Boghossian’s Challenge on ‘Abandoning Faith for 100 Others’


Here’s a question about abandoning faith from my old friend Peter Boghossian. My answer follows:

Then another twitter user replied,

The Apostle Paul Answers

It’s an interesting question from Boghossian. I wonder whether he meant it as a matter of cold numerical calculation. I don’t know. I do know that the Apostle Paul answered him long before he asked. The section in Romans 9:1-5 reads,

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

The book of Romans is the New Testament’s most densely argued, completely worked-out explanation of the gospel. Along the way to this point Paul had dealt with several objections that his explanations might have raised. Now in chapter 9 he’s about to address the greatest objection of all: does this mean God is abandoning the Jews along with the Jewish religion?

A Cry of Love

I don’t need to go into his answer to that question. All we need to know here is that the salvation of the Jews was on his mind. And on his heart, too, for he tells us of his great sorrow and unceasing anguish over them. He loves his countrymen, his fellow Jews! And this is an exclamation of love: If he could be cut off from Christ and they would be saved for it, he’d be willing for that to happen.

So my first answer to Boghossian’s question is, I don’t know. I don’t know whether I love that much. That’s a Christian ideal but not one that can be attained by rational reflection. It’s a matter of character and maturity. I don’t think I’m there, myself. I’d like to be, but I can’t claim it if it isn’t true of me.

Peter Boghossian’s Sophistry

But there’s another answer I must add. Boghossian is a sophist. He showed it throughout his book A Manual for Creating Atheists, as I have shown at length (see also the other posts in this series), and he’s showing it again.

For here is what he’s asking. How much do you believe that what you believe about Jesus is true? Do you believe it strongly enough to believe 100 persons’ spiritual lives depends on its being true? Do you believe it strongly enough to decide to disbelieve it for the sake of those 100?

Or in other words, “Would you be willing to decide something was false while at the same time considering it true?”

The question is incoherent. One who thinks it’s important for 100 people to have faith is also one who by definition hasn’t abandoned it. It’s one who cannot abandon it; not while continuing to care about those 100 persons’ believing it.

Wrong In Many Ways

Boghossian is wrong on faith in many ways, and this reveals another one. Faith isn’t a pick-and-choose thing like that. It isn’t a lifestyle choice. It’s an attitude of trust one takes toward that which one has reason to consider true and trustworthy.

I can’t simply abandon my faith in what I consider to be true. If I think it’s true and worthy of trust, then I believe in it. That’s how believing works. It’s also synonymous with faith — in spite of Boghossian’s persistent mis-definitions of the word.

I can only change my faith, my belief, if I see some change in the facts supporting it. I could only abandon my Christian faith if I thought there was no good reason to think Jesus lived, died, and rose again. Which would hardly make sense if, at the same time, I thought it was important for 100 other people to believe he really did live, die, and rise again.

Boghossian claims to be an expert in critical thinking, but he keeps missing his own fallacies.

The apostle Paul knew that what he was writing there in Romans 1 was impossible. It wasn’t a proposal or a request. It was an expression of love.

Image Credit(s): Wikimedia Commons.

6 Responses

  1. Timothy Crockett says:

    I got the same impression after reading his book.

  2. Clark Coleman says:

    In order to give my soul for 100 others, I need to have an indication from God that He desires me to do so. That is what it means to trust in God. All we have is a hypothetical situation, with no indication that God accepts the trading of human souls. The hypothetical bears no relation to reality.

  3. You’re right that people can’t decide to disbelieve while also believing. But we could rephrase Boghossian’s question without referring to belief, like this: “Would you be willing to suffer for eternity in hell if you could thereby redeem the souls of 100 other people?”

    Thus, it’s a question of whether you love others more than yourself.

    But Clark Coleman makes a great point because none of this makes sense unless God approves. And there’s no suggestion that God would accept the sacrifice of yourself for 100 others.

  4. BillT says:

    “Would you be willing to suffer for eternity in hell if you could thereby redeem the souls of 100 other people?”

    The response to the paradox in this question is illuminated in John 15:13. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

    If one were to say yes it would be an act of love that would demonstrate a commitment to the Gospel and be seen as an act of the kind of sacrificial love that Christ modeled for us all. So, saying that you would do such a thing would probably result in just the opposite of what was offered. An eternity in heaven not one in hell.

  5. scbrownlhrm says:

    Hypothetical boxes which selectively expunge both reality as it actually is and also the Christian’s metaphysical landscape are boxes which ipso facto cannot be asked to carry any weight.

    A far better question which that box can answer is this: What is about those two that the Non-Theist must remove in order for his hypothetical to do any work?

    Hopefully our Non-T friend realizes that he’s given an impossible set of premises, given that he’s expunged both reality as it actually is and also the Christian’s metaphysical landscape.

    Another box:


    the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.
    a fallacious argument.

    plural noun: sophistries

    Another box of the same category for context:

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