Tom Gilson

Another Reasoned Analysis of “A Manual for Creating Atheists”

Check it out here. Excellent.

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32 thoughts on “Another Reasoned Analysis of “A Manual for Creating Atheists”

  1. Shane,

    Firstly, if you look at the context within which this sentence of Nick’s is found you will realise that by “what has been shown” he means what is known by various evidences, not just what a person has seen for themselves.

    Secondly, faith is multi-faceted, but never belief without evidence.

    With that in mind:

    The Centurion: Matt 8:5-13
    Matt 8:23-27
    Mark 2:2-5
    Luke: 7:36-50

    and many more.

    The people who are linked with faith in the bible are people who acted on what they believed because of what they had seen or heard. The people who are put forward as not having faith are those who (according to the bible) had sufficient evidence but didn’t act on that evidence.

  2. James,

    Might I suggest you read the post I wrote for you yesterday? I know you know about it via Twitter. I’ve been pretty surprised you haven’t said a word yet.

    It is a legitimate and honest request for clear communication, and the door is still open for you to let me know what you think.

  3. Melissa,

    I also recommend a careful and complete reading of Hebrews 11, not just the first verse. The chapter gives many examples to illustrate the concept and meaning of faith. This is good pedagogy!

  4. Shane, I would be very cautious about taking advice on reading the Bible from a man who thinks that reading sentences in context is “playing the ‘context’ card.” It hints at someone who may not care what the original intent was, as long as he can quote-mine what he wants out of it.

    That’s the caution related to the person (a non-fallacious use of ad hominem by the way). My more general caution is that you understand that the Old Testament cannot be understood piecemeal. It was meant to be read as books, not as sentences. It was meant to be read with genre, history, and literary context in mind.

    And frankly, I can’t even figure out how James’s verse suggestion here would be relevant even apart from those considerations.

  5. Nick,

    Thank you so much for your thorough and articulate review of Peter Boghossian’s book, “A manual for creating atheists.” Your insights contribute significantly to the discussion. I’m offering a few thoughts of my own about the book here.

    First, let’s be clear about Bognossian’s purpose in writing the book: to give religious faith a bad name. PB recognizes that language is a powerful thing. It can be used to communicate, but it also can be used to obfuscate and manipulate. PB compares the word to a “slippery pig” that”…we need to get our hands on it, pin it to the ground, and wrap a blanket around it so we can have something to latch onto before we finally and permanently subdue it.” (p. 22-3) He claims (pretends) that he “clears up” the definition of the in the process by replacing conventional meanings of faith, and the positive associations attached to these understandings of the term, with his own “two preferred definitions of faith” (p. 23). And he obviously expects his atheist readers to engage in his “pig wrestling” with total assent to the proposition that the language of faith and faith itself must be eradicated.

    Of course Boghossian does not provide any theoretical or research base for his tackling the “pig” that is faith. He offers no analysis of the body of scholarly research on religious faith as it contributes to personal well-being. A list of studies that found a positive correlation between religious/spiritual faith and the following variables are found in Zuckerman, 2009, p. 956:

    Positive mental health outcomes
    Fewer psychological problems
    Reduced levels of depression
    Descriptions of themselves as “very happy”
    Lower death anxiety
    Greater levels of hope & optimism
    Better adjustment to & coping with sad or difficult life events
    Better ability to deal with chronic illness or the death of a loved one
    More ability to cope with stress & crises
    Longer life expectancy

    Of course, Boghossian does not wrestle with this body of scholarly research, despite the fact that he is an academic. Nor does he appear to have examined Professor Fowler’s research in his book: James W. Fowler (1981) Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development & the Quest for Meaning. New York: HarperCollins. Apparently, pig wrestling is much more entertaining than academic research on a topic of great interest in the disciplines of philosophy as well as psychology and theology, and academics are not Boghossian’s audience anyway. PB makes no attempt to honestly examine the role of faith in the lives of individuals or in society. This is reprehensible.

    As a linguist and language educator, I am particularly distressed by Boghossian’s attempt to redefine a term to further an ideological agenda. Words take on their meaning (semantics) within a linguistic community as labels for concepts, a sort of code or shorthand for conveying meaning. The way we Christians use a term to communicate about abstract and complex concepts and processes is legitimate and useful within our community. When we speak of/about faith with each other, we communicate about something very deep, intimate and sacred.

