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A Manual for Creating Atheists: A Critical Review

Manual

Since its release last November, Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists has quickly become one of the most popular new books on atheism (as of now it has 200 reviews on amazon.com). As someone who has also recently written a book on atheism, though from a far different perspective, I was eager to see Boghossian’s method for “creating an atheist.” In this book review I’ll cover the good, the bad, and the ugly in A Manual for Creating Atheists.

The Good

 
Surprisingly, this book isn’t about creating atheists...per se. According to Boghossian,

“The goal of this book is to create a generation of Street Epistemologists: people equipped with an array of dialectical and clinical tools who actively go into the streets, the prisons, the bars, the churches, the schools, and the community – into any and every place the faithful reside—and help them abandon their faith and embrace reason.”

Epistemology is a discipline within philosophy that focuses on defining knowledge and analyzing how we know what we know. Rather than blindly shout conclusions (which Boghossian no doubt thinks street preachers do), a “street epistemologist” helps others reliably acquire knowledge about the world. When it comes to that goal he’ll find no opposition from me.

Boghossian’s strength lies in his treatment of the Socratic method, or the artful use of questions in order to lead someone to a particular conclusion. This appears to be something he has a lot of first-hand experience in using. According to Portland State University’s website (where Boghossian teaches), he earned a doctorate in education while developing Socratic techniques to help prison inmates increase their reasoning abilities in order to see the error of their ways and to hopefully commit fewer crimes in the future. Boghossian’s ability to use the Socratic method is on display in most of the chapters through sample dialogues between himself and people who exhibit “poor reasoning abilities.”

Boghossian also gives his would-be street epistemologists advice that I would also give to anyone learning apologetics—you don’t need an answer for every objection and you should humbly admit ignorance when it occurs. In Boghossian’s words, “You need to become comfortable in not knowing and not pretending to know...“

But Boghossian’s street epistemologists have a very specific mission beyond just helping people think more clearly—“Your new role is that of an interventionist. Liberator. Your target is faith. Your pro bono clients are individuals who’ve been infected by faith.”

And that’s where the book starts to go downhill.

The Bad

 
Throughout the book Boghossian says that the quickest way to make someone an atheist is to attack not their religion or their idea of God, but their faith. This is because faith is ultimately what grounds all religious claims. So what is faith? According to Boghossian, faith is belief without sufficient evidence because if you had the proper amount of evidence then you wouldn’t need faith. I’d respond by saying that religious faith is a trust in God and generic “faith” is just a trust in someone or something. For example, we have “faith” that the laws of nature are uniform across time and space even though we don’t have nearly enough evidence to confirm that belief (see the problem of induction).

Now, Boghossian vehemently denies faith is a kind of trust and claims it is instead a kind of knowledge. I disagree and would simply say that faith is the way people justify their claims of religious knowledge. “How do you know Jesus lives?” The believer might say in response, “I have faith in what the Bible or the Church says” or “I have faith in what Jesus has revealed to me in my heart.” Clearly faith is just a trust in a certain kind of evidence that is used to justify religious claims, be it testimonial or experiential.

Boghossian also gives the issue a rather nasty spin when he says faith is, “pretending to know what you don’t know.” The use of the word “pretending” seems inaccurate because it assumes the religious person knows deep down that his beliefs are not justified and he is engaging in a kind of malicious charade. This stands in contrast to the person who "thinks he knows what he knows but is actually mistaken." When it comes to false religious beliefs, I think the overwhelming majority of those beliefs are a product of "thinks he knows, but is mistaken" instead of "pretends he knows, but is wrong."

So this is the main issue Boghossian must answer, “Is the faith religious people have justified? Do they have a rational basis for holding these beliefs?”

I’ll admit sometimes they might not, but you need a serious argument to say religious belief is never justified. Boghossian’s main argument for the claim they are never justified is that because knowledge acquired by faith arrives at contradictory conclusions, such as the Christian’s affirmation of Jesus as the Son of God and the Muslim’s denial of that claim, this means that faith leads many people into error and so it can’t be trusted. But by that logic, reason is unreliable because philosophers use it and arrive at very different conclusions about all sorts of things. All a lack of consensus proves is that some people make faulty inferences based on faith, no that we shouldn’t have faith in either religious testimony or religious experiences.

I also didn’t think that Boghossian interacted enough with Alvin Plantinga (who he refers to as a “Christian apologist” instead of as one of the world’s most famous philosophers of religion). Plantinga’s reformed epistemology claims that if God exists then religious belief in God is justified because God has the ability to make belief in him “properly basic,” or justified apart from inferences based on evidence. In response, Boghossian simply tosses out the “Great Pumpkin” objection to reformed epistemology (an objection Plantinga himself has addressed) and calls it a day. But because the justification of “faith-based” beliefs is the central topic of Boghossian’s book, I think his reply to this kind of epistemology should have been more extensive.

Refutations That Are Greatly Exaggerated

 
What if the street epistemologist encounters someone who has “given a reason for the hope that is within him” (1 Peter 3:15) and doesn’t just rely on a gut feeling?  According to Boghossian, the street epistemologist needn’t worry about those reasons because,

“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.”

That’s quite a claim. I was excited to turn to the footnote and see the evidence for this claim, but when I got there I was dumbfounded. Aquinas’ arguments are simply described. Boghossian neither critiques the arguments nor even provides a reference to such a critique such as Anthony Kenny’s book on the subject or even the terrible critiques Dawkins offers in The God Delusion (although I believe critiques like these have been ably answered by scholars like Ed Feser).

According to Boghossian, Victor Stenger is said to have refuted the fine-tuning argument in his 2011 book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning, but other writers have posted their own rebuttals to his arguments. In addition, Stenger doesn’t refute the fine-tuning argument so much as he attacks its central premise that the universe is finely tuned for life. In doing so, he goes against other well-known non-theistic cosmologists (like Stephen Hawking and Martin Rees) who at least accept that the universe is fine-tuned for life (even though they don’t think God is the fine-tuner). This should give us caution about Stenger’s conclusions.

In regards to the kalam cosmological argument, Boghossian simply says, “The possibility that the universe always existed cannot be ruled out” and then calls this the “death-knell” of the argument. He makes this claim without bothering to critique the scientific and philosophical evidence for the finitude of the past or even reference someone who has done that (like Wes Morriston).

I was hoping that chapter 7, which is called “anti-apologetics 101,” would provide at least some solid answers to arguments in defense of the faith, but here too I was sorely disappointed.1 In answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing,” Boghossian simply quotes Adolf Grunbaum and says there’s no reason to think a state of something has to be explained and pure nothingness does not. To me this just shows a woeful lack of understanding of both the principle of sufficient reason and the philosophers who have addressed the issue.

While there are serious and thoughtful critiques of natural theology, Boghossian fails to make one and, distressingly, doesn’t seem to even be aware of such critiques.

The Ugly

 
Finally, the anti-religious rhetoric in the book is over-the-top. Boghossian says that if a street epistemologist doesn’t convince someone to give up his faith, then the person is either secretly giving up his faith while trying to “save face” or the person is literally brain damaged (chapter 3). In a chapter called “Containment Protocols,” Boghossian says we should stigmatize religious claims like racist claims, treat faith like a kind of contagious mental illness that should be recognized by medical professionals, read apologist’s books but buy them used so they don’t make a profit (“Enjoy a McDonald’s ice cream courtesy of the royalty from my purchase of your book, Pete!”), and promote children’s television shows where “Epistemic Knights” do battle against “Faith Monsters.”

The advice I would give atheists who are interested in this book would be to model the Socratic approach Boghossian teaches but don’t use his rhetoric when you’re talking to believers. For believers, I’d say that this is a good window into the attitude of popular “skeptic-based atheism.” Knowing what’s in this book can help you explain to the “street epistemologist” that you aren’t brain damaged. Instead, you have good reasons to think that what you believe is true and the street epistemologist should examine those reasons with an open mind and charitable attitude.
 
 
Originally posted at Catholic Answers. Used with permission.

Notes:

  1. The only other references Boghossian makes to critiques of arguments for the existence of God are Guy Harrison and John Paulos’ books on the subject, both of which are definitely for the layperson and are not very rigorous in their critiques. Though, to his credit, in his recommended reading sections Boghossian does mention some books that I think are at least decent critiques of theism, such as Victor Stenger's book God: The Failed Hypothesis.
Trent Horn

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Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

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  • Again, even if faith is the same thing as trust, it is still unreasonable to "trust" that a god exists.

    We use the word trust when we accept that there is not enough evidence to be confident that the evidence leads to a certain conclusion.

    I say I trust that my girlfriend will make dinner for me tonight based on the following inductive inferences, she has said she will, she has usually followed through on what she says.

