“Prove Everything Or You’ve Said Nothing”

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My recent interactions with James Lindsay remind me of discussions I’ve had in the past with opponents of Intelligent Design theory. They fit under the heading, “Prove everything or you’ve said nothing.”

Here’s how it went at least twice in those ID discussions. I brought up some specific point of illogic and poor reasoning I had seen on an anti-ID website. I don’t recall the exact point at issue, but I remember at least once it had to do with some misrepresentation of Intelligent Design theory. I quoted a certain person who had said something about ID that was clearly, identifiably false.

You would think that people who care about truth would respond by rushing to make things right. That didn’t happen.

You would also think that people who disagreed with me would hold me responsible to demonstrate that I was right about that specific error. That’s didn’t happen either. Instead, I was confronted with and held responsible for Michael Behe’s “failure” to account for the TTSS in the development of the flagellum, for the Discovery Institute’s “Wedge Document,” for creationists’ “mindless reliance on an ancient holy book,” and on and on and on.

In other words, I confronted them with a specific (and easily corrected) error within their own ranks, their response instead was to demand that I handle, explain, and defend everything ever done by anyone supporting Intelligent Design.

That game has been replayed on another field recently. I have shown some specific, clearly identifiable errors made by Peter Boghossian. James Lindsay has ignored all that. He insists that I have no argument unless I can also prove the existence of God and the complete reliability of all Christian knowledge. He does this in spite of Boghossian’s errors being unrelated to whether the truth of God and his word can be proved.

It’s a replay of the same game. “Prove everything or you’ve said nothing.” I point out a specific, clearly identifiable error by someone who holds a different worldview, and someone rushes to his defense by demanding that I prove everything is true in my worldview.

It’s a tactic that leaves my actual argument unanswered, and (in this case) Boghossian’s errors unexplained and undefended. They’re still hanging out there as serious, identified failures in the use of evidence and reasoning, and there’s no reason to think they’re anything but that.

So Lindsay has a weak approach to reasoned argument with respect to Boghossian—if one could even call it an approach at all. More accurately it’s avoidance.

It’s pretty good strategy, though, in spite of that. It’s a diversion. It gets us off the embarrassing topic of the mistakes Boghossian has  made. If it works–if I play along with the strategy–it rocks me completely back on my heels; for after all, it really is a huge project to prove everything about Christianity is undeniably true, and even most Christians (myself included) would only say that we accept its truth based on the great preponderance of the evidence, not based on proof.

Tactics, diversions, rhetorical tricks–how about if some atheist just takes an honest look at Peter Boghossian’s flawed evidences and reasoning and calls him to account for it, instead of trying to divert our attention away from it all?

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87 Responses to “ “Prove Everything Or You’ve Said Nothing” ”

  1. You don’t have to prove everything. I’ve only asked you to prove that your foundational premise (axiom, really) is sound before using it. I’ll note that I have no trouble effectively proving the existence (within reasonable bounds on what those words mean) of the keyboard I’m currently typing on. Do that for God, and you can start talking about God in a way that doesn’t reek of pretending to know what you don’t know.

    Alternatively, you could take my invitation and simply admit what you know (and have hinted at, if you won’t accept that you’ve said it plainly more than once): you base your beliefs on faith that go beyond knowledge, which is to say that your beliefs are not based on knowledge to the degree that you hold them. Just acknowledge that gap and earn some respect (full respect for repudiating faith completely).

    And just to help you out a bit: ID is not a theory, and it’s ridiculous. You’re doing yourself no favors by aligning with it, especially since you work in a youth ministry.

  2. Or alternatively, you could take my invitation and seriously consider whether Peter Boghossian needs to be called to account for claiming to represent good critical thinking while practicing the opposite. That was the topic of what I wrote on him. My “foundational premise (axiom, actually)” for that series was that people who claim to practice good thinking ought not to smear their arguments with repeated red herrings, straw men, circular arguments, poisoning the well, and ignoring relevant evidence.

    Somehow you missed that. Somehow you thought that my foundational premise for this particular series was that there is sound evidence for faith. No, not in this series. I’ve written on that elsewhere, as I’ve told you repeatedly, and as you have ignored. And you’ve continued to ignore the actual point of my series, using a diversionary tactic that I’m not cooperating with because it’s intellectually irresponsible.

    Will you, or will you not, take seriously Peter Boghossian’s multiple failures in his usage of evidence and reasoning? That’s the only question I’m interested in discussing with you now.

    Oh, and thanks for the gratuitous swipe at ID. Did you really think that helped anything at all?

  3. This is not a thread about ID. That was merely an illustration of my point, which was about not getting discussions diverted. Comments taking swipes at ID are diversions, and will not be allowed through the moderation queue.

  4. This is really too much. Tom writes a post explaining how Dr. Lindsay is avoiding the topic at hand and Dr. Lindsay responds by avoiding the topic at hand. And that’s not to mention what only can be described as possibly one of the most inane comparisons I’ve ever read, and I quote “…I have no trouble effectively proving the existence….of the keyboard I’m currently typing on. Do that for God,…” Dr. Lindsay offers to prove the existence of his typewriter keyboard as a counterpoint to Tom proving the existence of God. This has gone from sad to pathetic.

  5. I’ve only asked you to prove that your foundational premise (axiom, really) is sound before using it.

    Wow, asking for a proof that an “axiom” is “sound”. And then retorting that he has no problem proving “the existence (within reasonable bounds on what those words mean) of the keyboard I’m currently typing on”. As BillT said: this is not even funny.

  6. G. Rodrigues,

    And I don’t think that Dr. Lindsay will even get what we are talking about. I mean the person who could compare the existence of a keyboard with the existence if God has an intellectual blind spot big enough to…?

  7. Axioms are statements taken to be self-evidently true. Establishing the soundness of an axiom really means establishing that we have good reasons to call such a thing self-evident. The God hypothesis simply assumes a lot of stuff (much of which has been shown to be superfluous) and thus really teeters on the far side of being self-evident.

    Why, by the way, do you assume that proving God exists must be different than proving something physical, say a keyboard, exists? Is it because you’ve taken on faith that God is immaterial and nonphysical? If so, I’ve already covered that issue: it’s not possible to conclude that God exists because, at best, the prior plausibility for the hypothesis is indeterminable. Pretending to know something you don’t is therefore required in this case to claim anything about God, but then, that’s my whole point.

  8. The God hypothesis simply assumes a lot of stuff (much of which has been shown to be superfluous) and thus really teeters on the far side of being self-evident.

    Ironically that vacuous statement sounds like it’s from someone pretending to know something that he doesn’t know.

  9. @James Lindsay:

    Axioms are statements taken to be self-evidently true. Establishing the soundness of an axiom really means establishing that we have good reasons to call such a thing self-evident.

    (1) Stop using words of which you quite obviously do not know the meaning of. Only deductions are valid or sound, not statements and certainly not axioms.

    (2) Axioms can be argued for dialectically, but they are not proved, at least not in the usual sense of the word.

    (3) A minor quibble, but in the technical sense, no, an axiom is not a statement “taken to be self-evidently true”.

    (4) If a statement is self-evident, then there is nothing to establish. That is kinda the point of the “self-evident” qualifier…

    (5) And no, “establishing an axiom” does not mean “establishing that we have good reasons to call such a thing self-evident”. First, there are axioms which are accepted and are far from being self-evident. Second, a statement may be deemed “self-evident”, but if someone disputes its self-evident status what this usually means is that said someone is really disputing is the truth of said statement. But in that case, it does nothing to advance the discussion to establish “that we have good reasons to call such a thing self-evident”; it accomplishes exactly nothing.

    IOW, what the heck are you talking about?

    The God hypothesis simply assumes a lot of stuff (much of which has been shown to be superfluous) and thus really teeters on the far side of being self-evident.

    Huh? The existence of God is not an “hypothesis”, certainly not in the sense of a scientific hypothesis. And assumes a lot of stuff? What does it assume? What superfluous “stuff”? How does an *hypothesis* *assume* anything other than what it purports to explain? And since what is in discussion is precisely whether God exists or not, who the heck is claiming anything about “self-evident”? In God’s name, from where are you pulling this much crap?

    Why, by the way, do you assume that proving God exists must be different than proving something physical, say a keyboard, exists?

    Hmmm, I don’t know. Maybe because God, if He exists, is not “physical”, and thus the method of proof employed is necessarily different from that of proving the existence of physical things? Just a random thought. But hey, we are the ones pretending to know what we do not know, so what do we know about proving what we pretend to know what we do not know? For all I know (and I am just pretending), we are pretending all the way down, even to the level of pretending we are pretending.

    Is it because you’ve taken on faith that God is immaterial and nonphysical?

