John Loftus’s new book: why religious philosophy should be deep-sixed

A philosopher friend who read John Loftus’s new book in draft recommended it to me highly, saying it was “spot on”. The image is below, and you can get to the Amazon store to order it by clicking on the screenshot:

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I like the cover image, though it’s a bit gruesome, but yes, I think the philosophy of religion is a useless endeavor (unlike real philosophy). I’ve read a lot of it and it’s all based on the assumption that God exists. Since we have no evidence for that, the rest is commentary on a nonexistent being and its wishes, more or less like building a philosophy on Santa Claus.

Here’s the book’s description from Amazon. Based on my experience, it’s an accurate description of the philosophy of religion, which is rife with confirmation bias.

Just as intelligent design is not a legitimate branch of biology in public educational institutions, nor should the philosophy of religion be a legitimate branch of philosophy. So argues acclaimed author John W. Loftus in this forceful takedown of the very discipline in which he was trained. In his call for ending the philosophy of religion, he argues that, as it is presently being practiced, the main reason the discipline exists is to serve the faith claims of Christianity. Most of philosophy of religion has become little more than an effort to defend and rationalize preexisting Christian beliefs. If subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, and geology are all taught without reference to faith-based supernatural forces as explanations, faith-based teachings should not be acceptable in this discipline either. While the book offers a fascinating study of the fallacies and flaws on which one whole field of study rests, it speaks to something much larger in the ongoing culture wars. By highlighting the stark differences between faith-based reasoning and evidence-based reasoning, Loftus presents vital arguments and lessons about the importance of critical thinking not only in all aspects of study but also in life. His conclusions and recommendations thus resonate far beyond the ivory towers and ivy-covered walls of academic institutions.

While I think the philosophy or religion is an academic dead end, perhaps some readers disagree. If so, weigh in below. Although I vowed to read no more theology, this book, a critique of that endeavor, will be one I do read.

189 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    From my limited reading I’ve concluded that religious philosophy and theology have 3 main subjects:
    Explaining away the complete lack of evidence for God
    Explaining away contradictory evidence for God
    Analyzing Gods personality, his likes and dislikes and various pet-peeves.

    • busterggi
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      But never analyzing why god happens to agree with the apologist’s personal opinions.

      • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        + 1

      • bobkillian
        Posted November 15, 2016 at 1:40 am | Permalink

        Deeply-felt faith based on WMMB: Wha t My Mommy Believed.

    • Posted November 15, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      I agree that there is no evidence for the existence of God, but only if we exclude personal experience from the realm of “evidence”—which any good scientist is obliged to do. No one can prove that there is a God any more than any one can prove, say, that Mozart is a great composer. All you can do is bear witness to your experience, to which others can say, based on their experience, “Yes, that’s true” or, conversely, “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.” If I tell you that my wife is a good person or that my children love me, you are justified in replying, “That’s only subjective,” even though I am more certain of these things than I am of other things that I might call “only objective.” In short, many important things can’t be proved, and many things that can be proved aren’t important.

      • madscientist
        Posted November 15, 2016 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        I disagree; the vast majority of claims about the characteristics of gods can be dismissed for lack of evidence and numerous other claims contradict claims by other religions. The fact that there is no agreement on any substantial matter suggests that there really is no basis to the claims. At best you can say that perhaps there is a god of some sorts somewhere and somehow – but it is definitely not the god or gods of any extant religion, and good luck coming up with a believable god claim other than the trivial “god started it all and had nothing to do with anything after that”.

  3. yossarian
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I’ll give it a go to play devil’s advocate:

    Much academic study takes the form of “if…then…” statements where the “if”s are axioms or assumptions which the field itself is ill-suited at best to challenge. Science has methodological naturalism, maths after the foundational crisis of the early 2h C was forced to deal with their existance and its associated inherent limitations. At least theology is open about everything in it being prefaced with “if God exists…”?

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Openness does not legitimize a school of thought. To wit: shall we institute Philosophy of Fairies departments at major universities as long as they employ if-then conditional statements?

      • John Harshman
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        And what about such conditional statements as “if pigs can fly” or “if the moon is made of cheese”? Why should they be excluded?

        • yossarian
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

          Why should they indeed. Who knows what exploring such issues might teach us? It might, for example, tell us that the assumptions are unwarrented as lead to a contradiction. As may theology. As may maths if – god help us – it turns out that PA or ZFC or other axiom systems arent infact consistent…

          • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

            “Exploring” is a far cry from establishing resource-consuming departments.

        • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          Departments for them, too! I say let a thousand “ifs” bloom!

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      The problem as I see it is not that they say “If” God exists. They come at the issue with the assumption that He does. That is not clear thinking. Discussions like that don’t belong in an academic discipline imo.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      Does the philosophy of “if there are fairies at the bottom of the garden, then …” merit academic study?

  4. Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Evidence-based reasoning is itself a faitg-based activity.

    • Achrachno
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Really? You must be using a weird definition of the word faith. Faith is what you have when you reason without evidence.

      • Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        Definition #1 of “faith” from trust Google: “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” All reasoning, whether inductive or deductive, relies on the reliability of certain assumptions. Faith in those assumptions.

        • Sastra
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:13 am | Permalink

          Pragmatic reliance or confidence is different though from religious forms of faith. In evidence-based reasoning you have to change your mind if you’re wrong. In fact, if you can give us a convincing argument backed up with evidence that “evidence-based reasoning is itself a faith-based activity,” then, as evidence-based reasoners, we would have to agree with you.

          That circularity is not a problem for us; it’s a problem for the claim. It contains a self-contradiction.

          Religious faith is different: facts are mixed in with values. Changing your mind is a personal loss. You lost virtue. You struggle to keep believing in the fact like you’d struggle to hold yourself to high standards.

          An example of a specifically religious form of faith:

          “Because I love nature, nothing ever could or would change my mind that global warming is a threat.”

          In this secular analogy, a scientific, evidence-based conclusion is being treated like “love of nature.” If you can understand why this intractable commitment is not consistent with evidence-based reasoning, then you recognize the distinction.

          • darrelle
            Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

            If you haven’t already, you should write a book Sastra. You are very good at explaining things in clear, easy to understand ways. What you explained in your comment here is not new but it is one of the best expanations of the differences between relgious faith and ordinary faith that I’ve come across.

            Since I find myself often trying to explain just this to others, I hope you don’t mind if I borrow it form time to time.

            • Sastra
              Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

              Thank you. Yes, feel free.

          • Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Sastra. I very much agree with the spirit of your thoughts. However, I would make some semantic contentions. First, I agree that there are two very different definitions of faith. In Google-ese:
            “1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” (e.g. I have faith that my sense of vision if reliable.)
            “2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”

            I agree that (2) can operate without giving a shit about empirical evidence or even internal coherence.

            However, in science for instance, (1) is an essential part of the recursive probing that all theories use. All are built on faith in some premises. And conversely, there are plenty of religious approaches that are devoid of (2). For instance, the Dalai Lama has said, “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” This is of course the exact opposite approach shown by those beholden to ‘blind faith’ like (what’s his name?) Hamm, the dude who debated Bill Nye and said nothing could prove to him that the Bible was factually incorrect about anything.

