I recently came across an article on Reddit that discussed how philosophy of religion is not taken as seriously as other sub-disciplines of philosophy in academic circles. Even in religious institutions like Notre Dame, such a discipline is not taken as seriously as other disciplines, and students are reportedly told to avoid doing their dissertations on the subject. While it was not mentioned in the article why exactly this was the case, I think that I can offer a speculative theory on the basis of my experiences with debating such topics with religious people.
The core problem with the philosophy of religion, in my experience, and more specifically philosophical arguments for the existence of God, is that there seems to be a certain level of dishonesty inherent in them. This is not to say that believers themselves are dishonest; it is wrong to attack the character of individual believers here. I am merely commenting on the methods used to reach the conclusion that God exists. While most academic endeavors, including those of a philosophical nature, try to remain open minded, to build perspectives based on evidence or reason, and to allow facts or the logical validity of arguments guide one’s views, arguments for the existence of God are often designed to defend one’s preconceived worldviews. Even the use of the word “apologetics”, which is often associated with these kinds of arguments, implies that their purpose is to defend something, rather than build up knowledge. There is no reason in any of the arguments I have seen for the existence of God to place God above other theories, even when the God hypothesis is a valid alternative on the surface.
It is not difficult to see this phenomenon in action in viewing some of the more prominent arguments for the existence of God. Heck, we can see it in arguments I already covered. A key to detecting this kind of trickery is to look at the premises of the argument that are presented. Many arguments for the existence of God point to a philosophical problem, and then attempt to argue that God is the best, or only explanation for said problem. This is awfully leading, because normally, either these problems have no solutions, the solution does not have to be God, or God cannot be the solution. We saw this in the Sye Ten Bruggencate vs. Matt Dillahunty debate a few months ago. Sye argued for a presuppositionalist viewpoint, attempting to exploit the problem of hard solipsism, by claiming that the only possibility is God. As we already know, both from Matt’s argument in the debate itself and my previous article on it, God is not a valid solution to the problem, nor is there any real solution to the problem. However, Sye attempted to attack reason itself and argued that the only way anyone can understand the world is belief in God. Sye pointed out a common philosophical problem, and then argued for his preferred solution.
We have also seen this in the argument of morality, which I also already covered. Premise 1 argues that God is necessary for objective morality to exist, or is the best explanation for it. However, as we already know, God is an insufficient basis for objective morality, and if objective morality can be said to exist at all it certainly is not based on God. Once again, philosophy of religion attempts to defend a presupposed conclusion, rather than actually use data to reach conclusions.
We also see this line of thinking in the cosmological argument. Theists point out problems with the idea of infinite regress, the need for “necessary” beings, and say that the only way the universe can be explained is with, surprise surprise, God. Never mind the various scientific hypotheses for the beginning of the universe, the theist will argue it absolutely has to be God. Can we even really say that an infinite regress is impossible, or that the universe cannot be explained naturally? After all, time is relative, which means causation may also be relative. It has been said, according to the theory of relativity, that there was no “before” the big bang, which means the universe very well could just exist. Theistic logic breaks down when attempting to comprehend the beginning of the universe scientifically. Not to mention, there are many other potential explanations out there that are equally valid to the god hypothesis, like multiverses or universes from nothing. There is also the problem with God apparently being inexplicably exempt from the same rules theists throw at the universe we know and love. Once again, it appears that the purpose of this argument is to prop up one’s belief in God, rather than find objective truth.
Arguments for the existence of God only get worse from here. We have the ontological argument in which God is literally thought into existence by being maximally great, and it being greater to exist than not to exist, which is just absurd. Regardless of what one conceives, that does not mean it is real. It is just a cheap attempt to use philosophical mind tricks to justify their deity. We have teleological arguments that claim that because the universe looks designed God exists. A funny thing to do to expose theists pushing this one is to point out how the universe does not look designed or looks poorly designed and watch them do damage control to defend their perspective. Once again, the point of these arguments is not to find truth, but to defend a presupposition they accept by faith. We have various arguments from the Bible, which can easily be debunked by serious objective study (ie, study for purposes other than bolstering one’s convictions) on the Bible. We have arguments from personal experience, which may or may not be true, but unconvincing because events cannot be proven or often have natural explanations.
In conclusion, it is quite clear after looking over most arguments for the existence of God in brief that a major reason why most scholars do not take the philosophy of religion seriously is because arguments intended to prove the existence of God are not made in good faith. There is a difference between apologetics and scholarship. While scholarship is about finding objective truth regardless of the conclusion, apologetics is about coming up with arguments to defend a preconceived conclusion. Seeing how academia practices scholarship and not apologetics, it is unsurprising that apologetic arguments are often not taken seriously.
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