The Apologetics Charge Against Philosophy of Religion


Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers) and Paul Draper (Purdue) discuss their views on the relationship between philosophy of religion and religious apologetics in a pair of recent posts at Philosophy of Religion.

Zimmerman sets forth a conception of apologetics and argues that a “no apologetics” norm is “unrealistic and unfair”:

Some philosophers of religion add some special, domain specific norms that are supposed to govern theorizing in the philosophy of religion, analogues of which are not generally taken to hold in other parts of philosophy. So, philosophers of religion are supposed to have failed to do their job unless they approach their questions with an absolutely open mind, with no preconceptions about what the answer will be, in a state that is as close to suspension of belief as possible. Or they are supposed scrupulously to avoid affirming any particular religious doctrine in their work, always only exploring the internal coherence of a set of religious beliefs (although perhaps one might be allowed to say a few negative things, like “These doctrines are internally incoherent, and so cannot be true”). Those who fail to abide by the second norm are said to have taken the fatal plunge into theology. And it’s very important to draw a sharp line between philosophy of religion and theology (or so they say). Those who fail to abide by the first norm do not address religious questions with a sufficiently open mind; they are in serious danger of merely engaging in apologetics (far worse than slipping into theology). I accept neither the “no apologetics” norm nor the “no theology” norm as definitive of good philosophy of religion.

I think the no apologetics norm is unrealistic and unfair. We do not apply its analogue in other areas of philosophy that are no less fraught with disagreement and even danger; and it’s no easier to apply, and no more important to apply, when it comes to religion. I do not expect the Kantian ethicist to hold her view lightly, nor do I believe every utilitarian who does good work defending himself against Kantians must always be poised on a razor’s edge between the two views. Why not, though? After all, there is deep disagreement here about large-scale ethical theories.

The no apologetics norm, in practice, is an instance of what van Inwagen calls “the difference thesis”: Plantinga and Grünbaum are supposed to be flouting a norm for good philosophy of religion if they are not each easily persuadable by the other. But Korsgaard and Singer are not regarded as bad ethicists, even though we know that they are not each equally likely to trade views with the other whenever they read one another’s work. Openness to argument, to being wrong, is indeed a virtue. Being able, sympathetically, to get into the shoes of those with very different beliefs and values is a virtue. These virtues will help the philosopher to get to the truth. But the Cartesian project of suspension of all belief is a fantasy; and religion is not the one special little province where it applies. At least I have seen no good reason to accept that it is.

Draper thinks that Zimmerman is not working with a reasonable conception of apologetics, and that if we work with a better one, we can see why it does not fit well with good philosophy:

Zimmerman’s unnamed opponent claims that the problem with apologetics is that those who engage in it “fail to approach their questions with an absolutely open mind, with no preconceptions about what the answer will be, in a state that is as close to suspension of belief as possible.” In other words, to be a good philosopher of religion according to Zimmerman’s opponent, one must always be “poised on a razor’s edge between the two views” being debated and “easily persuadable by” one’s interlocutor. Zimmerman’s response is the obvious one: such demands are “unrealistic and unfair . . . the Cartesian project of suspension of all belief is a fantasy; and religion is not the one special little province where it applies.”

Surely, however, there is a better justification of why philosophers should not engage in apologetics than the one Zimmerman criticizes. To find that justification, we need only focus on the fact that the apologist by definition sets out to prove, or to find evidence that supports, the religious doctrines to which they are committed. Similarly, in our adversarial criminal justice system, a prosecutor seeks to prove that defendants are guilty. Even if the prosecutor offers only arguments that they sincerely believe are sound, still no one would want to claim that what the prosecutor does is the best way to find out the truth about whether or not a defendant is really guilty. Instead, seeking evidence, whether that evidence confirms or disconfirms, is likely to be much more effective. This is the real reason that philosophers of religion should avoid apologetics. It is antithetical to the norm of avoiding bias in one’s inquiry, to the norm of seeking any relevant evidence there is, regardless of which direction it points. And that is not a special, domain specific norm at all, but a norm that applies to all truth-directed thought.

