Faith, Richard Dawkins and Peter Boghossian

Nowadays faith is under attack and the word has become (in some Western circles) one of the most offensive insult somebody could utter.

There is no consensus about this question because the word is ambiguous and understood differently by many people.

Christian Rationalism

Christian rationalists such as W. H. Griffith-Thomas (1861-1924), a noted Anglican theologian, defined it in the following way:

“[Faith] affects the whole of man’s nature. It commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence; it continues in the confidence of the heart or emotions based on conviction, and it is crowned in the consent of the will, by means of which the conviction and confidence are expressed in conduct.”

In a similar manner, C.S. Lewis wrote

Faith is holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.

The New Atheism and scientism

On the other side of the worldview spectrum, Richard Dawkins (the Pope of militant atheism) defends the opposite position.

The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.

I want to examine that dangerous thing that’s common to Judaism and Christianity as well: the process of non-thinking called “faith”.

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.

Fanatic antitheistic philosopher Peter Boghossian share the same feelings.

[Faith is] pretending to know things you don’t know.

Faith is not a virtue; faith is an epistemology. Once we understand how faith is an epistemology, everything changes. Because then you’re talking about knowledge, then you’re talking about how people know something. People who make faith claims are making knowledge claims; they’re trusting, for example, in Jesus. “I trust that after I die, I’m going to heaven and be with all of my relatives and Jesus.” Once somebody makes that claim, that’s a knowledge claim. So when you understand that, you can target their epistemology and help them see that that’s just a delusion.

Ultra-Darwinian biologist Jerry Coyne asserted:

I still feel that faith—belief in the unevidenced—is a disease that requires a societal cure, for it’s always better to have good reasons for what one believes.

Reformed epistemology and foundationalism

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser is currently writing a review of Boghossian’s offensive book on his blog.

He summed up the presuppositionalist approach of folks such as Alvin Plantinga:

There is nothing per se wrong about believing without evidence. Any foundationalist will tell you that. (And many if not most epistemologists today adopt a foundationalist theory of noetic structure. Problems only arise when you believe a putative basic belief despite a strong defeater for that belief, or when you believe a non-basic belief without evidence. For more you can see my debate with Chris Hallquist.)

The necessity of basic beliefs

The main argument for foundationalism can be summed up as follows:

1. We are justified in our belief that we really know many things about the reality we see around us.

2. To avoid circularity and infinite regress (see the Muenchhausen’s trilemna) there must be basic beliefs in need of no further justification.

3. It follows from 1 and 2 that there are such basic beliefs.

Now it is extremely controversial (to say the least) that belief in God (let alone in a particular religion) can be considered as properly basic.

But the existence of basic beliefs seems to be extremely sound.

280px-Braininvat

Let us consider the possibility that you are a brain in a vat in a simulation being carried out by an unknown scientist.

Now it is true that there might be facts showing this to be the case.

The Joy of Tech comic

But try for a few minutes to show this is extremely unlikely.

I bet you cannot do this without begging the question and already assuming things about the real world.

You cannot say, for example, that the blog you are reading is so brilliant and amazing that it must surely stem from a real human genius.

For any beinglargely outshining the intellectual abilities of our species could program the content of this blog in the software running your brain.

(Don’t worry too much about the mental health of the real author of this blog, for he only holds such beliefs about himself after having spent the whole evening sniffing coke and drinking white wine).

The problem with knowledge

It is true that even if we cannot justify our belief we are not a brain in a vat, we almost always feel confident this is not the case.

I am not a foundationalist because I do not buy that a belief without any grounding can be called “knowledge” (in the objective, absolute sense).

So I would turn the above reasoning on its head.

1. To avoid circularity and infinite regress (see the Muenchhausen’s trilemna) there must be basic beliefs in need of no further justification.

2. There are no such basic beliefs

3. Thus there is exist no objective and absolute knowledge

According, to my pragmatic epistemology, we are justified on pragmatic grounds to adopt basic beliefs without which we cannot make sense of the world and our life.

Faith as hope in the face of insufficient evidence

This leads me finally to explain how I view faith.

Faith is the hope in some extremely desirable things even if the evidence is not sufficient for concluding.

