Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jesus-Colored Glasses

Tom Gilson has done something I find commendable and very helpful: he took the time to conscientiously and sincerely lay out for us in some detail how he works with ideas. I think such an honest look into the Christian mindset is relatively rare, and I'm glad that he has taken the effort not only to make it plain to himself but also to share that with all of us. His essay, on his blog, is called "The Idea Workbench: Taking Ideas Apart and Putting Them Back Together to See How They Fit." I highly encourage people to read it.

There, Gilson quickly gets to offering an honest appraisal of himself:
It’s a matter of disposition. Apparently I’m not, primarily or by preference, a relayer and displayer of evidences. Evidences certainly matter to me, but they matter (along with all kinds of other ideas) as raw materials—raw materials for a kind of idea workbench, where I take ideas apart, put them together again, and check how they fit. (emphasis his)
This is, as he states, an article of self-assessment that he has arrived at due to our Faith Discussion, particularly the tenacity with which I and others have pressed the question of "how do you know your beliefs are true?" with a requirement for corroborative evidence outside of the belief structure. (This requirement, of course, has been deemed unfair by them and necessary by us--an impasse akin to their take that establishing an account for universal purpose is necessary while we say it is at best illusory and at worst vain.)

Gilson's metaphor

Gilson goes further and illustrates for us the central metaphor of his essay: the idea workbench, telling us how he takes ideas apart and puts them back together again, along with how he determines whether or not they fit. He offers the following description for how this metaphor works in the "recent negative example" provided by analyzing the thought that “[f]aith, by definition, is always belief without evidence,” which he draws from Peter Boghossian's analysis of the term. Before assessing the idea, he writes,
I put this idea on the test bench, and I pull out a few other ideas to test this one against. I am confident these other comparison ideas are solid, true, and widely shared; so if the new idea doesn’t fit with them it fails the test, and it goes in the junk pile. (emphasis mine)

He then assesses this statement about faith.
So, here’s how that worked out recently when I took the above-mentioned definition of faith to the workbench. I pulled some comparison ideas out of my “good” pile. These were solid, true, non-controversial and widely shared ideas, listed here as numbers 1, 2, 3, and 5. I fastened them together (numbers 4, 6, and 7) with the screws and nails of logic.
  1. Jesus Christ is universally regarded as a character (either historical or fictional) who promoted faith.
  2. His characters’ influence (whether historical or fictional) has been so great that for a great proportion of humanity for thousands of years, “faith” has been understood to be that which Jesus Christ promoted.
  3. The character of Jesus Christ is known (whether as history or as fiction) as one who presented evidences for faith everywhere he went.
  4. Therefore, for a great proportion of humanity for thousands of years, faith meant belief according to evidences: that’s how the word was used.
  5. Definitions are a matter of how words are actually, conventionally used.
  6. Therefore the definition of “faith” could never have been strictly and only, “belief without evidence.”
  7. Therefore it is not true that “faith, by definition, is always belief without evidence.” It can’t be: it doesn’t fit with other ideas that are known to be true.
Number seven summarizes the result: there was no place left in the assembly to include, “Faith is always belief without evidence.” That meant it didn’t belong in the good pile. It was a junk idea.
For an interesting exercise, observe his use of the word "fictional" in (1)--(3) and try to work through this seven-step process in that case. The mind boggles. Either way, I do, of course, find his conclusion a bit dubious.

For example, my general responses to his logical fasteners (4) and (6) are (4') Who cares? and (6') Who cares? If fifty billion people for fifty thousand years are wrong, they're still wrong. Boghossian is offering a contemporary analysis of the term, not an assessment of how it has been used or even how people think they're using it. If the "belief according to evidences" referenced in (4) is instead "belief according to  what was believed to be evidences but is not," there's a problem there in the meaning of the word--one that the believers at the time would have been blind to.

Further, Gilson's conclusion (7) seems to contradict his statement in (5) since the implication of (5) seems to be ever-subject to an analysis of the term that may allow for the fact that the people who were using it were actually misusing it. I am not saying that Gilson's assessment is necessarily wrong here (even if I think it is); I'm merely pointing out that his confidence in it may not be as warranted as it appears--and this is without the most substantial observation about it of all, to which I will return shortly.

Gilson's confidence

Gilson, to be clear, is very confident in his assessment.
[L]ook again at what my approach offers that the usual evidential approach does not. It uses ideas that every halfway-informed person already has stored away in their “good” pile. Contrast that with an evidential approach, whereby, for example, we could argue for days over whether Suetonius serves as reliable near-contemporary attestation for the existence of Jesus in history. I don’t think the arguments against that are very good (I am informed about these topics, even if I don’t write about them), but that doesn’t mean the disputes couldn’t go on for days! No one, however, could rationally disagree with any of the “parts” I used to build my case against Boghossian’s definition. They’re all part of the common mental furniture of educated Westerners. If there’s a weakness in my case, it’s not in the parts, it’s in the assembly. (bold his)
I just did, quite rationally, I think, without getting to the big issue. At any rate, he doubles-down on this assessment immediately after, writing,
And I can’t think of anyone pulling together any strong objection to what I wrote, either to the parts or to the fasteners. Instead they said, “Where’s your evidence?” It’s a valid question, yet it has nothing to do with the case I had built.
I'll grant this all, though, about the case he built to get to the epistemic matter that forms the centerpiece of our discussion. His case is that Boghossian is using the word "faith" in an illegal way. My rebuttal is essentially that the analysis of the word faith offered by Boghossian hinges upon whether or not there is enough evidence for the Christian belief system--independent of that system--to accept that the historical use of the word "faith" was ever valid in the first place.

