Peter Boghossian’s Atheistic Mission

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This entry is part 2 of 15 in the series Peter Boghossian


Peter Boghossian author of the not-yet-released Creating Atheists, is on an urgent mission. It isn’t really an atheistic mission, he says, except indirectly: he’s crusading for clear thinking, which he says will lead inevitably toward atheism.

I have reason to wonder about that.

Last Saturday I wrote that he’s a dangerous man. I know more about him now. I spent the rest of the day scanning hundreds of family photos into my computer, in preparation for the family celebration of my dad’s 90th birthday party next week. It was almost all mechanical and image-related work, which afforded me the time to listen to hours of Professor Boghossian, in these lectures and interviews:

I’ve altered my assessment of the man since hearing all this. The most salient thing about him is how confident and yet how self-contradictory he is.

In one interview (MG, 37:45) he said,* “In order to counter my new book, they’re going to have to come up with extreme silliness: ‘It’s the Devil’s book!'” Well, that itself is silly. I don’t have his book — it hasn’t been released yet — but I do have hours of his thoughts by way of audio. I can counter it (I promise) without saying, “he’s of the devil.”

I have much to say, so this will extend into additional posts. Today I’ll begin to take up his definition of faith.

1. What is Faith?

Boghossian contends in several locations here that faith is “pretending to know what you can’t possibly know.” I don’t know where he got that from. He doesn’t say. He does admit, near the end of the May 6 talk, that he has no empirical support for the pretending aspect. Lacking that, it’s hard not to conclude that he might have picked it out of thin air for rhetorical purposes (see below).

He certainly didn’t get his definition from the Christian thinkers who described faith as notitia, assencia, fiducia: knowledge, assent, and trust. He didn’t get it from the one most relevant source — relevant, that is, if he’s trying to understand and to counter Christian faith: the Bible, Christians’ source documents, wherein faith is illustrated and explained as placing one’s trust in what one has full reason to know. 

2. Jesus as the Great Destroyer of Faith?

Boghossian’s confusion is on clear display in MG, at about 28:30, where he and the host are talking about what it would require for them to change their minds and become believers in God. He says, “If an apparition of Jesus came, you wouldn’t need faith…;. No evidence could do that, because then it wouldn’t be faith.”

Really? If so, then the Bible presents Jesus as a great enemy of faith; indeed, as the great destroyer of faith. Consider Luke’s introduction to Acts:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Jesus destroyed Thomas’s faith when he offered Thomas the evidence he asked for. Jesus destroyed the disciples’ faith in John 21 when he dined with them.

So Thomas could no longer pretend to believe something he didn’t know: he knew this was Jesus standing before him. The same for the other disciples, and for all those whom Luke described in Acts 1:1-3.

Now before you object that this is all just what the Bible claims, realize that that’s what counts here. If Boghossian is right, then the Bible depicts Jesus as a destroyer of faith.

But every Christian down through history has seen Jesus as the source and author of faith (see Hebrews 12:2). What this must mean is that for every believer, faith has always meant something other than what Boghossian claims it means.

I’ll come back to that long-standing meaning of faith in a later blog post.

3. Manipulating the Definition of Faith

But I’m not sure that would bother him. He’s quite candid in saying that he’s attempting not to clarify but to change the meaning of the word faith. He’s doing it intentionally, to make it more rhetorically vulnerable to attack. He states that quite openly at about the 47 to 48 minute mark in GA. His host there is smart enough not to accept the ploy; though he, too, is an atheist, he can see the illegitimacy of Boghossian’s move.

He does try to make one clarifying move by “disambiguating” faith and hope (May 6, PSU, and GA). He’s too late: it’s been done, long ago. See Romans 8:18-25, where Paul speaks of hope in a manner completely different from his use of faith throughout the entire letter up to that point. The ambiguity he describes doesn’t exist. (I’ll probably have to come back to that point later, and spell it out in detail. Not today, though.)

So what Boghossian is doing is making a strategic  move to make faith more vulnerable to attack by associating it with pretending, even though he knows that’s not the way it’s been conceived of for the past couple thousand years. His definitional move here is pure rhetoric, and it’s totally manipulative.

4.  Boghossian’s Atheistic Mission

I’ll have more to say next time on this word “pretending,” and I promise you’ll be surprised at what Boghossian himself says about it. I’ll add  additional thoughts about his rhetorical manipulativeness, and more besides. For now I’ll close with this:

Dr. Boghossian has described himself as on a mission to destroy pretending to know what you don’t know. I wish him well: I hope he succeeds. His mission as such has nothing to do with Christian faith, for his definition of faith is far removed from ours. I’m sure that eliminating pretense could only be helpful to our cause.

And if combatting pretense is really his purpose, it would further his cause considerably if he would drop his efforts to confuse terminology.

But maybe that’s not really his purpose. Maybe he really is on an atheistic mission, above all else: even above his stated intent of promoting clear thinking. We’ll see.

*Some quotes in here are approximate. They are accurate with respect to the thoughts they represent. I did not rewind all the audio to ensure I was getting everything word-for-word.

Series Navigation (Peter Boghossian):<<< Boghossian’s “Manual for Creating Atheists”Peter Boghossian’s Pretend Arguments >>>
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255 Responses to “ Peter Boghossian’s Atheistic Mission ”

  1. I find it amazing that someone who writes book based on what Christians think about faith, gets it wrong. Whatever his epistemology, it’s failed here.

  2. To claim that faith is something that you have ‘full reason to know’ goes against the very definition. Perhaps you could be correct in claiming that christian thinkers contend the textbook definition of faith. But for the mainstream christian — the ones that hold a huge portion of the vote in America — faith is exactly what Boghossian states.

    What grounds your belief that the bible is true? What grounds your belief that any of those events occurred?

  3. @Tom Gilson:

    Dr. Boghossian has described himself as on a mission to destroy pretending to know what you don’t know. I wish him well: I hope he succeeds.

    Since by your account, it is clear that Dr. Boghossian is only pretending to know what he knows, that last sentence is not very charitable is it? I love it. Grin.

  4. What’s your evidence of that, Andrew? Are you sure you’re not stereotyping? Because I think you’re displaying prejudice based on false information here.

  5. Not intending to change the subject with this comment, but I wonder if Dr. Boghossian would say (a) he is pretending to know that it’s morally wrong for any person at any time or in any situation to torture babies for fun, or (b) he actually knows this or (c) he doesn’t know this. If it’s (b), I wonder what he’d say is his source. If it’s (c), I’d call him a liar.

  6. Also, Andrew, please re-read what I wrote. I didn’t say that faith is something you have full reason to know. It’s placing trust in what you have reason to know.

  7. I completely agree these militant atheists are utterly irrational, stupid, arrogant and delusional.

    But we’ve got to find the psychological reasons for their mindstate.

    As I pointed out as a response to your previous post, most of them have been profoundly disgusted and traumatized by fundamentalist Christianity.

    And to be honest, I can to some extent sympathize with them.

    If we’ve faced with ONLY two choices:

    1) worshiping a being who predetermined us to act in a sinful way and will cast most human beings into hell for the offenses he’s preordained them to do

    2) rebelling against this being

    I’d choose two! And C.S. Lewis would have done to, for him belief in the absolute goodness of God was much more important than belief in an inerrant Bible.

    Lothar’s son – Lothars Sohn
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/

  8. Why only two choices? Why not choose option 3, which would be rejecting the utter lies expressed in option 1, without rebelling against the good God who created us?

    I agree with you 100% and totally, completely, that we need to make the case that God is a good God. I’ve been pounding the table on that point in meeting after meeting with other apologists. I’ve written about it here.

    But if we invent a God god to our own liking, that’s hopeless, and indeed foolish. A god we all found favorable to our own preferences would be no God, but a mere puppet of the times. He/it/she/they would be in the position of following us, obeying our desires and whims, virtually worshiping us.

    Personally I’d rather deal with a nice solid atheism than self-worshiping mush like that.

  9. Has Boghossian debated any Christian thinkers? David Marshall offered to debate him last Sept. but Boghossian shot him down. For his part IMO David was courteous, professional and polite; Boghossian brushed him off as an insignificant little gnat. I hate to get into name calling but this guy sounds like an arrogant condescending snob who thinks he can’t possibly have any wrong beliefs and opinions because he has a Phd. and a high I.Q.
    http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2012/09/peter-boghossian-sees-through-me.html

    Ironically, Boghossian has said:

    “…hey, look, you should always be open to the idea that someone knows something you don’t know. That’s what epistemic humility is. That’s just what being humble is.”

    But apparently there is an exception here. Boghossian seems to think he knows more about what Christians believe about belief than they do. I am wondering does he know that as a fact?

  10. @SteveK

    Your thoughts on morality are scary if faith is the only thing stopping you from torturing babies.

    Peter Boghossian would likely follow the same logical process as Shelly Kagan for morality (Two perfectly reasonable beings behind a veil of ignorance).

    @Tom

    I don’t think its an unfair stereotype even if you want to call it that. If there were hard evidence for a claim you would not need to call it faith. In this case lets use the term ‘evidence’ like you would in a court of law. Would a set of stores passed verbally for hundreds of years and translated over and over again. Edited and changed by the councils really stand up as evidence? Faith tends to be the belief in something _without_ evidence.

    I might not have enough context to understand how ‘placing trust in what you have full reason to know’ is different than’ having full reason to know’. I would contend that you do not need trust if you have ‘full reason to know’ as you already have *full* reason to know. What is it that necessitates trust?

  11. What necessitates trust? Well, in retrospect I would want to change the word “full” to “sufficient.” If “full” means completely infallible, apodictic, certain, then faith is irrelevant. But if we speak of placing our trust in that which we have sufficient reason to know is true, then there’s room for that. For example, the illustration Boghossian denied by fiat in his PSU lecture: faith in flying. I have sufficient reason to know that flying is safe. Therefore I trust my life in the hands of those who made the aircraft, pilot it, and manage the airspace.

    Trust, by the way, is a synonym for faith in many contexts. Boghossian denies that, but he does so (as I have already said) by his authoritarian word, not on the basis of any precedent or citation to literature. He does so (and he is quite candid about this) in order to limit “faith” to religious contexts, which is (again, he admits this) for the purpose of making the term vulnerable to destruction. This is all completely illegitimate. I’ll have more to say about that in future posts.

    But for now, I think I’ve explained what necessitates trust, in answer to your question.

    Re: your comment to SteveK: Do you have any idea how annoying it is to experience, or from my perspective this time, to watch the kind of maneuver you pulled there? Do you realize you’ve put words in his mouth? Do you realize how belittling that comment was? I know SteveK can speak for himself, but as blog owner I want to register my complete disregard and objection to that kind of behavior here.

  12. He seemed to pull a similar move, yet it goes unchallenged because its target is the same as yours? Speaking of one’s morality without actually knowing is what we both have done. At least stay consistent. I am confused as to how it would be belittling, if I find your faith-> morality connection scary does that belittle you? Making an atheist engage in a moral discussion around torturing babies as if it holds merit? That is belittling.

    This whole post/conversation is obfuscating the day-to-day connotation of ‘faith’ into something more defensible.

    As far as I know Peter has always advocated a move away from the word faith because of this loosely defined wiggle room. If you are talking about trust, use trust. Not faith. Faith in your context is an unnecessary word. We should instead be arguing about how you attribute trust. I think we can both agree with your airplane example. Trusting a certified pilot with hundreds of hours makes sense. Yet somehow I find it much much harder to trust an ancient book that was revised so many times to fit the era.

    When I get in a plane I do not have any sort of faith. I understand the statistical chances of mechanical failure. I understand that the plane has many fail safes. I understand there could be a terrorist on board and I understand I might not get off that plane. There is no faith involved. I do not make any sort of claim that I ‘know’ that I will be fine, because there is no possible way to know that. Do you also acknowledge this or do you have faith you will make it through unscathed?

    On the issue of a stereotype: Yes, that is exactly what I am suggesting. There CAN be fair stereotypes (note that I am not saying all, or even most are fair, but there can be). If the majority of a group conform to certain criteria a stereotype is born. Is it something you should use to judge individuals? No. Is it something you can use for explanatory or categorical purposes of the majority of a group? Yes.

  13. Andrew,

    Your thoughts on morality are scary if faith is the only thing stopping you from torturing babies.

    Can you point to where I actually said this? I’ll save you some time….I didn’t.

  14. Andrew, you’re right about this: SteveK did take a shot at Boghossian with that. He didn’t explain what he meant by it. I happen to know what he meant, because we’ve had this conversation many times, so it escaped my attention that he hadn’t told the whole story.

    Yes, there are grounds upon which to make a case that naturalistic atheism eliminates moral realities. No, no one made that case here. So yes, I can see why you thought SteveK did the same thing here that I complained about you doing.

    In SteveK’s defense, I took that question off the table in #6.

    I apologize for not catching all that sooner.

    It remains also true (as he has said) that you put words in his mouth.

  15. I think you have confused the distinction between a group norm and a stereotype.

    Further, you still haven’t answered my question in #4. And an accusation of that sort, without evidence backing it up, does not qualify as a statement of a group norm.

  16. To make a compelling argument, Tom, you at least have to acknowledge and deal with common, ubiquitous understandings of the word “faith”. E.g., the dictionary says it often means things you say it doesn’t mean:

    1faith
    noun \ˈfāth\
    plural faiths
    Definition of FAITH

    1
    a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty
    b (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions

    2
    a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
    b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust

    3
    : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs
    — on faith
    : without question

    You could argue that the best, most sophisticated understanding of the Christian concept of “faith” is what you said, while acknowledging that there are a variety of meanings of the word in the culture and even in the Christian culture, where it is impossible to deny that there are travesties like snake-handling and young-earth creationism which prove that the “bad” versions of “faith” are alive and well.

  17. @SteveK

    (I improperly said ‘you’ instead of ‘people’)

    I likely read too far into your comment but was the implication not there? Is it unreasonable to infer that you are saying someone lacking faith/religion cannot defend that moral stance? Working backwards from there if your morality is grounded in faith/religion and not human nature (lets specify that I mean a human nature from an atheistic worldview) then faith is the reason people are not torturing babies for fun.

  18. Andrew,
    In #5, I didn’t make a case for anything or make an assumption about his moral worldview. I was asking questions about his worldview wondering how he would respond. My comment about him being a liar under (c) was too strong I admit.

  19. What argument do you think I’m making, Bob?

    I’ve said I’m going to present a more complete definition of faith in a future post. In the meantime I’m objecting to Boghossian’s tendentious re-definition of faith, making it mean something it has never meant in Christian theology. He’s done three things with that: he has made it into something even less rational than your 2b definition here, he has insisted that it cannot mean anything but that, and he has insisted that it can only apply in religious contexts.

    That’s all true of Boghossian’s views, and it’s all false, rhetorically manipulative, and illegitimate, regardless of whether there are some believers whose faith is less than rational.

  20. Andrew

    Is it unreasonable to infer that you are saying someone lacking faith/religion cannot defend that moral stance?

    I did not infer that here. I’ve done it elsewhere many times and have backed up that inference with reasons and argument, but I didn’t do that here in #5.

  21. Good, we both believe that the goodness of God should be shown and that we’ve a strong human tendency to create God in our own image.

    Yet, it seems that exactly what some Biblical writers did.

    The writer of Joshua justified a genocidal warfare by using the same divine justification as the neighboring pagan nations of the ancient near east.

    Lothar’s son – Lothars Sohn
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/

  22. Andrew, it is true that naturalism provides no grounding for objective morality. SteveK hit that one on the head. Working backwards from there, the conclusion is not, faith is necessary for morality, but rather, God is necessary for grounding morality.

    This is off topic here, though. See these recent posts for a full explanation of what I meant by that, and for a relevant thread to discuss this on.

  23. Andrew,
    Tom said it better in #25 than I did in #23. I failed to pick up on your use of the term faith/religion. Those things don’t ground morality and I’ve never argued that they did.

  24. Lothars Sohn, your reading of the biblical authors is too much tied to contemporary Western genres. In a word, you’ve got it wrong. Sorry.

    If you want my reading on it, please look up “God genocide Bible” in google. I’ve already suggested that to you. My logs show several people taking that recommendation, but no one from your part of the world. I don’t think you’ve read it. I’d be considerably more impressed with your complaints if you had bothered to get that background before you continued with them.

    This is not the forum to discuss OT ethics, though. Please see the discussion policies linked above the combox.

  25. I thought that Peter Boghossian was being a bit authoritarian in his insistence on one particular definition of ‘faith’. There are many uses of the term ‘faith’ and many of these are not epistemological in nature.

    But, and it’s a big “but”, there are many uses of the term ‘faith’ that are epistemological. Aren’t you being just as authoritarian in insisting on a non-epistemological meaning?

    It has to be said that, whilst there are many who give a non-epistemological definition of faith, most of the time I encounter the term it is being used in a decidedly epistemological way. And that being said, we can rephrase Boghossian’s project in a way that is not so bad:

    – We have conflicting and, hence, confusing uses of the term “faith’.
    – There is a clear, everyday, ‘majority’ definition.
    – Let us restrict the use of the term ‘faith’ to that ‘majority’ definition
    – Let us use other terms for the other meanings of ‘faith’

  26. Did I insist on a non-epistemological meaning? Notitia, assentia, fiducia

    Boghossian’s project would not be so bad had he not invented wholesale a brand new “clear, everyday, ‘majority’ definition,” which only he and a small minority propound, which has hardly ever been stated before (and certainly not everyday!), with no empirical support, and for the purpose of making “faith” rhetorically vulnerable.

    I have problems with your third and fourth bullet, too, but that’s adequate already to shatter Boghossian’s project

  27. Besides, the Christian Faith already has its own concepts of what faith entails – something that the majority of non-Christians simply don’t understand and get wrong every time. When Tom gets around to that definition and exposition of what it really is, then we can discuss that 🙂

  28. Did I insist on a non-epistemological meaning?

    It read like that to me.

