If you're at a cocktail party talking with friends and they ask what you do for a living and you say you're a college professor, their eyes will kinda glaze over and they'll lose interest.More seriously, I once had an encounter with the undergraduate adviser for philosophy here in Madison where she told me I should make a point to take as many of the upper-level metaphysics/epistemology-type courses as possible... with the exception of philosophy of religion. What gives here?
If you're at a cocktail party for college professors and they ask what department you're in and you say philosophy, their eyes will kinda glaze over and they'll lose interest.
If you're at a cocktail party for professional philosophers and they ask what your specialty is and you say philosophy of religion...
I've come to suspect there's a deep institutional problem with philosophy of religion: the atheists just don't care. Or, to be more precise, they care enough to pay attention for awhile but not enough to avoid get bored relatively fast.
I saw this, I think, in my 101 prof. We had a philosophy of religion unit as our first or second unit, with a standard slate of issues: cosmological argument, design argument, argument from evil. We got a little behind, and when we finally got around to Swinburne's response to the argument from evil, with time running low, the prof almost tried to cover it quickly, and then stopped himself and just passed over the Swinburne reading. My impression is that he was simply embarrassed by how bad Swinburne's response was. My experience in that course was one of the main things that prompted a recent comment to a friend that it seems that for many philosophers, philosophy of religion is something they think about as undergrads, and then they realize that God doesn't exist and move on to other things. (The prof, for those who care, is in philosophy of mind.)
Unlike no doubt the majority of atheist philosophers, I can see myself someday publishing a paper or two or even three on philosophy of religion. However, when it comes to where I'd actually like to make my career, philosophy of mind is so much more exciting. And of course, I find religion quite boring at times.
Strikingly, though, this limit of interest seems to be found even among people who've built up a reputation for publishing in philosophy of religion. J. L. Mackie, for example, seems to have been interested in and influential in ethics as much as anything. I've even come across a number of indicators that this is true of Antony Flew, the supposed "world's most notorious atheist" whose conversion to deism was so much touted. Mark Oppenheimer, in his NYT piece, indicated Flew spent most of the interview time talking politics. I've heard a similar report, albeit second hand, based on one Madison prof's interactions with Flew. There are even hints of this the book Roy Varghese co-wrote.
The lack of interest by atheist philosophers in philosophy of religion really distorts the discipline. It seems there are lots of philosophers in philosophy of mind or philosophy of science or whatnot who are content to snigger behind Swinburne's back and snigger behind Plantiga's back, and who just can't be bothered to write up their thoughts. Thus, what's published in philosophy of religion doesn't reflect the thoughts of the profession as a whole. If the published stuff did do that, theists would probably have an image as a hard-fighting minority, but the way publication is skewed, they're allowed to get the impression that they've earned a boundless supply of respect from their colleagues, only to occasionally run up against a puzzling disdain for the specialty they cherish so much.