Gregory Dawes On The Philosophy Of Religion

Gregory Dawes is a philosopher and author of the excellent book, Theism and Explanation.Richard Marshall interviews him and introduces it with this:
Greg Dawes is a philosopher who always thinks hard about religion, about the nature of religious faith and its relation to reason, about why philosophy as a handmaid of theology is frivolous, about naturalism, about the epistemological variety and the ontological variety and the methodological variety, on why Christians can’t avoid the fact that Evolutionism contradicts the Bible, about what’s wrong with intelligent design, on what theologians should do, about why belief isn’t an issue and inference to the best explanation is, about claims about divine action, about the God of the gaps, about historicism and religion and about Maimonides and the limits to interpretation. Don’t be fooled, this one’s got razors…
I was particularly interested in what Dawes said about the philosophy of religion. The money quote is below:
3:AM: David Chalmers has done a survey that suggests that although most philosophers are atheists most philosophers of religion are not. Why do you think that philosophers generally don’t seem to be bothered that the sub group specializing in philosophizing about religion are disagreeing with them? It’s a strange situation isn’t it, that a sub group of experts are disregarded by the rest of the field.

GD: Yes, but it’s an interesting fact, and it tells us something about the nature of religious faith and its relation to reason.

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig writes somewhere about what he calls the “ministerial” and the “magisterial” use of reason. (It’s a traditional view — he’s merely citing Martin Luther — and one that Craig endorses.) On this view, the task of reason is to find arguments in support of the faith and to counter any arguments against it. Reason is not, however, the basis of the Christian’s faith. The basis of the Christian’s faith is (what she takes to be) the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” in her heart. Nor can rational reflection be permitted to undermine that faith. The commitment of faith is irrevocable; to fall away from it is sinful, indeed the greatest of sins.

It follows that while the arguments put forward by many Christian philosophers are serious arguments, there is something less than serious about the spirit in which they are being offered. There is a direction in which those arguments will not be permitted to go. Arguments that support the faith will be seriously entertained; those that apparently undermine the faith must be countered, at any cost. Philosophy, to use the traditional phrase, is merely a “handmaid” of theology.

There is, to my mind, something frivolous about a philosophy of this sort. My feeling is that if we do philosophy, it ought to be because we take arguments seriously. This means following them wherever they lead. This may sound naïve. There are moral commitments, for instance, that few of us would be prepared to abandon, even if we lacked good arguments in their support. But if the followers of Hume are right, there is a close connection between our moral beliefs and our moral sentiments that would justify this attitude. In any case, even in matters of morality, we should not be maintaining positions that have lots of arguments against them and few in their favour, just because we have made a commitment to do so.

So why does the philosophy of religion have such a marginal status within the philosophical community? It may be (as some Christians assert) because atheist philosophers “love darkness more than light,” but I suspect it’s because many atheist philosophers not only find the arguments unconvincing but also regard this style of philosophy as distasteful. LINK.