    My confidence is far lower in this however, than things established by the scientific method. I trust that water will freeze in my freezer based on much more solid evidential inferences, again, by induction. We have established by every single observation that when water reaches a certain temperature, it will become solid. We understand the molecular structure of water and why it changes its state at 0 degrees and so on.

    The inferences we are asked to make about the existence of gods are much weaker. Unlike my girlfriend and water, I have no direct evidence of this being. The evidence adduced is untrustworthy hearsay. The apologetic arguments are fallacious.

    It really is silly I think to say that in each of the three examples, we are just "trusting". This is why we speak of scientific fact, trust, and faith as distinct. I think boghossian is fine to say that when people speak of religious faith, they are talking about things with the lowest level of confidence based on inductive inferences on evidence and use the word faith as a substitute for the kind of evidence that would justify trust or reasonable inferences.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      The apologetic arguments are fallacious

      The aim of apologetics of any kind is to show that a belief is reasonable to hold. Apologetics does not have to convince to fulfill its purpose.

      No Catholic apologetical argument for a tenet of faith has ever appeared reasonable to you?

      • That's right. The apologetics reliance on fallacious arguments renders them unreasonable in my view.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          For example . . .

          • The cosmological argument, the fine tuning argument, the moral argument, the argument from personal experience, popularity.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I was assuming you objected to Catholic doctrines, but you are right, arguments for the existence of God based on reason are part of apologetics. Leaving aside personal experience and popularity, the others can be objected to but they can also be defended. A good discussion of the cosmological arguments can be found here:

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

          • They cannot be defended sufficiently.

          • Kevin Aldrich
          • I think the premises are unsound. Especially "There is a contingent fact that includes all other contingent facts"

            But I have glanced at it. It seems pretty similar to the discussion I have been having here: http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/pure-act-forum/

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I didn't expect you to read it--it is massive.

            A personal limitation I have just realized I have is that I am smart enough to see sensible objections to straightforward philosophical arguments but not smart enough or or don't have enough philosophical training to follow a rigorous and complete philosophical argument such as the one above.

            That's why I would hesitate to declare any such line of reasoning fallacious or sound.

          • For both @disqus_Lm3vEeCcUJ:disqus and @briangreenadams:disqus, it's true that Pruss's particular formulation may not be very satisfying to all (although I find it to be one of the more persuasive arguments), but argument for a Necessary Being is surprisingly resilient. Try http://www.necessarybeing.net/ to find out which argument for the existence of a Necessary Being you will find most plausible. If any.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            That link seems to be down.

          • Strange. It works for me.

          • Tim Dacey

            Brian: premises are true/false and arguments are either sound/unsound or valid/invalid. So to be clear, do you think that particular premise is false? If so, then the argument (in your view) is invalid. If you think the conclusion doesn't follow, then the argument (though valid) is unsound.

          • I do not accept that premise as true.

          • Barry Coleman

            Funny thing is that all atheisyts say that the "Cosmological ,Argtument is fallacious" and at the same time they all fail to give one good fallacy in it.

            it's funny that most atheist 'evengelizers', Peter Boghossian claim "all arguments for God fail " yet thet never, ever, provide a decent explaination for it.

            Even the objections reported http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/ have been long discussed and some of them do not even touch Classical Theism but arise only in the supoositions of modern thinkers (eg arguing in terms of "possible worlds" which is fallacious in my opinion).

            The best attempt by the new atheists is Dawkins criticism of Aquinas and that was a teribly pathetic attempt at that.

            So your "anti-aèpologetics" arguments ate fallacious, as most are, usually based upon straw-man and ridiculization.

            ====

            The atheist cop-out argument is usually what you do "I do not accept that premise as true." (without providing any sufficient explaination) .

            That sounds to me the same kind of cop-out answer young earth creationists and intelligent design supporters give when confronted with scientific data.

            ===

            "popularity"

            Atheists are SO KEEN to use this argument more than theists.

            Usually they love to come out with some manipultated statistics that says "most people in group X are athests", as if that is a supporting reason for atheism.

            So I guess you can add double-standards to straw-man.

            ===

            It can be thus safely concluded that supporters of atheism ground themselves in fallacious arguments, and more often than not, in ignorance regarding several topics.

          • This is not the time and place to discuss he particular fallacies of all the apologetic arguments are. This was a comment on faith. The point being that there is no need for faith or trust if the apologetic arguments are sufficient.

            There are plenty of deconstruction and criticism of all apologetics.

            Have a look at Iron Chariots.org or a couple of great YouTube channels Knownnomore and Counter Apologist.

            The main fallacy is the argument for ignorance, essentially that the origin of the cosmos or morality or the specificity of cosmological constants is unknown so a god must be the explanation.

    • Ben Posin

      The whole faith equivocation thing comes up on this site with regularity. I can't find fault with how you're putting things. I'm open to whatever set of labels or definitions one wants to use so long as they reflect that something different is happening when we a) believe the sun will rise tomorrow b) believe that an actual person we know will fulfill a promise or reasonable expectation on our part and c) believe in God.
      That being said, given the types of things that theists and Catholics tend to actually USE the word faith for, I think it's entirely appropriate to define faith as belief stronger than what is supported by evidence.

  • I’d respond by saying that religious faith is a trust in God and generic “faith” is just a trust in someone or something.

    BTW, that's Protestant teaching, not Catholic teaching. The Church has long been very clear that it takes "faith" literally. The Greek and Latin words mean belief, not trust. The CCC passage you link to also explicitly and repeatedly says that faith is belief, rather than trust.

    • "BTW, that's Protestant teaching, not Catholic teaching. The Church has long been very clear that it takes "faith" literally. The Greek and Latin words mean belief, not trust. The CCC passage you link to also explicitly and repeatedly says that faith is belief, rather than trust."

      Noah, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, it's a bit misguided.

      Claiming that faith fundamentally involves trust certainly jives with Catholic teaching (although I will admit that the term is used differently in different contexts, which is why it's helpful to explicitly define it in each case, as Trent does.) In the section from the Catechism that Trent quotes, the Church describes faith as "man freely [committing] his entire self to God." This act of the will is built on active trust--it's an action, not mere belief.

      Regardless, Trent's point here is that Boghossian is wrong in defining faith as belief without sufficient evidence. This is how he consistently uses the term in his book, but this is not how the Catholic Church uses the term (or how most Catholics understand it.) And it's certainly not what the Catechism teaches about faith. Wouldn't you agree?

      If that's the case, and Boghossian is criticizing a misguided definition of faith, then he's guilty of attacking a very poor strawman.

      Did you have any other comments on Trent's review other than this relatively minor objection? Did you agree with any of it?

      • I double-checked the old Catholic Encyclopedia (though I know y'all seem to have quite an antipathy for it whenever we bring it up) and the way it put it was that belief is the more important meaning and the one that takes theological precedence. That's an acceptible nuance versus what I recalled from the beautifully simple and precise Baltimore Catechism, which states "Faith is a Divine virtue by which we firmly believe the truths which God has revealed." The modern CCC tends to be much more poetic and hard to draw distinct teachings from. But checking its section on "I Believe" does turn up a summary that is a good fit for the Catholic Encyclopedia's more concrete phrasing. "Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed." (CCC 150 in the context of 142-165)

        All this goes to two points. First, to soften the claim that the Catholic teaching is of faith as belief and not trust; it's both with heavy emphasis on the primacy of the former. Second, to reiterate on a firmer basis now that Trent's gloss of "faith" as "just a trust in someone or something" is well outside the bounds of the Church's teaching. Now of course I don't object to using alternative definitions. Especially for a site like SN, though, people are likely to assume that y'all will be using the official historical Catholic teachings, so it is helpful to make a clarifying note when y'all depart significantly from those.

        Trent's point is that Boghossian is wrong in defining faith as belief without sufficient evidence. This is how he consistently uses the term in his book, but this is not how the Catholic Church uses the term (or how most Catholics understand it.)

        Boghassian uses different words in his definition than Trent or the CCC does. That's not sufficient to show that he's wrong, though. To show that he's wrong, it would be necessary to point out ways in which there are different consequences using the three definitions.

        Boghassian: "belief without sufficient evidence". This is a value judgment disguised as a method. Better would be to just give the method as it's used in the real world without any attached value judgment. That could be something along the lines of "belief based on having been told" (cf Romans 10:14).

        Trent Horn: "trust in someone or something". This isn't directly applicable, but we can think about how best to believe in regards to trust. We only rightly believe people who have demonstrated themselves trustworthy on the kind of claim they ask us to believe. Religious leaders can't demonstrate trustworthiness in theological subject matters, so Trent's definition is problematically destructive in its religious usage.

        Catholic Church: "belief in the truths which God has revealed". This does not exclude believing based on evidence, so it's much preferable to Boghassian's or Trent Horn's definitions. But neither does it require evidence, and I can see how that might lead over time to something like Boghassian's definition in practice.

