Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tom Gilson proves Peter Boghossian's point

Christian apologist (and stalwart defender of traditional definitions of the word "faith," regardless of what the word means in usage) Tom Gilson has taken his paranoia with Peter Boghossian to a new level: he wrapped up all of his blog posts about him along with some extra materials into a free ebook available by subscribing to his website. I, along with at least one other, have posted a few times about Tom in the past, engaging in a blogged discussion with him, and it appears to have helped vault Tom into compiling a short ebook against Boghossian's recent Manual for Creating Atheists.

First, let's let Gilson tell us why to read Boghossian's book:

Reading Gilson's short ebook is a bit surreal and not entirely a waste of time--but not really for his defenses against Boghossian's books and talks; those are exactly as would be expected. Instead, in addition to the repackaged blog posts that compose it, an atheist can find pretty much every reason to want to pick up Boghossian's important book and put it into action. Indeed, I think Peter Boghossian might have received his best blurb yet--overshadowing those from Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins--from Christian apologist Tom Gilson in this odd little ebook of his. Gilson writes a few gems right at the beginning of his ebook:
Peter Boghossian wants to create atheists, and he’s the man for the job.
And, bearing in mind he's a strong opponent of the book,
While the Manual’s weaknesses are abundant, tactically and persuasively it’s brilliant. It will create atheists—count on it.
And,
Atheists certainly are excited about it. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have promoted Boghossian’s work. Jerry Coyne, professor at the University of Chicago and author of Why Evolution Is True, wrote in an endorsement, “This book is essential for nonbelievers who want to do more than just carp about religion, but want to weaken its odious grasp on the world."
More importantly, the book is selling well. It went quickly into a second printing, and two months after its introduction it remains a chart leader in its philosophy-related content categories at Amazon.com.
And,
I left there [the Reason Rally, 2012] thinking that if atheists ever had a real leader to follow, things could become nasty for Christianity and other faiths. Richard Dawkins, for all his fame, is no such leader. Whether Peter Boghossian is or not, I do not know—but he’s the closest thing so far. (emphasis his)
And,
He has a following. He’s a master of persuasion and personal change theory. He’s latched on to something very powerful, for the methods he teaches in this book will undoubtedly create atheists. 
And then there's this rather shining one, which is such a good blurb for Boghossian's book, if we ignore the usual persecution complex bit at the end, that if I were his publisher, I'd dearly love to put it on the cover:
It’s too early to say—and predictions are dangerous—but I wouldn’t be surprised if ten years from now we realized that this book’s publication was a turning point in the decline of Christianity in the West, not only in the numbers of Christians, but also in the way we’re treated by the rest of our culture. (Strikethrough mine because that's nonsense, at least the second half of it)
Note, in all of this, that Tom Gilson is, himself, a self-described Christian strategist, so when he calls Peter Boghossian an "atheist tactician" in the title of his ebook, that's likely to be a qualified statement that Boghossian is really on to something. 

Now, how Gilson proves Boghossian's point

All of that aside, I'm interested in this tiny bit:
For the sake of our faith, and our children’s faith, Christians need to know about this.
My question is "why?"--and especially if Christianity were really true.

The answer is really quite simple, and as I've noted before, it seems Tom Gilson knows it: the objects of belief in Christianity that Tom Gilson considers so important are not discoverable facts about the world. Bereft of people inculcated in the faith traditions of Christianity to spread it, no one would ever become a Christian again. Its claims simply aren't discoverable--nothing in the world points to Christian beliefs on its own--and its history is just too shaky to get accepted and passed on outside of extant belief.

Other ancient religions that have died (or all but), whether we have their scriptures or know their histories or not, stay dead, classified as they are: mythology. The unique path to Christianity sustaining itself is Christians passing it along to new believers, so at the least, Boghossian isn't far off to call it something akin to a virus. The faith virus requires more than the introduction of ideas to spread, of course. Just as real viruses require a host with a gap in its immune system, the faith virus requires cultural context in order to embed itself. Lacking this context, which requires living, breathing believers (or a new personality cult), faith is seen as utterly unreliable and religion is nothing more than someone else's set of myths.

And look at the predicament this creates for the all-powerful God of the world's largest religions! If they were true, the most important pieces of information in the universe are hung upon a failed epistemology, faith. How could an omniscient, benevolent God have arranged things so that the most important articles of "truth" in the universe could possibly die out from the world and remain unrecoverable or only able to be salvaged from a nonsense book of internally contradictory ancient Middle Eastern djinnie stories? If an almighty God could have hung something more consequential on a less epistemologically sound line, it would require all his omniscience to think such a thing up. "Revelations," traditions, and authority simply do not possess the necessary grounding to do the job, and this is not controversial. In fact, everybody knows it--as long as they aren't turning the lens on their own beliefs.

As every Christian must know deep in her heart of hearts, this failed method--faith--equally sustains contradictory religions like Islam, Hinduism, and Shintoism. Regarding those religions, every Christian knows faith to be an utter sham of a way to claim to know something, say that Muhammad was truly visited by Gabriel and given the Word of God directly (a version of the "Word" that contradicts Christianity, as a matter of fact). From the Christian perspective, Islamic faith misleads Muslims. What Christians deny, though, is what every Muslim, Hindu, and Shintoist knows in their hearts of hearts, and for the same bad reasons: Christians, including Tom Gilson, do just the same.

To elaborate, every Islamic cleric in the world could tell Tom Gilson at length about the miracles and historicity of the Islamic beliefs, and historical evidence leans ever so slightly more heavily on their side. (We have better reasons to accept that Muhammad was a real historical figure than Jesus, even without the God-made-man nonsense.) They could tell Tom Gilson exactly how they know not only that Islam is the one true religion but also exactly how they know that Christianity errs in a grievous way on the central point. And Tom Gilson would ignore every one of them, talking about his "evidences" while they talk about theirs.

