The sky will fall if you keep religion out of philosophy. Seriously!

By Eric Bright

When I suggested that we ought to keep philosophy and philosophy communities and forums clear of religious discussions, I was greeted by comments similar to the following comment.

Kierkegaard is often considered to be a “Christian Existentialist.” How is one to discuss Kierkegaard without drawing on Christianity? One of his most famous books (Fear and Trembling) is about Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. How can ‘Fear and Trembling’ be discussed without “appealing to religion to prove a point” [he’s citing me saying that somewhere else]?

Sometimes in a discussion it is productive to bring up Hamlet, or Sisyphus, or Odysseus, or Julius Caesar. Why are Jesus and Moses and Adam and Abraham off-limits? What are you afraid of?

Or comments like this one.

[D]o ask yourself this question:

Which prominent philosophers of past and present would you be willing to stop posting in your forum? For example, would you let William Lane Craig (a cheeky one to start with)? How about Soren Kiekegaard? How about Nietzsche (are his views religious?)? How about Plato or Godel who have definite mystical views within their core doctrines.

I personally wouldn’t omit any of them…but I would challenge some of them and let philosophical discourse do its thing. This might lead to some frustrations but I think that it is worth it.

First of all, merely being religious does not disqualify someone from being, or being called, a philosopher. Unfortunately though, being called a philosopher does not make one a philosopher either.

If I know a person as a philosopher, that does not make me think that everything that he has done or he has said is automatically true or appropriate. This observation certainly applies to all of us.

So, the question is not “if” the aforementioned people (with the exception of W.L. Craig) are smart, are called philosophers by some, or should be allowed in a philosophy community. The question is not if we are going to allow or disallow people to join a philosophy forum or community. The question is not if people should be allowed to talk about topics related to religion.

Some topics are not philosophy any more. They used to be, but they are not today. Music, gymnastic, poetry, mathematics, biology, and many other subjects used to be considered as parts of a good philosophical education. There is no doubt about them being useful or if they should be a part of everyone’s education. But are they considered philosophy today?

Here is another example. “How many angels can dance on a pinhead,” is not a philosophical issue. It once was, but it is not any more. But the fact that some people used to take it as philosophy is a fact and is a part of the history of philosophy that we study in the first year of a typical philosophy department.

Think of Pythagoras or Euclid. At least Pythagoras is known as a philosopher. But, his subject-matter is not considered as philosophy today. His historic views formed the philosophy landscape but his subject-matter is usually studied in mathematics departments today.

But, what if someone says that philosophy is a meta-study and must be left alone to investigate everything?

Regarding the fact that philosophy is a meta-study and all, I cannot agree more. I don’t think that philosophy is able to set itself aside from any particular topic whatsoever at any time. It will sneak into any discipline anyway. I do realise that for sure.

At the same time, I am not convinced that philosophy has more to say on the matter of religion. Not much. Philosophy used to have a lot to say about human body too, but it does not do that any more. The same is true about many other things that philosophy used to focus on that it’s not any more.

Interesting topics such as mind and consciousness, for instance, are studied elsewhere nowadays in neuroscience, biology, genetics, microbiology, computer science, cognitive science, and a set of other sciences. How the brain works is studied in those domains instead of philosophy. Philosophy still tries to say something interesting about those topics but its time is almost up in relationship to the working of the brain. The same is true about many other topics that philosophy used to work on. Religion is one of them.

Now, there are countless number of amazing stuff that can be studied in regards to religion. People are doing it already: biology of religion, anthropology, history of religion, and so on. They are fascinating and rich. Who can doubt that? But philosophy of religion? That’s an expired topic.

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