Philosophy of religion without apologetics?

Recently, in an exercise in thinking about things that are way too far off in the future to be really thinking about, I wondered: “If I do eventually get a Ph.D. in philosophy, and end up on the philosophy job market, will I list philosophy of religion as an AoC?” (AoC stands for Area of Competence, see here for discussion of the term, but basically it’s secondary areas of philosophical interest.)

On the one hand, I know so much about philosophy of religion that it might seem like, how could I not put it down? On the other hand, philosophy of religion is a stigmatized field, and frankly I side with the view that there are very good reasons why it’s stigmatized. It’s hard to see myself publishing a paper on philosophy of religion, and I’m not sure I could take the field seriously enough to teach a class on it.

So I’d lean towards “no”… but I wonder if part of the problem here is the wrapping up of philosophy of religion and religious apologetics. Let’s face it, Alvin Plantinga, by many accounts the #1 philosopher of religion in the world, has largely built his career on religious apologetics. And the arguments of religious apologetics are consistently awful.

What’s more, it’s actually really odd that apologetics is allowed in the door at academia at all. It’s virtually alone in allegedly intellectual pursuits that are all about arguing for a foreordained conclusion. Christ on a cracker, even Fox News at least pretends to be “Fair and Balanced” rather than advertising itself as “learn how to defend your belief that Obama is a Muslim commie terrorist.”

Apologetics, in other words, has more in common with marketing or PR than scholarship (not that those subjects can’t be studied academically, but the academic study of marketing isn’t supposed to involve getting corporate advertisements published in academic journals). And debunking apologetics makes more sense as a side pursuit for academics than an area of specialization. It’s akin to debunking creationism that way. (Actually, it’s a superset of debunking creationism.)

And yet… lately, I’ve been wondering about the possibility of doing philosophy of religion while ignoring the apologetics side. Taking Pascal’s Wager as an instance of some important problems in decision. Worrying about how you actually assess the prior probability of the god hypothesis, if you think that’s important for setting prior probabilities. That kind of stuff.

There’s also the “have fun playing with weird ideas” aspect of it all. I mention this because I just saw Andrew Summitt connecting Nagel, Searle, Tegmark, and Bostrom to Platonic/Aristotelian conceptions of God with some Buddhism thrown in there to. Just for example.

Your thoughts?

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