Saturday, May 24, 2014

Post debate, Peter Boghossian and Tim McGrew on Unbelievable?

Peter Boghossian (Portland State University) and Christian philosopher Tim McGrew (Western Michigan University) had a discussion on British faith-debate podcast Unbelievable? hosted by Justin Brierley, published today, 24 May 2014 (Link). I'd like to make a few points, though I don't intend to give a thorough run-down on the debate. I also won't comment about winners because I think the idea of winning a conversation is stupid to the point of being embarrassing for people that we make a sport of it. (Full disclosure: I think the debate was a draw because the substantive point of the matter could not be settled because the relevant data concerning how Christians and other religious believers use the word "faith" is not available.)

The short-short summary of the discussion is that Boghossian forwarded in his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, the idea that a workable analysis of the term "faith" in use is "pretending to know what you don't know." He calls this a definition for the word, which would hinge upon the outcome of such a linguistic analysis if we ever have the nerve to do it properly. In the debate, and in the book, Boghossian lists this definition as secondary to the less inflammatory "believing without (read: on insufficient, see below) evidence or in the face of contradictory evidence," which isn't far from the established uses.

Issues with issues

McGrew, a Christian, predictably takes serious issue with Boghossian's attempt to tease out the meaning-in-use of the term "faith." In the final word of the discussion (which is odd because he also got the opening statement), McGrew says that Boghossian should take up his point with the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). Since Boghossian is candid about the fact that he intends this understanding of the term "faith" only in religious contexts, so as to disambiguate it from synonymous better choices like hope, trust, and confidence in everyday speech, the relevant definition in the OED McGrew is referring to is the second, and it's an odd choice for raising his point.
2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
The OED already explicitly states that faith, in the religious context, is based not upon proof (which I will argue, despite protestations of apologists everywhere, means "sufficient evidence to warrant belief"), but instead upon "spiritual apprehension," which absent proof of "spiritual" anything carries no weight beyond the metaphorical. So, the OED, though no so explicit, already gives Boghossian's definition for "faith" in the religious context. I am assuming that sending listeners on a silly wild goose hunt isn't why McGrew was giggling about the idea of contacting the OED at the end of their discussion.

More importantly, I'm troubled by McGrew's inconsistent application of his take on the word "faith." Sometimes, as with Christianity for him, "faith" applies. The parallel for Islam doesn't apply, though, presumably because he doesn't believe Islam and does believe Christianity. At other times, it seems like "faith" does and doesn't mean hope, at the same time.

McGrew's working definition is something closer to the OED first definition, the common-parlance use that Boghossian says needs to be disambiguated from the religious-context use, this being a major point of Boghossian's Manual. To paraphrase him, McGrew suggests that faith is confidence that one extends in an uncertain circumstance in which something significant is on the line and in which there is a lack of control of circumstances. This definition is complex and more detailed than the one given in the OED, which only lists "complete trust or confidence in someone or something," so perhaps he too should contact them for a discussion.

To understand my qualms with McGrew's application of the term, I have to delve into the small number of examples that came up in the debate as tools to discuss the use of the term. Since I don't currently have time to listen to the full debate again, I'll have to go by memory here, so forgive me if I leave any out. There may have been, particularly, examples specific to Christianity, but since McGrew is very likely to be biased on this point as a Christian anyway, I'm not going to waste time pointing out that fact if it happens to be the case in any specifics.

These examples, to the best of my recollection, are:
  1. Faith in Islam (specifically, Boghossian asked if McGrew has faith or evidence that Islam is false, which I think is quite a clever way to ask the question).
  2. Faith in a parachute while skydiving, and/or the person who packed the parachute.
  3. Faith in whether or not chickens exist (another clever question by Boghossian--why don't we use the word faith regarding the existence of chickens?)
Faith in Islam

McGrew's contention is that one has faith in something like Christianity because the fate of one's soul is on the line, implying a risk and circumstances beyond one's control in which one decides to place one's trust in the religious articles based upon the best assessment one can give of the available evidence. Between the lines here is the fact that one is placing trust without knowing, but that's something McGrew would be likely to agree with, so I won't harp.

I agree with McGrew that there's a risk involved in the circumstances surrounding Christianity, those being beyond one's control, but they have nothing to do with a soul. They have to do with taking a social plunge into a cult that believes in the literal truth of absurd and sometimes disgusting nonsense, but we'll set that aside too. The point is that McGrew says that Christianity qualifies for faith for this reason, and that Islam doesn't.

McGrew, who said plainly that he has read the Qur'an, is surely aware of the risks to his alleged soul if he fails to accept Islam as the absolute and highest truth. The risks are the same, in fact, as in Christianity: missing out on Paradise and inviting oneself into eternal torment in Hell. Having heard of Islam, one is bound by this risk, but McGrew specifically says that there's not a risk in rejecting Islam, something close to, "Why would I use the word faith if I'm venturing nothing on Islam?"

This is an outright dismissal of Islam by McGrew because, having heard of Islam, having read the Qur'an, in fact, he automatically is venturing something on Islam, if his central point about the venture of Christianity is noetic and not social, as it was. Tim McGrew ventures (almost) nothing socially on Islam, and his flat dismissal of the idea that the word "faith" applies here for him (but does apply for Muslims) belies the fact that he thinks faith only applies to ideas one already thinks are true. He then uses the term to close the confidence gap between warranted confidence and outright belief, which is what Boghossian says faith does.

Faith in chickens

McGrew argues that he doesn't have faith that chickens exist because there's nothing ventured on believing that there are chickens. He does not examine the reason for this, though. McGrew, along with everyone else, knows there are chickens. There is no evidential-warrant/belief gap here. This response was incredibly weak, and his unwillingness simply to admit "we don't have faith in chickens because we know there are chickens" tells most of his strategy: don't let faith and knowledge get on the same field.

By talking about a venture being required for "faith" to apply, McGrew exposed that it is centrally concerned with belief on a lack of knowledge. That's something I expect McGrew is likely to admit, but the important observation here is that "faith admits no doubt," which isn't just a common theme, it's an outright dogma of the Christian belief structure. If faith admits no doubt but is only appropriate in cases where there is doubt, faith is used to close the epistemic gap beyond the warrant of evidence.

Faith in parachutes

Despite his protestations, McGrew is simply wrong that "hope" is the wrong word to use in reference to the outcome of a skydive. He openly admits that skydiving carries some margin of error, a failure rate that results in venturing one's own life to circumstances beyond his control in a certain percentage of cases. That is, he knows that he doesn't know that it's going to come out okay if he jumps from a plane with a parachute on his back.

Where he's wrong--or worse--is in saying that faith, not hope, is what allows him to jump, but we'll come back to this point in a moment because it's bigger than this example alone. Let's suppose instead, though, that he isn't wrong, that it's faith that allows him to take the dive. What does he mean by this, since he explicitly says it's not the same as hope in this circumstance?

Hope is the feeling and desire to come out on the survival side of the statistic, and McGrew specifically said this is an example where "faith" applies but "hope" does not. So McGrew is saying that a mature and rational consideration of the statistics and the risks with the desire to come out good isn't sufficient to skydive. One needs something more, faith. If he was just flatly assessing the odds and taking them as they are, hope (and some courage) is all he actually needs. I won't put words in his mouth, but it seems very much to me like he implies that faith closes the confidence gap involved in the situation, or, put more plainly, lets him pretend to know something he doesn't know--that the dangerous portion of the statistic is irrelevant or doesn't exist.

[Edit: I elaborated on this section the next day after it occurred to me that McGrew might be directly connecting faith that isn't hope with cognitive bias. (Link)]

Open-eyed maturity

In all three examples, while making an effort to present a case that "faith" doesn't mean extending one's degree of confidence beyond the warrant of evidence, McGrew reveals that this is exactly how he's using the term himself, even if he puts his explanation in a pretty Sunday dress. I understand his reluctance to admit it, and I fully appreciate that he can't say that he's pretending to know things he doesn't when he invokes the term faith, but he can't escape it, apparently. The tricky part about pretending to know something that you don't know is that, unless you're faking it intentionally, it entails pretending that you're not pretending. This is the central bias of faith.

A mature understanding of probabilities and risks doesn't require people to pretend to know things they don't know, but the amount of maturity required here is, perhaps, quite astounding. I, personally, do not need to pretend to know I won't die in the process in order to skydive. I only need to know that only a very small proportion of people do die in that endeavor and the hope that I'm not going to be one of them. If there's a one-in-ten-thousand chance I'll die on a skydive I've elected to take, hope to be one of the fortunate 9,999 is all that a mature mind needs to be willing to take the risk, should the reward (the experience) be deemed to be worth that chance. Faith, meaning something distinguishable from hope, simply is not necessary. Getting to this state, though, I think took me a great deal of sober personal reflection on the matter, including upon my own mortality. I don't think everyone does this, and maybe not everyone can.