        Did you have any other comments on Trent's review other than this relatively minor objection? Did you agree with any of it?

        To keep things focused, those are/will be in other comments. Nobody likes a fisking. :)

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think you are correct that the Catholic Church's understanding of faith has two dimension. One is filial trust in God, which is an act of the will. The other is assent to what God reveals, and that is an act of the intellect.

        • Not sure if this helps, but Pope Benedict spoke about faith/hope in Spe Salvi. Its a wonderful read.

          Faith is Hope

          2. Before turning our attention to these timely questions, we must listen a little more closely to the Bible's testimony on hope. "Hope", in fact, is a key word in Biblical faith--so much so that in several passages the words "faith" and "hope" seem interchangeable. Thus the Letter to the Hebrews closely links the "fullness of faith" (10:22) to "the confession of our hope without wavering" (10:23). Likewise, when the First Letter of Peter exhorts Christians to be always ready to give an answer concerning the logos--the meaning and the reason--of their hope (cf. 3:15), "hope" is equivalent to "faith". We see how decisively the self-understanding of the early Christians was shaped by their having received the gift of a trustworthy hope, when we compare the Christian life with life prior to faith, or with the situation of the followers of other religions. Paul reminds the Ephesians that before their encounter with Christ they were "without hope and without God in the world" (Eph 2:12). Of course he knew they had had gods, he knew they had had a religion, but their gods had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their gods, they were "without God" and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future. In nihil ab nihilo quam cito recidimus (How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing): 1 so says an epitaph of that period. In this phrase we see in no uncertain terms the point Paul was making. In the same vein he says to the Thessalonians: you must not "grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Th 4:13). Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only "good news"--the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only "informative" but "performative". That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known--it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.

          When we say our profession of faith in the credo, we start off with the words "I believe...". We do this because it is our belief in things hoped for.

          "Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not."
          Heb 11:1

      • xyzzy

        Regardless, Trent's point here is that Boghossian is wrong in defining
        faith as belief without sufficient evidence. This is how he consistently
        uses the term in his book, but this is not how the Catholic
        Church uses the term (or how most Catholics understand it.) And it's
        certainly not what the Catechism teaches about faith, even in the
        section excerpted. Wouldn't you agree?

        I can explain why Boghossian thinks that.

        My parents were Catholic and I went to a Catholic church. The children went to these classes called Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, which is essentially what the non-Catholic kids called "Sunday School".

        In one CCD class, the teacher flat out stated "Faith is believing without evidence". This was a significant point of one of the lessons, not just a minor statement taken out of context.

        I am fairly confident that I am remembering this correctly because I had such a strong reaction to it at the time. My immediate thought (not expressed to the teacher) was that believing without evidence is a really stupid idea. That lesson made a very strong impression on me, and it added to my suspicion that there was something wrong with what the adults in my life were telling me.

        You're welcome to claim that my teacher was not using the word "faith" according to the official church definition. You're welcome to claim that my teacher was in a minority of Catholics in his understanding. I never saw this "Baltimore Catechism" that people speak of, so you're welcome to claim that the teaching I was given was wrong.

        But understand that many atheists have encountered exactly this definition of faith in many contexts. It is not entirely unreasonable for us to believe that the people who say it really mean what they say.

        I think there are two different religions in the word that are both using the name "Roman Catholic". One is the religion that I was taught as a child and, as far as I could tell from their statements and actions, was believed by my entire extended family. The other is the religion that you discuss here and that my friend (who is a theology student) believes.

        It would appear, then, that Boghossian is not arguing specifically against your religion, but against that "other" Catholicism, various denominations of Protestants, Islam (as far as I can tell), and so on.
        I hypothesize that atheists who write books concentrate on that other "common religion" rather than the "theologian's religion" because there are so many common people who hold the common belief, and so few theologians in the world. I also hypothesize that that "common religion" is the one that we most often come into contact with.

        I suppose it is possible that my experience with Catholicism is extraordinarily uncommon, but if it is not, then Boghossian's definition of the word "faith" is justified for at least some portion of the audience he seeks to convert.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Your volunteer CCD teacher may have garbled up Hebrews 11:

          1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. . . . 3 By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.

        • "But understand that many atheists have encountered exactly this definition of faith in many contexts. It is not entirely unreasonable for us to believe that the people who say it really mean what they say."

          That's fine if you're interested in attacking a poor religious straw man, that doesn't represent the Catholic Church's teaching (or the teaching of Protestantism, classical theism, etc.)

          If that's all you're interested in, Boghossian shouldn't pretend that such a critique of "faith" offers any real argument for atheism or any serious criticism against theism.

          "I think there are two different religions in the word that are both using the name "Roman Catholic". One is the religion that I was taught as a child and, as far as I could tell from their statements and actions, was believed by my entire extended family. The other is the religion that you discuss here and that my friend (who is a theology student) believes."

          No, there is one religion known as Roman Catholicism (technically the religion is Catholicism, and "Roman" Catholicism describes one of the 23 individual churches in communion with the Catholic Church, but I digress). The Catholic Church's teachings are clear--clearer, in fact, that almost any other religious tradition. Simply turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for a systematic presentation of what the Catholic Church teaches and why. It's available free online.

          To the extent that your religion teachers or extended family diverge from the Catholic Church's teachings is the extent to which they reject Catholicism. They're not creating a second version of Roman Catholicism; they're simply rejecting Roman Catholicism. And once again, criticizing the views of lapsed Catholics concerning the topic of "faith" is in no way to seriously engage the classical Christian tradition.

          "It would appear, then, that Boghossian is not arguing specifically against your religion, but against that "other" Catholicism, various denominations of Protestants, Islam (as far as I can tell), and so on."

          As described above, there is no "other" Catholicism, in the sense you're using the phrase. There is Catholicism and non-Catholicism.

          Also, no mainline Protestant denomination or faithful Muslim would describe faith as "belief without sufficient evidence." I challenge you to provide one official source from any of those traditions that defines faith that way.

          • Susan

            To the extent that your religion teachers or extended family diverge from the Catholic Church's teachings is the extent to which they reject Catholicism. They're not creating a second version of Roman Catholicism; they're simply rejecting Roman Catholicism

            So, the next time you cite statistics about catholics in the world, you'll eliminate those who aren't real catholics along with those who were baptized when they were babies but don't believe a word of it, many of whom are opposed to the teachings of the catholic church? Or will you stick with the numbers you've used previously?

            Also, no mainline Protestant denomination or faithful Muslim would describe faith as "belief without sufficient evidence."

            Of course they wouldn't. But the burden is on them to provide sufficient evidence or the rest of us can fairly describe them that way.

          • "So, the next time you cite statistics about catholics in the world, you'll eliminate those who aren't real catholics along with those who were baptized when they were babies but don't believe a word of it, many of whom are opposed to the teachings of the catholic church? Or will you stick with the numbers you've used previously?"

            It depends on the context, whether we're counting baptized Catholics or if we're counting those who hold and promote all that the Church teaches. (The Catholic Church affirms that you can never de-baptize yourself or become un-Catholic. You can become a lapsed Catholic but, technically, never a non-Catholic or former-Catholic.)

            Regardless, the size of either group is independent of what the Catholic Church clearly and objectively teaches about the meaning of faith.

            When the largest faith tradition in the world defines "faith" in a specific way, yet an atheist attacks a dramatically different definition of "faith" without acknowledging any other, he's tearing down a straw man at best.

            "Of course they wouldn't. But the burden is on them to provide sufficient evidence or the rest of us can fairly describe them that way."

            Believers don't have to provide evidence that appears sufficient to you. No religious believer would describe faith as "belief in light of evidence that Susan finds compelling." Instead, faith is a reasoned trust in things not seen, based most often on the evidence of personal experience, authority, logic, etc. Believers ground their faith on evidence that appears sufficient to themselves.

            We're not arguing whether such evidence is *objectively* sufficient but whether religious believers harbor faith even without sufficient evidence. I don't think you'll find many believers who fit this category, and you almost certainly won't find this definition in any official teaching from any of the major theistic traditions. Simply put, it's a straw man, if admittedly a common one.

          • Susan

            It depends on the context, whether we're counting baptized Catholics or if we're counting those who hold and promote all that the Church teaches.

            What are the statistics for those who hold and promote all the church teaches? I've never seen you use those statistics. Where would I find those?

            The Catholic Church affirms that you can never de-baptize yourself or become un-Catholic. You can become a lapsed Catholic but, technically, never a non-Catholic or former-Catholic.

            The catholic church can affirm whatever it likes but it's absurd to affirm that sprinkling water on a baby's head makes them catholic for life. The catholic church likes to use those statistics but how does it justify their use? I'm not a catholic. It's absurd and offensive to claim that I am one. Please explain how they justify this "affirmation".