Here, I'll take a moment to talk about that use. I must note that Gilson asserts that the biblical definitions of faith, including as characterized in the book of Hebrews and the famous Doubting Thomas story, indicate that faith means trusting the evidences believed to be in hand while waiting for confirmation (of things promised) to come. We shall come back to this, and for all intents and purposes, I'm fine with calling this idea biblical faith.

Gilson, of course, is not a dealer in evidences, but he is quite sure they are there. He writes,
Still I have to face the fact that although I like my approach well enough, it frustrates people who really want the evidences. I’ve tried to satisfy them by saying, “Look around the shop—the evidences are everywhere! Go to the libraries—the evidences are everywhere!” But this frustrates them, too, since they want me to put the evidences on the bench for display. The problem is, that’s not me: I don’t display things that way. I take them apart and put them together instead.
First, a correction--at least for my part. I am quite familiar with the various kinds of evidences Christianity claims, so I do not expect Gilson or anyone else to put them on the bench for display. I have already found that sort of evidence unconvincing. One of the last things I want to do is read more of it without something more convincing to motivate me. Thus, I evidently want the kind of evidence some insist is impossible (because the claims are of the supernatural, which is, by definition, beyond nature and thus physical evidence).

That said, this is what I have to hone in upon: "Look around the shop—the evidences are everywhere! Go to the libraries—the evidences are everywhere!" This brings me back to the big objection to his seven-step rejection of the idea that faith is belief without evidence. The idea is too simple for Gilson to see it because Gilson is wearing Jesus-colored glasses and cannot see the glare of this five-word statement. It is this simple: Jesus could have been wrong.

"Jesus Christ is universally regarded as a character (either historical or fictional) who promoted faith," Gilson writes. What if Jesus was simply wrong to do so?

Take two quick notes before proceeding. One, the faith Jesus promoted is, I trust Gilson would agree, biblical faith. Two, if I've understood him right, biblical faith means trusting the evidences believed to be in hand while waiting for confirmation to come. Commenter Jenna Black refers to this as a schema by which the evidence is analyzed, offering a wonderful analogy of putting together a puzzle while looking at the picture on the box to know what the pieces represent.

Biblical Faith Looks Like Confirmation Bias

To get back to the question, what if the faith Jesus promoted, biblical faith, is what it appears so overwhelmingly clearly to be: an exercise in preparing oneself to be a victim of confirmation bias? Look at how it plays out:
  1. Take what you already believe you know to be true and consider it true (use it as evidence upon which to base trust);
  2. Listen to the claims of an authority (who may be fictional) about certain future events; and
  3. Wait until something happens that can be taken as confirmation of those claims, considering this, when it occurs, as evidence as well. (And repeat.)
And why should we believe that the stories recorded in the Bible (or any other scripture) are anything different than this? He'd remind us of his alluded-to libraries of evidences, I presume, but those who disagree with him have those too (see the Evidential Problem of Evil along with most of the other stuff in the library that isn't Christian literature).

At any rate, Gilson is correct to have assessed that this is how I would respond. I can use Black's puzzle metaphor, indeed, to do it. When putting together a puzzle,
  1. Assume that the puzzle you are working matches the picture on the box (say it's a puzzle of a vista of a blue sky mistakenly placed in a box for a cerulean lagoon puzzle--or even of another patch of sky);
  2. Use the picture on the box to interpret the pieces as presented, placing them where you think they will go; and
  3. Consider it a victory when any pieces fit and something to keep waiting for in faith when they do not.
As an aside, I should help Black out, though, because even this analogy isn't quite how reality works (so if she wants to keep using it, she will keep revealing the pretending to know bit caught up in the first step there). In reality, we don't have the image on the box to guide us. We don't even know what all the pieces look like or where all of them are, and there are enough of them that we can be easily misled by putting the wrong ones together with no obvious immediate consequences for the mistake. No one is helping us with this puzzle but ourselves.

Using the analogy of the box to guide the puzzle reveals that Jenna Black, like Tom Gilson, is also wearing Jesus-colored glasses. She, like Gilson, sees the world through the interpretive lens of the Christian belief system, and it appears that she, like Gilson, cannot do otherwise at this time. They don't realize that they're wearing glasses. The world just looks how it does to them, and it looks like Jesus.

Gilson predicts

As noted, Tom knew that I would say something to this effect, commenting to Black,
Now if I understand James Lindsay, he’ll say that what you call a helpful schema is actually a package of misbeliefs that we attempt to shore up through misattributed evidences
This isn't exactly what I am saying. I'm saying that we need to use great care in choosing the schemata we're using. In the case of Gilson's appeal to biblical faith, the simple question, "what if Jesus was wrong?" which is unthinkable to Christians, is enough to throw doubt upon the Christian schemata (here, plural for certain, as there seem to be many schemata, not all of which Tom Gilson would endorse).

I am, however, saying quite plainly something like what Gilson is asserting. In the  situation where someone is using a bad schema, they are very likely to misattribute evidence. Again, I'm asking Tom Gilson how he can claim to know--instead of just saying he believes it without knowing it--that his particular Christian schema is a good one. I'm quite sure it's not.


