The Shackles of Dogma: Top-down Thinking

I’ve often wondered about what philosophers generally believe, as well as why they generally believe them, especially with respect to religious philosophers. And thanks to the largest survey of philosophers ever done back in 2010 with the Phil Papers survey, I will use that information to speculate about the latter question. Sources:


Okay, so I’ve a sort of annoyance with apologists’ use of philosophy. Now, as I quite like several areas of philosophy, my reason isn’t their usage of philosophy per se, but what motivates them I guess. So why is that, you ask? Well, let’s take into account the following sorts of considerations:

Most philosophers hold to, for example, a compatibilist conception of free will (~60% of philosophers polled). That is to say, they think free will and determinism can be reconciled in a meaningful way that does not result in bloating our view of the world with absurd metaphysical acts, as libertarian free will does. So why don’t religious apologists and philosophers of religion (we shouldn’t confuse the two as synonyms, of course) tend to hold to compatibilism (only 25.5% of philosophers of religion hold to compatibilism, and most of them (19.1%) are atheists) given its evident success in philosophy in general (~58% of philosophers of religion hold to libertarian free will)? To me, the answer is fairly obvious: The Problem of Evil.

If agents are also determined like the rest of the natural world, yet compatibilism still offers an “out” of sorts for free will, why didn’t God determine the world to be good? Clearly, most Christians just cannot accept compatibilism as true because the majority of their religious beliefs just don’t work with it, given the way the world is. And this extends beyond the free will debate:

* Why do most philosophers of religion tend to hold to an A-theory of time (~40%)? It’s often thought that the universe necessarily needs a cause, and the B-theory of time is simply not generally thought allow for this sort of thing, since the universe doesn’t “begin to exist” so much as it has a spatio-temporal boundary. So it’s no surprise that this view is more popular amongst them.

* Why do most philosophers of religion tend to avoid consequentialism as a normative ethical theory noticeable less than philosophers overall? Probably because doctrines like Hell would seem to mean, for consequentialists, that God is massively immoral.

* Why do most philosophers of religion reject physicalist accounts of the mind (63.8%) in stark contrast to philosophers generally (56.5%!)? I think it’s clearly because physicalist accounts of the mind are fundamentally in contradiction to the notion of an afterlife.

You get it. So what’s my point about all this? Contrary to many atheists online, I’m not her to say all religious apologists are charlatans or that theist philosophers of religion are disingenuous or something. My concern here is primarily that given the constraints their prior beliefs, the scope of what positions they can find reasonable or be open to become severely limited. That is, they end up unwittingly engaging in top-down justifications for their beliefs by tending towards positions that can allow for those positions to at least be plausible. Just look at William Lane Craig. His positions bear out this exact sort of thing, since he’s a:

-Substance Dualist
-Libertarian on free will (I THINK; he sometimes sounds like a compatibilist)
-A-theory of time (to support his Kalam Cosmological Argument)
-Deontologist

And I think non-religious philosophers have, at least prima facie, less inherent constraints upon their thought, and hence are more able to consider the various positions (like those listed above), even if they tend towards a naturalistic, physicalist view (rightly, I think). This is not to say they don’t have their biases, it’s just I don’t think they have ones that as narrowly constrain them (generally) as their religious colleagues.

I think I initially had more to say on this topic, but I’m too tired to remember. Oh well.

~Peace