            When the largest faith tradition in the world

            This is exactly what I'm talking about. What does that mean?

            an atheist attacks a dramatically different definition of "faith" without acknowledging any other

            First of all, that strawman is not a strawman. You accept that there is one tradition known as Roman Catholicism...... They're not creating a second version of Roman Catholicism; they're simply rejecting Roman Catholicism.

            These are not strawmen. These are flesh and blood people who raised us, taught us and as far as I can tell, fill the pews with which many of us are acquainted. You should be grateful that atheists are doing Yahweh's work when they challenge those flesh and blood people. The church doesn't seem to be bothered about it. Not to the extent that they straighten out the rejection of Roman Catholicism that gets to the every day catholics.

            Believers don't have to provide evidence that appears sufficient to you.

            If the evidence is insufficient, as for any claim, it is unreasonable to call it knowledge. There is nothing special about religious claims, no matter how emotionally compelling you might find them. The same can be said about fairies who get you parking spots. That is not snarky. The fact that people find it compelling does not make it true is the point. Evidence is crucial.

            faith is a reasoned trust in things not seen

            So I've been told over and over. I see the trust but not the reason.

            based most often on the evidence of personal experience

            So I've been told. Not a reliable method when it comes to ultimate claims made by humans and all the claims that emanate from that. "Affirmations" so to speak.

            logic

            For instance? Please don't direct me to the 20 arguments for your deity. The logical errors in them have been pointed out in every case. Pick your best one and we can have another go but please don't act like your logical arguments are logically sound without demonstrating that that is the case.

            We're not arguing whether such evidence is *objectively* sufficient

            Of course you are. You are making ultimate claims about what underlies everything... why there is anything, what morality is, what beauty is, what meaning is. And you state it as though it is true and supported sufficiently.

            I don't think you'll find many believers who fit this category

            Then you'd be wrong.

            Simply put, it's a straw man, if admittedly a common one.

            Common enough to statistically bolster your reference to "the largest faith tradition in the world"?

          • Ben Posin

            The definition of faith you are protesting is not a straw man; what you're encountering is a disagreement with what you're calling the Catholic definition of faith, based on observation of religious folk, Catholic and otherwise. It's all well and good for you to say that faith is a gift, or an act of commitment, or any thing you or the church pleases. That doesn't mean you or the Catholic Church is correct about what a Catholic's faith actually is.

          • xyzzy

            The definition of faith you are protesting is not a straw man; what
            you're encountering is a disagreement with what you're calling the
            Catholic definition of faith, based on observation of religious folk,
            Catholic and otherwise.

            So you're arguing a technicality:

            - Many people believe that faith is believing without evidence.

            - There exist some people who do not.

            - Therefore the atheist attack on believing without evidence is ... what? A straw man? An attack on religions other than yours? Lumping you in with the bad apples?

          • Ben Posin

            No, I'm saying that calling a tail a leg doesn't make it so, and disagreeing with a Catholic as to whether they are accurately describing the quality of those behaviors/feelings we are collectively choosing to call "faith" doesn't mean you're doing the straw man thing.
            I'm saying you can tell me that the things you hold by faith constitute a gift or an act of intellect or whatever you please, but that from the outside "holding beliefs stronger than warratned by the evidence" sure looks like a good description of faith.

          • Barry Coleman

            you argument is flawed.

            most atheists do not know anything serious about the theory of evolutiuon or quantum mechanics and still preach like the are experts on it thinking that these fields "prove atheism"

            However the misguided conception of such theories by the "common folk" does not make these theories equal to these misguided conception.

            So you can argue that many people do not understand the meaning of faith fully, but you are *wrong* in giving you personal idea of what Catholicism means by "Faith". In fact you are just attacking a straw-man.

            Moreover even if many people have some lack in knowledge, this does not invalidate their faith, as faith is not a mere theory (like Einsten's General Relativity for gravitation for example) but it is a way of life that trascends mere philosophical meanings.

          • xyzzy

            Susan covered a lot of what I would have said, but I still have a question:

            To the extent that your religion teachers or extended family diverge from the Catholic Church's teachings is the extent to which they reject Catholicism. They're not creating a second version of Roman Catholicism; they're simply rejecting Roman Catholicism.

            Then I ask you this: What is the name of their religion?

            I ask you, because *they* say they are "Catholic" and you say they are not. If I ask "What is your religion?" and somebody answers "Catholic", how can I distinguish between the religion that is your version of Catholic and the religion of these other people who answer "Catholic"?

            And supposing that they are not Catholic, does that somehow invalidate my claim that their definition of "faith" is a bad idea?

          • "How can I distinguish between the religion that is your version of Catholic and the religion of these other people who answer "Catholic"?"

            Simply read or reference the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It's freely available online and outlines the Church's official teachings.

          • xyzzy

            So if a person claims to be Catholic, but does not believe exactly as described in the Catechism, I should believe they are not really Catholic. Yet they call themselves Catholic? Do you understand now how I find two separate belief systems going by the same name?

            Religion is about what a person believes. If he believes that Baron Samedi is the master of the dead and the giver of life, that is his religion.

            If somebody believes that faith is belief without evidence, then that is his religion.

            If I argue against either of these religions, it is improper to call my argument a straw man because these are actual religions. The only thing you can reasonably say is that neither is your religion.

          • Barry Coleman

            "So if a person claims to be Catholic, but does not believe exactly as described in the Catechism, I should believe they are not really Catholic. Yet they call themselves Catholic?"

            I think it depends.

            It depends on how great someone's error is. Someone might have some wrong ideas about some tenets of fatih, out of ignorance maybe, but this does not make him "non-catholic".

            If someone believe that humans were created by Prometheus and Zeus (like in the old Greek myth) or that "he believes that Baron Samedi is the master of the dead and the giver of life" as you cite, then he is grossly going against Catholic Christian faith.

            To be a Christian and even more specifically a Catholic, you must have some core beliefs, but this does not mean one must per se have perfect theological knowledge.

            For example you are Catholic if you believe that there is one trinitarian God, but it is not necessary (although recomended!) that you know all the fine points of trinitarian theology.

            So a person who claims to be Catholic, but is de facto a polytheist (just to make an example) then of course he is not believing at all in the Catholic (or even Christian) faith.

            But if one claims to be Catholic or Christian, but has a somewhat wrong idea of God but he is fundamentally momotheist and trinitarian, than he is a Catholic.

            Of course if there is ignorance in someone it should be corrected, when spotted.

            that is why the cathechism exists.

  • I picked up the book for cheap and got less interested the further I read. I guess it might be a nice introduction to how to engage in dialogue and debate for cantankerous youths. :) It has little to say to anyone who's already picked up on the virtues of Socratic dialogue and the primary focus on how we know what we claim to know.

    There is one helpful feature of how he picks an outrageously phrased but undeniably often-correct-in-practice definition of "faith": if he'd been more circumspect, he wouldn't have gotten buzz. :D

  • Loreen Lee

    Quote: treat faith like a kind of contagious mental illness that should be recognized by medical professionals

    Well, we're all aware of the stigma attached to mental illness, etc. without an attempt to define, for instance just what a psychosis consists of. I find no difficulty, although as you know, I'm a devious -atheist Catholic coming to terms with this issue. Indeed, may I speak of several precedents, why I can consider my self to have the psychosis of religion, and why this does not make me 'insane'.

    I refer to Kant's antinomies, which demonstrate the limitations of reason, and place faith as 'ideas/ideals' held by the mind which cannot be 'readily' buttressed by 'empirical evidence'. (Although it is common for people to profess beliefs that they identify with faith as a result of personal 'experience'. Faith is contrasted with reason on good grounds. Faith needs be identified with metaphysics/the supernatural, and indeed the 'reason' why faith hope and charity are called theological virtues. They are not generic or natural. That's why faith is considered to be a 'gift'.

