What Exactly is My Proposal For Ending the Philosophy Of Religion Discipline in Secular Universities?

As announced earlier 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 #3. To read other posts in this series click on the tag below, "Ending Philosophy of Religion."

First, I am proposing that secular PoR professors stop teaching their classes according to "the received model" of teaching. The received model, the one I used in my college classes, 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.

What's wrong with the received model is that we end up with nothing more than a critical thinking class with the PoR as it's subject matter. While it's true that teaching in this manner may affect some attitudinal change in the students, if the goal is to teach critical thinking then do it in a critical thinking class. More importantly, there are some uncontested facts about faith that secular philosophers should teach their students, such as, faith isn't a legitimate answer to these questions and that all arguments on behalf of religion are nothing more than special pleading. Basing something on faith or logical fallacies is simply not teaching students correctly. As Richard Carrier said, pseudo-philosophy is:
Philosophy that relies on fallacious arguments to a conclusion, and/or relies on factually false or undemonstrated premises. And isn't corrected when discovered. All supernaturalist religion is pseudo-philosophy. Religious philosophy is to philosophy what "creation science" is to science.
I see no reason to teach the PoR using the received model because it legitimizes pseudo-philosophy.

My call to end the PoR stems from Dr. Peter Boghossian, who has challenged the "received model" in his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists: "We need to train educators not just to teach students how to think critically, but also how to nudge attitudes about faith on their downward spiral" (p. 177). Teaching students to be critical thinkers is very important but teaching them to have a skeptical disposition is more important. "Anyone can develop a critical thinking skill set," he says, even people who are pretending to know things they don't know (p. 220). Educators have given faith-based claims preferential treatment. In the classrooms "It is taken for granted that faith-based claims are invulnerable to criticism and immune from further questioning" in the so-called "soft sciences" like sociology, philosophy, anthropology, etc. "This intellectual rigor mortis is not allowed to occur across all disciplines." In the hard sciences like mathematics, chemistry and biology "challenging claims and questioning reasoning processes are 'intrinsic to what it means to teach students to reason effectively'." So Boghossian says, "This needs to end" (p. 188). Educators in all disciplines of learning should grant faith based conclusions "no countenance. Do not take faith claims seriously. Let the utterer know that faith is not an acceptable basis from which to draw a conclusion that can be relied upon" (p. 189).

Boghossian had called for this with regard to all disciplines of learning. I'm focusing on the PoR since I know more about this discipline, having basically earned three masters degrees and some Ph.D. work in it, along with teaching it. Yes, the PoR should end as secular professors begin teaching the discipline correctly.

Dr. Hector Avalos had been doing this at Iowa State University in his biblical studies classes years before Boghossian issued his challenge, based on his 2007 book, The End of Biblical Studies. Avalos's goal is to completely eliminate the influence of the Bible in the modern world, to
eliminate the potential use of any sacred scripture as an authority in the modem world. Sacred texts are the problem that most scholars are not willing to confront. What I seek is liberation from the very idea that any sacred text should be an authority for modem human existence. Abolishing human reliance on sacred texts is imperative when those sacred texts imperil the existence of human civilization as it is currently configured. The letter can kill. That is why the only mission of biblical studies should be to end biblical studies as we know it. LINK.
So I asked Avalos what he thought of my call to end the PoR, and he emailed me back with this statement:
My proposal is "to end biblical studies as we know it" (The End of Biblical Studies, p. 15), which means in its current religionist and apologetic orientation. So I am for ending the philosophy of religion if its only mission is to defend religion and theism. So, akin to my vision of the end of biblical studies, I would say that the only mission of the philosophy of religion is to end the philosophy of religion as we know it.
In other words, just as he is trying to completely eliminate the influence of the Bible in the modern world, so also secular professors teaching PoR classes should try to completely eliminate the influence of religion in the modern world. To read his proposal in some detail see this. I'm calling for the end of the philosophy of religion in secular universities just as Avalos called for an end of biblical studies.