            My point is that *dogmatism* can haunt both religion and science. It is certainly a dire problem in western conceptions of religion. And I agree with you, that any approach to any subject, is best approach with an attempt at open-minded empirical observation. However, as many philosophers of science have discussed, we cannot observe the lens through which we observe the world since it is itself the lens with which we observe the world. We are blind to errors in our own senses, logic, etc.

            • Sastra
              Posted November 14, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

              However, in science for instance, (1) is an essential part of the recursive probing that all theories use. All are built on faith in some premises.

              The difference though is that, when the scientific method is used on factual claims, 1.)the premise can be questioned and checked and 2.) the premise is not part of a moral system, so that questioning it is fine, but abandoning it invariably means you didn’t do something right. In theory, the trust or confidence in sonmething we learn through our ]senses or by reasoning can never be complete trust.

              My point is that *dogmatism* can haunt both religion and science.

              To paraphrase Dr. Coyne, in science dogmatism is a vice; in religion it’s a virtue.

              Eastern religions, when secularized into philosophy, may be less dogmatic, agreed — but beliefs in spiritual views like nondualism, say, can co-opt the trappings of science for their support … and yet remain unfalsifiable. The problem of ‘our’ inherent subjectivity is I think best addressed by intersubjectivity from multiple viewpoints — and debate which introduces and deals seriously with alternatives.

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for your response, Sastra. I agree with much of what you said, but would offer a couple counters. Regarding the first section, 1) that science can check its own premises – yes, but in doing so, it must assume others. That is, there is no way to simultaneously check all premises. The process of checking premises always entails assuming other premises. It is a recursive process, ever-reliant upon assuming some sets of premises. Regarding 2) that the premises of religion are fundamentally moral and scientific premises are not, I would contend that Theism needn’t entail any moral element. There are Theistic conceptions that are nihilistic, and Atheistic conceptions that involve ethical positions. it is very murky water, and not easily parsed into Relgion=moral, non-religion = amoral. I would also contend that any belief of any kind implies some value system (can be ethical or not), if only in terms of what aspects of reality it vallues as most ‘real.’

                I agree that dogmatism is a vice in science, but i would also contend that a great many religious teachers/believers would say dogmatism is also a vice (even moreso) in the subject of religion.

                And yes, I agree that fundamentally is invariably about non-falsifiable positions (whether they be ontological, ethical, whatever).

                I agree that with you that a diversity of perspectives is the best way to approach the mystery of existence.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

          This is an equivocation fallacy, pure and simple; you’re using one definition of “faith” for evidence-based reasoning, another for religion.

          • Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

            Those definitions are from the dictionary, not my imagination. And, I agree, they are not equivalent. They involve different meanings and different aspectstyles of “faith”

            • Posted November 14, 2016 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

              No one said they were from your imagination, but they are different definitions, as the dictionary indicates by giving the definitions different numbers.

              No one here thinks we need not rely on assumptions and induction sometimes. The point is that the simple act of assumption-making does not mean scientists and theologians are, deep down, playing the same game. As I pointed out elsewhere, scientific assumptions are completely different animals from religious assumptions.

        • Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          Please have a look at my article in Slate that explains the difference between faith in religion and “faith” in science. It’s called “No faith in science.

          • nicky
            Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

            Excellent article. Many of the comments appear to indicate that many a reader can’t read.😦

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      That’s right. Having evidence for a claim is exactly the same as not having evidence for a claim. Therefore, our law enforcement and judicial systems should stop collecting evidence and simply convict whoever they happen to lay hands on first.

      • Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        The “faith” pertains to metaphysics; how we conceive of empirical experience. We assume a metaphysics in language and conception. I agree that all systems ate not equally correlative with experience or internally coherent. However, all systems of belief (including the practice of science) rely upon the assumption of certain (many) axioms.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          Science is not a system of belief.

          • Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

            Yes, good point. “Science” has many meanings, most of which would not qualify as a “belief system,” per say. However, even the scientific method relies on certain assumptions (involving faith in perception, faith in logic, etc)

            • D.H.
              Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

              If logic did not work, it would be thrown out as would anything else.

        • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          Not all assumptions are created equal. Some assumptions can be made confidently because they consistently withstand confrontation with reality, even if we can’t provide a proof, in the mathematical sense, for the assumption.

          • Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

            I completely agree that not all assumptions are created equal. And I completely agree that there are assumptions that appear to be functional certainties. But of course, we can dig the sand out from any sense of actual certainty. We rely on memory, recorded history (that time *actually* exists), that nature follows predictable patterns (past ‘laws’ pertain to the future) and so on…

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Standard religious trope. We have confidence in our conclusions based on logic and evidence based on a long track record of success in their use to predict and discover the real world.

      This kind of dictionary definition of faith (our confidence) has no relation to the dictionary definition of faith that the religious use for their beliefs.

      In fact, honest religious folk have always admitted this, pithily summarized in the expression, “that’s why it’s called faith [because it is belief in the absence of evidence].

      If this were not the case, religious people would not use the word faith and would not recite incantations of it in public (professions of faith, e.g. creeds).

      Scientists do not gather together to intone in unison, “We believe in the unity of nature, the primacy of natural law and the ability to know about the world through reason and evidence, for ever and ever, Amen.”

      — Because these things are self-evidently well-founded ad require no professions of faith.

      • Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        “Because these things are self-evidently well-founded ad require no professions of faith.”

        Fantastic! Most fantastic. You should join a church somewhere. Ha.

        • Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

          As Nietzsche once said, “truths are illusions that we have forgotten are illusions.” I find basic epistemological skepticism can be every bit as lacking among atheists and theists.

          • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

            Neitzsche was wrong. We can have substantial confidence in truths where they are backed by evidence.

            I find basic epistemological skepticism can be every bit as lacking among atheists …

            And rightly so.

            • Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

              Yes, exactly, “substantial confidence.” Faith. “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

                Which is not the same as the religious sense of the word. Faith deriving from evidence is not the same as faith in the absence of evidence. Sometimes the English language is not fully adequate.

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                Yes. Absolutely true. And I’d say we can safely say that the English (or any) language is NEVER (even close to) adequate.🙂

          • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

            Says the guy using a computer. Knowledge exists, as the computer can attest to, so skepticism of the extreme sort is unwarranted. (And the “what if we are in the matrix?” can be dealt with should it prove necessary. If that’s pragmatism, so be it, but that’s nothing to do with religious faith at all.)

            • Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

              Yes, “knowledge” does exist, so to speak. As we move further from concepts of reductive material, “knowledge” as meaning grows exponentially. “The matrix” isn’t a particularly interesting idea since it fundamentally Realism, just displaced a level, but Idealism is to me much more interesting, since it is empirically indistinguishable from Realism and Occam’s razor favors Idealism. However, we speak of the world in terms of Realism and so that is our metaphysical assumption. Or so it seems to me.

              • Carl
                Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

                You are quite correct about Idealism. But as one of the great idealists wrote (about a different topic):

                [Idealism] confronts us a s a small frontier fortress. Admittedly the fortress is impregnable, but the garrison can never sally forth from it, and therefore we can pass it by, and leave it in our rear without danger.

                I freely admit to rejecting the dictates of Occam’s Razor for the more emotionally satisfying Realism.

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

                Ha. That is excellent. I must say, I find Idealism plenty satisfying. But there’s something deeply personal and aesthetic about what we find ‘true,’ imho. Though certainly not an Idealist by any stretch, I find Michael Polanyi’s views on knowledge as personal very insightful.