    And, to be honest, if you’re not insisting that faith is not epistemological your argument misses its target. If faith is taken to confer knowledge then whether or not it is pretending to know what you don’t know depends on whether faith does, or does not, confer knowledge.

    It has little to do with whether other people use the term differently: something I tried to “control for” in my rephrase.

    Victoria said:
    “the Christian Faith already has its own concepts of what faith entails – something that the majority of non-Christians simply don’t understand and get wrong every time

    I note the plural “concepts”. I also note that the plurality of concepts is often taken to argue that those who disagree just do not understand. It’s very easy to do and can be very effective simply show how someone’s statements don’t link to the concept they weren’t talking about and claim that, therefore, they’ve shown their ignorance.

  29. @Tony
    This topic has been discussed before on this blog site, so we’ve seen the atheists’ definitions of faith, and we’ve tried to explain what faith means for Biblical Christianity to them. Browse the archives here and you’ll see how that goes.

    Meanwhile, since we haven’t explained it, your opinions are noted, but premature.

  30. Hmmm… An atheist creates a straw man argument based on a false definition of faith. Said atheist then believes he can successfully argue against Christianity using that false definition. Many other non-believers agree with him even though his argument would be laughed out of most 5th grade classrooms. Said atheists and friends damage various tendons and ligaments with self congratulatory back patting. Rinse and repeat.

  31. In retrospect, concepts is not the right word for what I wanted to convey. Multi-dimensional is better, as it fits with what Tom said in the OP

    Christian thinkers who described faith as notitia, assencia, fiducia: knowledge, assent, and trust

  32. Tom: (for some reason this comment doesn’t appear on the blog):

    “all it takes is to show that faith is not what Boghossian claims”

    And you haven’t shown this.

    “English” is a language and it is a nationality. I do not show that English is not, say, the nationality of those who live in France by showing that English is also language. It may (I don’t agree that it is) be as utterly ridiculous to claim that faith is pretending to know what you don’t know as it is to claim that English is the nationality of those who live in France. But that is not shown by showing that faith is also a placement of trust.

    The counter-example would work where the claim is that faith is only pretending to know what you don’t know. Whilst that is a possible, if an uncharitable, reading of Boghossian; it is not a possible reading of my re-phrase.

    Victoria:

    ”we’ve tried to explain what faith means for Biblical Christianity”

    So you, at least, are insisting on a particular definition (or class of definitions). And BillT is insisting on it to such an extent that addressing a differing and common concept of faith is to construct a strawman!

  33. Tony @ 28:

    “And that being said, we can rephrase Boghossian’s project in a way that is not so bad:

    – We have conflicting and, hence, confusing uses of the term “faith’.
    – There is a clear, everyday, ‘majority’ definition.
    – Let us restrict the use of the term ‘faith’ to that ‘majority’ definition
    – Let us use other terms for the other meanings of ‘faith’”

    Actually, Boghossian’s project is still mendacious and intellectually dishonest. The “clear, everyday, ‘majority'” definition is, to put it bluntly, irrelevant when discussing Christian views on faith. What’s important is (surprise, surprise) the way in which the term is used in Christian theology.

    When quantum physicists talk about different “flavours” of quarks, their use of the term is obviously very different to what most people mean when they say “flavour”. Does this mean that it’s legitimate to act as if there’s actually no difference between the uses, and that when people talk about flavours of quark, they do so in the same way that they might talk about flavours of ice cream? No, of course not, and anybody who did so would be (quite rightly) considered a wilfully ignorant, immature little prat. Boghossian and his like deserve exactly the same level of intellectual respect.

  34. “English” is a language and it is a nationality. I do not show that English is not, say, the nationality of those who live in France by showing that English is also language.”

    On the other hand, you don’t disprove somebody’s claim to be English by saying “Nah, English is a language, how can you be a language, you silly person?”

  35. And appealing to the existence of Christians who use “faith” to mean unjustified belief doesn’t help either. Most believers in atomism probably adhere to the simplistic ball-and-stick model used in high school; disproving this model does nothing to disprove the models used by actual scientists, and hence does nothing to disprove atomism per se.

  36. The point of Boghossian’s work is that his methods are proven to be effective, he employs them regularly. Many people of the faith chose to remain so simply because there is a culture in religion of looking down on those that doubt the faith.

    Boghossian is putting together a methodology for people to teach others to doubt things that are not proven, because not understanding how to differentiate between things that have been proven and things that have not been proven can lead to problems.

    Christians should be advocating the same things he advocates, because if Christianity is true then he is really writing a manual for creating Christians, because the truth should be so obvious that doubting it will not make it go away. Boghossian is just extremely confident that doubting religion will make it go away. If you disagree, that has no bearing whatsoever on his methodology or definitions, only on what the outcome of the methods would be.

  37. I can’t help but disagree with your point in #36 Mr. X. The masses of the religion are the lifeblood.

    You don’t see Islamic scholars strapping bombs to their chest and creating calamity. I don’t expect Christian scholars to have the same version of ‘faith’ that the plebeian masses do. Boghossian is after the masses that perpetuate the religion and sees faith as the root cause.

    I cannot tell if you have all ignored my questions or if they merely got skipped over. If you contend that faith is not simply believing in that which has no proof, but instead ‘a trust in that which sufficient reason to know’ I would ask how you come to that trust in the context of this religion. I feel compelled to state that if there were sufficient proof/reason in a particular religion there would be no need for this faith everyone seems so crazy about. It would just be evidence-based belief.

  38. Andrew,

    I cannot tell if you have all ignored my questions or if they merely got skipped over. If you contend that faith is not simply believing in that which has no proof, but instead ‘a trust in that which sufficient reason to know’ I would ask how you come to that trust in the context of this religion. I feel compelled to state that if there were sufficient proof/reason in a particular religion there would be no need for this faith everyone seems so crazy about. It would just be evidence-based belief.

    It is an evidence based belief. The “faith that everyone is so crazy about” is trust in the God that is revealed by the evidence. Through trusting God we then have access to further evidence that He is who He says he is, just as years of trusting my husband will offer up further evidence that he is indeed trustworthy.

  39. Andrew,

    I don’t expect Christian scholars to have the same version of ‘faith’ that the plebeian masses do. Boghossian is after the masses that perpetuate the religion and sees faith as the root cause.

    What is your evidence that the majority of Christians would define “faith” as Boghossian has?

  40. So Oisin, what if I not only disagree with him, but also demonstrate that his definitions are unsupported by any reason or evidence? Does that still have no bearing on his definitions?

    But still: if you think there’s something about his work that Christians should support, then you may be echoing something I wrote in the first article in this series. Check it out!

  41. Andrew @#41: what is it that makes sense to you about taking the most uneducated understanding of a term and making it a professor’s punching bag? Don’t you know how easy that would be to do in any field whatever — and how rhetorically puny it would be in any field, too?

    If a professor wants to contest a worldview, he ought to contest its strength.

    I think you’re seeing this purely as a social movement: the masses being the lifeblood of the church, and all. First, you’re making an empirical statement, and (echoing Melissa) I’m not letting you get away with that unless you can support it with data. Second, Christianity is a thought system, not just a social movement. Third, Boghossian isn’t dealing with it (or with other faiths) merely as a social movement, but also as a thought system.

    And this:

    I feel compelled to state that if there were sufficient proof/reason in a particular religion there would be no need for this faith everyone seems so crazy about. It would just be evidence-based belief.

    … looks to me like prima facie evidence that you haven’t read the original post. I mean, if you’re going to just parrot something I rebutted there, you might at least demonstrate a middling awareness that it was brought up once before.

    And you have the gall to do that in a paragraph that begins with complaining about people ignoring/skipping over what you wrote.

    Sheesh.

  42. In all this discussion of word definitions, let’s remember that words don’t have objective definitions. Anyone can make up their own private definition for any word, and that definition won’t be true or false – only useful or useless.

    Your argument seems to be that Boghossian’s definition of faith is confusing or misleading and therefore not useful.

    It doesn’t matter what a majority of people think the word means – most people don’t think systematically or use the word in a consistent way.

    It also doesn’t matter what theologians have meant all through the centuries. No Christian is going to define faith to mean unjustified “pretending,” even if that really is the case.

    The only thing that matters for this discussion is whether we can get a useful understanding today.

    I’m looking forward to Part 3 in this series.

  43. Thanks for that word of encouragement, John. That’s helpful, too, about words not having objective meanings. If I can parse the non-objective intent of your first paragraph there, I think what you’re saying is that we should discern that jargon doesn’t have objective lenses. Anyone can make up their own private telescope for any planet, and that instrument won’t be true or expensive – only useful.

    That’s really quite enlightening.

    Oh, and the madrigore of verjuice must be talthabianised. Keep that in mind, too.

  44. According to Romans 10:9 & 10, if you are willing to…

    …declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

    Peter Boghossian asked David Marshall in an email: “What would it take for you to lose your faith?”

    David replied, “If the reasons I believe in God, and in Jesus Christ… proved mistaken… then I think I would have little intellectual right to hold those beliefs any longer.”

    I agree with David’s reply but I think I would get a little bit more specific. I would answer Dr. Boghossian that if he, or anyone else, could demonstrate that there was no good evidence that God raised Jesus from the dead I would disbelieve Christianity. BTW I think I stand in good company here. The Apostle Paul said essentially the same thing in I Corinthians 15 where he appeals to the historical evidence of eyewitness accounts. So faith in the New Testament sense is not, as many atheists think, believing without evidence; it’s believing because of the evidence.

    However, I thought there is a good way to demonstrate this. Suppose instead of the resurrection Paul in Romans 10:9 told me that I had to believe in another biblical miracle, Baalam’s talking donkey (Numbers 22: 21-41). So, in other words, the verse now reads:

    9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart Baalam’s donkey talked to him, you will be saved.

    I don’t think I would be a Christian if I had to believe something like that. Why the difference? It’s because I can’t make a reasonable evidence based argument that Baalam’s donkey really talked to him. Quite the opposite is true with the resurrection which has the whole New Testament along with the writings of the Apostolic Fathers as an historical context. Why is it that disbelievers have such difficulty seeing this difference?

  45. Anyone can make up their own private definition for any word, and that definition won’t be true or false – only useful or useless.

    The term “aerodynamic” is pretty useful (I hear it often during car commercials) so let’s agree that the term “faith” is defined to be synonymous with the term “aerodynamic”. It’s not a true or false definition of “faith”, but it will help us more easily cut through all the BS around here.

  46. Ah, but what if I don’t agree? Part of what makes a definition useful is that people agree on it, even while they disagree about other things. But you must first get people to agree on the definition.

    Aerodynamic is a good example of a useful word. It helps us design cars and planes and such so they use less fuel. Very useful.

  47. Are you being sly and sarcastic with me? I don’t understand why. I just wanted to mention a basic fact about linguistics, just pointing out where we agree and disagree.

    Or do you really think words have objective definitions?

    It’s like Tom Gilson said @47 about telescopes: Anyone can make their own telescope, but some telescopes let you see better the objective reality out there. Words are like telescopes, and objective reality is like a planet.

  48. For all the discussions about the “true” meaning of the word “faith” (if indeed there is such a thing), can anyone really deny that there have been too many situations where someone expressed doubts about their Christian beliefs and started asking questions of the type “But is this really true?”, only to be told “You just need to have faith” by a well-meaning Christian?

    Can we all agree, atheists and Thinking Christians alike, that this is an insufficient response that will lead to lazy thinking?

    Saying “you just need to have faith” is really saying “stop asking questions and just believe what I tell you”. It’s a shortcut that may work at the time, but it’s going to teach the person that asking questions isn’t necessary and accepting beliefs without good explanations is ok.

  49. “He certainly didn’t get his definition from the Christian thinkers who described faith as notitia, assencia, fiducia: knowledge, assent, and trust. He didn’t get it from the one most relevant source — relevant, that is, if he’s trying to understand and to counter Christian faith: the Bible, Christians’ source documents, wherein faith is illustrated and explained as placing one’s trust in what one has full reason to know.”

    What if he wasn’t describing Christian faith, and instead he was describing Islamic faith? Are they not pretending to know what they do not know? Please explain to me how Dr. Boghossian would be wrong if he were to apply his same logic to: the Koran, Muslims’ source documents, wherein faith is illustrated and explained as placing one’s trust in what one has full reason to know.

  50. John, you’re throwing language at us that I doubt even you understand. What does “words have objective definitions” mean? What does “words have subjective definitions” mean? Please supply your answer in terms that explain not only the ontology of definitions but also the way words are used to communicate.

    If you won’t do this, then we’re all going to conclude that you’re just playing with meaningless jargon. Which I already think is the case.

  51. I don’t find the Thinking Christians representative of the majority of people who believe in God that I have encountered in other situations. I am not afraid to bring up the topic of religion and find that usually, if I probe, people fairly quickly admit they “haven’t got good reasons”, they “just believe”. Maybe they don’t want to discuss the subject with me and they’re just saying that because they think it’s what I want to hear. It’s possible, but, even if that’s the case, it suggests a certain lack of confidence in their thinking.

    I imagine these people are the ones Boghossian is going after. And I hope he succeeds.

    Even Thinking Christians seem to take the evidence and go much further than I believe can be justified and with much more conviction than I believe is justified. Extreme skepticism is treated with contempt rather than as a reasonable starting point for investigating the evidence behind a claim that goes against all our experience of the laws of nature.

    Personally, I do not understand why supernatural explanations are so readily accepted by Thinking Christians above natural explanations, such as fraud, gullibility or mental illness. If you claimed a supernatural explanation for a crime you would be laughed out of court, but for some reason with religious beliefs these kinds of explanations are seen as totally reasonable.

    Let me ask one more question: How do you know that Heaven and Hell exist?

  52. One more question?

    Let me give you one answer: read the entire content of this blog, especially https://www.thinkingchristian.net/tag/evidences/, https://www.thinkingchristian.net/tag/ethics, https://www.thinkingchristian.net/tag/apologetics,
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/tag/naturalism.

    That’s my answer.

    Maybe your best bet would be to read https://www.thinkingchristian.net/tag/core.

    What I’m trying to say, David, is that you’ve asked a very large question with a whole lot of positive answers from a whole lot of approaches and angles and facets, with a whole lot of supporting information. And I don’t even go into the kind of historical apologetics that a lot of people do. You might look into http://www.rzim.org or http://www.str.org.

    I’m not trying to overwhelm you with a long answer to a short question. I’m trying to tell you that there are reasons upon reasons upon reasons upon reasons to believe in God.

    I agree with you: many Christians are unstudied on these reasons. (I’m trying to lead a campaign to increase thinking Christianity.) That doesn’t mean the reasons don’t exist.

  53. I hope you’re not really expecting me to read the entire contents of this blog? You’re a bit too prolific, Tom! Do you want me to read all the comments too?

    Maybe I can narrow things down by asking what evidence that we can perceive with our own senses (outside of the Bible) is there for the existence of Heaven and Hell?

  54. “Apology” is another word that has a different meaning within Christianity compared with its regular usage. When I hear of “Christian apologetics”, I amuse myself by thinking, “No need to apologize! It’s not your fault. I’d have come to exactly the same conclusions if I were you.”

  55. Sorry, I didn’t realize @58 that Boghossian claimed his definition was the only one. That’s crazy.

    In reply to your @57, I was just stating something obvious that I think everyone agrees with.

    Lots of words have many meanings. Lots of words change their meaning over time, such as “gay,” which used to mean happy. Even if we believe God created us, surely we created our language. Like in the Garden of Eden, where Adam named the animals. God didn’t tell Adam the proper absolute names, but Adam decided on his own. And he wasn’t speaking English, you know.

    I can’t believe you disagree with this. I think you’re the one using meaningless jargon here, but I still can’t understand why.

  56. @David_P
    If you are going to play with words, at least learn some Greek first – do your scholarly homework!

    Apologetics is a term derived from the Greek word i>apologia, which is a term used in Greek for providing a defense, typically in court cases.

    This particular word is used in a number of places in the NT, most famously in 1 Peter 3:15

    but sanctify aChrist as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (1 Pe 3:15). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    It is also used in Acts 22:1, Acts 25:16, 1 Corinthians 9:3, 2 Corinthians 7:11, Philippians 1:7, Philippians 1:16, and 2 Timothy 4:16.

    You should read then entire section from Acts 21-22 to get the full context of what is going on – Paul is literally defending himself and his actions as an apostle of Jesus Christ to a large crowd of very angry Jews at the Temple in Jerusalem.

  57. Yet Another Tom: yes, I agree that the problem you’ve described is real. The angle Boghossian takes on it is no solution.

    My understanding is that Boghossian takes a “Socratic” approach—asking curious questions himself to encourage people to challenge their own beliefs.

    I see no problem with encouraging curious questions and challenging beliefs: people who hold beliefs through your definition of “faith” (trusting in what one has good reason to believe) and who challenge those beliefs ought to find that their reasoning is good and their beliefs stand up to the challenge.

    Those who hold beliefs though Boghossian’s definition of “faith” (believing without good reason) ought to have their beliefs challenged so that they can learn to arrive at true beliefs through good reason.

    To the extent that Boghossian can teach people that “You just need to have faith” is a bad reason to hold beliefs and that you need good reason to believe what you believe, I hope he is successful.

  58. Where does Boghossian claim that his is the only definition?

    As I understand it, his aim is to try to create a clearer definition of the word for the very reason that he sees lots of widely-varying definitions out there, and as a result they make the word slippery.

    E.g. “I have faith the airplane won’t crash.”

