So, I recently received and read John W. Loftus’ “Unapologetic”, which attempts to show that either Philosophy of Religion has to radically change or — and this mostly seems to be his preference — has to fade away completely. Early in the book, Loftus says that he doesn’t think that arguments are going to convince anyone anyway, and it seems that, in this book, he carries that forward by refusing to actually make arguments. The book takes a very aggressive and arrogant tone — like that of Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers, and Richard Carrier, all of whom he cites at various times in the work — but the risk with that sort of tone is that you had better be right. He isn’t right enough to get away with summarizing his arguments with a “Period.” or “End of Story.” as if no one could ever question him.
He also seems to fundamentally misunderstand what philosophy actually is. I don’t mean that he conflates philosophy of religion and theology — although he does, especially when he talks about himself as an expert in philosophy of religion because he’s done theology, although the two are not the same thing — but instead that he suggests approaches that are fundamentally non- and even anti-philosophical as if they are what philosophy ought to be doing. I plan on going through the chapters and picking out a few important points later, and so the details of that will come when I do that (stay tuned!).
But let me outline the two main arguments he gives for philosophy of religion being no longer relevant and not something that ought to be taught in any academic setting:
1) Philosophy of Religion focuses too much on Christianity and Western Religions, and not enough on other religions, even dead ones. It also focuses too much on the Western Analytic tradition. In short, it’s too parochial.
2) There is little reason to think that philosophy can advance or should have a discipline that starts from something that doesn’t exist. He uses the comparison of fairies and Superman here, to wonder why we study God and not, say, Superman philosophically.
Well, okay, the main thrust of his argument is that faith is terrible and shouldn’t be allowed in any academic setting which he repeats and assert over and over and over again, as just when he said it, that’s when he’d say it (how’s that again?). But I’ll deal with that one later. Let me, then, just focus on these two.
1) This is, in fact, a common criticism of philosophy in general, that Western philosophy focus too much on the analytic tradition — as opposed to the continental tradition that he references as a reason consider philosophy of religion too parochial — and too much on Western philosophy while ignoring Eastern philosophy. So, he’s criticizing Philosophy of Religion specifically for failings shared by all of philosophy. Unless he’s also anti-philosophical — and he claims not to be — this isn’t an argument against philosophy of religion.
2) I’d like to draw his attention to “Philosophy in Popular Culture”, which is indeed examining concepts like Superman to see what interesting philosophical ideas can be raised from them. I believe that it’s not even just in popular bookstores near you anymore, but that there are specialized courses in universities using it. The main reason philosophy of religion is more prominent is because it’s an issue that more people care about and religion, in all of its forms, raises far more interesting philosophical issues than, say, fairies do. And, yes, this might even apply to “dead” religions, which might at least rise to the level of Superman and, more importantly, Batman in terms of philosophical interest. So we already would do that if they were interesting. If he thinks they are, then he can feel free to argue for their inclusion. And if he thinks that philosophy of religion is not interesting, he can argue for that, too, and we might see some of that in my later assessments (stay tuned!). But just because something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that it’s not interesting philosophically.
I find myself utterly unconvinced by “Unapologetic”, and Philosophy of Religion is something like seventh on my list of philosophical interests (after luge!). Loftus’ views of what we should do in philosophy classes seems anti-philosophical to me, and he far too often relies on repeating his conclusions — often conclusions from elsewhere — rather than arguing for any conclusion that he wants us to accept. I can’t recommend this as a book for anyone other than people who already agree with Loftus to read, which makes it a bad book in a philosophical context. But hopefully more of that will come through in the more detailed analysis.