Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Newsflash: John Loftus calls Peter Boghossian a "pseudo-intellectual" (sort of)

To give Peter. Boghossian credit, he managed to remain mostly polite with my friend Tim McGrew during their debate on the Unbelievable radio program, even while his arguments were being ripped to ribbons.

The central question they discussed was one we have often discussed here: "What do Christians mean by faith?"  Boghossian, as I have mentioned here before, was gung-ho for the Blind Faith Meme, the idea that Christian faith is unrelated to evidence by definition, implicit or explicit.  Tim cited the definition he and I worked out for a chapter in True Reason

One flaw in the argument on both sides, in my opinion, is that neither gave adequate evidence to back up their claims about what Christians mean by "faith."  This is, after all, an empirical question. 

Four kinds of evidence are relevant: (1) What the Bible says about faith and reason; (2) What leading Christian thinkers have said; (3) What ordinary Christians think or say; (4) How dictionaries define the word.  The fourth is, in my opinion, least important: in this particular situation, it is an Argument From Authority.  The first two sources are also authorities, but also themselves important primary sources in relation to the basic question -- what Christians think.  And the third, ordinary but mature (I would add) Christians, also constitute primary sources in relation to the question, "What do Christians think about faith and reason?" 

Tim did offer an Oxford definition of faith (4) during this debate.  As I recall, he also spoke to (1) and (2).  He and I also show that great Christian thinkers have generally agreed that faith demands evidence (2), in Chapter Eleven of True Reason.  (I have previously given additional supporting citations on this site.)  Separate chapters by Peter Grice and by myself in that book also show that faith and reason are intricately interwoven in the pages of the New Testament itself (1).  Furthermore, in the very first chapter of The Truth Behind the New Atheism, I seven years ago already, I showed (1), (2), AND (3), to a reasonable extent. 

So far as I know, NO atheist has overturned these three vital bodies of evidence with contrary evidence.  (Never mind personal attacks and other distractions.)

This is, of course, continuingly ironic.  The Apostles of Reason and Evidence make a major claim, that Christians don't demand evidence for their faith.  The Christians give fulsome evidence to back up their claim; the Apostles of Reason and Evidence never do.  As usual, fairly tested, the Gospel beats its critics at the very game they insist upon playing.  (Or upon pretending they are playing.)

Now  let's see how John Loftus (and James Lindsay, who also chimes in) deal with their pal's palpable failure to back up his faith position on faith positions:

John Loftus Rides In

There's a lot of blathering about Tim McGrew's so-called trashing of my friend and colleague Peter Boghossian. For the record, I view myself as Boghossian's bulldog . . . Randal Rauser's headline is this: Tim McGrew gives Peter Boghossian an unbelievable public drubbing. On the other side, James Lindsay carefully reviews their debate. You can listen to it on the program Unbelievable right here. I think he did well but McGrew threw him for a loop once or twice . . .  

More than that.  The problem with Boghossian's book is that it is based entirely on the conceit that Christians buy into the "Blind Faith Meme."  But he gives no evidence in that book, aside from a few personal anecdotes or extrapolations from his supposed experience, that we do.  He also gave no evidence in this debate.  He also has failed to interact with evidence, such as that published by myself or even by his opponent (writing with me), Tim McGrew, or hardly any other Christian scholar, refuting his core assumption that we Christians fail to offer evidence for our beliefs.  Therefore, his thesis hardly even requires refuting.

Furthermore, Loftus himself writes in an Amazon review of a book by Christian scholars:

"I consider a pseudo-intellectual someone who does not take on the strongest criticisms of the thesis being proposed, and the authors in this book do not do this."

Neither does Peter Boghossian.  He tries to persuade the ignorant, while ignoring Christian scholars as much as he can.  He is, then, by John Loftus' own definition, a "pseudo-intellectual."

Boghossian uses rhetoric to his advantage.

Considering that he got thrashed in the debate, I fail to see the advantage to him -- though we Christians certainly see a sort of advantage in being challenged by such weak opponents. 

I like it because I agree with him that Christianity is baseless. He’s writing to motivate those of us who agree with him. I like that too. The problem is that Christians don’t agree with us that Christianity is baseless. His book is not intended to convince Christians because they are not his target audience.

The issue is not whether Christianity is baseless (Boghossian doesn't even pretend to establish that), it is whether Christians understand faith as not requiring any basis.  To conflate these two issues, is to misunderstand the debate.  PB was debating a Christian, on a Christian radio station, and he talks endlessly about how to talk to Christians -- here was his chance to show how it's done.  So yes, Christians were obviously his "target audience" on the air.   

