This morning I was taken aback to read the following comment from the Atheist Missionary:
“Secularists make no claims of metaphysical certainty – if they did, they would be “religious” and the tenets of their claims would be a theology.”
I assume that TAM’s phrase “metaphysical certainty” means “epistemically certain of a metaphysical claim” (as I have no idea what else it could mean). Unfortunately this leads to absurd consequences, as I illustrated with two scenarios:
Scenario 1: On Monday Jane is certain that “God is love”. On Tuesday Jane’s mom dies and Jane is no longer certain that God is love. Ergo, on Monday Jane is religious but not on Tuesday.
Scenario 2: Democritus and Bertrand Russell are certain that all that exists is matter and the void. Ergo Democritus and Russell are religious.
TAM replied as follows:
“I don’t have any disagreement with your two scenarios, if we are defining religious as professing to have metaphysical certainty.”
TAM’s statement is ambiguous and could mean one of two things:
Interpretation one: “I agree that these scenarios are possible if you accept this criterion for distinguishing theological and religious claims from non-theological and non-religious claims.”
Interpretation two: “I agree that these scenarios are possible if you accept this criterion for distinguishing theological and religious claims from non-theological and non-religious claims and I don’t think the prima facie absurdity of these scenarios constitutes a defeater to the criterion.“
If TAM only means interpretation one then I am left wondering whether he still has the stomach to retain his criterion. Does he agree that it ought to be abandoned or not?
If, on the other hand, TAM is endorsing scenario 2 then I wonder how he can possibly do so in light of these two defeaters.
In closing, let me propose a third defeater in the form of a paradox that arises from the criterion:
Jones and Smith are two Christian philosophers who together write an essay defending a new form of the ontological argument for God’s existence. Jones is certain that the argument establishes God’s existence. Smith, however, is not certain that it establishes his existence. Indeed, he is not certain that God exists at all. Is the paper they wrote a work of philosophical theology? According to TAM’s definition the answer is yes qua Jones but no qua Smith. But that is absurd.
The lesson is this: you don’t define “theology” and “religion” with respect to one’s degree of conviction of the truth of certain metaphysical claims.