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                I should add, the empirical evidence for Idealism is much more interesting than the emotional aspect (although it certainly can entail dramatically different meaning to the universe)… there is not a shortage of empirical evidence that suggests reductive physicalist Realism is a deeply flawed paradigm.

              • Vaal
                Posted November 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

                “Occam’s razor favors Idealism.”

                No it doesn’t. It favors realism, or at least, not Idealism.

                Any ontology/epistemology has the job of making sense of our experience. That is we of necessity start with our raw experience of “things as they seem to be” and then go on to make sense of our experience, via reason and logic.

                One of the most fundamental axioms will be, of necessity, something like “things are as they seem, unless we have reason to believe otherwise (or be skeptical).”

                In other words, if before me there seems to be a red sphere – a red “ball” – on a table, then what possible justification could I have to START by doubting and rejecting this experience? If we start by rejecting experience, we have nothing to explain ontologically or epistemologically. It’s a dead end. One may come up with justifications later in the process to doubt any particular experience, but if you start with doubting all experience, you not only have no prima facie justification for doing so, you destroy knowledge.

                So we start with impressions as they seem to us, and the impression experience makes upon us, prima facie, is of entities like balls, trees, moons, mountains, rain etc that does not seem “of ourselves,” does not seem “under our mental control and hence issuing from our minds” does not seem to exhibit qualities of consciousness, etc.

                So, depending on which flavor of idealism you are going with, it is the simpler starting point to presume a cloud in the sky
                is what it seems to be: an entity in a world “out there” beyond me, not issuing from my mind, not under my mental control, and not exhibiting any mentally based characteristics.

                If you want to claim “No, it is NOT as it seems…” and then posit an idealism explanation, then you are bringing in the additional hypothesis, which needs additional (and quite robust) justification, not the realist.

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

                Idealism doesn’t reject any part of our experience. It says the same thing as realism, it just makes no assertion beyond our experience. All those rules of “nature” are rules of our interface. Why create a whole ‘world’ outside our interface that merely reflects the rules of our interface. It adds no value your the scenario.

              • Carl
                Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

                I’m curious, do you drop Occam’s razor before reaching solipsism (the actual subject of the Schopenhauer quote I doctored previously)?

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

                Nope. I’m okay with solipsism, although it seems to me that solipsism actually assumes Realism in making the distinction between ‘me’ and ‘other’ so I’m not sure that it saves steps. The empirical evidence against Realism is stacking up a well, so I’m sure my perspective is colored by that research as well.

              • Carl
                Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

                What’s a source for this anti-realism evidence?

              • Vaal
                Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

                “Idealism doesn’t reject any part of our experience.”

                Yes I know: but it purports a different explanation for our experience than other philosophies, e.g. realism.

                “It says the same thing as realism, it just makes no assertion beyond our experience.”

                But this just ignores what I wrote – what is packed inside the word “experience” as you are using it? My claim was that certain prima facie assumptions ARE part of “experience.” In other words, a cloud or a tree is “experienced” as independent entities, as part of an *apparent* world “outside” of us, and not under mental control, or exhibiting mentality. In other words, a sort of naive realism seems to be the default experience.

                “Why create a whole ‘world’ outside our interface”

                We are not creating a world outside our interface in the sense of adding some philosophical baggage – that is how raw experience, how the world *appears* in our experience. If you asked me, or anyone, to simply describe *what clouds or cats are like* in our experience, the description will
                be one of independent entities that we are observing. Any talk of idealism will be ADDITIONAL to this and has to be justified.

                It adds no value your the scenario.

                It’s more parsimonious, for one thing.

                But…we have a problem that you have given no positive description of “Idealism” and therefore I don’t know what flavor you go for, and without that we can’t really go very far in this conversation.

              • Posted November 15, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

                Idealism is refuted by evolutionary biology. (Ask yourself what the world was like before there were organisms with sense organs.)

          • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

            Nietsche said it, that makes it true?

            • Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

              Ha. No, why? But I’d say he happened to say something that is ‘true’ quite cleanly. To extend his thought, “a word becomes a concept insofar as it simultaneously has to fit countless more or less similar cases–which means, purely and simply, cases which are never equal and thus altogether unequal. Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things.” His point is essential to this discussion because it is a discussion involving *words* which are fundamentally nebulous creatures, totally unlike that to which they supposedly refer. “The map is not the territory” as Korzybski put it.

              • Posted November 15, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

                Yeah, the Chinese liked to emphasize the importance of “naming correctly”. We are fallible monkeys who have only our inherited toolkits of senses, brains, and cultures to work with.

                But so what?

                My point was that you made a false equivalence between religious faith and our confidence in scientific methods. You’ve trolled around vigorously trying to keep that false equivalency airborne.

                Stop trolling and say what you really mean, assuming you care about having an honest discussion.

        • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

          Your miscontrual of faith has been rebutted. Care to take that up?

        • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          And, again, they are self-evident because of their long track record.

          We no longer need to say, as Galileo did, that evidence is primary over authority.

          • Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

            That’s exactly the point. “Long track record”???? Humans have observed their universe over what scale of spacetime?? Across billions of light-years in space and billions of years in time? Oh wait, no, for a few hundred years and we extrapolate from there. We build a whole backstory. Look, it’s a fine enterprise. We’ve done a wonderful job of creating a new scientific mythology to explain our universe. It is, for the most part, internally coherent and correlative to the world we experience. It is outstanding. But it is built on metaphysical assumption, and even we had a TOE that was perfectly correlative and internally coherent, we still would never have a way to prove it true… we can only ever show that it is not false. We humans do not lack hubris!🙂

            • Vaal
              Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

              “creating a new scientific mythology”

              It’s not that you don’t have a point, Ponzi.
              It’s that you tend to start of with rather sloppy, unprincipled use of words, that appear to equivocate away important differences.

              The above quote is a perfect example. The word “mythology” is commonly understood to denote a fictional story (that plays some interesting cultural role). That’s why a Centaur is a “mythical” creature where a “horse” actually exists.

              Given science is an endeavour to understand, categorize and predict “reality”** it’s a sloppy combination of terms, that makes it look like you want to put science on equal terms with other “stories about the universe.”

              **(Yes, we can argue philosophically about the term “reality” but I am alluding to the term as it is generally applied – which is the point)

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

                Fair enough. I don’t think mythologies are true or false. They are both. They are the stories we tell ourselves to explain experience.

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

                I should add, I think religious mythologies, if taken literally, are generally lacking in both correlation to our experience and internal coherence. Conversely, well-established scientific mythologies (as I’m using the word), are highly correlative to experience and they are generally internally coherent to some larger paradigm(s). As such, modern rationalism and very literalist conception of reality by far prefers scientific mythologies. One reason why I think the word “mythology” is appropriate is that our theories of the cosmos entail meaning. They are not value-free. They are not neutral. They come from a human perspective, using human tools of perception and reasoning, and entail valuing some things over others. They imply all kinds of meaning. Also, our ‘story’ changes routinely in science. That is, scientific “fact” in 1600 is myth today. Same with 1800. Many of our ideas hold up, but many do not. We have no way of knowing which is which. We can be quite certain that many of our beloved “facts” of today will be acknowledged by scientists as myths in the not-too-distant future.

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

                @PtP 6:17pm

                Scientific fact doesn’t necessarily become myth as we progress. Newtonian mechanics isn’t “myth”. It’s simply a less precise description.

