Peter Boghossian accused of hate speech for correctly defining “faith”

February 2, 2016 • 10:15 am

I’m not quite sure who “James Bishop” is, as I hadn’t heard of him previously, but he writes at the website Historical Jesus Studies, and the header of his public Facebook page is strange. Has anyone else described their official position as “apologist”?

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What brought Bishop to my attention was his bizarre article called “Answering Peter Boghosssian—atheist hate & the definition of faith.” And I want to say a few words about it because, although the piece is abysmally written, it appears to support a criticism leveled at many atheists, and at me in particular: namely, our conception of the nature of “faith” is completely off the rails. Moreover, Bishop goes farther, saying that those who use the classical conception of faith are promoting hate speech.

I’ve been told by some believers, especially after Faith versus Fact came out, that religious “faith” does not mean “belief in the absence of evidence”, or “pretending to believe something”, but is much more than that. What the “much more” constitutes is often unspecified, but Bishop appears to tout something called “evidence-based faith”. That apparently means “religious belief based on evidence”. In other words, it’s like science. In fact, Bishop argues that there’s no substantive difference between the nature of scientific “belief” (I don’t like to use that term for science) and religious belief.

The good thing about Bishop’s admission is that, since he claims there’s evidence supporting his Christianity, we can now engage him in a debate about the nature and strength of that evidence—in other words, a scientific debate. He also clarifies, as have some other Christians, that belief really is about evidence—that religion is more than just communality, fellowship, values, and morality, but, to be meaningful, must at bottom rest on verifiable epistemic claims.

I’ve taken my own definitions of “faith” from the Bible itself as well as statements by philosophers and some believers. Here are two ways it’s construed in The True Book:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (John 20:29)

There and elsewhere in the Bible, demands for reason and evidence are seen as inimical to religious belief. But if, like Bishop, you construe “faith” as “belief based on evidence”, then you don’t even ned the word “faith”. We can just use “belief” and argue about evidence.

As a sidenote, the “belief” section of the Oxford English Dictionary‘s definition of “faith” starts like this (with some of its early uses), while the notion of “evidence” as a part of faith is much lower down on the definitional list:

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But there’s no denying that many—perhaps most—religionists do see faith in the way Boghossian and the OED do, even though they would welcome evidence that buttresses their beliefs. But at bottom, if you ask them why they’re Christians rather than Jews or Muslims or Buddhists, most will cite not evidence, but feelings, i.e., revelation or preference or “what makes sense”.  We can argue about this, and of course different believers will have different definitions of “faith.”

But Bishop goes further, claiming that Boghossian’s definition constitutes HATE SPEECH. Yes, it’s true (my emphasis in Bishop’s quote below):

The atheist Peter Boghossian authored a book called A Manual for Creating Atheiststhat attempts to assist his fellow atheists in conversing with religious believers. The goal is to hopefully end up converting them to atheism – in other words this is atheistic evangelism 101.

However, at one part in his book he redefines faith to be “pretending to know things that you don’t know” and “belief without evidence” (1). He even goes beyond this to actually define faith as being a “virus” and thus he makes it his goal to “ultimately eradicate faith.”

I consider Boghossian’s view to be bordering on hate speech. It’s not simply Boghossian’s redefinition of a word that appears hateful but it is the implications it has when it comes to human people – since many religious people do in fact match Boghossian’s  definition of faith. In other words, history well tells us that it is an incredibly dangerous thing to single out a people or a group in such a way as to ostracize and demonize them. That is what it would appear Boghossian is doing here. It’s indeed a tactic somewhat dangerously similar to the method utilized by some of humanity’s worst despots, and of a similar view Schumaker believes that “Boghossian’s incendiary language is very dangerous and can easily be classified as hate speech. History is replete with examples of various atheist regimes “eradicating” faith by eradicating the people who held that faith” (2).

I also feel that Boghossian is slandering & damaging the reputation of the many good religious people in the world. It is quite one thing to disagree with fellow people who hold beliefs that are contrary to one’s own, however, Boghossian has gone far beyond simply claiming religious people to be delusional & irrational. Claiming that religious people possess faith that ultimately needs to be eradicated comes over as extremely militant, dangerous and hateful. It’s such a view espoused here that has so fueled the bloody machine of atheistic despotism within the 20th century.

I’m not sure if this is muddled thinking or muddled writing, but saying that “many religious people do in fact match Boghossian’s definition of faith” is giving away the game at the outset. But even if we ignore that admission, criticizing the epistemic (or nonepistemic) basis of religious belief hardly “ostracizes or demonizes” believers. Such a claim is that of of a Special Christian Snowflake who is offended when we question the underpinnings of his religion.  And I can’t be troubled to sympathize with Bishop’s argument that it’s hateful to call faith a “virus that needs to be eradicated.” I happen to agree with Boghossian, but we’re talking about a worldview, not people. Nobody argues that the believers themselves should be eradicated! If I said “racism is a virus that needs to be eradicated,” would Bishop argue with me that I’m unfairly demonizing and ostracizing racists?

