The Right Coast

April 16, 2004
Theistic Philosophers
By Tom Smith

A student objects to my characterization of contemporary philosophers as mostly atheists, and sends me a famous (I gather) article by Quentin Smith. Here's an excerpt:

By the second half of the twentieth century, universities and colleges had been become in the main secularized. The standard (if not exceptionless) position in each field, from physics to psychology, assumed or involved arguments for a naturalist world-view; departments of theology or religion aimed to understand the meaning and origins of religious writings, not to develop arguments against naturalism. Analytic philosophers (in the mainstream of analytic philosophy) treated theism as an antirealist or non-cognitivist world-view, requiring the reality, not of a deity, but merely of emotive expressions or certain “forms of life” (of course there were a few exceptions, e.g., Ewing, Ross, Hartshorne, etc., but I am discussing the mainstream view).

This is not to say that none of the scholars in the various academic fields were realist theists in their “private lives”; but realist theists, for the most part, excluded their theism from their publications and teaching, in large part because theism (at least in its realist variety) was mainly considered to have such a low epistemic status that it did not meet the standards of an “academically respectable” position to hold. The secularization of mainstream academia began to quickly unravel upon the publication of Plantinga’s influential book on realist theism, God and Other Minds, in 1967. It became apparent to the philosophical profession that this book displayed that realist theists were not outmatched by naturalists in terms of the most valued standards of analytic philosophy: conceptual precision, rigor of argumentation, technical erudition, and an in-depth defense of an original world-view. This book, followed seven years later by Plantinga’s even more impressive book, The Nature of Necessity, made it manifest that a realist theist was writing at the highest qualitative level of analytic philosophy, on the same
playing field as Carnap, Russell, Moore, Grünbaum, and other naturalists. Realist theists, whom hitherto had segregated their academic lives from their private lives, increasingly came to believe (and came to be increasingly accepted or respected for believing) that arguing for realist theism in scholarly publications could no longer be justifiably regarded as engaging in an “academically unrespectable” scholarly pursuit.

Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism, most influenced by Plantinga’s writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians. Although many theists do not work in the area of the philosophy of religion, so many of them do work in this area that there are now over five philosophy journals devoted to theism or the philosophy of religion, such as Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, International Journal of the Philosophy of Religion, Sophia, Philosophia Christi, etc. Philosophia Christi began in the late 1990s and already is overflowing with submissions from leading philosophers.

And here's the link. Very interesting. My philosophy advisor at Cornell, Norman Kretzmann, was an analytical philosopher theist. I knew they existed and I have read a number of things by Plantinga, and he edited an anthology on the ontological argument which I just loved my freshman year, but I had no idea these philosophers were so influential or numerous. Very interesting. And I might add, though I am unsure of all its ramifications and connotations: heh.