I have some questions for Peter Boghossian. He tweeted my first article in this series, so it seems reasonable to think he’s aware of what I’ve been writing here.
Greetings, Dr. Boghossian, and thank you for visiting. I look forward to a pleasant and productive conversation.
The questions here refer back mostly to this post. If you find significant weaknesses in that post or any other in this series, I invite you to explain to us what you may find, along with answering the questions below.
Note well, however, that the questions in this post are not about your definition of faith or anyone else’s. They have to do with your mode of public argumentation instead: for there seem to be inconsistencies between your method and your message.
I have written, and I will continue to write, on the relation of faith, knowledge, trust, and belief. If you disagree with me on any of that, by all means feel free to say so, now or later. Please recognize, though, that this post is not primarily about that.
1. False Claims of Victory
On Wednesday I wrote on your use of what certainly appears to be straw-man argumentation (though I’m open to your correcting me on that, if you can do so). The sources I used were two lectures, both of which you have pointed to more than once in your recorded interviews, leading me to believe you consider them central statements concerning your position on faith.
As noted in that prior post, it looks to me as if you’ve successfully undermined two demonstrations of the miraculous, neither of which any thinking Christian actually considers to be a demonstration of the miraculous. You have also undermined five thoroughly irrelevant statements regarding faith. Meanwhile there remain other arguments — much stronger ones by far — in favor of different definitions of faith than yours, the virtue of faith, and the reality of miracles. You did not address those stronger arguments in these lectures.
The image that comes to mind is that of a shooting a squirt gun at a straw target, and then claiming to have won a major battle in a war that matters for all humanity. Surely you know that every discussion of intellectual integrity emphasizes engaging one’s opponent’s position at its strength — which you haven’t done in these venues.
So I ask: what motivated you in these high-profile lectures to engage only with weakness and to avoid strength? Are there any venues in which you have dealt with genuine arguments for faith?
2. Trading On Others’ Ignorance, Or …
You carry a professor’s intellectual weight and authority, and your audiences in these public settings have seemed appropriately respectful. They’ve also been largely receptive, even though your persuasive methods have been rife with fallacies, if my analysis is correct.
It appears, then, that there are three possible ways of understanding the approach you took in those lectures. The first would be that you are propounding fallacious reasoning in these public lectures with full awareness that you are doing so. In that case the only way you could hope to be persuasive would be by trading on your audiences’ ignorance of sound argumentation. Yet you speak often of the importance of rationality and critical thinking, and you say that’s the one thing you want to teach above all else. So this is an unattractive option.
The second would be that you are presenting these weak arguments unawares. That’s not an attractive option, either, for a philosophy professor.
The third and final possibility (it seems to me) is that your arguments were sound after all, and were directed squarely at Christianity’s point of strength.
Could you explain which if these is the case, or if there is a fourth option? Obviously if you want us to accept the third option, it would be helpful to hear from you just where I was wrong in my analysis.
In case someone should ask how these questions are relevant — for they are about your manner of conducting yourself in presenting arguments, not about the arguments themselves — it seems to me that this quite important indeed. You said in your May 6 lecture that you have deep concerns about the moral dimensions of the issues you discuss. You have also said (I’m repeating myself now, I know) that you place high priority on teaching good rational, critical thinking skills. It seems to me these are both matters in which we all might feel justified in asking whether your conduct is consistent with your message, and to explore what it might mean if it is or isn’t.
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