Of course, we all know that human beings, including philosophers and scientists, regularly violate this norm. No one is perfect here. But that doesn’t justify ignoring the norm. Further, imperfection in satisfying this norm comes in a wide range of degrees, and there is good reason to believe that the potential for falling far short is especially great when committed Christians, for example, focus on certain topics in philosophy of religion. One reason for this is that there is enormous pressure on members of religions like Christianity not to stray from accepted doctrine. Such group influence, combined with the ability of philosophers to construct elaborate rationalizations for just about any position one can imagine, is bound to lead to trouble, making a no apologetics norm all the more essential.

You can read all of Zimmerman’s post here, and all of Draper’s here.

(via John Schellenberg)

image from BL Yates Thompson 8 f. 294r

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Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

Draper’s analogy doesn’t really help his case, does it? Prosecutors are officers of the court, and if they find evidence that tells against their case, they are meant to reveal it to the court. It’s true that this norm is very frequently breached, but that’s because a lot of prosecutors are bad prosecutors.

It isn’t obvious, to me at least, that an adversarial system is a bad way of getting to the truth, as long as each party abides by their duty to not conceal relevant evidence. At least, it feels like an open question whether it is best for the community to have everyone being a neutral judge, or whether it is best to have the opposing views presented as forcefully as possible. The latter seems like it could be a way of finding the truth. Put another way, if the ‘apologist’ plays the role of a well-behaved prosecutor, they could be playing a valuable role in a valuable system.Report

Caleb
Caleb
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

Yes, Draper seems to assume that truth seeking is always served best by neutrality, without addressing the obvious objection that we often get at the truth through adversarial systems, where being committed to a position is an important part of someone’s epistemic role. There is a revised version of his criticism, on which the fact that there are a disproportionate number of people in philosophy of religion playing the defender of religion or Christianity role is a problem. But this wouldn’t show at a local level that apologetics is bad, just that you need some global balance for the system to function well. It would also seem to be better addressed by changing the (dis)incentives to participating in philosophy of religion, not by preventing participants from operating out of their commitments.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

I agree with Brian and Caleb, but I think something stronger is true: Zimmerman is right that there is a double-standard if religious philosophers are being criticized for looking for arguments that support doctrines to which they are antecedently committed, which is what Draper appears to be doing. I don’t think philosophers do this all the time, but I think we almost all do it some of the time. Anyone whose project is to defense some “common sense” position is doing this, right? And I’m not sure what this has to do with “avoiding bias”, unless we say that our priors are a form of bias. That makes a certain amount of sense, but then “avoiding bias” turns into exactly what Zimmerman says: having an “absolutely open mind, with no preconceptions about what the answer will be, in a state that is as close to suspension of belief as possible”.

As a sort of throwaway point, is the sense in which apologists, by definition, are setting out to defend their religion any different from the sense in which Utilitarians, by definition, are setting out to defend Utilitarianism? I don’t see any difference, but maybe I’m missing something.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

An adversarial court system assumes that the final decision is made by an impartial jury. But in philosophy, each individual is this jury who must decide for themselves. A partial advocate has been a bad juror.Report

Caleb
Caleb
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

But the point of philosophical discussion isn’t always an overall balanced and final assessment. It’s appropriate (and common) to write articles and books that are aimed at defending one side of a question as a contribution to a larger ongoing debate. E.g. I might write an article defending rule consequentialism against an objection or an article giving a new argument for the bundle theory of personal identity, even if I think there are other issues with these views that I take to be devastating. The fact that I don’t disclose these other issues is fine, as long as the point I’m making is worthwhile and I’m clear about the limits of my claims. It’s easier to make progress argument by argument, often via partial advocacy, then waiting till one is in a position to attempt a comprehensive verdict.Report

Mauss22
Mauss22
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

The adversarial method relies on sufficient adversaries. The numbers from Bourget & Chalmers (2013) suggest that while atheism is quite common among philosophers, it is quite uncommon among philosophers of religion. These differences are not absolute (“I know this chap that doesn’t believe in god and publishes all the time”) but could support the argument that there are issues with promoting apologetics in a field where there aren’t the requisite structural norms that can make such apologetics productive. If it turns out that 80% of psychologists are Conservative it may or may not matter, but if instead, they were Political Theorists and Conservative Apologists and 80% conservative, then there are reasons to be concerned–even if you are able to spot a few papers from liberal theorists. Report

Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Mauss22
2 years ago

I agree that that’s a problem with the field. But I don’t think it’s the same thing as the ‘apologetics’ complaint, or the argument Paul Draper is making.