Pedantry

I've seen it from shoddier minds, and I really didn't expect it from McGrew, to be honest--though perhaps I should have, given that it's gaining a lot of currency lately. There's a pedantic attack on the proposed understanding of faith, "belief without evidence," which is obviously not written to be technical but rather as imprecise shorthand, and it crops up a lot. 
You can't say no evidence if you mean not enough evidence!
In an important, technical publication, I would totally agree. Everywhere else in the social universe, though, yes we can, and we mean the same thing by it.

Let me expand upon this, though, so that even in a trite technicality kind of way, it's technically correct. If faith is being used to close the confidence gap beyond the warrant of evidence to the level of belief (which is typically complete belief), then there is no evidence for what goes in that gap, and yet that degree of belief is held anyway, thusly on no evidence. This, though, is stupid. Mature people don't fuss with this kind of pedantry; they just use shorthand and recognize that other people use shorthand and ask for clarification--not blast challenges--when needed.

Informed people don't really even think about belief this way anymore. Take a scientific article, say general relativity (because McGrew brings it up in a different context). We don't "believe" general relativity. Indeed, we don't even talk about general relativity being true outside of colloquial, everyday speech. We talk about two main components of general relativity and draw the line: its predictive potency, with error bars, and its explanatory salience, particularly how not ad hoc it is. When we say that we "believe" general relativity is "true," we mean that we appreciate that as a theory it is pretty low in ad-hoc-ness, matches the observed data to a sufficiently accurate (and stated) degree, and provides remarkably good predictions within the same or another sufficiently accurate (and stated) range.

It's a bit ironic that this comes up since McGrew opens the entire discussion by pointing out that non-experts talk about fields they find interesting in ways that are decades out of date. It's a bit sad that he brings this up since technically this understanding, employed by some scientists better than others, is one of the philosophy of science, not science itself. At least he got his chuckles in, though, again.

Orwellian

Do you know what's Orwellian? Accusing your opponents of doing something really dastardly and contemptible that they didn't do in a hope to score rhetorical points to stir people into going against them. That's one example of an Orwellian thing to do.

McGrew, though the thought is hardly unique to him, complains that Boghossian's attempt to redefine faith is another kind of Orwellian thing, an outright attempt to undermine belief by controlling language. He accuses Boghossian of making a Newspeak mockery of the word "faith" (which he thereby tacitly admits in the process is required to maintain belief in religious articles, the evidence not being sufficient to warrant it). That sounds pretty bad on Boghossian, trying to modify the language to make a mockery of faith and foist unbelief on a blinded populace, and no doubt lots of Christians, maybe even McGrew, are eager to believe it. But.

Boghossian has only said about a million times, including directly to McGrew in the discussion, that he's calling for a linguistic analysis of how the word is used, saying the definition should reflect the results. McGrew clearly understood this point, agreeing that it could be determined empirically and getting into the idea of some kind of unscientific Internet poll that pretends to try to uncover this. Calling for an honest, evidence-based appraisal of something along with calling for our agreed-upon understanding of that something to follow the appraisal is about as un-Orwellian as it is possible to be.

Instead of being so Orwellian, Boghossian should realize that "faith" has always meant and will always mean what the Bible says it means. Amen.

The central point

The central matter of the discussion, the contemporary (and maybe older) use of the word "faith," remains unresolved. McGrew, the far more experienced debater, came off tighter in what he had to say and hid his weaknesses well, better than did Boghossian. Still, as we've seen, he left quite a gaping hole in his case just by virtue of having to use a word that actually means what he says it doesn't mean. Boghossian directly called for what is necessary to resolve the dispute: empirical evidence about how people use the word "faith" in a study that is appropriately designed to reveal just that. Absent such a study, Boghossian says people use it that way, McGrew says they don't (while doing it unintentionally), and very little gets resolved. No Christian could admit, even to herself, that's what it means, and many atheists are unwilling to use a word like "pretending" with its accusatory connotation.

Interestingly, we should note that both participants agreed that empirical evidence on how the word "faith" gets used would resolve the debate. The reason, of course, is that it would provide the requisite knowledge, which would render faith--pretending to know what we don't--in either position irrelevant.

79 comments:

  1. I think you've misunderstood the point, and badly, about McGrew's definition of faith. McGrew has faith in Christianity. This faith itself is not enough to render Islam false (particularly if religious pluralism is true). But we can safely assume McGrew does not accept RP, on the basis of his acceptance and trust in Christianity. That entails, by logic, that whatever is incompatible with it is false. Islam is not compatible, as an entire religion, with Christianity. Therefore, by inference, logic demands that Islam is false. There's no faith exercised with respect to *Islam.* What you'd need is a faith epistemology, as it were, that relies on the truth of the form, "If X has faith in p, and p entails q, then X has faith in q." But that looks a lot like the highly problematic knowledge closure entailment principle, or a very particular form, that many have found unlikely: "If X knows p, and p entails q, then X knows q." But that implies that X knows everything that the facts that he knows entails. Similarly, this relies on the distribution of faith, which is unnecessary. If one has a complete confidence (the OED definition which is not incompatible with McGrew's definition, which was another point you missed, whether intentionally or due to ineptness) in Christianity, and Christianity entails whatever is opposed to it is false, and McGrew finds out Islam is opposed to Christianity, he can easily infer (inference!) by logical deduction that Islam is false: no faith required. Boghossian failed to make his case, and he sounded like a jerk overall.

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    1. Do you see what you've done?

      You've given McGrew, and anyone that holds any position on faith a free pass to dismiss out of hand anything that they find contradictory to that point of view. Islam is incompatible with Christianity, so anyone with faith in Christianity can dismiss Islam on the basis of their faith, and likewise in reverse. If atheists held strict naturalism on faith, they could legitimately dismiss all religions that espouse the supernatural as being incompatible with a faith-held view and, by logic, not be wrong. But someone is wrong. Christians are wrong or Muslims are wrong, or both are wrong. That's a problem with McGrew's definition of faith since he said that Muslims have faith in Islam and Christians have faith in Christianity.

      On his definition, could atheists "have faith" in naturalism without pretending to know anything they don't, i.e. without begging a single question? I guarantee if Boghossian or any other atheist in the world published something saying that he accepts strict naturalism as a presupposition and maintains his belief in it on faith, thus every religion is false, every religious apologist on earth would go crazy to be the loudest to bellow "question begging!" The less erudite believers would argue to ignorance, "You can't prove God doesn't exist!" But this doesn't address the question I asked.

      McGrew says you have to have (1) uncertainty (naturalism could satisfy this), (2) what you deem are good reasons to believe it (naturalism could satisfy this), (3) something of consequence on the line (naturalism could satisfy this), and (4) a lack of control of the circumstances (naturalism satisfies this).

      But notice that atheists don't pretend to be justified in playing a faith card and rolling on. Christians, Muslims, and the rest get no free pass. McGrew didn't evaluate Islam as a Muslim and didn't evaluate Islam as a neutral person. He evaluated it as a biased Christian, and he's lucky Islam is as false as Christianity for it too.

      McGrew's definition extends the criteria listed in the OED for "faith," so "incompatible" isn't the right word (which is why I didn't use it). By his application, the OED isn't specific enough.

      How Boghossian sounded? Really? Very nice.

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    2. I frequently note that many people conflate faith A (trusting in a known entity/reality) with faith B (belief that something is true while it cannot be evidenced or known.)

      The reality is most Christians do use these interchangeably.

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  2. Boghossian has not done a bit of linguistic research whatsoever into faith. Even Bultmann, no friend of Christianity, in TDNT, a very liberal work, said that pistis when applied to a personal object always has the meaning of trust. Faith is not an epistemology but a response given in trust. In the ancient world, you had what you had because of a benefactor and in response to the blessings that your benefactor gave to you, you were to act in trust (faith) of them. Paul did not invent the term nor did Jesus. They used terms understood by their audience and neither one of them meant "Pretend to know what you do not know" or "Believe without evidence."

    Could some Christians today be ignorant and misuse the term? Sure. So what? I don't care about how popular Christians define it. I care about how the Biblical writers did it because it's improper to go to any text and replace an ancient meaning with a modern one. The words mean what the authors intended them to mean.

    Now if you want to convince me this is what the authors meant, then please find one Lexicon of Greek or the NT that gives the meaning that Boghossian does.