Gilson's Jesus-Colored Glasses

To make my point, then, I return to a couple of illustrative statements from Gilson that are suggestive to me that his Jesus-colored view of the world is likely to be fraught with confirmation bias of the faith kind. Facing the question of how he would disconfirm his belief in Christianity, Gilson writes this almost lucid statement,
I’ve been asked, “What could cause you to give up your faith in Christ?” Some Christians answer that question, “The bones of Jesus Christ, showing he didn’t rise from the dead.” I think that’s weak. It’s too safe, for one thing, because how could anyone prove they were his bones? My answer instead would go like this: Any fact discovered anywhere that seriously undermined the tremendous coherence I find in the Christian worldvew [sic]. (emphasis his)
What lucidity is here--his focus on the coherence of a worldview defined by an idea that serves to pretend to answer every "big" question coherently is a bit foggy--shines through to Gilson's eyes in distinctly Jesus-colored light, though, as he immediately reveals,
When I take ideas apart and put them back together again, they fit together best when I assemble them according to a biblically-based view of reality. ... When I try to assemble all those kinds of things in alignment with a Christian understanding of reality, they work.
They work in other ways too (arguably better--many apparently profound mysteries simply evaporate when not using any biblical account of reality), and so here's Gilson looking through Jesus-colored glasses. Here's Gilson plainly doing his puzzle while looking at a picture of Jesus. Whatever may be true of other kinds of eyewear, I think it is safe to conclude that it's hard to see clearly when your glasses are stained with the blood of Christ.

He attempts to glimpse around the edges of his glasses, though, to be fair. He writes,
No, it’s not flawless. There are a few pieces still laying on the workbench, puzzling me as to where they belong. But they come together that way a whole lot better than when I try to put them together in any other shape.
Notice here that Gilson's statement depends upon him apprehending what the other shapes look like. My assertion is that we don't actually know what reality looks like and are finding the shape as we go. With Gilson, not only does he appear to be assuming certain shapes, we are left wondering about those assumptions given that we know that he sees the world through Jesus-colored glasses. He reveals something of this problem to us, though not to himself, by going on with,
If I try to assemble an atheistic/naturalistic framework, for example, it leaves humanness orphaned on the workbench, with no place to belong. I can’t find a place to attach it—at least not without hammering it into an unrecognizable shape. (emphasis his)
This is a curious statement. Tom Gilson seems to be saying that he cannot make sense of humanness without his Christian beliefs, and that this particular hang-up is perhaps the biggest one he has. I will not try to convince Gilson of anything regarding humanness but instead will just let this point hang there as it is: humanness crucified on the cross of Christianity.

35 comments:

  1. James, do you believe in evidence? Do you believe in telling the truth? Then either show where you found any of us saying this, or retract it as the lie that it is:

    "(This requirement, of course, has been deemed unfair by them and necessary by us--an impasse akin to their take that establishing an account for universal purpose is necessary while we say it is at best illusory and at worst vain.)"

    Where have we called it unfair? Where?

    And would you mind quoting your source for this? I need exact quotes in full context:

    . His case is that Boghossian is using the word "faith" in an illegal way.

    That's not my case, and if you think it is, you've been misreading everything I wrote. It's a straw man misrepresentation of my case. My case has always been that Boghossian has been illegitimately making his definition of faith the only allowable one. If he were merely using it in an illegal way, his whole shtick would be boring. It's his insistence that he's got the only right definition that I"ve been contesting all along.

    You've made that mistake multiple times in the course of these discussions, by the way.

    I could say more about your own glaring confirmation bias, but I have another tack in mind. I've been reviewing what you've written over the past several weeks, and by sometime today or tomorrow I'm going to write it up in a form that I think you will agree with. That is, instead of this condescending crap you've been trying to pull on your blog, I'm actually going to give you the respect of trying to understand the case you're making.

    Do not be confused: the fact that you have written this crap in such a tendentious and supercilious manner does not mean I am unable to detect what your actual case has been. And when I'm not reacting to outright lies, I can present your case in a fair manner. And I can present it in such a way that you can respond and say I got this part right and this part wrong, and maybe we can advance toward mutual understanding. I'll do that later. Right now I'm asking you cut the crap here, because it looks bad on you. Smells bad, too.

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    1. Hi Tom. I'm not going to spend an hour sorting through the nearly five hundred comments between our blogs to find specific instances where something like this was said, here by G. Rodrigues, who seems to be something of a heavy-hitter on your blog (and, since this is my blog and I can say what I want here, an asshole about it).

      ---
      Lindsay: "Why, by the way, do you assume that proving God exists must be different than proving something physical, say a keyboard, exists?"
      Hmmm, I don’t know. Maybe because God, if He exists, is not “physical”, and thus the method of proof employed is necessarily different from that of proving the existence of physical things?
      ---

      I want physical evidence, Tom. I want physical evidence that doesn't start with referencing the beliefs on the table to be established. Rodrigues (and I'm rather sure others) have indicated that what I'm asking for is impossible--even nonsensical--and thus, I think using the term "unfair" is apt.

      You: "That's not my case, and if you think it is, you've been misreading everything I wrote. It's a straw man misrepresentation of my case. My case has always been that Boghossian has been illegitimately making his definition of faith the only allowable one."

      Yes. Exactly. That you recognize that Christians you don't agree with or deem uneducated use the word "faith" in a way that matches Boghossian is irrelevant. Thanks for providing the exact exact-quote I needed to say what I'm saying more clearly for you.

      You: "I could say more about your own glaring confirmation bias"
      Could you? You presume to know that I don't spend much of my time in doubt and re-investigation? Fascinating.

      The rest of what you wrote deserves a response that I'm not going to give it. I'm not sure you've read how I write when I'm actually being scornful, but I'm not going to give that opportunity just now. I'm very interested in reading your fair assessment of my case.

