What’s the Worth of Philosophy of Religion?

So, it seems that there’s been some theological discussions at Why Evolution is True, and it resulted in a cartoon that that Jerry Coyne referenced, and then said this about:

Studying the philosophy of religion, I’ve always said—and here I agree with John Loftus and Peter Boghossian—is a worthless endeavor. If you disagree, and think that there’s something worth divining from thousands of years of made-up stuff and confirmation bias, please weigh in below.

Again it seems that I’m locked out of commenting there, but there is something that Coyne really should think is worthwhile in philosophy of religion: pretty much every intellectually respectable atheist argument, including the Problem of Evil, Russell’s Teapot, and pretty much refutation of any religious position that goes beyond “Nuh-uh!”.

The problem here is that Coyne and most of his commenters are treating philosophy of religion as apologetics, a field that sets out to defend religion from attack and maybe even prove it right. And certainly parts of philosophy of religion do set out to do that. But that’s not what philosophy of religion is, any more than philosophy of science is apologetics for science. Philosophy of religion is the field that examines the philosophical implications of religion, which includes whether or not any religion is true, what it would mean if any religion was true, how we ought to determine if religion is true, and even philosophical issues of having religion in the world, true or not. As such, since religion is indeed something that exists in the world, certainly its details are worthy of study. And since people are still arguing over whether the religions are expressing anything true, certainly there is worth in examining their truth claims and generating arguments against the idea that they are expressing anything true.

What causes this seems to me to be the idea that anything that might give aid and comfort to their enemy — religion — is seen as suspect. This creates a distrust of philosophy itself — since many apologetic arguments rely heavily on philosophy — and especially philosophy of religion. And so they get branded as fields that are all about apologetics. But Russell and Epicurus were doing philosophy of religion just as much as Pascal and Plantinga are, and thus atheists owe as much if not more to philosophy of religion as theists do.

So what has philosophy of religion given atheists? Everything worth having wrt atheism’s intellectual respectability. It’d be nice if they’d acknowledge the debt.


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