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    1. That's fantastic, Nick. You've missed Boghossian's whole point: when people say the word "faith" now, they say it because they're using it as a stand-in for having sufficient knowledge, which they do not. He may be wrong about this (I seriously doubt it, based on nearly ubiquitous experiences with Christians), but the relevant linguistic research about how the word is actually used in practice has not been done. I strongly suggest a kind that seeks to detect a bias for the word "faith" on articles that cannot be known, particularly religious articles, when compared against other words usually taken to be synonyms, like trust and confidence (and in other contexts, hope).

      Faith is a response given in trust, but upon what is that trust based? Incomplete knowledge. When is that term most appropriate? When the knowledge one doesn't have happens to be a religious article, which is why we call religions "faiths."

      In the ancient, superstitious world of Jesus, Paul, and those predating them, trusting in magical forces wasn't such a weird thing to do since almost everyone did it effectively out of necessity due to an utter lack of understanding about a great deal of the events that impacted their lives (e.g. diseases and storms). So we should use the same standard now that we know better than to trust magic? We should say "yeah, faith is trusting in magic, even though we know better, but it's still trust" and ignore the fact that it requires pretending to know that magic can be trusted? I don't think so.

      I don't think it's possible to miss the point more, though, that Boghossian is making and I'm rallying to and calling for, that what the authors meant--confused as they were about the nature of the world--has almost any bearing on what the word means now that we know better.

      And it's tactless and shameful to throw "ignorant" Christians under the bus like you did. All Christians pretend to know Christian dogmas are true, call it trust, and so deceive themselves all the more. Shame on you.

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  3. James: That's fantastic, Nick. You've missed Boghossian's whole point: when people say the word "faith" now, they say it because they're using it as a stand-in for having sufficient knowledge, which they do not. He may be wrong about this (I seriously doubt it, based on nearly ubiquitous experiences with Christians), but the relevant linguistic research about how the word is actually used in practice has not been done.
    I strongly suggest a kind that seeks to detect a bias for the word "faith" on articles that cannot be known, particularly religious articles, when compared against other words usually taken to be synonyms, like trust and confidence (and in other contexts, hope).

    Reply: Wow! That's fantastic! You totally ignored that I said I don't care how the modern person uses it, but how it is used by the ancient Biblical writers! I see no lexicons cited. No greek texts referred to. Nothing! Do you even know what pistis is?

    James: Faith is a response given in trust, but upon what is that trust based? Incomplete knowledge. When is that term most appropriate? When the knowledge one doesn't have happens to be a religious article, which is why we call religions "faiths."

    Reply: Based on incomplete knowledge? Yeah. Nice. Way to just beg the question. A client was to give trust to his benefactor in the ancient world. Could that knowledge be incomplete. Well if you mean the guy wasn't omniscient, sure, but then in that case everyone has incomplete knowledge. This is just another straw man, especially Christians like myself and McGrew are constantly telling people to increase in knowledge.

    James: In the ancient, superstitious world of Jesus, Paul, and those predating them, trusting in magical forces wasn't such a weird thing to do since almost everyone did it effectively out of necessity due to an utter lack of understanding about a great deal of the events that impacted their lives (e.g. diseases and storms). So we should use the same standard now that we know better than to trust magic? We should say "yeah, faith is trusting in magic, even though we know better, but it's still trust" and ignore the fact that it requires pretending to know that magic can be trusted? I don't think so.

    Reply: It would be nice if it could be shown that this is being done. Aristotle used the word pistis as has been said and used it in fact in the meaning of a qualitative proof. This is just a version of "Ancient people are stupid!" No doubt some believed in superstitious things. So do many people today. Atheists can have crazy and irrational beliefs. So can theists.

    James; I don't think it's possible to miss the point more, though, that Boghossian is making and I'm rallying to and calling for, that what the authors meant--confused as they were about the nature of the world--has almost any bearing on what the word means now that we know better.

    Reply: Except Boghossian doesn't do that. Boghossian points to Hebrews 11:1 as a deepity totally ignoring what the author meant and not indicating doing any research whatsoever into what the author meant. Is this the best way to really approach a text?

    James: And it's tactless and shameful to throw "ignorant" Christians under the bus like you did. All Christians pretend to know Christian dogmas are true, call it trust, and so deceive themselves all the more. Shame on you.

    Reply: No. What's shameful is to say that ancient people were superstitious in a blanket statement and to do what Boghossian did and say that faith is a mental illness and a mind virus and should be included as a disorder in the book. That is shameful.

    Try providing some evidence that the ancient writers meant what Boghossian thinks they do. Until then, you're just pretending to know something you do not know. It's okay though. Street Epistemologists are good at that.

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    1. Nick: "You totally ignored that I said I don't care how the modern person uses it, but how it is used by the ancient Biblical writers!"

      That's all you had to say. Haha.

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  4. Not a bit. I said I'm for stomping out a false kind of faith also. Meanwhile, there are these books you can read called "Lexicons." Try looking them up and seeing if they match your definition.

    I'm guessing there's a good reason you don't.

    Must be hard to have an opinion that's contradicted by the evidence.

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    1. So, your "evidence" is called "Lexicons"?

      Is your "Lexicons" saying that faith meant one thing then and another thing "on how modern people uses it"? Or is your "Lexicons" saying that "faith" is written in stone and the wrath of god will be upon you if you use it differently than in those "biblical times"?
      C'mon Nick, "Lexicons" is not evidence, just pretending to know something you don't know.

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    2. Actually, they are. Lexicons are books written by scholars of another language that contain the meanings of the word. Consider them the dictionaries used to understand the ancient world. If you want to understand a Greek word, like Pistis, a Lexicon is where you go to.

      In fact, in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, a very liberal work, Bultmann, no friend of Christianity, said that when faith has a personal object as its referent, it always means trust. It's not a way of knowing but a response to knowing.

      Even further, in the ancient world, a benefactor gave a blessing to a client (The blessing being called grace) and in turn, the client was to act in loyalty to the benefactor, known as faith. Again, it was a response. It was not a belief system.

      Now of course, you could go to the scholars of the Greek language and accuse them of pretending to know something they don't know. It'd be amusing to see that. Before you do, please tell me your qualifications in Greek that you would know what the word under question means better than they do.

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  5. Sorry but this piece is just hilarious. It screams fan-boy-damage-control.

    "I think the debate was a draw because the substantive point of the matter could not be settled because the relevant data concerning how Christians and other religious believers use the word "faith" is not available."

    Well it's glad to know you have one thing you disagree with Boghossian on. Unfortunately for you the "relevant data" is available but because people like Boghossian and yourself don't tend to read many Christian intellectuals you are unaware of it. To those of us who have studied philosophy of religion there is a HUGE amount of literature on this point. You sound like the Young-earth creationists who claim they are not aware of any evidence for evolution. It's not because there isn't any - it's because they refuse to look.

    Boghossian justification for his definition of 'faith' in chapter 2 was a train wreck. Only two of his citations are reliable and he quote-mines Migliore (which I have demonstrated in my response to the book) and he gives a false history of the meaning of the Greek word elenchos. Boghossian even quotes a hundred year old lexicon which disagrees with his contention!! His "linguistic analysis" of the word is contrary to modern scholarship but he fails to tell his audience that. But Boghossian likes pretending to know what he doesn't know when it comes to New Testament Greek.

    Boghossian used three very different definition of 'faith' in that interview and McGrew stayed with one. I think I know which person has a definition like a slippery pig!!

    It's hilarious you think the debate was a "draw" since you think McGrew did so badly and yet you cannot cite any errors Boghossian made.

    And then you use the "WLC excuse". Apparently McGrew, according to you, is "the far more experienced debater". Where's the evidence of that James? I notice you don't present any. Could it be you're pretending to know something you don't know?

    And, of course, if you disagree with me at all then you are being dishonest and insincere. ;)

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    1. I've come to expect such astute observations from you

      It is true that Boghossian and I are friends and colleagues (not "fan boy"), but that doesn't change the fact that the substantive point --the implied meaning of the term when it is used-- cannot be settled by an argument of this kind and was not. The point of this piece was specifically to point out that despite McGrew's intentions, it's not even remotely difficult to see how his use of the word "faith," even while arguing that it doesn't have that implied meaning, has that exact implied meaning.

      As to McGrew's experience: this was Boghossian's first debate. How could McGrew not have more experience than him, given that he's had debates before?

      I don't pretend that Boghossian's discussion style was strong. He, probably unwisely, set out to do the impossible: to overturn an established meaning of a word that has been entrenched by the very problem he's describing without the relevant data--meaning hard data, which he also knows he doesn't have--about the realities of contemporary use of the word.

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    2. This was McGrew's first debate.

      Boghossian has been doing these "interventions" for decades and he failed miserably...no need for excuses.

