It’s easy to be critical of Peter Boghossian. He’s an asshole.
Truly. Whilst I might agree with many points in this book, whilst I might have sympathy for the ideas that it puts forward and whilst I might love the Socratic method or believe that everyone should study logic. I might even believe that people should be honest when they don’t know something and that engaging people in honest debate is a good thing. It’s all kind of ruined by the fact that Boghossian is a massive inconsistent asshole.
Boghossian wants other Athiests to be “Street Epistemologists” that is to say; people who use logic and reason and the Socratic method to “prove” to other people that their faith is incorrect. And he has created a manual for this.
I guess I kind of diverge from Boghossian on a number of different levels.
- I think that people’s faith is their own business. Of course, if someone engages you then sure, I have no problem debating them but I’m not about to spend hours on a bus or a plane bleating on about how Pascals Wager is bullshit when all the guy next to me wants to do is sleep and maybe watch the new Marvel offering.
- I worry about having a planned conversation when I think that in honest debates you simply “Tell the truth as you see it”.
- I don’t want to have to explain Logic to someone who has never studied it. I’m going to sound like an arrogant asshole……like a more arrogant asshole.
The anecdotes that Boghossian all kind of follow the same form “I met this person, I engaged with them, they seemed more than happy to talk about their faith even though every time I open my mouth I step outside the bounds that normal society would allow and then…I never hear from them again. Did they turn into Atheists? I have no idea”
You know if I were writing a “manual” I would want to know that what I were writing a manual about really worked.
Perhaps worse is that there are lots of good reasonable and convincing objections to religious argument and religious apologetics. But either Peter doesn’t know them or he decided in a book that is supposedly devoted to arguing with thiests that they are not worth knowing about.
Maybe that’s not fair. Some of the advice he gives is ok. Some of what he says makes sense. His introduction to the Socratic method is….ok. Not the best I’ve read but not terrible. But he does far from giving you a real insight into debate, different styles of debate and how to engage with someone who isn’t on board with your position.
Instead he says, “Attack their faith” faith to him is the weak point. Faith is “Pretending to know something you don’t” well maybe. I would say that that is certainly an atheist’s definition of faith. I wonder if theists have a different one? Broadly I agree, going head to head with apologetics can send you down a rabbit hole of dubious logic and slightly bendy thought process. You can hear things like “But atheists just have faith in science!” or “Just being able to conceptualise God means that there is one” or “The fact there are Atheists means that there is a God” or my favourite “Science belongs to Christians, all scientists are Christians” But conversations
You can hear things like “But atheists just have faith in science!” or “Just being able to conceptualise God means that there is one” or “The fact there are Atheists means that there is a God” or my favourite “Science belongs to Christians, all scientists are Christians” But conversations are give and take, and his suggestion to “Just take control of the conversation” might not sit well with…oh I don’t know…anyone. Now some people might argue that I do that anyway but doing it deliberately is a different story.
What he does put forward might be of dubious use to you. He talks about how all beliefs can be “Properly basic” (the idea that a belief can be so self-evident that it requires no justification or any kind of Doxastic requirement) and so leads us to the great Pumpkin argument. Which is fine but he doesn’t talk about the thorny area you might be in if your mark knows Plantinga’s rebuttal. Which is a shame because it might not be immediately obvious why this isn’t a good objection (in my opinion). In fact, he seems to have no idea what to do if the person you are talking to has any apologetic background at all. I guess you either use your own brain or run. I suspect Peter would run. Now I write manuals and I know you can’t cater of all contingencies. But then that’s why you teach the basics at the start. Now look I personally think that there is no good argument for having a non-doxastic belief but that doesn’t mean that other people might not have a different opinion, or a good reason (heh) for believing something like that and it seems to me that if you go in going “I’m just going to destroy this person’s faith” then you aren’t entering the argument with any intellectual honest.
And then there’s this….
“in the last 2400 years of intellectual history, not a single argument for the existence of God has withstood scrutiny. Not one. Aquinas’s five proofs, fail. Pascal’s Wager, fail. Anselm’s ontological argument, fail. The fine-tuning argument, fail. The kalam cosmological argument, fail. All refuted. All failures.” – Peter Boghossian A Manual for Atheists.
GREAT! I’m keenly interested in how all these arguments fail…. wait…. where do you list where they fail? A paragraph? A precis? A footnote?
So, and yet another entry into the “Annoying Atheist” camp. I read an article recently that basically said “Hey, if you’re an atheist you might as well convert because people don’t trust you and the people who represent you are assholes”. Well it wasn’t a persuasive argument but Peter Boghossian isn’t helping.