    It is not taken on “faith”, (if you are using “faith” in the same disingenuous, intellectually dishonest sense Boghossian is) but follows logically by what God necessarily is if He exists.

    If so, I’ve already covered that issue: it’s not possible to conclude that God exists because, at best, the prior plausibility for the hypothesis is indeterminable.

    Of course you did (smile). But if you actually did that (giggle), what you did was establish that “it is not possible to establish that God exists”, not anything about whether He is immaterial, which He must be if He exists. And if you did that (laugh), please enlighten us, what are the prior probabilities of the *assumptions* you used in the proof? And if you actually did that (laugh out loud), why do you think we should be worried by it? Since the best arguments for God’s existence are *deductive* arguments, whether or not you have established that the prior probability is “at best” (??) “indeterminable” (roll on the floor laughing) is absolutely irrelevant.

    This is too ridiculous for words.

  10. And just like clockwork Dr. Lindsay shows up to conclusively demonstrate just how little of what was said he does understand and how big his intellectual blind spot really is.

  11. Okay, okay, there are technical definitions and there are informal definitions. Apparently there’s an informal definition for “axiom” according to which James might not be incorrect.

    But is he or isn’t he? Just because there’s an informal definition by which he might not be wrong, it doesn’t mean that’s how he was using “axiom” when he introduced it into conversation here.

    I’m tempted to ask him to explain just why he used the word “axiom” when he could have left it just at foundational premises. But I’m also wary that it might turn us off the real topic, which is James’s refusal to deal with every other question I’ve asked him along the way, summarized in my comment above:

    “Will you, or will you not, take seriously Peter Boghossian’s multiple failures in his usage of evidence and reasoning?”

  12. @James Lindsay:

    I triple dog-dare anyone on here to go to Google and type in “define: axiom.”

    I presume you have this in mind:

    (3) A minor quibble, but in the technical sense, no, an axiom is not a statement “taken to be self-evidently true”.

    Two remarks: (3) starts with “A minor quibble” meaning, nothing important hangs on it. And then followed with “in the technical sense” and I stick by it. I can back it up quite easily, so your “triple dog-dare” are kind of lost on me.

  13. I triple dog-dare anyone on here to go to Google and type in “define: axiom.”

    I triple dog-dare you to go to Google and type in “define: faith”.

  14. We aren’t conducting an analysis on the word “axiom” according to how it gets used.

    The technical definition of axiom is hardly different, though. Particularly in mathematics, we use the term axiom to refer to a formally stated assertion that we apply logic to (to prove the “truth” of other formal statements). And these are treated as if they are self-evidently true in that we do not seek to give proofs for axioms (save proofs that they are equivalent to or theorems of other axioms). All this formal definition does is raise the anchor from mathematics having to bear a full commitment to reality.

    On the other hand, we are examining whether or not the current definition of faith is accurate. I took your challenge, though.
    1. “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” This is what people are saying here, for sure. The problem is that the someone or something here isn’t established to exist, so the claim I am repeatedly making is that without doing that–establishing God exists first–it’s an act of putting complete trust or confidence in someone or something that we don’t know exists. Sounds like “pretending to know what we do not know.”
    2. “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” Well… do I really have to say anything here? “…rather than proof.”

    In all, a good suggestion, then, even if it was a false analogy.

  15. James, RE: #16

    Since you are so focused on definitions, would you please supply us with a definition of the two crucial terms in your “establish that God exists” challenge. You must define what you mean by the term “God” and what you mean by the term “exist.” In formal argumentation, as you certainly know, it is customary for the discussants to stipulate to definitions from the beginning, so as to ensure that we are talking about the same thing. I made this request in another post on the “That’s what you call a strong argument” thread, #34 to John, in which I also post a dictionary definition of “to exist” that we may be able to stipulate to. I also suggest a source for a well-articulated and well-researched definition of God.

    When you refer to the “current definition of faith”, which might that be? Peter Boghossian’s idiosyncratic and made-up definition?

  16. The First Way is enough to establish the necessity of a being we call God, so I don’t understand why as person like James would say this hasn’t been established.

  17. Jenna, as I don’t believe God exists, I don’t need to give you a definition. Why don’t you give us a definition and then prove that thing exists? That way, particularly, I don’t have to later get accused of making a straw God for you.

    I’d love to hear your definition for God, by the way, and then I’d love to see you stick to it. I’m not alone in this either. It’s an oft-repeated rejoinder among atheists that apologists and other believers don’t ever stick with one definition of God. Maybe we’re wrong? Show us.

    As for exist, I usually use the dictionary definition, again “having objective reality or being.” Obviously, if we use that definition, the God you’re most likely to propose is defined to be objective and very likely to be unfalsifiable (see G. Rodrigues’s laughing fit, above). You could prove me wrong about that, I suppose, but I’m not hopeful. If you have a different definition, by all means, use that one–after you tell us what it is.

    You’re highly encouraged to refer to my chapter-long discourse about the difficulty of defining God from my first book (God Doesn’t; We Do) if you like. You’ll find I’ve thought about the matter quite a lot.

  18. We’ll start from the bottom up.

    In all, a good suggestion, then, even if it was a false analogy.

    It was in no way, shape or form an analogy.

    Well… do I really have to say anything here?

    I’ve seen nothing from you to indicate you are ABLE to say anything about it.

    Sounds like “pretending to know what we do not know.”

    I’m sure no one here is surprised that you’re trying to twist that definition into Boghossian’s.

    The problem is that the someone or something here isn’t established to exist, so the claim I am repeatedly making is that without doing that–establishing God exists first–it’s an act of putting complete trust or confidence in someone or something that we don’t know exists.

    Do you know that? Or do you believe it?

    I’m not asking, and frankly don’t care, whether or not it has been established it to you. I’m asking if you claim to KNOW that no Christian at any time and at any place has ever experienced something that could lead them to knowledge of the existence, and trustworthiness, of God.

    If the answer is yes then be prepared to offer a great deal of evidence in support. If the answer is no, then you are pretending to know something that you cannot know. You, and Boghossian, are guilty of exactly what Tom has accused; using a made-up definition to hold others to a standard that you do not (and cannot hope) to meet.

    And that’s only one of the failings to be found in Boghossian’s “Street Epistomology”.

  19. Who was it that said “The moment we’re unshakably convinced we possess immutable truth, we become our own doxastic enemy.”?

  20. James,

    How can you say that you don’t believe that God exists if you have no definition of God? How can you claim that there is no evidence of God when you claim that you have no definition and therefore presumably, no concept or understanding of God? Aren’t you merely rejecting what you think other people believe God to be, which of course you cannot know? Do you claim that there is no evidence for God as Jesus Christ demonstrated God, the Father Almighty to the world? Or God as the ancient Hebrews defined God in Genesis 1:1? Many times I have said to atheists, in all sincerity: If I believed what the atheist believes about God, I wouldn’t believe in God either.

    I have ordered your book (I prefer hard copy books) and anticipate learning more about what you see as the difficulties in defining God from reading your chapter. Might I expect to find your definition of “God” in those pages? Or might I find your rationale for demanding that believers have a singular definition of God or that someone “stick to” his/her definition of God (much like Peter Boghossian is sticking to his definition of “faith)”?

    Meanwhile, I highly recommend the book by David Bentley Hart (2013) in which he defines God as the term “God” functions in the major world religions: “The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss.”

  21. How can you say that you don’t believe that God exists if you have no definition of God?

    The same way he and Boghossian can define faith as pretending to know something you don’t know.

    Cheap parlor trick semantics to avoid honest discussion.

  22. This isn’t about what I know. It’s about what you’re claiming to know and how you know it.

    The claims of the religions could be argued to have evidence for them, if we view the evidence through that lens. The entire Jesus story could be seen as evidence for aliens pulling an elaborate hoax on mankind if that’s the lens we chose to look through. He could be a manifestation of Vishnu, as the Hindus argue, and the evidence fits it if that’s the lens we look through. He could be a Muslim prophet, as the Muslims argue, and the evidence fits if that’s the lens we look through. He could be a Buddha, as some Buddhists argue, and the evidence fits if that’s the lens we look through. He could be a guy who got some Near-Eastern fairy tales tacked onto him, and the evidence fits if that’s the lens we look through. Not all of these lenses can be the right one. The question is how we evaluate each lens. Those evaluations matter.

    That’s the whole point here. How can you know what you claim is true? I don’t think it’s true because I don’t think the evidence clears the bar that merits belief. I look through a lens that I’m pretty sure assumes the least (as I’ve looked through a few of them rather seriously). Incidentally, I also think there are good reasons not to believe, but I needn’t get into those because this isn’t about what I think. It’s about what you think. How do you justify your beliefs?

