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Philosophy of Religion and Intuitions
Posted: 06 June 2013 05:27 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve made this kind of point several times before on these forums, but I’ve never really been satisfied with any of the replies. So the problem is that in POR we always seem to end up in a position where it’s impossible to move the other side, or at least it’s impossible through armchair philosophy alone.

A recent example of this would be the statement by Plantinga that this world is in fact the best of all possible worlds, since a world with sin, suffering and atonement is better all-things-considered than any other world.  A world where human beings never sin and where there’s no need for God to show His love by rescuing us would be less good.

So Plantinga and other fundamentalists feel intuitively that this is the best of all possible worlds, whereas atheist philosophers feel intuitively that it isn’t. Now the fundamentalists and the atheists will go back and forth with clever thought experiments trying to get the other side to change their minds, but it should be obvious to everyone that this is not going to happen. The only things that will move the fundamentalist will come from other disciplines such as Biblical Criticism, Archeology and Comparative Religion.     

But my point is not that we should scrap POR. It’s just that it needs to work together with the social sciences, History and other disciplines. The particular kind of POR that was practiced in the 20th century by the likes of Plantinga and Mackie is of very little value in my view, even though these guys are obviously excellent logicians and philosophers. The reason it’s of little value is that it completely ignores everything outside of philosophy and logic, and it becomes a kind of weird scholasticism. For all of their clever philosophizing, they don’t seem to have accomplished much of anything.

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Posted: 06 June 2013 06:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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If mankind had fully recorded history from the beginning then POR and other intuition may not even be needed.

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Posted: 06 June 2013 07:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The same can be said for many “Philosophy Of’s…”.  In today’s environment of ubiquitous hard science and technology, philosophers just can’t get away with the old fashioned “weird scholasticism”. But I do think they have value in helping make concepts clearer for the disciplines you mentioned.  In my college days POR used to drive me nuts. It quickly became obvious the “thought leaders” were just extremely smart word game players, and smug too.

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Posted: 06 June 2013 08:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I just want to make another quick point here. 

Some time ago, Doug argued that you have just as many fundamentalists in other disciplines, and that they will always find a way of ignoring counter evidence so they can keep on believing the old-time religion. But the important question is this: Do we really see a lot of fundamentalist Christians out there who seriously engage with other religions and with Biblical criticism? As far as I can see, the answer is no. Even smart Christians like Plantinga, Craig and Kreeft tend to have a very poor understanding of other religions like Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. This is perfectly understandable in terms of the fundi mindset, though, since they already have a personal relationship with Jesus and know the Bible is perfect, so they’re not going to waste a lot of time reading comparative religion, anthropology and sociology of religion.

It’s really embarrassing that fundamentalists like Swinburne and Plantinga can still be taken seriously within philosophy. If POR took the broad view that it should, only very ‘sophisticated’ forms of Christianity where everything is poetic and metaphorical would be taken seriously. A broad POR would still have Christians and Muslims, but the likes of Plantinga, Craig and Swinburne would be ridiculed for their views on the Bible and other religions.

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Posted: 06 June 2013 09:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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CuthbertJ - 06 June 2013 07:08 PM

The same can be said for many “Philosophy Of’s…”.  In today’s environment of ubiquitous hard science and technology, philosophers just can’t get away with the old fashioned “weird scholasticism”. But I do think they have value in helping make concepts clearer for the disciplines you mentioned.  In my college days POR used to drive me nuts. It quickly became obvious the “thought leaders” were just extremely smart word game players, and smug too.

 

Yeah, I appreciate the clarity and rigor of analytic philosophy, but the issue here is whether POR as practiced in the 20th century is the best way to try to figure out whether Christianity or Islam or Judaism is true. I think not. We should keep what’s good about analytic philosophy, but it’s absurd to try to do POR without using the data from the other disciplines I’ve mentioned, and I think philosophers like Hume and Nietzsche would probably have agreed with this too. It’s only because POR has been bound up with an extremely narrow form of armchair logic-chopping analytic philosophy that fundamentalists have found a home there.

[ Edited: 06 June 2013 09:15 PM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 06 June 2013 11:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Dom1978 - 06 June 2013 05:27 PM

...But my point is not that we should scrap POR. It’s just that it needs to work together with the social sciences, History and other disciplines…

If the goal is to influence the belief systems of persons of the various religions, it rings true that Philosophy of Religion ain’t gonna do it. Could a joint effort of POR and all of the potentially relevant sciences?  ehhhhhh… maybe.  But what is really the likely payoff of such a monumental effort?

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Posted: 07 June 2013 02:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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TimB - 06 June 2013 11:28 PM
Dom1978 - 06 June 2013 05:27 PM

...But my point is not that we should scrap POR. It’s just that it needs to work together with the social sciences, History and other disciplines…

If the goal is to influence the belief systems of persons of the various religions, it rings true that Philosophy of Religion ain’t gonna do it. Could a joint effort of POR and all of the potentially relevant sciences?  ehhhhhh… maybe.  But what is really the likely payoff of such a monumental effort?