Given such a definition, faith does not necessarily have to be irrational and I would say that every human being walks by faith.

It also seems to perfectly fit how most Christians (at least in Europe view their faith). While there are interesting arguments for the existence of an immaterial world, of God and of His incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, there are also counter arguments, and neither camp seems to dispose of compelling reasons.

Finally I want to conclude with the definition of faith one can find in the book of Hebrews, the one that Peter Boghossian heavily criticized for its alleged irrationality.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”

I am not a proponent of Biblical inerrancy and view the author of Hebrews as a great Christian writer inspired in the same way as C.S. Lewis (who was arguably the greatest Christian apologist of the past century) was.

So I am quite open for the possibility that both of these authors made mistakes.

That said, I am far from being certain that the author of Hebrew really meant that faith creates evidence out of nothing.

He could have meant that faith is a subjective trust in a hope which is based on evidence (such as miracles, and the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God) and an invitation to go beyond the rational arguments which are not enough to conclude.

If so, there is no reason to think that such a faith is irrational.

As argued above, almost all humans feel confident that they are not a brain in a vat even if it cannot be justified without begging the question.

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31 thoughts on “Faith, Richard Dawkins and Peter Boghossian

  1. 1. We are justified in our belief that we really know many things about the reality we see around us.

    2. To avoid circularity and infinite regress (see the Muenchhausen’s trilemna) there must be basic beliefs in need of no further justification.

    3. It follows from 1 and 2 that there are such basic beliefs.

    But the existence of basic beliefs seems to be extremely sound.

    It seems to me that the conclusion from this is not that basic beliefs exist, but rather that making up basic beliefs can be convenient / pragmatically useful.

    Let us consider the possibility that you are a brain in a vat in a simulation being carried out by an unknown scientist.

    But try for a few minutes to show this is extremely unlikely.

    I don´t think that it is necessary to try to show that. I agree with David Deutsch – whether this or any other form of solipsim were true is, at least pragmatically, irrelevant – because even if solipsism were true, it would be indistinguishable from realism (see: http://jake.freivald.org/deutschOnSolipsism.html ). And since the only reason for inventing basic beliefs is pragmatic usefulness, making up the basic belief that solipsism is false is redundant wrt pragmatic usefulness.

    This leads me finally to explain how I view faith.

    Faith is the hope in some extremely desirable things even if the evidence is not sufficient for concluding.

    Given such a definition, faith does not necessarily have to be irrational and I would say that every human being walks by faith.

    It also seems to perfectly fit how most Christians (at least in Europe view their faith).

    Personally, I don´t think it is useful to try to define one and only one kind of “faith”, because it is an umbrella for a variety of views. What you describe here is probably true for many christians, but certainly not all (and I would also doubt that it is “most”). Also, I think that your particular definition has one huge problem – it doesn´t describe a form of belief. “Hope” that there will be peace in the near east is fundamentally different from actually believing that this will happen, for example. Based on your definition, a person that does not believe in a personal god and / or an afterlife and / or what have you but who hopes that these things exist, would be just as much a “person of faith” as someone who genuinely believes that these things are real.

    • It seems to me that the conclusion from this is not that basic beliefs exist, but rather that making up basic beliefs can be convenient / pragmatically useful.

      So there’s a threat here: complete detachment of belief from correspondence to reality. Model-dependent realism threatens to go here, for example. Contrast this to the idea that you’re modeling something much more complex with a much simplified version, a version which works well in some regimes and not-so-well in others. One version says that there is an objective reality which you can get closer to, while the other doesn’t allow for any connection between sense-experience and objective reality. At least this is how I understand the issue so far, being a lay-philosopher. 😐

      And since the only reason for inventing basic beliefs is pragmatic usefulness

      This threatens to relativize truth to purpose, and begs the question: which purpose? I find that many atheists and skeptics want to declare the purpose as “better predicting extrospective sense-experience”, although they love to leave ‘extrospective’ out. And yet, our brains have many more inputs than just our five extrospective senses. Why should we not include better predicting those inputs in our purpose-by-which-truth-is-defined?

      “Hope” that there will be peace in the near east is fundamentally different from actually believing that this will happen, for example.