Again, then, I remind my readers--and Tom Gilson--of my point: If there is no God, then there is no evidence for God; there is only evidence misattributed. (I discuss this point at length in Dot, Dot, Dot, by the way.) Even if there were a God, if the claims of Christianity (or Islam) are false, then there is no evidence for Christianity (or Islam, respectively); there is only evidence misattributed. We see the same evidence attributed to various things: to Hindu post-hoc rationalizations, to Islamic post-hoc rationalizations, to Christian post-hoc rationalizations, and to everyday, ordinary psychology, sociology, and culture, no theism needed.

Why does it matter that Christian "truths" are not discoverable truths about the universe? This is equally simple: because it shows that Christian beliefs necessarily outstrip their warrant of evidence, just as do Islamic beliefs from Tom Gilson's perspective (inter alia).

This is why every Christian needs to know about Boghossian's book and the threat it represents to their faith. It's because faith is a failed way to know, and Tom Gilson knows it plainly, though he still wishes to defend it. It's because the objects of Christian faith are not discoverable facts about the world, and it's because the objects of Christian faith exceed the warrant of evidence that supports them, including personal testimonies and the historical record. Christian faith, however widely believed, fares poorly against even modest skeptical inquiry, something entirely untrue for essentially everything demonstrably true about the world.

Thus, Christian faith, including Tom Gilson's, as Boghossian said, is saying, "I don't have enough evidence to support my belief in Christian truth claims, but I'm going to believe them anyway." 

Pretending to know

Here, then, I will disagree slightly with my friend who blogs under the monicker "CounterApologist." He, like Gilson, though for different reasons, takes issue with Boghossian's rhetorical move in using the term "pretending" in his definition of faith: pretending to know what one does not know. Seeing his point--that pretending is an intentional act that we really can't assert Christians are engaging in, especially generally--I did not intend to take issue with his quibble, but I'll flesh out my agreement with the term here briefly since it fits.

The pretending lies not in day-to-day faith--CounterApologist and Gilson are right about that, since that is more of a passive way believing minds attribute evidence--but rather in confronting challenges to the beliefs. In those moments when life throws a curve ball, maybe a challenging moment like a senseless accidental death and maybe something as mundane as an encounter with a confident atheist (or believer in a different faith tradition), moments when the beliefs simply don't match the evidence of the world and it is clearly felt, the believer who maintains belief pretends to know something she doesn't. Maybe it's that Dad is in heaven now, waiting, and maybe it's that the atheist is an agent of Satan, or maybe it's just that God has a bigger plan, and we all have free will--it doesn't matter.

In those moments of challenge, pretending occurs to stabilize belief, even if it happens subconsciously or preconsciously. This is completely consistent with the definition for "pretending" that Google gives: "speaking and acting so as to make it appear that something is the case when in fact it is not," and if this still feels too strong, it's how we use the word when we call a bullshitter with the phrase, "don't pretend to be an expert," by which we mean "don't pretend to know something you don't," of course. And not all bullshitters are consciously faking it, especially if practiced in the art, but still they pretend to know things they don't.

It, pretending, doesn't happen all the time, but neither does a claim to rely upon (or even a thought about) faith as to claim to "know" something. When faith becomes relevant in the mind of the believer and survives the encounter, I am arguing that pretending to know something one does not know has occurred. Further, the more desperate the rationalization--that is, the more implausible the conclusion given the evidence--the more pretending is happening. Thus, like all exercises in religious apologetics, Gilson's book from front to back is one long exercise in pretending to know something that he does not know (which is a fair-sight nicer than the "making stuff up" I branded apologetics in Chapter 7 of God Doesn't; We Do).

The question, again, is "why?" I've waited some days now for Gilson to address my central points in every post I've made regarding him so far: Boghossian is right in saying that faith is the word that we use when we put a higher confidence in a belief than is warranted by the evidence and thus that it is not a reliable way to claim knowledge. I don't understand why he didn't address this in the first place, and I don't understand why he hasn't addressed it now. Tom, if you're reading this, I intend not to proceed with you until you address this clearly and plainly. My strong suspicion is that you (Tom) are pretending to know things you do not know and refusing to admit it. 

Boghossifying Gilson

Since, so far as I can tell, my (surprisingly popular) Boghossification of the Catechism of Trent of 1566 is what led Tom Gilson to start talking to me in the first place, prompting my attention, I thought it might be fun to close by Boghossifying some Gilson. I've chosen a lovely passage from the conclusion to his ebook. I will not put it in block quotation format since I am changing it, but I will place quotations marks around it to mark the parody. I'm also inserting a neologism of my own make, supertruth, where it belongs. A supertruth is an article held as true regardless of whether it is actually true or not. I've also added all emphasis in the passage to highlight what I'm getting at.

My challenge is for anyone, Tom Gilson included, to illustrate for me that this is not how the word "faith" is being used in this passage. The rest of this post, save the very end, is Gilson Boghossified:

"That Christians pretend to know things they do not know is rational. It’s based on knowledge. It’s based on evidence. It goes beyond provable knowledge, but it’s hardly wholly divorced from it. Our pretending to know what we do not know can stand up to the challenge of creating atheists.

"Pretending to know what we do not know can stand, but can we who pretend? Can your children, whom we've taught to pretend, stand? Can your friends? Can you? Now that you’ve read this book, you’re prepared on one level. You know that pretending to know what you do not is still connected with knowledge. You still need to ensure, however, that what you pretend to know but do not know is connected with what you do know. The same is essential for all Christians.

"I haven’t begun to delve into all the knowledge claims that support how Christians continue to be able to pretend to know what we do not know. That wasn’t my purpose in this book. My purpose was to provide you some specific armor against the attacks of A Manual for Creating Atheists, and even more importantly, to encourage and exhort you to seek further equipping, for yourself and for people whose continued pretending to know what they do not matters to you. In the resource section to follow, you’ll find a small, manageable, and helpful list of websites and books for you to check out as you pursue that equipping [for continuing to pretend to know what you do not know].

