Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Peter Boghossian captains Titanic to bottom of Atlantic.

The skeptical world is presently agog over philosopher Peter Boghossian's new book, Manual for Creating Atheists.  And well they should be: the book is a monstrous, enormous, monumental, dare one say titanic work of hubris.  Some of the rivets of his argument are missing, it hit an iceberg even before sailing out of port, and there is a thirty-foot gash in its hull below the water line.  But it is a magnificent vessel, and skeptics from Richard Dawkins to John Loftus are clambering aboard with a considerable weight of philosophical luggage. 

I posted my review earlier.  John Loftus has just posted his.  Let us read through the latter with our customary critical engagement:

Peter Boghossian's new brilliant book will change our nomenclature and effectiveness in disabusing believers of their faith. His book will definitely change the religious landscape.
Nomenclature refers to the names we give to phenomena. I love Boghossian's nomenclature. Richard Dawkins coined the word "meme," which is an idea or behavior that spreads from person to person within a society. Daniel Dennett popularized the word "deepity," which is a statement that seems profound but actually asserts a triviality on one level and something meaningless on another. Generally, a deepity has (at least) two meanings: one that is true but trivial, and another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless and would be "earth-shattering" if true. [From RationalWiki].

I actually don't mind when skeptics introduce patronizing terms like these, which often prove quite useful for analyzing, or trying to analyze, their own "deepities." 
 Boghossian is changing how we see faith. He defines faith as "pretending to know things you don't know." He says that when we hear the word "faith" we should think of that definition. Why? Because that's exactly what believers are doing. They're playing a childish pretend game. Faith stunts one's intellectual growth. So he talks in terms of the medical and/or psychological professions.

If Boghossian were a doctor, which he is not, this is what one would call "malpractice."  But as demonstrated in my review, it is actually Boghossian who habitually pretends to know what he does not know -- beginning with our own short conversation. 

Believers are infected with a faith virus.  The believer is the host of this virus.  And we are in the midst of a faith virus pandemic.  Boghossian says, "The pretending-to-know-things-you-don't-know pandemic hurts us all.  Believing things on the basis of something other than evidence and reason causes people to misconstrue what's good for them and for their communities." (pp. 31-32).

So he's calling on a potential legion of people who are willing to help cure believers of their faith virus. He calls them "Street Epistemologists" who are equipped with the tactics he presents in his manual. They are to use the Socratic method for instilling doubt within the host of the faith virus. That's what Socrates did with people through a dialectical series of questions. After all, "certainty is an enemy of truth." The wise person is the person who doesn't pretend to know what he doesn't know.

Are you sure about that?  If you are, John, that makes you the "enemy of truth."

Are you sure that Christians don't have evidence for faith?  Then again, by Boghossian's definition, that makes you the "enemy of truth." 

Of course certainty is not the "enemy of truth," because it really is possible to know things.  At least, I'm pretty sure it is.  If it isn't . . . then we will never know. 

How hard it is for atheists to find the balance of G. K. Chesterton, a true philosopher not a sophist, who said, "The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

Street Epistemologists should view our interactions with believers "as clinical interventions designed to disabuse them of their faith." (p. 18). We will likely be more successful if we view the believer as a person who needs help. "Your new role is that of interventionist. Liberator. Your target is faith. Your pro bono clients are individuals who've been infected by faith. Street Epistemologists view every conversation with the faithful as an intervention....You administer a dialectical treatment with the goal of helping them become less certain and less confident in their faith commitment (or perhaps cured of faith entirely)" (p. 67).
Since Boghossian's book is going to be a very popular one among atheists he is popularizing this whole nomenclature. It will change the way atheists think about faith, believers, and what we're doing when we engage them.

Loftus is right about the book's popularity: it has been in the top 500 for most of the last several weeks.  All aboard! 

Medical doctors prescribe a treatment to heal someone by first properly diagnosing the disease. So the good doctor Boghossian begins by doing just that. The disease is the faith virus . . .
Physician, heal thyself. 