      What do you do with the aphorism, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”? Obviously not all dreams can become reality, but this idea of having a strong will seems to have some truth to it—more than you’re admitting.

      • So there’s a threat here: complete detachment of belief from correspondence to reality. Model-dependent realism threatens to go here, for example. Contrast this to the idea that you’re modeling something much more complex with a much simplified version, a version which works well in some regimes and not-so-well in others. One version says that there is an objective reality which you can get closer to, while the other doesn’t allow for any connection between sense-experience and objective reality.

        The thing is, that if what we experience is a) an objective reality or b) something different (a matrix or brain in a vat or what have you) – is indistinguishable in practice. It would certainly be more intellectually satisfying if you could settle somehow which one it is, but, well, you can´t, unless someone would offer you a red pill (although even then you wouldn´t know whether the “actual reality” you could then experience is not also some form of matrix). Life´s a bitch sometimes ;-).

        This threatens to relativize truth to purpose, and begs the question: which purpose?

        The point raised in the original post was, that the assumption that the world is real is necessary for any further inquiry about what the world is like. And my reply was, that the assumption makes pragmatically no difference. You ask “which purpose”? Well, the same purpose as the one relevant for the original post – further inquiry about what the world is like.

        I find that many atheists and skeptics want to declare the purpose as “better predicting extrospective sense-experience”, although they love to leave ‘extrospective’ out. And yet, our brains have many more inputs than just our five extrospective senses. Why should we not include better predicting those inputs in our purpose-by-which-truth-is-defined?

        Don´t we do that? What would be an example of such inputs that atheists and skeptics ignore in your opinion?

        What do you do with the aphorism, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”? Obviously not all dreams can become reality, but this idea of having a strong will seems to have some truth to it—more than you’re admitting.

        Well, the point I raised was, that “hoping for” and “believing in” are simply not the same thing. This was with regards to the definition proposed in the original post – I think that a problem with that definition is that it makes the meaning of the word extremely ambiguous, if it describes a person who hopes for x but doesn´t believe x just as much as it would describe a person who actually believes x, than I think that a less ambiguous definition would be better.

        • The thing is, that if what we experience is a) an objective reality or b) something different (a matrix or brain in a vat or what have you) – is indistinguishable in practice.

          You would think this, but then I constantly hear that science is objective in a way that morality is not. There seems to be a deep contradiction, here. It seems to focus on the idea that there are increasingly better ways of predicting and controlling what your extrospective senses tell your brain, but not what your introspective senses tell your brain. Perhaps we’re getting our skirts caught on the word ‘morality’, but I find that hard to buy. Consider: what if everyone had perfect knowledge of what actions they’d have to take in order to maximally promote the maximal thriving of every individual? Would they then perform those actions? If so, it seems like there is such a thing as objective morality. Moreover, it seems easy to construct a possible world where there is objective morality; I attempted to do exactly that over on Randal Rauser’s blog.

          Life´s a bitch sometimes ;-).

          The depressing thing is that those to whom life has been a bigger bitch seem to be those most willing and able to make it less of a bitch. I wish people for whom life wasn’t a bitch would spend more time on making other people’s lives less of a bitch. But for some reason, people rarely seem to work this way. 😦

          You ask “which purpose”? Well, the same purpose as the one relevant for the original post – further inquiry about what the world is like.

          This still begs the question of whether religion might be a legitimate way to further inquire into what the world of the introspective senses is like. That is a very, very complicated world. Keith Ward explores this idea in The Case for Religion. He exposes many atheist and skeptic ideas about this matter as non-predictive, often-unfalsifiable, just-so stories which do not match the evidence.

          Your point about “we could be a brain in a vat” seems very important, for it begs a definition of ‘real’ which is not based on realism. That is, it threatens to rip up the scientist’s ostensible better-access-to-objective-reality which is so often touted. If no reality has to objectively exist in order to gain further understanding, then no morality has to objectively exist in order to gain further understanding. But this seems precisely a statement that e.g. many physicalists want to deny! And so I’m stuck, wondering if there is some deep hypocrisy here bent on denying a ‘morality’ which is just as objective as ‘reality’.

