A Philosopher of Religion Calls it Quits
Keith Parsons announces that the “case for theism” is a fraud, and sparks a firestorm.

When philosophy professor Keith Parsons posted an announcement on his blog, The Secular Outpost, explaining why he had decided to abandon philosophy of religion, he expected only his handful of regular readers to take notice. After a decade teaching philosophy of religion at the University of Houston, during which time he founded the philosophy of religion journal Philo and published over twenty books and articles in the field, Parsons hung up his hat on September 1:

I have to confess that I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position—no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory. BTW, in saying that I now consider the case for theism to be a fraud, I do not mean to charge that the people making that case are frauds who aim to fool us with claims they know to be empty. No, theistic philosophers and apologists are almost painfully earnest and honest... I just cannot take their arguments seriously any more, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote serious academic attention to it.

To his surprise, the announcement went viral. Posted and reposted on blogs such as Leiter Reports, The Prosblogion, and Debunking Christianity, it generated hundreds of comments in the subsequent weeks about the status of the field and whether Parsons’ criticisms were warranted. “It’s not that often philosophers renounce fields!” says Brian Leiter, a philosopher at the University of Chicago, at Leiter Reports. Parsons’ incendiary choice of words likely also bore some responsibility for the reaction. “I’m afraid what precipitated the thing going viral is that I said it was a fraud, which I shouldn’t have said, because ‘fraud’ implies an intentional attempt to fool people,” Parsons says.

The “Miracle” is that People Believe At All

His word choice may have been the spark, but it landed on some particularly dry kindling: a general tension over the legitimacy of philosophy of religion in philosophy as a whole. Against the very nonreligious field of philosophy (73% of philosophers identify as atheist, according to one recent survey), the Christian-dominated subfield of philosophy of religion stands out.

“I think most philosophers basically agree with a book John Mackie wrote many years ago called The Miracle of Theism, the idea being that it was a miracle anybody could believe that,” Leiter says. To philosophers who feel like the case against God was settled hundreds of years ago, philosophy of religion often seems like apologetics, an effort to rationalize preexisting beliefs. “The brouhaha about Parsons brought to the fore something that does exist, a contempt or skepticism about the validity of philosophy of religion by many philosophers,” says John Fischer, another philosopher of religion based at the University of California Riverside, who, like Parsons, is an atheist.

Read the rest on Religion Dispatches. Here is the original blog post: Goodbye to All That.

Views: 30

Replies to This Discussion

Atheist win!
The wheels of atheism grind slow but exceding small.
Heh, nice.  Does this represent a conversion of his own to atheism, or was he already an atheist and just found the focus on religion to be interesting?
Joseph, it's been a few days since I read it, but I believe he was an atheist who studied religous nonsense, er, I mean, philosophy. So that bit hasn't changed, he just doesn't want to teach it any more.
Ah, yeah, understandable.  One pass through the Bible and I was pretty much done with most of it.
I myself as a self studying philosophy student found the subfield of philosophy of religion interesting, i would not be surprised at all if there is a good number of atheists within this field of philosophy. As for Parsons comments, although memorable i do not think they will cause much change, many will still see philosophy of religion as a ligitimate form of philosophical inquiry. If the field is abandoned for whatever reason it will definately narrow the scope of that most beutiful and wisdom loving discipline that is philosophy.

If the field is abandoned for whatever reason it will definately narrow the scope of that most beutiful and wisdom loving discipline that is philosophy. Kelvin


I see the analysis of religion as a discipline (sociology, psychology and biology) as being useful and in no danger of being abandoned. Taking the mystique and fantasy elements of faith-based nonsense seriously (philosophy) is another matter.

I find that most arguments for religion and from religion to be non sense as well, i am an atheist for a good reason, i only wish to warn others not to have a narrow view of philosophy, the study of religion from a philosophical lens i do not find dangerous, on the contrary the study of the philosophy of religion could possibly be used as a weapon by us. It can help us further understand the religious mind and analyze it in a way that other disciplines say psychology for example cant do. I am not defending mysticism or religion but the philosophical analysis of it, one might argue that giving it attention is bad and that it acknowledges religion and God as something that  is ok, i do not think it is ok to have belief without evidence, but i also do not think it to be ok to be dismissive of something that is dangerous, e.g. religion.

I question philosophy being a discipline, which I define as science-based. Philosophy may be disciplined and have its rules, but then so do the Dominicans. If you accept science as the way to understanding, why philosophy? What is real (or true) can be understood through an understanding of our species in terms of biology and its resultant psychology. Does philosophy build models that work when tested?
 It is interesting that you should say that phil "What is real (or true) can be understood through an understanding of our species in terms of biology and psychology." This in itself is arguably a strong philosophical position, one which i can understand and agree with, but i pose to you this question are you absolutely sure that was is "real" can be understood under the terms you described? i also want to say that much of the philosophical tradition has to do with questioning. Although i very much like science and find it a useful tool for the understanding of mankind and the world around us one has to be careful in calling it absolute, keep in mind that science is an empirical discipline and it has its problems due to this.  For example when you run a srawberry through a microscope or another gizmo you are only gaining an understanding of that strawberry through those gizmos. If this is the only understanding we need seems to me a different question.

Notice that I asked if philosophy can create testable models. If it can, is it still philosophy? Now there's a philosophical question.

Philosophers ask questions, but so does everyone else, including Dominicans and idiots. The trick is to have a tool that works in response to a question and, alas, science seems to be the only thing that works for us. The rest is fantasy and other quirks of our mammalian brain; fun, but you can't get to Mars with them.

You can only experience a strawberry as a human can experience it. Vultures get excited at the prospect of a four-hour old sheep carcass. I guess we'll never know the reality of that experience. But we can, in practical terms, understand it, having some background in biology and other disciplines.

I agree that any bloke can ask a question but it takes an educated person, if it be a scientist or a philosopher to ask a pertinent question or one of any sort of importance. I also agree that science seems to be working for us and i appreciate its practical value as well as other values it has, but your comment that everything else is fantasy and quirks of our mammalian brain sounds dismissive to me, as if practicality was the only thing of value.

I also agree that we can only experience the strawberry as humans just as much as i can only experience the strawberry for myself. That is no reason to leave the experience of another human or being unquestioned no matter how impossible it may seem to gain knowledge of certain things we should always strive for it. Practicality is important but it isn't the only thing of value in my opinion. As for your metaphysical question it is one i must think about.


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