And I don’t think it’s particularly distinctive to philosophy of religion. I don’t see many people working on Kant exegesis who think Kant was fundamentally mistaken about most things, for example. There are way fewer classical statisticians in formal epistemology than you might expect given the overall makeup of the academy.

I don’t know what one should even do about that. We want philosophy of religion to have some theists in it, and history of philosophy to have some Kantians in it, and formal epistemology to have some Bayesians in it. It’s not their fault if not enough people show up to play on the other side. If they are actively excluding their opponents from the field, that is really bad. But that’s a very different complaint to what seems to be being lodged here.Report

Mauss22
Mauss22
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

If it is correct to represent Draper as being against apologetics in the case of Phil of Religion, but not in the case of functioning legal system, then I think the source of that disanalogy is relevant to Draper’s complaints–even if it isn’t fleshed out in the article/blog. The data I reference does suggest something distinctive in phil of religion, something that may speak to why Draper considers apologetics a threat to phil of religion. Obviously, it is not a categorical distinction, but one of degree. And it is unclear what inferences we can draw from that data. Moreover, it isn’t clear to me how pervasive apologetics is at this point and nothing in the Bourget Chalmers article is suggestive.

If there is a similar issue in relation to Kant etc then I see that as an interesting complication–worth examining, but maybe unnecessary in this context. As you suggest, when acting as historians of philosophy, there actually could be less of a unique problem for phil of religion. The Aquinas scholar and the Kant scholar might not be that different, even if one checks the [phil or religion] box and the other checks the [modern phil] box. More problematic conflicts might only return when dealing with historical figures closer to core biases–like scholarship on the historical Christ. Here we get similar issues that arise when addressing other matters of core dogma.

As you say, it’s hard to don’t know what one should do about the issue. Draper’s solution would be, if you recognize that your field or specialty is subject to certain risk factors, then proactively counter those risks. If apologetics is a risk where there isn’t sufficient competition/criticism of ideas, It might help to internalize some of that conflict. Draper is arguing for a strong version of this with his “no apologetics norm”. This would require a certain pessimism to overcoming the structural issues– imagining a pervasive analogy to the courtroom, where one side persecutes the silent opponent. This pessimism isn’t really defended, and we ought to question it and consider alternatives. We can grant him that there could be a unique problem for Phil of Religion, but be skeptical of his solution. Report

DoubleA
DoubleA
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

If it’s not their fault then that’s all we’ll and good, but don’t the disparate numbers suggest something is amiss? Philosophers seem unhappy to default to mere coincidence or something similarly benign as the explanation when similar disparities in representation occur elsewhere in the field. Why not think the dominant atmosphere of Christian apologetics pushes out atheist thinkers? And if that’s what is happening, then should the current apologists do something to fix that?Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  DoubleA
2 years ago

Well, there is at least occasional affirmative action for non-christians in philosophy of religion (at conferences etc.), and certainly there isn’t explicit bias against non-christians at reputable PR events. Of course, that’s consistent with there being pervasive unconscious bias against non-christians, but it still seems worth noting.Report

nicholesuomi
Reply to  Mauss22
2 years ago

I often see the majority of ethicists being moral realists as a reason to at least take realism seriously. I only rarely see arguments that there’s some basic problem keeping the anti-realists out. Philosophy of religion seems to get the opposite treatment. I.e. that there’s a majority of philosophers of religion being theists is taken as a basic problem in the field rather than a sign we should take theism more seriously. (I haven’t seen any data for it, but I would bet that most metaphysicians have some strong non-deflationary metaphysical views. I’ve seen a bit more balance between the two reactions.) Is there a good (truth-tracking) reason for this discrepancy? Or is the discrepancy merely an artifact of my perspective? Report

KH
KH
Reply to  nicholesuomi
2 years ago

I like this analogy, but for me it doesn’t do the work you want it to do. Most climate scientists believe in climate change. Most (we can assume here) ethical theorists believe in moral realism. The former fact is a reason the believe in climate change. But for me the latter fact is just evidence that moral theory, as practiced in the academy, is deeply flawed (to put it kindly). I don’t see any reason to trust the sociology of philosophical subfields in this way.