          Don´t we do that? What would be an example of such inputs that atheists and skeptics ignore in your opinion?

          I would point to just-so stories offered about NDEs and religious experiences in general. “Ahh, they’re just hallucinations and we know all about those!” The point, obviously, is to deny religion any authority to try and understand these experiences. Only proper scientists can do that, with their MRI machines and controlled experiments which will somehow study the human experience by taking half of marriages, promoting divorce, and discovering information via a double-blind experiment… oh wait.

          I would also point to those who say that there is no objective value in life, even though there are equations to describe objective reality. I insist on a consistent, non-parochial definition of ‘objective’, and I’ve yet to find one. I’ve been looking for a long time.

          makes the meaning of the word extremely ambiguous

          I have no disagreement, here. That being said, I rarely see good atheist/skeptic treatment of hope in discussions like this. Instead, the concept is merely criticized, as if irrelevant instead of crucial.

      • You would think this, but then I constantly hear that science is objective in a way that morality is not. There seems to be a deep contradiction, here. It seems to focus on the idea that there are increasingly better ways of predicting and controlling what your extrospective senses tell your brain, but not what your introspective senses tell your brain. Perhaps we’re getting our skirts caught on the word ‘morality’, but I find that hard to buy. Consider: what if everyone had perfect knowledge of what actions they’d have to take in order to maximally promote the maximal thriving of every individual? Would they then perform those actions? If so, it seems like there is such a thing as objective morality.

        In some sense, sure, that´s very similar to objective morality as atheists like Richard Carrier for example view it. But it cannot be as simple as you make it out here – because “maximal thriving” for one person could mean “less than maximal thriving” for others. You wouldn´t want to have “maximal thriving” for malignant narcissists and psychopaths. Also, note that what you describe here is philosophically a form of subjectivism – ideal observer theory I would say.

        This still begs the question of whether religion might be a legitimate way to further inquire into what the world of the introspective senses is like. That is a very, very complicated world. Keith Ward explores this idea in The Case for Religion. He exposes many atheist and skeptic ideas about this matter as non-predictive, often-unfalsifiable, just-so stories which do not match the evidence.

        If you think that there could be something like a research program where religion is used as a method to generate intersubjectively verifiable knowledge about these issues – go for it, who is stopping you? 😉

        Your point about “we could be a brain in a vat” seems very important, for it begs a definition of ‘real’ which is not based on realism. That is, it threatens to rip up the scientist’s ostensible better-access-to-objective-reality which is so often touted. If no reality has to objectively exist in order to gain further understanding, then no morality has to objectively exist in order to gain further understanding. But this seems precisely a statement that e.g. many physicalists want to deny!

        For the form of objective morality you talked about above – no. That is extremely similar to my views about objective morality as a physicalist and there aren´t any popular meta-ethical positions that would be both compatible with physicalism and would also completely contradict your view of what objective morality is (moral nihilism is not exactly a popular position (have you ever met a genuine nihilist?))

        I would point to just-so stories offered about NDEs and religious experiences in general. “Ahh, they’re just hallucinations and we know all about those!”

        There is peer-reviewed research about things like the born again experience or NDEs. If you think that this research is misguided in general or that there are particular studies that are flawed, then criticize those. No one says anything like “Ahh, they’re just hallucinations and we know all about those!”

        The point, obviously, is to deny religion any authority to try and understand these experiences. Only proper scientists can do that, with their MRI machines and controlled experiments which will somehow study the human experience by taking half of marriages, promoting divorce, and discovering information via a double-blind experiment… oh wait.

        Again, if you think that a particular study is flawed or goes beyond what the evidence can support – then pick it apart. If you think that you could do a better job – go for it.

        • But it cannot be as simple as you make it out here – because “maximal thriving” for one person could mean “less than maximal thriving” for others.

          Your ‘could’ is absolutely correct: we don’t know whether our universe can allow for the maximal thriving of all, which means no malignant narcissists, evil psychopaths (they don’t have to be evil!), etc. This is precisely why I linked to this, although the link seems to have not worked before. It’s #comment-1242381784 on “Peter Boghossian’s Manual for Wasting Paper (Part 1)”.