            • Posted November 15, 2016 at 6:01 am | Permalink

              Mythology, eh?

              Yeah, dragging in a false equivalency between religion and science again.

        • Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          Lay off the sarcasm toward readers, and read the Roolz on the left before you post further, okay?

    • cherg
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Science is just a system of truth assignment involving pragmatism, fallibilism, and falsifiability intended to help us get along and solve actual problems. Faith plays no role because scientific truth assignments are always tentative and subject to revision. See referenced Youtube video.

      • Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        In theory, yes. Except that in practice every test of one premise requires faith in other premises.

        • cherg
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          Sorry. I posted the wrong video link. I meant to post “What is truth?” by AntiCitizenX. Although I agree with George, I think the other video makes makes my point about truth claims much better than George’s astute commentary on life.

          • cherg
            Posted November 14, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

            • Posted November 14, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

              Cool. Thanks for posting that, Cherg. A lot of good epistemology 101 in there, and he pointed out a lot of the errors that many folks miss. I’m a big fan of pragmatism, so I share his aesthetic truth preferences, though obviously that doesn’t make those preferences metaphysically ‘true’ in any larger sense, as he acknowledges.

              He said two things that I disagree with.
              1) “Consequences are objective.” This, like all of the philosophical issues he dealt with earlier in the video, looks good from a distance, but proves to be false in all kinds of ways when closely inspected (not the least of which is to the assertion that anything is “objective”).
              2) He spoke in terms of Realism and mentioined things as “Objective” yet ignored Occam’s Razoor in dismissing Idealism.

              As an aside, I think the mythological terms in which we conceive of realiy profoundly affects the ways we experience it (physiologically, not just psychologically).. I watching Westworld on HBO (which is about a Matrix-esque Virtual Reality world) and one of the characters, speaking of why he preferes the VR to the ‘real’ world, says “Everything in here has a purpose and a design. The real world is just chaos.” The metaphors by which we understand existence and mythologies that grow out of it, profoundly impact our concepts of meaning and existence which can have profound physiological effects. Every belief system has implications for meaning, ethics, etc. Each of the many scientific explanations for existence, the cosmos, etc, is its own mythology with its own implied values and meaning.

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

                P the P: you are dominating this thread and making it all about your views. You’ve posted more than 15 times here, and that’s enough for this thread, okay?

              • Posted November 15, 2016 at 5:43 am | Permalink

                Besides, his point seems to be simply that one cannot disprove solipsism, which is true in a trivial way; but never stands in the way of us understanding the universe using the tools of science and making accurate predictions of the effects of causes.

                As he should know: Strict proof is not required by science or human progress.

                If he wants to spends his days speculating on angels on pin heads, he’s welcome to do so. I’m not interested.

  5. Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    At least theology is open about everything in it being prefaced with “if God exists…”?

    But I dont think it is. Many of the standard arguments against Gods existence are met with a standard theological reply that I think contains the hidden assumption that God exists.

  6. geckzilla
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    You know how there are those people who are afraid that without religion—without God—the people will be lawless and have no reason to stay in line?

    First, I think it’s BS. But, then again, given recent current events, it might be worth considering that maybe there is a bit of truth to it. They might have better insight into their world than we do, even if we originally grew up immersed in religion and religious people.

    • Sastra
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      “Trump was sent to us by God for His purposes. He often works his will by using sinners. It’s a test of our faith to recognize this.”

      You might as well say that the folks in ISIL need a religion to keep them in line.

      • geckzilla
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        Not sure what you’re saying to me, here. I don’t think there is necessarily a lot in common with ISIL and Trump voters. Anyway, I also find my own idea dubious. Sometimes I have to question my own conclusions, though. Is there some part of religion that helps people manage their lives better? Maybe. Maybe not. Just a thought, and one I thought this blog post was inviting for consideration.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          That line Sastra quoted is one used by at least one Trump voter before the election. The video, shot by CNN at a Trump rally, is in one of my posts.

        • Sastra
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          I was trying to point out that religion won’t keep someone “in line” according to what we think is good if it can draw the lines justifying anything. Many people who voted for Trump were devout; some of them see Trump as a sort of Biblical-like figure, selected by God. They would say their political votes sprang directly from their faith.

          It seems to me that the worst systems aren’t lawless: they usually have too many laws, and of the wrong sort.

    • Carl
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Once upon a time it may have seemed reasonable to fear that the loss of religion would destroy everything in a bonfire of nihilism. But today we don’t really need to wonder what a society founded on the principles of atheism would look like. We just need to understand aright the history of the United States.

      Stewart, Matthew. Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic (p. 313). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

      • Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

        The government of the USA is atheistic in only the most, most, most superficial way. Look to Deeden or Denmark for true examples.

        • Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

          Deeden = Sweden

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

            Finger trouble? Left hand leaning a bit too far to the right? 😉

            cr

            • Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

              Too much Pinot Noir, truth be told.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

                That is a highly commendable reason, I think.

                cr

              • Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

                Oh, it is. This was an exceptionally smooth, easy to drink noir.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted November 15, 2016 at 1:19 am | Permalink

                I’m more a white wine person myself, but I think that’s one point we can happily agree to differ on. 😉

                cr

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      But, then again, given recent current events, it might be worth considering that maybe there is a bit of truth to it.

      Unless you think those ‘current events’ are down to the godless, I can’t make any sense of this.

      • geckzilla
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        They’ve lost some important things in this election, too. I think a lot of Christians can feel their religion being tugged and manipulated by the demagogues now more than ever. I wonder what goes through their minds as they lose little (or large, this time) pieces of themselves here and there.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      … without religion—without God—the people will be lawless and have no reason to stay in line[.]

      Let those who make this claim satisfy the Hitchens challenge — name one moral action or sentiment that can be taken or expressed by someone religious that could not equally well be taken or expressed by an irreligious person.

      BTW, what are these “recent current events” that you find give some credence to the above claim?

      • geckzilla
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        “Recent current events” does require some clarification. I didn’t mean much but it other than that it was causing me to reflect upon what religion really means to people and whether or not my own conclusions are correct.

        I have merely thought back upon the countless people who have made the proclamation that without a god they have no reason to behave. I think for some people that may be true. But there’s a Catch-22 there. They can’t be convinced there is no god, so you can’t test it either. If they could be convinced, then they wouldn’t feel that way in the first place.

      • Carl
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        The Hitchen’s challenge isn’t on point here. It only demonstrates religion is not necessary for moral action. Religion can be sufficient in some cases. That people will refrain from evil actions fearing hell is undoubtedly true and useful – which, of course, has no bearing on the truth of any religion.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

          “That people will refrain from evil actions fearing hell is undoubtedly true and useful”

          ‘That *some* people…’ , I think. Others will manage to contort logic to prove that their evil is in fact good, morally correct, and mandated by God.

          As you said, ‘in some cases’.

          cr

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

          “Useful” to whom?

          The fear of hell tells one nothing about what is ethical or moral; it merely provides a disincentive for doing what is forbidden. What is forbidden can as easily be defined to promote evil as to engender good. It is the fear of hell, and the concomitant desire to attain paradise, after all, that has motivated people to bomb abortion clinics and fly airplanes into skyscrapers.

          If a person can engage in moral reasoning, and yet still requires the fear of hell as motivation to follow that reasoning to a good end, that person (and the belief system that instilled the fear of hell in the first place) are not worth trusting.