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    2. "I want physical evidence, Tom. I want physical evidence that doesn't start with referencing the beliefs on the table to be established. Rodrigues (and I'm rather sure others) have indicated that what I'm asking for is impossible--even nonsensical--and thus, I think using the term 'unfair' is apt."

      Oh. I see. When you call for physical evidence, and someone responds that physical evidence is irrelevant to the matter under discussion, that means they're calling you a meanie.

      But why doesn't it mean that it's irrelevant to the matter under discussion?

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    3. Tom, you are being so impossible that it is difficult to believe it isn't intentional.

      Two things,
      1. He's not being a "meanie" for that reason.
      2. My whole point is that it does mean that it's irrelevant to the discussion, and therefore that my demand for it is unfair.

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    5. James, did we say it was unfair? Or did we say it was irrelevant? If we didn't say it was unfair, then you have misrepresented us by saying so.

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    6. By the way, I'm scratching my head over why you would consider

      "1. He's not being a meanie for that reason."

      To be a relevant answer to,

      "Oh. I see. When you call for physical evidence, and someone responds that physical evidence is irrelevant to the matter under discussion, that means they're calling you a meanie."

      The question wasn't whether he was a meanie. Did you notice?

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    8. Concerning confirmation bias, you say,

      "You presume to know that I don't spend much of my time in doubt and re-investigation? Fascinating."

      Fascinating indeed. You presume to know that I don't spend much of my time in questioning, doubt, and re-investigation.

      Several times now you have told us how you protect yourself from confirmation bias. It’s here (I can’t quote all these fully because of your blog’s 4096 character limit) and it’s here:

      ”One of the biggest insights of the Enlightenment is that attempting to falsify or disconfirm hypotheses--and then rejecting those that fail the test--is a very reliable way to get rid of bad ideas. … In fact, we've come up with very sophisticated methods by which we can approximate, with remarkable accuracy in many cases, how confident we can be in a hypothesis that has been subjected to and survived this kind of testing. While this will not lead us to 'truth' (in the certain sense), it allows us to assess the confidence that we can justifiably put on a hypothesis that we have not yet falsified (we put no confidence in falsified hypotheses). It should go without saying that assessing ideas like this have allowed us to do things, like go to the moon and safely return, that are truly fantastic.

      “The method of falsification is evidential consideration; we test the hypothesis against the evidence and see if it holds water. If it doesn't, we put no confidence in it. If it does, we can put more (though not perfect) confidence in it. Our sophisticated methods (generally known as 'statistics') can give us very clear statements of how sure we can be that we know what we're talking about."

      You also say,

      "How can I know … that what we call evidence is not evidence misattributed to our own worldviews? … We are in a good position to assess the width of the epistemic gaps between the evidence and our speculations about it because we lack the conviction of faith. The widths of these gaps tell us how confident we can be in claiming knowledge, with narrower gaps meaning we can speak with more confidence, and we can assess them by examining falsifiable hypotheses with empirical methods. In other words, we can be can be confident in what we claim to know by examining them in a way that tries to reveal how the evidence is telling us that we might be wrong…

      "In many cases, by this approach we can assess with remarkable precision how confidently we can claim to know something, the salience being rooted not just in explanatory capacity but also predictive power. … You not only must understand this but have to have a keen appreciation of the statistical methods that define it--confidence intervals provide the meaning in my usage of that term. We, then, can claim what knowledge we claim in exactly the same way and with the same qualifications that you would claim to know something from a published result in your field of psychology, nothing less and nothing more.”


      So I conclude that you consider yourself well protected from confirmation bias by your statistical methodology.

      Meanwhile I also conclude, from the multiple times you say so here, that you have near-perfect confidence that my life and thinking are tainted by my own refusal to take off my "Jesus glasses."

      Now in view of your own prescribed methodology for preventing confirmation bias, would you please show me the statistical approach you've taken toward reaching this conclusion? Show me, for example, the percentage of times I've refused to think about contrary explanations for reality. Show me the normative percentage: the proportion of times one should entertain contrary explanations for reality, in order to be properly free of confirmation bias. Show me the research that demonstrates your point.

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    9. Also from your response to my open letter, James, after reviewing some information on statistically-based methodologies, you say,

      "You can claim to know ... things because you have reliable methods for determining them. For us, it's the same, but we do not (actually cannot) claim to know things that cannot be determined by methods of those kinds—and neither should you!"

      (My emphasis.)

      That's a stronger version of what I've already quoted from you. The same question applies: how have you arrived at such a rock-solid certainty that I'm wearing "Jesus glasses," have never considered whether my faith might be false, have never responsibly explored alternate explanations, etc.?

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  2. By the way, when I said that your call for evidence was changing the subject (early on in our conversations) I wasn't saying that calling for evidence was unfair, I was saying that changing the subject was evading the issue that I had put forth for discussion. Big difference.

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    1. Hi again Tom,

      I didn't evade the issue or change the subject by calling for evidence. Boghossian's definition applies if the Christian belief system cannot be substantiated from an external analysis.

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    2. You were answering argument A with a response that applies to argument B. But that's neither here nor there; let's stay on track. The current question is whether we ever said your call for evidence was unfair. We haven't, and you were misrepresenting us when you said so.

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  3. A lot to comment on here, thanks.

    Regarding Tom's first two comments, where he asks:

    "Where have we called it unfair? Where? / And would you mind quoting your source for this? I need exact quotes in full context:"

    I think that you need only ask him to look it up on his blog, or his many writings on the topic, as all the reference you need. That is because, when asked for how he knows what he knows about his religious beliefs, that response has been good enough for him throughout this discussion.

