Some kind of minimal deism (motivated by the cosmological argument) seems reasonable enough. But (as I’ve previously noted) it’s a pretty big leap from there to theism, and an even bigger leap to the particular historical and theological claims of religions like Christianity.
…A major worry about appealing to the consensus of philosophers of religion is that this can plausibly be entirely explained by selection effects: it would be odd to specialize in philosophy of religion if one considered it a settled issue. And if (nearly) the only people who bother to enter the field are those who are antecedently inclined to take religion seriously, their consensus on this point can hardly be taken as evidence that the rest of us ought to do likewise. So, the crucial question is instead whether further exposure to the philosophy of religion would cause other atheists (who currently judge religious belief to be irrational) to revise their view of the rationality of religious belief. And I haven’t seen any reason to think that’s the case.
Moreover, I don’t think we need to rely on the indirect evidence of “expert testimony” here, since the first-order arguments are fairly straightforward to assess. Cosmological and fine-tuning arguments don’t support anything stronger than minimal deism. The ontological argument is obvious sophistry, and the modal version is question-begging. The design argument was defeated by Darwin; in its place we have the problems of evil and divine silence: the world justdoesn’t look anything like we’d expect it to if overseen by an omni-max god. In short, it seems to me, we seem to have every reason to reject theism, and no good reason to accept it.
Things get worse when we bundle in the quirky historical and theological claims of particular world religions. We know, from the fact that at best all but one of them is false, that holy texts are not in general reliable sources of evidence. Moreover, the particular contents put forth are often bizarre enough (fitting poorly with everything else we know of the world) to cast yet further doubt on them. Much of Christian theology (original sin, eternal damnation for honest non-believers, etc.) seems not just bizarre but patently immoral. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing someone could end up believing as the result of a careful and unbiased assessment of the evidence.
I’m posting this because I saw similar types of responses in the commends to Kevin’s previous post. And I wonder if Richard and Kevin are actually disagreeing here. I suspect–and I invite Kevin and Richard to correct me if I’m wrong–that Kevin is talking about reasonableness, but Richard is talking about epistemic justification or epistemic rationality.
Kevin claims that religious belief and theism, or at least certain instances of them, are reasonable. “Reasonable” is a technical term in public reason liberalism. Just what constitutes reasonableness is a big topic the PR liberals debate, but they all build into the concept of reasonable that reasonable beliefs are to be respected by liberalism. A reasonable objection has to be defeated; an unreasonable one doesn’t. A reasonable lifestyle has to be accommodated; an unreasonable one doesn’t. A reasonable claim has to be heard; an unreasonable one doesn’t. Etc.
In addition, PR liberals tend to hold that the category of the “reasonable” is broader than the category of the epistemically justified or the epistemically rational. Many beliefs that are not epistemically justified or that would be epistemically irrational to hold (because they are held in violation of the correct epistemic standards, whatever they are) are still reasonable. The standards of reasonableness are less demanding than the standards of epistemic justification.
So, perhaps Kevin is claiming that religious belief is reasonable, which is all he needs for his project in political philosophy, without making the stronger and unnecessary claim that religious belief is justified. Perhaps Richard means to deny that religious belief meets even this lower epistemic standard; I’m not sure.