For my critics who think they agree with Avalos about this, since he's merely speaking against religionist PoR, they should think again. He does not give faith based answers any credence in the classroom. He is not calling for giving equal time with religionists either. He is not teaching his classes with the "received model" of dialogue, using a give and take with students where he allows students to decide for themselves about these factual matters (ultimately they do of course). Religionist faith-based propaganda in the scholarly world or in the classrooms do not have any merit. He states this, argues for it, and teaches by example. This, he says, is what secularists teaching the PoR should be doing.

By trying to eliminate religion from modern society in these university classes aren't we being sectarian, presuming to know the truth, and not interested in "genuine inquiry" in the classroom? Secular professor Dr. Paul Draper has objected to this in the classroom, but as I've shown, his proposal basically would only serve to establish the staus quo by not going far enough. From my perspective, and most all other secular philosophy professors, there is no basis for faith, and the arguments for faith are an abysmal failure, based on so many cognitive biases and logical fallacies no one can reasonably dispute. These are uncontested facts based on the findings of science in every other discipline of learning. Science doesn't show religion is wrong. But it has disconfirmed it so many times that the religious hypothesis is an unnecessary one at its very best. We are proposing ending faith itself in the secular classroom. The primary reason is that faith has no basis, and secondarily because there is no reason to invite faith into a state run secular university. We are proposing to teach the truth to students. Thirdly, we are concerned with the fruits of religion. Religion harms people. To see this with regard to Christianity one only needs to read my soon to be released anthology, Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails.

This is what I mean when I call for the end of the philosophy of religion, along with Boghossian, Avalos, Jerry Coyne and James Lindsay, But since PoR departments and professors are not going to pack it in and abandon what they know best and love to discuss, I consider my call a stop gap measure given these pragmatic considerations. As long as the PoR exists as a subdivision in the Philosophy discipline this is how secular professors should teach it. They should teach it correctly, by accepting no faith based claim, especially any that are at odds with evolution, since evolution is a fact. It is to argue against faith and any arguments based on faith in the classroom. It's the only intellectually honest thing to do with regard to faith based answers and justifications.

Basically then, it's a call for secular philosophers to teach the PoR in the classroom the same way they write their books, although they should allow for student interaction and debate. If the discipline is to be taught then this is one good way to do it right. Before someone offers a knee jerk reaction to this, think about what it means. Not all secular books are argumentative in nature. There are books on historical figures and surveys of particular time periods. And those books that are argumentative in nature either deal with the objections or they don't. If they don't, then they aren't being good scholars and maybe shouldn't be teaching these classes in the first place. If they do, then secular professors would be teaching their students how to think correctly about religionist arguments by doing so.

This being said, secular professors in the Occident, who agree with me that faith has no merit and that all religionist philosophy is pseudo-philosophy, are teaching their discipline wrong when they single out and respond to Christian pseudo-philosophy. Secular American PoR professors are teaching it wrong when they single out and teach analytical PoR to the exclusion of Continental PoR, as well as when they ignore Middle Eastern and Oriental religious pseudo-philosophy. PoR is almost exclusively parochial in nature, dealing with the claims and arguments coming from the dominant religion of their specific geographical locations. Now, granted, I understand this. We must respond to the religionist arguments of the dominant culture if we seek to be culturally engaged and desire change minds within it.

But that is not how to treat faith based claims. For when professors do this they are legitimizing the arguments of religionists on a small patch of land on planet earth just by dealing exclusively with them! So in my next installment I'll show how to best examine the claims and arguments of religion. I'll argue that when secular professors do this correctly there would be no need to legitimize any argument by religionists, no reason to take any of them seriously, and that other classes and disciplines of learning are the best way to do it right, leaving the PoR subdivision with nothing to do but eventually die out completely in the future. There are other classes that pick up the slack.

So in the end, when the PoR is taught correctly, that sub-division within Philosophy proper should end, literally. To teach it correctly as it should be taught is to end it. I'm also calling for ending all divinity schools, as professor Jerry Coyne recently argued. These are secular schools supported by tax money which are teaching apologetics and theology disguised as a secular discipline. They should end now! The sooner the better.

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