    IMO, we should also be talking about the ethical and moral dimensions of Boghossian’s attempts to turn the concept of religious faith into a pathology. The only mention PB makes regarding the ethics of his “Street Epistemology” as a form of “dialectical treatment” to eradicate the “faith virus” is on p. 131, where he laments that it is probably not possible to research the effectiveness of his “intervention” because of “the ethics (IRB) of conducting studies with the explicit aim of helping people abandon their faith.”

    There is much to talk about here regarding Boghossian’s book. Thank you, Tom and Nick, for providing this forum.

  6. It occurs to me that it’s kinda hard to advocate “doxastic openness” when you write a book that seems to preach the exact opposite.

    Reason, “doxastic openness”, intellectualism, knowledge… these words should be more than just soundbites. We (the non-believing community) should be better than this. Reason shouldn’t be propaganda…

  7. Tom @ #7,

    As you no doubt already know, people who want (or need) to play the “definition card” have to stop anybody with a competing point of view from playing the “context card”. Why? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because context trumps definition?

  8. Someone posted this quote from Martin Luther King Jnr:

    “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

    Which in the context of faith being acting on the knowledge you do have seems to be as good a definition as anything.

  9. @ Sault – I’m glad that you see it this way. I’ve yet to read Boghossian’s book but I must say that not only am I disappointed by the nature of the content (at least as I’ve encountered in several blogs), I’m also disappointed by his refusal to engage with people like Tom or Randal Rauser.

    BTW, I was wondering why nobody commented on the link I provided in comment #10. I now realise that this may be due to the fact I managed to concatenate a link to Thinking Christian with a link to Randal Rauser’s site – which is impressively sloppy work. Anyway, this is the correct link: http://randalrauser.com/2014/01/peter-boghossian-on-his-opponents/

    Apparently you aren’t the only one being ignored by Boghossian, Tom. After the defining silence to the criticisms raised here and lame “not a scholar” excuses provided to Rauser, one can’t help but begin to form the impression that Boghossian is not interested in engaging with those who might just provide robust challenges to his manual.

  10. Just to clarify what I was trying to do with my comment #13 on the “Seeking Clarity in the Faith Debate…” thread (and not muddy the waters any further there), I understood, at least at first, James’ post in reply to Jenna as an argument. Here’s the quote to which I was responding:

    Jenna, you have read my first book. That means you have read Chapter 10 of my book. That means you recognize that I do not accept a “spiritual dimension of reality.” I strongly suspect that the “spiritual dimension” is not of reality at all–it’s a combination of various abstract ideals, mental concepts, and psychological experiences, i.e. it is imaginary and subjective. That isn’t to say it isn’t important to honor and seek the numinous or what gets called the “transcendent,” it’s just that we have no basis upon which to assert that it is transcendent at all. It is no more transcendent than a DMT trip (which I have never experienced, to be clear).

    Suppose that I substitute the three words I have italicized as follows:

    Jenna, you have read my first book. That means you have read Chapter 10 of my book. That means you recognize that I do not accept a “spiritual dimension of reality.” Cognitve science clearly demonstrates that the “spiritual dimension” is not of reality at all–it’s a combination of various abstract ideals, mental concepts, and psychological experiences, i.e. it is imaginary and subjective. That isn’t to say it isn’t important to honor and seek the numinous or what gets called the “transcendent,” it’s just that we have no basis upon which to assert that it is transcendent at all. It is no more transcendent than a DMT trip (which I have never experienced, to be clear).

    Is that now an argument? I think it is. What does everyone else think?

    Of course, I am willing to give James the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe it honestly wasn’t his intention to make an argument. However, I see a lot of this kind of thing on the part of many of our interlocutors. Making assertions, and stating opinions, using them provisionally as pseudo arguments and then when challenged pleading agnosticism (or, just running away). In other words: bait and switch… duck, dodge and weave … then rabbit trails into the weeds. Do atheists have any real arguments, or is it just that they don’t know how to make an argument?

