bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 3: The Main Argument

I cannot recommend the book Unapologetic by John Loftus, because I have not carefully read the whole book yet.  But I have read Chapter 5, which I take to be the heart of the book, and I can recommend reading Chapter 5 of Unapologetic.  It is an interesting, informative, and thought-provoking chapter about the philosophy of religion.  I disagree with the main conclusion for which Loftus argues, but there are plenty of interesting ideas to ponder in Chapter 5, including the summary of ten reasons for his view that the discipline of philosophy of religion should be discontinued.
Chapter 5 is flawed and imperfect, but it is well worth reading, if one is interested in the philosophy of religion.  Loftus presents the views of various contemporary philosophers of religion about the present state of the philosophy of religion, and then Loftus comments on the points made by these philosophers.  This is a good approach to clarifying his own views, plus it provides the reader with ideas and alternative ways of looking at this subject, which is interesting and informative.
Loftus tries to cover points and ideas from too many different philosophers in just one chapter, so his comments are generally too skimpy and superficial.  He should have either written multiple chapters covering the material in Chapter 5, or else focused in on just two or three philosophers and put more effort into explaining and clarifying his own views in contrast to those two or three philosophers.
However, he does cover three philosophers in moderate depth: Graham Oppy (p.117-118), Paul Draper (p.121-125), and Kevin Schilbrak (p.126-129). There is also about a full page devoted to Timothy Knepper’s views of philosophy of religion (p.129-130). Gregory Dawes gets nearly about 2/3 of a page for a long quotation (p.120-121).   Linda Zagzebski gets about 1/2 of a page, as does Nick Trakakis (p.115-116).  There are a couple of quotations from our own Keith Parsons (p.117, 118-119), and one quote from Jeff Lowder, who is referred to as “One other Secular Outpost author”, and who gets identified by name only in the end note (quoted on p.117, end note on p.136).
[/RANT ON]  
I often criticize Christian philosophers and apologists for their UNCLARITY and lack of sufficient argumentation, which is usually due to the fact that they are too skimpy in their writing.  For example, William Craig tries to prove that Jesus really died on the cross in just three and one-half pages in The Son Rises (p.36-40).  Craig fails to offer even one bit of actual legitimate historical evidence, and so his case is complete crap.  I am currently critically examining Norman Geisler’s case for God in When Skeptics Ask.   His entire case for God is given in just 18 pages, and 2.5 pages of that are taken up with historical side notes and a diagram.  So, his actual writing is only about 15 pages.
I have covered most of the arguments in those 15 pages and concluded that they were a “hot steaming pile of dog shit.”  I’m not sure that Geisler could do any better if he used 150 pages to present his case for God, but if he presented a more lengthy case, he would certainly need to provide more details and would have more opportunity to clarify his key concepts and claims and inferences.  Geisler’s arguments are filled with vagueness and ambiguities.  He fails to define the word “God” and repeatedly misuses this word, even though the conclusion for which he is arguing is that “God exists.”
The main problem with Chapter 5 is primarily that it is UNCLEAR because it is TOO SKIMPY; it has the same problem that I see in the writing of most Christian apologists.  It is a problem that one expects in the writing of undergraduate students of philosophy, but which should not be nearly so common in the writing of philosophers and intellectuals.  It is to be expected that an undergraduate student of philosophy would try to make a case for the existence of God in a short five or ten page essay.  But no professional philosopher should be so stupid as to think that it is possible to make a clear and persuasive case for God in just five or ten pages.