"For there are people out there trying to create atheists. They are well equipped with persuasive tactics. Our best defense against them is a thorough, well-practiced knowledge of the supertruths [we as Christians cling to]."


Once again, Tom Gilson, I call upon you to repudiate all failed epistemologies--those that allow more belief than the evidence warrants--and the supertruths supported by them, faith and particularly Christianity among those, along with your case against Peter Boghossian.


Edit, 12-31, evening: I added a link to substantiate my claim that my interaction with Gilson may have helped vault him toward writing an ebook about Boghossian. This is relevant because of his subsequent response to me (point #2, here). To quote Gilson: "I’d be hard-pressed to find any evidence anywhwere [sic] that he helped vault me to writing the book. Sure, he hedged his claim with 'appears to have helped.' But even that’s unwarranted; there’s nothing anywhere to 'appear' that way." This is false (see here).

43 comments:

  1. James, I have an answer to your critique of my book, which I'll post on my blog when I can. My web hosting provider, Bluehost, is down right now.

    I was also thinking through another answer on another level, which is the way you're psychologizing me (earlier, "obsession," and now, "paranoia" and "persecution complex," along with dark hints of my knowing things I won't admit and being unwilling to answer questions.

    I've decided to keep my response to that very short. You're discourteous, you draw personal inferences far beyond the evidences, you engage in both overt and subtle character attack, and I don't care to participate in that kind of interaction.

    I won't be surprised if you psychologize me for that as well. It's your blog, and you can run it as you please.

    I'm sure I won't be accused of subtle character attacks for saying that much, at any rate. It's my intention to be perfectly overt about it.

    I'm not avoiding have a substantive answer to the substance of your critique when the website comes up again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Less psychoanalysis and more not understanding why, with so much confidence that your beliefs are warranted by evidence, you feel like Boghossian and his take need so much attention. Pardon me if I came off as attacking your character. I merely aimed to speak plainly.

      Delete
    2. Did you read the book?

      I'll lay it out again, as clearly as I can. The reason I think Boghossian needs so much attention is because

      a) Christian beliefs are warranted by evidence, but
      b) Many Christians have been careless about learning to understand these things, so that
      c) When a Peter Boghossian (or someone he has trained) asks them for their evidences, they are unable to answer, so that
      d) a Peter Boghossian/trainee may be able to confuse them into thinking there is no answer, which is
      e) harmful in many ways, which I want to interdict, and
      f) Boghossian has the skills to multiply that harm, which I *really* want to interdict to whatever extent I can.

      It's really that uncomplicated.

      You really have been psychologizing me, and if this conversation is going to continue, your rudeness is going to have to stop first. I'll pardon you for what you've done so far as you requested, but I won't walk through the same mud again.

      Delete
    3. Tom, if the best you can come up with are appeals to scripture (a fallacy) and the sensus divinitatis (what about the sensus great pumpkinis or the sensus buddhatis?), you really should be worried about Boghossian and his mission.

      Delete
    4. Tom, you're misleading Christians and others by focusing on what is remotely possible (i.e., that Christianity is true) rather than what is probable. How would you show that Christianity is more likely than not to be true when you can't invoke anything that can be reliably verified?

      And what about atheists' sensus non-divinitatis?

      Delete
    5. Owen, perhaps you should develop a basic understanding of what the Sensus Divinitatis actually refers to rather than demand people answer your silly questions. Just a thought.

      Delete
    6. Owenl19, my appeals to Scripture in this context are appeals to the literary history and conventional usage of the term "faith." They are not appeals to the truth of Scripture but to the conventional use of Scripture. That's not fallacious.

      It would do you well (and all the others who have made the same mistake, see http://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/11/part-argument-doesnt-require-believing-bible/) not to knee-jerk "fallacy!!!" when you see Scripture being used. It would do you well to think about what you read before you react, in other words.

      Delete
    7. Tom,

      You're relying on reading in a lot of what you want to believe on passages that are hardly questionable, and you're explicitly ignoring other parts of scripture that unequivocally support the idea of "belief without good evidence" as something Christians are blessed by their god for. That single instance would lend credibility to any interpretation of other verses that seem to say that, but apologists try to spin as being something else.

      Delete
    8. Tom, you said in point a) that Christian beliefs are warranted by evidence. Did you mean some evidence other than scripture or the sensus divinitatis?

      Derek_M, I've read Plantinga's explanation of it. To invoke something like the sensus divinitatis is no different than saying, "My crystal ball works if you believe it does." Having a strong conviction about something doesn't make it true, and capitalizing "sensus divinitatis" does not make it significant.

      Delete
    9. Reading Plantinga and understanding Plantinga are two separate things. A.C. Grayling made the same mistake when reading Plantinga and had to be corrected by fellow atheist Thomas Nagel. The SD has nothing to do with evidence for God.

      Delete
    10. Derek, if the SD is not evidence of the Christian God, then what is?

      Delete
    11. Plantings refers to the SD as the possible means by which one would apprehend knowledge about God if God exists. To try and force it into evidence for God's existence is bizarre.

      Delete
  2. So by your a-f logic all these believers would be pretending to know things they don't know...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps, Daniel. But that doesn't make it definitional of faith, as Boghossian claims. It's descriptive of their practice of faith, but that doesn't make their practice descriptive of everyone's, nor does it mean that faith means nothing but that, as Boghossian also seems to claim.

      I wouldn't deny that there are weak faith practices among religious believers. I deny that Boghossian's definition of faith is universally correct, and I have written at length to show that it's even close to being accurate for those who are thoughtful about the question.

      Delete
  3. TG Wrote: "I deny that Boghossian's definition of faith is universally correct..."

    This is vapid; no definition is universally correct. The only relevant issue is whether or not YOUR FAITH is not another example of pretending to know what you do not know. You can clear this up quickly by providing one clear example -- shouldn't be hard for someone who's apparently written so much on this topic. I would think you could just copy and paste from all the places you've cleared this up for everyone.

