“Retirement” Responses

My “retirement notice” from philosophy of religion posted a couple of weeks ago has drawn an amazing and entirely unexpected amount of comment on Prosblogion, the Leiter Report, Debunking Christianity, and Dangerous Idea. My! I’ve gone viral! Seriously, I thought that maybe a dozen people would be interested in my decision, and since most of them read Secular Outpost, I put the notice here, and I am simply astonished at the attention it got. If only my books had been read by that many…

I have not had the time or the interest to read the, literally, couple of hundred comments on these posts. I did look over a few and noticed that some amateur thinkers who apparently have never read anything I wrote got very personal and nasty. My response: PHBTTTTHHH!!!!–or whatever approximates a contemptuous razzing noise.

Actually, I would like to respond to one question by the poster on Prosblogion, who asked:

“[W]hat do these philosophers [i.e., like me, who think that the "case for theism" is vacuous] think is happening to those philosophers who do top-notch work in other fields but who are also orthodox Christians? Do they have a theory? If their theory is indeed “compartmentalized insanity”, have they looked into the psychological research on this? And what do they make of some of their smart atheist colleagues, like Quentin Smith, David Lewis, and William Rowe, who don’t share their disdain for their theistic counterparts?

These questions deserve answers. What about those philosophers who do top-notch work in other fields besides the philosophy of religion, but who are orthodox Christians? Are they like the cranks Kurt Vonnegut described in Mother Night whose minds operate like well-oiled machines but have a couple of teeth missing on a small cog so that every now and then they jump, jerk, and emit steam before resuming normal operation? Do they suffer from “compartmentalized insanity?” Some might, but in general I’d say no.

From the fact that I judge the “case for theism” to be empty, which I do, it does not follow that I regard theists with disdain or hold that all Christians are irrational, which I don’t. In An Interpretation of Religion, John HIck argues that naturalism is a completely rational and legitimate worldview and that the arguments of natural theology are unsound, at least insofar as they are aimed at arguing nonbelievers into belief. On the other hand, religious people are also perfectly reasonable in having a religious interpretation of their experience, i.e., in postulating a transcendent reality. My thoughts exactly. I freely admit that, as Alvin Plantinga once asserted, a Christian may be doing his “epistemic best”in adhering to his faith. Likewise, I am doing my epistemic best in judging the theistic and apologetic arguments to be without substance.

Really, should anyone be the least surprised that with respect to metaphysical questions, like theism vs. naturalism, perfectly honest, reasonable people, following their best lights, might draw opposite conclusions? Metaphysics is ineluctably speculative. In doing metaphysics we are attempting to infer the ontology that would provide the best account of our experience as a whole. Given the variability of that experience, who could reasonably expect unanimity in the inference?

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About Keith Parsons