    Boghossian wants us to use alternative words (e.g. “hope” or “have good reason to believe”) for other meanings, so that the definition of “faith” can be tightened and applied only to situations where there is no or insufficient evidence to believe something.

    For a Thinking Christian, this would mean saying “I have good reason to believe” rather than “I have faith”. You may like using the word “faith”, but I hope you can see there are benefits, in terms of clarity of communication, in avoiding it. You can deny it, but there are many people who associate faith with “belief without evidence” and Boghossian is trying to create more. If you have evidence, why not say so clearly?

  59. @David_P

    🙂

    Actually, it would have been funnier if you said something like ‘In my own defense, let me just say…’ 🙂

  60. I beginning to think that David P’s motives for participating on this blog are more than a little disingenuous.

    Notice the pattern:

    We tell him we have come to rational, evidence-based conclusions for our beliefs because we have done our homework.

    David seems interested, so he’s challenged to do his own homework.

    He refuses and demands that we continue to spoon feed him.

    I don’t find his approach to be honest, sincere or even polite. Who has time for this kind of nonsense?

    Why are we wasting our time on someone who already has his mind made up? (Of course, sadly there are probably a lot of other people here just like him.)

    P.S. How is it rational to hang out with people you think are irrational?

  61. @David_P

    What we have been trying to emphasize here is that at least as far as Christianity is concerned, we should be looking at how a word is used in its Biblical context, so that we understand the what the Biblical authors actually meant. There is a specific Greek word pistis that gets translated into the English word ‘faith’, but depending on how it is used in the actual Greek sentences in which it is found, it might be a noun or a verb, and that affects how we should understand it. In Hebrew, the situation is even more nuanced, since the specific Hebrew word is used rarely in the OT – rather, action words like ‘trusting, believing’ are used. When the team that translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek (the Septuagint), they used the verb forms of pistis as necessary, to convey the meaning of the Hebrew text.

    The fact that some people, Christians included, equate faith with ‘belief without evidence’ is unfortunate. However, we claim that this is NOT how the Biblical authors want us to understand it, and certainly not how they use it.

    Thus we must understand the context in which the words are used to discern what is meant.

    In your contextless example ( which, BTW, is very sloppy argumentation) “I have faith that this airplane will not crash” – it could mean any number of things, depending on who is saying it and in what context. If it is said by the aircraft designers summarizing thousands of hours of design simulations and flight tests, they are expressing their confidence in their work. If it is said by the aircraft maintenance crew, then they can be expressing their confidence in the flight-worthiness of the plane, based on their maintenance activities and experience with that particular vehicle. If it is said by the flight crew, same goes – confidence.
    If an ordinary passenger says it, then it could mean confident trust, or he is just being careless with the word when he really means “I hope it won’t crash”.. You see my point – you seem to always talk in vague, context-free generalities, rather than concrete cases.

    The short answer to some of your questions is that we hold to be true the essential Christian creeds because of Who Jesus Christ is – the resurrected Son of God; that is one of our core claims, because we are convinced that a supernatural resurrection from the dead is the best explanation for the events that took place in Palestine / Jerusalem in the early 30’s, as documented by the NT authors. If you want to challenge our core doctrines, you will have to address the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

  62. JAD:

    I am interested to find out where my thinking about the world overlaps with Christian thinking and where it doesn’t. I am also interested to understand how your reasoning processes work – how you think about evidence etc. I am not here to learn about Christ, nor to attack your beliefs (except perhaps indirectly by asking challenging questions), nor try to convince you of my beliefs (except to the extent that I can determine where we agree or disagree).

    I am also human and find it hard to resist making the occasional flippant remark. I hope you don’t take these remarks too seriously. They are not meant to be hurtful. I have had a fair few flippant remarks (and worse) aimed at me while I’ve been here. I “know” retaliation is a “bad” idea, but sometimes I succumb. Then again, who always does what their logic tells them?

  63. Thanks Victoria I will read it. I also read and appreciate what you wrote in your previous message. And I agree that my example was sloppy argumentation and that context does play a significant role.

  64. @Tom, You said: (sorry I’m new to these types of discussions, I don’t know how to do that fancy thing with the indent for quoting people)

    “Jeff, Boghossian is wrong in his insistence that his definition is the only definition.”

    I disagree, and I’ll tell you why. Dr Boghossian usually begins his argument with the example between Muslims and Mormons. Muslims believe that Mohammed was the final prophet, while Mormons believe Joseph Smith was a prophet. Both can not be true, yet both can be false. Followers of each religion however would claim to ‘know’ or have faith that at least in relation to the other belief, that they are true. You wouldn’t ask yourself, or say ‘I don’t know, maybe Mohammed or Joseph Smith could have been the final prophet of God’. Just like JAD’s accusation of David P, you’ve already made your mind up on these issues. You know.

    But again, both can not be true so therefore Dr. Boghossian’s definition of faith would fit perfectly with a belief system that is not your own.

    I know that to you, ‘claiming to know what you do not know’ does not begin to describe your faith, but to the person who does not hold religious faith, and looks objectively at ALL religious faiths, it describes it perfectly. So maybe you would be right to say his definition is not the ‘only definition’ when it comes to your personal faith, but I feel his definition is completely accurate when dealing with religion as a whole.

  65. @Jeff – scroll down to the bottom of the page – there is a section that says what HTML tags you can use. The blockquote HTML will produce

    The short answer to some of your questions is that we hold to be true the essential Christian creeds because of Who Jesus Christ is – the resurrected Son of God; that is one of our core claims, because we are convinced that a supernatural resurrection from the dead is the best explanation for the events that took place in Palestine / Jerusalem in the early 30′s, as documented by the NT authors. If you want to challenge our core doctrines, you will have to address the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    If Jesus Christ is really the resurrected Son of God, then there are a number of implications that logically follow from that truth, not the least of which is that this trumps all other religious claims as final truth. Thus, everything comes down to establishing the foundation upon which that core doctrine rests.

  66. Jeff, your opinion is duly noted. You think I’m wrong. I’m sorry, but on this you’re wrong. That’s my opinion, obviously, but it’s a thoroughly educated one, based on much reading. I’d take time to show you why yours is off the mark if I thought you would pay it any attention. Would you?

    Yet Another Tom @65: Boghossian puts up a good front with respect to his Socratic method, but watch the end of his PSU lecture, and the authoritarian manner in which he shuts down someone who speaks of faith with respect to flying. Watch the way he garners support: by calling on a completely biased crowd.

    Listen to his interviews, and pay attention to the way in which he insists his definition is the only one that can be used.

    His Socratic method is a farce. Don’t accept my word for it: you can check it out for yourself.

    To the extent that Boghossian can teach people that “You just need to have faith” is a bad reason to hold beliefs and that you need good reason to believe what you believe, I hope he is successful.

    I said virtually the same thing in my first post in this series. To the extent that he can do that, he’s doing a great service. Would that that were his real objective.

  67. @Victoria

    That is essentially the logic employed in that post you pointed me to. In essence you are saying that all the Christian beliefs rest on the truth of the (1) resurrection and (2) Jesus being the Son of God.

    I still don’t understand how you can possibly think there is sufficient evidence to support these claims, seeing as even today with all that we know about the world and science, we would struggle to find that kind of evidence.

    But, even if they were true, I don’t follow the logic. Just because one part of the Bible may be accurate, why does it “logically follow” that anything else in the Bible is true too?

    For that surely we also need at least these additional conditions: (3) the Bible is the unadulterated word of God; (4) God is not intentionally or otherwise deceiving us; (5) we can interpret the Bible exactly as God meant it.

    A lot of assumptions!

  68. David P @ #59 wrote:

    Personally, I do not understand why supernatural explanations are so readily accepted by Thinking Christians above natural explanations, such as fraud, gullibility or mental illness. If you claimed a supernatural explanation for a crime you would be laughed out of court, but for some reason with religious beliefs these kinds of explanations are seen as totally reasonable.

    So, natural causation must be our default position to explain everything?

    Back in April I wrote:

    As a Christian theist I have no problem with the claim that:

    1. Natural causation is sufficient to explain some things about the universe, life and human existence.

    This appears to be self-evidently true.

    What I do have a problem with is the claim that:

    2. Natural causation alone (causation that does not involve any kind of intelligent agency–God, angels, aliens etc.) is sufficient to explain everything about the universe, life and human existence.

    At present this is an unproven assumption. Can such a claim even be established scientifically?

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/04/faith-as-belief-without-evidence/#comment-57672

    No one has answered my question. Let me rephrase it. Can the claim that “Natural causation alone… is sufficient to explain everything about the universe, life and human existence” be established scientifically or shown to be self evidently true? Why does it need to be a default position?

  69. David @66: where does Boghossian claim that his is the only definition? In his podcast interviews. See for example the one with the Good Atheist.

  70. Tom, OK, I’ll check it out. By the way, the link to that podcast in your blog post doesn’t seem to work. I had to remove an ‘a’ from the end of “…mp3a”.

  71. Tom, what was it that gave you the impression that I would not pay attention to your thoroughly educated opinions? I’m here to learn.

    Victoria, thank you for your help on the block quotes. I’m still not even exactly sure how to use HTML, but I’ll google it. I’m not sure if you were using the block quotes in your last post as an example for me, or if you were actually quoting someone, but if you weren’t quoting someone, I was not asking questions that needed to be answered. I was merely offering up a defense of Boghossian’s definition of faith.

    I entered this discussion because I found it interesting that the criticism of Dr. Boghossian seemed to be almost entirely based on his definition of the word ‘faith’. So I offered up a scenario in which we imagined him to be talking specifically about Islam.

    To offer up arguments of why your faith is NOT ‘pretending to know what you do not know’ (can we start saying PTKWYDNK?) based on religious doctrine, would mean that all other religious doctrines would have to be wrong because they could not stand up to those arguments. I would assume you believe this to be correct, am I right? This would mean that Boghossian’s method would actually work if applied to the Islamic religion, because they are PTKWTDNK. So why wouldn’t you just say that? Let’s start there.

  72. Peter Boghossian happens to believe, as do I, that using an unflawed method of gaining knowledge leads to atheism. You happen to believe that using an unflawed method of gaining knowledge leads to Christianity. Any distractions involving semantics would in my opinion be intellectually dishonest.

  73. @David_P

    If Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and more specifically God Incarnate, then what He has said would be authoritative – read the Gospels to see what His view of the OT Scripture is – He regarded them as authoritative.

    Jesus also said (see John 15-16) that He would send the Spirit of God to the apostles, to guide and instruct them. Indeed, now we come to the experiential component of Christianity – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, an objective reality that all Christians share in. We know also from His internal witness – it is He who guided the human authors of His written revelation ( 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:16-21 ) to ensure they would write what God intended.

    As for your additional assumptions, yes, I agree, although #3 is not strictly necessary to establish the documentary evidence for Jesus’ death and resurrection – we only need the Gospels to be reliable historical documents. John says he wrote his gospel for that reason, so that we can know who Jesus is, believe He is Who He says He is, and be given eternal life in His name (see John 20:30-31). #2 follows from #1, indeed, Paul says precisely that in Romans 1:1-5 .

    #3 also contains within it the transmission of the documents down through the ages by scribes and copyists – how do we know for example, that our Greek NT is substantially what was written way back in the middle of the 1st century, or that the OT was faithfully copied? Well, it turns out that we do know beyond a reasonable doubt, on good evidence, that this is the case. Go and read about the Dead Sea Scrolls and what they tell us about how the OT was accurately copied by Jewish scribes from the period between c 100BC and c 1000 AD. As for the NT, I’ll refer you to NT scholar/historian Dan Wallace: https://bible.org/article/what-we-have-now-what-they-wrote-then – if you want more: https://bible.org/topics/357/Textual%20Criticism

    For your #4 – if #1 and #2 are true, then God went through an awful lot of trouble just to pull a fast one on us – seriously though, read the NT for yourself, with an attitude of a humble seeker, not an arrogant know-it-all critic, and then tell us if the God revealed there is a deceiver.

    For #5: the answer is yes, it is possible to understand and interpret God’s Word in accordance with what He meant. That is a necessary pre-condition for revelation anyway, otherwise why bother? Moreover, He has not left us to fumble around on our own with no help from Him at all, but it is not an automatically easy process – one has to be prepared to work diligently at it. That’s not to say either that all Christians will come to the same conclusions about every text – it is a learning process; a person who knows nothing of 1st century Roman history and life in the Roman Empire under the Caesars will probably not understand some of the details of Paul’s letters in the same way as someone who is well-versed in the history of the period.

  74. @Tom
    Is the Bible verse pop-up not working on the site, or is it just my browser?

    Doesn’t appear to be working in Chrome or IE10 or FF

  75. @Tom

    I am not a scholar on this subject matter. I do not have years of experience. Yet I do find this interesting, and the discussion compelling. Your starbucks standard must differ from mine. Though your attitude is quite refreshing from the typical feebleness and head nodding I am met with on campuses and churches.

    To get back to the discussion you might be right in the calling this definition of faith the ‘most uneducated’, you should also be willing to concede that it is among the most common. Surveys and polls consistently show the biblical ignorance within the Christian following. Over half polled cannot name the four gospels. Over three fourths cannot get past 5 of the ten commandments. Yet these same people are expected to hold the same sort of conviction and knowledge as someone such as yourself?

    Peter should be able to go up against the strongest version of ‘faith’ as you say. Going after the most change for the country would involve going after the weak arguments held among the masses.

    I am unsure how this is different from a thought system. If someone believes in something without explicit evidence, that is exactly their thought system. They cannot possibly know for sure they have chosen the right religion, but they have faith regardless.

    Having not bought into the Christian faith I do not view an ancient text that has undergone countless revisions and alterations to be equivocal to evidence. In the same way I do not view the Quran, or Greek mythology to be evidence of anything existence besides human belief in a system.

    Jumping into the more immediate conversation (I don’t know how you guys have the time to stay current with this!):

    @Victoria
    I am unsure of how you can justify your statement that the Holy Spirit creates an objective reality that is shared. How can you know that you are experiencing the same thing? Can you know that Andrea Yates didn’t have the same connection to God that you share in when she drowned her children in the name of God? There necessarily cannot be an objective reality of the nature you describe.

    In that same vein I am curious how you can know what God means? How do you know when you reached ‘His’ conclusion that was intended? It seems very wishy washy to me.

  76. David P @ 66:

    “As I understand it, his aim is to try to create a clearer definition of the word for the very reason that he sees lots of widely-varying definitions out there, and as a result they make the word slippery.”

    That would be fine if he actually made clear that he was using his own definition of “faith” and other people’s might not be the same. When he says or implies that Christians mean the same by this term as he does, however, he isn’t “creating a clearer definition”, he’s committing the fallacy of equivocation.

  77. Mr X,
    I don’t think that if you asked Dr. Boghossian, he would say Christians “mean the same thing” when it comes to the word ‘faith. He would probably tell you though, that he does believe his definition and use of the word is perfectly accurate in describing religious faith, while others who may be of the religious faith may not. This is not fallacy of equivocation.

  78. I’ve been out a lot today. Among other things, I had a very long and slow doctor’s appointment just now. I have a shoulder injury, it turns out, unlike any that this doctor has seen before.

    It only hurts in certain positions, which I’m able to avoid 95% of the time so I’m not bad off. He didn’t have a diagnosis except “atypical pain” and a guess at a cartilage tear. We’re trying therapy before anything else.

    So he didn’t know. I guess I should have seen a more experienced doctor. This one is just the head team physician for the Cincinnati Bengals.

    Anyway, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to catch up with the conversation. I did notice Andrew said something I can answer rather quickly:

    Having not bought into the Christian faith I do not view an ancient text that has undergone countless revisions and alterations to be equivocal to evidence.

    The strong evidence of the documentary, historical, and external source record is that neither the Old nor New Testament has undergone any substantive revision whatsoever. Bart Ehrman wrote a whole book on changes in the Bible: even he admits that none of his putative revisions is substantive. This is a canard without facts backing it.

    Now, that was parenthetical, and historical apologetics is not my specialty. You’ll need to go elsewhere to see more information on it. But I do know enough to know that I can confidently assert what I have here.

    I’ll see what else I can do to get back into the flow of the conversation.

  79. Victoria, the popup verse system was overloading the server. There have been some changes made there since then, so I’ll re-enable it now and see what happens.

  80. @Tom
    The pop-ups are working now. We’ll find out how the server handles it.

    I already provided links (for David_P) on textual criticism in my #84 post, so Andrew, I refer you to those for starters.

    I had posted a reply to Andrew’s #86, but it seems to not have made it – CloudFlare decided to drop my connection to the server just as I posted the comment. Andrew, I’ll recreate the contents when I get a chance 🙂

  81. Completely off topic, I guess, but for those interested in reading a detailed analysis of Erhman they might consider reading Bart Interrupted by the charming Ben Witherington III.

  82. Jeff, thanks for staying with me in this. I’m sorry about the insinuation I made earlier.

    I think the heart of your position is this:

    This would mean that Boghossian’s method would actually work if applied to the Islamic religion, because they are PTKWTDNK.

    There are problems with Dr. Boghossian’s approach that I have not even introduced into discussion yet. I’ll get to some of it tomorrow, probably.

    But here’s the difficulty with what I’ve brought into discussion so far. Boghossian insists (really, honestly, insists) that “faith” is to be used only in the context of religion, and that it always means “pretending to know what you don’t know.” Listen to the sources I’ve linked to here. He really wants to change the definition of the term (see the GA link). He really wants it to mean nothing but that.

    Now, you have come to the conclusion that “faith,” in every case pertaining to religion, is PTKWYDK. So has Boghossian. Fine. I assume you came to that conclusion by way of some rational inquiry. Also fine. I happen to think that’s the wrong conclusion to reach via rational inquiry, but I’m perfectly happy to have everyone follow their own path of investigation.