    There's also Soren's Kierkegaard's knight of faith, and his book on Abraham, which discusses the 'insanity' of Abraham. May I put forth the possibility that a certain kind of 'insanity' can be indeed 'sane'. The difficulty is that the ideas/ideals are backed by historical realities in Christianity, etc. or empirical 'evidence' that, like the virgin birth are difficult to justify within an empirical context. This I believe, is where 'belief' comes in. But if you take the ideas, say of the virgin birth, without reference to the historical, Catholicism's ideas are indeed the most rational of all of the religions I have investigated. The whole stands together with consistency and 'great rationality'. Sure the Blessed Virgin has to be pure. How else would a God of love be able to be birthed through the thought/conception of the Holy Ghost. Possible speculation is however, avoided by simply referring to the discrepancy between idea and empirical as mysteries

    So why be afraid of mental illness or the 'good' psychosis of Catholic belief. The difficulty with a psychosis is that the ideas do not correlate with facts within empirical evidence. That is why I like to keep the 'ideas' as separate as I can from the historical evidence. I can even think the credo, and belief, without visualizing the empirical realities as demanding, and still believe I 'have faith'. After all I also believe that 'ideas are real'. As mentioned, it is the purpose that is related to these ideas/ideals that makes them rational in my perspective. I also think it is a gift to be able to 'think and envision' on the high level of metaphysical realities that is demanded by such components of faith. I actually place faith before belief. I 'believe' that trust and belief derive from faith. And also what not to believe of trust within the natural world. We are not talking about generic/natural faith here, but something that comes to a person as a gift, (of insanity/psychosis) which actually sets the world, including its scientific 'beliefs' into a metaphysical order.
    Thank you.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    In a chapter called “Containment Protocols,” Boghossian says we should
    stigmatize religious claims like racist claims, treat faith like a kind of contagious mental illness that should be recognized by medical professionals . . .

    If Boghossian really said this and he meant what this appears to mean, he is a dangerous totalitarian. Beware atheists and agnostics: Guys like this will just as soon turn on his atheist "brothers" as people who believe in God.

    • I wouldn't say totalitarian, but discriminatory and arguably hateful (I would have to read the context, but I am unimpressed by what I hear about this book and see no need to defend it).

      I think religious views should be treated as unreasonable and potentially harmful and should be approached civilly.

      The response from atheists that I advocate is education on critical thinking, history and science.

      In my view the best manual for making atheists is the Bible itself.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I think religious views should be treated as unreasonable and potentially harmful and should be approached civilly.

        The response from atheists that I advocate is education on critical thinking, history and science.

        In my view the best manual for making atheists is the Bible itself.

        And I would say the following:

        I think atheists views should be treated as unreasonable and potentially harmful but should be approached civilly.

        The response from Catholics that I advocate is education on critical thinking, history and science.

        In my view the best manual for making Catholics is the Bible itself, if understood the way the Catholic Church understands it.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          Given that most Western atheists are former Christians. I would agree the Bible is the very best tool for making...atheists.

      • NicholasBeriah Cotta

        History just 65 years ago saw Fred Hoyle (and most of the scientific community) dismiss the Big Bang theory out of hand for its "theistic implications." Your premise that religion somehow can be potentially harmful disavows the short history of atheism/scientism, which has its own harmful side effects. Did religion cause you personal harm or just a theoretical societal harm that could come from cherry picking your narrative on history?

        • No, religion has caused me personal harm but it is not terribly bad. I believe it has led to the unnecessary deaths and torture of many and continues to do so today.

          I think most of the harm we see in western societies today is the divisions religions make in families, friends. The sadness that many religious people feel about those of different or no religious faiths. It also leads many people to hold discriminatory views particularly towards women and homosexuals.

          In other countries religious views lead to terrorism, genital mutilation, things like honour killings and so on.

          I have no problem accepting that many religious views are essentially harmless and many people are inspired to much goodness by their religions. My confidence in religion as a god and bad causal agent is about the same.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I think that most atheists can't admit they are biased against religion and see a anti-religious narrative in history when maybe they should see a human propensity to divide each other, rank each other, and conglomerate power over one another which happened to always coexist with a certain set of metaphysical principles.
            The real issue is that metaphysical ideas must exist for us to exist, whether it be that we're all equal or we all have a right to x, y, and z. You must have faith in the fact that we have ascribe to something outside of ourselves to protect ourselves - this would mean that atheists still have to create some sort of "religion," even if they dismiss each one. Even Dawkins admits he must live within some moral code when he says he is a "cultural Anglican" or that an objective moral code is necessary for humanity (or see Sam Harris' fruitless search for an objective morality through statistics and brain scans.)

          • Susan

            I think that most atheists can't admit they are biased against religion

            I'm not sure what you mean. Based on what I think you mean, I have to wonder if you underestimate how many atheists are ex-theistsy who've carefully examined the beliefs they were expected to accept.

            and see a anti-religious narrative in history

            Religion has had a tremendous amount of political power throughout history without having to justify its power. Not just religion but its influence is fairly obvious.

            maybe they should see a human propensity to divide each other, rank each other, and conglomerate power over one another which happened to always coexist with a certain set of metaphysical principles.

            I think most of us are aware of those tendencies. I think religion can amplify those tendencies. When someone claims to have the ultimate truth and that the source of that truth is beyond evidence, anything goes. People who claim to be authorities about it make the rules.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Well first of all, Christianity makes no claim about political authority whatsoever. Jesus directly addresses government and says, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's." How Christians have understood the relationship between their faith and the state has evolved like any system does.
            The influence of money, power, and sex is much more influential than religion - religion, specifically Catholicism, has been an influence in western history against those things. Sure, many people have used their idea of religion in a negative way, but the positives have won out - do you think the metaphysical idea that each person has rights and is equal came from non-religion? In eastern culture, where religion was less organized and more mystical, did they ever develop a coherent idea of equality? Religion is used to articulate metaphysical principles that are very good for society and the evidence for this fact is that religion exists in the first place consistently throughout the history of humanity - call it evolutionary evidence.

            And speaking of evidence, Christians don't think that their source of truth is without evidence. The atheist demand for a certain type of evidence is aggressive and limiting in terms of truth. If I tell you that a priest has been telling me the story of Jesus everyday and I've decided to convert and follow Jesus because the entire story rings true, would this be evidence? You see, the demand for evidence is really a demand for articulation (and immediate probability)- I don't need to just evaluate something and believe in it, I then need to spit it back out to you in an articulate enough way for fear you will dismiss my claim for its lack of evidence. Let's say I take a large jar of jelly beans and set it down in a lecture hall and tell everyone to make a guess. It is a well known fact that the aggregate of all of those guesses will be pretty accurate, matter of fact probably more accurate than any guess itself and certainly a higher probability than any guess itself. If I went around to each person and demanded to know why they guessed what they did, I am sure they'd all have terrible methods and pseudo scientific jargon to explain their guesses- if I didn't know that the guess was correct and had only each individual's explanation for their guess, I would conclude, "None of these people have any real scientific evidence or basis for their guess, so how could I glean any truth from them?" The fact is that you would be wrong because there is something about the human mind that can conjure up the truth without articulating it - and a human being simply can use their mind, its experience, and say "I believe x is true" and in the aggregate, be totally correct.

          • I am not just biased, I am openly anti-religion. I certainly do accept that humans have a propensity to create hierarchies and discriminate. I just think religion is unnecessary and many exacerbate this propensity. Worse it does it on a basis with no reality check.

            I certainly do think humans need something outside ourselves to protect ourselves, these are social relationships and public institutions. I think these are best when they are secular, meaning they only care about protecting each other and are unconcerned with questions of deities or undetectable supernature.

            This is not to say that I think religion is inherently bad or always divisive. I think it generally plays on our better virtues of cooperation and love. But it does create groups, and when it does there is an in group and an out group. It seems to be harder to empathize with out group people. For this reason I think we should discourage unecessary groupings.

          • Jakeithus

            "I think most of the harm we see in western societies today is the divisions religions make in families, friends."

            That statement isn't exactly saying anything about religion, per se, but simply describes the results of individuals disagreeing in any area. Sex, politics, money...all can be equally effective at creating divisions between families and friends, or creating harm in society, as long as there exists different understandings about how one should approach these areas.

            Unless society can come to perfect agreement on these areas (impossible, IMHO), they will always have the potential for both great benefit and great harm.

          • Let me be more specific. The most prevalent harms seem to be when families and friends change religions. Particularly when Christians become atheists or change religions. They are often disowned by their families, or family members become convinced their loved ones will literally burn in hell forever. This is very upsetting and divisive and it is based on nothing more than religious views.

      • Barry Coleman

        think atheistic views and atheism should be treated as unreasonable and potentially harmful and should be approached civilly.

        Actually atheism is not "potentially harmful", it IS harmful.

        Not only we have good lessons from recent modern and contemporary history, that where secularims and atheism prevailed in a society, immediately there occurred gross violations of human rights.

        One just needs to observe groups like the FFRF and American Humanist assiciation, which acts as totalitarian bullies.

        ===

        "The most prevalent harms seem to be when families and friends change religions. Particularly when Christians become atheists or change religions.They are often disowned by their families, or family members become convinced their loved ones will literally burn in hell forever. This is very upsetting and divisive and it is based on nothing more than religious views. "

        The same, if not worse, happen in atheist families when someone becomes religeous.

        Just think how atheists reacted when Antony Flew rejected atheism (even without accepting any particular religion) and how mean spirited the whole atheist community was against him, Dawkins in front.

        This sort of fundamentalism happens very often in atheist families as well and even in worse manner.