Surely the goal of POR is to figure out whether any of these religions is true. I’m suggesting that sitting in the armchair and arguing about the cosmological and ontological arguments, or about whether it’s logically possible for a good God to allow evil and suffering, isn’t the best way of going about it. Having a serious look at all the world’s religions and all their practices, rituals, social institutions and sacred texts would be a good place to start, and it’s also vital that fundamentalist philosophers shouldn’t be allowed to pull this trick of shifting between the God of the Bible (when among other fundamentalists) and the abstract God of the philosophers (when among non-believing philosophers). The question is: Is Christianity (or Islam or Judaism) true? The question whether or not some abstract philosophical God exists is neither here nor there.

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Posted: 07 June 2013 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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But my point is not that we should scrap POR. It’s just that it needs to work together with the social sciences, History and other disciplines. The particular kind of POR that was practiced in the 20th century by the likes of Plantinga and Mackie is of very little value in my view, even though these guys are obviously excellent logicians and philosophers. The reason it’s of little value is that it completely ignores everything outside of philosophy and logic, and it becomes a kind of weird scholasticism. For all of their clever philosophizing, they don’t seem to have accomplished much of anything.

As Swift said, “It is useless to reason a man(person) out of something he/she was never reasoned into”. Skepticism has to be self taught and you will never change a fundie with a religious mindset. They have to experience the epiphany through doubt and careful study. POR might be the hook for them as their whole belief system is based on it and not historic fact, which led to my bubble breaking. The social sciences are a must for real conversion but as you stated, they should work in partnership. Studying the history of religion was what led me to conclude that the institution was entirely manmade to fulfill a societal purpose. Once again, Ontological, teleological arguments exclude the historical reality of the evolution of religious thought and institutions. The social sciences and the study of the earliest literary works concerning religion help to bolster that contention.

 

Cap’t Jack

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Posted: 07 June 2013 06:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The problem, though, is that you have places like Biola University that are pumping out PhDs in Philosophy of Religion at an incredible rate, so these fundamentalist Christian philosophers are going to be around for some time. These people are very smart, are extremely good at philosophy and logic, and will have read everything by people like Plantinga and Swinburne. In other words, they are extremely accomplished philosophers of religion, where philosophy of religion is understood in the very narrow sense that I’ve been criticizing this whole time. 

However, whereas their training in POR will be very good, I would imagine that they’ll only get the conservative Christian caricature of what Biblical Criticism, Comparative Religion and Sociology and Anthropology of Religion are all about. As I’ve suggested before, this is because these other disciplines are a very serious threat to fundamentalist Christianity, whereas POR unfortunately isn’t. So they will probably hear that these other disciplines are full of Marxists, feminists, postmodernists and others with an anti-conservative agenda, and so we don’t even need to go there. This is generally the way that fundamentalists deal with the real threats.

As Bob Price always likes to point out, what most intelligent fundamentalists know about Biblical criticism comes from what other conservative fundamentalist Christians have said about it. They almost never go and read the original texts for themselves to check whether their conservative teachers have presented the arguments and ideas in a fair and balanced way, and so fundamentalist Christianity just keeps rolling on. If we know that people on the other side are liberals or socialists with an agenda, then we don’t really need to bother reading them, right?

[ Edited: 07 June 2013 06:20 AM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 07 June 2013 06:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Dom:  “Surely the goal of POR is to figure out whether any of these religions is true… The question is: Is Christianity (or Islam or Judaism) true?...”

TimB: “Really?  Philosopher’s haven’t figured that out, yet?  Amazing.”

[ Edited: 07 June 2013 06:40 AM by TimB ]
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Posted: 07 June 2013 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I don’t really know the details, but some of the history of science in Britain, specifically, may be relevant to this discussion. I’m thinking of how the natural philosophies gradually evolved into what we call the ‘sciences’ because of a growing emphasis on inductive rather than deductive reasoning.

Sir Francis Bacon seems to have been rather important in this regard. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_bacon

If Philosophy of Religion tends to gravitate toward very self-contained deductive arguments without induction, Bacon may have some relevant things to say. And perhaps people who followed.

[ Edited: 07 June 2013 08:18 AM by TromboneAndrew ]
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Posted: 07 June 2013 04:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Thevillageatheist - 07 June 2013 04:34 AM

But my point is not that we should scrap POR. It’s just that it needs to work together with the social sciences, History and other disciplines. The particular kind of POR that was practiced in the 20th century by the likes of Plantinga and Mackie is of very little value in my view, even though these guys are obviously excellent logicians and philosophers. The reason it’s of little value is that it completely ignores everything outside of philosophy and logic, and it becomes a kind of weird scholasticism. For all of their clever philosophizing, they don’t seem to have accomplished much of anything.