    But if “faith” is redefined to mean PTKWYDK, then rational inquiry from the very beginning is this:

    I will now undertake a rational, evidence- and logic-oriented investigation into whether I should accept the Christian way of pretending to believe what I don’t know.

    Do you see what that does? It takes away the linguistic resources for individuals to ask themselves, “is the Christian faith true?” It cuts off inquiry before it begins.

    So Boghossian, who claims to love rational inquiry and the Socratic method, wants to provide everyone with the answer to their own investigations while taking away from them the opportunity to conduct an untainted investigation.

    I disbelieve in Islam but I want everyone to be able to approach it without prejudice and to ask whether it’s true. Same with Mormonism. Same with New Age religions, and historic eastern religions.

    I want people to be able to think for themselves.

    Boghossian’s move would short-circuit that by supplying his preferred answer in the very asking of the question. And that, my friend, is wrong. Unless Boghossian is infallible. Which he isn’t.

  83. Andrew, you ask,

    I am unsure of how you can justify your statement that the Holy Spirit creates an objective reality that is shared. How can you know that you are experiencing the same thing? Can you know that Andrea Yates didn’t have the same connection to God that you share in when she drowned her children in the name of God? There necessarily cannot be an objective reality of the nature you describe.

    That’s a tough one if you’re looking for scientific proof. How do you know that any other person even has a mind? Ask me another time and I’ll tell you how Alvin Plantinga ignited a genuine revolution in philosophy of religion, and at least a mild revolution in epistemology, with that question.

    In the meantime, the way we know that others’ experiences are like ours is through comparison of the stimuli, the conditions (circumstances), the phenomena as we experience them, and so on. Is it provable? Not even for the color red. Is it reliable? It had better be, or else the world is a whole lot crazier than you could begin to imagine.

    So those would be the kinds of questions we would ask about our own and others’ experience of the Holy Spirit.

  84. @Andrew

    In that same vein I am curious how you can know what God means? How do you know when you reached ‘His’ conclusion that was intended? It seems very wishy washy to me.

    There is an entire field of study known as hermeneutics and exegesis, specifically applied to the Bible that provides sound interpretive principles for understanding it – that is, elucidating the meaning of the original authors – see Gordon and Fee’s How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, and here as well: https://bible.org/series/you-can-understand-bible-introduction-and-application-contextualtextual-method-biblical-inter – that’s for the objective how-to.

    From the introduction to the above link

    Biblical interpretation is a rational and spiritual process that attempts to understand an ancient inspired writer in such a way that the message from God may be understood and applied in our day.

    The spiritual process is crucial but difficult to define. It does involve a yieldedness and openness to God. There must be a hunger (1) for Him, (2) to know Him, and (3) to serve Him. This process involves prayer, confession, and the willingness for lifestyle change. The Spirit is crucial in the interpretive process, but why sincere, godly Christians understand the Bible differently is a mystery.

    The rational process is easier to describe. We must be consistent and fair to the text and not be influenced by our personal, cultural, or denominational biases. We are all historically conditioned. None of us are objective, neutral interpreters. This commentary offers a careful rational process containing three interpretive principles structured to help us attempt to overcome our biases.

    Basic Presuppositions About the Bible

    At this point I need to be as transparent as possible and try to spell out my own operating assumptions. If we are so affected by non-biblical factors, why is this Textbook not just one more in the series? I am not attempting to get you to agree with me, but to provide a more consistent, verifiable methodology for personal, non-technical Bible study. The methodology is not inspired, but it is a developed ancient Christian model. My basic presuppositions are

    A. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is from the one and only Creator, Redeemer God. He gave it to us through human instrumentality so that we might know and understand Him and His will for our lives (cf. II Tim. 3:15-17). It is absolutely authoritative.

    B. The Bible, like hermeneutics, is not an end in itself, but a means to a personal encounter with God (Grant and Tracy 1984, 177; Carson 1984, 11; Silva 1987, vi). God has clearly spoken to us in the Bible and even more clearly in His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-3). Christ is the focus of all Scripture. He is its crowning fulfillment and goal. He is Lord of Scripture. In Him revelation is complete and final (John 1:1-18; I Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:13-20).

    C. The Bible is written in normal, non-technical human language. Its focus is the obvious, normal meaning of words, clauses, sentences (Silva 1987, 42). The Holy Spirit gave simple statements of truth. This is not to say that the Bible is unambiguous, that it does not contain cultural idioms, or that it does not contain difficult passages and, at this point in time, scribal errors. However, it does not have hidden or secret meanings. It is not contradictory (analogy of faith) although it does contain paradoxical or dialectical tension between truths.

    D. The message of the Bible is primarily redemptive and is meant for all humans (Ezek. 18:23,32; John 4:42; I Tim. 2:4; 4:10; II Pet. 3:9). It is for the world, not exclusively for Israel (Gen. 3:15; 12:3; Exod. 19:5-6). It is for the “lost” (fallen) world, not only for the church. It is for the common, average human being, not only for the spiritually or intellectually gifted.

    E. The Holy Spirit is an indispensable guide to proper understanding.

    1. There must be a balance between human effort and piety (II Tim. 2:15) and the leading of the Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13-14; I John 2:20-21,27).

    2. Biblical interpretation is possibly a spiritual gift (like evangelism, giving, or prayer), yet it is also the task of every believer. Although it is a gift, by analyzing the gifted, all of us can do a better job.

    3. There is a spiritual dimension beyond human intellectual reach. The original authors often recorded more than they understood (future events, aspects of progressive revelation, and multiple fulfillment prophecy). The original hearers often did not comprehend the inspired message and its implications. The Spirit illumines us to comprehend the basic message of the biblical writers. We may not understand every detail, but then, who does? The Spirit is the true author of all Scripture.

    F. The Bible does not speak directly to every modern question (Spire 1980, 82-82). It is ambiguous in many areas. Some of it is locked into the original historical setting (e.g., I Cor. 15:29) and other parts are hidden behind the “not yet” of history (e.g., Dan. 12:4). It must be remembered that the Bible is analogous truth, not exhaustive truth. It is adequate for faith and life. We cannot know everything, either about God or a specific doctrine of Scripture, but we can know what is essential (Silva 1987, 80).

    I know I’ve understood the text when my understanding dovetails with what the rest of the Bible has to say about the matter at hand; I’ve understood it by comparing notes with other thoughtful, mature Christians.

    I know I’ve understood the text when it changes me (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and I grow to be a little bit more like Jesus in character and heart attitude; when I see Him more clearly; when I can apply it to my own life and become more the person that God wants me to be – that’s the subjective application.

    I don’t know Andrea Yates so I can’t comment on her mental/emotional state or her standing with the God of Biblical Christianity – I do know that there is no sound, justifiable reading of the Bible in the light of Christ’s death and resurrection that would compel a mother to kill her children – you may disagree, but unless you have been spending the last 35 years or so reading and studying and thinking about the Bible, and you have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit yourself, think again please.

  85. @Tom #94

    This one will have to be quick as I’m on break. Plantinga is a brilliant dude for sure. I cannot see how there could be a supernatural connection to the brain. In all my searching I have longer for something to justify my belief in something ‘more than just a brain/machine’. In all my searching I have just found nothing that can substantiate it. The ‘God Sensor’/Holy spirit/whatever we are calling it nowadays just seems too far out there to become believable. With all the tricks the mind can play on us (pareidolia, change blindness, attention blindness) I cannot find any reason to trust my own senses even if I did ‘feel a presence’ (please don’t take that as a condescension, I just don’t know how to describe it as I have never experienced what most religious people say they have).

    I’ll have to hop back in later.

  86. Thank you Tom, I enjoy these discussions, and I look forward to reading your future thoughts on Boghossian’s approach if you get to it tomorrow.

    Yes, I do believe that faith in every case pertaining to religion, is PTKWYDK. I’m pretty well versed in the works of Peter Boghossian, and I’m sure he’s used terms like ‘changing the definition’, however if I may speak for him, I think he would likely characterize it more as changing the public perception of what the word has always meant.

    So rather than injecting Christianity buy saying “I will now undertake a rational, evidence- and logic-oriented investigation into whether I should accept the Christian way of pretending to believe what I don’t know.” I would say, “”I will now undertake a rational, evidence- and logic-oriented investigation into whether or not I should accept anything based on faith.” I believe this is not only the best, but the only way to answer the question, “is the Christian faith true?” It does not cut off inquiry, it begins it.

    I’m curious to know if you would characterize followers of Scientology as having “placed one’s trust in what one has full reason to know.”

  87. If he were campaigning for it the way you stated it, Jeff, then I wouldn’t be so opposed to it.

    No, I don’t think Scientology can be characterized that way. I do think, though that it should be rhetorically permissible to ask about it in some way other than, “Can I begin a rational inquiry into whether the pretense of Scientology is true?”

    Don’t you think so, too?

  88. Jeff @ 97:

    “what the word has always meant.”

    That’s demonstrably false, as Tom and others have repeatedly stated. Unless you think that you know better than Christian theologians what they themselves mean by their terms.

  89. Tom, you’ve persuaded me. Though I personally believe the Christian faith is insufficiently supported by evidence, I do not think that Boghossian’s definition gives it a fair hearing. It pre-judges it.

    Hope your shoulder gets better. Could it have been brought on by all the scanning you did the other day? Take it easy.

  90. For me (personally), faith means hoping in something in spite of insufficient evidence.

    Believing in something despite insufficient evidence is irrational.
    Hoping is not.
    In secular western europe, most people who are still religious have this kind of faith. Well, at least among Christians. Muslims tend to be very persuaded, too persuaded, that they posess the truth.

    I do hope I’m not off-topic this time.
    While I’m obviously more at the left of the theological spectrum than you, I really think your criticism of militant atheists are valuable.

    In many respects, the current antitheists are worse than most Christian fundamentalists.

    Lothar’s son – Lothars Sohn
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/

  91. Mr. X @ 100

    My mistake. I should have stated it as “public perception of what he believes the word to have always meant.”

    I was pretty sure that was clear, as I have stated that the non-theist definition of the word would by it’s nature, differ from the theist’s. That however does not change the non-theists definition of ‘faith’ as PTKWYDK. Theologians may disagree, I do not.

  92. Listen to his interviews, and pay attention to the way in which he insists his definition is the only one that can be used.

    His Socratic method is a farce. Don’t accept my word for it: you can check it out for yourself.

    Can I have a go at re-stating your position in different words to see if I understand it correctly?

    Boghossian purports to use the Socratic method to destroy “faith” and arrive at true beliefs.

    What he is in fact doing is constructing a straw man definition of “faith” and then using emotional and rhetorical sleight-of-hand to trick people into thinking that their religious beliefs are based on this straw man definition of “faith” (“pretending to know things you don’t know”).

    This is harmful because, to the extent that he is successful in tricking/manipulating people into believing that his definition of “faith” applies, it will result in Christians abandoning beliefs that are in fact true.

    Would this accurately characterise your reasoning?

  93. Yes you did, Tom. Sorry.

    To be honest, I’m not sure what you meant by the question if it was “rhetorically permissible to ask about it in some way other than..”, and then you ask a completely reasonable question in my view. Are you suggesting we should tip-toe? Any question should be rhetorically permissible. I guess I’m a little confused by the question, please elaborate.

  94. The question wasn’t rhetorical in the sense that an answer wasn’t required, and it was just to prove a point. I honestly didn’t know what your answer would be, and to be honest I’m still wondering where on the spectrum of religious beliefs you would begin to answer that question differently. Only Abrahamic? All Abrahamic?

  95. Jeff @105: I thought I was clear the first time, but apparently not.

    Clear thought depends on appropriate language resources in which to think. If there is no way to think the word “faith” without simultaneously and necessarily thinking “pretense of knowledge,” then there is no way to construct the question in one’s mind, “Can I rationally inquire into the possibility that the faith of Scientology is true?”

    This is the situation Boghossian candidly seeks to create. He is patently seeking to take away from the word “faith” any possibility of rational inquiry. If his campaign were successful, no one could formulate the question of faith in his or her mind without formulating Boghossian’s answer along with it, necessarily, as part of the very question.

    Thus Boghossian would shut out every form of rational inquiry into faith that didn’t automatically lead to his preferred answer. Exceptionally clear-thinking people would be able to see past the rhetorical trap that presents. Others would essentially be stripped of the normal language tools by which we all practice thinking for ourselves.

    If Boghossian were an infallible god, that might be conscionable: but not even the Christian God is conceived to be so controlling. It is indeed unconscionable what Boghossian is trying to cause.

    Now, if you support Boghossian on account of your agreeing with his preferred definition of faith, think a moment whether you agree with his method of cutting off persons’ ability to formulate the question coherently in familiar language. Does your agreement with his outcome lead you to agree with his methods? Would you strip persons of the freedom to think for themselves?

  96. No, Yet Another Tom @104; while that might be one effect of Boghossian’s efforts that I would object to, it’s bigger than that. It includes what you’re saying, yes. It also includes what I outlined in the comment just before this one.

    And frankly, I dislike it because Boghossian is trying to pull a huge deception — an intentional, manipulative, and in some senses thought-controlling deception — revolving around a concept that I and millions of others have found to be of central importance in explaining reality and in living our lives.

    I’m no big fan of huge deceptions about important topics.

  97. “This is the situation Boghossian candidly seeks to create. He is patently seeking to take away from the word “faith” any possibility of rational inquiry.”

    The inclusion of faith takes away any possibility of rational inquiry.

    “Thus Boghossian would shut out every form of rational inquiry into faith that didn’t automatically lead to his preferred answer.”

    Exactly the opposite. The only way to NOT arrive at a preferred answer would be in the absence of ‘faith’ as defined by Boghossian. A definition that in my opinion you share yourself as long as it is applied to all other belief systems, and they ultimately lead to a belief in Christianity, which is the very definition of confirmation bias, or ‘leading to a preferred answer’.

    Your assertion that these simple constructs are anywhere close to suppressing free thought, or that Boghossian seeks to be as controlling as an infallible God are absurd. Sorry. The very notion that because of his campaign, he would be ‘cutting off a persons’ ability to formulate questions’ is in my opinion the exact opposite of the truth.

    Encouraging the formulation of deep questions about the universe is not only the goal of Dr. Boghossian, but of the entire secular community. The only difference is, the secular community is not bound to fit all of those possibilities within the constructs of ONE particular religious doctrine, as it pertains to ONE infinitesimal moment in time, because of what was passed down from past generations at random chance relative as to where you were born, each indoctrinated generation less informed than it’s successor.

  98. “The inclusion of faith takes away any possibility of rational inquiry,” you say.

    Then you, like Boghossian, pronounce yourself an infallible god. You have concluded on behalf of the rest of us that faith is false. We no longer need to think about that question for ourselves. You agree with strategies that would greatly reduce persons ability even to ask that question.

    O great master: shall we offer you sacrifices?

  99. I am not underestimating your intent, however I’m afraid I might have overestimated your ability to engage in a rational discussion.

    If you can not see the difference between: “pronouncing yourself an infallible god”, and my actual position that not only am I not infallible, I am for all intents and purposes insignificant in this stunningly beautiful universe we’ve been lucky enough to be able to witness and try to understand,.. than I’m not sure we can continue with this conversation.

    If you think for one second that my goal is to limit peoples ability to ask questions, than you simply haven’t heard a word I’ve said, or you have made great assumptions about my character.

    We have been around and around about definitions of faith, however my conclusion that the non-theist will have a definition that differs from the theist went mostly unchallenged.

    (PTKWYDK as a non-theist’s definition may differ from a theists’ definition of their own faith, but usually not when summarizing ALL religious faith. You do not believe or ‘know’ Mohammed is prophet, but some do, and somewhere that must be rectified) Someone is acting as if they know, when they do not know.

    While you may not have agreed with this position, you’ve offered no counter to it. However you did see fit to claim that I now am asserting that essentially because “your faith is false, you no longer need to think about questions for yourselves, and you agree with strategies that would greatly reduce a persons ability even to ask that question.”

    Nonsense.

    Never stop asking questions.

    Peter Boghossian’s upcoming book is not written for you, it’s written for me and any observer of these conversations. And you absolutely SHOULD be concerned about it being published and the impact it will have. That’s one thing we can agree on.

  100. “Jeff Fountain says:
    August 7, 2013 at 12:06 am
    I am not underestimating your intent, however I’m afraid I might have overestimated your ability to engage in a rational discussion.”

    Jeff, I wholeheartedly agree with this along with everything that you have presented on this blog. I just wanted to briefly acknowledge and commend you for expressing what so many of us feel. You have done so with logical reasoning and intelligence. Thank you.

  101. The phrase “pretending to know” suggests having too much confidence in your belief. Let’s say you have a certain amount of evidence that God exists, but not enough evidence to give you absolute air-tight knowledge that God exists. Fine.

    Many people might assume you should only have as much confidence as evidence, that your level of confidence should somehow match the persuasiveness of your evidence. This does sound reasonable, but it’s easy to think of scenarios in which such matching of confidence with evidence is impractical.

    For example, if you decide to leap across a chasm, you’re likely to fail unless you leap with full enthusiasm – even if you are only 75% convinced that you are capable of succeeding in the leap.

    Such is the case with god-belief. It’s no good to believe conditionally or tentatively or half-heartedly. Of course you recognize that the total body of evidence in favor of God’s existence is not totally convincing, but at some point you must make a choice to believe or not. Once you make the choice to believe, you must believe whole-heartedly!

    Maybe this is what faith truly is. It’s not belief without evidence, and it’s not partial tentative belief pending further evidence-gathering, but it’s whole-hearted enthusiastic belief based on limited evidence.

    I think this is a definition of faith that apologists can agree with. I also think it’s approximately the same as Boghossian’s definition! The Thinking Christians are getting all upset about the connotations and implications of Boghossian’s wording, but if you look closer at the meaning, it turns out that everyone agrees.