    For instance:

    Tom: "I know you've been impatient for me to go on to the next logical question: how do we conclude that biblical sources are trustworthy, competent, and credible. That's another version of the same question I've answered multiple times: you can look it up all over my blog, or in multiple libraries on the topic."

    Etc.

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  4. JL: "Whatever may be true of other kinds of eyewear, I think it is safe to conclude that it's hard to see clearly when your glasses are stained with the blood of Christ."

    Just a hat tip. I now feel confident that you are not really a mathematician, because mathematicians cannot (it's impossible!) write that well. :)

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  5. I am sooooo sick of this:

    TG: "My case has always been that Boghossian has been illegitimately making his definition of faith the only allowable one. If he were merely using it in an illegal way, his whole shtick would be boring. It's his insistence that he's got the only right definition that I"ve been contesting all along."

    Illegal use of the word? Insistence on being right? It seems that you think that words are ruled by (your) fiat, No, words are tools whose value (like currency) is determined by agreement among the parties who use them. If you disagree with Boghossian's proposed revaluation of the word (yes, to carry the analogy further, definitions of words "fail" much like currencies do), then you can show us why your definition still has value. Right now, your valuation of faith seems like an insistence that a Weimar dollar is worth something, all evidence to the contrary.

    In other words, you can settle that your definition is correct if you can convince enough other people you are correct. That's how it works. Unfortunately for you, you seem intent on laying down the only tools that work when it comes to actually convincing people -- evidence.

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    1. Cal, you're not reading. You're just not reading. You have just made an outstanding presentation of an argument I could use against Boghossian. He's the one who's claiming that he has the one legitimate definition. If he could convince enough other people he was correct, then he would have a case to make.

      I'm saying he hasn't done that and he doesn't have the only legitimate definition.

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  6. TG: "Cal, you're not reading. You're just not reading. You have just made an outstanding presentation of an argument I could use against Boghossian. He's the one who's claiming that he has the one legitimate definition. If he could convince enough other people he was correct, then he would have a case to make."

    No, I think I've read you just fine. Throughout this discussion you have fetishized the word "faith," and behaved as if definitions are made by edict, rather than recognized as having meaning through use. Both of these assumptions are bizarre.

    Boghossian has never made the claim that he has the one true definition. And even if he did, he does not have that power (no one does). Boghossian wrote a book, and shared a lot of his observations. This is one of the ways words are defined -- through observation, and conversation, and by changing the context in which they're used, etc.

    Your argument throughout seems to boil down to an insistence that Boghossian should not be permitted to put forth his ideas about what people usually mean when they use the word "faith." Your writing on this topic reminds me of all those people who get frustrated when a term takes on a pejorative meaning, and react as if they can fix the situation by declaring a new word be used. But all they've done is insist on a new word, and not addressed the behavior that led to the previous term taking on its pejorative meaning.

    Your problem isn't with Boghossian, or his book, or the definition of faith, even though you keep on acting like it is. Your problem is with justifying how you know what you pretend to know. Until you address that question, all of this talk about definitions just draws greater attention to your problem, and makes it more and more likely that Boghossian's observation is really going to stick.


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    1. Cal, you say, "Boghossian has never made the claim that he has the one true definition."

      Apparently you haven't listened to his lectures and interviews. See his May 6 lecture to Humanists of Greater Portland. It's easy to find online. See also his talk given at Portland State University, also easy to find. Check out his conversation with The Good Atheist, where he explicitly said he was on a campaign to change the definition of faith to match his own, and to eliminate all other definitions from use.

      You say, "Your argument throughout seems to boil down to an insistence that Boghossian should not be permitted to put forth his ideas about what people usually mean when they use the word "faith."

      That's either a grossly incompetent misreading of my position or it's a lie. Because I have never said that; and I have reminded you of that fact in this very thread.

      You said once a while ago that you have no respect for me and no intention to have any respect for me. That's the kind of approach to another person that makes it very difficult to discern what they're really saying. Whether that's the root of your misreadings or not, I don't know; it's mere speculation. The fact that you are misreading me is plain to see. And it doesn't speak well for your ability to conduct reasoned discourse.

      It's one thing to disagree with what I'm saying; it's another thing to mount an argument against something I plainly have not said. I'd be embarrassed to do that. Actually I've made that mistake more than once, and indeed I have been embarrassed--and then I've corrected myself so the discussion could move forward.

      My problem right now isn't with Boghossian or his book but with people like you who determine my opinions by telling me what they are.

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    2. TG: "Apparently you haven't listened to his lectures and interviews."

      I read his book. And you seem intent on mischaracterizing his observation about the word faith, and his request that people engage in challenging beliefs that are protected by invoking that word. I find it telling in your continued attempt to demonize Boghossian you won't provide a quote and a reference for it's context.

      TG: "You said once a while ago that you have no respect for me and no intention to have any respect for me."

      It's true that I don't respect you, and the reason is how you conduct yourself on your blog, and in these discussions. But I never said the second part -- I can always change my mind, especially about people. It seems clear that you have become angry at our persistence, and that anger continues to get the best of you.

      TG: "It's one thing to disagree with what I'm saying; it's another thing to mount an argument against something I plainly have not said. I'd be embarrassed to do that."

      I'll go over this in my next comment.