        So you are just being the kettle calling the pot black.

        --

        In fact I contend that atheism is not only irrational but dangeorus to humanity as a whole, since a small group of atheists already cause great damage, in several ways, to large communities.

        Moreover most "atheist criticism of religion" can be turned on atheims itself and even with more efficiency.

    • I agree. It becomes all the more apparent, sometimes, by changing categories a bit.

      "Stigmatize homosexual activity like racist activity. Treat homosexuality as a kind of contagious mental illness that should be recognized by mental professionals."

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Your chronology is out of whack. Homosexuality was put into the DSM by psychologists, not by Catholics.

        • I don't know what you're on about. I didn't say anything about Catholics. My comment was about Boghossian's statement about people of faith. It sounds similar to what certain psychologists, as well as certain Christians, have said in the past about gays. For example, Dr James Dobson, a Christian psychologist, pretty-much claimed that homosexuality was a contagious mental illness, spread through male-male and female-famale sexual abuse, or by sexual experimentation, and exacerbated by the absence of appropriate male or female role-models in the life of a child.

    • Tom Rafferty

      As a 69 year old guy who finally accepted reality about 15 years ago, let me give my two-cents.

      All, and I really mean all, apologetics is an obfuscation of the meaning of faith. Faith, by ANY definition, is belief without evidence --- full stop. That said, what is left in the quiver of the theist? Seriously. Christianity is based on the myth of Original Sin. Science (the best/only method of truly understanding reality) shows that there clearly was not a pair of humans who started humanity, but a group of at least a thousand. Second, historically, there have been many cultures that have use human and animal sacrifice to appease a god or gods. To actually accept the literal view of Genesis, as well as the idea of god sacrificing himself to himself for the sin of humanity that could not have taken place in reality is ludicrous. Just ponder it please, and tell me where I am wrong. I do have an open mind. However, since leaving the Catholic faith I have yet to hear anything close to an acceptable explanation as to why I should return to the flock. Here is YOUR chance. Good luck. Peace.

      • NicholasBeriah Cotta

        I am an RCIA Catholic and so I have the reverse story of you - I finally accepted reality and came to believe that all of the world has obfuscated the great story of Jesus Christ.
        The first obfuscation in your own explanation here is that Catholics believe in a literal interpretation of Adam and Eve (or even the Jews that wrote the story). There are plenty of places (like on this website very recently - http://www.strangenotions.com/adam-and-eve-and-ted-and-alice/) that explain how the magisterium has interpreted this scripture - here is a summary from the catechism-

        "404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam "as one body of one man".293 By this "unity of the human race" all men are implicated in Adam's sin, as all are implicated in Christ's justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.294 It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called "sin" only in an analogical sense: it is a sin "contracted" and not "committed" - a state and not an act."

        • Tom Rafferty

          "--- the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand."

          "--- we do know by Revelation ---"

          The first one above is religion's "Get out of Jail" card. The second is unsupported by any evidence.

          Another thing to consider: The last Pope repeated the tradition dogma of there being truly only ONE couple, Adam and Eve, that began the human race. NO "metaphor." This is flat-out wrong.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Well revelation is a "get out of jail" free card in the sense that we accept truths without having tangible evidenc; but for us, they are not without evidence per se, but they all flow from one event, that Jesus rose from the dead, and how the witnesses of that event would react to it and relate the story through time and history. If you do not believe in the resurrection, you would not believe in revelation, so that would be the question you would answer first for yourself, not the theological basis/historical possibility of Genesis.
            You really should just cite what the Pope said and then we can discuss it - but I'll bite anyway- like that article on this website posits, even if we believe Adam and Eve are literal people who literally sinned first, this does not mean they were the first people, just that maybe they were the first couple who had the self-awareness that genesis is talking about theologically. There is a corner that skeptics back us in to by turning theology stories in to history stories - the Bible is not a history or a fiction story, it is a blend that is unique in story telling, but nonetheless the Magisterium has a specific way of reading that story (I say this in case you'd accuse us of changing our stories throughout time to fit facts found through science in order to continually retreat from scientific truth) that is outlined by a Pontifical commission in 1994 (https://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PBCINTER.HTM).

          • Tom Rafferty

            There is insufficient evidence that there even was an historical Jesus, let alone he rose from the dead.

            Your statements about the Bible not being history or fiction but a blend that is unique to story-telling is an unsupported assertion.

            Pope Benedict reaffirmed this long tradition (could not find the quote, but I read it shortly before he gave up the Papacy:

            MONOGENISM

            The doctrine that the human race derived from one original human being, identified in Scripture with Adam. This is the Church's constant traditional teaching. In the Creed of Pope Pelagius I (reigned 556-61) we read: "I confess that all men until the end of time, born of Adam and dying with Adam, his wife, who themselves were not born of other parents . . . will rise and stand firm before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive each one according to his works" (Denzinger, 228a).
            And Pope Pius XII declared: "No Catholic can hold that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from his as from the first parent of all" (Humani Generis, 1950, para. 38). (Etym. Latin mono, one + genus, race.)

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Well, "insufficient" becomes the operative word there. Evidence of the resurrection is supposed to be passed through relationships, not really subject to the Sigma system of probability, so I would argue that your evidence standard is probably too narrow to allow for the possibility of Jesus' resurrection in the first place. What evidence do you think would be left behind by a first century Gallilean carpenter coming back from the dead? What evidence would you want?

            And you are definitely not understanding the magisterium - since theological "monogenism" came first, there was no need or information available to expound on the biological possibilities of original sin. By the time science had formulated a more thorough study of genetics, subsequent popes have laid open how these two views on physical and theological propagation can be reconciled like Paul VI in 1968 -

            "One can nevertheless consider biological monogenism together. Humanity has its origin in a single couple; this couple committed the sin against God and as a result of this all their children are born in original sin. This is the classical doctrine.
            Or it is possible to admit a biological polygenism and a theological monogenism. Evolution brought about not a single couple but many men,who constituted the primitive human population. One of these, who may be considered the leader, rebelled against God. This sin passed on to allmen, his contemporaries, not by imitation, but by real propagation (Council of Trent Session V, DS. 1513), that is by a real solidarity already existing in this primordial human population. In them actual sinful humanity has its origin."

            http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/SINEVOL.HTM

          • Tom Rafferty

            You said, "Evidence of the resurrection is supposed to be passed through
            relationships, not really subject to the Sigma system of probability, so
            I would argue that your evidence standard is probably too narrow to
            allow for the possibility of Jesus' resurrection in the first place."

            I have no idea what this means. All we know of Jesus is through writings from anonymous sources decades after the supposed life of Jesus. You may view this as sufficient evidence, I certainly do not. Also, I do not discount the "possibility" of Jesus' resurrection. However, we are talking probability here, not possibility.

            Finally, your defense of the Church's stance on Original Sin still is unsupported by any evidence. The trend in all but the most conservative Christian circles is to paint Genesis metaphorically. Fine. Then literal Jesus died for a metaphor? I'm not buying it now.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Tom, You may be correct that God does not exist. We will know for sure on the other side, unless we are dead and gone forever and then we won't know anything.

        You have raised six or seven issues. It is a little unfair for you to write two hundred words and expect me to write you back two thousand.

        Since I don't know why you left, how can I give you any advice on why you should return?

        • Tom Rafferty

          The story, from my book "Making Stuff Up Is Unwise:"
          - - - - - - -
          I was a “Cradle Catholic” and was very serious about my faith until middle age. This included decades of teaching religious education at elementary through high school levels, functioning as a Eucharistic Minister, membership on the Parish Council and even consideration of
          monastic life prior to college. I had been a skeptic (question and follow the evidence) in all areas except
          religion since college. As I continued to experience life and noticed that the vast majority of fellow skeptics were also atheists, I gradually began to critically study the foundations of my faith. However, as anyone in my
          shoes can attest, the mind works very slowly in changing a worldview so drastically. Eventually, the internal conflict became so great that Irealized that had to seriously reassess my worldview or suffer medical problems. So, I essentially “wiped the slate clean” and looked at religion
          without any assumptions. Through critical thinking aided by science, the proven best way of objectively determining reality, I concluded that the probability of a
          personal deity is quite low. This process of wiping the slate clean and restarting without any assumptions is very difficult. It requires valuing the seeking of truth (and being satisfied when the answer is “we don’t know’) over being comfortable, secure and certain. It also requires
          a humble understanding that we all have biases and tend to want to confirm them when confronting an opposing view. It culminates in submission to impartial, objective evidence wherever it leads.

          I am happier and at greater peace since becoming consistent in my worldview. I treasure every moment more. I determine my own purpose in life consistent with common secular morality that is at least as “good”
          as any theist morality. I clearly see that the reality of the world is more consistent with a non-theist universe and I no longer have to perform mental gymnastics to reconcile it to my faith.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I understand you are summarizing, so we can all excuse these many assertions without evidence and arguments from personal experience.