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    3. Lindsay, what other debates of McGrew's are you referring to? Or are you just pretending to know things you don't know again?

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    4. Derek: His interventions aren't debates, and it wasn't what Peter tried to do with McGrew. Had he tried to do it with McGrew, McGrew likely would have seen it for what it was (he's smart and has read the book), and it would have been insulting.

      Esther: As McGrew is a noted academic and philosopher, notably an apologist, I thought it likely that he had done debates before. This is an example of *being wrong*, and I appreciate the correction. I'd only be *pretending to know something I don't* if I wasn't open to being corrected.

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    5. I'm loving your sense of humour James.

      You are the same James Lindsay who was correcting Justin Brierley on Twitter just a few hours ago that he should NOT have called it a "debate" but rather a "discussion" right?

      But then "discussion" is supposed to be Boghossian's area of specialism! After all Boghossian is setting himself up as a world-leader in how to have profitable discussions with theists what with the book and all those lectures online. And then there's his boast that he has had thousands if not millions of discussions with people of faith. So in the very area he is supposed to be the strongest he completely fell flat on his face the first time he came up against an academic.

      Since you're his "colleague" perhaps you could clarify something for me because Peter isn't answering this question. Is Peter a professor of philosophy at PSU?

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    6. Peter won't answer. He has an Ed.d and claims he was kicked out of a PhD philosophy program in New Mexico but will not say why. He is a philosophy instructor and what little he has published is in education journals. He has published nothing as a philosopher and showed he is in way over his head in this discussion with a serious academic like McGrew.

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    7. Annoying person rambling: You're one of the most obsessive obfuscators I've ever seen. If you've read his book as closely as you say you have, you've no doubt noticed that the kind of discussions that Boghossian specializes in aren't ones where he stands and defends his own views. Indeed, he typically gets his own views out of the way as much as possible. He only has "it doesn't matter what I think, I wonder what you think" in his interventions over and over again. He was invited to a discussion to stand and defend his own views against someone who is committed to stand against them as firmly as possible, someone who possess not only a bias to maintain them and see them in a particular light but also a number of commitments that depend on him not being open to seeing things differently. Mainly of importance here, though, was that this wasn't a discussion by Boghossian on why and how McGrew believes what he believes, it was a request for him to defend an observation he has made about the implied meaning behind the word faith in a large number of instances.

      Anyone could *very easily* prove Boghossian's case wrong, and I'm sure he'd back down from his position if it happened, by conducting the relevant study that I mentioned that hasn't been done: a study that teases out the implied contemporary meaning of the word "faith" when it is used in a religious context, a study specifically designed to disambiguate the connotative differences between other related words like trust and hope.

      Peter's personal business is his own, so if you want to know about it, ask him, not me.

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    8. James, RE your comment above, let me see if I have you right: Being willing to change one's mind about something makes one simply wrong, not pretending to know things one doesn't know. However, many de-converts have told Peter Boghossian that they were pretending to know things they didn't know as Christians. So if you want to say you weren't pretending to know something you didn't know just here, should you not out of consistency say that they weren't either?

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    9. The essence of what you're saying James appears to be to say that Boghossian is great at discourse when he is analyzing someone else's belief but when it comes to defending his own view and positive beliefs he's really not all that good. In that case we have some area of agreement! I don't agree with the former but I agree with the latter!

      People have already proven Boghossian's definition of faith to be wrong. The evidence suggests that Boghossian does not tend to seriously interact with his critics all that much so I doubt he is willing to back down because he won't even look at the evidence. It's clear he didn't do so throughout his book. He's happy enough quote-mining and making stuff up.

      Again I challenge you or he to get yourself published academically on the Greek word elenchos. I have provided evidence (in part 3.2 of my series in response to Boghossian's book) that modern scholarship completely disagrees with his discussion of the Greek. His little story about elenchos in his book is completely made up. Now there's a word for it when you pretend to know things you don't know and all the evidence is in opposition to your hypothesis... what is it again?

      I have asked Peter this question three times. The evidence on the PSU website suggests he's an Ed.d and that his title at PSU is "instructor" of philosophy. Unless they have failed to keep that website up to date it appears to stand in contrast to the common introduction Peter gets as being a "professor of philosophy". I was under the impression that honesty and authenticity were important to him?

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    10. People haven't proven Boghossian's take on faith to be wrong as that would require empirical evidence that isn't had. People have made a case that Christians don't think they're using the word that way. That's it. Big deal. They think people can live forever if they believe the right nonsense too. Whoop-de-doo.

      I don't give a shit about the Greek word elenchos. In fact, I don't even dispute that the words used in the Bible reflected the understanding that people had at the time. It made (some) sense to believe in magic and Gods (but I repeat myself) at the time--it was our pre-scientific, superstitious past. Of course people then would think faith meant trusting in magic powers they believed to be real. That doesn't make them real, and it doesn't change the fact that we know better now and yet persist in the word when we should know enough to know that it doesn't apply according to that meaning anymore without being a fool.

      If Boghossian is wrong about elenchos, which is something you're imminently concerned with, that's on him. I'm not a Greek scholar, I don't claim to be, I don't care to be, and I don't think it's relevant to anything I've said or the case Boghossian has made about how modern human beings living in the 21st century mean the word even if they don't mean to mean it that way.

      Why do you keep mining me for Boghossian's personal business? Totally pathetic. If he won't answer you--and I don't blame him--that's between you and him and probably your problem more than his.

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    11. Esther, thanks for an honest and interesting question. I'll be glad to help you understand the point I'm making.

      You: "Being willing to change one's mind about something makes one simply wrong, not pretending to know things one doesn't know."

      Yes, this is correct, and it's consistent with Boghossian. Being willing to change one's views when corrected appropriately is simply a matter of being wrong, which happens to everyone, most of us frequently, and isn't too big a deal (in most situations). "Pretending to know something you don't" is meant to imply insisting to the contrary even after being corrected or being unwilling to have anything change your mind.

      You continue: "However, many de-converts have told Peter Boghossian that they were pretending to know things they didn't know as Christians. So if you want to say you weren't pretending to know something you didn't know just here, should you not out of consistency say that they weren't either?"

      The converts say that they *were* pretending, while they maintained their beliefs, implying that they were in a state that Boghossian called "doxastic closure" while they maintained those beliefs. When they stepped out of that state and looked back on the situation, they recognized that, at the time they believed in religious dogmas, that they were pretending to know things they didn't know.

      Usually this happens with religious beliefs, but it happens with other beliefs too--often about health, politics, and a variety of other complicated topics in which a lot of conflicting information gets to us and sometimes makes "true believers" out of us. The process these people went through in deconverting was one of ceasing to pretend to know things they don't know and then into simply being wrong, which happened once they were honestly willing to change their minds (but probably before they did change their minds in many cases). In Boghossian's terminology, once they entered a state of doxastic openness about their beliefs--being honestly willing to revise them if needed--they ceased pretending to know what they didn't. At that point, if they held erroneous beliefs, they were simply wrong about them.

      This was true for my situation, looking back on it, and I expect many, if not most, deconverted people would agree, although many would insist that the accusation of intention implied by "pretending" might be too strong.

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    12. Perhaps if you had qualified your statements about McGrew's debate experience with phrases like "As far as I know (someone correct me if I'm wrong here)" or "I'm guessing probably..." or "I got the impression that...," then that would have indicated that you were already in a state of doxastic openness. As it was, your word choice was such that a person who didn't know it was McGrew's first debate could easily walk away assuming you had all the facts.

      Honestly though, the semantic nit-picking Boghossian loves to do really bores me to tears. I really don't care that much what some people, or a few people, or a lot of people are talking about when they talk about faith. This is why if there is a "round two" as Justin was suggesting, I hope they actually get into the question of whether Christianity is ultimately justified by the evidence. Because is that not where the actual truth of the matter lies?

      I do have one more question for you: Just how stupid was a 1st century Jew? Do you think they viewed virgin births, resurrections, etc. as just another day in the life? If so, why would this be shouted from the rooftops as a miraculous occurrence? Why would Jesus' own disciples be shown refusing to believe until the evidence was literally right under their noses? And if you're going to launch into some kind of "16 Crucified Saviors" riff... well, I hope you're better than that.

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    13. Fair enough, Esther, and thanks for your critique on my wording. You're right that I was perhaps too sure of my assumption, but honestly, it's to the credit of McGrew's reputation that I made it. He's a noted academic, philosopher, and apologist.

      I'm in agreement with you about Round 2 as well, should there be one. I was very disappointed that they used essentially all of the time to argue about the meaning of a word. The only reservation that I have is that even the matter of whether Christianity is justified can't really be decided by a debate between McGrew and Boghossian. I don't even think that's Boghossian's area of speciality or if he has any background in it, and even if it were, I'm pretty sour on the debate scene for determining truth anyway.