    TG: "...and I have written at length to show that it's even close to being accurate for those who are thoughtful about the question."

    I assume this is a typo and that you meant to write "... that it's [not] even close..." But as my request above, please clear this up for us by merely copying and pasting (I can only assume that your ebook is chock full of this) your best example of how you've established that your faith claims are not an example of pretending to know what what you do not know.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Actually, cal-metzger, the point of all that I've written about Boghossian has been to context his claim that his definition of faith applies universally and in all instances. If there's vapidity anywhere, now you know where to look for it.

    Now, I don't know why you're so interested in MY (all caps) faith. I think that should be a fairly uninteresting topic to most readers. You're welcome to read through my blog, though, if it fascinates you that much.

    Now, if I were to post on an evidential basis for my faith, that would be a mistake for three reasons. One is that the evidential basis is cumulative. Another is that it would inevitably sidetrack the discussion. Another is that my best answer to your question is awaiting publication in print, and it really does require its full 4,500-word explication.

    Your copy-and-paste suggestion, in other words, is a non-starter.

    But you're welcome to buy my book. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Soooo, you've got nothing then? Given the invitation to clear things up, once and for all regarding Boghnossian's criticism, to give us the one, best example of why your faith is not a case of "pretending to know something you don't know," you can't come up with anything?

      Not one example?

      Delete
    2. Cal-metzger, I have read Boghossian's book and honestly found it to have holes big enough to run a parade float through. For instance (and this will tie in to your badgering of Tom for an answer), what room does Boghossian leave for foundational or properly basic beliefs? He defines knowledge in such a narrow way that he leaves no epistemic space for beliefs that people are rational to hold without any evidence, such as the existence of other minds.

      So can you prove that you are a separate human person with a mind and not just cal-metzger bot, a piece of software I wrote to troll Christians? Does that question seem like nonsense?

      Delete
    3. Derek_M, I see that like Tom you'd prefer to change the subject, make aspersions, etc. Can you answer my question to Tom? If so, why not?

      I have read Boghossian's book as well; perhaps you'd like to point to exactly what page and passage you are referring to where Boghossian and his editor et al. missed their point so badly. Until you do, it seems to me that you have mischaracterized or don't understand his book, and that like Tom, you'd rather divert from the subject at hand.

      Delete
    4. Cal-metzger, you are merely parroting Boghossian in trying to steer the discussion in the way you want it to go, your comfort zone. Sadly that is not how real life discussions work. At the beginning of Chapter 2 Boghossian poisons the well by insisting that those who have faith will run from defining it. What we have here is confirmation bias from Boghossian who has developed his system of "intervention" based on his own experiences. He doesn't have any idea how to deal with people who don't agree with his bizarre definition of faith so he rigs everything from the start. This kind of savage ad hoc-ery is the sign of doxastic closure on Boghossian's part. He has been devoured by his own creation.

      I will rephrase my question, why in the world should anyone follow an epistemology that makes properly basic beliefs untenable?

      Delete
  5. Yeah, Derek M. or Murell, I see that you (along with Tom Gilson) won't answer my one, simple question. Why won't you answer my question? Why do you suppose it is so difficult for you to answer?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same guy, I can't figure the Google multiple login system out.

      Anyway, as I pointed out, you are sticking to Bog's script and not actually having a discussion. This is another major flaw with his book, he pays lip service to the Socratic method but his own method melts down immediately when the stock answer is not given. Your question does not compute because I don't accept Boghossian's fetish definition of faith. Perhaps you could re-phrase the question in a manner that makes sense and I will answer it.

      Delete
    2. Yes on Google multiple login system: inscrutable to me as well.

      I disagree with your characterizations thus far of Boghossian's book (though I do have my own criticisms).

      I assume that you are a Christian. So, I'll ask more specifically, can you answer how you know either of these things:

      1) Jesus was the son of God and was resurrected?
      2) Yours is a triune God?

      There are many other questions I could ask a Christian, but those are the two most fundamental, I believe.

      Delete
    3. Ok, how do I know Jesus is the Son of God. First I must make sure that claiming to know I do not mean logical certainty. As you may know, there are two types of certainty, logical and psychological. Logical certainty would be deductively true statements like "there are no square circles". Psychological certainty is what we deal with in the vast majority of our life, it is not absolute. For instance, I am certain that "it will not be 90 degrees tomorrow morning where I am staying". I would say I am certain of it but I am not certain in the same way that I am certain that "there are no square circles".

      So I am psychologically certain that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Resurrected or, in other words, I know it to be true. How? Because of many factors but I will give one reason which has many points that would have to be discussed at length. I know (am psychologically certain) that there are reliable traditions passed on through the Church (which includes Scripture) which provide eyewitness testimony to Jesus' teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection. I am certain miracles are possible because of my belief in God and my belief that the universe is not a closed system (these are other topics which would also take much longer to deal with). If God exists, the universe is not closed system, and Jesus is who the Gospels portray Him to be based on eyewitness testimony then I am certainly rational in believing he is the Son of God and was Resurrected. Where would faith come in? It is a term used for the trust associated with this knowledge. Could I be wrong in my psychological certainty? Yes! But at this point it ranks very highly in my certain beliefs, it could waver in the next hour or get stronger. This is how our beliefs actually play out in the real world.

      Do you see how Boghossian's definition of faith is absolutely meaningless to me?

      Delete
    4. "Do you see how Boghossian's definition of faith is absolutely meaningless to me?"

      Well, as you describe your process above, I don't see how you'd be able to feel any confidence that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Resurrected, nor have any confidence that the Universe is not a closed system (and this would indicate the existence of a personal being, etc.). Those things may be true, but what you describe appear to be "uncheckable." So, no, I think that you are describing a) a famously poor (and contradictory) way to determine the facts, and b) speculation that can't be verified. So it seems to me like Boghossian's characterization is fair enough.