Richard Swinburne’s case for God is presented in three books: (1) The Coherence of Theism (308 pages), (2) The Existence of God (342 pages), and (3) The Resurrection of God Incarnate (203 pages).  Swinburne’s case for the existence of God is thus 853 pages long.   There are lots of philosophical details and arguments in these books that are not essential to his case, so 853 pages is a bit of overkill.
But even Swinburne’s popular case for God for general audiences (Is There a God?) is 137 pages, and this does not include his capstone argument for God, which concerns the alleged resurrection of Jesus.  So, even a popular presentation of Swinburne’s case for God would run over 200 pages, if it included his argument based on the alleged resurrection of Jesus.  Geisler’s feeble attempt to make a case for God in just 15 pages is nothing more than a pathetic joke.
[/RANT OFF]
OK.  Back to Reason #9, which I take to be the central argument for the view that we ought to put an end to the discipline of philosophy of religion.  Chapter 5 opens with some clarifications of the conclusion for which Loftus is arguing, so before I get into any further analysis of his main argument, let’s review some points of clarification and qualification from the opening of Chapter 5:
…I’m not saying philosophy proper is stupid or dead or unnecessary… (p. 111)
…I’m not saying that atheist philosophers…should dismiss religions out of hand or ridicule them.  (p.111)
…I’m not even saying that atheist philosophers should cease writing books on philosophy of religion (PoR) or that they should cease all lectures or classes on such topics in secular universities.   (p.112)
He adds this point at the end of his comments about “what I’m not proposing”:
Keep in mind, however, that if they [“atheist philosophers and intellectuals”] do PoR correctly it will no longer be considered the philosophy of religion as defined today, but something else. (p.112)
In the section called “What I am Proposing” (on pages 112 through 115), Loftus provides clarification about what he IS proposing:
It [Loftus’ proposal] follows the same pattern as Hector Avalos’ call to end biblical studies as we know it… (p.112)
It’s also something Peter Boghossian proposed in his provocative book, A Manual for Creating Atheists (p.112)
[Boghossian’s advice to educators]: “…Do not take faith claims seriously.  Let the utterer know that faith is not an acceptable basis from which to draw a conclusion that can be relied upon.”  (p.112)
The fourth paragraph is probably the most important one in this section, so I will quote the entire paragraph here:
I am primarily calling for the end of PoR as a separate subdiscipline under philosophy in secular universities.  Further, whenever there is a PoR class, it should be taught correctly, if it’s to be done at all.  Like all other subjects in secular universities, PoR classes must be taught in a secular way by treating all faith-based claims equally and privileging none, if they are taught at all.  If PoR is successfully taught in this bold and honest manner, the instructors themselves will help end the PoR and religion along with it.  Philosophers of religion should go about the task of putting themselves out of a job by telling their students the truth–that faith is an unreliable way to gain objective knowledge about matters of fact such as the nature of nature, its workings, and its origins.  It is also an unreliable way to decide which religion is true, if there is one. (Unapologetic, p.112-113)
Loftus provides another two pages or so of comments explaining what he is proposing, but this paragraph is sufficient clarification of his conclusion for now.
I want to return now to Reason #9, and to a careful analysis of the reasoning present in the two paragraphs in which Loftus presents Reason #9 (on page 135).  I am going to re-number the main claims made in those two paragraphs as follows:
Key Claims from 1st Paragraph
1.  …faith-based reasoning must end.
2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.
3.  …faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant. 
4.  A reasonable faith does not exist, nor can faith be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.
5.  The claims of religious faith via PoR cannot be reasonably defended.
 