      To your question: I think "stupid" is the wrong word to use for a 1st century Jew. I think they were *superstitious* as a necessity of not having better explanations for their experiences with life. It took a long time for us to get rigorous about explaining things accurately (and the explosion of understanding that followed shows how potent a development that was). They simply didn't have that development, which isn't "stupid." Certainly virgin births were regular parts of ancient superstitious (and modern) legends, so that's not that weird. Neither is conviction to an identify-forming belief from a charismatic movement, even though that's been shown to exaggerated and has nothing in particular to do with superstition.

      As for Jesus' own disciples--first we know nothing about them but what the Bible's authors tell us, and we know those people knew how to write stories (as did their later, and pseudopigraphic, editors). That the disciples are shown not to believe without evidence, if you mean Thomas, is a powerful credibility-lending technique (and may be based in the legitimacy that anyone should doubt such a ridiculous story), particularly since it is employed for Jesus to admonish to believe without seeing immediately after.

      I don't think first century Jews were stupid, though, not at all. Life was in most ways far harder back then, and being "stupid" wouldn't have kept them alive. Being superstitious, though, which isn't the same, was part and parcel for the day.

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    14. So why does Joseph immediately assume Mary has slept with another man and begin making damage control plans for a quiet divorce, instead of treating it as a 50/50 chance of being a miracle from the outset?

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    15. There are a number of plausible reasons.

      First--even superstitious people would think a huge miracle like that is an unlikely occurrence. It's in hearing the story later that people would think it more likely, not being in it. Like I said, these people weren't fools.

      Second, it might just be a story, mightn't it? Even if you can't think so, pretend for a minute that it's just a story, something made up. Imagine you were writing a story about a virgin being impregnated by a supernatural force. How would you write the reaction of the husband?

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    16. Hume answer the question thusly: "Which is more likely: that the whole natural order is suspended, or that a jewish minx should tell a lie?"

      The quote is funnier than the more probably truth -- Which is more likely, that the whole natural order is suspended, or that a story would evolve in which it was?"

      The inescapable paradox for those who defend the resurrection story is that it's always, ALWAYS more probable that a supernatural story should come to be believed than that a supernatural event should happen. Human gullibility > Extraordinarily Unlikely Events.

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    17. Oh Carl. Seriously? Have you ever read the critiques of Hume? Let's even start with the agnostic philosopher who wrote "Hume's Abject Failure" to show that Hume's argument is indeed a complete failure. One does not go by sheer probabilities, but one goes by the evidences. Now if you want to argue against miracles, it's imperative then that you go through Craig Keener's massive two-volume work "Miracles" and then present an argument.

      Also, keep in mind Hume was very selective about what data he accepted. Why? He was a racist. He dismissed data that did not come from the people he considered "educated."

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    18. Nick, anytime you want to stop throwing handfuls of fallacies at the wall and address the substance of my comment you may do so. Until then, you're a virtual Tourette's syndrome of apologetic vitiriol.

      Take a deep breath. Think of what it is you really want to say. Then write it down. That's my tip to you.

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    19. Yep. Pointing to scholarly sources in a debate is sure posting a bunch of fallacies.

      Street epistemologists are so funny.

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    20. Nick, did you also notice how Boghossian kept using the phrase "epistemic closure" to refer to being closed-minded? It's hilarious, he obviously has no clue what this phrase actually means philosophically. I think it was rather courteous of McGrew not to ask him, "Do you mean epistemic closure under entailment, or epistemic closure under conjunction?"

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    21. I find it so humorous to think that of all the people who have biases, apparently, it's only Christians. You are not allowed to use personal testimony, unless you're an atheist and then your experience counts for everything. You are not allowed to redefine terms like "evolution" to mean something that fits you, but an atheist is allowed to redefine atheist, faith, and evidence.

      I call it atheistic presuppositionalism.

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    22. Nick,

      I don't believe that you know how to think or write (anything) clearly enough to warrant a response.

      DNWAR.

      That means, "Does not warrant a response." Just my head's up to you that I'll use that as shorthand from now on for those comments of yours that are so disjointed I don't believe anyone could engage with them in a productive way. As Inigo Montaya wisely says when asked to sum up the entire proceedings to Weslely, "There is too much."

      I think that if you try and think of one thing to say, then write down that one thing, then you might start to build from the ground up.

      Good luck!

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    23. That's cute Cal. Nice to know you ignore scholarship like Earman and Keener. Oh well. Have fun enjoying doxastic closure!

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    24. "Christian intellectuals"?
      Since when Christianity is addressed to intellectuals and not to the ignorant masses, in order to be controlled by the church?

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    26. Cal: Even before I read your rambling and nonsensical "reply" to my comments, I had cause to doubt your intelligence, just from the fact that you actually deprecated Dr. McGrew on the grounds that he is a philosopher! Professional philosophers, even when they are radical atheists, tend to be very sharp people, smarter in my experience than the average scientist; the same, obviously, cannot be said for you.

      Since personal invective is your main mode of reply, perhaps that is all I need to say in response to it.

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  6. aremon: "People have already proven Boghossian's definition of faith to be wrong."

    So the Muslims and Hindus and Zoroastrians and Christians and Mormons have all been right this whole time? It's amazing what the Main Stream Media won't tell us...

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  7. JL: "Fair enough, Esther, and thanks for your critique on my wording. You're right that I was perhaps too sure of my assumption, but honestly, it's to the credit of McGrew's reputation that I made it. He's a noted academic, philosopher, and apologist."

    Yeah, I agree that you may have jumped the gun on assuming that McGrew was one of those apologists who's always debating. But I wouldn't get too far ahead of yourself on McGrew being much of an academic or philosophical force. He's an apologist first, and I think that this clearly affects his standing as an academic and philosopher -- the McGrew Resurrection Reliability article is (to me) kind of a joke.

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    1. An apologist first? That's an odd description considering that he earned his degree specializing in epistemology and taught pure philosophy for many years before only recently taking up philosophy of religion at all. McGrew has published in _The Monist_, _The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science_, _The Routledge Companion to Epistemology_, _Mind_, _Analysis_, and more, as well as reviewing epistemology and phil. sci. manuscripts for presses like Blackwell, Cambridge University Press, etc.

      So where's your CV?

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    2. Oh yeah, forgot to add that both of McGrew's published books are pure epistemology, that one of his most prominent articles is actually a critique of the fine-tuning argument, and that he co-wrote a philosophical critique of Alvin Plantinga for Routledge. So please, tell me more about how he's "an apologist first."

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    3. Esther, oh, please -- I said that McGrew "isn't' much of an academic or philosophical force" - I didn't say that he's not an academic, etc.

      I would expect Tim McGrew to have published something by now -- he's chosen a professional academic career, and publishing stuff is how you get to keep that job. But if you think his academic pedigree is somehow vaunted (Scranton University #209 overall!, a PhD from Vanderbilt's Philosophy Department, #35!, now a Philosophy professor at Western Michigan University, #181), then you are just fooling yourself.

      I am just pointing out that I wouldn't be too generous in conceding McGrew more academic and intellectual standing than he deserves. It's obvious to me that the smartest kids in our schools largely choose the hardest academic disciplines -- Math, Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, etc. McGrew chose Philosophy, and he hasn't exactly risen to great heights even within that largely obscure and less well-attended field. He is what he is -- let's not make him any more (or less).

      But that's a diversion, as is talk of Boghossian's teaching position, (my CV), etc. And that's because we should be talking about the arguments for which both of the men mentioned above have stated their positions. And my broader point is that the one that McGrew has claimed, and that you are defending, is clearly based on a basic mistake -- that it's more likely that an extraordinarily improbable event should occur than that people would come to believe in a story about an incredible event having occurred. McGrew seems to pretend that this is not true, but it's a dead-stopper for those who want to believe in the reliability of the Gospels. And that this basic, embarrassing mistake is the kind of blunder I'd expect from someone who puts his apologetics ahead of his intellectual honesty.




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    4. Esther: "Oh yeah, forgot to add that both of McGrew's published books are pure epistemology, that one of his most prominent articles is actually a critique of the fine-tuning argument, and that he co-wrote a philosophical critique of Alvin Plantinga for Routledge. So please, tell me more about how he's "an apologist first." "

      His critique of Plantinga is a defense of his Resurrection Reliability argument, fine tuning is a famous apologist argument, and epistemology is the bailiwick of metaphysicists and apologists. And you're trying to distance him from his overt commitment to apologetics?

      http://historicalapologetics.org/about-us/

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    5. People get sweetheart deals for publishing crap work all the time. I'm sorry that it appears you're not really aware of what it means to have work in journals like _Mind_ or _The Monist_. His work in probability theory alone is ground-breaking.