    To longstreet specifically:
    “Based upon spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” That’s exactly my point. I don’t need to say anything about that because the phrase “rather than proof” is directly there. My case all along has been that faith isn’t a reliable way to know, and this definition spells out the thrust of why.

    Now, I used to be quite a spiritualist, and I know a good number of them still, and now I’m quite sure that there are better explanations for “spiritual apprehension” than anything supernatural. I don’t pretend to know things like that no Christian has ever had a spiritual experience. I just realize that there are plausible–some very plausible and strongly supported by evidence–explanations for those experiences that require far less by way of dubious-seeming assumptions than does theism. I also know that any such experiences have been less than universally satisfying as a form of evidence to those who pursue the question earnestly and seriously. Why do you suppose that is?

    Anyway, my question–Boghossian’s question–is how you know that those other plausible explanations are not correct.

    To Jenna:
    I don’t believe in most of the potentially imaginary things I don’t have definitions for, and neither do you. Of all of the definitions I’ve ever heard for God, and I’ve investigated rather a lot of them (many variations on certain themes) I’ve found insufficient reasons to accept them. I’ve also found that if I aim to pin down any particular definition of God, the first response given by every apologist I’ve ever spoken with is “well, that’s not the God I believe in.” So, indulge me or at least don’t insult me.

    To humor you, I’ll play a little.
    -“Necessary agent cause of contingent reality.” I sincerely doubt that there is a necessary cause, and I see no good reason that such a cause, if it exists, needs to be an agent.

    -Any entity possessing omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence. Not only are these terms poorly defined (and at least superficially internally and mutually contradictory), they fall on the bad side of evidence via the Evidential Problem of Evil.

    -Uncaused first cause. That the universe could potentially be eternal or even spontaneous, I don’t know that this is required. I should add that I don’t see good reasons to think that ex nihilo is persuasive because I don’t see good reasons to think that nihilo is necessarily coherent.

    -Unmoved mover. Gravity, e.g. Consider two bodies, any with mass (or thus energy), no matter how little, and gravity will move them together without the need for a mover.

    -Ultimate teleology. We’re meaning makers without it, on this side of it, and I don’t see any need to an ultimate purpose to life. My little purpose–to enjoy my life and help others to do so as well, so far as I can tell–is more than enough. Given how small we are, considering the scope of the universe, it seems rather odd to me to think that our purpose could even be to aggrandize some all-powerful, perfect being. To have our ultimate purpose be to get a reward of going to heaven seems kind of selfish and trite. To have our ultimate purpose be to avoid the punishment of hell is disgusting and immoral even to bring up (and inconsistent of any God worth being happy about).

    -Jesus as God. A few things: which Jesus? I feel each Gospel, plus Paul and maybe Acts, presents a different Jesus, and then each Christian denomination seems to do so as well, not to mention the historical figure lurking within all of those–as I esteem them–legends. Usually, though, I narrow it down to three different Jesuses and let people pick which they want me to talk about: Synoptic Jesus, John Jesus, or historical Jesus. I usually ignore Paul because I think the best explanation for him is that he was probably crazy (like I think it’s likely that Ellen G. White was crazy, and David Koresh, for that matter, though certainly not all Christians are crazy). Now, I don’t believe in God, so I don’t believe in Jesus as God. Honestly, though, I spent a lot of time working on Jesus (I was a Christian, after all, once upon a time). I have, to be honest, what I think of as a rather sophisticated understanding of that particular character, though I’m quite sure I’m wrong about it in many details (because I don’t claim to know things I can’t know). I won’t elaborate now, but I will insist that I don’t think I would think Jesus was God even if I believed in God. Incidentally, since I find many of his teachings rather misguided, I can’t conclude he’s a good teacher either. C.S. Lewis was right to point out that if he’s not really God, the picture for him is grim. Like I said, I don’t think he was God.

    It’s very important to recognize also that I do not trust the scriptures now that I’m out of the belief system. The prophesies, and all of that, don’t impress me because I’ve written stories before (and know about pseudepigrapha, and understand how confirmation bias works, and know Nostradamus wasn’t predicting anything). The miracles seem both miniature and typical of fantastic literature from the age and region as well as the prevailing attitude of superstition there and then. The archaeological confirmation of some biblical facts doesn’t impress me because I’ve been to King’s Cross in London and played a PlayStation and still don’t believe in Harry Potter.

    I’m glad you got my first book, though. I’m quite sure you won’t like it, but you may surprise me.

    Really, though, this isn’t about what I know. It’s about what you know and how you back it up. If I’m really wrong about something, correct me, but you’ve got to do better than exactly the kind of stuff I tricked myself with when I was a bit more ready to pretend to know things I didn’t know than I am now.

  23. Really, though, this isn’t about what I know.

    Really, though, it is. Well, you and Boghossian. You’re doing exactly what Tom accused you of doing; changing the subject to avoid your own epistemological issues. He wrote an entire series on those issues, and yet you think you should be able to come here and decide to talk about something else.

    Let’s not. Let’s first get out of the way the question of whether or not you are capable of examining your own beliefs the way you insist we do ours.

    If I’m really wrong about something, correct me

    Define “faith”.

    Still waiting, btw, on an actual answer to this: Do you claim to KNOW that no Christian at any time and at any place has ever experienced something that could lead them to knowledge of the existence, and trustworthiness, of God?

  24. . I don’t pretend to know things like that no Christian has ever had a spiritual experience.

    That’s not what I asked you.

  25. Concerning all the back-and-forth with James Lindsay:

    I don’t want to tell anyone what to do, but this has become needlessly complicated. I have asked him a question for which his initial answer could be a quick and simple yes or no.

    Maybe he answered and I missed it. Here’s another chance, either way:

    Yes or no, James:

    Will you, or will you not, take seriously Peter Boghossian’s multiple failures in his usage of evidence and reasoning? Will you call him to account?

  26. -Jesus as God. A few things: which Jesus? I feel each Gospel, plus Paul and maybe Acts, presents a different Jesus, and then each Christian denomination seems to do so as well, not to mention the historical figure lurking within all of those–as I esteem them–legends.

    Are you a Biblical scholar, James? A professional historian? Clearly not, because you’re not appealing to the evidence; you’re appealing to your feelings. So all you’re giving us here is your subjective opinion. Does your opinion equal knowledge?

    Usually, though, I narrow it down to three different Jesuses and let people pick which they want me to talk about: Synoptic Jesus, John Jesus, or historical Jesus. I usually ignore Paul because I think the best explanation for him is that he was probably crazy (like I think it’s likely that Ellen G. White was crazy, and David Koresh, for that matter, though certainly not all Christians are crazy).

    More personal opinion of an non-expert pretending to know what he doesn’t know.

    Now, I don’t believe in God, so I don’t believe in Jesus as God. Honestly, though, I spent a lot of time working on Jesus (I was a Christian, after all, once upon a time).

    So there is nothing irrational or illogical then, if God does exist, about believing that Jesus is God incarnate, right?

    I have, to be honest, what I think of as a rather sophisticated understanding of that particular character, though I’m quite sure I’m wrong about it in many details (because I don’t claim to know things I can’t know).

    (sigh) More subjective opinion…No, you are claiming to know what you do not know.

    I won’t elaborate now, but I will insist that I don’t think I would think Jesus was God even if I believed in God. Incidentally, since I find many of his teachings rather misguided, I can’t conclude he’s a good teacher either. C.S. Lewis was right to point out that if he’s not really God, the picture for him is grim. Like I said, I don’t think he was God.

    Again, your opinion, James. How does that apply to me? Who are you to tell me to think and believe a certain way? Who gave you that authority?

    Really, though, this isn’t about what I know. It’s about what you know and how you back it up.

    That’s a double standard James. Again, who are you to tell me how to think and what to believe? Do you believe that I (Jenna and Tom etc.) have freedom of thought, conscience and belief? If you do, why don’t you treat us that way?

    If I’m really wrong about something, correct me, but you’ve got to do better than exactly the kind of stuff I tricked myself with when I was a bit more ready to pretend to know things I didn’t know than I am now.

    Not only are you projecting here, but you are being condescending and patronizing. You do realize that– don’t you James? Is that the way you like to be treated?

    PS: Tom asked you an honest question. Why do you persist in avoiding it? How is that being honest?

  27. James,

    That’s the whole point here. How can you know what you claim is true? I don’t think it’s true because I don’t think the evidence clears the bar that merits belief.

    How can you know that it doesn’t clear the bar that merits belief? Do you know this, or are you pretending to know?

  28. It’s like we’re all on a jury and have made a decision regarding the evidence. One lone juror, James, isn’t convinced that the evidence rises to the preponderance level so he sets out on a course to ridicule and demean the rest of the jurors in the hope that this tactic will get them to change their mind.

