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The Great Demolition of Christian Faith, Per Boghossian

Posted on Jan 1, 2014 by Tom Gilson

Happy New Year, James Lindsay. I want to take this opportunity to assess your review of my book on Boghossian, which he described as “genius;” a great “demolition of (Christian) faith.” What I want to do here is to see whether you’ve done as any good Boghossianite should do, and backed up your claims with evidence and sound reasoning.

I won’t include the non-controversial claims you make, such as the importance of paying attention to his book, or “Other ancient religions that have died (or all but), whether we have their scriptures or know their histories or not, stay dead, classified as they are: mythology. The unique path to Christianity sustaining itself is Christians passing it along to new believers.”

I’ll only list claims by which you actually attempted or accomplished a demolition of the Christian faith, and provided evidence to back your points. I’m  not interested in playing the undifferentiated-faith game, by the way; it’s silly. You yourself, James, made that point recently: there’s no good to be accomplished in equivocating on “faith,”  so I won’t. I’m talking strictly about faith as it applies to Christianity here.

You say,

Just as real viruses require a host with a gap in its immune system, the faith virus requires cultural context in order to embed itself. Lacking this context, which requires living, breathing believers (or a new personality cult), faith is seen as utterly unreliable and religion is nothing more than someone else’s set of myths.

And look at the predicament this creates for the all-powerful God of the world’s largest religions! If they were true, the most important pieces of information in the universe are hung upon a failed epistemology, faith. How could an omniscient, benevolent God have arranged things so that the most important articles of “truth” in the universe could possibly die out from the world and remain unrecoverable or only able to be salvaged from a nonsense book of internally contradictory ancient Middle Eastern djinnie stories?  If an almighty God could have hung something more consequential on a less epistemologically sound line, it would require all his omniscience to think such a thing up.

Let’s note in passing that the “virus” meme, so important in Boghossian’s pathologized view of faith, is as unsupported by evidence in your post as any meme is in the wider world; for the very concept of a meme lacks scientific support.

Going on, your argument seems to be,

1. Faith requires persons to sustain its truths.
2. Persons are fallible.
3. Therefore the cross-generational sustenance of faith-truths is unreliable
4. An omnipotent, omnibenevolent God would not place himself/itself/herself (etc.) in a situation where his/her/its/their revelation could not be trusted.
5. Therefore there is no omnipotent/omnibenevolent God.

But this is circular, for 1 through 3 assume that it’s all up to persons, and that there is no omnipotent/omnibenevolent God assuring the reliability of faith-truths’ transmission. It’s a fallacious argument, and needs either to be reworked or discarded. No conclusions can be drawn from it. (Buzzz.)

Here’s another attempt you make:

 “Revelations,” traditions, and authority simply do not possess the necessary grounding to do the job, and this is not controversial. In fact, everybody knows it–as long as they aren’t turning the lens on their own beliefs.

This is a straw-man argument (Buzzz.) It implies that Christians ground our confidence solely  in revelation, tradition, and/or authority. But you and I both know Christians have extra-revelatory evidences. (I know you and I disagree over whether those  really are evidences after all,  but for that you need to ask Phil to help you think it through.)

As every Christian must know deep in her heart of hearts, this failed method–faith–equally sustains contradictory religions like Islam, Hinduism, and Shintoism.

Here you erect another straw man (Buzzz)–calling faith a “method,” and again implying that as such it is the only thing sustaining Christianity. That’s just not true. Faith is not the method by which we assess the philosophical issues relating to the human condition: rationality, consciousness, free will, etc. It’s not the method by which archaeologists find support for NT historicity. (I’ll have much more to share on that tomorrow or the next day.)

There’s another useful term for a straw man, by the way: it’s a belief or claim made with respect to another person’s position, made without benefit of evidence that the other person actually holds that position. In shorter form, it’s an evidence-free belief. Ironic.

The following paragraph is the ultimate in assuming one’s conclusion. Yes, if there is no God, or if Christianity (etc.) is false, then there is no evidence for Christianity; and if Christian evidences are misattributed post-hoc rationalizations, then they too are unreliable.

Again, then, I remind my readers–and Tom Gilson–of my point: If there is no God, then there is no evidence for God; there is only evidence misattributed. (I discuss this point at length in Dot, Dot, Dot, by the way.) Even if there were a God, if the claims of Christianity (or Islam) are false, then there is no evidence for Christianity (or Islam, respectively); there is only evidence misattributed. We see the same evidence attributed to various things: to Hindu post-hoc rationalizations, to Islamic post-hoc rationalizations, to Christian post-hoc rationalizations, and to everyday, ordinary psychology, sociology, and culture, no theism needed.

(Yawn.) It’s hard to see exactly what progress you were hoping to make with that. It would have been far quicker to say: Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that there’s no God. From that premise, we can conclude there’s no God.

Similarly here:

Why does it matter that Christian “truths” are not discoverable truths about the universe? This is equally simple: because it shows that Christian beliefs necessarily outstrip their warrant of evidence, just as do Islamic beliefs from Tom Gilson’s perspective (inter alia).

If Christian truths are not discoverable, then we’re wrong. (Yawn, again.) Have you bothered showing that this is the case? Maybe in your book you have. For now, though, this is at least a case of over-enthusiasm on Boghossian’s part, since this is no demolition of Christianity, it’s just trivially true stuff. (As for outstripping their warrant on evidence, I’ll add more on that in both of my next two responses to you.)

faith is a failed way to know, and Tom Gilson knows it plainly,

The definition of faith you use here is as unsupported evidentially as Boghossian’s other two preferred definitions. To demonstrate is part of the burden of my next response to you. It’s also in my book, which ostensibly you have read.

