Knowing, Believing, Saying

Religion Dispatches reports on a Philosopher of Religion who has given up on philosophy of religion.

“I just cannot take their arguments seriously any more, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote serious academic attention to it,” says Keith Parsons, Philosophy professor at U. of Houston; founder of the philosophy of religion journal, Philo; and blogger at The Secular Outpost.

(Note, however, that this is no case of a devout believer apostosizing – see Parsons’s earlier Why I am Not a Christian. The present situation simply regards his abandonment of philosophy of religion as a respectable academic discipline.)

As the article on Religion Dispatches notes, the attention generated by this situation is disproportional to the amount people who actually care. Most philosophy professors are incredulous that a subfield called “philosophy of religion” exists at all.

The avant garde of a/theism arguments is sometimes complicated, sometimes old, simple, and/or trite. Parsons’s surrender of the discipline as a whole indicates that he thinks it is not logically tenable. Answering questions like, “What can we say about … ?” can never lead to a statement about God, in his opinion.

Perhaps we should not be surprised, then at this closing comment by Parsons in the Religion Dispatches article:

“There are certain things William Lane Craig takes to be metaphysical intuitions, like that it’s undeniable that the universe must have had a cause—and for me it’s not. My intuitions are quite different,” Parsons says. And what then? He adds, “And then, once we’ve reached that point, there’s just no further to go.”

Parsons understands that some arguments might seem more convincing based on pre-existing intuitions I already have. What happens when we talk about those intuitions? Well, the conversation stops. Analytic philosophy stops. But does epistemology stop? Do we stop knowing things? Do we stop living?

Last year, I wrote this post about Ludwig Wittgenstein on Humane Pursuits. Logic, to Wittgenstein, consists of statements that we can identify together (“The car is low on fuel” and “The car will run out of fuel soon”) – but logic has nothing to say about the central assumption from which some logic proceeds.

Christians don’t have certainty of knowledge in the same way that philosophers don’t have certainty of knowledge, and for the same reason. But the analytic philosopher’s pure logic cannot talk about the full web of apprehension that makes up belief – intuition, fulfillment, logic, and perhaps above all else, the experience of obedience.

In a sense, Parsons is right. When you dig the dangerous hole down to the roots of logic, there may be nothing further to say – there is nothing more that can be simply talked about. But that doesn’t mean “there’s just no further to go.”

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