Key Claims from 2nd Paragraph
6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.
7. Faith is indeed an unreliable way to gain objective knowledge about the world.
8. …faith-based reasoning cannot justify any claim concerning matters of fact…
9. …philosophy of religion is reasoning about that which is unreasonable.
10.  It [philosophy of religion] takes the utterly unwarranted conclusions of faith seriously.
11. …the very first principle of religion is faith.
 
The logic of the core argument is clearer than I previously thought.  Premise (2) indicates the basic logical structure of the argument:

IF X and Y, THEN Z.

X

 Y

THEREFORE:

Z

Premise (2) is the conditional statement, and premise (6) asserts one of the conjuncts in the antecedent of (2), so to complete the argument, we only need the other conjunct in the antecedent of (2), and the conclusion is the consequent of (2):
Core Argument in Reason #9

2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.

6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.

A.  PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion.

THEREFORE:

PoRME: Philosophy of Religion must end.

Given this basic logical structure, the other statements are presumably either support for one of the three premises, or clarification of one of the three premises, or clarification of the conclusion.
Before I make an attempt to reconstruct further details of Loftus’ argument constituting Reason #9, I must confess that I don’t think I will be able to “demolish” this argument, or to stab a sharp dagger into the heart of the beast (i.e. Reason #9).   But my failure to “demolish” this argument is NOT because the argument is a good and solid argument.  The reason I don’t think I will be able to “demolish” this argument is because it is very UNCLEAR, and there is little hope that Loftus will be willing and able to make it CLEAR.
Consider premise (6), for example.
6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.
The subject of this statement is “religion”.  This word is notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of “religion” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The word “faith” is also notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of “faith” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The phrase “X is based on faith in Y” is perhaps a bit less unclear than the word “faith” considered by itself.  But this phrase does inherit some unclarity from the problematic word “faith” and it has the additional issue of the unclarity of the phrase “X is based on…”  This phrase is vague and unclear.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of the phrase “X is based on faith in Y”, any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The word “supernatural” is notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” and “philosophy” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of the word “supernatural” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The key argument at the heart of Unapologetic is very UNCLEAR.  This key argument makes use of words and phrases that are notoriously unclear, so this argument should be rejected by any person who is a critical thinker unless and until Loftus provides clear definitions of the key terms and phrases in this argument.
Here are some of the key words and phrases that are in need of clarification or definition:
“religion”
“faith” 
“X is based on faith”
“faith in Y”
“X is based on faith in Y”
“using reason”
“philosophy” 
“philosophy of religion”
“supernatural”
“supernatural forces and entities”
Loftus fails to define ANY of these UNCLEAR and problematic words and phrases in Chapter 5.  I have also scanned through Chapters 1 through 4 looking for clear definitions of these words and phrases and have come up empty handed.  I have no idea whether this central argument of Loftus’ book Unapologetic is a GOOD argument or a BAD argument, and I suspect that I never will know, because I don’t believe that Loftus has a clear idea of what “religion” means, nor of what “faith” means, nor of what “reason” means.  If he had a clear idea of what these words mean, then he would have no problem defining what they mean or providing significant clarification about what these words mean, but he never does this.
Loftus does make a very brief attempt at defining “faith”, but the definition is unclear, and he makes no effort to explain or defend his definition, and he never uses or refers to the definition when presenting his central arguments in Chapter 5.  The definition is found in Chapter 4:
I consider faith to be an unrecognized-as-yet cognitive bias that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true, even if there is no objective evidence at all … (Unapologetic, p.92)
Because Loftus provides no additional explanation or defense of this definition, and does not refer to or make use of this definition in presenting his key arguments in Chapter 5, I am not going to waste my time analyzing and evaluating this definition.  It appears to be tossed off the top of his head with little thought behind it.
As it stands, the central argument of Unapologetic reminds me of Geisler’s arguments for God in When Skeptics Ask.  Geisler never bothers to define the key word “God”, and he clearly misuses the word “God”, and commits the fallacy of equivocation more than once because of his sloppy and ambiguous use of the word “God”.  In general, Geisler’s case for God is a steaming pile of dog shit, and it is so mainly because it is filled with UNCLEAR and AMBIGUOUS words and phrases that Geisler never bothers to clarify or define.  The central argument in Unapologetic is also a steaming pile of dog shit, just like Geisler’s case for God, because it uses several UNCLEAR words and phrases and because Loftus makes no serious intellectual effort to define or clarify the meanings of those words and phrases.
Because there is no serious effort to provide definitions of key words and phrases in the central argument of Unapologetic, I doubt that Loftus has a clear idea of what those key words and phrases mean.
Furthermore, there are indications in a couple of passages in the book, that Loftus has an intellectual or ideological resistance to defining key words and phrases.  In my view, that means that Loftus has an intellectual or ideological resistance to thinking critically, because the first and most fundamental principle of critical thinking is this:

  • Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.