  102. Jeff says, “But again, both can not be true so therefore Dr. Boghossian’s definition of faith would fit perfectly with a belief system that is not your own.” And cites the example of Muslims.

    I don’t see, at all, how the definition applies to Muslims. It seems obvious to me that a Muslim who is keeping the five pillars of Islam is being faithful, and that they’re being so no matter what their epistemology is or isn’t.

    Discussions between Muslims and Christians often center on historical questions about Jesus. Was he killed on the cross, for example. Did he claim to be the son of God? Is the Bible corrupted? All of which both parties bring a lot of evidence and reasons to bear.

    Apparently the inclusion of faith is meant to take away the ability to discuss like this. It clearly and demonstrably doesn’t, and there are literally libraries full of books demonstrating the exact opposite.

  103. JM for me it’s simply a case of misrepresentation. Faith generally isn’t an epistemology at all. I don’t doubt many atheists and Christians would agree on a lot of epistemology. We could have a good discussion of what value we place on truth, and how skeptical or not we should be. I’d have no trouble explaining why I’m not a religious skeptic, or why I prefer Bayes over Hume.

    But thats not what he does. His whole platform to deconvert people is based on saying: this is what faith means in Christianity. At that point it becomes a dishonest strawman.

  104. Jeff (and Anne, too), obviously I was using sarcasm about “god.” That wasn’t the real point. Neither was your intent my point. What I was getting at was the effect: that if Boghossian’s campaign succeeds, it will take away future inquirers’ freedom to think of “faith” without automatically including in it the concept of pretense.

    If a person does not have the linguistic resources to consider x without automatically including y in her conception of x, then she most likely will not have the resources to consider freely whether x is y or not-y. In effect, Boghossian wants to decide for all future persons that x is y. I think persons should have the rational freedom to make that decision for themselves.

    I don’t know what’s unclear about that.

    In fact maybe I’d better pause and ask you this. Either what I’ve been writing about that is unclear to you, so you don’t understand what the problem is; or else you understand clearly what I’m saying, and you’re thinking, “What’s wrong with that? That’s exactly what the world needs!” Or something else.

    So I’m going to ask you to read back to me what it is you think I’m saying, in your best representation of what you think my position is, and then tell me which part of it you object to. That way we’ll have a better idea what we’re working on.

  105. John Moore, you’re close. That’s somewhat helpful. But then there’s the continuing story, which you’ll see in a post I wrote to appear on the blog later this morning. What Boghossian also says is not that there’s only partial evidence, but that there’s really no evidence at all for a God. People believe for really moronic reasons, as he represents it. So there’s not only pretense, there’s stupidity at the heart of it all. But then, even with that there’s more to the story, as you’ll see.

  106. Jeff,

    I agree that many – possibly the majority – think of faith chiefly along the lines of “believing without evidence” or “believing things that go beyond the evidence”, but I think that Boghossian’s definition is prejudiced.

    As Tom has argued, by defining the word faith as “pretending to know…”, Boghossian is in effect calling the “Christian faith” the “Christian pretense”.

    Clearly, this is not what Christians think of their own beliefs, so their conception of the word “faith” must be different – perhaps more along the lines of “loyalty”, “trust” or “hope”.

    I imagine that almost all Christians – even those who haven’t given the topic much consideration – have some reasons, evidence or rationalizations to explain their beliefs.

    As an atheist and skeptic, I would fully expect those reasons are likely to be nonsense and/or wholly insufficient to justify the belief, when considered with clear thought. However, I think it is unhelpful to prejudge and label them as “pretense”. Perhaps they do have rock solid, evidence-based, reasons to believe what they do. You never know.

    I wonder, in fact, if the disagreement in this conversation is more about the word “know” than the word “pretense”. I dislike the way some people of faith talk about their beliefs as “objective” or “the truth” with unwarranted conviction. I appreciated John Moore’s chasm-jumping explanation; it has made it easier for me to understand this phenomenon.

    If we are going to push for a new definition for “faith” then I would suggest something like “claiming to know” as then it becomes the “Christian claim” rather than the “Christian pretense”.

  107. David P wrote:

    As an atheist and skeptic, I would fully expect those reasons are likely to be nonsense and/or wholly insufficient to justify the belief, when considered with clear thought. However, I think it is unhelpful to prejudge and label them as “pretense”. Perhaps they do have rock solid, evidence-based, reasons to believe what they do. You never know.

    So you are being disingenuous. You’re mind was made up before you ever visited this blog and nothing– not even the evidence– is going to change it. Jesus taught that ones motives has a lot to do with grasping the truth (Matthew 5:8). If you have no interest in seeking the truth, why are you bothering us?

  108. On the contrary, it would have been disingenuous for me to claim not to be skeptical. Skeptical does not mean completely closed minded! It is about having a questioning attitude and not accepting any old thing that people tell you nor basing your beliefs on an authority. You look at the evidence and the reasoning and then make your own judgments. I remain open to change my mind. What I have been presented with so far in terms of evidence is in my view completely unreliable. You are welcome to take a different view.

    I wish you would be more humble and stop calling your beliefs “truth”. They are your judgment of the evidence. Unless you are omniscient that is all you can claim.

  109. Jesus was the one who made the claims about truth, not me. (Read the gospel of John.) As far as the evidence goes, there is no evidence that you have taken a fair unbiased look at it. Who know’s more about what I believe, you or me? A truly open minded person would being asking fair, honest and open minded questions.

  110. Would you consider taking your own view on some matter that actively disagrees with Jesus’s view?

  111. I think there are three issues in this thread. The first is a lack of precision in quantification, the second is a lack of clarity in addressing what is signified by a word and the, resultant, third is missing an important claim about the epistemic basis of (some) Christian epistemologies.

    I want to emphasise that I think this is, in part, Boghossian’s own fault for being so authoritarian about the definition (rather than using my non-authoritarian rephrasing #28).

    QUANTIFICATION

    If I say “x means y” I could be saying:
    1. There exists a y such that x means y; or
    2. There exists exactly one y such that x means y
    And if 1 is correct, but 2 is “read” we can have problems. For example:

    Jeff @ #97 :
    “what [faith] has always meant.”
    There are two quantifications in here: time and people. Jeff has been clear on the time (“always”) but not on the quantification of people. As a result the statement can be read two ways:
    1. Some (relevant) people have used ‘faith’ as an epistemological concept
    2. All (relevant) people have used ‘faith’ as an epistemological concept
    “1” is true. “2” is false.

    So, on to Mr. X #99
    “That’s demonstrably false”
    Which is, itself, either demonstrably false or bang on the money; dependent on whether Jeff’s statement was 1, or 2.

    Or here, Victoria #32:
    This topic has been discussed before on this blog site, so we’ve seen the atheists’ definitions of faith, and we’ve tried to explain what faith means for Biblical Christianity to them.

    There two quantifications in here as well: all or some definitions and all or some Biblical Christians? The statement can be read:

    1. We have explained some of what some Biblical Christians mean by “faith”
    2. We have explained all of what some Biblical Christians mean by “faith”
    3. We have explained some of what all Biblical Christians mean by “faith”
    4. We have explained all of what all Biblical Christians mean by “faith”

    Your statement reads like its claiming 4. So have you explained what all Biblical Christians mean by “faith”? Only by restricting the meaning of “Biblical Christians” to exclude those who disagree with you on this matter.

    But:
    Browse the archives here and you’ll see how that goes.

    Which comes across as rather arrogant, either by implying that those Biblical Christians who disagree with you on this point are, thereby, excluded from the appellation or by implying that the particular subset of Biblical Christians is so spectacularly interesting that we can ignore the others.

    And, from the article itself:
    What this must mean is that for every believer, faith has always meant something other than what Boghossian claims it means.

    This is quantified and, as a result, is false. It claims that
    1. for every believer,
    2. faith has always meant
    3. one particular thing.

    We only need to go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to see seven different conceptions of faith (“proper” conceptions, they’re supported by citations and quotations from philosophers and theologians.) held variously by various believers across the ages.

    The first listed, supported by citations of Alvin Plantinga and John Calvin is an epistemological conception of knowledge!

    SIGN AND SIGNIFIER?

    Tom Gilson #119:
    “by defining the word faith as “pretending to know…”, Boghossian is in effect calling the “Christian faith” the “Christian pretense”.

    False: it confuses what is signified with the signifier. For the moment, just for the moment, let us call the beliefs and practices the defining characteristics of a group of people “X” and, so, speak of the “Christian X”. Let us call the epistemology of any group the “Y”.

    Boghossian is making a claim about Y. That the Y exists, that a certain word should be used to label that Y and that that Y has certain characteristics. This does not make any claims about X, he calls X nothing”. Boghossian’s claim signifies Y, the second clause signifies X.
    For Boghossian to have made a claim about X, X would have to be the same as Y and as the issue only arises with his definition the above sentence is, implicitly, claiming that X becomes identical to Y when it is so defined.

    What is signified by a definition does not change its nature if the definition changes.

    WHAT WE CALL THINGS.

    Take Calvin’s definition of “faith”:

    ‘a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit’

    It’s a claim of knowledge (clear and certain knowledge at that) based on revelation in mind and sealing in hearts (“RMSH”). If RMSH produces knowledge then Calvin had knowledge of the claims of Christianity. If RMSH is not a source of knowledge then, (absent other epistemological inputs) Calvin did not know.
    Yet he claimed he did. Whilst “pretending” is clearly mischievous, if RMSH is not a source of knowledge Calvin was “claiming” to know when he did not, “acting”…. , “representing”…, “making out that”….or some other “ing” that signifies an epistemological failing on his part. And that is the case dependent on whether or not RMSH is a source of knowledge and not, at all, on what you happen to call it.

    We could call it “flibble” if we liked and, dependent on the epistemological status of RMSH:

    Calvin pretended/claimed/acted as if/represented/made out that he knew things that he did not know.

  112. David P:

    Would you consider taking your own view on some matter that actively disagrees with Jesus’s view?

    If you could prove that naturalism was true, I would.

  113. @David P:

    On the contrary, it would have been disingenuous for me to claim not to be skeptical. Skeptical does not mean completely closed minded! It is about having a questioning attitude and not accepting any old thing that people tell you nor basing your beliefs on an authority. You look at the evidence and the reasoning and then make your own judgments.

    This is, quite transparently might I add, a load of croc.

  114. @Tony

    You are of course quite right that calling something a new name does not instantly change its underlying properties. Calling Christian faith “Christian pretense” does not actually change what Christian’s believe.

    My point – and I think Tom’s too – is that it prejudges. It may be justified for Christian’s who claim that they have “firm and certain knowledge”, but not for those who admit the possibility that their knowledge may be wrong.

    People like this are not pretending to know for certain. They may well also have nothing but the flimsiest grounds to believe what they know, and they may be pretending otherwise. But there is always a possibility that they have good grounds and good reasons to claim they know (to a high degree of certainty, but not complete certainty) and for that reason branding the ideas a “pretense” from the outset is premature.

    That is, unless you are saying that to claim knowledge of something is to claim to know it for certain? Personally I agree with this definition, but unfortunately I think it goes against the norm.

  115. JAD

    Would you consider taking your own view on some matter that actively disagrees with Jesus’s view?

    If you could prove that naturalism was true, I would.

    If that is your condition, you are essentially saying “no”, because naturalism cannot be proven.

  116. David P:

    If that is your condition, you are essentially saying “no”, because naturalism cannot be proven.

    So, on what basis are you warranted in believing in it?

  117. Jeff @ 112:

    “We have been around and around about definitions of faith, however my conclusion that the non-theist will have a definition that differs from the theist went mostly unchallenged.”

    That’s completely irrelevant. Given that Boghossian’s trying to refute Christian beliefs, what matters is how Christians define the term faith. Otherwise his argument essentially winds up being “Yeah, I know you don’t define ‘faith’ like I do, but if we use my definition when reading your arguments, your arguments look silly,” which tells you precisely nothing about the truth or otherwise of Christian beliefs.

    Also, when defining the term faith, it’s important to define it as it’s defined in the best Christian arguments, so even if some Christians use “faith” to mean “believing without evidence”, it still won’t do to rebut their claims and act as if you’ve disproved Christianity in general. All you’ve actually done is proven that some Christians hold their beliefs for bad reasons, but this could apply to believers in anything, and tells us nothing about the truth of Christianity per se.

  118. @JAD

    Believing in naturalism as a worldview? Because of the amazing progress in our understanding of reality based on that premise.

    Believing that naturalism cannot be proven? Because we can only perceive a tiny part of the entire system. We may one day be able to formulate naturalistic theories that explain beautifully all that we perceive, but we cannot prove that that is all there is.

  119. @David P

    Believing in naturalism as a worldview? Because of the amazing progress in our understanding of reality based on that premise.

    Be careful with what you are saying here.

    If you simply mean that one of the reasons that science works is that the physical universe which it studies ( space-time, matter/energy ) has properties and dynamics that are regular, self-consistent, predictable, measurable/quantifiable and amenable to mathematical descriptions, fine.
    That’s sufficient for the scientific enterprise.

    If you mean Naturalism as in Metaphysical Naturalism, then you are overstepping the philosophical boundaries here – Science works just as well if Christian Theism is the correct worldview, for what I just described above comes under the scope of God’s General Providence. Christian Theism holds that the universe is an open system of cause and effect: open to external influence from outside, ‘governed (sorry Holopupenko 🙂 ) by General Providence (the aforesaid properties and dynamics).

    In addition, philosophers and historians of science have long admitted that modern science developed because men expected ‘nature’ to behave according to well-defined laws, because they believed in a Law-giver. I believe it was Alfred North Whitehead who said that.

  120. So then, you accept naturalism by faith… Correct?

    I accept naturalism as a working assumption because of the evidence that it helps drive us to understand reality in a way that allows us to make increasingly better predictions. Also, the evidence that so many phenomena attributed to supernatural causes have turned out to have natural causes.

  121. @Victoria

    I am not sure what you mean by Metaphysical Naturalism. If you mean the imaginary world then I agree that science isn’t so useful there. 🙂

  122. @David P
    Metaphysical Naturalism, or Philosophical Naturalism, is the worldview that space-time + matter + energy is the whole show ( a la Carl Sagan’s ‘The Cosmos is all that is, ever was, or ever will be) – It’s fundamental premise is that the universe is self-existent, and a closed system of cause and effect. There is nothing external to it, no ‘supernatural’.

    Perhaps you should go off and do some philosophical homework before making philosophical statements that a course in Philosophy 101 would have disabused you of 🙂

  123. By naturalism, I mean natural explanations. Personally, I am interested in natural explanations for the reality that we can perceive. You’re more than welcome to investigate things we can’t perceive. I wish you luck with that.

    Just to be clear, I am not making any claim that there isn’t anything beyond which it is possible for us to perceive. I myself don’t care about it.

  124. Go back and think about what I said in #133 . Let me make it simple for you: natural explanations (properties and dynamics ) DO NOT require Metaphysical Naturalism in order to work.

  125. go back and think about what you said in #131.
    You believe in naturalism as a worldview, yet don’t seem to understand what that really implies.

    What you really mean by natural explanation is ‘natural causes for all observable phenomena’, do you not? If so, then you are speaking of metaphysics, not physics.
    I’m asking you if you really understand what you are saying.

  126. I think the confusion is over the word naturalism. I used it because JAD used it. I tried to explain what I meant by it: I am interested in natural explanations. I am not interested in supernatural explanations (unless they have solid evidence to back them up and then they’re not really supernatural are they?). I don’t see any value in supernatural explanations as they have no predictive power.

    There may be a supernatural element to the universe or there may be something outside of the universe. I don’t deny the possibility. I don’t know of any evidence to support that notion and until such a time I would reject it as unsupported. There may also be phenomena for which we cannot find a natural explanation. Obviously that doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t one. It just means we don’t know of one.

  127. “natural explanations (properties and dynamics ) DO NOT require Metaphysical Naturalism in order to work.”

    Neither do natural explanations require Metaphysical Supernaturalism in order to work.

    We’re really in black cat in a dark room territory here. The world and all about it don’t impinge on whether there is, or isn’t, anything else.

    The matter is undecidable, we just don’t know.

    Which, to be a little mischievious, must mean that if you say you know anything about the supernatural you must be pretending to know what you don’t know!

  128. Which, to be a little mischievious, must mean that if you say you know anything about the supernatural you must be pretending to know what you don’t know!

    Indeed!

  129. Oh. I see.

    Then if there is some supernatural being, say the God of the Bible, then there is no interaction between that God and “the world and all about it.” This God, who if he exists created the world and all about it, has nothing to do with that creation. He created humans, he created language, he created mind on earth in the image (as it is said) of his mind; but he cannot communicate with his human creation.

    So we cannot know.

    The matter is undecidable, yes, in terms that would satisfy and convince every person. So because it is undecidable in such terms, it is not knowable by any person whatever. God could not, for example, be in some degree of epistemic relationship with one person without being equally in epistemic relationship with all persons. Because we know that much about God, don’t we?

    But then, if “we just don’t know,” how do we know that much?

    Or is there perhaps a tad bit of question-begging going on here?

  130. Tom,

    If you have a predictive model that explains His interactions with us in a way that we can test, I’m all ears.

  131. Tony, thanks for that helpful quantification-oriented analysis in #124. I think most of it is spot-on, and I appreciate it.

    This part I’m not so sure about:

    And, from the article itself:
    What this must mean is that for every believer, faith has always meant something other than what Boghossian claims it means.

    This is quantified and, as a result, is false. It claims that
    1. for every believer,
    2. faith has always meant
    3. one particular thing.

    No, because for it to be true, all it would require is that for every believer, faith has never meant what Boghossian claims. I did not specify exactly one something.