            A fundamental error I see in your account is this, "Through critical thinking aided by science, the proven best way of
            objectively determining reality, I concluded that the probability of a personal deity is quite low."

            Science is not the best proven way of objectively determining reality. It is certainly the most effective way of understanding and using material reality. But science does not create itself. It is founded on reason as a whole, and that has to be grounded in a right philosophy. Scientific findings can be used as evidence for or against the existence of God, but the evidence is wielded by philosophy.

          • Tom Rafferty

            Scientific methods offer the best way to understand reality. Philosophy adds nothing to this fact. So, where am I in error? Is it because science has nothing to say about the supernatural? If so, how do you even know there IS such a reality?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'll try to explain to you why I think you are in error. You claim that "Scientific methods offer the best way to understand reality." That may be true, but it is a value judgment and the scientific method offers us no basis I know of to make value judgments. The value judgment you want to make would have to be based on some other kind of rationality.

  • Sounds like a strange book. The worst part of religion isn't God. It's the prosetylisation. Why adopt the worst of religion for atheism?

    On the topic of what faith is, I prefer Lara Buchak's definition for faith (as anyone who has read my comments now knows). It's stronger than Trent's claim. Faith is trust in some statement (or person) that entails a particular risky act or series of actions, and involves not actively looking for further evidence for or against the truth of the statement. I have faith that my wife won't cheat on me. I remain faithful to her and share myself with her exclusively, at the risk of being hurt by betrayel. I don't actively look for evidence that she's cheating on me. This kind of faith can be rational or irrational, depending on the statement, the available evidence and the level of risk involved with the associated actions.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      And for anyone who asks, "Why stop looking for more evidence?" You could end up like Othello.

      • That's right. Besides the extreme cases (Othello, or if I hired a PI to follow my wife around), looking for evidence takes time and resources. Sometimes it is most rational to stop looking in a particular direction and spend one's resources on other things.

  • Mike

    I've had some notions rumbling around in my mind concerning faith, and I was wondering if I could get some feedback from the nice people who post here.

    I would say that for myself (and perhaps others) that one reason to believe in God is from a religious experience, which many would argue that could be a result of cognitive bias, or other psychological factors. I won't discount these possibilities automatically, but I'm also hesitant to accept them automatically as well. Therefore these experiences must be examined and discerned for their validity, and I think similar experiences might be had elsewhere in life. Namely, can I say for certainty that I love my wife, or is that something I have to take on faith?

    I'm a simply man, and I prefer to use simple examples in my own mind's thought experiments, and for this one I think about my marriage and my wife. When I was considering proposing I wondered and examined whether I was truly in love (as opposed to infatuation), and whether my reasons for desiring marriage were true and authentic. I had experiences with my now wife, and I know how they made me feel. Before falling in love for the first time I had no idea what it would be like, there seems to be no scientific test to judge myself, how would I then know that I was really and truly in love?

    I would talk to others who seemed to be happily married, and pick their brains about how they knew they were in love, and what it was like, both physically (butterfles in the stomach) and emotionally (thinking about them during the day), to pure physical attraction and wanting to be intimate with them.

    After hearing all of these inputs I had to discern whether they were valid judgements for being in love, and whether I was indeed ready to be married. Now I can't hook my brain up to a machine that would rationally scan all aspects of myself to empirically determine my mindset and whether I'm truly in love or not, so I suppose it would be subjective to some degree?

    Do others think that I could make the statement that I have faith for MY love for MY wife (not her love for me)? Are there other methods that could or should be used to determine such a thing that plays such an important role for the rest of my life?

    Could the analogy be extended towards evaluating whether one's religious experiences are valid, or faulty?

    • NicholasBeriah Cotta

      I think the analogy does work for God in that to feel Him is the most pure and simple way to know Him. In the sense of what you feel for your wife, I don't think the Catholic tradition views things quite like the romantic notion of love depicted in popular culture- love is not primarily a feeling but an act of the will. There is a bond between you two rooted in that love and the mysteries sacrament of the union between a man and woman, and this second part would be am objective experience in my opinion. Matter of fact, the simple feeling of reality is itself the greatest testimony that you are alive and that there is a God. The attempt to deny that part of ourselves because it could contain some sort of scientific bias of the brain is one of the great shams of modern day scientism. The common logic is that since there are hallucinogenic drugs or brain disorders that can cause similar chemical reactions in the brain, we can assume feeling is nothing more than a compendium of random chemical reactions in our head. How commercials arises materially and spiritually is always acknowledged to be a great mystery but remember that the great Christian tradition has gone to great lengths never to separate people's souls from their bodies- matter fact it was declared a heresy long ago before it even made as much sense scientifically as it does (at least to me) now.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Matter of fact, the simple feeling of reality is itself the greatest testimony that you are alive and that there is a God.

        In what possible way is the simple feeling of reality any kind of testimony that there is a god?

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          That something exists instead of nothing implies a greater force than we know about materially. It is backwards for me to prove God, because I don't know need to describe how anything works for me to at my most basic say, "I am alive." You have to begin to break down what alive means to convince me that my "aliveness" is really a fiction, a chance outcome of a universe that can be reduced to physical laws. If I gained consciousness for the first time in a room, it would lead me to believe that the fact of existing most likely didn't begin with myself.

          • David Nickol

            That something exists instead of nothing implies a greater force than we know about materially.

            Ultimately, I am not sure that the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" actually makes any sense. It seems to imply there really should be nothing—that nothingness would be the "normal" state we would expect. No intelligence of any kind could possibly have ever asked "Why is there nothing rather than something?" since when there is nothing, there is no one to ask the question.

            Also, I am not sure why it is not a valid question to ask believers why there is a God rather than no God. (Note that this is a different question from, "Who caused God?") It is very easy to attribute the existence of the universe to God. But God has been so defined as to put out of bounds questions of why God exists.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Nothing is ultimately what you would imply without God - material is not a sufficient explanation for its own existence. There is a reason why the first atheists in history are ones that have understood the material world enough to distance themselves from the edge of it - they feel like that at the edge of that distance, there is an explanation that would look the same as the explanation of the stuff between us and the edge of the universe. God was always outside of the known universe, the only difference now is that the universe is larger, large enough I would argue for you to forget the simple fact that you exist and there is no satisfactory explanation. I like reading the multi-verse theories and B (and so on) theories of time, but each one is fanciful at best - a wishing game that the universe can and will prove itself to us as its own self-propagating thing. Going back to the theme of the article, there is definitely a faith that is needed to be atheist - a faith that the universe will explain itself to us, it can be comprehended (or reducable) to us, or that at the edges of the known universe, there ceases to be cause-and-effect as we know it.

          • Susan

            There is a reason why the first atheists in history are ones that have understood the material world enough to distance themselves from the edge of it

            Who were the first atheists in history?

            they feel like that at the edge of that distance, there is an explanation that would look the same as the explanation of the stuff between us and the edge of the universe

            What do you mean by the edge of the universe?

            I think what you're saying is that they "feel" like they will find natural explanations instead of supernatural explanations. There's been a very good track record for natural explanations replacing supernatural explanations and not a very good track record in reverse. So, I'm not sure this is about a "feeling" but about going with the idea with the proven track record.

            there is definitely a faith that is needed to be atheist

            No faith. Theists assert that god(s) exist and they have given me no good reason to believe them.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            It's not like Christianity supposes that there was a supernatural reason for everything in the world - they thought there was one supernatural cause and that the world was NOT that cause. Theologically, genesis has been interpreted to mean that world was created by God, thus NOT God, and was intelligible to man. This is why out of Christianity came modern science as we know it - we have the same expectations for the material world as you do, not magical causes that are somehow eliminated when we find explanations for things.
            And "good" might be the operative word here. There is a certain point at which you will deny whether a fact, if large enough, is intuitive or not. Theists just fundamentally believe that a causal existence points to a non-caused existence. If you would like to leave the question open, that is fine, but I would argue that most atheists really just believe that either eventually we'll find out that causes and effects are fictitious or that somehow things spring out of existence from nothing (like a reverse God of the gaps). There is no good reason to believe that at the limit of existence, it will look like the immediate world around us and even science has borne that out - the current theories fly in the face of everything we thought we knew about time or even causation in the first place. The essential question will always remain that in a world that fundamentally displays limits, where will those limits end? Back on themselves? To narrow this argument, resist our inerpretation of God as a personal God for a moment, because that is a different argument - think of God in this argument as simply a different modality of being, one that is outside of being itself.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            That something exists instead of nothing implies a greater force than we know about materially.

            Why? Please be precise. I'm not even convinced that the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is logically coherent. It's like asking why 2 is green.

