Graham Oppy: Yes, There Really Is Such a Thing as Expertise in Philosophy of Religion, and, No, You Can’t Get it from Pop Philosophy of Religion Books

Note: The following post is written by Graham Oppy and posted with his permission.

Suppose I wanted to learn all about quantum gravity, starting from a position of total ignorance. How likely is it that there is a book that physicists could recommend to me that I could read, and that would give me the knowledge that I’d like to have? On the one hand, I have to be able to understand the book; on the other hand, the book has to be sufficiently sophisticated for me to acquire genuine knowledge from it.

Perhaps some scientists think that there must be pop philosophy of religion books that play the same kind of role that is played by pop science books. But, in my view, you can’t come to a genuine knowledge of the science simply by reading pop science books. (And this despite the fact that there are pretty uncontroversial results in science. Sure, you can get a nodding acquaintance with results from pop science books; but this does not mean that you have a genuine understanding of the science.)

No doubt my opinion is warped by my views about reason and argument: I think that even most professional philosophers of religion don’t really understand how to assess arguments and how to evaluate the rationality of the beliefs of those with whom one vehemently disagrees. (If you are interested in a topic in philosophy of religion, you almost certainly don’t want arguments; what you want to know about is the relevant evidence and the range of best competing theories. In order to make use of this knowledge, you don’t need to know anything about arguments; rather, you need to know how to weigh the theoretical virtues of competing theories.)

Despite what many well-known scientists (and philosophers) claim, there really is such a thing as expertise in philosophy of religion.