Another very basic principle of critical thinking is this:

  • CLARITY is a gateway standard of thinking.

If a statement or argument is UNCLEAR, then we cannot rationally and objectively evaluate that statement or argument.
The first passage that indicates Loftus has a problem with definitions is in Chapter 1:
Which brings me to the value of philosophy.  Over the last decade I have found that one bastion for Christian apologists has been philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion.  The scholars have honed their definitional apologetics in such a fine-tuned manner that when engaging them in this discipline, it’s like trying to catch a greased pig.  Or, to switch metaphors, trying to chase them down the rabbit’s hole in an endless and ultimately fruitless quest for definitions.  What’s an extraordinary claim?  What constitutes evidence?  What’s the definition of supernatural?  What’s the scientific method?  What’s a miracle?  What’s a basic belief?  What’s a veridical religious experience?  What’s evil? …  (Unapologetic, p.28, emphasis added)
This strikes me as a fundamentally anti-intellectual statement by Loftus.  Definitions are an important tool of philosophy, critical thinking, of science, and of scholarship in general.  But Loftus appears to be taking an anti-definition stance here.  That, in my view, is a position against critical thinking and rationality.
But perhaps that was just a bit of overblown whining by Loftus about Christian apologists, and it does not represent a general antipathy towards definitions and conceptual analysis.  However, when we read the exchange between Peter Boghossian and Keith Parsons in Chapter 4, it becomes clear that Bogghosian, who is a leading light for Loftus’ view of religion and philosophy of religion, has a very negative view of definitions and conceptual analysis.
Parsons’ initial critique of Boghossian indicates a concern about the clarity of a key claim made by Boghossian:

  1. Evolution occurred.
  2. Faith is a malaise.

(1) is an established scientific fact.  (2) is Professor Boghossian’s  opinion.  It may be an informed opinion, but it is an opinion.  For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that (2) is true in whatever sense Prof. Boghossian intends.(Unapologetic, p.89)
Parsons’ is being a bit too subtle here, but he is hinting at the fact that the key statement (2) is UNCLEAR, and it’s meaning is in need of clarification by Boghossian.  Boghossian appears to have missed the subtle hint, because his response does not provide any clarification or definition of “faith” (at least in what Loftus quotes of his response).
In Keith Parsons’ reply to Boghossian’s response, he points out the problem of the need for clarity and definition more firmly and straightforwardly:
Of course, if one interprets “faith” to mean only “wishful thinking” then certainly it is an unreliable belief-forming process.  However, I think we need to be clear that in attacking “faith” we are attacking it only in this rather trivialized sense, and not in a more sophisticated and nuanced sense.  (Unapologetic, p.90)
The only reasonable response to this objection by Parsons would be for Boghossian to clarify and define what he means by the word “faith”.  If Boghossian has a clear understanding of the meaning of the word “faith” (or even just of his own use of the word “faith” in this context), then he ought to have no trouble providing a definition or analysis of the meaning of this word, but that is NOT what Boghossian does.  Instead, he seems to attack the idea of trying to define or clarify the meaning of this word:
Second, the histories of philosophy and theology are replete with people trying to define faith.  Anselm’s definition is floral mumbo-jumbo.
[…]
One can talk about “a more sophisticated or nuanced sense” of the word “faith”, but this does not change the fact that faith claims are knowledge claims.  It also does not change the fact that certain processes of reasoning are unreliable.  Faith is not a reliable process of reasoning. … (Unapologetic, p.91)
So, Boghossian appears to think that the efforts of philosophers and theologians to clarify the meaning of the word “faith” is a hopeless task, and he offers no definition or clarification of the word “faith” and then he just plows ahead and continues making UNCLEAR claims about faith: “Faith is not a reliable process of reasoning.”
He does this after Parsons has directly and plainly challenged him to clarify what he means by the word “faith”.  Given Boghossian’s FAILURE to provide a definition or clarification of the meaning of “faith”, and given his derogatory comments about the efforts of philosophers and theologians to CLARIFY the meaning of this word, it appears fairly certain that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to providing definitions or analyses of the meanings of key words or phrases.
Parsons makes one final effort to drive the point about CLARITY home to Boghossian:
(2) Faith is not a reliable belief-forming process.
[…]
…I would assert (2) to a class but would be very careful to say just what I meant by “faith.”  I would make it abundantly clear that what I was attacking was something like “faith” in the sense defined by Ambrose Bierce: “Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.”  “Faith” is a vague term, and to attack it without proper and careful qualification would be perceived  as an attack on religious belief per se…  (Unapologetic, p.92)
It is not clear whether Boghossian finally got the OBVIOUS point that Keith Parsons repeatedly attempted to communicate to him. Loftus does not provide us with further comments by Boghossian in response to this point by Parsons.
But I seriously doubt that Boghossian responded to Parsons with a definition or analysis of what he meant by the word “faith”.  First, there is good reason to believe that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological opposition to providing definitions of key concepts, which I take to be an intellectual or ideological opposition to some basic principles of critical thinking.  Second,  if Boghossian had provided a definition or analysis of the meaning of the word “faith” I would expect Loftus to pass that on to readers here, because Loftus looks up to Boghossian as a leading light on this subject.  Loftus’ failure to provide us with a definition of “faith” from Boghossian in this passage is evidence that no such definition was offered by Boghossian (in this exchange between Boghossian and Parsons).
So, for three reasons I doubt that Loftus will ever provide us with a clear argument against the philosophy of religion:

