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."And,
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.
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,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.
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)
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.
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).