Peter Boghossian’s Pretend Arguments

Last week, I wrote a short post called Can We Have a Faith Based Epistemology? A Look at Peter Boghossian’s A Manuel For Creating Atheists.

My friend Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian has written a post here about atheist Peter Boghossian’s arguments against Christianity.

By Tom Gilson

I’m not sure how best to characterize Peter Boghossian’s methods for undermining the word faith. He says faith is pretending to know what you don’t know. What then is the correct word for acting as if you’re contesting a certain position, when in reality you’re only teasing around with it, at its easiest and most inconsequential fringes? How about this: Peter Boghossian’s pretend arguments. It’s hard to take them more seriously than that.

“Five of the only ten things that can be said for faith”

I’ll start with his May 6 lecture to humanists of Greater Portland, which by the way he mentioned more than once in his later podcasts: he seems to think it important — definitive, even — in some respects.

He said that day that, ”it’s definitive of faith that it’s pretending.” Now, how does he support that assertion? He tells the group there that “there are only ten things that can be said for faith.”

Now, based on the way he introduces the talk, it could be that he’s focusing specifically on the linkage of faith and morality, which “is a potent cultural force, and we must terminate it.” (He speaks elsewhere of how his anti-faith campaign is the focus of his entire life.) But in the relevant portion (around 4:00) he seems to step away from that specific focus to speak about faith in more general terms. Of his “ten things that can be said for faith,” he details five:

1.“Life has no meaning without faith.”
2.“I’m having a crisis of faith.”
3.“Science can’t explain quantum mechanics.”
4.“I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.”
5.“My faith is true for me.”

Seriously: he thinks these are five of the top things that can be said for faith? Let me deal with each of them in turn.

Or, Five of the Most Obvious Straw-Man Fallacies Of All Time

1. “Life has no meaning without faith.” I’m sure one could find many examples of this being said, but with respect to Christianity, it always comes packaged with the explicit or implicit meaning, “… faith that is connected to a real God.” For careful thinkers, the true statement would be,My life has no meaning without my relational connection to God through faith.” Or in certain philosophical discussions, “Life has no objective meaning unless there’s a God to give it meaning.”

Granted, unbelievers have vigorously contested both of those. I think they hold up. But the key point is this: the version Boghossian offers isn’t one that apologists offer as grounding for the truth of Christianity. He’s debunking a non-argument.

Hold on, though: I won’t arrive at my main point until I’ve finished going through his list.

2. “I’m having a crisis of faith.” Let’s deal with this one the easy way: it just doesn’t belong on a list of “the only ten things that can be said for faith.” It isn’t even something that can be said for faith! Who would think that it was? How did he think that belonged here? (I’m still coming to my main point.)

3. “Science ——” [caution: stain-inducing drink warning] —— “Science can’t explain quantum mechanics.” You know, I’ve been in this business a long time, and I’ve never heard that raised as a point in favor of faith. Boghossian said he couldn’t help laughing when he wrote that one down. I can’t help feeling mirthful at the thought that he would have thought of writing it down.

4. “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” Now that’s a valid objection with respect to atheism, in context of an explanation of what one means by it. My friend Frank Turek wrote a book and delivers talks by that name. But Boghossian uses it instead to run a riff on apologists’ “pretending.” Then he explains that most atheists don’t claim to know there’s no God, only that there’s not enough evidence to conclude there is a God. Fair point: and totally irrelevant to the content of Frank’s message. It’s a red herring, in that context.

5. My faith is true for me. Good point: it’s invalid. Does Boghossian know just how much effort Frank Turek (to name just one example!) has put into trying to conquer that very misconception? Here Boghossian has named a valid target for ridicule: but it’s one that most Christian apologists I know of would place high on their list of false beliefs.

“The First Two Miracles I’d Debunk, To Show That Miracle Claims Don’t Support Faith”

So what, then, can we say in summary of all this? I’m sorry, but it’s still too soon. Now we need to turn to his PSU talk, wherein he speaks (after about 29:00) of “three core reasons for why one believes one’s faith tradition is true…. Reason number one: Miracles. We’re going to examine a few miracles.”

Let me pause and ask you to consider which faith-truth-convincing miracles he might want to examine and debunk. The resurrection? Healings? Visions? No, none of these. Ladies and gentlemen, for the safety of your clothing, lower your drinks. The miracles he chooses to debunk, and thereby to debunk the faith-enhancing credibility of miracles, are:

1.Transubstantiation: the substantial change of the Eucharist elements into the body and blood of Jesus, according to Catholic doctrine…. and
2.Tongues, or glossolalia.

To read on, click here:


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