With religion the problem is exacerbated by the dissimilarity between philosophy of religion and science. People did not typically conclude there’s a god, or was an incarnation, as a result of reading the arguments or evaluating the evidence. I could change this point so that it’s not about biographies or causal histories of belief, but I think the scientific expert model won’t work for philosophy subfields. Report

Nichi
Nichi
Reply to  KH
2 years ago

I worry I might not have been entirely clear, and I think we might be mostly in agreement. I mean to simply ask why we have this spectrum from “most experts on morals think morals are real, and that’s evidence for morals being real” (values, ethics, whatever) to “most experts on God think God is real, and that’s evidence for those experts doing something wrong”
with metaphysicians usually landing somewhere in the center. I have seen some people, and I take you to be doing this, simply push everyone to the religion side. “Of course ethicists and metaphysicians believe in the things they study! That’s no evidence at all!”

I’m fairly sympathetic to that view. Though I suspect at least something in the opposite direction can be done. Say, since each of these fields have an expert majority (slim as it may be), and the experts are well-established in the academy (so there’s probably some bright people involved, and crystal healers don’t qualify), we have a pro tanto reason to believe in morals, metaphysics, or God. If doing philosophy generally leads to getting better at philosophy, then people who done a lot of philosophy are generally better at it. That is, either we have reason, though not overriding reason, to think the experts on onto something, or else doing philosophy doesn’t lead to getting better at it. The latter disjunct seems less plausible to me. (Though I do happen to think the reasons end up overridden.)Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
2 years ago

The real question is about norms and practices, not subject matter. Would a polytheist be allowed to work out problems internal to her view in a philosophy of religion journal, or would the editor or reviewers reject her paper automatically on the basis that “such heathenism is obviously false”. In the former case, Zimmerman’s analogy stands. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Odinists, etc. can work out their respective systems just like deontologists and utilitarians. In the latter case, the academic subfield is really just Christian theology practiced by philosophers and the label “philosophy of religion” is inappropriate insofar as it implies objectivity and neutrality. Apologetics in *individual articles* is fine. An entire *field* aimed at establishing the truth of Christian dogma over other religions is not something that secular public universities can support. Christian churches can support that on their own dime. I have no problem with apologetic Christian theology. At the very least, it’s fun and interesting stuff. It should just be labeled as such and public funds should not be used to support it. It certainly shouldn’t be passed off as if it has established all of its conclusions and the falsity of atheism and other religions from a neutral perspective, as the label “philosophy of religion” implies.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  YAAGS
2 years ago

I guess I agree with pretty much all of this, but it’s pretty obvious that the former case is actual, right? There are a variety of non-Christians and atheists who do philosophy of religion. Or am I missing something?Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  JDRox
2 years ago

I suspect it’s not much worse than any other philosophical subfield. My gut tells me that a Catholic reviewer would probably be more hostile to a paper defending some protestant doctrine than one defending Hinduism (and vice versa). But I really don’t know the demographics as far what is accepted vs. what is rejected in Phil religion journals. You could take my point to be this: we should only worry about Christian apologetics in the philosophy of religion if there is a large outcry of non-Christians who say their papers on other religions are rejected by phil religion journals for ridiculous reasons. As far as I’m aware there is no such outcry, so let them do their thing.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  YAAGS
2 years ago

I’m instinctively sympathetic to this position, but I wonder if it’s really stable. I think there’s a symmetry between different religions, but that’s only because I think they’re all false and there aren’t any very persuasive arguments for any of them! That would be a reason not to support research in the philosophy of any religion, not a reason to support research equally in all of them. Conversely, there’s no a priori reason one couldn’t think that the arguments for (say) Odinism weren’t much weaker than the arguments for other religions.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

I am in general agreement with this, and for the reason that (most) religions try to support supernatural points of view that even in best instances try to be compatible with empirically-founded views (say a view that embraces theistic evolution guided by a transcendent god). However, some religions, especially held as ways of living rather than embracing supernaturalism (Buddhism and Scientology, e.g., but I’d also say that pairing is not particularly kind to a major world religion) have to be assessed in other ways than as being opposed to naturalistic world-views. And of course there’s pantheism, which almost by definition is naturalistic. My point is that as religions shy away from stark supernaturalism, then even by naturalist inclinations they might deserve critical scrutiny as ways to live in a purely natural world.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

David, I don’t think the problem is that the religions are likely false. Philosophers explore arguments for false theories all the time. I think the problem arises if the entire field is exclusionary by assuming that a certain set of religious dogmas is true in such a way that the field functions or aims to defend a specific religion. The problem being that it would run against the establishment clause for such a field to receive taxpayer money. (With the obvious addendum that the first amendment is also just.)

