Goodbye to All That
Over the past ten years I have published, in one venue or another, about twenty things on the philosophy of religion. I have a book on the subject, God and Burden of Proof, and another criticizing Christian apologetics, Why I am not a Christian. During my academic career I have debated William Lane Craig twice and creationists twice. I have written one master’s thesis and one doctoral dissertation in the philosophy of religion, and I have taught courses on the subject numerous times. But no more. I’ve had it. I’m going back to my real interests in the history and philosophy of science and, after finishing a few current commitments, I’m writing nothing more on the subject. I could give lots of reasons. For one thing, I think a number of philosophers have made the case for atheism and naturalism about as well as it can be made. Graham Oppy, Jordan Howard Sobel, Nicholas Everitt, Michael Martin, Robin Le Poidevin and Richard Gale have produced works of enormous sophistication that devastate the theistic arguments in their classical and most recent formulations. Ted Drange, J.L. Schellenberg, Andrea Weisberger, and Nicholas Trakakis have presented powerful, and, in my view, unanswerable atheological arguments. Gregory Dawes has a terrific little book showing just what is wrong with theistic “explanations.” Erik Wielenberg shows very clearly that ethics does not need God. With honest humility, I really do not think that I have much to add to these extraordinary works.
Chiefly, though, I am motivated by a sense of ennui on the one hand and urgency on the other. A couple of years ago I was teaching a course in the philosophy of religion. We were using, among other works, C. Stephen Layman’s Letters to a Doubting Thomas: A Case for the Existence of God. In teaching class I try to present material that I find antithetical to my own views as fairly and in as unbiased a manner as possible. With the Layman book I was having a real struggle to do so. I found myself literally dreading having to go over this material in class—NOT, let me emphasize, because I was intimidated by the cogency of the arguments. On the contrary, I found the arguments so execrably awful and pointless that they bored and disgusted me (Layman is not a kook or an ignoramus; he is the author of a very useful logic textbook). I have to confess that I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position—no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory. BTW, in saying that I now consider the case for theism to be a fraud, I do not mean to charge that the people making that case are frauds who aim to fool us with claims they know to be empty. No, theistic philosophers and apologists are almost painfully earnest and honest; I don’t think there is a Bernie Madoff in the bunch. 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. I’ve turned the philosophy of religion courses over to a colleague.
As I say there is also a sense of urgency. I just turned 58 and I want to devote the relatively few years remaining in my scholarly life to what I not only respect, but love. I love astronomy; I love geology; I love paleontology, and I find the history of those fields fascinating. I also am very interested in philosophical problems associated with the historical sciences. How we understand and reconstruct events that took place in deep time is a deep and abiding interest for me. I have published two books on the history of dinosaur paleontology, and I am going to get back into stuff like that.
So, with the exception of things I am finishing now I am calling it quits with the philosophy of religion. I might also reply to a few criticisms of things I have already published. For instance, the Secular Web has a long critique of my essay “No Creator Need Apply,” and I might respond to that. I’ll continue to post things occasionally on Secular Outpost. As for the rest of you who are fighting the good fight against supernaturalism, please do carry on. Somebody needs to oppose this stuff. It just isn’t going to be me.