As Swift said, “It is useless to reason a man(person) out of something he/she was never reasoned into”. Skepticism has to be self taught and you will never change a fundie with a religious mindset. They have to experience the epiphany through doubt and careful study. POR might be the hook for them as their whole belief system is based on it and not historic fact, which led to my bubble breaking. The social sciences are a must for real conversion but as you stated, they should work in partnership. Studying the history of religion was what led me to conclude that the institution was entirely manmade to fulfill a societal purpose. Once again, Ontological, teleological arguments exclude the historical reality of the evolution of religious thought and institutions. The social sciences and the study of the earliest literary works concerning religion help to bolster that contention.

 

Cap’t Jack

Yes, exactly. It’s through History, Sociology, Anthropology, Biblical Studies and Religious Studies that we come to see clearly that all religions are man-made or “human all too human” as Nietzsche would put it, and it seems to me that even most professional philosophers are atheists for non-philosophical reasons. This is why the debate between Mackie and Plantinga is so absurd. They’re arguing about things that very few people care about, and while they may come up with some interesting insights in modal logic or value theory, they’re not really taking us any further in understanding whether Christianity is true.

The way fundamentalist religion works is to shield itself from the critiques and arguments that are really potentially damaging, and so they will demonize and caricature the likes of Bart Ehrman and others who pose a genuine threat, but POR is safe and boring and doesn’t pose any threat at all, so fundamentalists are finding a nice safe home there. This is a real shame.

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Posted: 07 June 2013 06:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Aren’t the fundis happier with Ehrman, now, since he has written in strong support of the existence of a historical Jesus?

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Posted: 08 June 2013 06:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Aren’t the fundis happier with Ehrman, now, since he has written in strong support of the existence of a historical Jesus?

Yes and no. Yes to the concept that evidence exists (BTW Ehrman isn’t the only religious scholar who came to the same conclusion) for an historic Jesus but no to the fact that he was human, as it implies just that. Historical fact leaves out the concept of the divine jesus; it tends to bring down the whole supernatural nature of the “son of god”, the trinity etc. etc. whereas conservative bible scholars use polemics and commentaries to hash rehash and twist the original meanings gleaned from biblical texts to fit modern modes of religious thought, e.g. Well In Job 39:9-12 the word unicorn reallllly means rhinoceros, not that it matters, for biblical interpretation is totally subjective and meanings change as the culture evolves. Preachers don’t extol the virtues of being a kind slave owner any more by citing biblical verses as examples as slavery is an anachronistic part of our culture and was outlawed by a purely secular document. Fundies on the other hand believe that what was still is and forever shall be. Faith trumps fact in their world and probably always will.


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Posted: 08 June 2013 08:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Dom1978 - 06 June 2013 05:27 PM

I’ve made this kind of point several times before on these forums, but I’ve never really been satisfied with any of the replies. So the problem is that in POR we always seem to end up in a position where it’s impossible to move the other side, or at least it’s impossible through armchair philosophy alone.

A recent example of this would be the statement by Plantinga that this world is in fact the best of all possible worlds, since a world with sin, suffering and atonement is better all-things-considered than any other world.  A world where human beings never sin and where there’s no need for God to show His love by rescuing us would be less good.

So Plantinga and other fundamentalists feel intuitively that this is the best of all possible worlds, whereas atheist philosophers feel intuitively that it isn’t. Now the fundamentalists and the atheists will go back and forth with clever thought experiments trying to get the other side to change their minds, but it should be obvious to everyone that this is not going to happen. The only things that will move the fundamentalist will come from other disciplines such as Biblical Criticism, Archeology and Comparative Religion.     

But my point is not that we should scrap POR. It’s just that it needs to work together with the social sciences, History and other disciplines. The particular kind of POR that was practiced in the 20th century by the likes of Plantinga and Mackie is of very little value in my view, even though these guys are obviously excellent logicians and philosophers. The reason it’s of little value is that it completely ignores everything outside of philosophy and logic, and it becomes a kind of weird scholasticism. For all of their clever philosophizing, they don’t seem to have accomplished much of anything.

Whether we live in the best possible world is nothing but an opinion.  Opinions can"t be proven.  They often can’t even be supported.  I agree that POR is useless blather that we’re all better off ignoring.

Lois

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Posted: 08 June 2013 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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One possible response is to say that while much of POR is indeed pointless scholasticism, there is still some good stuff there, such as the problem of evil and the argument from divine hiddenness. But I’m still not convinced. if you feel you have a personal relationship with Jesus, and if you are sure that the Bible is perfect, then you will have little trouble dealing with these problems. All Christians have to live with a certain amount of mystery and pain in their lives, but you just get on with it, safe in the knowledge that somehow everything will turn out OK in the end.

What they can’t live with as fundamentalists, however, is the knowledge that Christianity is just one of many human religions, all having very similar stories, rituals and social institutions, and that people of other faiths are often equally certain that theirs is the only or natural or normal way. Fundamentalists are terrified of taking this broad historical and anthropological perspective, and so they do everything they can to try to shield their members from it. 

As Dennett has said, the best way to get rid of fundamentalism is to make sure that all children get a good education in religious studies and comparative religion. There may still be a place for POR, but it would have to come after this.

[ Edited: 08 June 2013 04:58 PM by Dom1978 ]
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