Atheist Philosopher Of Religion Keith Parsons Abandons Theism Debate And Calls Theist Positions Frauds

This happened during last semester when I was less capable of blogging in a timely manner.  Now that there’s a fresh article on it, I thought I would highlight this piece by Julia Galef summarizing what went down (particularly because it adds even a little more kindling to the excellent debate among the Camels With Hammers readership on whether it’s fair to call all religions “scams”):

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 ReportsThe 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 whole article is interesting and worth a read, just one more key point for now:

Keeping an eye on the truth was also a matter of practical importance for Parsons, who was alarmed by the support for Intelligent Design creationism among philosophy of religion’s most influential names. These include Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen, who led the subfield’s resurgence in the 1970s and ’80s, and William Lane Craig, an evangelical who popularizes the subfield’s arguments for God in widely-attended public debates. “One of the things the really active conservative Christians covet enormously, more than anything else, is intellectual respectability. And they think they have found it in some of the arguments from these philosophers of religion,” Parsons said.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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