          There isn’t anything inherently useful in the fear of hell (or in religious ideology more generally).

          • Carl
            Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

            Come on Ken, I know I don’t have to spell this out for you. If people do the right thing for the wrong reason, it’s better than them doing the the wrong thing. It’s useful to those of us who aren’t raped, murdered, or robbed by someone held back by an imaginary fear.

  7. Achrachno
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    One of the tasks of philosophers is to dismantle bad logic/invalid arguments. There’s plenty to do along that line in all systems of religion.

    Philosophers of religion should essentially be engaged in the task of clearly explaining why the arguments of religion are mostly wrong, and why the ones that are not don’t really lead anywhere the religious want to go.

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      This. In fact, a book arguing that philosophy of religion must end itself counts squarely as an instance of … you guessed it, philosophy of religion. But then, that’s not as paradoxical as it sounds. Occasionally it does help to set a fire, in order to put an end to a bigger fire.

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      +1

  8. davidintoronto
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I always thought of theology as the discipline “…based on the assumption that God exists.” OTOH, god’s existence or nonexistence seems to be an active and open question within philosophy of religion. (E.g., typical reading assignments would include some of the most influential atheists in history.) So I’m a tad confused why one is being conflated with the other. Have I been using the wrong labels all this time?

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      That is a good question!

      Our own Ingemar Hedenius threw out the mongers from the university. He initiated a separation between the study of religion (a subject for a university) from theology (a subject for a vocationally oriented school). [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingemar_Hedenius ]

      So if theology is already a philosophic subject, I assume there is a “biblical philosophy of religion” in the same manner that there is “biblical history”. (That just makes stuff up to ‘prove’ faith based assumptions.) Perhaps that confusion is what Loftus’ book is about.

  9. Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Hello,

    I like what you wrote except that you used the same reasoning to support your argument as you did to attack the existence of God. You argued Philosophy of religion shouldn’t be taken seriously because it starts with an assumption you find invalid: God exists. Here’s what you missed: people think God exists because of evidence – not just as a brute fact (at least rational people). You stated “Since we have no evidence” for God, then you should start with the fact that he does not exists. It’s the same, but opposite argument. You think there is no evidence for God, others think there is. My challenge to you is write a friendly post that meets in the middle to discuss an evidence for or against God. I would be happy to comment on such a post or guest blog with you.

    Here’s where we agree. In a real dialogue about God’s existence, you can’t start with assuming your argument is correct. That’s why evidences are the common ground.

    As for faith, it’s belief filling in the cracks of what we do not know, based on what we do know. In other words, you sit down in a chair without testing it because evidence so far has led you to believe that chairs are generally trustworthy to sit in. Faith is the belief that God is trustworthy in this way. We all have faith in chairs.

    As for the book you recommended, I appreciate the perspective and will be sure to look into it. I wonder if you have read anything by Louis Pojman? He’s got a good introduction to Philosophy of Religion with articles comparing viewpoints side-by-side.

    Best.

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      Re the comment:

      Here’s what you missed: people think God exists because of evidence – not just as a brute fact (at least rational people). You stated “Since we have no evidence” for God, then you should start with the fact that he does not exists. It’s the same, but opposite argument. You think there is no evidence for God, others think there is. My challenge to you is write a friendly post that meets in the middle to discuss an evidence for or against God. I would be happy to comment on such a post or guest blog with you.

      For the past six or seven years, much of this website has been devoted to analyzing the evidence for God. There is none that would convince even the mildest skeptic, much less rational scientists who assess God claims as they would any empirical claim. My challenge to you is to read everything said about the evidence for God over the last six years and see that I’ve already done what you said. There’s a lot of this in my book Faith Versus Fact, including a scenario that WOULD convince me that a divine being exists.

      As for “friendly post” that “meets in the middle,” I’m sorry, but that’s not the way it’s gonna go. I am not friendly towards claims about invisible gods and superstitions, and I’m not going to give them any credence until there’s good evidence. Those who think that revelation, scripture, and dogma are evidence for a god are simply looking for biases that confirm their emotional commitments.

      Thanks for your offer to guest blog, but I’m not interested. Anyone can start their own website and tout evidence for God–in fact, there are dozens of them.

      • dabertini
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

        I 💓 PCC(e)!! Smackdown 101!!

      • Newish Gnu
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

        He is from Religion and he is here to help you. (Smirk)

  10. eric
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I’ve read a lot of it and it’s all based on the assumption that God exists. Since we have no evidence for that, the rest is commentary on a nonexistent being and its wishes, more or less like building a philosophy on Santa Claus.

    I’m not sure I agree with that in principle (though in this case I might). IMO its a perfectly reasonable form of logical or philosophical analysis to take a premise you don’t know to be true and explore its deductive ramifications and implications. You can, for example, analyze whether its consistent with other ideas you think are true or whether your premise is self-consistent or contradictory. In science terms, I’d put it this way: its perfectly reasonable to do theory work on an hypotheses – exploring the math, etc. – before you go out and test it.

    In fact, its probably a really good idea to do that sort of analysis before you go out trying to collect evidence for it, because collecting evidence is often much more expensive and time consuming than just a logical analysis of consistency (with itself or other ideas). IOW, do the back-of-the-envelope laugh test before you put your deposit down on backhoe rental.

    Having said that, in this case there’s already been a lot of ‘theory work’ done on the theism hypothesis. Moreover, there have been a lot of attempted tests, all of which have met with failure. This is not some hypothesis in the initial stages of development; its a set of very well developed hypotheses all of which have failed every observational test conducted on them. So for theism in particular, Jerry’s idea of ‘don’t do any more theory development until you have some inkling your hypothesized entity actually exists’ is a pretty good one.

    • darrelle
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      It seems to me that theology is simply a misuse of the tools of reasoning, logic, etc., that are also used in all the other branches of philosophy and science. The tools are good tools, but results depend on how they are used.

      The problem with theology, I think, is simply that it starts with the assumption that a certain underlying claim is true and then uses the perfectly legitimate tools of reasoning and logic to find ways to support it. This is not seeking the truth, contrary to theologians claims to the contrary. It is a centuries long game of collective confirmation bias.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted November 15, 2016 at 4:32 am | Permalink

        +1

  11. Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I am certain this has been posted here before, but it never tires.

    “A philosopher is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there. A theologian is the man who finds it.”

    H. L. Mencken

    • Mike Cracraft
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Or I would think:
      A theologian is the man standing outside of
      the room yelling “There’s a black cat inside !”

      • busterggi
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        More like “I believe there is a cat in there so there is no reason to look for one”.

      • MAZMAINIAC
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        My take: the job of the theologian is to spin horseshit into gold

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      And the atheist switches on the light and proves the cat isn’t there.

      Then, the atheist is vilified for it by those who make a living convincing people the cat wants them to be its staff.

      • Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        😀

      • busterggi
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        The cat is there, you just refuse to see it!

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

          Because it’s invisible. Also weightless, silent, and doesn’t interact with either baryonic matter of the four forces of nature — just like the the fire-breathing dragon in my garage.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted November 14, 2016 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

            Nobody mention Schrodinger…

            cr

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha!

  12. Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Philosophy is questions that may never be answered, while religion is answers that may never be questioned.

    They’re definitely incompatible.

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      … and the Titanic broke apart before it went down.