  11. Jenna,

    Thanks for your comments! I happen to think the problem with much of the new atheist movement is a kind of hubris they have, and fortunately not one shared by all atheists, but unfortunately shared by many. It is this idea that I am right and my positions is rational by virtue of my being an atheist. Therefore, why do you really need to look at the other side? I mean, it’s not like they can have anything intelligent to say. Right?

    In fact, I am working on a fuller response to B at this moment.

    And for Shane, I did link at the end to my writing on Hebrews 11:1. I also recommend this:

    Faith/Faithfulness

    “These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.

  12. Nick,

    Thanks so much. I’m enjoying the conversation.

    Another aspect of Peter Boghossian’s book that I think we need to highlight and challenge is his claim that his “Street Epistemology” does not seek just to “tear down” what he believes to be the “delusions” of faith, but that it “offers a humanistic vision” based on a “humanism that’s taken some hits and gained from experience.” (p. 17) Yet, nowhere in his book do we get a picture of what this “humanistic vision” is.

    In fact, on p. 165, he seems to be rather dismissive of “secular humanism,” which he defines as “a philosophy and a set of ideals” only to distinguish it from atheism, which is “simply a lack of belief in a God or Gods.” So what does PB have in mind to replace people’s faith, once his Horsemen successfully “disabuse” people of faith of our faith? Is there any chance of getting an answer to this question from him?

    Keep up the good work in debunking “A manual for creating atheists.” JB

  13. #3

    Hi Melissa,

    “Secondly, faith is multi-faceted, but never belief without evidence.

    With that in mind:

    The Centurion: Matt 8:5-13”

    The Centurion, having never been given evidence that Christ could cure with just his voice believed it to be so. Why is this not belief without evidence?

    “Matt 8:23-27”

    The disciples are in a storm and ask Jesus to save them from the storm. They ask because they believe he has the power to do so. But then Jesus rebukes them for having little faith. This seems like a total contradiction as they believed and still had little faith.

    “Mark 2:2-5”
    What evidence did these men have and how do you know?

    “Luke: 7:36-50”
    The woman believed that anointing Jesus feet with her tears would save her immortal soul? Where was the evidence for that?

    All of these, like the example of the blind men (acting on hearsay) and the woman that believed healing power also existed in Christ’s garment (something that does not logically follow) are acting because they believe things that there is no good evidence for.

    “and many more.”

    Then please find me one that shows people acting on things they know to be true and then Jesus saying they have strong faith.

    “The people who are linked with faith in the bible are people who acted on what they believed because of what they had seen or heard.”

    The disciples acted on what they believed, that Christ could save them from the storm, and then Jesus rebuked them for having little faith.

    “The people who are put forward as not having faith are those who (according to the bible) had sufficient evidence but didn’t act on that evidence.”

    Again, Matt 8:23-27 doesn’t seem to back that up. Any other examples of this would be appreciated.

    Cheers
    Shane

  14. #6

    Hi Jenna,

    Well Hebrews 11 verse 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.

    Now this seems to be the epitome of believing something without evidence. No one was there to witness it. There can be no testimony, nor even any hearsay.

    Cheers
    Shane

  15. Shane, RE: #21

    You refer to Hebrews 11:3 “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”

    Notice these terms: “we understand” and “the word of God” What do you think these mean?

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the Big Bang theory. On what evidence do cosmologists base this theory about the origins of the universe? What spurred them to do the research to gather the evidence on which the theory is based? None of them saw the Big Bang happen, of course, meaning that it happened out of some force or forces that is/are not visible. Do you claim that the science of cosmology is without evidence for its theories? Is cosmology not to a certain extent a science based on faith, although it does not call the invisible forces that caused the Big Bang “God” or speak of what “God commanded” like the ancient Hebrews did. Yes, we have to take our understanding of the origins of the universe on faith. All of us, including those who take the “word” of cosmologists.

  16. Shane,

    Then please find me one that shows people acting on things they know to be true and then Jesus saying they have strong faith.

    Why must I do that? You asked for bible verses where faith is presented as a response to what has been shown. I did that.

    A couple things to note:

    1. You have no idea what kind and quantity of evidence the blind men, the Centurian or the woman were acting on, the stories just don’t tell us so any conclusions you draw about the sufficiency of the evidence is pure speculation.
    2. The woman and Centurian were probably extrapolating from their available knowledge, but given what they probably knew of Christ and his actions that extrapolation was rationally justified.
    3. In the storm passage in Matt, instead of resting in the Father’s care as Jesus does, they are agitated, waking Jesus with the cry that they are perishing.