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    3. Me: "Your argument throughout seems to boil down to an insistence that Boghossian should not be permitted to put forth his ideas about what people usually mean when they use the word "faith." "
      TG: "That's either a grossly incompetent misreading of my position or it's a lie. Because I have never said that; and I have reminded you of that fact in this very thread."

      Grossly incompetent reading? A lie? You never said that?

      Here you are, on your blog, in a post entitled "An Open Letter to Peter Boghossian On Doxastic Openness".

      Tom Gilson: "I call on you [Peter Boghossian] to examine the evidence I present here, and to demonstrate your doxastic openness by publicly admitting that your definitions of faith are (a) not the only correct ones,..."

      Tom Gilson: "Therefore, based on the way faith is used in the relevant literature, and in spite of the fact that some usages of faith may agree with your understanding, you are wrong to describe faith exclusively as an epistemology, as “belief without evidence,” and “pretending to know what one does not know.”

      Tom Gilson: "At any rate, your advice is not to tangle with people who have thought through these matters — apologists, for example. "

      What else am I to take away from just that kind of language -- a demand for Boghossian to publicly disavow his observation that faith has come to mean pretending to know what you don't know? An insistence that Boghossian is wrong to use the word as he proposes? A warning that one should "not tangle" with you?

      Honestly, the above is all so silly I have refrained from quoting any of it because I think it serves to further embarrass you, which seems to only make you angrier and less capable of stepping down and examining your beliefs. But since you insist, I am happy to provide your words back to you.

      So, please, tell me how I have grossly mischaracterized you. If anything, I've been restrained in my exposing the autocratic way you have approached someone who should dare to write a book that points out that the word "faith" seems to be a way for people to protect beliefs that they are only pretending to know.

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    4. Wow. Cal, this is completely unbelievable. It's astonishing. You quoted me saying exactly what I've been telling you I've been saying all along, and then once again you missed the clarification that I've given you twice in this thread--even though what you quoted from me made exactly the point I've said I've been making.

      I'll make it as obvious as I can. I'll use italics. First, I'm going to quote what you wrote as a conclusion, and add (in italics) the essential piece you've been persistently overlooking.

      "What else am I to take away from just that kind of language -- a demand for Boghossian to publicly disavow his observation that faith has come exclusively to mean pretending to know what you don't know and nothing but that?"

      How could you have missed that?????? You quoted it yourself! I'll add italics again:

      "I call on you [Peter Boghossian] to examine the evidence I present here, and to demonstrate your doxastic openness by publicly admitting that your definitions of faith are (a) not the only correct ones,..."]

      ""Therefore, based on the way faith is used in the relevant literature, and in spite of the fact that some usages of faith may agree with your understanding, you are wrong to describe faith exclusively as an epistemology, as 'belief without evidence,' and 'pretending to know what one does not know.'"

      How much more obvious does it have to be for you finally to see it?

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    5. By the way, when you're conversing with someone who says, "X said a," and you say "X never said a," and the person responds, "You haven't seen his lectures and podcasts," the response, "I read his book" is pretty weak. Do I need to spell it out for you? If he didn't say it in his book, but he said it in his lectures and interviews, then he said it.

      Which he did.

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  7. Tom, you accused my "boiling down" [my words] of your position to "Boghossian should not be permitted to put forth his ideas about what people usually mean when they use the word "faith" " as a gross mischaracterization or a lie.

    Your words are what they are -- part of your (failed) campaign to bully, demand, protest, prevent, etc. -- Boghossian's campaign to address the problem of how faith allows the religious to prevent them from demonstrating to know what they are pretending to know.

    I stand by what I wrote.

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  8. TG: "Do I need to spell it out for you? If he didn't say it in his book, but he said it in his lectures and interviews, then he said it."

    Yeah, two things about this. I have heard many, many times theists mischaracterize statements for me (have you heard of the term "quote mining?"). So, it's even possible that Boghossian has said exactly what you say. But I doubt that (even if that were the case), your characterization would be a fair assessment of his statements in their context. But feel free to make you case, but until you do, I will not chase rabbits down holes for you.

    Also, when trying to characterize a position, as you have, I think it's reasonable (and charitable) to take something authoritative, like, say, a book they wrote on the subject, rather than comments or bits of conversation. Rather than "weak," as you put it, I think it's the appropriate and sound way to approach a topic.

    And now, for what is certainly the umpteenth time, I am going to remind you that your exploration of this "he said, she said" topic about definitions is a huge diversion.

    That's because you still have yet to provide us with any indication, aside from hand-waving, etc., for why we should believe that you are not pretending to know what you say you know.

    And that, despite your volumes on the subject trying to divert everyone's attention, is what Boghossian's book is about.

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  9. I'm done, Cal. When you stoop to accusing me of being a bully, after all the pejoratives and demands you've thrown my way, you reveal yourself as the kind of man I don't hang around with.

    You're welcome to watch my blog over the next few weeks as I come around to answer the kinds of questions you and James have been insisting are the only ones that matter. I agree they matter. I have never said I wouldn't answer them. But I'm not going to try to talk any more sense into you.

    P.S.: The May 6 talk that Boghossian gave, which was one of the sources I gave you, was one that he referred to repeatedly in later lectures and interviews. He indicated himself that this was authoritative. Not that your dodge was effective in the first place: he said what I told you he said, and he said it on at least three occasions, including one where he stuck to it while his "Good Atheist" podcast host tried to talk him out of it. There was nothing the least bit uncharitable in my concluding that he meant what he said. Duck and hide all you want, though, because I'm sure the facts won't impress you any. I'm not impressed with your listening, reasoning, or communication skills myself.