      • stuartcoyle
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        Philosophy of religion went down without breaking apart or even hitting an iceberg. It was never seaworthy to begin with.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        Who says it’s the Titanic?

        Well, actually, it could be meant to be the Titanic or one of its sister ships, but they haven’t got the bow quite right.

        But even if it is, I’m not sure I’d call it ‘gruesome’. Even if the band were playing ‘nearer my God to thee’ (which was technically incorrect since God is popularly supposed to be ‘up there’ and they were going down…)

        Still not sure how it relates to religious philosophy?

        cr

        • stuartcoyle
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

          Could be a Tom Waits reference:

          I’d sell your heart to the junkman baby
          For a buck, for a buck
          If you’re looking for someone to pull you out of that ditch
          You’re out of luck, you’re out of luck

          The ship is sinking
          The ship is sinking
          The ship is sinking

          There’s a leak, there’s a leak, in the boiler room
          The poor, the lame, the blind
          Who are the ones that we kept in charge?
          Killers, thieves, and lawyers

          God’s away, God’s away,
          God’s away on Business. Business.
          God’s away, God’s away,
          God’s away on Business. Business.

        • Diane G.
          Posted November 15, 2016 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

          ” Even if the band were playing ‘nearer my God to thee’ (which was technically incorrect…”

          Not if your god is Poseidon.

  13. Posted November 14, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Philosophy of Religion and Theology are not at all the same thing. Theology simply assumes that God exists and then reasons from there, as Richard Dawkins said. Philosophy of Religion doesn’t do that (or shouldn’t). I used to teach a Philosophy of Religion module on an A-level course. Much of it was dismantling the traditional arguments for God – showing why they are flawed. (And they all are.) Another large part of it was exploring the Problem of Evil, which really does remain an intractable problem if one remains committed to belief in an omnipotent omni-benevolent God (drop that belief and the problem melts away, of course!). I found it invigorating, and the religiously inclined students found it discomfiting.

    Now it may be that Philosophy of Religion *as practised* is mostly different from what I used to teach. Perhaps philosophers of religion are mainly believers who smuggle their biases in – in which case they shouldn’t be doing that.

    I’d defend the Philosophy of Religion as a discipline if it is done honestly, because religion has been so important in the history of ideas and these arguments can still be heard. They’re not dead. But a day might come when no one takes them seriously any more; and then there would be no point in analysing flawed arguments that nobody believed in anyway.

    • eric
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Philosophy of Religion doesn’t do that (or shouldn’t).

      I believe Swinburne is a philosopher of religion, and he does. Plantinga does too. These are not just nobodies practicing bad philosophy in some academic corner; they are two of the most well-known and renowned philosophers of religion out there. They are citation go-to philosophers for believers.

      So I think your second paragraph is spot on. Yes sure, in principle philosophy of religion should not be apologetic in nature. But the way it’s practiced by some of the biggest and most prominent philosophers of religion, it is.

      • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        And you can see Plantinga’s standard of argumentation fall through the floor when he starts doing more religious arguments.

    • Sastra
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      I was going to point this out, but you did it better.

      The best argument for keeping the discipline of Philosophy of Religion is that it’s the only academic area where one could or would make arguments against the existence of God. If Faith vs. Fact were going to be assigned as a text — and treated fairly in the philosophical as opposed to the theological sense — it would most likely be assigned in a Philosophy of Religion class.

      What happens in practice may be wrong, but the concept itself is a good one.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      So when is an equivalent to this module going to be taught to the age cohorts of A-level students on the other side of the pond? Talk about a fox in a henhouse! I can see the headlines. The most mild would be, “State-sponsored atheism in our high schools, corrupting students.”

  14. Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Oh, just meant to say: as I understand the term, The God Delusion is philosophy of religion, and Faith versus Fact is philosophy of religion.

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

      Only in the sense that religion demands attention because of its prevalence. If people weren’t so susceptible to religious mumbo-jumbo there would be no Philosophy of Religion.

  15. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Right. But it seems to me Loftus’ argument to sink the philosophy of religion is also an argument to sink the philosophy of science.

    If philosophy of science is analogously a discipline that exists to serve the fact claims of science, an effort to defend and rationalize preexisting science finds, there is – arguably, of course – more moral harm than science use. Science should and could fend for itself.

    I will take this as a support for Krauss’ view of philosophy, which I may sum up as “gap philosophy” [my summation, not Krauss’ which is harsher] of fields under general subsumption.[ http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/has-physics-made-philosophy-and-religion-obsolete/256203/ ]

    • eric
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      You may want to reread the quote: Loftus gives the ‘exists to serve the fact claims…’ as an example of what not to do (in philosophy), not what to do. It seems to me that the simplest counter-argument to your point is to say that since philosophy of science doesn’t exist to serve the fact claims of science, it is not analogously bad and not analogously in need of ditching.

      I’m many years away from actively studying philosophy of science, but I’m unaware that it is apologetic towards scientific claims the way philosophy of religion is apologetic towards theistic belief. I doubt very much Kuhn or Feyerabend could be classified as servants of the fact claims of science.🙂

      • Carl
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        Philosophy of science most certainly is not an apologetics for science. It analyzes and criticizes methods and arguments. It often leads to a re-conceptualizing of how science works and often overthrows long held paradigms.

        If we style philosophy of religion in the same sense, it has been eminently useful and successful. Think of Spinoza, Hume, Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, and Sam Harris as exemplars.

        • Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

          By impact:verbiage ratio, I think you just gave the best argument in the thread.

  16. Geoff Toscano
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Acceptance of the validity of philosophy of religion is central to the case whereby ‘new atheism’ is being attacked. ‘Traditional’ atheists (though I’m hesitant about using the term) seem to be irked by the realisation that their hard won atheistic view of the world, supported by considerable knowledge of philosophy of religion, is actually just as validly held by those who have no knowledge of theology. There’s almost as much vitriol comes from these types of atheist towards ‘new’ atheists as there is from actual believers.

    • Sastra
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      There must be several definitions of “new atheism” making the rounds. I’ve never heard it defined as some variation of “it doesn’t matter why you’re an atheist, as long as you are.” In fact, given its rejection of faith and emphasis on science and reason, I think it involves the opposite position.

    • Carl
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      As far as I can tell, “new atheism” is distinguished from what came before primarily by the aggressiveness of the adherents (for example, Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins). They openly proclaim their views, and do not take sh*t from their opponents.

      More traditional atheists (for example, Pinker, Haidt, Tyson) are somewhat sympathetic to religious viewpoints and rely on gentler methods.

      The world needs both.

      • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        I think I complete this thusly(?):

        The world needs both types of atheists …

      • Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        I wish people would stop using the term ‘aggressive’ when describing new atheism.

        It plays into the false equivalence with ‘aggressive’ religion.

        It’s even worse than ‘militant’.

        • Carl
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          I will stand by “aggressive” and see nothing wrong with the use of the word or that “new atheists” are in fact quite aggressive.

          • Posted November 15, 2016 at 5:45 am | Permalink

            Assertive.

            Aggressive is bad politics.

          • Posted November 15, 2016 at 5:55 am | Permalink

            ” They openly proclaim their views, and do not take sh*t from their opponents.”

            Sounds like “assertive” to me. (The nerve of these people not to agree with us! And to do it in public!)