  1. His failure to provide any definition or analysis of the meaning of any of the key words and phrases in his central argument suggests that he does not have a clear idea of what those words mean.
  2. The passage on page 28 indicates that Loftus has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to defining or analyzing the meanings of key words and phrases (at least relating to philosophy, religion, and theology).
  3. The exchange between Boghossian and Parsons (on pages 88 to 92) indicates that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to defining or analyzing the meanings of key words and phrases (at least relating to philosophy, religion, and theology), and Loftus looks up to Boghossian as a leading light on this subject.

Thus, the central argument of Unapologetic is very UNCLEAR, and I have little hope that Loftus will ever provide definitions or analyses of the meanings of the key words and phrases in that argument, so I have little hope that I will ever be able to rationally and objectively evaluate that argument.
I could, of course, provide my own definitions of the key words and phrases, but then Loftus would very likely reply to any objections that I raise to the clarified argument, that I had misunderstood or misinterpreted his meaning, and was committing a Straw Man fallacy against the argument that constitutes Reason #9, the most central and important reason that he has given in support of the conclusion that “Philosophy of religion must end.”  This is the same sort of BS that Christian apologists like to pull.  They put forward CRAPPY and UNCLEAR arguments (such as those of Norman Geisler) and then complain about being misinterpreted when skeptics attempt to clarify their argument enough to make the arguments subject to rational and objective evaluation.
In 2014, Boghossian took a swipe at philosophy of religion that impressed Loftus:
“Being published in the philosophy of religion should disqualify one from sitting at the adult table.” (Unapologetic, p. 33)
Here is my own swipe back at Boghossian and Loftus:
Being published in a book or article that attacks “faith” or “religion” without providing a clear definition or analysis of the meaning of the word “faith” or “religion” should disqualify one from sitting at the adult table.
Any person who does this sort of anti-intellectual and anti-critical-thinking bullshit does NOT deserve to be treated seriously as a philosopher or intellectual.