So the triple problems of the faith virus are, 1) It is a failed epistemology, 2) it produces doxastic closure, and 3) it is dangerous.
Christian faith is (1) not an epistemology, nor a "virus," (2) knowing is not always wrong, (3) though it is in Boghossian and Loftus' cases, because what they "know" is untrue, (4) unwillingness to believe (paranoia, nihilism, atheism) and over-eagerness to believe (superstition, gullibility) are BOTH dangerous. 
It would be tedious to describe, through John Loftus' eyes, the "treatment" that Boghossian recommends for the "disease" of faith, again.  But it is interesting to follow the "crisis of faith" in Loftus' own methods that peaks through his review:

Perhaps we haven't had that much success because we've been doing the wrong things.  Perhaps it's because we're arguing strictly against the conclusions of religionists rather than their failed epistemology.  Perhaps we're getting sidetracked into arguing over the beneficial aspects of religious faith, or morality or politics . . .

Or perhaps you have and will fail, John, because you're wrong about almost everything, and the ship is already sinking beneath your feet. 

Interesting that that possibility does not even cross his mind, even as he preaches "doxatic openness" and against the sin of certainty.  In this case, perhaps that does make both these gentlemen "enemies of the truth." 

So it is actually the New Atheists who play "let's pretend."  The informed ones, and yes I would include Loftus in this (though I have seen no evidence of such knowledge yet from Dr. Boghossian), know perfectly well that Christians base their faith in evidence and do not mean any such thing as "pretending to know things you don't" by that word "faith."  But those who have not read Christian thought, and that appears to include PB, are unaware of the reality, and so pretend to know what they manifestly do not know. 

John knows:

(a) That Christians usually do not mean that by the word "faith;"

(b) That in fact, Christians have offered numerous great works describing a great deal of evidence in many fields for the Gospel, including by such brilliant thinkers as Augustine, Pascal (no, it's not just a wager, don't pretend to know if you don't!), Chesterton, Lewis, Swinburne, Craig, Keener, Bauckham, and NT Wright;

(c) Loftus also probably knows, in his heart, that it would be sheer hubris to claim these arguments have been debunked.  (No one has touched my best arguments yet, certainly not him.)  The extent of Boghossian's own ignorance on this subject can be gauged by the fact that instead of arguments, he tells readers to read Paulos' infantile Irreligion, which not only does not refute Christian arguments, Paulos doesn't appear to have a clue what they really are. 

(d) One can, of course, claim with great confidence that none of the arguments for Christianity work, and that we Christians are deceiving ourselves about that.  But Loftus also knows that when someone like William Lane Craig debates leading skeptics, even the non-Christians usually think Craig wins.  So we have to posit that even non-Christians have this fatal will to believe, if we want to pretend that there really is no evidence. 

(e) Loftus also admits that Christians really do believe their arguments work. 

So who is pretending, here?  And who is ignorant? 

I think John Loftus is pretending.  And if Peter Boghossian really believes that crack-pot definition of faith on which he bases his entire book, and apparently his career as a government-paid proselytizer for atheism, then he is deeply and probably willfully ignorant.  This is why he does not seem to like to interact with informed Christians, but just pick off the lame caribou foals at the back of the herd, like his young and ignorant students. 

For a Christian, reading Boghossian's book is like watching the German general staff board the Titanic before World War I.  You know the ship is going down.  But you have mixed feelings. One does want to save lives, if one can.  But if these numbskulls insist on crossing the Atlantic in freezing water far from shore on a doomed ship, well, at least that will make our job shortly on the battlefield a lot easier.  And in this case, the gash is already visible under the water line, and is already taking in water, along with fishy arguments. 

All aboard!  Next destination: two thousand fathoms under the Atlantic Ocean.


Anonymous said...

No one has touched my best arguments yet, certainly not him.

Of your books, or writings on the web, which represents the best first viewing I could have of these arguments? I can't afford to buy all your books :-)


David B Marshall said...

Dave: Sorry for the slow response; it's hard to reply here in China.

As far as Loftus goes, I responded to his OTF argument with four counterarguments, in True Reason. He flailed at one of those arguments badly, ignored the other three. I'm working that into a book, now.

My "How Jesus Saves Women" series is a pretty solid but free argument; Loftus & Co have made barely pretended to deal with it. But if you want meat, probably Jesus and the Religions of Man or Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus would be your best choices. A bit obscure, is all.