Also, I don’t see why the philosophy of religion shouldn’t also ask what religions in general are and what they do as social practices rather than just establishing whether they are true or false. Someone could (I think convincingly) argue that the primary function of Odinism and other indigenous religions isn’t to express ontological commitments to specific supernatural entities but rather to instill specific value systems and promote various types of communal bonds and aesthetic (and ascetic) experiences. A paper arguing that, say, the Viking Eddas are committed to a specific form of virtue ethics strikes me as a completely legitimate philosophical project. Moreover, it would seem to deserve the label “philosophy of religion” if anything does, prima facie. I think the only problem we should be worried about is if the author is forced to publish this paper in journal for religious studies or ethics or history of philosophy because the people who run and review for the philosophy of religion journals are Christians who don’t want to give other religions the time of day except to argue that they’re wrong. I’m not that familiar with the philosophy of religion literature, but I think we would be jerks to not give them the benefit of the doubt.

What we shouldn’t be worried about, as Zimmerman rightly points out, is the fact that Christians publish papers defending Christianity because they want to defend their deeply held religious convictions. Of course, dogmaticism is bad and we should try to avoid it in general, but this is something that must remain a personal struggle. Given the nature of blind peer review, you simply can’t enforce a norm against dogmatic convictions even if you wanted to. Nor should you. What matters is the content of the arguments. Christians are allowed to assume things and make conditional claims just like everyone else.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  YAAGS
2 years ago

YAAGS says, “I think the problem arises if the entire field is exclusionary by assuming that a certain set of religious dogmas is true in such a way that the field functions or aims to defend a specific religion.” But it’s crystal clear that this is false, right? As is the claim (not that YAAGS was asserting it) that “the people who run and review for the philosophy of religion journals are Christians who don’t want to give other religions the time of day except to argue that they’re wrong.” I, at least, am willing to admit that both of those things would be problems, if they were true. But they’re not.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  JDRox
2 years ago

Right, I’m saying that this is the only thing to be concerned about if one is concerned about apologetics. It is okay for individuals to be engaged in apologetics, but not for the field as a whole to be engaged in apologetics. Since there is no real evidence (as far as I’m aware of) that the letter is the case, there is no real methodological critique of phil religion to be had. Report

Mauss22
Mauss22
2 years ago

A few points might get lost in Draper’s reply. It is not obvious that we ought to always avoid apologetics. Sticking to the analogy, lawyers are apologists for their clients, and with the correct institutions in place, such ‘apologists’ can be well suited to the overall aim of learning truths. It’s quite possible that this set of institutions and practices, in this context, is preferable to an alternative where there are no apologists, just neutral truth-seeking bodies.

One way to frame the *alleged issue* with Philosophy of Religion is that there is an abundance of apologetics, without the requisite institutional/structural norms. It has been argued that there are indicators of dysfunction when such apologetics show up in the wrong place, i.e. it is a good fit for legal institutions but not for academic institutions. Or that there are such indicators when looking at the general demographics in the field, or at conferences or in vetting/editing positions. Or that there are indicators when looking at topic-specific risk-factors, such as a commitment to preserving the truth of a given religious text in ways that aren’t analogous to authoritative texts in other fields. Or that there are indicators when assessing the quality or reliability of the content being produced.

The issue of not having a “View From Nowhere” or “perfect Neutrality” “unbiased individuals” seems like a red-herring; the concerns are just as valid in a relational framework as they are in a (straw-man) absolutist framework. If there is a lot of bias (compared to other fields), or it dramatically points in the same direction (relative to other fields), or there are strong pressures to conformity (compared to other fields), or that conformity derives from unreliable sources (compared to other fields)—if these risk factors are present, and amplified by the presence or severity of apologetics, then we have good reason to argue against it.Report

Matt
Reply to  Mauss22
2 years ago

One way to frame the *alleged issue* with Philosophy of Religion is that there is an abundance of apologetics, without the requisite institutional/structural norms.