I see that I’m spending too much time on this apologist, so I’ll just provide a couple of quotes about Bishop’s notion of “evidence-based faith” and then, as you’re undoubtedly wondering, show the kind of evidence he gives for his own Christian faith (my emphasis):

The problem with atheists like Boghossian is that they seem to willfully misunderstand the nature of faith. Indeed, there is something known as blind faith of which many religious people (as well as many atheists) possess. This is what Boghossian, and other atheists, mean by the word “faith.” Which is ultimately to believe based off of insufficient evidence or in the face of powerful contradicting evidence.

However, there is also evidence based faith. This is faith that, although goes beyond what one can prove, is reasonable to hold based on what we already do know. When I board a flight to a holiday destination a level of faith is immediately involved. I have faith that the plane is durable enough to withstand the elements, I have faith that the pilot is well trained enough to fly a 500 seater airliner, I have faith that I will arrive at my destination based off of the latest statistics on airliner accidents. In other words, I cannot prove for absolute certainty that I will arrive at my destination alive, but I can be extremely confident that I will. If I knew that the probabilities were not in my favour and that my certainties were outweighed by the uncertainties (in other words, if I thought I’d have a 40% chance to arrive safely at my destination) then I would not take the flight. However, if I know that I have a 99.99% chance at arriving safely at my destination then I can fly confidently.

What Bishop is talking about here is in fact scientific belief: what I call “confidence based on evidence and experience”. But surely Bishop can’t see Christian truth claims as being supported by as much evidence as that of a safe plane landing, can he? Well, yes he does—because the Bible tells him so:

This clearly applies to Christianity. For example, I cannot “prove” that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet I can believe that he did is a rational position based off of historical data. I believe that making sense of data such as Jesus’ empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, the radical transformations of Paul, James & the disciples etc. can be used to support the case of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In other words I believe that my faith in the truth of Christianity is evidence based & not wishful thinking. But the faith element remains since no-one can prove with absolute certainty that Jesus was really resurrected – but I believe that I am rational in concluding that he did. So faith is not necessarily a dirty word as atheists would have us believe.

This is a classic case of “begging the question” in the genuine sense, for it assumes what it wants to prove: that stuff in the Bible is true. But if you go that route for Jesus’s resurrection, then how can you rule out any scriptural claim, for all are supported by “historical data”? The Exodus? Didn’t happen, but it’s historical data? The Flood? Historical data! Adam and Eve, still thought by the Vatican to be real people and the ancestors of us all? True, because it’s historical data. And how is Bishop going to argue with a Muslim who cites the Qur’an and hadith as showing completely contrary “historical data”? If faith is based on evidence, let believers decide among themselves what the true faith is, just like we scientists argued about the true structure of DNA and settled the issue. At least we can usually come to a consensus!

In the end, Apologist Bishop levels the usual criticisms of atheism: our “belief” is also based on faith. Since I dispel these arguments in Faith versus Fact (and in an article in Slate), I won’t reprise my analysis here, but you might amuse yourself by mentally critiquing Bishop’s conclusion:

Contrary to popular atheistic belief, atheists also have faith. Naturalism, the worldview that most atheists hold to, contains many faith based assumptions. The naturalist can’t prove that the natural world is all that exists since to assume such goes beyond the available evidence. The same naturalist has to have faith that his cognitive faculties are reliable in interpreting data from the natural world so that he can make sense of it. The same naturalist has to assume that biological life originated from inorganic material, that in the universe order can come from chaos, and that consciousness and rationality can come from unconscious and non-rational forces of nature. He also has to hold that no supernatural reality exists & that all religions are man made thus false. These, and many more, are all faith based positions that the atheist naturalist has to maintain in order to believe in his naturalism. As fellow apologist Tyler Vela informs us:

“Even though “atheism” may technically amount to simply a lack of belief in a deity, the fact that atheists commonly label themselves “atheists”, (and ascribe attributes to such a label, such as rationalism, empirical validity, etc.) reveals that functionally speaking “atheism” may in fact actually be what people say that it isn’t – a belief; a system of thought”.

The people Bishop should be engaging, however, aren’t atheists, who, after all, don’t find his evidence for Jesus convincing. He should be going after Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians—at least the ones who agree that faith rests on evidence.  Since they all share a quasi-scientific basis for religious belief, let them have a big conclave and decide what the TRUE RELIGION is. And because there are far more believers than atheists on our planet, isn’t it more pressing to settle issues about God and His/Her/Its dictates among believers, and simply leave the tiny titer of atheists alone?

120 thoughts on “Peter Boghossian accused of hate speech for correctly defining “faith”

  1. I like to focus on the level of commitment inherent in religious faith: you commit to believing in a fact the way you would commit to following a value or practicing a virtue. Struggle to remain true and faithful to the noble ideal. This is a far cry from ordinary, everyday pragmatic reliance, where you assume a truth for practical purposes but try to mentally and emotionally hold yourself open to changing your mind if it looks like you’re mistaken. With religious faith, your belief is never mistaken: only you can fail by failing to find a way to believe it. The evidence is sufficient for anyone who wants to be good and noble — and insufficient if your character is weak.