      • Sastra
        Posted November 15, 2016 at 8:35 am | Permalink

        As far as I can tell, “new atheism” is distinguished from what came before primarily by the aggressiveness of the adherents

        Not really. Plenty of atheists in the near and distant past have been ‘aggressive’ — like HL Mencken and MM O’Hair. And many New Atheists, like Pinker and Dennett, are mild-mannered and scholarly.

        As I understand it, New Atheism is measured against accomodationism. Accomodationists believe

        1.) There is no conflict between science and religion, properly understood.

        2.) Faith is a deeply personal and positive aspect of the believer’s identity. When you understand that, it’s hands off. No arguments. No mockery. We respect faith.

        3.)Arguments and concern are reserved only for the real problem: extremism. When extremists impose the faith-based beliefs of religion into science or politics, then that’s no longer religion. That’s wrong.

        New Atheists disagree with all 3 points (or critical parts of them.) How heated, passionate, aggressive, or insulting someone is doesn’t really come in to it. Someone on either side can be that way, or not.

        • Carl
          Posted November 15, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          I think Steven Pinker would object to being classed as a New Atheist. I have heard both he and his wife (Rebecca Goldstein) explain their differences with Harris and Hitchens along the lines that I have. Jonathan Haidt is another who has separated himself from the “New” label.

          Yet Haidt, Pinker, and Goldstein would certainly reject your items 1 and 3. They would would differ on item 2, in that their stance is less aggressive than Harris, Dawkins, or Hitchens. They feel mockery is not appropriate, but arguments and disagreements are fair game. They also think – and here is the one difference – faith can be a positive aspect of ones identity. (Of course, I’m giving my impression of these individuals, not pretending to speak for them).

          My original statement using “what came before” was a bad choice of words: “other contemporary flavors of atheism” is better.

          • Sastra
            Posted November 15, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

            If my more conceptuaql definition is used, hen I think both Pinker and Goldstein would agree with it, at least in general. They’ve been regularly listed in the group, both have accepted the Dawkins Award, and both emphasize the epistemic problems with faith while citing science and scientific reasoning as valid approaches to the question of God’s existence.

            I think the popularpopulist definition of New Atheism — it’s about whether or not we should be aggressive, insult the religious, and view and treat all religions as equally harmful, comes not from new atheists themselves, but from their critics.

            • Carl
              Posted November 15, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

              If my more conceptuaql definition is used, hen I think both Pinker and Goldstein would agree with it, at least in general.

              That was precisely my point about Pinker and Goldstein. However, they reject the label “New Atheist.” That doesn’t mean they reject New Atheists – they have much in common, they are personal friends, they often work together.

              Incidentally, Goldstein, has no problem with the “agressive” description:

              Sam Harris and others are sometimes criticized as coming on too aggressively in attacking the arguments that people put forth for their religious beliefs. I’m not sympathetic to this criticism. I think that all beliefs should be examined rigorously.

              https://thehumanist.com/magazine/may-june-2010/features/the-humanist-interview-with-rebecca-newberger-goldstein

              • Sastra
                Posted November 15, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

                It’s not clear in this article whether Goldstein rejects the label “new atheist” or not. She seems to identify it with making rational arguments against God publicly available, not with being aggressive. If she thinks that understanding religion’s role in people’s lives means one is not a new atheist, she is leaving out a lot of literature from even the horsemen. But I don’t think she believes that. If nothing else, Dennett.

                I have spoken with her about it briefly, and iirc, told her she was one of my favorite new atheists because she brought in the philosophical background (and feminism.) We talked about that, she didn’t disavow the title — though it may not have been the right time and place anyway, or polite.

                At any rate, it’s not controversial to say that multiple definitions entail multiple answers from multiple people regarding “Are you a __?” I think the one I use hits most of the major bases while avoiding the extraneous. Your mileage may vary.

              • Carl
                Posted November 15, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

                I tried to find a reference where Goldstein or Pinker explicitly reject the “New Atheist” label, but I only have my memory to go on, which I admit is not perfect.

                It does seem to me that Goldstein, Pinker, and Haidt find much more value and respectability in the religious beliefs of other people, than do Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens. The later group is on record making much more cutting and dismissive remarks than the former.

  17. Posted November 14, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    As a former philosophy department chairman, I would like to point out that our philosophy of religion course was taught by a non-Christian, and was not an exercise in Christian apologetics. Many students signed up for the course believing that their pieties would be reaffirmed. When it became apparent that that was not going to be the case– in fact, that their pieties were being questioned– they dropped the course. (This was problematic from the point of view of impressing the university administration– a course in pieties reaffirmed would have been much more popular, which is what university administrations care about.)

    • rickflick
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      So I guess the fact that students dropped out because the course was based on rational analysis is evidence that the subject should be deep-sixed…unless the few that remained had actually learned something. The more indirect, but maybe more effective approach, might be to offer courses first in logic and critical thinking. After that, the philosophy of religion might seem more completely unnecessary to the students.

      • eric
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        At the risk of making a generalization, I believe your standard introduction to philosophy course for majors includes some analysis of religious beliefs about God, as a unit. So the students should have realized before they hit the upper level courses what sort of analysis would be included.

        Still, its entirely possible that different professors teaching the classes could lead to different expectations among the students as to how the material will be covered. Its also possible that some students see the course description through rose-tinted glasses, even if their 101 experience should have taught them otherwise. And I think we should also take Loftus’ position seriously, which is to say that its entirely possible that – Prof. Meyer’s anecdotal experience aside – many students at many universities correctly anticipate that the course will reaffirm their pieties.

  18. Carl
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Epicurus, Bruno, Hobbes, and Spinoza – If there is ever to be a Mt. Rushmore of atheists, these are prime candidates for the honor. To them, the existence of god was never the important question, they all accepted or even “proved” this. The important question concerned the nature of god. And they all wound up with the view that God and Nature (the entire universe, the laws of physics) were two ways of talking about the same thing.

    It then followed there was nothing supernatural, miracles do not occur, god is not the sort of thing that cares about us, and so on.

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Well, you already have a couple of likely atheists in Mt. Rushmore already: Jefferson and Lincoln.

      • Carl
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        I’m not so sure the count should stop at 2.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

          Let us hope that this does not become generally known, or Mt Rushmore might go the way of the Bamiyan Buddhas….

          cr

        • Posted November 15, 2016 at 5:45 am | Permalink

          Me either; but the evidence is pretty clear for those two. 🙂

  19. Posted November 14, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I think there should be a field philosophy of X for every intellectual field X and likely every human endeavor X. But the *standards* in philosophy of religion are pretty bad sometimes. Plantinga is one example which *really* ticks me off: I disagree with some of his other work, but it is at least plausible to some degree. However, the stuff about the “sensus divinitatis” is just off the wall. Also I really don’t like how he or his followers have been teaching oodles of students about modal ontological arguments without teaching them that there are many systems of modal logic. WLC is just a charlatan, by contrast, and I don’t think it is worth wasting too much time on his stuff.

    There *is* good philosophy of religion: Patrick Grim, Theodore (!) Drange and Michael Scriven, for example, to pick some. But they are not believers! Also Oppenheimer and Zalta (one believer – I don’t know which; one not) and their fair assessment of the computer aided “ontological argument” is worth considering. As they say, god may eternally geometrize, but he’s *not* the Platonic number 1, so the proof fails.