  17. #22

    Hi Jenna,

    “Do you claim that the science of cosmology is without evidence for its theories?”

    It was 2000 years ago when Hebrews was written.

    “Notice these terms: “we understand” and “the word of God” What do you think these mean?”

    What do you think they mean?

    Cheers
    Shane

  18. #23

    Hi Melissa,

    “You asked for bible verses where faith is presented as a response to what has been shown. I did that.”

    I don’t believe you did. More below.

    “1. You have no idea what kind and quantity of evidence the blind men, the Centurian or the woman were acting on, the stories just don’t tell us so any conclusions you draw about the sufficiency of the evidence is pure speculation.”

    And neither do you. But you didn’t let your speculation stop you from putting the story forward as if he had received sufficient evidence. You cannot have it both ways. Statistically it is more likely that none of these people have personally witnessed or received first hand testimony. It is more likely to be hearsay.

    “2. The woman and Centurian were probably extrapolating from their available knowledge, but given what they probably knew of Christ and his actions that extrapolation was rationally justified.”

    Of course they rationally justified it. They didn’t do it because they didn’t believe it would work. But the point you try to make is that “rational justification is evidence” and therefore “their faith is based in evidence”. I do not believe rational justification is evidence. Therefore I believe “their faith was not based in evidence”.

    “3. In the storm passage in Matt, instead of resting in the Father’s care as Jesus does, they are agitated, waking Jesus with the cry that they are perishing.”

    So they don’t have faith that they would be safe from the storm? Having lived a life of fishermen, undoubtedly knowing many people who lost their lives at sea during storms, what evidence did they have God would keep them safe, despite the many waves breaking over the ship? What had been shown to them that meant their boat would not sink and they would not perish?

    What been shown to them was that Jesus could perform miracles. So they woke him to perform one, believing he could save them on the evidence that had been shown to them. But that, apparently, does not count as faith. Belief based on evidence in this case is little faith. The faith Jesus wanted, was for them to believe they would be safe without his intervention, thereby requiring them to believe something when they had a lot less evidence.

    All the examples I have been shown indicate that faith is mentioned with regards to people/situations with little/less evidence. It is apparent in all these examples that there is an inverse law with regards to evidence and faith.

    Cheers
    Shane

  19. Shane, RE: #

    Since the book of Hebrews is named Hebrews, who do you think it was written for 2,000 years ago?

    Since you brought up Hebrew 11:3 as an example and gave me your interpretation, I’m simply asking for clarification of your interpretation. If you don’t care to answer, that’s okay too.

  20. Hi Jenna,

    I think it was written for the Hebrews. What’s the point you are tying to make?

    My answering your question with a question is just a way of trying to get you to say what you mean. I’m not claiming you would be guilty of it, but often in these type of arguments people ask specific questions as a way of getting an answer that suits their argument. It has been mentioned a bit in these last few posts about James doing such a thing. I find it better (more honest?) for people to make their statement and let other people respond to them. But I’ll take you at face value here.

    “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.”

    In this context I would think “we understand” is equivalent to ” we know” and “God’s command” could mean “God’s word” or “God’s will”. I don’t think either of those are very dissimilar.

    Cheers
    Shane

  21. Shane,

    The point I am attempting to make about Hebrews 11:3 is that the entire chapter of Hebrews 11 and this passage are addressing the Hebrews who were converts or potential converts to Christianity by giving a series of examples of faith. The Hebrews take the naming of God as the Creator on faith, as can be seen starting with Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth. God or Elohim is a name, label and concept that the Hebrews used to signify the whole unified array of forces, energies, processes, natural laws and events that created/create the universe and life as evidenced by the existence of everything, seen and unseen, material and spiritual, in the heavens and on earth; the universal creative force. The author of the Book of Hebrews (most authorities say it was the Apostle, St. Paul) is using examples of faith to which his audience can relate and identify with out of their own religious/spiritual experience in order to understand (that word again!) what is meant by faith.