I don’t know enough about philosophy of religion as a field (especially not the contemporary practice) to have a firm opinion on the basic dispute, but as someone who works in law as well as philosophy, there’s an aspect of the legal advocate/adversarial system analogy that worries me. This is because lots of legal “scholars” act, in their scholarship, like legal advocates for a cause, and it makes, frankly, for very bad scholarship. It’s not the only reason, but it’s one reason why lots of legal scholarship is of a low quality. In this sense, if the practice of apologetics in philosophy of religion makes philosophers in the field like legal advocates, I’d say it’s a serious worry. (And, it’s not that closely analogous to how most good philosophy is done, in my experience.) Again, though, I’m not familiar enough with the actual field to judge the analogy very closely. Report

Mauss22
Mauss22
Reply to  Matt
2 years ago

I am sympathetic to your concerns. As an outsider looking in, there are some legal issues that appear hyper-partisan. The “low-quality scholarship” issue is one of the mentioned indicators. Draper’s paper “Diagnosing Bias in Philosophy of Religion” makes a modestly convincing case, but somewhat anecdotal, that Phil of Religion is in poor health with noticeable deficits in scholarship. Report

gradstudentperson
gradstudentperson
2 years ago

I’m slightly confused, as there appear to be numerous definitions of apologetics at work in the discussion:

A1: When engaging in inquiry with respect to topic X, one ought not suspend judgment about certain claims related to X.

A2: When engaging in inquiry with respect to topic X, one should affirm a particular religious doctrine.

A3: When engaging in inquiry with respect to topic X, one should find evidence that supports certain claims about X.

A1-A3 are each very different assertions. A1 seems unreasonable to me with respect to any field of philosophical inquiry, unless of course there’s an argument for why certain claims ought to be treated as primitive in inquiry. I take it however that the apologist is not necessarily an enemy of suspending one’s judgment in inquiry about religion. Rather, they maintain that one ought to be prepared to offer an apologia, or defense, for their views.

Given that one can very well do this without affirming any particular religious doctrine, we might then dismiss A2. I want to believe that, for the apologist, apologetics is more than just affirming claims related to one’s personal religious convictions. Rather, it involves offering a real defense of claims related to one’s religious convictions. So, if someone’s religious beliefs imply that god, say, caused the universe to come into existence, then this person should be prepared to offer a philosophical defense of the claim.

These latter considerations might lead us then to the plausibility of A3. However, since certain apologists may deny that empirical evidence alone supports claims related to X, we might want to change A3 to something like A4:

A4: When engaging in inquiry with respect to topic X, one should offer a plausible philosophical defense for certain claims related to X.

On the face of it, A4 seems trivial. Most individuals engaged in some type of philosophical inquiry attempt to give plausible philosophical defenses of their positions. Such is the case for presentists, eliminativists about medium sized objects, Utilitarianisms, multi-level selection theorists, etc. However, A4 ignores that, for the apologist, apologetics is not merely offering a plausible philosophical defense of claims related to X. These claims are somehow implied or explicitly stated in one’s religious views. So, we might opt for the following formulations:

A4: When engaging in inquiry with respect to topic X, one should offer a plausible philosophical defense of claims related to X that are implied by one’s own religious views.

A4, in my opinion, is a tall order for the apologist. It’s roughly saying that we ought to begin with a claim and then work our way backwards by offering a philosophical defense of it. But, what if no plausible philosophical defense can be given? Has the apologist failed to offer an apologia? We might then appeal to the following formulation:

A5: When engaging in inquiry with respect to topic X, one should *try to* offer a plausible philosophical defense of claims related to X that are implied by one’s own religious views.

