Alex Byrne has a very nice article in the Boston Review appraising the main philosophical arguments for God's existence. It's an evenhanded discussion on the whole, but I was struck (pedagogically, that is) by Byrne's conclusion that "the funny thing about arguments for the existence of God is that, if they succeed, they were never needed in the first place." I take Byrne to be suggesting that only those who already have faith in God are likely to be persuaded by such arguments, which amounts to saying that proofs of God are not rationally persuasive since they presuppose the prior acceptance of their conclusions.
This resonates with something in my own teaching experience: I'm sure most of us teach proofs of God's existence, in our introductory classes for instance. But one challenge I've had in teaching this material is that many students (many of them religiously inclined, but not all of them) already share Byrne's conclusion God's existence is unprovable (especiallyto skeptics). Religious belief, on this view, can only be a matter of pure faith. Obviously, if that is the student's view, then the fact that so many of the arguments for God's existence seem shaky comes as no surprise to them at all. As a result, students feel little interest in engaging the proofs, since for them, it can only be an idle intellectual exercise. Fideism is thus a barrier to serious rational engagement with these arguments.
I'm curious to know if others have had the same experience in trying to teach these arguments, and if so, the approaches you've tried. One thing that's worked for me is to draw upon students' awareness of religious pluralism. Even students with strong religious convictions know that others don't share those convictions. I've had some success persuading students that reason has a role to play in discussions of theism if for no other reason that the various religions make competing claims about God that cannot all be true. This seems to get them in the right frame of mind to think about the question of theism more generally.
Anyone have similiar thoughts or experiences?