As my regular readers will know, I have a book co-authored with Justin Schieber forthcoming in which we debate the existence of God. Debates on the existence of God belong to the field of philosophy known as the philosophy of religion. Thus, Justin and I are engaged in an extended debate within the philosophy of religion. I, the theist, argue for God’s existence while Justin, the atheist, argues against God’s existence.
In the last couple years I’ve noticed that John Loftus has begun advocating for what I’ll call the exclusion thesis according to which the philosophy of religion should be excluded from the Academy. Indeed, he apparently has written a book calling for the end of the philosophy of religion: the subtitle is “Why philosophy of religion must end.” According to the promotional blurb,
“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 leading atheist thinker and writer John Loftus in this forceful takedown of the very discipline in which he was trained.”
Now this is surely one of the weirder positions ever to emerge from the atheist blogosphere. Note that the claim is not merely that theism is not an intellectually credible position within philosophy of religion. If that subtitle and the promotional material is to be believed, the real claim is that philosophy of religion itself is intellectually delegitimated. In other words, the person who defends atheism (e.g. Justin Schieber) is as illegitimate as the person who defends theism.
Frankly, I’m surprised that Loftus found a publisher for so bizarre a thesis as this. According to this thesis, atheist J.L. Schellenberg’s defense of the hiddenness thesis is as illegitimate as theist Michael Rea’s critique of it. And atheist Quentin Smith’s critique of the cosmological argument is as illegitimate as William Lane Craig’s defense of it.
This thesis has a very curious implication. You see, philosophy of religion is concerned with presenting arguments and evidence for and/or against religious/irreligious and theistic/atheistic claims. Thus, the person who rejects the entire discourse rejects the propriety of providing arguments or evidence for or against religious/irreligious and theistic/atheistic claims.
In other words, the atheist who rejects the discourse of philosophy of religion rejects the provision of arguments and evidence in favor of atheism.
From which it follows that the atheist who rejects the discourse of philosophy of religion advocates for a de facto fideism for their atheistic commitments.
As if that were not bad enough, even worse, fideistic atheism is itself an argument in the philosophy of religion. Thus, the proponent of the exclusion thesis contradicts the very thesis he purports to endorse. By arguing de facto for fideistic atheism, he contradicts his own prohibition against the philosophy of religion.
Perhaps Loftus is not really rejecting the legitimacy of philosophy of religion per se. An alternative reading of his project is suggested as one keeps reading the promotional blurb which continues like this:
“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.”
The latter part of the promotional blurb seems to shift from a rejection of philosophy of religion per se to a rejection of Christians doing philosophy of religion. Apparently J.L. Schellenberg and Quentin Smith are permitted to defend their preexisting atheistic beliefs, but Michael Rea and William Lane Craig are not permitted to defend their preexisting Christian beliefs.
If that is the case then Loftus is merely guilty of a particularly bald form of equivocation. He advertises a surprisingly robust rejection of the entire discipline of philosophy of religion but then shifts his target to Christian philosophy of religion.
Rest assured, whether the matter is absurdity or equivocation, philosophy of religion is alive and well.