    As for the sign/signifier distinction, I’m not sure you took adequate account of the close relation between the beliefs of Christians (“faith” as Boghossian discusses it) and the Christian faith (the thought/doctrine/social/etc. system of Christians). If the first is pretense, then because of that close relation, then the Christian faith as a thought system is also pretense.

    And your note on Calvin is, I think, covered in my previous comment here.

  132. @Tom and others

    Before we discuss any further on what Peter meant by the definition of the word Faith or not , I would like to point you all to a couple of lectures. The first one focuses exclusively on the definition and the second spends 5 very worthwhile 5 minutes on the definition.

    I hope it will be very clear for everyone by the end of listening to these 2 very short videos what Peter is really trying to get across.

    1st one is 17 minutes long. The 2nd is only 5 minutes long.

    First video is only 17 minutes long, the rest of the presentation is Q & A mostly unrelated to the definition of Faith in a religious knowledge-claiming-situation.

    “Faith: Pretending to know things you don’t know” by Dr. Peter Boghossian
    http://youtu.be/oBPGDuPDNsE

    The second is a podcast and Peter covers the definition of Faith again in more detail. I have put the start time of this video at 1m45 so we can Avoid the intro and get to the definition straight away. This one is an interview where Peter discusses the different meanings that a few of you have discussed here. Peter clears all the different definitions and separates his re-definition from the other definitions.

    Practical Strategies to Combat Faith with Peter Boghossian
    http://youtu.be/PX7X_jxQUvw?t=1m45s

    .
    .
    .

  133. @Tony Lloyd:

    Neither do natural explanations require Metaphysical Supernaturalism in order to work.

    For suitable values of “require” and “Metaphysical Supernaturalism” this is simply false.

  134. Tom,

    I’m not sure what you mean by a personal model. Do you mean something that explains your experiences? There are lots of explanatory models. Freud had a knack for them.

    The reason I am interested in models that enable predictions is that they can be put to the test and potentially falsified.

  135. @David P
    So, are you eliminating historical research and study as being able to be investigated, tested and potentially falsified?

  136. No, I’m not eliminating historical research! I don’t understand what makes you think that. Historical research fits perfectly with the idea of building models and testing them.

    I am particularly interested in drawing out broader (e.g. socio-political-environmental) models, from historical events, that may have practical relevance and can be tested in and adapted to our current reality.

    My general aim is helping myself and others to live more enriching lives. I’m interested in practical models that lead to tools that help us change things for the better, as opposed to deeply philosophical models that go round in circles and lead to endless debates. Hence, why I’ve tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to stay out of debates about the evidence for the Christian faith. I simply don’t see the use of it. Neither “side” is convinced by the other. It’s just lots of typing for nothing.

  137. @David P
    So then, why don’t we investigate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a documented historical claim, and its implications?

    The Christian faith is deeply rooted in historical events – it’s central claim is that God (the eternal, self-existent, supernatural Creator and Sustainer of all that there is) has interacted with His creation, specifically us, humanity, and especially so in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we claim is the 2nd Person of Trinity, God Incarnate, and the resurrected Son of God. God entered human history and dwelt among us, as it were. Surely this is a historical claim of tremendous significance.

  138. You are welcome to do that, and I’m sure you have!

    I don’t see any particular benefit towards my goal of looking at it in depth because, for me, there is nowhere near enough evidence to support such an idea credibly – not to modern day standards of credibility. Without that evidence I have to reject the claim as having “insufficient evidence” to support it.

    I could, however, see some benefit in looking at how religions get started and how they take off. Or examine the logic behind the moral framework expressed in the Bible. Currently, I have more interesting topics to look at, but if you can express the logic succinctly, particularly if you can express it in non-religious terms, I would be very interested.

  139. What I mean by a personal model (if “model” is even the right term) is one of communication and relationship rather than of mechanistic predictability.

    (By “mechanistic” I do not simply mean mechanical, but rather any system that operates strictly according to natural law acting upon initial conditions — and by “natural law acting…” I do not mean to say anything other than what is colloquially understood by that phrase: there’s no need to get into ontological issues in this context.)

    Science is very good at what science does, in part because it limits its scope to that which can be quantified and predicted: the natural world. Its great success has given it enormous authority. That great level of authority has confused many into thinking that it is the way to understand and to know everything, and that that which cannot be known scientifically cannot be known. But you cannot determine scientifically what your wife or significant other had for breakfast yesterday, though you might be able to ask and find out that way.

    There are strong indicators of God’s reality in nature, but the best information we have is by way of his personal communication to us, his revelation to us, especially in Jesus Christ. This is not a predictive model; but predictive models are for mechanistic systems, not for persons.

  140. David P

    …there is nowhere near enough evidence to support such an idea credibly – not to modern day standards of credibility.

    This is an odd statement. What is it about modernity that has elevated the standards of credibility? Do the standards go up every year?

  141. This is what I think it going on, David.

    Skeptics are having to continuously elevate their standards of credibility to ensure that it says slightly ahead of the credible evidence that supports Biblical Christianity. This phenomenon isn’t new, it goes back to the time of Jesus when skeptics didn’t believe in him then.

    It works like this: when new credible evidence arises, the standards of credibility go up. Hear about a miracle, be skeptical. Witness a miracle, be even more skeptical.

  142. Maybe not every year, but over the centuries, I would say yes. How can it be in doubt?

    We have more worldly knowledge – we are far better educated and we can communicate with each other across the globe far better than previous centuries. We have a scientific community that continually builds experience about testing assumptions and controlling for biases.

    And just think about how easy it is to lose your naivety these days: After you’ve seen a few YouTube videos of how David Copperfield does his tricks, do you still believe he’s magic? Course not!

    A few centuries ago lots of people believed in witchcraft (even today some less well-educated people do). Nowadays, we can hardly understand how we could think that way. That’s an indication of how far we’ve come in terms of skepticism, I would suggest.

    @SteveK

    It sounds like you think skepticism is a bad thing. Skepticism is what stopped us doing things like burning witches, don’t forget!

  143. Thanks, Leif. That first video seemed fairly general, and not too much to the point here. It’s 11 minutes long, which leads me to wonder if it’s different from the one you intended to link to here. It was interesting to hear him, though (at 10:15 and following) to say,

    Faith is a virus: the structure upon which it’s formed … has these built-in … support structures that keep it deeply root. How do you help people think more clearly? How do you help them be more rational?

    Does he think that attacking straw men is a good way to do that?

    The second is over an hour long. Did you link to a different one than you intended to on that one? I’m not sure when I’ll have time to listen to it.

  144. Okay, David, I’m going to play the skeptic: where’s your evidence that skepticism is what stopped us from burning witches?

    I say you’re wrong. BRB

  145. I’m drawing on common sense. I haven’t got any particular evidence to back it up. I’m fascinated. How else can you explain the change in belief? Surely someone, somewhere must have been skeptical of the belief and questioned it, or it would have stayed in place? What is your explanation and do you have evidence for it?

  146. So the reduction of witch trials from epidemic to endemic proporations requires little else than the assertion of central control over convictions to ensure the legal forms were being adhered to and that local courts could not execute people without sufficient evidence [evidence which, when properly examined, was rarely forthcoming, per the previous context].

    So says James Hannam, who makes a tentative case that it was political stability that brought witch-burning to an end. There was skepticism before and after, in various modes. That wasn’t the decisive variable.

    This much is especially interesting:

    Positivist historians have long looked upon the end of witch trials as victory for rationalism over superstition. Michael de Montaigne’s scepticism about reports of witchcraft and the veracity of confessions in his essay On the Lame (1588) is a popular example of Renaissance humanism. However, closer examination of the rationalists has frequently found them to be something of a disappointment for their champions who do not share their mentality. Learned sceptics are often advocates of a mystical or hermetic point of view and are seeking to defend magic from the taint of diabolism rather than claiming that it is impossible. The best known sixteenth century critic of witch trials, Johann Weyer, was a pupil of the great neo-Platonist magician Cornelius Agrippa as well as being a radical Protestant. In his De praestigiis daemonum (1583), Weyer was completely orthodox in his belief in devils and his condemnation of almost any kind of magical practice, but just did not think it was the kind of thing that old ladies got up to. His English contemporary, Reginald Scot appears at first sight to be more conducive to the views of modern sceptics, but on closer examination his thought also turns out to be almost entirely a function of his Puritan theology [NOTE]. A century later John Webster had a remarkably similar outlook as he too is a sectarian and defender of alchemy. The argument was between, on one side Aristotelians and their heirs, the mechanical philosophers, and on the other neo-Platonists and hermetists. As we have seen, it was usually the former, with what we might call the more scientific attitude, who defended belief in witchcraft. This causes a serious problem for traditional explanations for the end of witch trials as there is almost nobody whose particular bundle of motivations and beliefs are entirely comfortable to positivist sensibilities. There certainly is a rise in scepticism as Glanville and More (who was a mechanistic Platonist and thus demonstrates the impossibility of fitting anyone’s beliefs into a neat box) are both keen to combat it but, as far as the positivist is concerned, it is not always the right people being sceptics.

    Sometimes the things you know turn out to be things you didn’t know you didn’t know, and commons sense has very little value sometimes when it comes to guessing what happened hundreds of years ago.

  147. @David P
    So, people in the past, with their less sophisticated descriptions of the natural world, thought that certain events and occurrences were miraculous because they didn’t know how things really worked?

  148. And sometimes, too, David, people think they’re being good skeptics when they’re jumping to conclusions with no evidence whatsoever. I think you just admitted that to us.

  149. David P,

    Maybe not every year, but over the centuries, I would say yes. How can it be in doubt?

    I don’t doubt that it has – for some people. But why would this standard of credibility go up with respect to the resurrection event?

    Time alone doesn’t change the facts of history so there’s nothing about the passing of time that would change the standard of credibility.

    Over the years we’ve learned more about the resurrection event and the Bible itself, and the things we’ve learned don’t do anything to warrant an increase in this so-called standard. So why are skeptics raising the bar as fast as this new evidence / information comes out?

    What can you point to specifically that warrants in increase in skepticism toward the resurrection event over the years? To head off one possible answer you might be tempted to give: no science experiment has ever weakened the veracity of the resurrection event.

    After you’ve seen a few YouTube videos of how David Copperfield does his tricks, do you still believe he’s magic? Course not!

    He never claimed to be anything other than a magician. Bad example.

  150. @Tom

    It demonstrates clearly how much our skepticism has changed since those days.

    @Victoria

    They might have seen miracles or attributed things to the supernatural where we would see natural phenomena. They would also have been more easily fooled intentionally or unintentionally because they were less worldly-wise than us. I don’t mean that in a condescending way – they weren’t stupider than us. I mean in terms of access to the knowledge of the world.

  151. David, why don’t you just admit you were wrong, and that you jumped to a conclusion most un-skeptically without investigation? Try it. It doesn’t hurt that bad. You’ve already shown your intellectual flexibility here in ways I respect and appreciate a lot. So here’s another opportunity.

  152. They might have seen miracles or attributed things to the supernatural where we would see natural phenomena. They would also have been more easily fooled intentionally or unintentionally because they were less worldly-wise than us. I don’t mean that in a condescending way – they weren’t stupider than us. I mean in terms of access to the knowledge of the world.

    Too bad this cuts both ways, David. Naturalists of the day didn’t have a very good grasp of the world, compared to today, so I imagine they too attributed to “nature’ events that they shouldn’t have.

    Your use of the word “might” tells the whole story. It’s pretend knowledge, blind faith.

  153. And re: your answer to Victoria:

    Of course. They weren’t as wise as we. They didn’t know that walking on water was impossible. They didn’t know that lepers were never instantaneously healed en masse. They didn’t know that it was unusual for blind men to be given their sight with a word, or for wind and waves (waves, yes!) to cease in a moment at a man’s command.

    They weren’t that worldly-wise. They hadn’t read it in a science book.

  154. Peter Bosshogian wouldn’t be happy about your pretend knowledge surrounding the resurrection event, David P. Try looking into the facts.

  155. @Tom
    You beat me to the punch, but I’ll continue on…

    @David, so when John describes the events at the wedding in Cana (John 4),
    what did they think of Jesus’ turning water into wine?

    They thought it was a miracle because they had no idea of how wine is made?

    or, they had no idea that nature does not work that way -that water does not spontaneously become wine?

    C. S. Lewis discusses this type of “reasoning” in his book on Miracles – if a man has no idea that nature behaves in a regular way, how will he recognize a departure from that normal, regular way?

    How does our advanced knowledge of the biochemistry of fermentation change one whit our understanding that that something unusual is going on here? John knew just as well as we do that water does not turn into wine in this way.

  156. @Tom

    Of course people of that era knew these things were unusual or impossible. What perhaps they didn’t know was how easily they could be fooled into thinking that they had seen something like this. I am not claiming that Jesus fooled them. Indeed, I have no evidence they even witnessed these things apart from it’s written in the Bible.

    What I am claiming that these kinds of miracles are regularly reproduced by magicians, hypnotists and phoney stage preachers after your money. You should watch Derren Brown’s “Messiah” television program to see how effectively it can be done, even with modern-day levels of skepticism.

  157. @SteveK

    I don’t know it didn’t happen. I don’t believe it happened. I am not pretending to know something that I don’t know. Boghossian would be proud.

  158. Nice try, David @178. I have a professional illusionist (magician) living in my home.

    Let me say it gently: on this you are wrong. Some of the claimed miracles could be accomplished as illusions, but not most of them.

    Have you read the source documents? If not, then you are a very dysfunctional skeptic. Skeptics investigate. (Or so they claim, at any rate.)

  159. I think you may be forgetting all the people who died in the labor camp and weren’t quite so lucky. Of course whoever survives will have an amazing story to tell but it’s luck not miracle.

    Just the same way someone who wins the lottery may have a miraculous story about how they almost forgot to buy a ticket, and only bought one because they ran out of milk, but their local store was closed and they went to a different store etc.

    Someone wins the lottery virtually every week. That’s how chance works.

  160. I’ve explained previously why the detailed contents of the source documents are irrelevant to me. I have already rejected them on the grounds of “insufficient evidence” based on their supernatural claims and my assessment of the lack of ability of people of that era to gather evidence to a suitable level of reliability to back up the claims. I understand that your assessment is different.

  161. @David P
    You poser!

    side-stepping the issue – have you ever read the Hiding Place or anything about Corrie ten Boom? Do you even know what the details of the story are??

  162. So, a priori you have a hidden premise – you are a Metaphysical Naturalist who is devoted to Scientism.

  163. David, you’re running and running and running. You must be out of breath.

    You’re running from information that threatens you.

    Think, okay?

    1. If everything in all the history of the world from day one to its end happens according to natural necessity, then there is no reason to believe in miracles, and no reason to believe there would be a God behind them. (We still have First Cause arguments and etc., but set those aside for now.)

    2. If exactly one circumstance were found which, upon a very thorough examination using all current and future science, could not be explained through natural necessity, then we have reason to think that natural necessity is not all there is to the universe.

    3. Corrie Ten Boom’s never-ending supply of vitamin drops is unexplainable by chance. It could conceivably meet the condition in (2).

    4. Now, here’s the first relevant point. Whether it meets the condition in (2) is entirely unrelated to what happened to others in concentration camps. That is a complete red herring.

    5. Second relevant point: chance is not an explanation for never-ending vitamin drops. That’s another red herring.

    Is there a natural explanation? Maybe; I haven’t investigated that event.

    You haven’t either.

    But unlike you, I haven’t resorted to red herrings to run away from conclusions I’m uncomfortable with. I haven’t shown myself to be a dysfunctional skeptic.

    David, I’m intentionally trying to cause you to look at yourself and ask yourself whether your self-image and your reality coincide. I’m trying to make you uncomfortable with what seems from here to be a serious disconnect.

    It’s out in the open. You know what I’m trying to do. Will you take that look at yourself?

  164. David’s belief that the resurrection didn’t happen isn’t rooted in the evidence. David believes the evidence is insufficient. How does David know it’s insufficient? He doesn’t know. He believes. Blindly believes.

    *sigh*

  165. I don’t know exactly what the story was about the vitamin drops, but let me propose a mundane explanation: someone was refilling it without her knowledge. I don’t know who. I don’t know how or why they did it. But is it an outrageous idea? I don’t think so. People do kind things for others without telling them all the time.

    Why do you jump so readily to supernatural explanations? I just don’t get your way of viewing reality. Does it make it more exciting to think like that?

    @Victoria

    I have said it before, I am not dismissing the supernatural a priori. There may be events and beings that are outside of nature. I just don’t find it useful as an explanation because if it’s outside of nature, how can you check it? Where do you go from there? What drives you to look hard for a more down-to-earth explanation?

    It’s not like I’m completely unusual to think this way. You would have a very hard time making a legal case that involves a supernatural explanation. If someone’s been murdered the police wouldn’t blame a goblin, they’d look for a person and they’d keep looking for a person. Why?

  166. I don’t know exactly what the story was about the vitamin drops, but let me propose a mundane explanation: someone was refilling it without her knowledge. I don’t know who. I don’t know how or why they did it.

    Pretend knowledge based on ZERO facts.

  167. Steve I said “I don’t know” about half a dozen times in that post. How you can think I’m claiming knowledge, I don’t know! All I’m doing is proposing a naturalistic theory for the miraculous event. A theory that does not require divine intervention or anything like that. Just someone being kind. I see evidence of people being kind every day. Maybe you don’t.

  168. David P,
    I’d say what you are doing is embarrassing yourself in public. You know nothing about the details, but you’ve got a hypothesis about how it happened and want to relay it to those that have more information than you.

    That’s like offering pretend wisdom to a detective on a case he’s been investigating for weeks. The least you could do is get briefed on the facts before spouting a hypothesis, but I see that’s too much trouble.