      And I'm afraid it's you making the "basic, embarrassing mistake" of just waving your hands around instead of bothering to engage with the actual body of evidence in support of the improbable event in question.

      By the way, the Plantinga article came out roughly a year before the article on the Resurrection. It was specifically criticizing the Principle of Dwindling Probabilities. And did you miss the part where I said he was CRITICIZING the fine-tuning argument?

      Oh please, are you seriously trying to tell me that epistemology isn't a rigorous technical field? Are you even familiar with the literature on explanation, argumentation and probability?

      I never denied that McGrew was an apologist, but to say that he is first and foremost an apologist is simply false. He was a philosopher long before he was an apologist. Right now, frankly it looks like you're just trying to cover Boghossian's rear end with your excuses and confirmation bias.

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    6. Esther: "I never denied that McGrew was an apologist, but to say that he is first and foremost an apologist is simply false. He was a philosopher long before he was an apologist."

      You are being absurd. If I look at his CV his academic output is almost entirely confined to theological and apologetic topics. He has just stepped up to present the Christian defense against Boghossian's observation concerning faith and pretending to know. I linked to his apologetics page. He is a frequent commenter in online discussions that affect apologetics. You seem to want to pretend that Tim McGrew is best identified with his "breaththrough" work in philosophy. This is laughable.

      Esther: "Right now, frankly it looks like you're just trying to cover Boghossian's rear end with your excuses and confirmation bias."

      Then I think you should read more carefully, and try to be more precise when you write.

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    7. If you ask philosophy students, academics, etc. what Tim McGrew is known for, they'll point to his work in epistemology, history of science, probability theory, etc., etc., probably without even being aware of his work in apologetics. If you ask most Christians to name their favorite apologists, they might name popularizers like Strobel or McDowell, but McGrew doesn't have nearly as much name recognition as those authors do in that area. Of course, his work is much more muscular than theirs academically, but if you compare apologists' followings (by which I mean both real apologists and those who are popularly/inaccurately referred to as "apologists"), McGrew's is relatively small. Now the Christian on the street couldn't tell you about McGrew's work in philosophy either, but that's because not many people are familiar with philosophy period. Among philosophers, sorry but McGrew has a lot of cred in a plethora of technical areas.

      "If I look at his CV his academic output is almost entirely confined to theological and apologetic topics." Really? Then our definitions of "theological" and "apologetic" must be very different. Of his three books, 0% are theological/apologetic. Of his articles and book chapters, over 50% are non-theological/apologetic, and among those that are, a significant portion are either criticizing a Christian philosopher (Plantinga, on a particularly subtle and technical point) or in the one case, actually criticizing a favorite apologetic argument (the fine tuning argument). Of his published reviews, all but 1 out of 6 have no connection to theology or apologetics. Of his presentations, 24 out of 33 are wholly unconnected to theology or apologetics. One of the ones I left out is the critique of the fine-tuning argument, another is his critique of Plantinga, and others are examining the design argument from the perspective of pure logic, another area where he specializes. So perhaps you should try to be more precise when you write.

      McGrew has clearly devoted a lot of time in recent years to apologetics, and I'm sure he's happy for his work in that area to become more widely known through this debate. But your attempt to show that he's just a biased ideologue with minimal academic cred is looking more pathetic with each comment you make. So now might be a good time to stop.

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    8. In fact, perhaps I was being too generous even to leave out the finetuning and design pieces. None of them could honestly be called "theology" or "apologetics." Both are heavily focused on probability theory. He's criticizing the finetuning argument for making a specific technica error in probability. The pieces on the design argument are tied in with a larger debate in philosophy as a whole, not particularly geared to defending Christianity. Specifically, McGrew is advocating a Bayesian approach to design vs. a p-values based approach. Again, this stuff is theoretical, not theological.

      Your problem is that none of this fits into the narrative you want to create. A Christian with actual expertise in a serious academic field who just happens to DISAGREE with your arguments and conclusions about Christianity disrupts your stereotype of Christians. In your world, it would be inconceivable for a Christian to be asked to write the article on evidence for the Routledge Companion to Epistemology, because everyone knows Christians are just a bunch of out-of-touch yahoos talking to themselves, dontcha know?

      Besides all that, it's ridiculous to place such weight on what somebody is "known for" versus what his actual body of work comprises. I could say James Lindsay is best "known for" writing a blog that attacks Christians. Does that mean he's not a real mathematician? You see the ridiculousness here.

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    9. Esther, by "first and foremost" an apologist I mean that McGrew's intellectual pursuits seem almost entirely tied to his Christian belief. I think that any honest screening of his CV reveals this. McGrew's CV is EXACTLY what I would expect from a Christian apologist looking for ways to formalize and defend that which is vitally important to him -- his belief, and the intellectual validity of his belief.

      I am not belittling the learning he has accumulated, but at the same time I see no need to elevate him to the realm of high-minded philosopher or powerhouse academician, stepping into the fray to defend rational thinking from Visigoths who question Christian belief.

      Do yourself a favor: look up Tim McGrew on youtube. Watch some videos. Tell me this is a man who is not an ideologue, who is burning with the desire to proselytize his faith.

      Esther: "In your world, it would be inconceivable for a Christian to be asked to write the article on evidence for the Routledge Companion to Epistemology, because everyone knows Christians are just a bunch of out-of-touch yahoos talking to themselves, dontcha know?"

      You seem to be having a disagreement with someone who is not me. Please read my words, not what you think is behind my words.

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    10. But Cal, your exact words were, "If I look at his CV his academic output is almost entirely confined to theological and apologetic topics." I've just shown you that this is false, that in fact the majority of his work could have been written by an atheist and deals with real technical problems in philosophy. Are you now retracting your initial statement?

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    11. Esther: "Then our definitions of "theological" and "apologetic" must be very different."

      I think that they are. I think that also you are probably (unconsciously and/or consciously) playing naive, and I am probably (unconsciously and/or consciously) being too uncharitable.

      I assume his books on epistemology to be related to his apologetics. Sorry, but I have learned that epistemology is, as I have tried to mention, one of the area of greatest interest to apologists -- from Plantinga to virtually every online apologist I come across, discussions about evidence seem to inevitably devolve to epistemological questioning that seeks to resolve the evidential problem for religious claims by attacking the axioms at the heart of epistemology. I admit this is my assumption, that it is uncharitable, and that I could be convinced otherwise. But I've earned this skepticism, and this kind of default assumption has proven very reliable.

      Side Note: I have a friend who is a PhD candidate in philosophy right now and he concentrates on epistemology, but his concern is in breaking down medical questions so that they can be researched scientifically. In other words, he studies epistemology so that it can be applied to medical research. I have little doubt that McGrew studies epistemology so that it can be applied to his apologetics.

      Btw, you said earlier something along the line that McGrew was a philosopher long before he was an apologist. I did not question you on this, but I ask you consider that he was no doubt indoctrinated in his Christian faith long before he received any formal philosophical education. So I do not accept your characterization.

      Lastly, here's the first review of McGrew on the website "RateMyProfessor":

      "Interesting teaching style - very anecdotal, so if you like stories then take his class. Comes across as a bit of a "bible thumper" which makes his views/opinions on subject matter a little iffy. Seems more intent to disprove certain ideas/concepts in the reading, rather than actually teach something (which is a disappointment)"

      The rest of the review are kinder to McGrew, but I find even one review like this to be very alarming for any teacher at a state university to receive. I think we should all agree that a teacher's religious views should be kept out of a publicly funded classroom (if not his CV).

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    12. Yeah, and I finally got around to listening to the discussion online. At about minute 3 McGrew talks a little bit about his bio, and he makes it clear in there that he started out as a Christian, and got into philosophy, starting with Epistemology and moving to History of Science, because he saw who those would be instructive and productive for his apologetics.

      So, I stand by my assessment of his CV (which I surmise you think I am dismissing entirely, but that is not the case).

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  8. Boghossian: "The emperor is not wearing any clothes."
    McGrew: "The Emperor must be wearing clothes, otherwise why would he be out?"
    Boghossian: "Whatever; the emperor is still not wearing any clothes."
    McGrew: "When any official of the realm travels, they always wear the finest garments. Hence, the emperor must be wearing not only clothes, but the finest of them all."
    Boghossian: "The man is clearly naked, not just to my eyes, but to yours and everyone else's. How is that wearing clothes."
    The Apologist Chorus: "Listen to what McGrew is saying!"