    I think it is also a good idea to do historical work in the area to understand where we came from and why the (believer’s) arguments are still around, etc. This is especially important cross-culturally. For example, I’ve come to know that Iran is full of high school students who have taken philosophy and logic via theology (or the other way around). Understanding this background is important.

  20. zendruid1
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Simply put, the philosophy of religion is the philosophy of storytelling, badly executed.

    With good or even pedestrian storytelling, the audience can expect a resolution of all the plot lines in the end.

    One does not need to be particularly astute to pick up the idea that religion is the means of manipulating emotions. Reality need not apply.

  21. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Loftus seems to be focused on how P of R has become a PR job (bah-dum!!) in evangelical schools, but this is not how P of R is taught in good secular schools.

    I think there’s a confusion here between “philosophy of religion” and “religious philosophy”.

    As Wikipedia phrases it (emphasis added)
    “The philosophy of religion differs from religious philosophy in that it seeks to discuss questions regarding the nature of religion as a whole, rather than examining the problems brought forth by a particular belief system. It is designed such that it can be carried out dispassionately by those who identify as believers or non-believers”.

    In England in the 60s and 70s, there was a big move to expand curricula P of R to include works of Hindu and Buddhist philosophers.
    In courses on the philosophy of religion I sat in on in in America, writing of Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx were included ,since writers doing what is called the “hermeneutics of suspicion” were considered as much philosophers of religion as were believers.

    The book “Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology” by Louis P. Pojman, Michael Rea contains entries by David Hume and Anthony Flew (from his atheist period) and even….(drumroll)…Richard Dawkins, as well as Pope John Paul 2, the Dalai Lama, and the expected Augustine and Aquinas.

    So, I’m not buying Loftus thesis here.

    • Carl
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Ah, the sad story of Anthony Flew hadn’t entered my mind for years.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        Flew only became an advocate of deism.
        It’s kinda sorta like Miklos Jakos’ “Soft Theism”.

        His early essay in the anthology above is called the “presumption of atheism”. Now, if he chooses to say he no longer thinks that should be the fallback/default assumption, I can ride with that.

        However, he is awfully darn sure of himself, devoid of doubts, and completely convinced of the existence of God.

  22. Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Huh. I always thought that philosophy of X was “studying how X works, intellectually”, as in philosophy of science. I thought theology was what assumed god to exist and argued from there.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      Not disagreeing with you, but I rather think ‘psychology of religion’ might be more practical use.

      cr

      • Posted November 15, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        All the “outside” scholarly studies of religion are useful, in principle. Sociology of religion is often squishy in practice, but the principle is right. The political science of religion is desperately needed (though the practical side is done by Pew and such); ditto the economics of religion. Even the biology of religion: think of how religion affects fertility, food choices, etc.

  23. Carl
    Posted November 14, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Playing the Ponzi,
    You seem to be having such a good time puncturing various views expressed here. I have to say it is fun to read.

    Your task is so easy because the people you are roasting probably don’t quite realize (or don’t actually know) the true foundation of what they are trying to say. Which I think is this:

    Knowledge is conjecture (a guess, a theory) combined with criticism (logic and empiricism are tools of criticism). There is no justifying or proving knowledge. It becomes more secure the more criticism it withstands, but is always subject to modification and even outright rejection.

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      You think readers here don’t understand how knowledge and the provisional nature of science work?

      We are pointing out that PtP’s initial claim is an unwarranted equivocation. Religious faith is nothing like the confidence we have in our epistemological system.

      • Carl
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

        I think PTP was so successful at baiting many of you, because you missed his (her?) points so often, and spent your time attacking your own illusions.

        For example, your sarcastic remark at 10:09. Do you really think PTP has no respect for evidence?

        You do better in the comment made at 10:56.

        I see the “unwarranted equivocation” you raise as an attempt by PTP to clear the cobwebs from the ideas expressed here – a good thing.

        • Vaal
          Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          Carl,

          As I mentioned to Ponzi earlier, he may have
          sound points to make, but he has a tendency to equivocal language, perhaps as “bait” as you put it. But then, this is not really the way to promote clarity. And many of the response have indicated people are quite aware of the points Ponzi wished to make: but they were initially mislead by the way Ponzi started out. IMO…

          • Carl
            Posted November 14, 2016 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

            Well, if PtP didn’t make some here think more clearly about their own beliefs, then I’m mistaken.

            • Vaal
              Posted November 14, 2016 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

              Ponzi’s point has been brought up and debated here many times before.

              Not that the issues shouldn’t be raised again.

              • Carl
                Posted November 14, 2016 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

                PtP made many, many points, and to me all very intellectually stimulating. The opening “faith remark” was indeed bait that led the discussion through many interesting turns.

    • Posted November 14, 2016 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that is precisely my position, Carl.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 14, 2016 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

        I think a troll would claim the same.

        cr

        • Posted November 15, 2016 at 5:52 am | Permalink

          Indeed, Carl pretty well described troll behavior.

          PtP does not seem like an honest or sincere interlocutor.

          Solipsism can’t be disproved. Knowledge is in the end circular. Closed proof is not possible outside of some of mathematics (everything is the real world is a distribution not an ideal “type” or unit).

          Time for suicide, eh, PtP?

          Or we can just move along and get on with life.

          And honest, sincere interlocutor would simply state his/her case rather than trolling.

          Cheers,

    • Posted November 15, 2016 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      I admit to a little annoyance and somewhat rude sarcasm because he seems to assume that somehow he’s the only one who has read any epistemology and gotten a very unusual view out of it, somehow. Since there is at least one person here (me – though given the readership, almost certainly others) who has done graduate courses in the subject, the idea that we are somehow all ignorant is patronizing.

  24. peepuk
    Posted November 15, 2016 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    Philosophy is mostly useful in the political arena, for motivating people to change their behavior.

    If you want to move away from faith, science is the only game in town.

  25. Mike
    Posted November 15, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Science defines proof as “A logical demonstration that certain conclusions, follow from certain assumptions” and unless Religion can meet that test , which manifestly it cannot,then its just bullshit and should be binned, as happens with all failed Hypotheses.
    But that’s just me !.

    • yossarian
      Posted November 15, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      I didn’t think science – unlike maths or logic – dealt in proofs. Rather the scientific model deals with hypotheses, evidence, theories etc? I’m not sure history or the study of literature deals in proof either and neither do I think they should be binned from the academy?

      • Posted November 15, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Proofs are always relative to axioms. In pure mathematics axioms are “merely” convenience, the “perceived to be basic” matters, implicit “definitions”, etc. In factual science they have to have background support, initial plausibility, etc. as well. So, yes, there are proofs in any field at all, but do they have the “certainty” that some want? Nope. This does not entail either that all arguments in factual science are deductive, either. (Most are abductive, which paradoxically makes them more useful because less “brittle”.)

        • yossarian
          Posted November 15, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          Popper for one would disagree with you on science having a concept of proof.

          • Posted November 16, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

            They exist: a proof is just a valid deduction. All sciences have these. What is *not* present is explicit axiomatization. So determining where the “ultimate” (context-relative) axioms are can be difficult.

            The *term* is often not used because the standards of evidence are different in mathematics and factual science. I think this is one place where he’d say the terminology might not be helpful, but that’s also a dispute over words.

            What is *much* more interesting (because poorly understood: deduction is very well understood) are the non-deductive parts of reasoning.


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