  22. Shane,

    And neither do you. But you didn’t let your speculation stop you from putting the story forward as if he had received sufficient evidence.

    I just got through pointing out that you requested stories where faith is presented as a response to what has been shown (as qualified by my opening comments of my first reply to you).

    Statistically it is more likely that none of these people have personally witnessed or received first hand testimony. It is more likely to be hearsay.

    Calculations please, otherwise it is just an evidence free assertion.

    Of course they rationally justified it.

    I wrote that they were rationally justified, not that they rationally justified their belief. There is a difference.

    What been shown to them was that Jesus could perform miracles. So they woke him to perform one, believing he could save them on the evidence that had been shown to them. But that, apparently, does not count as faith.

    According to the bible they had been shown a lot more than that. They had some faith, it just wasn’t considered by Jesus to be proportionate to what they had been shown.

    All the examples I have been shown indicate that faith is mentioned with regards to people/situations with little/less evidence. It is apparent in all these examples that there is an inverse law with regards to evidence and faith.

    The amount of evidence in each case is pure speculation on your behalf therefore it is not apparent that there is an inverse law with regards to evidence and faith.

  23. #28

    Hi Jenna,

    “God or Elohim is a name, label and concept that the Hebrews used to signify the whole unified array of forces, energies, processes, natural laws and events that created/create the universe and life as evidenced by the existence of everything, seen and unseen, material and spiritual, in the heavens and on earth; the universal creative force. ”

    Just did a search of Elohim on the internet and didn’t find any reference to natural processes or forces. It only referred to a personal God. If you have any specific links here I would appreciate it.

    Cheers
    Shane

  24. #29

    Hi Melissa,

    “I just got through pointing out that you requested stories where faith is presented as a response to what has been shown (as qualified by my opening comments of my first reply to you).”

    But as you point out, you have no idea what has been shown to the players in these stories so you can’t present their response as faith.

    “Calculations please, otherwise it is just an evidence free assertion.”

    23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria

    Population of Syria, where the news spread, is about 20 times that of Galilee, where the first hand accounts started. So very, very roughly, it is 20 times more likely that they were reacting to hearsay rather then testimony.

    “I wrote that they were rationally justified, not that they rationally justified their belief. There is a difference.”

    Please clarify that difference.

    “According to the bible they had been shown a lot more than that. They had some faith, it just wasn’t considered by Jesus to be proportionate to what they had been shown.”

    What had they been shown with regard to having faith that God would keep them safe during the storm?

    “The amount of evidence in each case is pure speculation on your behalf therefore it is not apparent that there is an inverse law with regards to evidence and faith.”

    It’s not pure speculation on my behalf. Christ’s clothes had not been shown to have healing properties. It’s statistically unlikely that the blind men were acting on anything other than hearsay. The centurion had never seen or heard of Christ healing over great distances by command. These people were all commended for having great faith. Believing these things could be done with no first hand evidence to back it up. Great faith and little evidence. Inverse law.

    Again, please show me one example of great faith being mentioned in connection with lots of evidence to back up your claim.

    Cheers
    Shane

  25. Shane,

    But as you point out, you have no idea what has been shown to the players in these stories so you can’t present their response as faith.

    I only need to know that they were shown and responded to something which is obviously true.

    Population of Syria, where the news spread, is about 20 times that of Galilee, where the first hand accounts started. So very, very roughly, it is 20 times more likely that they were reacting to hearsay rather then testimony.

    Not true. You would need to know where the people seeking healing had come from and how long they had been in the vicinity of Jesus before they approached for healing.

    s by command. These people were all commended for having great faith. Believing these things could be done with no first hand evidence to back it up. Great faith and little evidence. Inverse law.

    Note carefully that you have changed to no first hand evidence. Big deal, that doesn’t mean they had no evidence or even insufficient evidence. There is no evidence in any of these passages that the writers of the bible thought these people had insufficient evidence or any less evidence than anyone else who chose not to respond to Jesus and that’s what you need to make your case.

    And when I write that there belief was rationally justified I mean exactly what it says. They had rational reasons for their belief.

    Again, please show me one example of great faith being mentioned in connection with lots of evidence to back up your claim.

    Again, I don’t need to do that – I’m not postulating any necessary connection between the amount of evidence someone has and their faith.

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