      Delete
    5. Cal-metzger, no offense intended but I don't think you understood my post. I made it very clear that my reasons for believing in God and miracles are different reasons that would require a great deal of discussion to hash out. I was giving you the presuppositions (which I have reasons for claiming knowledge of) I am operating with when it comes to Jesus Christ. If everyone had to prove every belief that they hold that leads up to the topic of discussion then no significant discussion could ever take place.

      Delete
    6. I think you have not made yourself at all clear, and certainly not explained your criticism of Boghossian's book. The book is really all about justifying one's epistemology, and all you have done is try and explain the reasons you believe what you believe, when you should be trying to address the reasons you use the epistemology you do.

      In other words, why do your religious beliefs rely on hearsay and unverifiable speculation, rather than the methods you use to have strong certainty about other things in the rest of your life? That is the question Boghossian raises.

      For instance, I think you should ask yourself why it is you think the traditions passed on through the church are reliable? What are the methods that are available to check these traditions? Why is Mark known as Mark, for instance? If the answer to that and other questions isn't at all obvious or available, what does that tell you about your religious beliefs, and the methods you have used to establish them?

      Delete
    7. Cal-Metzger:

      ---"I think you have not made yourself at all clear, and certainly not explained your criticism of Boghossian's book. The book is really all about justifying one's epistemology, and all you have done is try and explain the reasons you believe what you believe, when you should be trying to address the reasons you use the epistemology you do."

      You have shifted the goal posts all over the place. You have tried desperately over and over to make the discussion fit Boghossian's model and it is nonsense to me for various reasons I have shown. It doesn't provide room for properly basic beliefs because of the strict demand for empirical justification for beliefs and it depends on a bizarre definition of faith which I do not even find comprehensible. These are sufficient reasons to reject Boghossian's assertions immediately with no further discussion. He has failed.

      I find it very strange that you ask me how I know that Jesus is the Son of God and Resurrected from the dead. I gave you one line of abductive reasoning which you may not find convincing but I do. You then claim that I have only tried to explain the reasons that I believe what I do...well that is what you asked for. It seems you see some non-existent divide between epistemology and epistemology in practice.

      ---"In other words, why do your religious beliefs rely on hearsay and unverifiable speculation, rather than the methods you use to have strong certainty about other things in the rest of your life? That is the question Boghossian raises."

      This is nothing more than question begging. The Traditions of the Church that I am appealing to are not hearsay or unverifiable speculation based on my research and I have good reasons for holding them to be truthful. I use the same methods for attaining knowledge in any historical context. Assuming that I don't is to psychoanalyze me and is a waste of time. But you must assume I do this if Boghossian's method is to work, well it doesn't and you are watching it crumble in front of you.

      ---"For instance, I think you should ask yourself why it is you think the traditions passed on through the church are reliable? What are the methods that are available to check these traditions?"

      I think they are reliable because I study historiography and history itself and find that the Traditions are reliably transmitted from the eyewitnesses. This is something you can study on your own since it requires a lot of work but I can recommend some books that would be helpful if you are interested.

      ---"Why is Mark known as Mark, for instance?"

      St. Mark's Gospel is attributed to him for a few reasons. One is that Church Tradition has never wavered on who wrote it (a disciple of Peter) and every manuscript that contains an author has St. Mark attached. So, for a crude one sentence analysis, we have good reasons to hold that St. Mark wrote the Gospel and the burden of proof is on the person who wishes to challenge it.

      ---"If the answer to that and other questions isn't at all obvious or available, what does that tell you about your religious beliefs, and the methods you have used to establish them?"

      Answers are usually not obvious or easily available, that is why those of us who care about truth attempt to discover it using the proper methods of inquiry in each discipline. For instance, I believe the Christian Scriptures contain errors, I am not an inerrantist, and this is based on research into the Scriptures and extra-biblical literature.


      Delete
    8. "You have shifted the goal posts all over the place. You have tried desperately over and over to make the discussion fit Boghossian's model and it is nonsense to me for various reasons I have shown."

      Umm, this post and the issues it raises, is what I've been commenting about. I can understand if the topic of trying to justify your religious beliefs makes you uncomfortable, but that's to be expected.

      "It doesn't provide room for properly basic beliefs because of the strict demand for empirical justification for beliefs ...."

      Have you actually read Boghossian's book? Are you claiming that he is a solipsist, or that he makes no room for axioms? If so, please cite the relevant passage from his book, because the above is simply a bizarre assertion to make about a college-tenured philosopher. You are basically making an assertion that a professor of philosophy, whose scholarship and teaching would be under scrutiny by dozens of other professionals, would make the kind of blunder a middle schooler would discover. This seems a highly arrogant assessment, to say the least.

      "It seems you see some non-existent divide between epistemology and epistemology in practice."

      I can see where I was confusing there -- I asked you "how you know" something, and when you gave some reasons it must have seemed that I just called that insufficient. But, per the topic of the OP and your mentioning of Boghossian's book, I am expecting you to address the central questions raised by Boghossian's book, and that book is really about justifying the epistemology called "faith." So when I ask you "how" you know something, I mean (per Boghossian), what are the methods you apply to form and test that belief. Is that clearer?

      "The Traditions of the Church that I am appealing to are not hearsay or unverifiable speculation based on my research and I have good reasons for holding them to be truthful."

      You seem confused about what hearsay means. If you are not appealing to hearsay (the testimony of other people) how do you know that Jesus was resurrected? If not through the testimony of men, how have you learned that Jesus was the son of God and was resurrected by God, and how have you come to verify all this? If this question makes you uncomfortable, why do you suppose that is?

      "I think they are reliable because I study historiography and history itself and find that the Traditions are reliably transmitted from the eyewitnesses. This is something you can study on your own since it requires a lot of work but I can recommend some books that would be helpful if you are interested."