bookmark_borderWhat is Philosophy? – Part 1

The question “What is philosophy?” is an important question.  One reason this question is important is that we must answer this question FIRST, before we can answer any of the following questions:
Q1. Is philosophy a legitimate academic discipline?
Q2. Is philosophy useful?
Q3. Can investigation/inquiry/argumentation in philosophy produce answers to significant questions?
Q4. Can any significant claims be proven or shown to be more reasonable than their denial by use of the methods, tools, and/or principles of philosophy?
Q5. Is the philosophy of religion a legitimate academic discipline?
In other words, we have to have a clear idea of what we mean by the word “philosophy” before we can be confident in making any sort of general evaluation of the value or usefulness or academic legitimacy of philosophy.  I’m assuming the following intellectual principle:
P1: Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.
It seems to me, that we are IMMEDIATELY thrust into a bit of a logical bind here.  How can we determine an answer to the important and basic question “What is philosophy?” ?  This is itself a philosophical question.  In fact, it is a paradigm case of a philosophical question.  This question is analogous to a whole series of similar questions, all of which are paradigm cases of philosophical questions:
Q6. What is history?
Q7. What is science?
Q8. What is mathematics?
Q9. What is art?
Q10. What is literature?
Q11. What is biology?
Q12. What is psychology?
Question Q6 is NOT an historical question.  We can ask historical questions about the practice or development of “history” and “historical inquiry”,  but such questions require or presuppose some understanding of what we mean by the word “history”.  We cannot get started investigating the history of the discipline of history until we first have arrived at some level of clarity about what we mean by “history”.  This is a task for phillosophy.   Historians are welcome to investigate this philosophical issue, but when they do so, they are no longer doing history; they are doing philosophy.
Question Q7 is NOT a scientific question.  We can formulate scientific hypotheses and theories about the conduct or development of science, but such hypotheses and theories require or presuppose some understanding of what we mean by the word “science”.  We cannot get started on a scientific investigation into science until we first have arrived at some level of clarity about what we mean by “science”.  This is a task for philosophy.  Scientists are welcome to investigate this philosophical issue, but when they do so, they are no longer doing science; they are doing philosophy.
IMHO, the same reasoning applies to philosophy, except that we CAN do a philosophical investigation into the meaning of the word “philosophy”.  Although historical inquiry cannot, by itself, arrive at a clear understanding of the concept of “history”, and scientific investigation cannot, by itself, arrive at a clear understanding of the concept of “science”,  philosophical investigation CAN arrive at a clear understanding of the concept of “philosophy”.
But, suppose that I am mistaken.  Suppose that philosophy is useless and that no conclusions of philosophical investigation are ever proven or shown to be more reasonable than alternative views.
In that case, we are led to skepticism about not only the legitimacy of the discipline of philosophy, but to skepticism about the legitimacy of all other academic disciplines, including history, science, biology, mathematics, art, literature, and psychology.
If philosophy cannot help us to clarify basic concepts like “history”, “science”, “mathematics”, “biology”, and “art”, and “psychology”, then we literally don’t know what we are talking about when we assert claims like the following:
C1.  History is a legitimate academic discipline.
C2. Biology is a legitimate academic discipline.
C3. Mathematics is a legitimate academic discipline.
C4. Psychology is a legitimate academic discipline.
Even if historical investigation or scientific investigation could potentially help to prove one of these claims, or could show one of these claims to be more reasonable than the denial of that claim, we cannot make use of history or science without FIRST establishing what is meant by “history” or “biology” or “mathematics” or “psychology”.
One could, of course, simply stipulate a defintion for a word (like “psychology”) that refers to an alleged academic discipline, but that would be, apart from philosophical investigation and argumentation, a purely arbitrary and rationally unsupported starting point for scientific or historical investigation into that academic discipline.
Thus, it seems to me that unless we start out with the PRESUMPTION that philosophy can help us to clarify the meanings of words or basic concepts, there is no hope of ever establishing claims C1, C2, C3, or C4.  One must simply assume that philosophical investigation is possible, and make the effort to clarify the key concepts in these claims.  Only if one can acheive some significant degree of success in this task of conceptual analysis and clarification, will one be able to prove one of these claims, or be able to show that such a claim is more reasonable than its denial.
To be continued….