Julian Baggini Concerning Philosophy of Religion "What the Hell Are You Doing?"

Julian Baggini's 2005 review of Michael Martin's anthology, The Impossibility of God, was needed and brilliant! It should be required reading for discussion by everyone interested in philosophy of religion. LINK. It might be subtitled, "What the hell are you doing?"

Baggini, as an atheist philosopher, starts off saying he "found the book faintly dispiriting, futile even. Rather than finding myself standing on the metaphorical touchline cheering my team as it chalked up point after point, it seemed to me that everyone on the pitch was engaged in a useless game that no-one was ever going to win. This was a bravura performance, but who was it for?" His main point is: "I just don't believe that detailed and sophisticated arguments make any significant difference to the beliefs of the religious or atheists."

The book is useless for the unintellectual, he says, who won't read it much less understand it. "The fight against unthinking religion must be fought in terms unthinking believers can relate to. Discovering Angelina Jolie is an atheist is much more likely to make the unintellectual doubt their belief than the arguments of Patrick Grim" (an author in the book). A current example is The Big Bang Theory sit-com. It's doing a fantastic job of influencing the young away from faith via example and ridicule. As many of us have argued, ridicule does indeed have an impact upon the masses. Baggini surprisingly also says Martin's book is useless for the intellectual, both the believer and the atheist, for "when we get to this level of detail and sophistication, the war has become phoney. Converts are won at the more general level." [My emphasis].

My goal is not to merely understand the world, as Marx indicated, but to change it. Baggini provides the reasons I target educated readers in the pew rather than the believing sophisticates (who are little more than fundamentalists wrapped up in a host of informal fallacies, social constructs, and cognitive biases). I have done this on purpose. I have not sought to impress the Christian sophisticates because their minds are never changed (or, so rarely I don't know of one Christian apologist or philosopher or theologian who has renounced their faith in a decade, or more). That's because the more sophisticated these sophisticates are the more deluded they are as well. Christian sophisticates like Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Richard Swinburne and hundreds and even thousands of others, have a much greater need in justifying what they believe because they have so much more invested in it. Even their livelihood depends on not honestly considering their faith is false and even irrational.

Christian sophisticates want to read essays and books written by specialists in a particular field of study, just like Martin's book of atheist essays in philosophy of religion. I however, consider myself a generalist in all things Christian, so I write and edit books covering a wide array of topics dealing with Christianity in general (does this make me a specialist after all?). To see the difference between my books and most other atheist books read my descriptions of them. To debunk a whole religion we don't need sophisticated atheist philosophers of religion who can study a single philosophical tree to exhaustion, not as much as we need generalists who can step back to study the whole forest itself. We certainly don't need any more sophisticated atheist philosophers of religion who practice their discipline according to the standard model, which focuses on Christian fundamentalist arguments to the exclusion of others, and of other faiths.

We need every key discipline in our attempt to reach educated Christian believers in the pew, if we're attempting to reason them out of their faith (especially science, biblical scholarship, anthropology of religion, historical studies, and more). On top of this we need to develop a cumulative case against Christianity based on every key discipline and then communicate in such a way believers can read with comprehension what we say.

We also need others who effectively practice Street Epistemology, which confronts believers to understand, through a series of dialectical questions, that when saying they know with certainty--or near certainty--their faith is true, they are pretending to know what they don't know, much like the Sophists did in the days of Socrates. Socrates was considered wise precisely because he knew that he didn't know, as the Delphic Oracle said of him.

The brains of believers in general, but more importantly the brains of Christian sophisticates treat questions about their beliefs just like they do with physical threats. So the thought just doesn't occur to disarm their own brains, which begins by honestly acknowledging the magnitude of this significant problem. The most bizarre cases arise when Christian sophisticates are confronted with the universal requirement for sufficient objective evidence, as the only antidote for the disease of the brain, only to reject that requirement! But they do reject it! <-- *ahem* Anyone who rejects the requirement for sufficient objective evidence cannot be helped to know the truth, because they are not interested in the truth, but something else! We have to reach people who can be reached in ways they can be reached, if we want to change the world one person at a time. To see why Martin's book doesn't answer Christian philosophical arguments in the best way possible, see my book Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End.