McGrew-Boghossian Debate Live Blog

Thinking Christian
Thinking Christian
McGrew-Boghossian Debate Live Blog

Update: The podcast is up and available for you to listen to now. Comments are open here.

Probably the most amazing thing Peter Boghossian said in this debate was that almost no one uses the word faith the way McGrew does. When McGrew said that none of the thousands of people he’s interacted with agree with Boghossian, Boghossian contradicted him, and told him that this could only be true of 50 to 100 “in Tim’s universe,” people that McGrew interacts with academically. He said the same thing at least twice during this debate.
I’m willing to bet that McGrew has interacted on “faith” with more than 75 people. Lots more.

Did Boghossian think McGrew was deluded or lying? And for one who is so committed to using evidence, what evidence did he draw upon to come to that conclusion?

For more on Dr. Boghossian see my ebook Peter Boghossian: Atheist Tactician.

Original Post

At this web address, beginning at 9:30 am EDT today, I’ll open an interactive live blog for reactions to the McGrew-Boghossian debate on Unbelievable radio.

You’ll definitely want to be listening to the broadcast. Comments will be open after the event ends, subject as always to the discussion policy.

Since I’m trying a new thing here, and I don’t know how well it’s going to work for me, I’m holding open the option of interrupting this live blog and switching to Twitter once it gets started.

Live Blog:


Live blogging begins in 3 hours.


Justin Breierley: “What a stonker of a debate we have for you today.”



Tim McGrew’s specialty is in epistemology and evidence: both exactly on topic for a debate with Boghossian.

09:42 Updated : 09:43

PB: “The goal is getting people to think more rationally, more reasonably.” If only the book reflected that!


PB: “to lead people to be more cautious in how they use words like … faith”


PB: “to lead people to be more cautious in how they use words like … faith”


PB says “faith” is “exactly” evidence without belief


“Billions of people use ‘faith’ this way”


TM: many problems with that. Billions of people? No, just Ambrose Bierce and Mark Twain. No serious believer has ever endorsed it. OED says, “complete confidence or trust.”


TM: erases distinction between definition and description; a description can be a lousy definition.


PB says this is in “Tim’s universe,” 50 to 100 people use the term that way, but not the vast majority of people.

He’s wrong on that.


TM points out even an atheist who disagrees (The Good Atheist).


TM: “Faith in evolution” is a question of evidence.


PB: how people actually use terms. “I think when Christians use that term they mean it’s assiging a confidence value higher than warranted than evidence;” and if you don’t see it you’re “extraordinarily isolated.”



TM is pressing PB on his definition, showing that evidence is not so irrelevant after all.


PB says there’s no one standard definition! Isn’t that contradicting his own view?


PB “what does ‘I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist’ mean?” TM: it’s picking up a debased usage of the term. That’s a concession to the atheists’ debased usage.


“On your own terms, no.”


Now PB is conceding on the numbers! He’s saying his definitions are not the only ones used. And TM makes point that PB’s usage is very minority.


TM: alternate conceptions of evidence do not entail zero evidence.


TM: Faith is “trusting, holding to, acting on what one has reason to think is true, even in the face of difficulties, for example where the outcome of one’s action is out of one’s control.”


Now Tim McGrew is answering PB’s question about the difference between faith and hope.


PB: Where does evidence stop and faith take over? TM: Prejudicing the question, as if faith had to make up for the lack of evidence. The fact is when we act, we act all the way. If I’m only 67% sure the parachute will open I don’t pull the ripcord slower. I step out into matters beyond my control, but not blindly, rather with evidence. (99.9993% is actual parachute safety percentage.)


Assessment so far: PB is backing down on his insistence that faith is only to be defined his way.


PB: speaking now of evidence entering into the parachute jump decision. You don’t need to assign a higher confidence value; you don’t have to use the word faith. Why don’t we talk about faith in the existence of chickens?


TM: still smuggling in your definition of faith as assigning a higher confidence value than warranted; that’s the point in question. The difference in faith is venturing something.


Now in response to TM’s explanation, PB pauses, flounders, says, “what does that have to do with how people use ‘faith,'” and TM answers by explaining the difference between faith in a parachute and faith in chickens.


what does that have to do with how people use the word? TM: It’s a more accurate definition.”


Now PB is admitting that faith need not be used in religious context only!


PB ducks a question from JB, and says only a fraction of people use “faith” that way. We’re supposed to take that on his authority!


TM: Even Muslims claim to believe on the basis of evidence; we can argue whether that’s true or not, but it’s about evidence.


TM: “I’m not venturing on Islam so why would I speak of ‘faith’ that it’s false?” To venture something is to engage in a course of action whose outcome you care about when the outcome is outside your control. Not to do so blindly but to place the outcome at the disposal of factors outside your control.

In the vast majority of cases, faith is not something that requires the absence of evidence.


JB questions PB on his extremely negative view of faith, his call to eradicate it (a strong call in the book!!) and his conflicting claim to want to be civil.


PB: “Very unfair to say that I target Christian faith…. I’m equally hostile to all faith traditions.” “My intent isn’t to demean anyone, the opposite is true, I address people sincerely and bluntly as adults.”


Now PB speaks of supposed damage done by people of faith.


He supposes Tim might agree that other religions are “mental disorders,” but whether that’s so or not, that doesn’t entail that it’s faith itself; but PB says faith itself is the problem.


TM: To define faith this way is to reduce disagreement to derision. It’s demeaning, diminishing dehumanizing. What if we defined atheists as people who have misunderstood the evidence for God? That might be an accurate description, not a good definition.


PB: I don’t open conversations that way. I saved this part for chapter 9 in the book.


PB: “It’s not an intervention strategy it’s a containment strategy.”

It’s about strategy. He believes it but he won’t pull it out on anyone until he thinks it’s strategic.


PB: “Ridiculing religion has it’s role.”

“People suffering from faith are not well.”

But when that’s repeated back to him, he says, “no, no, no, no.”

And then he says yes, yes, yes, paraphrased, as he tries to explain.


PB: have you read the Qu’ran, Tim? TM: yes; but it’s not necessary to investigage everything to make a decision; you don’t have to read every 1860s biography to conclude JWB shot Lincoln. We can have good reasons to think G Relativity true without having studied every possible alternative.


Back a few moments ago PB said “I’m not trying to put you on the spot, but have you read the Qu’ran?”

He was trying to put him on the spot


PB: “Anyone who listens to this conversation knows that everyone views faith the way I do except the 50-75 people Tim engages with.”

What’s his sufficient evidence that Tim only engages with 50-75 people?


If more than 50-75 people on the Facebook poll agree with Tim, is that evidence to PB?




TM: If Peter is so sure faith is defined his way, then they need to talk to the OED about it!