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  10. TG: "When you stoop to accusing me of being a bully, after all the pejoratives and demands you've thrown my way, you reveal yourself as the kind of man I don't hang around with."

    I believe it is more comfortable for you to go back to your blog where you can ban those who challenge your thinking, your authority, or your beliefs. It is safer there, and I think you understand that challenges that you receive in places like this are dangerous to your beliefs.

    Did I mention I am not going to sugar coat my assessment of your arguments and behavior? I know it seems uncivil, but on the plus side it is honest. I do prize civility, but when the two compete I have to give the nod to honesty. Sorry if it seems too jarring to you, but I think it might also be good for you -- I suspect you don't get enough of it.

    TG: "You're welcome to watch my blog over the next few weeks as I come around to answer the kinds of questions you and James have been insisting are the only ones that matter."

    Thanks, I may do that. If James makes mention of them I may comment about them here as well.

    TG: "The May 6 talk that Boghossian gave, which was one of the sources I gave you, was one that he referred to repeatedly in later lectures and interviews. He indicated himself that this was authoritative."

    This makes you like a conspiracy wing-nut who says he has the real skinny, from his friend who knows a secret service guy, about what the Administration's "real" plan is.

    Ducking and hiding? I've been trying to express to you, in as many ways as I can think of, that it does not matter what Boghossian's tactics are, his motives, etc. What matters, the only thing that matters, is whether or not his observation about how the word faith is being used (that it's "pretending to know what you do not know") is correct. Because that observation, for the crystallization of which Boghossian will be given large credit, is the only thing that will cause faith to be so defined going forward.

    At bottom, it doesn't matter what Boghossian says -- no one person defines words. Boghossian can declare red means white today, and get a TV program that promotes it, but if the marketplace of ideas won't accept it then Boghossian's efforts don't matter. All that matters is whether or not his observation that faith is best described as "pretending to know what you do not know" is correct? Because if his observation is going to be constantly verified in the public space, the word will largely come to mean that.

    In the meantime, you just sound like the one man in the crowd who shouts "Liar!" when the child points to the Emperor's clothes and declares that said Emperor is naked -- attacking the messenger, or the tactics of the messenger, or whatever -- when the issue is the observation, just makes it seem like your trying to distract from the observation. You have heard of "protesting too much?"

    I'll follow our host's lead and not write my assessment of how the rest of your comment makes you appear.

    I look forward to your (finally) addressing Boghossian's challenge. This has been quite the buildup.

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  11. Cal, do you believe in evidence? I don't think so. You stereotype instead:

    "I believe it is more comfortable for you to go back to your blog where you can ban those who challenge your thinking, your authority, or your beliefs. It is safer there, and I think you understand that challenges that you receive in places like this are dangerous to your beliefs."

    I have never banned anyone on my blog for those reasons. You think I do, however. Where did you get that from? Not from any evidence. Certainly, then from some evidence-free preconception about me, which is also known as stereotyping.

    Do you believe in stereotyping?

    Meanwhile this is hilarious. Aren't you embarrassed?

    "TG: 'The May 6 talk that Boghossian gave, which was one of the sources I gave you, was one that he referred to repeatedly in later lectures and interviews. He indicated himself that this was authoritative.'

    "This makes you like a conspiracy wing-nut who says he has the real skinny, from his friend who knows a secret service guy, about what the Administration's "real" plan is."


    I wasn't referring to some secret insider source. I was referring to public lectures and interviews that Boghossian gave, one of which he kept referring to afterward as an important statement of his views.

    Your interpretation of that is completely unsupportable by reason. It is literally irrational.

    But I'm done now with you for real.

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    1. I don't mind hunting rabbits while I can do something else at the same time. I listened last night to the entire Good Atheist podcast interview with Boghossian that you mentioned and, quelle surprise, didn't draw the same conclusion from it that you did. I wonder if you heard the part at the end where the Good Atheist host says that we need Boghossian's analysis of faith to take but that he doesn't think it can practically happen (largely because some ~80% of the US is Christian and uses it differently, along with the rest of the masses), though he hopes it can.

      He also isn't calling for an authoritative redefinition of the word. He says so repeatedly. He's calling to disambiguate "faith" from other words that often get used interchangeably but, in his view, shouldn't: "hope," particularly, though "trust" and "confidence" and "promise" are relevant as well (he mentions two of those three on the podcast interview). He wants this analysis to be taken as authoritative, but this isn't the same as him trying to pull an authoritarian coup on language and force a word to be used differently than it is.

      Cal, though, is right. I'd suggest that we all drop all of these stupid side arguments and focus on the central issue at hand: which you say you're getting to eventually on your blog.

      I will point out, though, that I did pick up a couple of good reminders from the podcast interview, and so I'd like to know, before I can conclude that we are actually conversing, (1) are you willing to revise your beliefs on Christianity in any way? (2) do you recognize faith as a form of knowledge claim? (3) do you value evidence more than you value what you believe? and (4) --contingent somewhat on the previous--do you think faith is a reliable way to claim knowledge?

      I'm going to neuter what I think are your most likely objections before you make them. First, if you take faith as trust that something you believe has been promised will happen, then you do see faith as a knowledge claim. Second, it doesn't matter to what degree you think I or any other person does this kind of thing, so spare us the tu quoque routine. Let's say we do, then we're wrong to do it too, but you're still not justified in it. (We don't, at least not in the same way, though, because we accept that on just about everything we might be wrong. If my wife promises to buy milk, I can trust her promise, I can hope she will do it, but I know there's some chance she'll forget, and I factor that into my trust in her promise. **What chance do you think there is that what you call God will slip or renege on his promises?**)

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  12. I find this both very telling and not at all promising:

    TG: "I wasn't referring to some secret insider source. I was referring to public lectures and interviews that Boghossian gave, one of which he kept referring to afterward as an important statement of his views. / Your interpretation of that is completely unsupportable by reason. It is literally irrational."