So all this blathering about definitional apologetics is just that, blathering. If Christians want to engage books that argue against their faith they exist. Until then, the ONLY valid criticism of the main point of Boghossian’s book is one that can successfully argue his proposals to change the religious landscape won’t work, or on second thought, that if they work it would be bad for the world. 

If when you actually engage Christians, using the principles PB advocates in his book, you get your head handed to you because you don't know what you're talking about, how is that going to work in your avowed goal of talking Christians out of the blind faith they deny holding? 

As for being "bad for the world," that is another worthwhile point, indeed.  John claimed he left Christianity in large part because it was bad for women.  I showed that in fact, the Gospel  has done more to elevate the status and living standards of women around the world, than anything else.  What have I heard back from John in response?  Crickets.  And just for the record, here again is my bibliography of about 130 texts that show how Christianity has blessed the world.

He did well. My advice to him is to not listen to the Christians. They wouldn't have liked what he had to say anyway.

Heck of a plan.  A professional philosopher writes a book telling atheists to preach "doxatic openness" and the principles of reason by interacting with believers the way Socrates did, asking questions.  Then when he tries to talk with an informed Christian, his assumptions about what Christians think are soundly disabused.  So John tells the  professional philosopher to crawl back into his cave, lick his wounds, and ignore what all those nasty Christians are saying. 

Doxatic openness.  Heck of a concept.  A little scary for some people, though. 

And not just for John Loftus, either.  

James Lindsay:

 I also won't comment about winners because I think the idea of winning a conversation is stupid to the point of being embarrassing for people that we make a sport of it. (Full disclosure: I think the debate was a draw because the substantive point of the matter could not be settled because the relevant data concerning how Christians and other religious believers use the word "faith" is not available.)

Well, that sounds like a comment about winners -- there wasn't one, says Lindsay. 

I agree that "the relevant data" about how Christians use the word faith is extremely important.  I actually gave some of that data already seven years ago, in The Truth Behind the New Atheism.  And I challenged Peter Boghossian to debate the meaning of faith before his book came out; he went out of his way to tell people he would not debate me.  So he knew who I was, and where to find opposing arguments on the subject. 

So the relevant data is available, and it is easy to find more where that came from.  But for all their talk about "doxatic openness," even the atheists who bother to read what they're cursing at, don't seem to read it very well, most of the time.  And that, let me suggest, is probably a self-defense mechanism.  


bblais said...

I just posted on this yesterday! I'd like to know what you think. I also found that Boghossian did a terrible job, and was enlightened to follow McGrew's definition as far as it went. Bottom line - I think both definitions have and are being used by Christians, and even Tim slides between the two without noticing in at least one place. That's why I find the term "faith" unclear and not useful. Here's my post:

faith, trust, and evidence

David B Marshall said...

Thanks for letting me know, Brian. I'll take a look.

bblais said...

I replied on my blog, but I also have a new post which addresses a different aspect of the issue. You may find it interesting (an no math! :) ).

My blog post on the use of the term faith.

bblais said...

Here's a quick question - would you say that the term "take it on faith" is a non-sequitur? It seems as if this term really does mean belief without sufficient evidence, and thus (as you claim) would fly in the face of the "true" use of the word. Is that right?

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, to "have faith" in the religious sense means "to be emotionally committed to an idea regardless of whether or not the idea is factually true." Would you agree?

David B Marshall said...

Owen: No, I would not agree at all. First of all, there IS no "religious sense," since every belief system has distinguishing beliefs. But faith in the Christian sense generaly means, I think, "believing and acting on what you have good reason to think is true, in the face of difficulties." See previous posts on this subject here, for historical evidence that that is what Christians usually mean.

David B Marshall said...

Owen: No, I would not agree at all. First of all, there IS no "religious sense," since every belief system has distinguishing beliefs. But faith in the Christian sense generaly means, I think, "believing and acting on what you have good reason to think is true, in the face of difficulties." See previous posts on this subject here, for historical evidence that that is what Christians usually mean.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I generally concede that "believe without good reason" is a credible secondary definition of "faith," given its modern usage, so no, I am not surprised to hear it used that way sometimes. (And sometimes by Christians who use the word more carefully at other times -- words can be slippery.) But even here, "on faith" may sometimes be shorthand for "on warranted faith in the person making the promise," etc.

Chavoux said...

My understanding of Biblical faith is that it is trust in somebody who has been proven as trustworthy (=faithful!) in the past. For a Christian that faithful Person is the God of the Bible. So yes, then I do "take it on faith" when He says something, but only because He has "won my trust" by His faithfulness in the past. And obviously I will not "take on faith" what just anybody tells me (who has not won my trust)'