  29. Tom,

    I agree with you about the back-and-forth with James Lindsay becoming overly complicated and off track, although it has been enlightening. I would like to make this observation about the process of “definition” of “faith” that Peter Boghossian (PB) has prompted and that James Lindsay is defending. PB’s definition of faith as “pretending to know what you don’t know” is actually a moral judgment and condemnation of people of faith masquerading as a definition. He basically calls us frauds. I think that we should also call PB and his loyal followers on this aspect of his “definition of faith” along with his errors in and lack of critical thinking. Merely calling moral judgments and opinions a “definition” does not make them any less so.

    Thanks for giving us a forum for an interesting discussion.

  30. Tom: “Will you, or will you not, take seriously Peter Boghossian’s multiple failures in his usage of evidence and reasoning? Will you call him to account?”

    This is one of those questions like “did you tell your dad that you’re gay?” that puerile teenagers use to very inappropriately jibe each other–one where the question has really been begged. That’s why I’ve ignored it. I don’t think the question is valid because it forces me to assent to your claim that your arguments in that vein are valid.

    I read your account of how you think Boghossian has failed to use evidence and reasoning, and I truly was mind-boggled at how you feel it constitutes that you have demonstrated anything of the kind. Particularly hilarious among those was your “Jesus as the Destroyer of Faith” argument. In the story, when he was providing evidence, say to Thomas, et al., that’s exactly what he was doing. He said so, but you’ve played the “context” card to avert attention from a very plain reading (even with the context) of what Jesus allegedly said (to Thomas). It isn’t just a plain reading; it is by far the most plain reading. It’s a clear demonstration that faith is what you use when you don’t have the kind of evidence that should be required.

    I think his (taken from Krauss’s) claim to what would be required evidence to believe in God–meaning the stars–is far steeper than what I would require, but he didn’t go wrong there either. He implies that it could constitute evidence but that it would have to be checked very carefully before drawing such a conclusion to prevent us from pretending to know what we don’t. There is one issue there, though: that kind of evidence couldn’t lead someone to believe in an immaterial God outside of the universe, or at least not easily. So no, I don’t think he has “multiple failures” of the kind that you believe he has.

    If I did, I’d call him for it, absolutely. Indeed, I have on a few points he’s raised with me about mathematics.

  31. Jenna: “PB’s definition of faith as “pretending to know what you don’t know” is actually a moral judgment and condemnation of people of faith masquerading as a definition. He basically calls us frauds.”

    This is incorrect. I’ve written more than once directly to Tom (you did say you’re reading these things I’m writing on my blog carefully, right?) that I expect the “pretending” is preconscious. That means I do not assign blame. That means I’m not making a moral (or intellectual, for that matter) judgment on you. I’ve said that plainly.

    Really, you’ve misconstrued so many things so far that it’s embarrassing for you for me to keep answering you, so until you clear this up, I really shouldn’t. (That’s a moral judgment on myself, fwiw.)

    Longstreet, you seem to have missed why I called your demand to define faith a false analogy (I dared people to define axom; you dared me to define faith, proposing analogously that I’m using the wrong definition of faith). I openly admit that the definition of faith I’m using doesn’t match what’s in the dictionary–and always have. You don’t get what Boghossian is about in this regard at all. He’s forwarding a linguistic analysis of a problematic word, and he’s not the first to do it. Many, many have done it. I did it. I think faith is a cognitive bias, actually. Peter Boghossian quoted me on that in his Manual. Others have been far less kind than either of us.

    The reason this linguistic analysis is taking place is because there’s quite clearly something different about the way the word “faith” gets used as compared against the way people (like Tom) are saying it’s being used. Phil Vischer has engaged in a lengthy discussion with me and others on my blog and has gone so far as not only to admit so much but as to commit to an effort not to use the word “faith” for that reason. If faith means what he (and Tom) say it means, it’s superfluous, and where it means what Boghossian means, it deserves scorn.

    That is, Phil Vischer, a noted voice for Christianity and for this exactly anti-Boghossian topic, agrees that the analysis of the word faith proposed by Boghossian has some merits (I’d say Tom has as well), and his agreement is significant enough to have offered, I esteem sincerely, to back away from the use of the word faith. Why do you resist this linguistic analysis so furiously, then?

    I will note that I don’t think Vischer’s take is going to be wholly productive because the question lingers of whether or not the trust or confidence (the words he’s using instead) are merited, but at least it’s s step in the right direction.

    Also, your question about what I know about all Christians is backward and wrong-headed. The relevant question, since they claim it connects them to a God that is not generally established to exist, is how they know those experiences are veridical. The burden is theirs, not mine.

  32. Just something else to throw into the mix: I think that if James was truly functioning properly, he would find the existence of God to be obvious.

    The problem with the skeptical western mind is that it worships itself without seeing all the unfounded axioms it has invested in.

    It is easy to be skeptical, and I think we should all be a lot more skeptical than we often are, but people like James take skepticism to the extreme such that they could not even in principle see evidence for God. For them it is just not possible.

    Here is how I see it:

    Unless a person takes a step of faith and believes in the Creator, then the curtain remains down for them. They can believe that they have it all sorted, but ultimately without taking that faith step they are left cut off from the bigger reality. Meanwhile the person who takes the faith step suddenly gains the bigger reality.

    For example, without the initial faith step, James is forced to believe in magic: the universe came from nothing, design in nature is not real, morality is not objective although he likely lives as if it is….. Meanwhile the believer takes the faith step, rejects James’ magic, and can rationally believe that the universe was created by God from nothing (as modern science says), rationally believe design in nature is as it appears, and rationally believe that morality really is objective (as everyone believes deep down).

  33. So then, James, are you saying that Boghossian was demonstrating high-quality reasoning and responsible use of evidence when he said, there are “three core reasons for why one believes one’s faith tradition is true…. Reason number one: Miracles. We’re going to examine a few miracles….” and the two he examined were transubstantiation and tongues?

    By the way, I know you heard my conversations with Greg Koukl and Frank Turek explaining what’s wrong with those examples–just in case the explanation on the printed page isn’t enough for you.

    (See the links to the source material for the first several questions here.)

    That’s a question with an easy yes-or-no answer.

    Do you believe he was practicing responsible use of evidence and reasoning when he listed “I’m having a crisis of faith” as one of the top things that can be said for faith”?

    Yes or no.

    Was he practicing effective thinking and argumentation when he took a statement that thinking Christians disagree with—”My faith is true for me”—and after showing its flaws, presented it as a reason to think Christian faith is false?

    Yes or no.

    Do you really think he’s practicing his vaunted doxastic openness when in his book he says he would not consider it strong evidence for faith if all the stars in the world rearranged themselves to spell out, for everyone in the world to see in their own language, “I am God, believe in me”?

    Yes or no.

    And finally, do you think (really????) that the “context card” is a manipulative ploy? Goodness, gracious, the license that gives you! You could interpret anything anyway you found convenient! Context is not the loosening of restraints on interpretation, it is the tightening of restraint. It wasn’t context that permitted me to change how the Thomas incident should be understood, it was your lack of context that allowed you to do so.

    This is blindingly obvious, James. There is only one way to explain your resistance to this universally held truth concerning the importance of context. You are overcome with a desire for it to mean what you want it to mean, rather than what it means in the constraints of context.

    Either that or else you’re simply blind to truth.

    What is it about the evidence of what the context actually says that you don’t like evaluating? What is scientific (if you value science) about picking out only the evidence that validates your preconception?

    Open your eyes. Wake up.

    And as you’re waking up, try answering my easy yes-or-no questions here.

    Thanks.

  34. Alas, Tom.

    So then, James, are you saying that Boghossian was demonstrating high-quality reasoning and responsible use of evidence when he said, there are “three core reasons for why one believes one’s faith tradition is true…. Reason number one: Miracles. We’re going to examine a few miracles….” and the two he examined were transubstantiation and tongues?

    Those were examples given in a talk. I can’t speak for his choice of them, but I can say that there’s a lot to be gained by avoiding poking directly at someone’s most cherished belief (e.g. the Resurrection) if you want to try to make a point that they’re likely to be receptive to. This is what doxastic openness/closure thing. That’s why I think the Jesus mythicism line of argumentation, enjoyed by many atheists, is a poor line of argumentation. It shuts down dialogue before it starts. I also feel like gratuitously swearing at Christians (who usually don’t approve of that) does the same thing and ought to be avoided as much as possible. So, yes, I think he was reasoning quite clearly by choosing those examples for a talk (or even his book), since they are likely to be receptive ones to a broad audience.

    Do you believe he was practicing responsible use of evidence and reasoning when he listed “I’m having a crisis of faith” as one of the top things that can be said for faith”?
    Yes or no.