          There is a reason some hope for universalism to obtain. 🙂

          No one says anything like “Ahh, they’re just hallucinations and we know all about those!”

          Exhibit A:

          The fact is that NDEs are much better correlated with a range of reasonably well understood (and experimentally confirmed) abnormal brain states, the presence in the brain of a number of pain-killing, coma-inducing, and other drugs, (especially ketamine,) whose ability to induce NDE-like experiences is well understood and experimentally confirmed, than they are correlated with actually being near-death.

          You could quibble about my use of “all” in “we know all about those”, but I would assert that the above gratuitously overstates the amount of understanding scientists have about the brain.

          Again, if you think that a particular study is flawed or goes beyond what the evidence can support – then pick it apart. If you think that you could do a better job – go for it.

          Sigh, my point is that controlled experiments are extremely limited in what they can understand about the human experience, and to say that religious folks have accomplished nothing in this realm compared to science is facile. I’m not saying that you say this, but way too many skeptics and atheists do say things remarkably like this.

    • A brain in a vat scenario isn’t a kind of solipsism since you are not the one who create the dream or simulation.

      If a person does not know whether or not there is a God or an afterlife but hopes it is the case and decides to act accordingly, she is a person of faith.
      Most French and German Christians I know are in that situation.

      • “A brain in a vat scenario isn’t a kind of solipsism since you are not the one who create the dream or simulation.”
        – Doesn´t make a difference, whether it´s evil machines putting you in a matrix, or aliens or your own mind – all fundamentally indistinguishable from realism for the exact same reason.

        “If a person does not know whether or not there is a God or an afterlife but hopes it is the case and decides to act accordingly, she is a person of faith.
        Most French and German Christians I know are in that situation.”
        – So most french and german christians you know don´t actually believe that the christian god is real?

        • They don’t “believe” it like they believe in the theory of gravitation.

          They realize that the evidence is not sufficient but decide to put their hope in such a faith.

          I am not sure, however, that this holds true for Conservative Evangelical Christians, who rather seem to either:

          – feel convinced that God exists for more or less rubbish reasons (such as scientific creationism)

          – acknowledge that their faith cannot be proven but take the irrational view that it is a “knowledge” comparable to that of the laws of nature.

          It is against the last type of faith that the criticism of Dawkins et al. can be rightly directed.

      • It is against the last type of faith that the criticism of Dawkins et al. can be rightly directed.

        I don´t think that this type of faith would need to be defended against the criticism of Dawkins et al in the first place. A person with this kind of faith would be no different from Dawkins wrt what they believe about christianity, the only difference would be in what they hope for – and debating over what someone else hopes for (or not) would be rather pointless, don´t you think?

  2. My biggest comment on the New Atheist crew is that they vastly misunderstand how hard it is to have a thoroughly consistent epistemology which one completely understands. See, for example: The Unreliability of Naive Introspection. Furthermore, they don’t show the empirical evidence required to convince us that their way of believing is the better one. Instead, they argue largely on dogma, just like the next guy. Trying to build your entire knowledge of reality and self on rigorously tested empirical evidence is hard if not impossible. And so one must ask: how can we think about the bits that the person has rigorously tested? When I’ve done this to the New Atheists, I just don’t find anything close to a good foundation + superstructure, a la a skyscraper that’s being constructed while you can still see all the support beams and stuff. It’s just dogma, dogma, dogma, with a smattering of evidence here and there.

  3. Lothar, I must confess that I do not have ‘faith’ in the sense that most Christians understand faith. Instead I have two other things.

    1. Based on the reports of Jesus written from the memories of his first followers, I find the person of Jesus reasonable and appealing. Based on the evidence of the impact he made on his first followers, and other considerations, I TRUST Jesus. I do not have faith in Jesus–I trust Jesus.

    2. Much of Jesus’ message is identifiable to those who read it with an understanding of the context of the Gospels. There are other things that are not so certain. I think eternal existence in the Father’s new community is likely based on Jesus words and the evidence of his resurrection. But all I can say is that I have the HOPE of eternal life after death; I do not trust that this is so or have faith that it is so.