  169. With that analogy, you are saying to the detective something equivalent to “maybe fairies were involved”. I’m not so sure it’s me who’s the one embarrassing myself!

    If I suggested my naive theory and the detective said to me “no, because x, y and z reasons” then I would think about it and suggest another theory and another until we reached one that perhaps he hadn’t considered. If it were important that is. The case of the refilling vitamin drops may not quite fall into that category.

    Here’s a couple of related questions for you: How many times do you know of where the police and judiciary accepted supernatural explanations? How many crimes have been successfully solved by starting with the premise that it was a supernatural event?

  170. David P
    God is analogous to fairies?? That’s embarrassing.

    How many times do you know of where the police and judiciary accepted supernatural explanations?

    Does the law allow this as an explanation? If it’s not allowed, then it’s probably zero.

    How many crimes have been successfully solved by starting with the premise that it was a supernatural event?

    How many laws allow this premise? Where you find it legal to do, you will likely find a successful conviction.

  171. I apologize. I didn’t know if miracles came from God or from angels or saints or some other means. I chose fairies to represent a supernatural being. I did not mean to imply that fairies are equivalent to God.

    Why don’t the judiciary and police – the law – accept supernatural explanations? Would you feel safer if they did?

  172. David, you’re still running.

    That was a really irrelevant question you just asked. Extremely off topic and unconnected to what we’re talking about here.

    Look at yourself, would you, please?

  173. David P,

    Why don’t the judiciary and police – the law – accept supernatural explanations?

    Expediency, simplicity, government cost, inherent subjective difficulty, supernatural defendant cannot be forced to attend the trial or cooperate in any way, lawyers and police cannot interview the supernatural, etc, etc.

    We’ve essentially been conducting a “trial” like this in the public square and look how long it has been going on. I wouldn’t want to be part of a formal courtroom jury involving the supernatural, but I’m happy to be doing the same job outside of the courtroom.

    Would you feel safer if they did?

    No.

  174. To JAD in comment 48, the claims made in the Bible regarding Jesus’ resurrection are just that–claims. There’s no reliable confirmation from any Jews, Romans, Greeks or anyone else outside of the Bible. So those claims are just as worthy of our belief as are (a) the Koran’s claims about Mohamed seeing the angel Gabriel and flying to heaven on a winged horse and (b) the Book of Mormon’s claims about Joseph Smith’s visions of Jesus and the angel Moroni.

  175. To folks who disagree with Boghossian’s definition of faith, jut because you disagree doesn’t mean he’s wrong. If you don’t _know_ that your religion’s miraculous claims are factual, but you nevertheless claim that they are and you act as if they are, then you are simply pretending to know they are factual.

  176. Owen, your information on the historical data is out of date; and what JAD said about the testimony there is true. But let’s set that aside, since I’m not an historical apologist and it’s not my field. I’m more interested in the quality of thinking people evidence.

    Tell me: what was JAD’s point there? What was he trying to accomplish through those references? Did he need to demonstrate the historical accuracy of his references in order for them to accomplish his intent?

    The answer is that, other than his second-to-last sentence, JAD was not trying to prove Christianity but primarily to describe its beliefs and its characteristic epistemic stance, as part of a larger discussion on that stance. He could have omitted that second-to-last sentence and his primary point would have stood.

    I hope you’ll take a closer look at it. You’re arguing a point he didn’t raise.

    It’s called a red herring. Some people use them for rhetorical purposes, to change the subject when they can’t make their point through valid logic and evidences. Other people use them out of ignorance

  177. Owen @202, if Boghossian’s definition is wrong, then what you said about us applies to him. Parity. That’s why the real subject of dispute here is his intention to eliminate all other definitions from discourse.

  178. Tom @ 203, I was focusing on JAD’s comment that “I would answer Dr. Boghossian that if he, or anyone else, could demonstrate that there was no good evidence that God raised Jesus from the dead I would disbelieve Christianity.” And, as far as I know, there is no reliable historical evidence that anyone raised Jesus or anyone else from the dead, but rather what we have is at best hearsay and at worst myths (the Gospels), plus stories of visions (Paul/Acts). If new information has come out that shows otherwise, please tell us all what it is.

  179. Owen,

    If new information has come out that shows otherwise, please tell us all what it is.

    How about first you look into your claim that “what we have is at best hearsay”. As Tom said, your information is out of date – or maybe you don’t know how to reasonably apply it. If you want information, it’s easily found.

    Here is one source about the resurrection.

    Here’s another from the same site regarding your hearsay claim.

  180. SteveK @ 206, the “minimal facts” approach assumes that the Gospels are historical, but we have no corroborating evidence from non-Christian sources from the time in question. For all we know, the anonymous author of Mark made up his Gospel story, and then the anonymous authors of the other Gospels copied and adapted it.

    As for the hearsay issue, the comparison with the lawyer’s old case files is a faulty one because he actually had first-hand, sworn testimony that was recorded in the form of legal documents. In the case of the Gospels, there is no such first-hand testimony–just copies of copies of stories that, like I said, may have been totally fabricated. If you think that’s unlikely, look at Mormonism and Scientology: Their founders made up fantastic stories and convinced people in one way or another that they were true.

  181. Carl, the “minimal facts” approach does not assume the gospels were historical. That’s the first point of distinctiveness in that approach: that it specifically avoids that assumption.

    The research does not support your claim of infantilism or harm. I’ve shown that with a lot of supporting documentation. It’s empirical, not just theoretical.

    I hear anger in your words here. I’m sorry for what led to it, whatever it was.

  182. @David P
    I see you are still using hypothetical, vague scenarios with no details, facts, evidence, etc on which to make reasoned decisions and come to conclusions.

    I have said it before, I am not dismissing the supernatural a priori. There may be events and beings that are outside of nature. I just don’t find it useful as an explanation because if it’s outside of nature, how can you check it? Where do you go from there? What drives you to look hard for a more down-to-earth explanation?

    It’s not like I’m completely unusual to think this way. You would have a very hard time making a legal case that involves a supernatural explanation. If someone’s been murdered the police wouldn’t blame a goblin, they’d look for a person and they’d keep looking for a person. Why?

    and

    Here’s a couple of related questions for you: How many times do you know of where the police and judiciary accepted supernatural explanations? How many crimes have been successfully solved by starting with the premise that it was a supernatural event

    What crimes, or events?? Without any data whatsoever you have a priori determined what class of explanations you are going to accept? Stop talking in vague generalities – what kind of pseudo-scholarship are you trying to foist upon us? Yes, you are dismissing the supernatural as a possible explanation from the outset.

    I have yet to see any reasoned arguments from you – vague generalities, guesses, unsubstantiated premises, ignorance of Philosophy 101 – what is that?. As Tom has said, “Take a good look at yourself and what you are doing”.

    This is why I keep dragging you back to the historical events of Jesus’ death, burial, and subsequent appearances alive again. This is a specific case – we can use historical analysis to evaluate the evidence in this case and consider possible explanations, including the one given by the NT authors (see Acts 2:22-24 for example). It is the foundation on which Christianity is based.

  183. @David P

    I don’t know exactly what the story was about the vitamin drops, but let me propose a mundane explanation: someone was refilling it without her knowledge. I don’t know who. I don’t know how or why they did it. But is it an outrageous idea? I don’t think so. People do kind things for others without telling them all the time.

    Why do you jump so readily to supernatural explanations? I just don’t get your way of viewing reality. Does it make it more exciting to think like that?

    Have you read the story to determine if your suggestion is probable?

    You don’t know any details of the story, and yet you are offering up alternatives without knowing if they would fit those details. The most charitable thing I can say is that this is intellectually dishonest. Is that the kind of person you want to be?

    You don’t seem to understand the difference between possible and probable and reasonably probable.

  184. Owen:

    we have no corroborating evidence from non-Christian sources from the time in question.

    Why would Jewish or Roman historians have been interested in an obscure Jewish sect in first century Palestine? Our knowledge of ancient Roman history comes primarily from Roman authors. Does that make everything they wrote unreliable? For example, who wrote Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War)? It’s our primary source for Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. Books one through seven have one author, Julius Caesar himself. Does that automatically make everything in the book unreliable?

  185. @Victoria

    Yes, a priori I reject supernatural explanations. That is not the same as a priori rejecting the supernatural. You seem to find it hard to see the distinction, but I assure you there is a distinction. I am not rejecting the possibility that there could be supernatural forces of which we are unaware.

    All I can say is that I don’t find any value in supernatural explanations of events like the resurrection, for similar reasons as the police do not find value in supernatural explanations of crimes.

    It may not be as romantic, but if you strongly believe there is a natural explanation for something it will strongly drive you to look for one – if the subject matter is of importance. If we don’t find one, it doesn’t give the nod to a supernatural theory, though. It only says we can’t explain yet how it happened.

    I would rather be honest and say “I don’t know” than start considering unfalsifiable supernatural explanations. Once you go down the path of accepting explanations that cannot be tested you’re opening yourself up to an enormous number of possibilities limited only by imagination.

  186. @David P

    OK, so explain the distinction – just don’t assert it.

    If there is a supernatural component to reality, can you really rule out that it doesn’t interact with the physical component?

    I would rather be honest and say “I don’t know” than start considering unfalsifiable supernatural explanations. Once you go down the path of accepting explanations that cannot be tested you’re opening yourself up to an enormous number of possibilities limited only by imagination.

    David, you use “I don’t know” as a cop-out – whenever you are challenged to engage in a rational, defensible argument, you play that card. Why? Because you ‘”don’t know” how to mount one?

    Do you know what abductive inference is? (If so, explain it to me in your own words). Do you understand how professional scientists and historians use it? (If so, please explain it to me in your own words).

  187. I’m not sure how to explain it any clearer. Let me try one more time:

    I reject supernatural explanations for pragmatic reasons – I find they dramatically reduce the impetus to look for natural explanations, and since there is no way to test them, almost any explanation could be true so they hold no real value. They don’t help me predict things. That’s what I’m looking for: models that are predictive.

    I don’t reject the possibility that there are some things that lie outside of our human perceptions of nature. I also accept the possibility that there might be things that we can perceive and we are never able to find a natural explanation for.

    If you would rather I said “I know” when I don’t, I’m shocked, surprised dismayed.

  188. Again, the point that I was trying to make at #48 was that if we substitute another biblical miracle– even another miracle of Jesus– into Romans 10:9, making it a condition for saving faith, it would not bring with it, at least as far as I can see, the kind of evidentiary support that is attached to the resurrection.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/08/peter-boghossians-atheistic-mission/#comment-67672

    For example, consider the following list:

    1. Jesus’ tomb was found empty by some of his women followers.

    2. The disciples, beginning with women, had experiences which they believed were physical appearances of the risen Jesus.

    3. The disciples were transformed from discouraged doubters in despair to bold proclaimers of a new faith.

    4. The Resurrection was central to their message.

    5. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection starting in Jerusalem.

    6. The church was born and grew rapidly.

    7. Paul & James (Jesus’ half brother) were converted to the faith when they saw the resurrected Jesus.

    8. Orthodox Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah made Sunday their primary day of worship.

    9. A Messiah who died and was resurrected was not part of the first century Jewish theology. The early Christian teaching about their Messiah was completely new and original. The resurrection explains this.

    10. The first century teaching of the second coming is evidence of a real resurrection. Why would such a teaching emerge in the first place if they any of his early followers had suspected that their Messiah was dead and buried?

    And a number of other reasons could be given. The point is, I don’t see another miracle, like Jesus changing water into wine, generating a list like the one above.

  189. Victoria,

    Nope. It was the women who made the discovery. Peter and “John” (the other disciple) only learned about it after Mary Magdalene ran to tell them. (John 20:2).

    Women are also important in an evidentiary sense because they were not considered to be reliable witnesses by ancient society. Paradoxically, from a modern perspective that argues against the idea that accounts were fabricated.

  190. @JAD
    Yes, that’s true. However, Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves. See John 20:3-9

    Then Peter and the other disciple set out to go to the tomb. 20:4 The two were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and reached the tomb first. 20:5 He bent down and saw the strips of linen cloth lying there, but he did not go in. 20:6 Then Simon Peter, who had been following him, arrived and went right into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen cloth lying there, 20:7 and the face cloth, which had been around Jesus’ head, not lying with the strips of linen cloth but rolled up in a place by itself. 20:8 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, came in, and he saw and believed. 20:9 (For they did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.)

    There is something significant in that little detail about seeing the strips of linen cloth just lying there, with the face cloth, rolled up and set in a place by itself.

    From the commentary in the NET Bible (https://net.bible.org/#!bible/John+20:1)

    Much dispute and difficulty surrounds the translation of the words not lying with the strips of linen cloth but rolled up in a place by itself. Basically the issue concerns the positioning of the graveclothes as seen by Peter and the other disciple when they entered the tomb. Some have sought to prove that when the disciples saw the graveclothes they were arranged just as they were when around the body, so that when the resurrection took place the resurrected body of Jesus passed through them without rearranging or disturbing them. In this case the reference to the face cloth being rolled up does not refer to its being folded, but collapsed in the shape it had when wrapped around the head. Sometimes in defense of this view the Greek preposition μετά (meta, which normally means “with”) is said to mean “like” so that the comparison with the other graveclothes does not involve the location of the face cloth but rather its condition (rolled up rather than flattened). In spite of the intriguing nature of such speculations, it seems more probable that the phrase describing the face cloth should be understood to mean it was separated from the other graveclothes in a different place inside the tomb. This seems consistent with the different conclusions reached by Peter and the beloved disciple (vv. 8-10). All that the condition of the graveclothes indicated was that the body of Jesus had not been stolen by thieves. Anyone who had come to remove the body (whether the authorities or anyone else) would not have bothered to unwrap it before carrying it off. And even if one could imagine that they had (perhaps in search of valuables such as rings or jewelry still worn by the corpse) they would certainly not have bothered to take time to roll up the face cloth and leave the other wrappings in an orderly fashion.
    13 sn What was it that the beloved disciple believed (since v. 7 describes what he saw)? Sometimes it is suggested that what he believed was Mary Magdalene’s report that the body had been stolen. But this could hardly be the case; the way the entire scene is narrated such a trivial conclusion would amount to an anticlimax. It is true that the use of the plural “they” in the following verse applied to both Peter and the beloved disciple, and this appears to be a difficulty if one understands that the beloved disciple believed at this point in Jesus’ resurrection. But it is not an insuperable difficulty, since all it affirms is that at this time neither Peter nor the beloved disciple had understood the scripture concerning the resurrection. Thus it appears the author intends his reader to understand that when the beloved disciple entered the tomb after Peter and saw the state of the graveclothes, he believed in the resurrection, i.e., that Jesus had risen from the dead.

    It’s also in John 20:10-18 that Mary Magdalene must have run back to the tomb following Peter and John, and remained there, where she and the other women (one has to correlate with the other accounts) had the joy and privilege of being the first persons to see the risen Lord. I am surely going to ask them what that was like when I meet them 🙂

    Agreed on the idea that no first century Jew would make women the first witnesses of Jesus after His resurrection if the story was a fabrication or even a legend.

    For the interested readers: Here is a chronology of the crucifixion and the resurrection, as gleaned from the 4 Gospels:
    http://carm.org/bible-difficulties/matthew-mark/crucifixion-chronology
    http://carm.org/bible-difficulties/matthew-mark/resurrection-chronology

  191. I reject supernatural explanations for pragmatic reasons…”

    So it wouldn’t help you to understand that there are things that lie outside of naturalistic explanations. Even if they are true?

  192. @ #123 David P asked me:

    Would you consider taking your own view on some matter that actively disagrees with Jesus’s view?

    I replied: If you could prove that naturalism was true, I would.

    David P: If that is your condition, you are essentially saying “no”, because naturalism cannot be proven.

    I replied: So, on what basis are you warranted in believing in it?

    @ #131 David P wrote:

    Believing that naturalism cannot be proven? Because we can only perceive a tiny part of the entire system. We may one day be able to formulate naturalistic theories that explain beautifully all that we perceive, but we cannot prove that that is all there is.

    I asked: So then, you accept naturalism by faith… Correct?

    David P replied: I accept naturalism as a working assumption because of the evidence that it helps drive us to understand reality in a way that allows us to make increasingly better predictions. Also, the evidence that so many phenomena attributed to supernatural causes have turned out to have natural causes.

    Notice how David smuggled faith into his world view without calling it that. What I mean is that he is actually acting on the biblical definition of faith and he doesn’t even realize it. Let me prove it to you…

    Hebrews 11:3 says: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

    Someone committed, like David, to naturalism is actually just modifying the verse so that it reads:

    “By faith we understand that the universe was formed by [some kind of natural process], so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

    This thinking is also true of Boghossian; though he is probably as ignorant of it as David is.

    So the battle of world views is not really faith vs. reason, as Boghossian and other new atheists believe, but it’s a battle of faith vs. faith– faith in the infinite (in God) vs. faith in the finite (man). Anyone who understands that understands that man cannot possibly win.

  193. JAD @ 210, you said, “Why would Jewish or Roman historians have been interested in an obscure Jewish sect in first century Palestine?” If Jesus was just another end-times prophet like John the Baptist, then you’re absolutely right. But if he had thousands of people following him and showing up to hear him and watch him perform miracles as the Gospels say he did, then you would think one of the local historians would have noted that. But none of them did.

    As for other ancient documents, the big lesson that you and others seem to be missing (if not purposely disregarding) is that the Gospels’ miraculous claims about Jesus are extraordinary ones. This means they call for extraordinary evidence. Uncorroborated stories written by anonymous authors who make amazing claims but don’t even name a single person they interviewed just don’t cut it. The National Enquirer probably does better journalism than the Gospel writers!