    I strongly suspect you’re either misinterpreting this or are capitalizing on the use of the wrong preposition (for when about is more appropriate) while speaking extemporaneously. This is certainly one of the most common ways that we hear people talk about their faith, though probably not the most common. As I’ve done the nit-pick thing to people before, this feels very much like doing that, which is why I’ve never responded to this before. It feels to me like you’re nitpicking (if intentional) or misunderstanding (if unintentional). Thus, yes.

    Was he practicing effective thinking and argumentation when he took a statement that thinking Christians disagree with—”My faith is true for me”—and after showing its flaws, presented it as a reason to think Christian faith is false?
    Yes or no.

    I don’t see that he used that to conclude that Christian faith is false. I think he already thinks that (for separate good reasons). I think he was presenting very commonly used example of how many people defend their faith–a point you’ve made yourself, in fact. Those people are not justified in drawing a conclusion of truth from that premise. That many, many defenses of faith eventually go there, unless to question begging (which is the same thing, really), is one of the good reasons to suspect that the Christian faith is false more generally. Thus, yes.

    Do you really think he’s practicing his vaunted doxastic openness when in his book he says he would not consider it strong evidence for faith if all the stars in the world rearranged themselves to spell out, for everyone in the world to see in their own language, “I am God, believe in me”?
    Yes or no.

    I’ve already explained this on this very comment thread, so yes. I’ve also explained that I think that this example goes a little far, but I see the reasoning behind it. Such a thing would have to be validated against possible alternative hypotheses before constituting strong evidence. That’s not to say it couldn’t end up being strong evidence, but the initial reaction, that first consideration, is not to jump to conclusions. Thus, again, yes.

    And finally, do you think (really????) that the “context card” is a manipulative ploy? Goodness, gracious, the license that gives you! You could interpret anything anyway you found convenient!

    Exegesis in a sentence. How about that. So we’ve established that exegesis might not be a trustworthy way to arrive at conclusions.

    You are overcome with a desire for it to mean what you want it to mean, rather than what it means in the constraints of context.

    Pardon me for this, but… irony explosion. My position is one of informed skepticism, not one of belief. I could be convinced, but that takes doing. You’re in a glass house here. Don’t throw that rock.

    I know you want me to keep answering your questions, but there’s a reason I haven’t been–and it’s not that I can’t. I think it would be best if you stop pressing all of these kinds of questions, but you’re, of course, free to do what you want, including ignoring my advice on this matter (among others–I’ve offered you quite a lot).

    By the bye, please drop the “wake up” line, so long as I’m giving you advice. That’s rather insulting, and an air of superiority looks bad on you, don’t you think?

  35. James, this is the lamest thing I’ve seen from you yet:

    I can say that there’s a lot to be gained by avoiding poking directly at someone’s most cherished belief (e.g. the Resurrection)

    If your point is to show that miracles are an inadequate foundation for Christian belief, then it behooves you to show that miracles at their strongest are inadequate. It’s just wrong to point at something that no one claims as evidence, and laugh at how lousy it is as evidence!

    So, yes, I think he was reasoning quite clearly by choosing those examples for a talk (or even his book), since they are likely to be receptive ones to a broad audience.

    He could have had an even more receptive response by saying this:

    Christians point at miracles as evidence for their faith. Let me describe two miracles they point at. Motorcycle engines usually start when you turn their keys, and Walmart stores are usually open when I visit them during lunch. That’s what Christians claim as miracles to prove their faith.

    Now, that would have been really broadly received.

    The fact that they have nothing to do with Christians’ understanding of attesting miracles is incidental–because exactly the same thing is true of transubstantiation and tongues!

    You read my blog post. You heard my conversations with Greg and Frank. You’re smart enough to understand this–aren’t you?

    You “strongly suspect” I’m misrepresenting the other. You could follow the link and find out I’m not, if you cared to do so.

    On the next one:

    I think he was presenting very commonly used example of how many people defend their faith–a point you’ve made yourself, in fact.

    He had represented this as “one of the top 10 things that can be said for faith.” Not one of the top things that can thoughtlessly or carelessly be said, but one of the top things that can be said.

    And you still seem to reject the importance of context in understanding a portion of a literary passage.

    Good day to you. This is enough for me. Keep talking with others here if you like and if they’re interested, but I’ll need some new good reason to bother responding to your irrationalities again.

  36. One last point. You, James, consider me and other theists to be blind with respect to the great questions. Yet you have shown yourself to be blind to the easy ones: whether an argument ought to be relevant, whether context matters in interpretation, and so on.

    If you are so blind to the obvious, how can you call us blind to the great and complex?

  37. James,

    Such a thing would have to be validated against possible alternative hypotheses before constituting strong evidence. That’s not to say it couldn’t end up being strong evidence, but the initial reaction, that first consideration, is not to jump to conclusions.

    Double-standard. I’m skipping over the scientism that really dooms this idea from the get-go (how do you validate “God did it”?). Do you personally do this under *any* other circumstances? Does the following scenario come anywhere close to what you personally do in any other situation?

    “Gee, is that *really* a street sign intentionally written by an intelligent human being and placed there so I would see it? I know what a street sign is – my memory recalls that – but maybe I am hallucinating *today*, maybe this isn’t a mundane, everyday experience. Maybe it’s a message from God.

    Maybe my memory is failing me, maybe I’m biased and don’t know it, or maybe it only looks like it was written by a human being and placed there so I could see it. Maybe it’s a cosmic coincidence, the result of chance, where matter came together at this precise moment in time for no particular reason.

    So many theories and hypotheses to sort through and weigh. Quick, Robin, to the lab so we can validate my beliefs against *all* the possible alternative hypotheses!!”

    I’m not really asking for an answer here, James. I don’t want to pursue this any further that what I’ve done here.

  38. Tom wrote:

    And finally, do you think (really????) that the “context card” is a manipulative ploy? Goodness, gracious, the license that gives you! You could interpret anything anyway you found convenient! Context is not the loosening of restraints on interpretation, it is the tightening of restraint. It wasn’t context that permitted me to change how the Thomas incident should be understood, it was your lack of context that allowed you to do so.

    This is blindingly obvious, James. There is only one way to explain your resistance to this universally held truth concerning the importance of context. You are overcome with a desire for it to mean what you want it to mean, rather than what it means in the constraints of context.

    It’s obvious to me that Boghossian can’t advance his agenda without exercising a lot of authoritarian control. Initially he does this, for example, by controlling definitions and creating caricatures and straw-men. Does he like James also need to exert control over the context? It’s no wonder that Boghossian won’t debate anyone with any philosophical heft and limits himself to preaching to the choir, he’d be torn to pieces (figuratively speaking.) Clearly, clear thinking for him is not being able to think for yourself, but to think the way he tells you to.

    I asked James above (@ #30) “Do you believe that I (Jenna and Tom etc.) have freedom of thought, conscience and belief?” So far he hasn’t answered. Why is that? Does he or doesn’t he believe that is a right that other human beings possess. What about Boghossian does he believe we have those rights?

  39. SteveK RE: #32

    Thanks, Steve, for your comment based on the trial by jury analogy. You are right. In this discussion, we are like jurors in the deliberation phase after the presentation of the evidence and arguments for the prosecution and the defense have concluded in the God yes/no trial. In the jury room, we hear James Lindsay’s explanation for the verdict he has reached (God does not exist). He gives us his analysis of the evidence, the credibility of the testimony, the competence of the witnesses, etc. The rest of us who are peers on this jury listen respectfully to what James has to say, but remain unconvinced by his arguments and reasoning. So we each submit our verdict based on judgment as to whether or not the evidence is persuasive beyond a reasonable doubt.

    We Christians accept the reality that there will always be a “hung jury” in the God yes/no trial. This is evidence of free will. There will always be atheists among us. However, this need not trouble us in the least since without free will, the ability to choose, there can be no love since love is a choice. We choose to love God and to seek and to know God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. James Lindsay and many others do not. So be it. We remember Jesus’ words in John 4:24; “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

    God bless you.

  40. James,

    You have asked me/us in some post or posts above, which I can’t seem to locate, this question: “How do you justify your beliefs?” My question for you is this: To whom or for whom do I need to justify my beliefs? and Who says?

  41. I asked James above (@ #30) “Do you believe that I (Jenna and Tom etc.) have freedom of thought, conscience and belief?” So far he hasn’t answered. Why is that?

    Because I didn’t see it. I’ve skipped most of what you’ve written. I’m busy. Sorry about skipping it, but I’m not sorry about being busy.

    I do not know if you, Jenna, Tom, etc., including me, have freedom of thought, conscience, and belief. I, in fact, don’t clearly know what that means. I have a pretty good sense of what we call free will, those things following from it, but I’ve found arguments against the coherence of free will extremely convincing. That is to say: I cannot say with sufficient certainty that I think (know) you, or I, do have that, at least particularly without knowing what it means. (Note: I didn’t say we don’t have free will. Try to say I did if you want, but I didn’t.)