    Most conservative Christians have faith in the Bible. I only trust that the primary message of Jesus found in the Gospels is reasonably accurate because of the impact it had on his earliest followers who shared it and the uncoordinated consistency of their reports.

    • @jesuswithoutbaggage, I’ve been told that the word translated ‘faith’ in the NT should probably be translated ‘trust’ in today’s day and time, given how the word ‘faith’ has evolved. Consider Abraham: his faith led to action. Jesus clearly meant faith in him to lead to action: to following him. I’ve been told that Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was directed towards those who “had faith in faith”.

    • Conservative Evangelicals would respond that if you don’t believe that the Bible is inerrant, you cannot believe in Jesus.
      It is silly because according to the same argument we cannot follow the ideas of any historical person.

      But I do believe that one need a hope (a faith) going beyond the available evidence in order to be a Christian.

      I take a rather Catholic view in trusting in the early Church as a whole, that they (relatively) meticulously and reliably transmitted what they knew about Christ.

      There are of course argument for such a belief, but they are not compelling for every rational person.
      So faith remains a genuine choice.

  4. In the faith passage in Hebrews 11 (the entire chapter, not just that first verse), as with pretty much the rest of the Bible, faith is always coupled to action. In fact, faith is just the word we give to the justification of action in the absence of certainty. In the case of the characters in Hebrews 11, it is specifically faith (trust) in God and his promises to them.

    You can’t wait for certainty to act in most areas of life, since certainty is unattainable (science being an exception).

    So, Lotharson’s pragmatic justification for basic beliefs — because they open up possibility for action — aligns well with this definition of faith. And my own. 😉

    Boghossian & Co. object to faith claims as knowledge claims, and that’s fine as far as it goes. But historically, faith claims aren’t knowledge claims but justification for action. This is really what B & Co. object to. They want to stop religious people from doing things they don’t like. In a democracy, you have to do this the hard way: by convincing a majority of people to pass laws restricting the target behavior. That can be difficult when folks respect the rights of others to have different beliefs and act on them. B & Co. are trying to short-circuit the process by 1) framing the belief (and thus the action) as an epistemological problem, then 2) cutting the epistemology off at the knees. But that’s just an illusion since they’re cutting off a straw man (i.e. belief/faith isn’t about knowledge).

    • Hello Ron, thanks for your contribution!

      I agree that faith is often meant as justification for action, but I also think it can be viewed as hope in other situations.

      If he really wants to argue against the best definitions of faith, Boghossian should show that someone is irrational if he has hopes (and act on their basis) which go beyond the evidence.

      But if that’s the case the whole mankind is irrational.

      Boghossian and his allies have faith that they will be able to destroy religions and choose to act accordingly.

      Yet (to say the least) the strength of their arguments would not even suffice to convert the brightest high school students.

      This is the reason why they constantly advocate ridiculing, bullying and mocking their opponents to destroy their faith.
      But they also aware that a great number of religious persons refuse to accept this vile strategy.

      Therefore they call them “beyond any hope of redemption” (Richard Dawkins, Carrier and many others).

      They ironically exemplify some of the most irrational and evil type of faith out there.

      Cheers.

      • They ironically exemplify some of the most irrational and evil type of faith out there.

        Are you any good at satire? You seem to have a deep understanding of the similarities between New Atheists and fundamentalists. For example, they respond in anger when criticized, even to follow atheists. What would really piss them off is to see how many tweaks you’d have to make to Fred Phelps to make him like them; think word chains, but applied to belief systems. Satire of this type would probably make use of Poe’s law, wittingly or unwittingly.

        • This is not stunning at all since most of them are former religious fundies (at least in an American context):
          https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/the-link-between-religious-fundamentalism-and-militant-atheism/

          They should be ridiculed, mocked and put to shame.
          Given their refusal to rationally engage their best opponents and their own use of a hateful rhetoric , this is all what they deserve.

          As for satires, I am going to write soon enough a conversation between a progressive Christian and a typical village anti-theist, who has one extraordinary feature: he always honestly states what he thinks 🙂

          • In my own experience, yes.
            Otherwise you leave them create the illusion of being superior.

            Remember I am only advocating this towards hateful bigots of any kind.