            It is backwards for me to prove God, because I don't know need to describe how anything works for me to at my most basic say, "I am alive."

            I don't understand what you're trying to say here.

            You have to begin to break down what alive means to convince me that my "aliveness" is really a fiction, a chance outcome of a universe that can be reduced to physical laws.

            Simply because you are live doesn't make that liveness a fiction. And yes indeed - you are a chance outcome of a universe which possesses certain regularities of behavior. So what?

            If I gained consciousness for the first time in a room, it would lead me to believe that the fact of existing most likely didn't begin with myself.

            Probably. You are a child of your parents. Again, I don't have any clue where you're going with this.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I am saying that theists intuit that because we exist, something caused our existence. It is an axiom - you can say that our axiom is like "2 is green" but if you'd like to disregard objective definitions to any of my words, then you can say anything I'm saying is like anything else.
            That I am a chance outcome of the universe is in itself an intuition that you hold - a guess. You would need to know all of the information in the universe to say that with any sort of falsity. I would guess that you do not, so you are just laying down ground rules and then accusing me of not naturally intuiting them. This is the same thing you are accusing me of doing and we can just go back and forth in a loop forever on this one. It is just a philosophical position that everything in the world has a cause and eventually something doesn't or eventually something does - or maybe you think it's a loop, then I would say where'd the loop come from and you'd say it doesn't have to come from anything and then I would say is there anything else you know of that didn't come from anything?

  • Steven Dillon

    Boghossian's militancy reminds me of the difference between getting at the truth of things, which may involve reaching agreement, and finding agreement, which may involve getting at the truth of things.

    Street epistemology should encourage the former and let the cards fall where they may.

  • tz1

    Shredded. Pericardial puncture. Decapitated. Cremated. Ashes scattered.

    http://voxday.blogspot.com/search?q=boghossian

  • tz1

    Also Hazzard my rather intemperate (it was before Lent) reference to him as "Bosshogian".

  • Cubico

    Hi Brandon.......am I allowed to post here.......or shall I just flock off and start my own .com website or blog that is more tolerant to those expressing opinions and ideas that are contrary to your strict catholic paradigm........a site that is not overburdened with rules and foibles as this site seems to be.

  • Tom Rafferty

    Hello. I was channel-surfing this evening and found the EWTN. As a former Catholic, now an atheist, the show piqued my interest. The gentlemen who was being interviewed mentioned this site as one where Catholics and atheist respectfully interact. Please forgive me if I should have posted this introduction of myself somewhere else on this site ---- please educate me if I should have posted this elsewhere. Thanks.

    I have read Peter's book and I think it is excellent. In my journey since de-converting, I must say that most Christians, including Catholics, mischaracterise atheists and the reasons for our non-belief. I invite any and all to peruse my Facebook page and interact with me. Thanks.

    Tom Rafferty

    www,facebook.com/thom.raff

    • Mike

      Hi Tom, glad you're here.

      • Tom Rafferty

        Thanks, Mike. Any questions?

        • Susan

          Any questions?

          How did you perceive "faith" when you were a catholic?

          How did that change?

          • Tom Rafferty

            Thanks for the reply, Susan.

            I perceived faith as another dimension of reality. As I investigated that concept, however,I realized that the only way one can get through the fog of personal experience, dogma, tradition, scripture, authority, etc.is to look at reality through the eyes of the scientific methods. I concluded that there is no evidence for a deity in general, and the Christian god in particular.

            Would be most welcome to interact with you. I say that because whenever my former people of faith begin such a discussion, it eventually ends with people of faith just not responding. Please, please do not do that to me. Dialogue with me until we fully understand each other's position and either agree to disagree or one of us admits that we are wrong.

            Peace.

          • Susan

            I say that because whenever my former people of faith begin such a discussion, it eventually ends with people of faith just not responding.

            I run into that a lot myself. :-)

            Dialogue with me until we fully understand each other's position and either agree to disagree or one of us admits that we are wrong.

            I'm happy to do that but you and I would be being preaching to the choir. Your first paragraph makes perfect sense to me. (I'm one of the atheists at Strange Notions. Many have been banned and many others left in protest or sheer disgust after bannings.)

            I thought it would be interesting and useful to hear your take on "faith" as it comes up quite often here. You lived most of your life seeing it one way and for the past fifteen years, have seen it another way.

            Anything you have to say on the subject would probably contribute to the discussion.

          • Tom Rafferty

            Okay, gotcha.

            Soooo ---- You and I DO see eye-to-eye. Interesting.

            I will then just leave this comment open to challenge from the Catholics on the website. Anyone? Anyone?

          • Susan

            Hi Tom,

            I think you have done a lot of thinking from both sides of the faith issue and have a lot you'd like to say about it.

            It is a discussion web site based on discussions about articles. Mostly, the articles are just repetitions of apologetics that have failed to convince anyone but the faithful but they are the starting point for discussion.

            I would suggest finding an article that you'd like to comment on and comment on it. Or comment on someone else's comment. That's how the discussions work here.

            I understand why you would say "Any questions?" but it's not as effective as jumping into a discussion.

            I really hope you jump in as I would like to hear what you have to say.

          • Tom Rafferty

            Thanks, Susan. Will do.

            Regarding the book, I did a review for Amazon.com. Below is from my Facebook page and is essentially the same:
            - - - - - - - -

            "How do you know that?"

            “How would you know you are wrong?”

            “How would you differentiate your belief from a delusion?”

            -- - - - - - - - - - - - -

            Ihave posted previously on the ideas of Peter Boghossian and his recent book entitled A Manual for Creating Atheists. I just completed reading of his book and I unequivocally recommend it as a manual, not only for
            creating atheists, but, more importantly, scientific thinkers. In fact, I suspect that the name of the book was selected more for its publicity value rather than the actual thrust of the contents of the book.

            Boghossian focuses on the practical aspects of getting scientific thinkers who wish to be active against belief without evidence (faith), he calls them “Street Epistomologists”, prepared to penetrate the minds of the
            majority of people on the planet who are “infected” with the “faith” virus. He essentially looks at belief without evidence as a mental disorder and believes the best way of combating it is to intervene at appropriate times with the skills of Socrates. He falls back on his decades-long experience of using the Socratic method of dialogue, which is simply asking a question, waiting of an answer, and repeating this process to its maximum benefit. The approach is not attempting to change beliefs, but to change the way people form their beliefs, thus
            the use of the term “epistemologist” (one who studies the nature of knowledge).

            The recommended approach keeps in mind the
            reality that faith claims are knowledge claims, as they are statements of fact about the world. Boghossian presents several actual interventions he has used during his career and breaks each one down as instruction to the reader. As with any good teacher, He includes much
            instruction that should lead the reader into competency regarding the necessary steps in curing, or at least controlling, the spread of the faith virus.

            The book is rich in content and extremely well-resourced, with extensive information regarding further reading on
            the subject. It uses psychology and philosophy based on the author’s extensive and varied experiences. In summary, this is the book I have been waiting for that is consistent with my views, giving me guidance in the proper steps for maximal effectiveness in persuading believers without evidence to consider a better way to understand reality. I wish I had it several years ago, as I would have avoided much frustration.

          • "It is a discussion web site based on discussions about articles. Mostly, the articles are just repetitions of apologetics that have failed to convince anyone but the faithful but they are the starting point for discussion."

            ...and it's a place where some atheists smugly dismiss generally compelling arguments with over-the-top rhetoric and blithe exaggeration, even though those arguments have led many serious-minded atheists to convert to theism over the centuries, contrary to what Susan claims ;)

          • Susan

            Tomato, tomahto. ;-)

  • fightforgood

    Good read, both article and comments.
    What I wanted to touch on was the word 'belief', I can't take credit as I heard it from Steve Ray on a lighthouse media cd, but he went into how in the bible, the opposite of 'belief' is always a form of disobedience, not simply unbelief.
    He also mentioned how 'belief' is what he called a 'pregnant' word that has much more than it's face value in meaning thoughout.
    I found that interesting.
    The CD was the 'Born Again? Faith Alone?' cd from lighthouse media. I think you can stream them too.
    Thanks for the site, good read.

  • Me Wise Magic

    Watch the films: Father of Lights, Finger of God, Compelled by Love, and Furious Love and you will understand what kind of miracles are taking place across the globe and see remarkable evidence of what the God of the Bible is doing right now in our world that doesn't get covered on the mainstream news networks.

    As for "faith," below is a magnificent documentary from a former atheist turned born-again Christian called "The Case for Faith." I recommend it highly for anyone on the fence about Christianity. It is life-changing. There's another film called "Unstoppable" that came out last year which I have not seen yet but have heard great things about that also covers the topic of "faith" and why we believe.

    The Case for Faith
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=FJ0J2FNU