      Well, your above simply can't be true on many levels. For one, Islamic traditions are a little more reliable from a historical basis, for instance, and they contradict Christian traditions. Also, anyone who's played "telephone" or read about problems with human perceptions and interpretations or read about how institutions revise the past so as to control the present must accept that this process is not reliable. So there must be some other reason why you hold your specific religious beliefs.

      "Answers are usually not obvious or easily available,...."

      I disagree; virtually everything we "know" is objective, verifiable, and reliable. While the tools and techniques for some of these facts are indeed complex, it is reassuring how much of the world we can investigate and "check" on our own. Honestly, I think the ability to explore reality and test our knowledge is one of the greatest joys of being alive.

      Delete
    9. ---"Umm, this post and the issues it raises, is what I've been commenting about. I can understand if the topic of trying to justify your religious beliefs makes you uncomfortable, but that's to be expected."

      More psychoanalysis about my comfort level, stop wasting my time with that nonsense.

      ---"Have you actually read Boghossian's book? Are you claiming that he is a solipsist, or that he makes no room for axioms? If so, please cite the relevant passage from his book, because the above is simply a bizarre assertion to make about a college-tenured philosopher."

      Yes I have read the book and the actual treatment of epistemology is embarrassingly slim. That is why I was forced to piece together what he holds. He actually gives a brief overview of a few epistemic frameworks in endnote 11 of chapter 2 but takes no side. He comes across as a fairly crass empiricist and that is why I think he has no way to account for basic beliefs.

      "You are basically making an assertion that a professor of philosophy, whose scholarship and teaching would be under scrutiny by dozens of other professionals, would make the kind of blunder a middle schooler would discover. This seems a highly arrogant assessment, to say the least."

      Boghossian routinely makes the same accusations against brilliant philosophers like Plantinga (take the Sensus Dvinitatis for example). He is the least charitable academic I have ever come across. As for his own ideas, I am not aware that he has published anything of relevance in the area of epistemology or the philosophy of religion other than this one pop-level book published by a no-name freethought publisher. He isn't even on the radar to have his ideas scrutinized.

      "I can see where I was confusing there -- I asked you "how you know" something, and when you gave some reasons it must have seemed that I just called that insufficient. But, per the topic of the OP and your mentioning of Boghossian's book, I am expecting you to address the central questions raised by Boghossian's book, and that book is really about justifying the epistemology called "faith." So when I ask you "how" you know something, I mean (per Boghossian), what are the methods you apply to form and test that belief. Is that clearer?"

      It is clearer. I simply reject that faith is an epistemology, his arguments for it are just assertions and demands to agree with him. The question of justifying faith as an epistemology is meaningless to me.

      ---"You seem confused about what hearsay means. If you are not appealing to hearsay (the testimony of other people) how do you know that Jesus was resurrected? If not through the testimony of men, how have you learned that Jesus was the son of God and was resurrected by God, and how have you come to verify all this? If this question makes you uncomfortable, why do you suppose that is?"

      Hearsay is not testimony. Hearsay is usually not allowed in court while eyewitness testimony is allowed. They are very different things. For the second time we have some more psychoanalysis about my comfort level, this will be the last time I will allow it before I leave the discussion and spend time with more fruitful things.

      ---"Well, your above simply can't be true on many levels. For one, Islamic traditions are a little more reliable from a historical basis, for instance, and they contradict Christian traditions."

      By what criterion are Islamic traditions more reliable than Christian? Which traditions specifically? The telephone game has absolutely nothing to do with how eyewitness testimony was handled in 1st Century Judea. The telephone game is a game where accurately transmitting the received information is of no importance, this is a horrible comparison. Your vague comments about institutions revising the past is another red herring since that is not what happened in the case of Christianity.

      Delete
    10. "Yes I have read the book and the actual treatment of epistemology is embarrassingly slim. That is why I was forced to piece together what he holds. He actually gives a brief overview of a few epistemic frameworks in endnote 11 of chapter 2 but takes no side. He comes across as a fairly crass empiricist and that is why I think he has no way to account for basic beliefs."

      So do you think he is unaware of basic beliefs as part of a philosophical system, or that you don't like how you imagine he accounts for them? Either way, this criticism just seems silly.

      "Boghossian routinely makes the same accusations against brilliant philosophers like Plantinga (take the Sensus Dvinitatis for example). He is the least charitable academic I have ever come across.As for his own ideas, I am not aware that he has published anything of relevance in the area of epistemology or the philosophy of religion other than this one pop-level book published by a no-name freethought publisher. He isn't even on the radar to have his ideas scrutinized."

      Yeah, this is all just ad hominem. I get it that you don't like Boghossian (for the record, I think he's kind of smug myself). I also don't think much of Plantinga's work, although I think he's much more likable. None of that really matters, though, does it?

      "The question of justifying faith as an epistemology is meaningless to me."

      If you make no claim to knowing something based on your religion than I agree with you. If you are making claims about the real world based on methods common to religious beliefs -- revelation, scripture, supernatural beings, etc, -- then I can't imagine why you would think that your faith is not a kind of epistemology.

      "Hearsay is not testimony."

      Hearsay and testimony are both versions of the same thing -- accounts of events given by people.

      "Hearsay is usually not allowed in court while eyewitness testimony is allowed."

      The distinction made in court is that testimony is an account where the source can be heard and cross-examined. If you cannot provide a living eyewitness to the claims of the Bible, then you are perforce relying on hearsay.

      Delete
    11. "For the second time we have some more psychoanalysis about my comfort level, this will be the last time I will allow it before I leave the discussion and spend time with more fruitful things."

      Ironic from a person who began his first comment here calling me a troll, and his second writing "Cal-metzger, you are merely parroting Boghossian in trying to steer the discussion in the way you want it to go, your comfort zone." So let's not pretend that you are somehow above offering your own psychological commentary -- it just makes you seem like a hypocrite.