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  9. This is all so amusing. First, we're told that people haven't proven Boghossian's claim on faith to be wrong as that would require empirical evidence that is not had.

    First, this is wrong. We can look at Greek and NT Lexicons to see how the biblical writers used the word "pistis." Take this source for instance:

    "Faith/Faithfulness

    "These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns 'faith', 'belief', 'fidelity', 'faithfulness,' as well as the verbs 'to have faith' and 'to believe,' refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated 'love') and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated 'hope.') p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values."

    Heck. Even Bultmann, no friend of Christianity, in TDNT, no conservative work, said that when pistis has a personal object as its referent, it always means trust. In the ancient world, when your benefactor provided you with a good gift (Which was called Charis, by the way, where we get the word grace), your response was to be that of pistis, loyalty to the benefactor. You could have two atheists in this exchange and it'd be the same. One atheist could bestow a grace on a client who was to respond with faith.

    Next, McGrew also cited the Oxford English Dictionary which should be an authority on how English words are used by scholars of the language.

    So what does Boghossian have? Well he has his personal testimony of how the word faith is used in his interactions. If that's all he has, well McGrew and others have their own personal testimonies and they just cancel out. Unfortunately, since Boghossian is saying what faith is without empirical evidence, then he is believing something without evidence and pretending to know something he does not know.

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  10. As for ancient people being superstitious, some were, some weren't. It is not about the level of science. Our scientific society is filled with people who go see psychics and who read their horoscopes. In reality, people did not make deities to explain what they did not know. They saw things they did not know and explained them in light of their worldview. Who does this?

    Every single person on the planet.

    Kuhn showed this in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Science operate under a paradigm and until that paradigm is questioned sufficiently, they interpret all evidence under that paradigm and don't question the paradigm. The paradigm could be right or wrong. It doesn't matter. Until the weight becomes unbearable, that paradigm remains. Right now, for instance, the reigning paradigms include macroevolution and Big Bang Cosmology. Whether either of these are right or wrong is irrelevant to my claim and I'm not here to defend or denounce either. I could be just fine whichever one is true. The point is discoveries will be made in research and they will be interpreted in light of the reigning theory.

    Yet the people back then did not just believe things blindly and even if they had, they would certainly not believe Christianity that way. Christianity was seen as a deviant system in an honor-shame society that would put you on the outs with everyone and had no immediate rewards attached to it, at least none that could not be found in mystery religions at the time.

    But the case gets even worse! Miracles were viewed with suspicion. At the time of Jesus within a couple of centuries, we really only have two miracle workers in Judaism that are noted. There is Hanina Ben Dosa and Honi the Circle-Drawer. That's it. In fact, David Instone-Brewer, a NT scholar, in his book, The Jesus Scandals, points out that miracles would actually be seen as an embarrassment. They make an impression on an immediate audience, but they're hard to sell beyond that. People viewed miracle workers back then by and large the same way we view people like Benny Hinn today.

    And yes, since that's a scholarly source, that is in fact hard data.


    So it would seem as if some people are going by a definition of faith that has no evidence and making prejudicial statements about ancient people that have no backing. This is being done without citing scholars of history or linguistic sources so perhaps, that should mean they get to sit at the kid's table until they bring forward evidence besides their personal experience. They need to learn instead to practice good doxastic openness.

    Perhaps on these matters of ancient history and the meaning of words, the advice of Boghossian should be heeded from page 69. "Keep in mind the possibility the faithful know something you don't, that they may have a a reliable method of reasoning you have overlooked, that there's a miscommunication, or that they can somehow help YOU to think more clearly. As long as you keep in mind the possibility someone may know something you don't, and as long as you're open to changing your mind based upon evidence and reason, you'll eliminate much of the potential for creating adversial relationships, and avoid becoming that against which you struggle."

    The reality is McGrew is an authentic professor of epistemology who is published and peer-reviewed on the topic. Why did he win the debate so handily? It's not because of any sneaky trick. It's not because he has more experience. It's because he's someone who knows the subject matter far better than Boghossian does. Of course, it's easy to say "He's biased!" Everyone has a bias. Bias is an easy explanation to avoid dealing with data that's presented.

    But at least by doing this, street epistemologists are certainly following one rule of Boghossian's. That's the great rule on page 71. "Avoid Facts."

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    1. Nick, the idea that the ancient goat sacrificing religious fanatics that wrote your silly book of fairy tales were ''skeptical" of miracles is laughable.

      The Bible itself is so full of superstitious lunacy that any thinking person today should be embarrassed to proclaim it as something
      "Devine" or special in any way.

      You're really funny Nicky. You and your silly fairy tales!!

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  11. Cal,

    // I am just pointing out that I wouldn't be too generous in conceding McGrew more academic and intellectual standing than he deserves. It's obvious to me that the smartest kids in our schools largely choose the hardest academic disciplines -- Math, Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, etc. McGrew chose Philosophy, //

    Out of curiosity – I don’t want to put you on the spot or anything – what is your field of specialisation in academia?

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  12. Cal,

    // a basic mistake -- that it's more likely that an extraordinarily improbable event should occur than that people would come to believe in a story about an incredible event having occurred. //

    Presumably you mean to say that the basic mistake is to think that Pr(extremely improbable event E occurred) > Pr(people came to falsely believe that extremely improbable event E occurred). Could you explain, in a step-by-step way, how you came to that conclusion?

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  13. Thomas: "Could you explain, in a step-by-step way, how you came to that conclusion?"

    Heaven's Gate.

    What is more likely? That an alien space craft was indeed following the comet Hale-Bopp that will transport believers to another realm, or that people became so convinced that this is the case that they will martyr themselves in that belief.

    Also, see the Mormons. See all of History. Plus, all of Today.

    I have harsher words for all of this, but maybe I have misunderstood you.

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    1. Cal, you think Pr(extremely improbable event E occurred) < Pr(people came to falsely believe that extremely improbable event E occurred), right?

      Can I trust news reports about who won the lottery?

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  14. THL: "Can I trust news reports about who won the lottery?"

    Your question is a non sequitur. Are you going to ignore my point?

    http://www.hoax-slayer.com/nigerian-scam-list.shtml

    The senders of these emails haven't won any lottery. But they sure have deceived a lot of people. Because, you know what, that's a lot easier.

    Deal with that fact. Or scurry back into your hole.

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    1. Cal, my question is quite relevant. Perhaps I can put it a different way, because I’m curious. What would convince you that a given person had won the lottery?

      Delete
    2. A given person? Do you mean, some (any) person? That would only include my accepting that a lottery was run, so it would take very little for me to accept that something as mundane as a lottery was run in which a given person won.

      Or do you mean what would it take for someone to convince me that they can predict exactly who will win a lottery in advance of the lottery winner being selected?

      This might help you. Imagine this scenario: I am entered in a million dollar lottery. Every day, I get a chance to win (1 out of a million), and I get a chance to get someone to believe that I won a $500,000 lottery. I can use any means I like to convince someone -- show them a ticket I manufactured, just say I won it, get some of my friends to back up my claim, say that though I won the lottery I choose not to do anything with the money yet so I can live in a normal way without being singled out, etc.

      Imagine I got to run this scenario a million times. I would, per the rules of the lottery, only win the lottery once. Is there any way that you can imagine that I would not be able to convince, in a million tries using any and all the ways I mentioned, more than 2 people that I had won the lottery?

      Are you aware of the existence of this man (who plied most of his cons on church-goers, by the way, because he found them to be the most reliably gullible)? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Gerhartsreiter

      So, how is your question relevant?

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  15. James: Dr. McGrew and I co-wrote the chapter for True Reason in which we set forth the definition of faith that he used in this debate: "trusting, holding to, and acting on, what one has good reason to believe is true, in the face of difficulties."

    You say we lack evidence of how believers use the word. Tim and I give some of that evidence in that chapter; I give more in another chapter, and also demographic evidence of the sort you may be asking for, already seven years ago, in The Truth Behind the New Atheism. I politely challenged Peter to debate the issue before his book came out, but he cut me off rather rudely.

    I won't comment on your other criticisms, since you admittedly did not take the time to ensure accurate citations.

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    1. Hi David,

      I'm not talking about how Christians think they use the word "faith." I'm talking about how they actually do use it. Cheers!

      Your poppycock about citations, yadda, yadda, is a boring red herring. Have a nice day.

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    2. You should be talking about whether Christians attempt to ground their faith in evidence or not. That is what the conversation is about.

      In any case, where is your evidence for "how Christians actually do use the word 'faith?'" Aside from impressions and anecdotes, I mean.

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    3. David Marshall, no one cares what chapter you wrote, what slight you think Peter Boghossian gave you, etc. No. One. Cares.

