Tom Gilson

On Boghossian’s Making “Faith” Equal to “Pretending To Know What You Don’t Know”

In his Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian recommends that every time you see the word “faith,” you should feel replace it with “pretending to know what you don’t know.”

It would take a more sensible suggestion than this to rise to the level of absurd. As it is, Boghossian’s friend James Lindsay supplies the evidence needed to show that it is merely silly, perhaps also a tad pathetic.

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7 thoughts on “On Boghossian’s Making “Faith” Equal to “Pretending To Know What You Don’t Know”

  1. There’s more evidence backing up the claim that atheism is ‘someone who claims God doesn’t exist, or is extremely unlikely to exist’ than there is for Petebog’s definition of faith.

  2. “It would take a more sensible suggestion than this to rise to the level of absurd.”

    Because no Christian ever defines faith this way?

    If you’re saying that you don’t–perhaps “faith” and “trust” both mean “solidly grounded in evidence” to you–that’s fine. But don’t speak for all Christians.

  3. Thanks for the lecture, Bob. In my mind’s eye, I see all those damaged other Christians rising up to applaud you for protecting them from me misunderstanding their faith. “Hail, Bob, the Atheist, who knows what our faith really means!”

    But complete (and well deserved, IMO) sarcasm aside, let’s also remember what this message of Boghossian’s is about, via Lindsay. You see, Boghossian actually and clearly makes the mistake you’re rising up to complain about me making. He says it is “definitive of faith that it is pretending.” He says that we should feel free to substitute “pretending to know … ” whenever we see the word “faith.”

    In other words, he’s making a claim for the word “faith” that he thinks applies to all Christians (and other believers). That’s the category of mistake you said I was making. Have you lectured Boghossian as you have me?

    You are wrong to assume that this is silly just because I (incorrectly, on your view) think no Christian ever defines his faith this way. It’s silly for another reason, which you really ought to be able to see. It’s silly because Boghossian says that this is what faith always is for all believers.

    Oh, and it’s also silly because… well, just read it! It’s silly. On the face of it, it’s just plain ridiculous. If you can’t see that, … ?

  4. By the way, if you could find me even one actual, thoughtful believer in Christ who actually defined his faith as “pretending to know what he doesn’t know,” I’d be surprised.

    Definitions are for the thoughtful. They take a bit of reflection to get right. Therefore if you found some off-the-cuff, “I s’pose so,” kind of agreement somewhere, that wouldn’t surprise me. If you found even one person, though, who said that was his considered, studied understanding of “faith,” I’d be surprised.

    So in other words, your guess was right: “no Christian defines his faith this way;” or if any do, it would be very much out of the ordinary.

    Meanwhile, Lindsay’s point is that his post is a “clarified” from an article by Adelle M. Banks. That means his version is somehow linguistically more superior and less distorted than hers.

    In reality his post is utterly silly and more than a tad pathetic. Feel free to defend it if you care, but if you do, the same will rub off on you.

  5. I could trivialize my life away, Bob, responding to your confident ignorance, and yet there’s something terribly not-trivial about it. For example, recently,

    1. Jesus wasn’t talking to you. The Great Commission was given to the apostles. Don’t flatter yourselves—you’re not Matthew or Peter or John.

    Actually Bob, the Great Commission includes, “teaching them [disciples in all nations] to observe all that I have commanded you.”

    Right there, in the very text that you’re talking about (Matt. 28:19-20), is the refutation of what you’re saying. If it was commanded of the disciples, then they were to teach the rest to observe it, too.

    It’s not hidden. It’s not obscure. It’s not deep or difficult logic. It’s right there, it’s obvious, and it’s right on the surface. Yet you missed it.

    Is it because you don’t care whether you know what you’re talking about?

    Here’s why I’m bothering to point that out here. It’s because you act as if you know what you’re talking about, when obviously you do not, and I’m really surprised you would want to do that.

    I could have lifted out other errors in the same piece, and dozens upon dozens elsewhere. In this one, for example, it’s as if you think we’ve never given a millisecond’s thought to Matt. 18:18 or John 20:23; and all you need to do is mention that those two verses are in the Bible, and poof! all our Great Commission goes away.

    Similarly with the work of the Holy Spirit.

    C’mon, Bob, how likely is it that you’re the first person to have thought about that?

    You’re acting as if you’re the one who’s discovered all knowledge about Christianity and faith. That’s unseemly. It’s not just arrogant, it’s not just ignorant, it’s obviously ignorant, to anyone who has studied these things; and yet you seem so confident in it!

    Why would you be comfortable with presenting yourself in that light? I don’t get it. Why not bother to learn what you’re so gleefully criticizing? You might find that what you’re complaining about in Christian belief is usually something we don’t believe ourselves.

    But then–how would you complain about Christians? What if you found out that the caricature you’re ripping apart doesn’t represent Christianity at all? Would you then be forced to stop your criticism? And if so, could you live with that? Could you live with basing criticisms (whatever they might be) on what’s true, rather than just enjoying the experience of mocking us?

    I suggest you ask yourself these questions.

  6. The thing I don’t get about Peter Boghossian is that the English language is full of words that have more than one meaning. Sometimes the meanings are subtly different sometimes they are completely different words with the same spelling. Just take the word atheist for example: It can mean someone who strongly believes that there is no God or, as many atheists seem to be fond of using the word, mean someone who does not hold any particular belief in the existence/non existence of God/gods.
    So how can PB justify treating faith which as a variety of uses as always adhering to his definition regardless of context?

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