      Secondly, I'm not psycho-analyzing you. I'm pointing out what I think are possible explanations for your beliefs, and if you are at all concerned about aligning your beliefs with reality I assume you'd want to be aware of what others see in your assessments. We all suffer from things like confirmation bias, etc. If you want to pretend that you're somehow immune from these recognized biases, or that self-reflection alone is sufficient to eliminate the possibility of these biases affecting your beliefs, then you would truly be delusional.

      "By what criterion are Islamic traditions more reliable than Christian? Which traditions specifically?"

      I wrote, "For one, Islamic traditions are a little more reliable from a historical basis, for instance, and they contradict Christian traditions." I simply meant that because the events surrounding the formation of Islamic traditions occurred 600 years closer to our own time, there is less time for the destruction of time -- documents fall apart, buildings burn, monuments weather, things are lost. I didn't mean to imply that Islamic traditions should be privileged -- that we should be more credulous of claims found in the Islamic traditions than those found in Christianity or other religions. Be aware, however, that I don't buy into claims that Christian religious zealots were more truthful than their counterparts in any other religion have been shown to be.


      "The telephone game has absolutely nothing to do with how eyewitness testimony was handled in 1st Century Judea. The telephone game is a game where accurately transmitting the received information is of no importance, this is a horrible comparison."

      If you don't think that legends grow in the re-telling then you are deceiving yourself. The telephone game is a shorthand way of expressing this. I witnessed this firsthand when I was arrested in college, and one night later people I met for the first time had heard that "I beat up six cops." If you have never witnessed something similar then I don't know what else to say.

      "Your vague comments about institutions revising the past is another red herring since that is not what happened in the case of Christianity."

      This is straightforward special pleading -- my institution is immune from the behaviors evinced by all others. It is not credible on many levels.


      Delete
    12. ---"So do you think he is unaware of basic beliefs as part of a philosophical system, or that you don't like how you imagine he accounts for them? Either way, this criticism just seems silly."

      That is a false dichotomy, it could very well be that he holds to a very sophisticated epistemology but presents crass empiricism because he knows what will catch on with pop-readers. It is a shame that in a book where the word epistemology appears ad nauseam one is left clueless as to what Boghossian actually holds.

      "Yeah, this is all just ad hominem. I get it that you don't like Boghossian (for the record, I think he's kind of smug myself). I also don't think much of Plantinga's work, although I think he's much more likable. None of that really matters, though, does it?"

      Not ad hominem, I wasn't making an argument. I was merely pointing out where Boghossian stands in relation to his peers.

      ---"If you make no claim to knowing something based on your religion than I agree with you. If you are making claims about the real world based on methods common to religious beliefs -- revelation, scripture, supernatural beings, etc, -- then I can't imagine why you would think that your faith is not a kind of epistemology."

      You are equivocating on faith here. Calling religion "my faith" is a very different than saying "I have faith". You start this statement with religion as a synonym for faith, then move into knowledge claims which assumes faith is a method of reasoning, then assume the original definition at the end when referencing "your faith". A religion (or a faith) is a collection of beliefs and practices, this is a completely different meaning to the one you have been presenting.

      ---"Hearsay and testimony are both versions of the same thing -- accounts of events given by people.

      The distinction made in court is that testimony is an account where the source can be heard and cross-examined. If you cannot provide a living eyewitness to the claims of the Bible, then you are perforce relying on hearsay. "

      Hearsay is a loaded term do to the dubious nature in which it is often used. It is not synonymous with eyewitness testimony. You can argue that the Biblical evidence is hearsay and not eyewitness testimony but smashing the two together is not good history.

      ---"Ironic from a person who began his first comment here calling me a troll, and his second writing "Cal-metzger, you are merely parroting Boghossian in trying to steer the discussion in the way you want it to go, your comfort zone." So let's not pretend that you are somehow above offering your own psychological commentary -- it just makes you seem like a hypocrite."

      You are absolutely correct on this one and I apologize for the original comments I made.

      ---"I wrote, "For one, Islamic traditions are a little more reliable from a historical basis, for instance, and they contradict Christian traditions." I simply meant that because the events surrounding the formation of Islamic traditions occurred 600 years closer to our own time, there is less time for the destruction of time -- documents fall apart, buildings burn, monuments weather, things are lost. I didn't mean to imply that Islamic traditions should be privileged -- that we should be more credulous of claims found in the Islamic traditions than those found in Christianity or other religions. Be aware, however, that I don't buy into claims that Christian religious zealots were more truthful than their counterparts in any other religion have been shown to be."

      Well that is a completely different claim than what you seemed to be saying in your original post. I appreciate the clarification but there really isn't an objection to respond to now.

      ...

      Delete
    13. ---"If you don't think that legends grow in the re-telling then you are deceiving yourself. The telephone game is a shorthand way of expressing this. I witnessed this firsthand when I was arrested in college, and one night later people I met for the first time had heard that "I beat up six cops." If you have never witnessed something similar then I don't know what else to say."

      I never claimed that legends don't grow but even in your example they grow from an actual event. But that is beside the point, you cannot extrapolate from "some legends grow" to "all legends grow". Every person has probably witnessed a few seemingly unbelievable things and reported their experience accurately to others. The issue is in what worldview we hold to interpret experiences and the experiences of others.

      "This is straightforward special pleading -- my institution is immune from the behaviors evinced by all others. It is not credible on many levels."

      Merely asserting something does not make it true and you made a claim about Christianity so you need to offer evidence, point out the specific historical reasons the institution of Christianity is "not credible on many levels".

      Delete
    14. "You are equivocating on faith here. Calling religion "my faith" is a very different than saying "I have faith". You start this statement with religion as a synonym for faith, then move into knowledge claims which assumes faith is a method of reasoning, then assume the original definition at the end when referencing "your faith". A religion (or a faith) is a collection of beliefs and practices, this is a completely different meaning to the one you have been presenting."

