For a man who claims to value evidence and to disdain evidence-free belief, there’s a whole lot of rank evidence-free conclusion-drawing in James Lindsay’s post about my ebook today. That doesn’t just apply to Lindsay, though: Peter Boghossian thinks his post is “the best single demolition of (the Christian) faith” he’s ever read.
Let me just pull out a few quotes, to examine the quality of the evidence in Lindsay’s post. The first point or two are rather nit-picky, and I’d set them aside if they weren’t part of an overall trend. The substance of my criticism increases, generally, as I go along.
Christian apologist (and stalwart defender of traditional definitions of the word “faith,” regardless of what the word means in usage) Tom Gilson has taken his paranoia with Peter Boghossian to a new level:
The diagnosis of pathology here is consistent with his earlier descriptions of me as “obsessed.” He ought to know better than to diagnose from a distance. Awareness and response are not equivalent to obsession or paranoia. He has made an evidence-free assessment of me in these cases.
I, along with at least one other, have posted a few times about Tom in the past, engaging in a blogged discussion with him, and it appears to have helped vault Tom into compiling a short ebook against Boghossian’s recent Manual for Creating Atheists.
I’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence anywhwere that he helped vault me to writing the book. Sure, he hedged his claim with “appears to have helped.” But even that’s unwarranted; there’s nothing anywhere to “appear” that way. It’s also false. I would have done it regardless. This belief is lacking in evidence.
All of that aside, I’m interested in this tiny bit:
For the sake of our faith, and our children’s faith, Christians need to know about this.
My question is “why?”–and especially if Christianity were really true.
The answer is really quite simple, and as I’ve noted before, it seems Tom Gilson knows it: the objects of belief in Christianity that Tom Gilson considers so important are not discoverable facts about the world….
This is why every Christian needs to know about Boghossian’s book and the threat it represents to their faith. It’s because faith is a failed way to know, and Tom Gilson knows it plainly, though he still wishes to defend it.
I know that? How does he know that I know it? Actually I disagree with it rather strongly. There’s no evidence for this conclusion of his at all. Does he like to practice evidence-free belief like this? He’s pretending that he knows it, but he doesn’t.
Thus, like all exercises in religious apologetics, Gilson’s book from front to back is one long exercise in pretending to know something that he does not know.
This is rolling-on-the-floor hilarious. Even if Boghossian’s definitinon of faith as pretending to know what one doesn’t know were correct, it wouldn’t apply to my book, because my book isn’t a defense of faith in that sense. The great majority of it isn’t religious, it’s a linguistic and philosophical analysis of what Boghossian writes. True, I defend a Christian-oriented definition of the word “faith,” but that definition is based in literary history, not on mysticism or religious belief. Again, some of the literature I refer to in that defense includes the Bible, but there the defense I conduct is a literary/philosophical one, not a “religious” one.
I have a very brief section at the end where I refer readers to other books that defend the faith of Christianity. It’s a page or two long. From “front to back”? Hah! That’s the only portion that even Boghossian or Lindsay could credibly call “pretending to know what I don’t know,” according to their own usage of that phrase.
So on this point, his claim not only ignores the available evidence, it runs counter to it! But he believes it anyway, with no evidence to support it.
To elaborate, every Islamic cleric in the world could tell Tom Gilson at length about the miracles and historicity of the Islamic beliefs, and historical evidence leans ever so slightly more heavily on their side. (We have better reasons to accept that Muhammad was a real historical figure than Jesus, even without the God-made-man nonsense.)
Actually, if he were actually to read some comparative Muslim and Christian apologetics he would know that there’s no parity in the evidences they offer, or even in the kinds of testable facts for which they attempt to give evidences. Sure, Islam has historical evidence supporting certain facts surrounding its origination, but Islam itself insists that the Qur’an has existed since eternity past, so unlike the Bible, its truth is entirely independent of historical facts, miracles included. It’s not an evidence-based religion even in its own terms! This is James’s pretending to know ignorance on display.
The number of serious New Testament-era scholars who doubt the historicity of Jesus is vanishingly close to zero. Those who do doubt it have two things in common. The first is that in the opinion of the vast majority of historians of that era, they deny the evidence in favor of their preconceived opinions. They draw virtually evidence-free conclusions. The second is that among those who study that era of history, the Jesus-mythers are universally regarded as “fringe” characters.
This is just fact; it’s a plain description of the state of today’s scholarship. Here’s a convenient compendium of sources. And no, they’re not all Christians. Bart Ehrman certainly isn’t.
It seems that if James were really interested in repudiating failed epistemologies, he might want to be more careful about confirmation bias influencing the scholars he choose to stand behind. After all, there are moments when “pretending occurs to stabilize belief, even if it happens subconsciously or preconsciously.”
They could tell Tom Gilson exactly how they know not only that Islam is the one true religion but also exactly how they know that Christianity errs in a grievous way on the central point. And Tom Gilson would ignore every one of them, talking about his “evidences” while they talk about theirs.
Ummm, no, actually, I wouldn’t ignore them, any more than I’m ignoring James. But he was willing to conclude that of me, absent any evidence. Odd.
So then, James, before you imply that you know what’s in a book you’re critiquing, you ought to read it and find out what’s in it first.
Or, alternatively, you could just pretend that you know. But I had hoped for better from you than that.
Your mentor thinks highly of your take-down of Christianity. I think it would be salutary to compile all the evidence-supported claims you made in it (since he does love evidence). We’ll see just how effectively you’ve destroyed the foundations of Christianity after all, and take the opportunity to wonder whether he might have been just a tad over-enthusiastic.
But I’ll save that for another year.