            How did Christ handle fanatic pharisees?

          • Otherwise you leave them create the illusion of being superior.

            Is this true, though? I know it is often assumed.

            Remember I am only advocating this towards hateful bigots of any kind.

            But isn’t this just returning hate for hate, anger for anger, evil for evil?

            How did Christ handle fanatic pharisees?

            He exposed their hypocrisy in ingenious ways. What did he do/say that you would call “ridiculed, mocked and put to shame”? I can think of some things, but I’m not sure I can think of him showing contempt; it is easy for ridicule, mockery, and shame to turn into contempt. It seems to me that Jesus was absolutely ingenious in how he exposed the Pharisees for who they were, and that we ought to do the same. But much Christian ridicule/mockery/shame of atheists seems very simple-minded, and not “wise as a serpent”.

    • @RonH

      Boghossian & Co. object to faith claims as knowledge claims, and that’s fine as far as it goes. But historically, faith claims aren’t knowledge claims but justification for action. This is really what B & Co. object to. They want to stop religious people from doing things they don’t like. In a democracy, you have to do this the hard way: by convincing a majority of people to pass laws restricting the target behavior. That can be difficult when folks respect the rights of others to have different beliefs and act on them. B & Co. are trying to short-circuit the process by 1) framing the belief (and thus the action) as an epistemological problem, then 2) cutting the epistemology off at the knees. But that’s just an illusion since they’re cutting off a straw man (i.e. belief/faith isn’t about knowledge).

      You’ve stated this much better than I’ve managed to. I’d love to see a competent skeptic/atheist respond to this. I never get solid answers when I ask them how they think about the best actions to take to promote ‘goodness’ 50 years into the future. In After Virtue, MacIntyre has a great section on the inherent limitations of predictability, which is also explored in the book Systemantics, which studies “why systems fail”. Have you read Asimov’s Foundation series? Psychohistory is a fascinating idea. 🙂

  5. Here’s the thing: Dawkins didn’t “defend an opposite position”, he completely ignored the position of two of the smartest theologians of their respective generations and decided to attack a definition of faith that nobody actually claimed to be using, or at least none of the most intelligent Christian theologians.

    Dawkins might have taken down an army with his logic, but it’s not hard when your army is made up of straw men.

  6. One comment that seems to have escaped your discussion on basic beliefs, and that is that these beliefs are not necessarily true. In math, we have axioms; and in science, we have postulates, but these are accepted with the caveat that they may be wrong. For instance, in geometry, Euclid’s 5th axiom was discarded, and that led to non-Euclidean geometry, which open the door to great advancement. Similarly, in physics, time was taken to be absolute since Newton until Einstein showed it wasn’t in his theory of Special Relativity. So yes, we do need basic beliefs to avoid circularity and the infinite regress, but we must keep in mind that these basic beliefs are not necessarily true. They are, for lack of better words, temporarily or conditionally true. And they can be modified or even discarded if new knowledge or new discovery demands it.

    • Hello Joseph, thanks for your comment.

      If the truth of basic beliefs cannot be viewed as certain, it seems to me we can have no knowledge that all reasoning built upon them (even probabilistic ones) are true.

      If the probability that we might be a brain in a vat is unknown (without begging the question), it logically follows that all conclusions assuming an independent reality are also utterly uncertain.

      Being a pragmatist, this is a position I adopt.

      • You seem to take knowledge as black or white: either we know or we don’t. I know for sure if I have a coin in my pocket. But what about Black Holes, do they exist? Physicists tell us they can exist, and astronomers have indirect proof of BH. So we do have “tentative” or “provisional” knowledge on certain matter. As for basic beliefs, we take them as “tentative” or “provisional” true, until the reality out there forces us to think otherwise. It’s a strategy that has paid well in the past. And I really don’t know a better one.

  7. If these so-called militant atheists and agnostics would spend a small portion of their time–in comparison to years of studies to try to disprove God–and read some good books on Christian Apologetics such as “Evidence that demands a verdict”, and “The case for Christ”; they might very well see the foolishness of Atheism/Agnosticism. Or are they afraid that they would be proven wrong, and/or would have to give up their worldview and sinful lifestyle?

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