I apologize in advance for the super long ramble.Report

Rick
Rick
2 years ago

I find the basic complaints about philosophy of religion to be puzzling. I’m not an expert in the field, but I’ve read enough to have the sense that philosophers of religion—including those who are committed Christians!—regularly criticize each others’ work, challenge each others’ assumptions, and so forth. I’ve read plenty of Christian apologetics, and even when it’s basically honest it often oversimplifies in unfortunate ways which inhibit clarity or can mislead. Philosophy of religion doesn’t seem to me to have this as a typical vice. The fretting just seems off-base. Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Rick
2 years ago

I was assuming we were distinguishing between “popular apologetics” and the apologetic work by people like van Inwagen and Plantinga. (I mean, they describe some of their own work as apologetic, but it is obviously a different kind of thing than most “popular apologetics”.)Report

Owen Schaefer
Owen Schaefer
2 years ago

While I’m strongly sympathetic to the place for apologetics in philosophy of religion (I like JDRox’s ‘common sense’ conceptualization above), I think the analogy to the adversarial legal system is rather inapt. As far as I understand it, the adversarial system isn’t only truth-seeking but also seeks to respect and protect individuals’ (particularly defendants’) rights. This creates an asymmetry – defense attorneys are obligated to defend their client vigorously even if he or she believes the defendant to be guilty, while prosecutors have no such obligation. If a prosecutor sincerely believes a defendant is innocent, he or she simply shouldn’t prosecute. No such asymmetry exists in philosophy of religion.

I get the sense from the above that there’s a stronger critique that apologetics is basically just rationalization – assuming X (existence of God, veracity of the Bible, etc.) to be true, explain why X is true (or how we can be justified in believing X, or how X doesn’t conflict with Y, which is also true, etc.). And maybe part of the problem is that many philosophers of religion don’t want to engage with that sort of framework, they want to engage directly with the prior and more fundamental question of whether X is true. But presumably, if X really is true, the explanations and justifications will be more plausible, and X will be more easily shown to be consistent with other truths. And if it is false, those will be less plausible. In that way, the debates over explanation, justification, consistency, etc. can really shed light on the truth of X, even if one of the interlocutors already assumes X to be true.Report

JD
JD
2 years ago

I have increasingly less patience for throat-clearing and hand-wringing over the ‘state’ of the ‘field’. Just discuss the issues! If you think some perspectives are under-represented, write a paper advancing those perspectives! If you think there’s too much discussion of Christian theology, write a paper discussing African religious metaphysics or something! If you think a particular monograph is apologetics (in a bad sense), write a review laying out the evidence for that claim!Report

Eric Steinhart
Reply to  JD
2 years ago

And watch your lovely paper on those topics get rejected again and again by conservative Christian reviewers. Take a look at the analytic PoR journals. Report

JD
JD
Reply to  Eric Steinhart
2 years ago

I have a lot of conservative Christian friends writing great papers who agonize over rejections. I think the problem is the current process of peer review more broadly, the limited options for publication, the publish or perish mentality, etc. I would certainly all be in favor of more transparency surrounding the selection process and for top journals to rededicate themselves to ensuring a robust diversity of topics and discussion.Report

Eric Steinhart
2 years ago

As someone who sometimes tries to work in philosophy of religion, I’ll say apologetics doesn’t trouble me. What troubles me is the extreme lack of diversity in the field. Religion is changing radically across the world, especially in the US and Europe, but you would’t know it from philosophy of religion. PoR deals with theism – for or against, and treats those as pretty much the only two options. Sometimes, yes, you’ll find a paper on some other topic. Of the hundreds of articles in PoR journals, you’ll find (last I checked, a couple years ago), just 2 on Mormonism, and 0 on Wicca. And none on alternative or new religions or spiritualities. As coming generations become de-Christianized, I’m confident this will change. But right now it’s the lack of a diverse positions that makes the field so un-philosophical. Report

GJ
GJ
2 years ago

Draper’s view, to put a spin on it that he might reject, is that religious philosophers, unlike most non-religious philosophers, support doctrines to which they are *immovably* antecedently committed. It’s one thing to support a doctrine to which one is antecedently committed; it’s quite another to support a doctrine that one won’t abandon even in principle. It’s this latter tendency in (some) apologetics that is unfair and that scuttles the analogy between apologetics and the adversarial legal system. It’s unfair because an underlying assumption of any good-faith debate (and, indeed, of rationality generally) is that evidence and argument matter (which, of course, they don’t if, e.g., philosophy is merely the handmaid of theology), and it scuttles the analogy because no participant in the adversarial legal system proceeds by assuming that evidence and argument don’t matter. Report