And that really ought at least to give you pause before you make the evidence-free assertion (Buzzz) that I “know” what you say here. What I know is that Boghossian  assigns faith a unitary definition, that to him it is nothing but a way of knowing and a failed one at that. I know that whenever faith is described as being that and nothing but that, the description is wrong; for faith is that in only a limited way and in limited circumstances. You are guilty of the rather embarrassing mistake of not being able to recognize multiple layers of meaning. (I have previously written of the strange simplicity of certain forms of atheism.)

Your whole spiel about stabilizing belief through pretense is an extended ad hominem (Buzzz). You’ve gone on at length at what you imagine to be the psychological motivators for believers’ opinions (faith, etc.) But the question is about the rational grounds, not the psychological motivators.

I could as easily apply the same psychologizing methods to all your pretended and evidence-free beliefs that I identified of you in my previous post—but I haven’t done so, because it’s irrelevant, overreaching, lacking in real evidence, and silly.

I said at the start here that I would focus on claims you made concerning faith, for which you brought forth evidence. I have examined several here, and they all fail the test of valid reasoning.

I might have missed a specific evidence-related claim that you made with respect to the question. If so it was not intentional, and you would be welcome to highlight what I missed, and I’ll deal with it then.

Suppose, however (whether it’s true or fanciful), you were to come back and tell me that I had missed six or seven claims that I should have addressed. That would make this something less than a brilliant comeback. It would make it less than genius. It would make it less than something my mentor would describe as “the best demolition” of atheistic reasoning he had ever seen. Or if my mentor did describe it that way, then I think everyone would say his judgment was seriously flawed.

Thus it is, there in that “genius” of a “demolition” of the Christian faith that you have written, and as Boghossian has described it. Whether I missed some things or not, still there’s no doubt I’ve found several clearly identifiable fallacies and evidence-free assertions. I’m sorry, but it’s simply not the stuff of genius. A fallacy is a fallacy, and an assertion made without evidence is—well, you don’t need me to finish that sentence, now, do you?

Next on my list of responses, coming later this week: Is Faith a Failed Epistemology?

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8 Responses to “ The Great Demolition of Christian Faith, Per Boghossian ”

  1. jwds says:

    If Lindsay agrees with Bog’s definition, and yet says that faith is a failed way of knowing, doesn’t that give us the following proposition:
    “pretending to know what one doesn’t know is a failed way of knowing”?
    But how is “pretending to know” a “way of knowing”?

  2. jwds says:

    Honestly, insert any other verb there, and it obviously doesn’t make sense:

    Pretending to juggle is a way of juggling.

    Pretending to read is a way of reading.

    And so on.

    You can’t have it both ways: it can’t be both “pretending to” and “a way of.”

    Oh, right, unless you beg the question.

    Why is faith only pretending to know? Because it’s a failed way of knowing. Why is it a failed way of knowing? Because it’s only pretendingto know…

  3. jwds says:

    More nonsense: If the major world religions were true, then faith would not be failed epistemology! That is, if they were true, then their faith would have actually given access to truth. How would an epistemology that results in acquiring truth “fail”?

    Oh, and what genius: arguing by question-begging epithet. Why bother actually using evidence to challenge the bible when you can just call it names?

  4. jwds says:

    Look at the predicament for the all-powerful God? Does he even understand the meaning and implication of the words he is using?
    Genius! Genius!

    You know, “genius” sounds a lot like “genie,” so that proves that these guys believe in magical supernatural beings!
    Wow, now I’m a genius, too, because I can make arguments that are completely illogical and yet still perfect.

    Seriously, Tom, why are you bothering?

  5. Timothy says:

    I always thought reasonable faith is placing hope in that which you reason to be true. Skepticism still stuck with obsolete Mark Twain definitions?

  6. Crude says:

    Seriously, Tom, why are you bothering?

    I won’t speak for Tom, but I can think of a few reasons to bother.

    For one, Boghossian’s book is popular among the Cultists of Gnu, and it’s worth exposing garbage when garbage is popular.

    For another? Bog is a juicy target. He gets so much wrong, so thoroughly, and so obviously, that it’s pretty easy to expose him as being a shame. Not to mention, the hate and unreason he spews makes it particularly easy to highlight just what the Cult of Gnu is all about.

  7. jwds says:

    Crude,

    I totally get why Tom is taking the time with Bog’s book.

    What I meant was: why is he bothering to maintain respectful dialogue with James Lindsay? Lindsay’s not influential in the way Bog is, he’s rude, and he’s philosophically incompetent to an astonishing degree. So why bother talking to him?

    Talk about his claims, fine. Highlight his evidence-free assertions, errors, and blatant fallacies. But why talk to him and try to patiently explain, for, what, the eighth time, the point about defining the word faith? He hasn’t listened yet, and doesn’t seem to actually understand the things he himself says, so why waste time in dialogue and expect him to understand what someone else is saying?

  8. Crude says:

    Oh, alright.

    I have no idea either. I think it comes back to Tom being a nice guy who sincerely strives to have respectful dialogue with everyone who engages him, and he bends over backwards to be civil with them. Admirable, but I think James is the perfect example of a person who you talk at – not with. He’s just not capable of dialogue. He must be lectured, if anything.

    But Tom clearly disagrees, and I can’t fault him for that. I’m an acidic person, and he is not.

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