What Are The Best Ways To Examine The Claims Of Religion?

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

I have said good philosophy of religion exists because there is bad Christian philosophy of religion that must be answered. And yet, I don't think there is anything that atheists haven't already answered. My judgment is that atheists working in the PoR have trounced their opponents so badly there is nothing left to say. We can therefore dispense with it as an academic subdiscipline of philosophy in our universities as unworthy of serious attention.

Over the years I have found that one bastion for Christian apologists has been the philosophy of religion. These pseudo-philosophers have honed their definitional apologetics in such a fine-tuned manner that when engaging them in this discipline it's like trying to catch a greased pig in an endless and ultimately fruitless quest for definitions. What's an extraordinary claim? What's the definition of supernatural? What's the scientific method? What's the precise demarcation line between science and non-science? [BTW: This is merely an interesting non-issue that is irrelevant to how most all science proceeds most all of the time]. What's a miracle? What's a basic belief? What's a veridical religious experience? What's evil? They do this just like others have done over questions like, "What is the definition of pornography?" And then they gerrymander around the plain simple facts of experience and objective evidence to the contrary. [That's why I like to talk exclusively in terms of concrete examples like a virgin who had a baby who was God incarnate, atoned for our sins by his death, bodily resurrected from the dead and was whisked into the sky].

When secular PoR take their arguments seriously it encourages religionists to respond with additional arguments in an endless chase down the metaphorical rabbit's hole without any agreed upon resolution. It also legitimizes their arguments when we do so, for by treating some of these arguments seriously to the exclusion of others made by different religionists, we're saying these particular arguments should be considered as more important than others and closer to the truth.

Christian philosophers take their parochial God-concept for granted, the one developed especially by Anselm in the western world, and then with nothing more than special pleading and sleight of hand, they try to harmonize this parochial God-concept with the massive amount of ubiquitous suffering in the world. "Wait just a minute," a child will say, reminiscent of the child in Hans Christian Andersen's, The Emperor's New Clothes: "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" There will be no point in discussing the beauty of the Emperor's clothes if he isn't wearing any. Likewise there would be no point in dealing with Christian obfuscations and special pleadings when they have not put up the goods with evidence that such a God exists in the first place.

Their problem is faith, as Stephen Law said: “Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity.” (Believing Bullshit, p. 75). I was shocked when I saw Richard Swinburne's book, The Resurrection of God Incarnate, where he argued that if God exists then it's a 97% probability that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is one of the brightest Christian philosophers of religion, mind you, who argued for an utterly ignorant conclusion. What? If PoR can be twisted this badly then it can't be very useful in our debates. This is what I'm talking about, and Christian apologists in the secular universities revel in doing just that.

So with that said, let me propose the best ways to undermine the faith based claims of religionists.

1) We can replace the PoR subdiscipline with more classes in science using the scientific method, like geology, physics, astrophysics, astronomy, psychology and neurology. Until Christians can come up with sufficient evidence to believe then we should no longer have to deal in depth with their rationalizations, gerrymanderings, non-sequiturs and baseless assertions masquerading as a reasonable discussion in a psuedo-sub-discipline. Teaching science overwhelmingly disconfirms all faith-based claims of religionists to be unnecessary at best, if not factually false. Evolution, for instance, destroys most religions, and you don't even have to pay attention to a particular religion when teaching the fact of evolution to do this. So teach evolution and most religions die. I actually think such a university class should be a mandatory requirement in all universities, even if a student is majoring in disciplines like philosophy, business, food management, English, and so forth.

2) We can replace the PoR subdiscipline with more secular classes taught the way Dr. Hector Avalos has argued and modeled in his biblical studies classes, as I mentioned earlier in this series. Students should be forced to examine the origination and early history of particular religions against the backdrop of the times they came from. Examining the basis for a given faith is a much better way to examine the claims of particular religions. A good example of this is Dr. Jaco Gericke's chapter for my anthology The End of Christianitytitled, "Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn't?" Another example is Gericke's analysis of Plantinga's Reformed epistemology and WL Craig's Holy Spirit self-authentication, which I highly recommend everyone read, titled, Fundamentalism on Stilts. In it he said: "The trouble with Craig and and Plantinga is that their philosophy of religion conveniently ignores the problems posed for their views by the history of Israelite religion. They might as well try to prove Zeus exists. People sometimes forget 'God' used to be Yahweh and it is possible to prove from textual evidence that 'there ain't no such animal.'"

3) We can replace the PoR subdiscipline with global, multicultural, anthropological and comparative religion approaches to religion, privileging none, by treating them all the same because they're all based on faith, which is an utterly unreliable method for knowing anything objective about the nature of nature. Here is one such program of study at the California State University, Fullerton:
Comparative Religion examines the spiritual quest of humankind, especially as it has manifested itself in the world’s living religions. These include Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other less familiar traditions. No other academic field looks at the origins, sacred writings, rituals, beliefs and world views of the various religions for their own sake rather than as an aspect of another field of study.

Within a public university, religion must be approached with academic objectivity and without favoritism for any one tradition. Yet, religion must also be studied with sensitivity and empathy for the millions of believers whose lives are shaped by their faith. Comparative Religion is also an interdisciplinary field that draws on the work of social scientists, historians, philosophers and literary scholars in attempting to understand the religious quest. Hence, studying religious traditions develops habits of mind that are very important for life in our multicultural society. Furthermore, a familiarity with the world’s religions is necessary for an understanding of church-state issues in America and of geo-political conflicts in South Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. LINK. [I'm not saying this department does it correctly, but studying all religions the same way is a good start.]
Cultural anthropology professor Dr. David Eller wrote the book, Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker, which should be in every atheist library.In it he argues against religion itself rather than any parochial version of it. Why is it that most debates in western cultures are debates on such topics as “Christianity vs. Atheism”? Eller wants us to think in larger terms than that. Eller says the real debate should be set in terms of “Christianity vs. Itself,” since there are so many branches of it, or “Christianity vs. All Other Religions,” since that’s the proper way to think about religion. Eller writes: “Nothing is more destructive to religion than other religions; it is like meeting one’s own anti-matter twin.” (p. 233). To see what this means at a glance read my post on How to Debunk Christianity, as an example.

4) Use the Outsider Test for Faith to force believers to seriously consider which religion is true, if there is one, best argued for in my book, The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True.