      Did you get your wittle feelings hurt because Boghossian agreed to talk to McGrew, and not to you? No. One. Cares.

      Are you upset because the only people who think you have good evidence for your beliefs are your fellow cult members, and you just can't figure out any good way to convince anyone besides yourselves? No. One. Cares.

      You don't have good reason to believe. But you choose to anyway. That's your call -- your thoughts, and your beliefs, are your own, and I'll defend your right to have them and promote them in the marketplace of ideas.

      But no one cares that you and your fellow cult members have fooled yourselves into thinking that your beliefs are justified. We care about the evidence that you think makes your beliefs special. And we all have seen it, and we've sen your deluded, pathological reasoning, and we have come to our own conclusions.

      Deal with the fact that your best evidence, the thing you're pushing here, is that you and your fellow cultists are aggressively, pathetically gullible. That's the hand you've dealt yourself, and that's the one you came here to play.

      I, David Marshall, and my wittle group of friend, just really, super duper believe, widdout any pretending. So help me double God 2,000.

      Well played, my friend. Well played. And thank you for increasing the velocity at which the U.S. is becoming less religious. Your participation provides such a salient example of the best apologetics has to offer.

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    4. David, you embarrass yourself, as usual. Always good for a laugh. Thanks!

      DM: "You should be talking about whether Christians attempt to ground their faith in evidence or not. That is what the conversation is about."

      No, that's the bullshit argument you want me to have because it gets to make you look all snazzy, especially if you hang your hat on definitions of evidence that no scientist (but lots of dopey philosophers and apologists) love.

      'In any case, where is your evidence for "how Christians actually do use the word 'faith?'" Aside from impressions and anecdotes, I mean.'

      Surely you can read? I said it's a study that needs to happen and hasn't. This reminds me of the tidal wave of idiotic apologetics that come out every time someone, especially a psychologist, has the temerity to suggest that we need to do some studies to find out if religious indoctrination is harmful to kids. The response is a mountain of "Where's your evidence for that? No, I mean peer reviewed evidence!" (This being one of the only times apologists give a crap about peer reviewed evidence unless it happens to suit their case.) The whole point is that people are saying we need it, and apologists erupt and raise a stink that they hope will be loud enough to put a taboo over doing the research at all. Pathetic.

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    5. The previous comment needs correction. Pardon the mistake:

      DM: "You should be talking about whether Christians attempt to ground their faith in evidence or not. That is what the conversation is about."

      No, that's the bullshit argument you want me to have because it gets to make you look all snazzy, especially if you hang your hat on definitions of evidence that no scientist accepts or uses (but lots of dopey philosophers and apologists love).

      Delete
    6. Marshall: "You should be talking about whether Christians attempt to ground their faith in evidence or not. That is what the conversation is about. "

      Numero uno, "attempting to ground" and "pretending that they have grounded" are really just the same. Of course Christian's "attempt to ground" -- like all proselytizing religions, they know they need to pay lip service to reality when speaking to the unconvinced. The problem isn't that Christians don't attempt to ground their faith in evidence, it's that they (spectacularly) fail in that attempt.

      You, David Marshall, mighty Christian apologist, do not "pretend" (spit, spit, the very word so offends you), you KNOW that the Christian God exists, and above all he is triune!

      So, what's the evidence for the Trinity again? I'd love to hear about all your evidence for what is perhaps the most distinctive of all the Christian claims.

      Evidence, please?

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    7. "....has good reason to believe is true, in the face of difficulties".

      The 'difficulties' Christians face is that their absurd beliefs are based on the Stone Age lunacy of and ancient group of goat sacrificing religious fanatics.

      And as far as having a 'good reason' to believe in the Christian faith......

      Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!

      That's a good one, David Marshall!!!

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  16. ... but therein is the problem: "... "faith" has always meant and will always mean what the Bible says it means. Amen."... the bible never gives a coherent definition, so in order to establish a coherent definition you have do a research on how "faith" manifest, THEN you have a definition of "faith".

    "Faith" can move mountains? Whaaa.?? Is faith some kind of levitation power?

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    1. Hey vasile have you ever looked at an actual Greek lexicon before? Anyways this blogpost has gullible teenybopper fanboy written all over it. Lindsay will always have his lips tightly planted on Boghossian's rear no matter how bad Peter loses. So this is why I laughed when he brought up the word 'bias'

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  17. James: "David, you embarrass yourself, as usual."

    We'll see.

    DM: "You should be talking about whether Christians attempt to ground their faith in evidence or not. That is what the conversation is about."

    "No, that's the bullshit argument you want me to have because it gets to make you look all snazzy, especially if you hang your hat on definitions of evidence that no scientist (but lots of dopey philosophers and apologists) love."

    I don't particularly want to have any conversation with you, given your tone and lack of serious argument. This may therefore be my last post here. Remember in what follows: you picked the tone.

    In fact, many scientists agree with our definition, including some of the greatest scientists, as I have shown. But you can't engage empirically, so you do snide.

    'In any case, where is your evidence for "how Christians actually do use the word 'faith?'" Aside from impressions and anecdotes, I mean.'

    "Surely you can read? I said it's a study that needs to happen and hasn't."

    But it has. I published it 7 years ago. Indeed, I also show that Shermer's study on why people believe supports our position.

    The ball is now in your court. It's not my fault if your man PB wrote a whole lousy book on the subject, without bothering to ask the most basic question, and gets rave reviews from your side.

    "(This being one of the only times apologists give a crap about peer reviewed evidence unless it happens to suit their case.)"

    A taudry and stupid generalization, also of course unsupported by evidence.

    "The whole point is that people are saying we need it, and apologists erupt and raise a stink that they hope will be loud enough to put a taboo over doing the research at all."

    On the contrary, just a few days ago I asked for volunteers to assist me in researching this very question. Your comment would be ironic, if it rose to that level of intelligence.

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    1. Bluster, bluster, bluster; pretend, pretend, pretend.

      The best apologetics has to offer. I pointed out to you over on DC how a study about how Christians think they're using the word is intrinsically biased, which is a substantial objection, and you blustered and pretended it wasn't. It is. The whole effort of doing good studies is to avoid and remove such biases, not to ignore and succumb to them and thus reinforce them.

      Your problem is that at the center of your "trust" hurricane is the fact that you don't have the kind of evidence for God that is required even to satisfy people who wish there was a God and yet realize that the evidence doesn't support that conclusion. You trust in something you pretend is there and then try to distract everyone from that fact long enough so that they forget they're pretending.

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    2. So Gnus trying to read the minds of Christians, which is what PB offers in spades, is objective, while Christians reporting on their own mind processes, is biased? Well that turns conventional methodology in the Social Sciences on its head.

      Ignore psychobabble, as ignore swamp gas. That may be all you got, but that's no reason I need to respect it.

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    3. David B Marshall: "Marshall: "You should be talking about whether Christians attempt to ground their faith in evidence or not. That is what the conversation is about. "

      But (quelle surprise!) David doesn't really want to do what he said he wants (talk about the evidence!), because he follows that scolding up with this:

      David Marshall: "So Gnus trying to read the minds of Christians, which is what PB offers in spades, is objective, while Christians reporting on their own mind processes, is biased? Well that turns conventional methodology in the Social Sciences on its head."

      Oh, no way -- you didn't really want to talk about your evidence, but make accusations and divert the topic with vague complaints about "methodology" now? Never in a bajillion years did I see that one coming. You sly dog, you.

      David Marshall, you are truly the bestest of apologists! You really are!! Congratulations on achieving the highest possible ranking amongst your group of fellow Thinkers ('cause that's what you are!!!).

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  18. Marshall: "You should be talking about whether Christians attempt to ground their faith in evidence or not. That is what the conversation is about. "
    Me: "So, what's the evidence for the Trinity again? I'd love to hear about all your evidence for what is perhaps the most distinctive of all the Christian claims. / Evidence, please?"

    David Marshall: " "

    Like all apologists, you don't actually want to provide your evidence, you want everyone to pretend that you have the evidence.

    Pretend pretend pretend.

    Thanks for coming here and demonstrating the best apologetics has to offer!

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  19. If I say I know God exists, how can Mr Boghossian prove the allegation that I'm pretending/lying about my own state of knowledge?

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    1. By asking you to justify your claim, and watching you stumble.

      That's how it's done.

      When someone claims they hold the winning lottery ticket, do we ever give them the money without asking them to demonstrate that they possess said lottery ticket? No, we don't.

      And that is exactly what religious excuses, such as yours, look like -- an attempt to collect lottery winnings without actually purchasing and then presenting the ticket you claim to possess.

      Pretend pretend pretend.

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