    This is a compact summary of your epistemology, I believe.

    It looks like you think it is both unreasonable and irrational to ask for evidence (something that is objective, reliable, and verifiable -- something we can examine) when I could instead accept hearsay (your word for it). You seem incapable of understanding that your say-so does not trump reality -- an assessment on my part that is further reinforced by James's observations about the podcast you had cited above.

    I am not surprised that you would prefer your approach (privilege my say-so over evidence), but the fact that you think that is unreasonable and irrational to remain skeptical regarding claims without evidence does not fill me with hope regarding your upcoming posts.

    Lastly, you keep saying that I am stereotyping, making claims without evidence and whatnot, about your behavior. This is simply not true. For evidence that supports my claims, I have repeatedly pointed to your blog (as opposed to your assessment of your conduct, which I am sure you rate as unimpeachable). As I pointed out upthread, this response has been good enough for you in comments here, so I am puzzled why you would think that the same reply is good enough to support your claims, but not mine.

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    1. Here comes Peter Cotton-Tail, hopping down the bunny trail...

      Chasing another rabbit Gilson let loose, I just watched the entirety of the infamous May 6 (2012) Peter Boghossian talk given to the Humanists of Greater Portland. Interesting what I found (again, shock! not what Tom seems to have seen). Allow me a short diversion.

      To quote Tom Gilson from his Open Letter to Peter Boghossian: "I call on you to examine the evidence I present here, and to demonstrate your doxastic openness by publicly admitting that your definitions of faith are (a) not the only correct ones, (b) largely inaccurate with respect to the historic usage of the word, and therefore (c) not necessarily descriptive of faith as practiced by Christians today, and (d) certainly not normative."

      Now, Peter Boghossian, demonstrating his doxastic openness in the May 6th talk (a year and a half earlier): "Give me a sentence where one must use the word 'faith,' and cannot replace 'faith' with 'hope,' yet at the same time isn't an example of pretending to know things someone doesn't know. I don't think this can be done. I do not think that this is possible. I don't think it can be done because 'faith' and 'hope' are not synonyms; they have different meanings. If anyone solves this thought challenge, then I will be forced to reconsider the proposed explication."

      There it is. For what it's worth, the word "hope" appears exactly zero times in Tom Gilson's Open Letter, and so it doesn't appear that he has taken the challenge seriously. There is also no clear attempt to solve Boghossian's riddle, which is a direct path to forcing him to change his mind. Also, for what it's worth, this open opportunity is spelled out word-for-word, referencing this very talk, on p. 26 of Boghossian's Manual.

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    2. Ah, you chose light duty; now if you'd gone through a William Lane Craig interview, that would have showed some real dedication on your part...

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    3. Funny you should mention that...
      Nothing to report now, but that is what I was doing when you left this comment.

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  13. May 6 Lecture, 3:00

    “The definition I am proposing is 'pretending to know things you don’t know;' this is nearly synonymous with the word “faith.” Not every case of pretending to know things you don’t know are faith, but all cases of faith are cases of pretending to know things you don’t know. It’s definitive of faith that these are cases of pretending. Whenever you hear the word 'faith,' just substitute 'pretending to know things you don’t know,' and the definition, the meaning of what faith is will become more clear.”

    All cases of faith... It's definitive of faith ... , etc. If you don't hear that as him claiming this is the only way faith must be understood, then you have some contrary confirmation bias operating.

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  14. TG: "If you don't hear that as him claiming this is the only way faith must be understood, then you have some contrary confirmation bias operating."

    I truly don't know what it is you're trying to say. As shown in James comments, and the transcriptions he recorded for us, Boghossian is proposing a disambiguation of the word faith from other terms. He has done this in (gasp!) the form of a thought challenge -- replace "faith" with the the words "pretending to know things you don’t know" and see if it makes any difference.

    You seem bent on mischaracterizing Boghossian's right to speak his mind as equivalent to a kind of verbal coup d'etat. This characterization has been shown to be fantastical by the language cited in your and James' transcriptions. E.g.:

    Boghossian: "The definition I AM PROPOSING [emphasis mine]..."
    Bohgossian: "If anyone solves this thought challenge, then I will be forced to reconsider the PROPOSED explication."

    On top of this, Boghossian goes to lengths to show how a thought challenge can be used on his proposed definition, so those willing to engage can make up their own minds.

    So, despite your insistence that Boghossian is making authoritarian demands (You: "... him claiming that this is the only way faith MUST [emphasis mine} be understood..." You: "He's the one who's claiming that he has the one legitimate definition." Etc.), Boghossian has used clear language indicating that he is making a proposal that he hopes will become authoritative, and providing the reader / listener with the means to test this definition themselves, and explains what it would take for him to reconsider.

    What I haven't said but I can't leave unremarked upon at this point is this: whereas Boghossian proposes a definition for faith that can be tested (try this thought experiment out for yourself), and explains what it would take to change his mind (if someone solves the thought challenge), you have... insisted that he admit that his proposed definition is wrong, and that he publicly disavow his proposal.

    And aware of the differences in your two approaches, you somehow find him authoritarian, and his methods illegitimate.

    Irony, it appears, is not your strong suit.


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