural beings and/or forces as explanations, focusing on definitions by attempting to make their theologies seem reasonable with arguments based on little more than special pleading.

That this is a big problem is recognized by all secular philosophers as far as I can tell. Paul Draper suggests this when seeking to reform the discipline, saying 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."

Commenting on this Matt DeStefano, a Ph.D. student and writer at the Secular Outpost, said:
Loftus is right to suggest that philosophy of religion is unhealthily partisan. Recently, philosphers have begun to take notice this problematic trend. Paul Draper and Ryan Nichols... note that philosophy of religion is composed of mostly Christian theists, and that as a result the field suffers from group bias.
Jeff Lowder agrees, saying "There are some atheists (such as Boghossian and Coyne, among others) who criticize the philosophy of religion as undeserving of respect. If their criticism was directed solely at PoR as practiced, and not PoR, without qualification, then their criticisms would make more sense.

(c) Third, no other intellectual discipline in a secular university would tolerate faith based claims. Enough said. This is obvious.

5) Because there are plenty of other classes in the larger discipline of Philosophy which already address these questions: 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.

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