      Not sure I agree with you here. I usually use the term faith in relation to an epistemology (a way of establishing a set of beliefs), and religion as the set of beliefs held by that practitioner of faith. I think I explained by what I mean as using faith as an epistemology above. I don't think this should really change the meaning of what I've written above -- for instance, when I wrote the word "religion" in my sentence, "If you make no claim to knowing something based on your religion than I agree with you." I meant that your set of religious beliefs, as established by the method of faith. I don't see this as particularly confusing, but I apologize if there is a distinction in reading that I am not sensitive toward.

      "You can argue that the Biblical evidence is hearsay and not eyewitness testimony but smashing the two together is not good history."

      As I mentioned above, I understand the distinction between the two terms, but this does not mean they (testimony and hearsay) are not both an account of events provided by men. I do agree, however, that eyewitnesses are preferable to those who were not eyewitnesses. This does not see to be the case, however, in any of the documents of the New Testament, and I think that any unbiased reading of the Gospels would indicate that they are, at the very best, second-hand accounts.

      "You are absolutely correct on this one and I apologize for the original comments I made."

      This is very gracious of you. You have distinguished yourself in a way that is very uncommon with those with whom I normally have these conversations. I appreciate it.

      "Merely asserting something [that some institutions are immune from the behaviors found in other institutions] does not make it true and you made a claim about Christianity so you need to offer evidence, point out the specific historical reasons the institution of Christianity is "not credible on many levels".

      My claim is that Christianity is not immune to the behaviors we see in all other dogmatic institutions / cults. To the extent you see exaggeration, lying, gullibility, honest mistakes, deception, seduction, foolishness, excess, intimidation, bullying, emotional blackmail, wishful thinking, and whatever else in these other successful religions, cults, and political movements, we must admit that Christianity would be susceptible to the same. We also see these other institutions deny all of the above, at the same time they are (obviously) susceptible to them. I don't even need to find specific examples (of which there are soooo many) concerning Christianity to allow that these should be the case, and we would need to find extraordinary reasons why it would not be so.

      Delete
  6. Dr. Lindsay, how would you respond to a strong atheist who mocked and debated Christians effectively in person and in the media, who investigated the truth claims of Christianity over a period of many months, became convinced of those truth claims and became a Christian because of those truth claims? Is the only possible answer to their investigative process pretending to know something they don't know?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mark, there are numerous possibilities. One is that the former atheist (FA) suffered brain damage that disabled his critical thinking skills and ultimately led him to accept Christianity as true. Another is that he had a psychological/emotional experience that did the same thing. Another is that he actually hit upon extraordinary evidence that outweighed the possibility that the amazing claims of the Bible are false. If that is the case, then that evidence should be easily available to everyone, and many, many more atheists and other non-Christians should be converting to Christianity left and right for that very same reason. Is that the case?

      Delete
    2. Owen19, thank you for your response. I am still waiting for Dr. Lindsay to respond.

      Delete
    3. I figured you might have gathered by my lack of response so far that I didn't intend to bother with it. I suppose I'll say something.

      First of all, I don't think any such thing exists. As Owen indicates, my immediate suspicions in that case would not be that he was convinced under normal circumstances. For example, Owen goes immediately to brain damage or overwhelming psychological or emotional reasons (which would include social coercion, like being married to someone and wanting to be more involved in his/her life). My first thought was that such a person must have clearly lost their mind. Strong atheists, as you put it, know why they are atheists quite clearly, which entails knowing why the evidence for Christianity is utter crap.

      Owen goes on to cover it from there: if the new convert is legitimately convinced, he should share this extraordinary evidence (because let's face it honestly, philosophical arguments and slick apologetics aren't going to cut it for a "strong atheist" who understands why he doesn't buy into superstitious nonsense as a way of life). In that case, the evidence can be presented, weighed, and then if found to be convincing enough, I would respond as we all should when outstanding discoveries about the nature of reality are made: with proper congratulations and changed beliefs.

      I didn't respond to this initially because I figured you're just trying to hook me with saying I'd change my mind in such a case (or make me look like an obstinate fool for refusing to) and then present Lee Strobel, as if that qualifies. If that's where you were going, I have little more to say than a huge puh-lease.

      Does that help?

      Delete
    4. It does. Thank you. Most atheists I've known who became Christians seemed sane individuals with the ability to reason well. Most were well educated and able to excel in their chosen career field. When asked why they changed their minds about the existence of God, they gave thoughtful replies about following evidence to a conclusion. They did not seem brain-damaged, delusional, emotional, etc.

      Delete
  7. Skepticism is positive and constructive http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/about-thinking/201311/confronting-the-world-s-great-unrecognized-crisis
    Any books by Guy P. Harrison would be good place to start, specifically "50 Simple Questions for Any Christian" and "Think: Why You Should Question Everything" http://www.amazon.com/Think-Why-Should-Question-Everything-ebook/dp/B00CQZ5MUU

    ReplyDelete
  8. Gilsons primary objection to Boghossian is that his definition of faith is wrong, only then to support this by relying solely on his own belief that it “depends on recognizing the Bible as the literary and cultural source of the Western world’s understanding of ‘faith’”. A highly suspicious statement that curiously is absent of any supporting evidence and completely pure assumption.

    He states that the word Faith is “defined conventionally, and the conventional meanings for “faith” have been established”, well so has the word “evidence”, but he fails to establish what he mean by this since his use bears no resemblance to the established meaning, if he has a valid alternative definition he needs to provide it otherwise he has simply used his own personal interpretation of the word to try to end up at a pre-conceived conclusion, and as a foundation to base his attack on; the very same accusation he makes of Boghossian!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. And Gilson's primary problem is that he realizes two things: first, Boghossian is barking up a valid tree, and second, Boghossian's analysis is utterly inimical to beliefs like Gilson's. I do not think he is willing to admit the first of these ideas, but he's plainly stated the second repetitiously. The whole thing Gilson is doing reeks of defense mechanism. His last bastion of hope is to suppress a linguistic analysis of the word "faith" and try to nail it firmly to his take on the biblical definition, so that's what he's doing.

      Delete