Although the philosopher Keith Parsons posted his reasons for giving up philosopy of religion several months ago, it has for some reason become part of the online dialogue again — and after teaching philosophy of religion (and abortively interviewing for a position in philosophy of religion), I thought it may be appropriate to “weigh in.”
My first reaction to the piece was to ask, incredulously, “that’s supposed to be philosophy of religion?!” In my happy continental bubble, where philosophers who talk about religion tend to interpret religious texts or trace the legacy (potential or actual) of religious concepts, I had no idea that there was a whole subdiscipline full of people trying to prove the existence of God. That is indeed a curious enterprise, but it doesn’t sound much like philosophy of religion to me. It sounds like philosophy of God, or philosophical theology — or, when done by the devout, apologetics. A discipline that’s supposedly concerned with critically investigating religion can’t even get past the axiomatic (and obviously wrong) view that religion is simply “about” belief in God. A few moments of reflection would indicate that that is indeed definitive of Christianity, but not many other major religions — and indeed, it hardly exhausts the lived reality of Christianity, either.
In my own class — after spending some token time on proofs for the existence of God, which I mainly included to set up the contrast between the ancient/medieval worldviews and the modern world in which religion becomes much more questionable than it had been — I’ve structured things more or less around the questions of the nature (and role) of religion and the origin of religion. In order to do this, I’m going through some of the major texts in the modern European philosophical tradition that discuss religion, most of which don’t thematize the question of whether belief in God is rationally justifiable.
If I were doing a course on the philosophy of God, that could be pretty interesting, too, but even then I wouldn’t limit myself to proofs of the existence of God — there are all the rich speculative accounts of God from the modern philosophical tradition (Spinoza, Leibniz, Whitehead, etc.), as well as pre-modern discourses like Neoplatonism that have a lot to say about what we would call “God.” In that case, discussing the traditional proofs would likely be useful, but again only as a contrastive setup.