    Really, if we’re going to assume the amazing claims made in the Bible are true, then why not believe anything we hear or read, no matter who says it or what their sources are?

  194. Owen,

    Really, if we’re going to assume the amazing claims made in the Bible are true, then why not believe anything we hear or read, no matter who says it or what their sources are?

    You’re not following our thinking on this. What we read, who says it (and when) and what the sources are – these are the very things that serve to solidify our belief as Christian’s. The assumptions are kept to a reasonable minimum. So to answer your question, that is why I don’t immediately believe any miracle claim just because someone says it occurred.

  195. As for other ancient documents, the big lesson that you and others seem to be missing (if not purposely disregarding) is that the Gospels’ miraculous claims about Jesus are extraordinary ones.

    Jesus made extraordinary claims? *shocking* Someone tell the Pope and alert the masses. We’ve been duped.

  196. Owen,
    I agree… If God does not exist then what is described in the NT about Jesus is not only extraordinary but highly improbable (actually impossible IMO). However, I think that God is the best explanation why something, or anything exists, therefore miracles are possible.

    As the Australian philosopher Peter Slezak remarked in a debate with William Lane Craig, “For a God who is able to create the whole universe, the odd resurrection would be child’s play!”

  197. JAD @ 224, a perfect God would have made the evidence of the Bible’s miraculous claims a whole lot better than it is. You can’t deny that. As it is, it’s no better than the evidence provided in the Book of Mormon, the Gita, Dianetics, or any other “holy book.” Nor is it better than the evidence provided in the National Enquirer.

    And sure, miracles may be possible. They’re just not likely. Not only that, but think of all the cases in which a perfect god could have performed a miracle–times when you, as a decent person, would have done so, but no such miracle occurred. Think tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, mass starvation, cancer, etc. Lots of opportunities but no miracle.

  198. @Owen
    (a) by whose or what standards of evidence, regarding the miracles documented in the Bible?

    (b) Have you determined that in every case of natural disasters, sickness, etc that no miraculous events have occurred, even if it is to benefit some individuals and not others? God’s sovereign purposes do not mean He is obliged to intervene in any particular way.

    (c)Before you go and make criticisms of the Biblical documents, make sure you have done your homework on the subject and are thoroughly educated (and not via atheist web sites only) in matters of Biblical history, document transmission and general scholarship. There is a vast amount of accessible scholarly material on this. I suspect that your acquaintance with this material is lacking. Do you know why the Gospels are attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke (along with Acts) and John, even though they appear to be anonymous? Did you know that anonymous authorship was not unusual in ancient times? – check out some Roman historical documents on this matter.

    Pick up a textbook called ‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’ by Richard Bauckham, or ‘The Historical Reliability of the Gospels’, by Craig Blomberg.

    Did you know that NT scholars are in agreement that the Greek New Testament as we have it today is substantially what the original authors wrote way back in the 1st century? By substantially, we are talking about 95% or better confidence limits. Check out the definitive textbooks by Bruce Metzger or Daniel Wallace (Wallace has his own web site, and he also has numerous scholarly articles at http://www.bible.org – you can look up Wallace under the authors list and read what he has to say about the transmission of the NT documents).

  199. Owen,

    And sure, miracles may be possible. They’re just not likely.

    If miracles “may be possible”, in principle, then the necessary conclusion that follows from that principle is naturalism is false. You might want to rethink how you’ve phrased this.

  200. In other words, Owen, if it’s actually possible that naturalism is false (that miracles might occur) then it’s actually false because if naturalism were actually true there could be no actual possibility that it could be false.

    Whew! I’m out of breath.

  201. Owen:

    JAD @ 224, a perfect God would have made the evidence of the Bible’s miraculous claims a whole lot better than it is. You can’t deny that.

    I can’t? Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do? I think you and others like you vastly underestimate the quality of the evidence that we have. For example, the late Raymond Brown did an in depth study of just the passion narratives of the gospels entitled, The Death of the Messiah, From Gethsemane to the Grave. It’s 1600 pages long. Brown’s study looks into just about every question one could ask about the betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial of Jesus… New Testament historian, N.T. Wright has done a similar study (though only about half the length) on just the Resurrection. Why are these studies so long? Because there is a lot of material which most people have no idea even exists.

    If you have never read these kind of books, who are you to judge the quality of the evidence?

  202. Further with respect the the kind of evidence a perfect God would have provided:

    1. Owen, your comparison with Mormonism and other holy books is completely wrong. Here’s why. The Bible claims to be primarily an historical record, an account of things that actually happened, in space and time, with witnesses, such that its philosophy could not stand apart from its history. No other holy book makes that claim, except in part the Book of Mormon. The Bible has been corroborated over and over and over and over again through history and archaeology, whereas the Book of Mormon really never has been.

    So you have nothing like the Bible anywhere among “holy books.” Your equating the Bible to other such books is completely unfounded in fact.

    2. I think it’s easy to deny that a perfect God must logically and necessarily have done what you say: to make the evidence clearer and more accessible. Do you know what a perfect God’s purposes must be with his revelation? How?

    3. And again, to echo what’s been said above, your very premise (that the evidence is lacking) is questionable.

    There are disputes over (3). There are no knowledgeable disputes over (1). I call on you, as a matter of intellectual integrity, to acknowledge the uniqueness of the Christian Scriptures in that sense.

    I call on you also to recall and rescind your statement that a perfect God must have done other than the God of the Bible has done (or has been claimed to do) — either that, or else explain to us how you know the God of the Bible well enough to be able to tell us all what he must have done.

    If we could get (1) and (2) out of the way, maybe we could work on (3) without them needlessly cluttering up the ground around us.

  203. Here are a series of three lectures on the resurrection given by N.T. Wright in 1999. The total length is about 2 hrs. If you don’t see that he is barely scratching the surface, then you weren’t paying attention. Like I implied above there is a lot of depth to the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Can fiction or legend create this kind of historical depth? IMO no. There is at least some, but more likely, a lot of real history behind these accounts which you will see if you do some honest research and study.

  204. Tom @ 232,

    1. You’re avoiding the issue specifically regarding the Gospels, Acts, and Paul’s letters. There is no outside confirmation of Jesus’ miracles or of his Resurrection.

    2. You asked, “Do you know what a perfect God’s purposes must be with his revelation?” No, of course not. I don’t even know what a god is. As Do you? If so, please define the term and tell us all how you know this? If not, then how can you presume to know what a god would say or do?

    3. So, again, where is the extraordinary evidence regarding the Resurrection? The fact that N.T. Wright and others wax eloquent about it for hundreds of pages means nothing if they don’t provide this evidence. So far, no one is saying what it is. In that sense, the fact that people write books about Middle Earth doesn’t mean that the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are factual.

  205. SteveK @ 229, of course naturalism could be false. Everything we know could be an illusion. We could be living in the Matrix. Who cares? What I’m concerned about are the probabilities given the way the world works.

    So, how likely is it that miracles occur? Not very likely at all. No miracle has ever been confirmed by disinterested parties. There have always been natural explanations that made more sense of the data. So, it’s unlikely that any future event that people label a miracle will actually be one. This indicates that super-naturalism is probably false.

  206. Victoria @ 227,

    (a) By everyday standards of evidence. Since Mark’s Gospel does not indicate who the actual author is or anything about him and it provides no names of people he interviewed or any information about who they were or about their credibility, we have no reason to take him at his word. For all we know, he made up the whole thing based on stories in the Old Testament and Greek myths, and then the other Gospel writers adapted his story to their own purposes. Do you have evidence to the contrary?

    (b) What do you know about gods or their purposes? How do you know these things? And what evidence do you have that, in such natural disasters, a god’s purposes were served? Could they not have been served in a peaceful way? If not, just how perfect is that god?

    (c) If the extraordinary evidence of the Resurrection exists, just tell me what it is. The fact that you and others keep failing to do so suggests it does not exist.

  207. Owen,
    Do you realize that circumstantial evidence is evidence – that with the right kind of circumstantial evidence it would be unreasonable to conclude that nothing has been proven – that it might even be considered extraordinarily unreasonable to do that?

  208. @Owen
    Have you actually read any of the historical scholarship that we have suggested? Did you find out why the 4 Gospels have always been associated with those 4 individuals?

    We will be glad to discuss the historical evidence with you…when you show us that you are going to be a serious scholar

  209. In the meantime, I suggest you pick up http://www.amazon.com/Can-Trust-Gospels-Investigating-Reliability/dp/1581348665.

    There is also a wealth of material at http://www.apologetics315.com, linking to web sites and resources of leading historical and NT scholars.

    There is an entire series by Mark, here: http://www.apologetics315.com/search/label/Mark%20D.%20Roberts

    I am not a professional historian or NT scholar (amateur, and well-read, yes) – my professional training is in Physics (PhD) and Computer Science. I have to rely on scholars who are historians, archaeologists and Biblical scholars for much of what I know. Unless you yourself are a foremost authority by virtue of professional scholarly training (and then you would know the value of consulting other scholars!), you need them as well.

  210. The Gospels don’t provide any names of people who could know about the events they record? Have you actually read any of the Gospels???

    All 4 Gospels provide names of people who were connected to events during Jesus’ 3 year ministry!

    Let me give you 2 examples (there are dozens).

    1. Joseph of Arimethea
    He was a member of the Jewish High Council and a (secret) follower of Jesus. He was also the man who requested Jesus’ body from Pilate so he (and Nicodemus) could lay the body in a tomb before the start of the Sabbath. His story is found in Matthew 27:57-66, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:31-42 (John also mentions Nicodemus here). Both Joseph and Nicodemus were in a position to know what happened in the High Council, and so could provide information to the authors and/or the apostles and other followers of Jesus. They could have confirmed that Jesus was as dead as dead can be when they took Him down from the cross, wrapped Him up for a hasty burial and laid Him in Joseph’s own tomb, nearby.

    2. How could Matthew, Mark and Luke have known what went on in Herod’s palace regarding the circumstances of John the Baptist’s beheading and what Herod was concerned about?
    You can find these accounts in Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-29, and Luke 3:1-20 and Luke 9:7-9. Matthew gives us a clue: (Matthew 14:1-2)

    At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus,
    2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Mt 14:1–2). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    How could Matthew know what Herod said to his servants? Well, what if at least one of Herod’s servants was or became a follower of Jesus?
    I’m not guessing here 🙂

    For Luke 8:3 says:

    and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Lk 8:3). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    That the authors didn’t explicitly state that they interviewed people can be a matter of style, but consider that Luke says:

    Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us,
    2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,
    3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;
    4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Lk 1:1–4). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    Of course, this is all predicated on the Gospels and the NT being first line reliable historical source documents. There are good reasons for accepting that this is the case, but I’ll save that for another post.
    In the meantime, do your scholarly homework.

  211. re #236:
    By ‘everyday standards of evidence’: , since the events and documents of Christianity come to us from almost 20 centuries in the past, we must use the methodology of historical investigation to reason abductively to understand what happened. That means historical source documents, archaeological excavations and artifacts.

    You are mistaken in your unsubstantiated speculations about Greek influences on the New Testament.
    1. The first Christians were also Jews, steeped in post-Exile, Second Temple Judaism – the inclusion of pagan mythology and idolatry would have been unthinkable to them.
    2. The NT letters of Paul for example, have much to say about Jesus and the implications of His death and resurrection – peruse them carefully and you will see that Paul builds his theology on the foundation of the Jewish Bible (our OT).

    For further study: http://carm.org/doesnt-religion-mithra-prove-christianity-false

    3. Both extra-Biblical sources and archaeology have given us insights into the world of 1st century Palestine – this has shown us just how thoroughly Jewish the Gospels really are. Among other things, the Dead Sea Scrolls has given us this insight. A good discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls is available for free download here: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/get-ebook/thank-you/?freemium_id=754 by noted archaeologist Herschel Shanks.

    As for archaeology, here is but one example

    That both of these pools are mentioned only in the Gospel of John in the New Testament reflects John’s intimate knowledge of Jerusalem. Jesus frequented sites such as Bethesda and Siloam because large numbers of people would be there. Both the blind man and the crippled man were hoping for healing. Jesus demonstrates his powers in both episodes, at the Pool of Bethesda simply by saying so. Bathing in the pool was unnecessary. His word was sufficient.

    from http://members.bib-arch.org/publication.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=37&Issue=5&ArticleID=4

    You’ll have to have a member account at Biblical Archaeology Review to see some of this material, but it’s worth the cost ( less than 50 dollars )

    See also http://members.bib-arch.org/collections-miracles-of-jesus.asp

    Going back to eyewitnesses, for the interested readers, some online material:
    https://bible.org/seriespage/eyewitness-testimony-mark%E2%80%99s-gospel

    https://bible.org/seriespage/eyewitness-testimony-luke%E2%80%99s-gospel

    https://bible.org/seriespage/eyewitness-testimony-johns-gospel

    These also include references to scholarly works, if you want to dig deeper.

  212. Victoria @ 242, this has nothing to do with scholarship. It doesn’t matter what any of your sources say about the reliability of the Gospels because the accounts told in them are still no more than hearsay upon hearsay at best and myths or legends set in a historical context at worst. You have not provided any _extraordinary_ evidence that the miraculous claims made in the Gospels are true.

    Should we believe all the folks who claim to have been abducted by aliens just because Roswell, NM is a real place? We even have first-hand accounts from these folks, so the evidence is, in principle, better than what we have in the Gospels.

    Again, if all people are supposed to believe the amazing stories in the Gospels, then the evidence for them should be much. much better than the evidence for alien abductions and all the wild stories told in the National Enquirer. But it doesn’t even come close.

    Show me extraordinary evidence, and I’ll believe. Otherwise, stop rambling about Bible scholars.

  213. Owen,

    I’m sorry, but your second sentence is simply false, and your first sentence is only true if applied to your own second sentence. You dismiss scholarship by your authoritative fiat, “This has nothing to do with scholarship,” and you accomplish that pronouncement without referring to any scholarship.

    Victoria’s conclusion in #244 is completely sensible in the circumstances.

  214. Really, Tom? What evidence makes the evidence of miracles in the Gospels more reliable than the evidence in the National Enquirer or the first-hand accounts of alien abductions?

    Scholarship is not evidence. Scholarship may make _references_ to evidence. All I’ve asked is that you folks give me the _extraordinary_ evidence that the miraculous claims in the Gospels are true. But none of you has done so.

  215. What evidence makes the Gospels more reliable than the National Enquirer or the first-hand accounts of alien abductions?

    Reasoned arguments from scholars can explain this, but you won’t allow it. See also #237. *shrug*

  216. Theistic apologetics have reached a dead end. Deal with it. Speaking nonsense in a room full of irrational beings does not make your ideas legitimate nor rational.

  217. Vahan, this is ironic. Have you seen the post in this series titled, “Boghossian’s Pretend Arguments”? It’s about his nonsense spoken into a rooms full of people who are letting him get away with demonstrable irrationality. (It’s also an example of supporting one’s contentions with evidence, examples, and reasoning: something you haven’t bothered to do for us here.)

  218. Owen, scholarship is evidence. That is to say, most of what you know, you know on the basis of what you’ve learned from people who know what they’re talking about. What’s the composition of the core of the earth? What’s the sun made of? How far away is Alpha Centauri? What causes HIV/AIDS? What causes the energy flow through electric wires? How many protons in an oxygen atom? What kicked off the hostilities in WW1? Who took elephants across the Alps? What led people in the Middle Ages to believe the earth was flat? Who became (essentially) the scribe of Socrates (and one of the world’s greatest philosophers in his own right)? Who sculpted “The Thinker”? What’s the capital of China?

    I know the answer to each of those questions. You probably do, too. I only know one of the answers from my own experience. The rest of them I know from the work of scholars. I know that one of them is a trick: it’s a question that comes out of poor scholarship that has been decisively overturned.

    Scholarship is knowledgeable testimony: it is evidence. It’s not perfect evidence, as this list shows, but your statement that scholarship is not evidence is overstated at best.

  219. Owen doesn’t ask that people give him the evidence regarding the composition of the core of the earth or what the sun is made of, yet he is very demanding of the evidence for the Gospels. Why the double standard? Why not employ a similar standard?

  220. “Why the double standard? Why not employ a similar standard?”

    I know this is a rhetorical question from you Steve but that’s the basis for a great deal of atheistic argumentation. It’s special pleading for anything related to the Bible but none of that for any other field of inquiry. Per Owen, “All I’ve asked is that you folks give me the _extraordinary_ evidence that the miraculous claims in the Gospels are true.” The double standard in the flesh. It’s always about changing the terms or the definitions (Boghossian) to tilt the playing field. They don’t want to go head to head. They know that’s not going get them anywhere.

  221. It’s special pleading for anything related to the Bible but none of that for any other field of inquiry.

    True. The claim itself (resurrection) is not ordinary, but neither is the claim that a giant burning object in the sky is made of (mostly) hydrogen and helium.

    Yes, you and I can relate to the fact that hydrogen burns so in that respect the claim about the sun is ordinary – something that we have experience with. We have no experience with resurrections so I’m guessing that Owen would say THIS is the reason why the “show me the evidence” double standard must be employed.

    Besides begging the question, that doesn’t make sense either. It doesn’t work because showing that hydrogen can burn doesn’t address the claim that the sun *is* made of hydrogen. It doesn’t do that any more than my experience with cheese addresses the claim that the moon *is* made of cheese.

  222. @BillT and SteveK: There is no double standard. We know that the sun is made out of hydrogen because of spectroscopy. So it’s an ordinary scientifically validated claim and resurrection is not. Science is based on logic, verifiable facts and experiments that can be repeated and shown to be correct or false. It’s correspondence to reality is shown in the results of technology. What is written about the resurrection is just that, a text, written by believers, which we cannot verify, and which is contrary to all our scientific knowledge.

  223.