    I’m glad you reminded me of that, though. I should add it to my list of things that the Christian belief structure takes as self-evident but that they cannot know is true.

  42. Note: free will isn’t a Christian belief in the sense that we came to believe this because we believe God exists and that he revealed this to us. No, it’s a universally justified belief held by all rational beings that aren’t blinded by the glittering lights of materialism.

  43. James,

    I do not know if you, Jenna, Tom, etc., including me, have freedom of thought, conscience, and belief. I, in fact, don’t clearly know what that means.

    Those freedoms are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. So you want to do away with free democratic societies? Wow!

    Also,

    The U.S. Declaration of Independence says:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
    http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/

    You and Bogs are scarier than I thought.

  44. Actually, no, JAD, the topic has to do with metaphysical rather than political freedom here. There’s an interaction between the two topics, to be sure, but it’s not a simple one.

  45. James, as long as you’re closing your eyes to simple and easily-grasped matters of ordinary evidence, logic, and reason, while criticizing us for being “blind” to very large and complex syntheses of multiple lines of interlocking evidences and reasoning, I think it’s appropriate to call upon you to wake up.

  46. You don’t get what Boghossian is about in this regard at all.

    Oh, I think I do. He says what he’s about in the fourth sentence of the first chapter, making the worn-out old assumption that faith and reason are incompatible. Again, that’s only one of the problems with his “reasoning.”

    He’s forwarding a linguistic analysis of a problematic word, and he’s not the first to do it.

    If his analysis of pistis has led him to “pretending (preconciously, natch) to know what you don’t know” then I’m gonna have to suggest that he, and you, do a little more work.

    I think faith is a cognitive bias, actually.

    Um, okay. Hooray for you?

    The reason this linguistic analysis is taking place is because there’s quite clearly something different about the way the word “faith” gets used as compared against the way people (like Tom) are saying it’s being used.

    So instead of analyzing the various ways the word was used in the time and context in which it was written and adressing those various usages, again staying in context, you and Boghossian have chosen to muddy the waters with a blanket definition made up for no better reason than that it suits the argument you are hoping to make.

    That’s hardly helpful. Or open. Or honest.

    Don’t misunderstand me though. I’m not making any sort of moral or intellectual judgement on you. I don’t assign blame. I rather suspect that the inaccuracy is preconscious.

    That is, Phil Vischer, a noted voice for Christianity and for this exactly anti-Boghossian topic, agrees that the analysis of the word faith proposed by Boghossian has some merits…

    I guess I missed the part where Phil Vischer was elected Spokesman for All of Western Christendom.

    I don’t watch as much news as I used to.

    Also, your question about what I know about all Christians is backward and wrong-headed.

    I think it’s not, and that your answer will reveal much about just how strong your commitment to doxhastic openness actually is. We already know Boghossian’s idea of doxhastic openess is suspect; his response to the “stars lining up” question is revealing. I’m just curious re yours.

    At any rate, it is an easy question to answer, so…indulge me.

    The relevant question, since they claim it connects them to a God that is not generally established to exist, is how they know those experiences are veridical. The burden is theirs, not mine.

    The question I asked you carries no burden of proof.

    Here’s what you said:

    . “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” This is what people are saying here, for sure. The problem is that the someone or something here isn’t established to exist, so the claim I am repeatedly making is that without doing that–establishing God exists first–it’s an act of putting complete trust or confidence in someone or something that we don’t know exists. Sounds like “pretending to know what we do not know.”

    And here’s what I asked you:

    Do you know that? Or do you believe it?

    I’m not asking, and frankly don’t care, whether or not it has been established it to you. I’m asking if you claim to KNOW that no Christian at any time and at any place has ever experienced something that could lead them to knowledge of the existence, and trustworthiness, of God.

  47. Speaking of good reasoning, you quote me and then respond:

    Was he practicing effective thinking and argumentation when he took a statement that thinking Christians disagree with—”My faith is true for me”—and after showing its flaws, presented it as a reason to think Christian faith is false?
    Yes or no.

    I don’t see that he used that to conclude that Christian faith is false. I think he already thinks that (for separate good reasons).

    Actually, he was using that as a reason to think Christian faith is false. And he also had his own other reasons for concluding it’s false. Did you think that one of those options ruled out the other? Did you think I said he was presenting it as the reason to think Christian faith is false?

    He was presenting it as one of several evidences for his view that Christian faith is false. This was an error on his part, because as I said, “My faith is true for me” is not in fact a reasonably good representation of Christian faith. It’s a representation of a distortion of Christian faith.

    Let me simplify it this way:
    The system of thought S includes the proposition P.
    There is a set of persons E who identify themselves with system S.
    There is a set of persons F who affirm some proposition R.
    R shares some language with P but is in fact antithetical to it.
    The set of persons E who affirm R include some members of E and some members of not-E.
    Critic C claims that R tends to invalidate S’s entire belief structure.

    Or

    Christianity affirms that faith is not the sort of thing that could be just “true for me.”
    There is a set of persons (E) who identify with Christianity.
    There is a different set of persons (F) who affirm that “my faith is true for me.”
    Set F includes some Christians and some non-Christians.
    The belief, “my faith is true for me” is antithetical to the Christian belief that faith cannot be true “just for me.”
    Boghossian claims nevertheless that the fact that persons in set F use that phrase counts toward invalidating all of Christian belief.

    You can see (can’t you?) that this doesn’t follow?

  48. Bears repeating:

    So instead of analyzing the various ways the word was used in the time and context in which it was written and adressing those various usages, again staying in context, you and Boghossian have chosen to muddy the waters with a blanket definition made up for no better reason than that it suits the argument you are hoping to make.

  49. As this has devolved impossibly and seems mostly to have become an attack on my person, let’s back up. It’s not productive to do otherwise.

    Let’s start with a new question. Tom, you’re welcome to it, or anyone else, though your insight is probably interesting and worth a blog post on this one. You’re especially welcome to it since you called some time ago on here to move on to more productive pastures for discussion.

    Why is it considered virtuous (or unvirtuous?) not to revise one’s beliefs?

    I see you all as not doing this, and you see me that way, apparently without the capability of resolution. That means no blame is being projected in any direction by asking this question.

  50. As this has devolved impossibly and seems mostly to have become an attack on my person, let’s back up. It’s not productive to do otherwise.

    I don’t see the personal attacks, James. But even if they are attacks on this thread I doubt that it has become mostly a ground for attacking your person.

    It does seem there is a bit of a stand off but I can’t help but think that in claiming that your are being attacked you have managed to sidestep many of objections against your “pretending to know” shtick.

    Why is it considered virtuous (or unvirtuous?) not to revise one’s beliefs?

    It’s a strange question. I would think that the virtue lies in

    a) the truth of such a belief – i.e. it’s good to believe that there is no such things as married bachelors.

    b) the potential good that arises from a belief (be it true or otherwise)

    (Of course, I suspect that you and I would understand the word good quite differently. For example, in a strictly naturalistic universe I don’t see why truth is in and of itself inherently good or even necessarily preferable over a lie.)

  51. James,

    Speaking for myself, there is nothing virtuous in exchanging what is true for what is false. It’s not about changing beliefs, it’s about what is true and moving towards that goal. Changing beliefs for the sake of appearing virtuous is in itself a vice (moral failing).

  52. John Lennox sums this whole issue up nicely:

    “Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence… It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.”

  53. James, I’ve asked you why you won’t call Boghossian out for his failures in responsible use of evidence and reasoning. Now I have another question for you. This one is more about behavioral consistency than about intellectual consistency. You say,

    As this has devolved impossibly and seems mostly to have become an attack on my person, let’s back up. It’s not productive to do otherwise.

    That implies that you value productive discussion, and you believe attacks on your person are not conducive to that. Whether there actually have been such attacks has already been raised as a point of question, but I won’t go into that. Instead I’ll ask you, if you think that personal attacks are counter-productive, why have you allowed and even occasionally egged on Cal Metzger saying this on your blog?

    http://goddoesnt.blogspot.com/2014/01/tom-gilson-exposes-faith-is-separate.html:

    Tommy has nothing new or interesting to say), etc., and that he’ll retreat to his little, culled herd of like minded toadies on his blog who can, together, convince themselves that the big, bad, outside world just doesn’t get it.

    Tom, from reading over some of your blog it is obvious that you don’t understand what a circular argument is (among so many other problems), so I find it laughable that you would try and pull the “oh dear boy, your logic is terrible” card on anyone.

    Tom, do you know what snake oil salesman and charlatans say? A version of, “Well, the conditions weren’t right, you did it wrong, I said it another way, buy my book!”

