latest interviews on the philosophy of religion(s)

“But is the existence of God just a philosophical question, like, say, the definition of knowledge or the existence of Plato’s forms?” Gary Gutting, NYT

Although I stopped following The Stone‘s interviews of philosophers about their views on religion, six more took place and Gary Gutting has now closed the series he started a while ago with a self-interview. On this occasion, I went quickly through the last interviews, which had the same variability in depth and appeal as the earlier ones. A lot of them were somewhat misplaced in trying to understand or justify the reasons for believing in a god (a.k.a., God), which sounds more appropriate for a psychology or sociology perspective. I presume that what I was expecting from the series was more a “science vs. religion” debate, rather than entries into the metaphysics of various religions…

“Marin Mersenne, Descartes’s close friend and sponsor, and an important mathematician and scientific thinker in his own right, claimed that there were over 50,000 atheists living in Paris in 1623. In his massive commentary on Genesis, where he advanced that claim, he offered 35 arguments for the existence of God. For Mersenne and his contemporaries, the idea of the atheist was terrifying.” Daniel Garber, NYT.

For instance, Daniel Garber quoted above discusses why he remains an atheist while being “convinced that [he] should want to believe” but can’t. That is, he cannot find convincing reasons to believe. And states that following Pascal’s wager argument  would be self-deception. The whole thing sounds more like psychology than philosophy. [Incidentally correcting my long-going mistake of writing Mersenne as Meresme!]

“The existence of God is not just any philosophical issue. It’s intimately tied up with what very many in our society feel gives meaning to their lives (…) many are subject to often subtle, but also often powerful, pressure from their religious groups to feel and to act and even to try to be certain of their position. This no doubt creates special dangers. But it also seems that a life of religious faith can lead us to special values we can’t find elsewhere. At any rate, this too is a philosophical issue. In light of all that, I would not want to make any blanket pronouncement (…) that the most reasonable stance on the existence of God is to stay on the sidelines.” Keith DeRose, NYT

Another argument outside philosophy in that it invokes psychology at the individual level and sociology at the societal level. So this contradicts the statement it is a philosophical issue, doesn’t it? This interview of Keith DeRose mentions a quote from Kant: “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith” that I find particularly relevant, as the existence or non existence of God cannot be considered as knowledge in the usual sense but a belief in the former case (with all sorts of causes, as discussed throughout most interviews) and a disbelief in the latter case, albeit supported by rational scepticism that there is not the slightest hint that a deity could exist. (This seems to be the whole point of the interview, which mostly conveys uncertainty and goes round in circles.)

“…karma is more like what Kant called a postulate of practical reason, something one does well to believe in and act according to (for Kant, belief in God was a practical postulate of this sort).” Jonardon Ganeri, NYT

Two more entries from the series are by religious philosophers, illustrating the difficulty of the exercise by engaging into a non-philosophical entry about their religion (Islam and Hinduism) and/or a comparison with other religions. Just like earlier for Buddhism, and the Jewish religion (if not Christianity, which anyway appears as a reference religion in most other interviews). A third interview adopts an unconvincing relativist approach to religion versus science, arguing that science cannot explain everything and that the fact that religion itself is a by-product of evolution does not give a reason for its dismissal. Michael Ruse however dismisses Dawkins’ arguments as “first-year undergraduate philosophy”, which I find a bit short an argument. Just like mentioning Nazis, as a supposedly definitive “argument from evil”.

4 Responses to “latest interviews on the philosophy of religion(s)”

  1. This one does seem directly related to “is the existence of God just a philosophical question”

    • Quite entertaining, thanks!

      • Perhaps a few comments on this unusual paper

        > Now to be deliberately and thoroughly prepared to shape one’s conduct into conformity with a proposition is neither more nor less than the state of mind called Believing that proposition, however long the conscious classification of it under that head be postponed.

        Peirce admitting to have acted as if there always was an answer we would obtain if enquiry was adequate?

        > In short, he will say that the N.A. is the First Stage of a scientific inquiry [retroduction], resulting in a hypothesis of the very highest Plausibility, whose ultimate test must lie in its value in the self-controlled growth of man’s conduct of life.

        > Retroduction does not afford security. The hypothesis must be tested.

        > confusions of thought as that of active willing (willing to control thought, to doubt, and to weigh reasons) with willing not to exert the will (willing to believe).

        Peirce seeing N.A. as a conjecture, yet proven, not to confuse/chose willing to believe it with/over active willing to entertain it?

        But he is trying hard to be a person of science about it (though I believe he largely did give up soon after writing the paper).

      • This sounds a bit like the older Richard Price (almost Peirce!) using his friend Thomas Bayes’ theorem to refute Hume’s inductive argument by another scientific argument.

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