    Thank you for making it so very, very clear here who you are, and what side of reason you’re on. Truly, you crack me up.

    http://goddoesnt.blogspot.com/2014/01/im-on-edge-of-gaining-tremendous.html:

    I have zero respect for Tom Gilson because he is a dogmatic and authoritarian. He extends cordiality until his authority is challenged, at which point he maligns and bans. This behavior chills me. (For evidence, I give you his blog — just read any with high comment counts.)

    I have zero respect for Tom Gilson because he is a hypocrite. He portrays himself as an intellectual (“Thinking” Christian, his dilettantish forays into specialized fields like Biology and History, his reliance on fallacies at the same time he mis-identifies faulty logic in arguments that challenge his, etc.), but he is devoted to a faulty epistemology (faith) above all. (For evidence, I give you his blog — just read any with high comment counts.)

    I have zero respect for Tom Gilson because he demands it but will not take the steps necessary to earn that respect. I can think of few things less respectable than that.

    http://goddoesnt.blogspot.com/2014/01/why-tom-gilson-is-wrong.html:

    I like all this to a squid squirting ink…. Truly an intellectual fraud if ever there was one. “Thinking” Christian indeed.

    As I said, I’m not going to try to assess whether you are right or wrong about whether you’ve been personally attacked here. I will say this: if you’ve been personally attacked here, then I’ve been personally mauled on your site.

    Now this is the predictable next response from Metzger: he’s going to call this an instance of whining on my part. Let me assure you that I don’t really care what Cal Metzger says about me, I’m smiling, and I think it’s rather entertaining.

    Here’s what this really is: I’m calling you out for some serious inconsistency between your words and your actions.

    And I’d like you to tell me how that makes sense to you.

    Oh, and by the way, if you’re wondering why I haven’t commented more on your site, I hope it’s not hard for you to figure it out now. You have a very active commenter who is a whole lot more interested in conducting personal attacks than engaging in productive discussion. There’s not even any pretense of it being otherwise on your site.

  54. Why is it considered virtuous (or unvirtuous?) not to revise one’s beliefs?

    I see you all as not doing this….

    And on what basis would we revise our beliefs. You give no reasons nor reasoning as to why your worldview is preferable to ours. In fact, it seems like some badge of honor for you that your position requires no explanation (only ours does). So we should revise our beliefs so we too can have a worldview based on the lack of reason, thought, evidence or explanation. Sounds great. Where do I sign up?

  55. Jenna @44

    We Christians accept the reality that there will always be a “hung jury” in the God yes/no trial.

    Agreed.

    What I’m really struggling to understand is the extreme position that James is taking here. James (and PB) are saying that the jury reached a verdict on the basis of pretending to know what they do not know – and they both say this despite the fact that we, the jury members, *repeatedly* (a) list the evidence in the case, (b) list the statements made by all the experts (historical, scientific, philosophical) and (c) explain how they fit together and lead us to our verdict.

    There are libraries filled with books that do this, and still James thinks the jurors are pretending to know. This may be evidence that James and PB aren’t fit for jury duty (Romans 8 and elsewhere).

  56. The problem, Steve, is that James wants us to reprint those libraries of evidence in these discussion threads. That’s the only way he can be sure that they exist.

  57. SteveK,

    Right again. One of the basic principles of trial by jury is that the jurors are “reasonable men/women” who will apply reason to arriving at a verdict based on the evidence presented in the case at hand. Our jury system works so well in this country (not all countries have trial by jury) because we reasonable men/women do take our responsibilities when serving on a jury very seriously and seek to serve justice and truth when deciding on a verdict. PB’s and James Lindsay’s entire premise is based on a very negative, condescending and self-righteous attitude toward and opinion of people of faith. I have often wondered: Do atheists think they are smarter than the rest of us because they are atheists or do they think they are atheists because they are smarter than the rest of us? Either way, they are wrong.

    And by the way, another fundamental premise that makes our judicial system work is free will.

  58. It boils down to disagreements about (c). I think we all agree that there is only one way that (a) the evidence and (b) the expert testimony fits together to correspond to the one truth we are honing in on.

    Because James isn’t pretending to know, James is saying that he *knows* the one, true, way that (a) and (b) fit together. However knowledge of that requires that James *know* some facts that the rest of the jury members are either ignoring or missing.

    And because James knows what we Christian’s are ignoring or missing, he can share that knowledge with us very plainly. Not speculation, but real knowledge. James?

  59. James:

    Why is it considered virtuous (or unvirtuous?) not to revise one’s beliefs?

    I’ll play your game, James. However, you need to tell me first what you mean by belief.

  60. SteveK,

    To continue with our trial by jury analogy, we must keep in mind that when the jury hears the testimony and examines the evidence, the prosecution lays out the case to support its theory of the crime. In weighing the evidence, jurors must determine whether or not the evidence, including the testimony of witnesses, “fits” the theory, so that they can decide whether or not a coherent “picture” or paradigm of what occurred is supported by the evidence, so that they can arrive at a verdict that meets the standard of proof of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I sometimes think that atheists approach the evidence for God, when they will honestly admit from the outset that there is evidence, without being able to understand or appreciate the “theory” or paradigm or greater vision of what/who God is. This inability, IMO, is an artifact of their materialist philosophy or scientism, their rejection of the spiritual and metaphysical dimension of reality. It reminds me of those pixellated pictures where there is a tiger embedded in the picture, but you have to look very carefully to see it and to distinguish it from the myriad of pixels. It is also, for me, the difference between beliefs and faith. Many isolated and decontextualized beliefs don’t add up to faith unless we have a conceptual frame for understanding God.

  61. Aww, Mr. Lindsay dedicated a whole post to moi; my “moment in the spotlight”. And he is right, I am absolutely floored and crushed, although not for the reasons he thinks. I do wonder why he did not post it here — the inordinate length probably justifies it. And his proud ignorance along with other charming qualities that will go unnamed.

  62. Tom,

    I’d like to take a moment to reflect and tell you about some of the important insights I’ve gleaned from this discussion over the past few days.

    1. The importance of our Christian witnessing to/for each other. We need to share our spiritual experiences and the role of faith in our lives, because our testimony is evidence of how God works in our lives. We support each other’s growth in faith by telling our stories about the very concrete and powerful ways that we know (not just pretend to know) God’s love. And we learn how Jesus is the way, the truth and the life that brings us to the Father. John 14:6

    2. The importance of examining our own faith journey. When I read Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay talking about “faith” (which they don’t have), I recognize how very foreign what they are talking about is to my own faith development and marvelous walk with God. My first introduction to Christianity was through my maternal grandmother, who taught me to pray and gave me my first Bible. I remember clearly my first “talks” with God when I was eight years old and how my relationship with God has grown, deepened and strengthened throughout my life. When I hear atheists denigrating and demeaning faith, I feel a great sense of sadness for them, knowing what they are missing out on because of their rejection of faith.

    3. The importance for Christians of being educated about the academic and scholarly literature and research on faith. Atheists’ attempts to redefine a concept and phenomenon in the human psyche (soul) about which there is academic field in which there is a substantial and credible body of respected research are bound to fail. Scholars do not take it lightly when someone from outside their discipline attempts to redefine what they study and tell them that they only pretend to know what they know. We Christians are wise to become acquainted with the research on faith development, as well as the theology of faith, in order to counter attempts to give faith a bad name.

    4. Defining among us and for ourselves what faith is and the role of our Christian faith in our lives. Faith strengthens. Faith heals. Faith inspires. Faith gives wisdom. Faith comforts. Faith brings peace, hope and love. We must affirm and grow our faith and support others in doing the same. I remember Jesus’ words and his warning that applies so well to this conversation and to our mission: John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

    Thank you. JB

  63. A few passing comments and questions about James’ latest blog post.

    If the Bible is evidence for God, it’s abysmal evidence.

    How do you know this, James? Are you comparing it to some standard of evidence for God? If so, doesn’t that mean you know something about God – enough to know evidence for God when you come across it? How did you come to know something about God if he doesn’t exist?

    Would God in the flesh be evidence for God? That’s the position the first century apostles reported to be in. Are you saying the evidence they had was abysmal, or just their reporting methods? How do you know which one it is – the evidence or the reporting? Oh, wait, you don’t think it’s either one. You think it’s all a myth/legend/fabrication. How do you know this?

    These are just a few questions I have.

    The manner of attaining salvation–its main job–is utterly unclear, spawning many contradictory denominations.

    How many denominations are formed due to the Bible being utterly unclear and how many are due to people misinterpreting what is utterly clear to others and how many are formed for reasons that have nothing to do with what the Bible says?

    It seem you can only know (preponderance level) which answer to assign to each denomination if you know what the Bible clearly says, James. What do textual scholars say about the clarity of scripture when it comes to core Christian beliefs? Is it preponderantly clear?

    Most of the Bible has to be apologized for (e.g. God’s genocides, slavery, the mistreatment of women, and violations of human dignity throughout)

    Same reply as before. Seems like you know what the text clearly says.

    All of this would lead people away from believing in the reliability of the Bible, raising the issue of why such a loving God would pick such a poor way to communicate the most important information in the universe.

    Same reply as before.

  64. One time post. Why are believers waisting their time on people who do not want God? You can’t force someone to believe even if you have proven what you you set out to prove. I think pride has a grip on some here, kick tthe dust off your feet and move on. Let them to their fate. Mabie just mabie the next person will be saved. And if ttheir is no god what atr non-belivers upset about.

  65. Jason, if they don’t want God that’s their choice. This is not only about changing people, though if God did that through this interaction it would be very welcome. It’s also about showing that Christianity has solid answers that can stand up to sustained challenge.

  66. And this is just false:

    Most of the Bible has to be apologized for (e.g. God’s genocides, slavery, the mistreatment of women, and violations of human dignity throughout)

    It’s prejudicial. It’s biased. It’s confirmation bias in action

    But a distorted view like that might explain why he thinks the Bible’s evidence for God is so abysmal. He can’t see the evidence because he can’t even see what’s there to read.

  67. Jason Odermatt says:

    Why are believers waisting their time on people who do not want God?

    I can not speak to the motivations of others in responding to people like James, but if it is to help people like me who want to learn more about how to think and respond to these attacks on Christianity, then I greatly encourage them to continue. I have read virtually every post and comment on this blog over the last several months and it has been educational to the extreme. Where else can you find a group of highly credentialed people with deep knowledge across a wide range of disciplines (Math, Chemistry, Physics, Theology, Philosophy, History) respond to the kinds of arguments presented by James and his ilk. They have helped me understand better the irrationality of the vast bulk of the attacks on Christianity in pop culture today. And I now honestly believe Peter Boghossian’s recent “scholarship” fits into that category. I want the entire crew of commenters here to know that at least one lurker is grateful for their efforts.

  68. Jason, of all people I think an atheist provided a good answer to the first part of your question – namely why Christians actively try to convert. Penn Jillett of Penn and Teller fame said the following:

    I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

    I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.

    (See here for a link to the video – http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/11/17/how-much-do-you-have-to-hate-somebody-to-not-proselytize/)

    Leaving aside the Great Comission for a moment, what Jillett, the atheist, said is very challenging to me. What is it to affirm that we are all made in the image of God (and by this I mean we are valued equally in the eyes of God) and that we have intrinsic worth because of this and yet sit on my hands? What possible defence can I, a Christian who is not known for going out of his way to tell people the Good News, offer on the day of judgement? That I was afraid of people laughing at me? Despite his hostility towards the Gospel, Penn has offered Christians like me a very honest and valuable challenge.

    As for proselytising atheists, they’ll have to speak for themselves. But I suppose that some really do think that belief in God is both foolish and dangerous. For our part we (Christians) try to counter these claims. Though I am still somewhat perplexed why some atheists proselytise so earnestly. They often debate amongst themselves whether we have free will and most of the thoughtful ones reject the existence of objective morality (though most of these behave as if they think otherwise). Ultimately evolution doesn’t select for truth or even kindness and a purely naturalistic universe offers no ground for higher purposes or justification for atheistic evangelistic activities.

  69. #10 G. Rodrigues says:

    “Since the best arguments for God’s existence are *deductive* arguments,…”

    While you’re at it, how did you deduce this deity is named “God?”

  70. Is that a serious question/ challenge? I suppose he deduced it in the way you would deduce any name – by being informed about it in some fashion.

    In the west we generally refer to the being revealed in the Bible – the highest conceivable being – as God. However, the Bible has several other names for God which in English are translated as Father,the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, the God of Ancient Days and so on.

  71. #77 . Rodrigues says:

    “@Wood757:

    ‘While you’re at it, how did you deduce this deity is named “God?”’

    ??’

    It is a serious question.

    How did this deity everyone claims exists get the name “God?” Did someone “deduce” it? If not, who gave that deity the name “God?”

  72. #27 Longstreet says:

    “Still waiting, btw, on an actual answer to this: Do you claim to KNOW that no Christian at any time and at any place has ever experienced something that could lead them to knowledge of the existence, and trustworthiness, of God?”

    The proper question recognizing where the burden of proof lies is: Do you claim to know that any Christian experienced something that demonstrated the existence of a deity named “God?”

  73. #24 Jenna Black says:

    “How can you say that you don’t believe that God exists if you have no definition of God? How can you claim that there is no evidence of God when you claim that you have no definition and therefore presumably, no concept or understanding of God?”

    and #31 SteveK says:

    “James,

    ‘That’s the whole point here. How can you know what you claim is true? I don’t think it’s true because I don’t think the evidence clears the bar that merits belief.’

    “How can you know that it doesn’t clear the bar that merits belief? Do you know this, or are you pretending to know?”

    and #70 SteveK says”

    “A few passing comments and questions about James’ latest blog post.

    ‘If the Bible is evidence for God, it’s abysmal evidence.’

    “How do you know this, James? Are you comparing it to some standard of evidence for God? If so, doesn’t that mean you know something about God – enough to know evidence for God when you come across it? How did you come to know something about God if he doesn’t exist?”

    The difficulty here is two-fold 1)no shared agreement on what constitutes “evidence.” 2) and where the burden of proof lies for demonstrating with “evidence” that a deity named “God” exists.

    As these last two threads illustrate, the “theist” side, Gilson et al, are demanding that Lindsay adhere to as yet-defined theist definition of “evidence”; or that only by “reaching the stage of ‘faith'” can “reveal evidence for a deity named God”. SteveK’s statement above reveals an unwillingness to adhere to any standard of acceptable, objective evidence for the existence of a deity. It boils down to this makes no sense: “If you don’t believe God exists, how can you make any claims God doesn’t exist and why would you apply any standard of evidence for the existence of God?”

    The theist side is dancing around and moving goal posts on the necessity of there being an acceptable standard of evidence by which ANY claims for the existence of a deity named “God” by ALL parties concerned. And it remains on the theist side to accept it’s burden of proof to present positive evidence that a deity actually exists without anyone having to jump over theists ever-moving goalposts.

  74. @Wood757:

    It is a serious question.

    I do not doubt it; it is also a meaningless question because there is nothing to “deduce” about ‘How did this deity everyone claims exists get the name “God”?’.

    Now, I have a suspicion of what you want to really ask but I am not going to guess, so unless you reformulate the question: ???

  75. Apparently brave Sir John has bravely run away.

    No matter. We can still play.

    Earlier in this thread (WAAY earlier) brave Sir John said

    Jenna, as I don’t believe God exists, I don’t need to give you a definition.

    John, if yer gonna make this sort of statement

    If the Bible is evidence for God, it’s abysmal evidence.

    then yes you do.

    Unless you’re running from ANOTHER question…

  76. Wood @81
    If a person had no idea which concept of God was the correct concept – or no idea if God existed at all – how would that person go about evaluating various evidences?

    Suppose you had no idea what the term “injustice” meant, would you be able to sort through various evidences in order to eventually *know* what injustice actually is? No.

    We do know injustice is a vice – so we know something about it. What’s a vice? Well, we know what that is too. We must if we are to even get off the ground. That little bit of knowledge helps us sort through the evidence so we can recognize injustice when we “bump into it”.

    What about God? What do we know about God so that this knowledge can help us sort though the evidence? That question creates the same paradox of sorts. If we know *something* – even just a little – about God then he must exist for us to know that. If we know nothing about God, then we are unable to sort through the evidence.

    I could be wrong, but this seems related to the point of Searles Chinese Room thought experiment. Knowledge and understanding cannot be created from a complete lack of knowledge and understanding. That tells us something about us and about the underpinning of reality.

  77. Wood,
    To make my point even more clear to you and James, if James really has *no* knowledge of God then we can substitute the term ‘God’ with ‘*&#$X’ (a concept he also has no knowledge of) and ask James to sort through all the evidence he can find and tell us which is evidence for ‘*&#$X’.

    In this situation, there can be *no* evidence for James to find because James doesn’t know what to look for. Likewise, James cannot object when someone says they found evidence for ‘*&#$X’ because, again, James doesn’t know anything about this concept.

    Now, James can pretend to know what to look for and what constitutes evidence. James can also assign meaning to the term he knows nothing about and then find evidence for that created meaning. That would be an example of subjective evidence for a subjective reality and anyone can do that.

    So I’m convinced that IF James *knows* certain evidence is not evidence for God, that James knows something about the God that must exist in order for James to know him. Otherwise, James is pretending to know what he admittedly doesn’t know.

  78.