    If the answer to “what would convince you that fact X isn’t true?” is some variation of “I’d have to change who I am and what I care about” — then we’re dealing with a religious form of faith. A fact has been conflated with a value.

    I think that’s why this apologists (and the many who agree with him) think that trying to change somebody’s mind concerning religion is “hate speech.” They want to place their faith in with their identity. Change their mind, they die. It’s like telling someone not to be black, not love their children, etc. They’re emotionally attached to their hypothesis and feel the subsequent sense of commitment.

    I think going after THIS mindset is, in the long run, more important than just playing whack-a-mole with one claim after another. And I suspect they realize that.

    1. I agree with this. Moreover, there’s a further conflation going on.

      What religious people regard as faith is closer to a social contract than it is about evidence.

      In society we have a social contract that says we shouldn’t physically assault people while on the street. Due to this social contract, we assume that we won’t get assaulted while walking home. There’s also the probability of being assaulted while walking home.

      These two things — probability and social contract — often get conflated due to large inferential distances between religious people and atheists.

      Of course there are a multitude of other social contracts. Some of these seem to be hard coded into us (e.g., feelings of disgust), and we call it morality.

      The largest inferential distance between believers and atheists is the fundamental nature of reality. Believers think that reality is, at its most basic, mental. That is, minds are a sort of elementary particle (or something) of the universe. From there, it follows that it is social rules — minds interacting with other minds — that mold and define reality. The other (true) view is that reality is the laws of physics, and minds operate within its bounds.

      (Related, any time someone proposes some sort of middle ground between two positions, one should be weary. If one starts thinking that it “sounds like a good compromise”, well, this has nothing to do with whether it’s true. In fact if you notice that thought, you should become immediately suspicious of it. Compromise is a social good, and with us being social animals, we often confuse “social good” with “objectively true”)

      1. I too agree with this article as well as your response – right up until that response’s last paragraph.

        Morality that is based on the ‘middle way,’ or doctrine of the mean, is a humanistic philosophy used by many atheists. It’s commonly known as virtue ethics and is neither deontological nor consequential in nature. It provides a third moral ways used in antiquity.

        Summarily dismissing other than binary thinking is to lose sight that much of phenomena comes to us in the form of a continuum (heat, light, fear, confidence).

        Not to respond to an offense excessively (being too hard on someone), or with deficiency (being too easy on someone) is not a compromise. It’s functioning in a healthy way. My heart can act in unhealthful ways by beat too fast, or too slow, for proper bodily health.

        By this light the believer is making more out of the truth than is there, i.e., belief without evidence. One can also make less of the truth that is there, such as ignoring something that ought to be accepted based on evidence, such as evolution.

          1. Okay, wariness is good and all statements need to held with skepticism – including skeptical ones. I like this.

            So why did she single out the ‘middle way’ by inferring it’s a ‘compromise’? To be uncompromising is not to go against the ‘middle way’ as understood from the time of Aristotle.

            I challenged her use of the term ‘middle way’ for ‘compromise’ and I stand by this.

    2. When people believe strongly in something, whether based on evidence or not, this belief becomes rooted in their psyches; it is part of their essence. When these beliefs are challenged with evidence and logic, most struggle to find some rationale for continuing to believe. It is too psychologically painful to give up the belief. This is likely the case with Bishop. But, for those who do manage to give up the belief, they sometimes swing to the polar opposite. Such was the case with ex-communists who morphed into far right wingers. Likewise, former believers become atheists and vice-versa (although I suspect in this latter case, the conversion to faith is based on anything but logic and evidence). So, giving up one deeply held belief for another does not necessarily mean that the new belief has any more validity than the old one. However, when a believer does come to embrace atheism, the likelihood is that the switch was based on logical thinking as opposed to mere disillusionment with the now abandoned faith.

      1. Yes. And while the religious are very quick to point out that there are many secular beliefs which are held with too much emotion (because it’s as you say “psychologically painful to give up the belief”) the big difference with religion/spirituality is that this dogmatic refusal to change isn’t seen as a problem. On the contrary. It’s humility. Or hope. Or a capacity for wonder or some other positive virtue.

        I glanced very quickly at Bishop’s facebook page and noted that, like a lot of modern apologists, he seems to think he can combine presuppositionalism with evidentialist arguments. “There is no reason to look for rational evidence for God because everybody already knows that God is the only ground for reason and evidence: atheists just don’t want to acknowledge their own belief. BUT … here’s some convincing historical Jesus studies anyway.”

        It’s like if one way is good, then both ways must be better. Sort of like “rational faith.”

        Most versions of religious faith insist they rest on reason and evidence: it’s just not evidence which will convince skeptics. That’s because 1.) the evidence is deliberately weak because God is testing/demonstrating who really loves Him 2.) nothing would convince skeptics anyway or 3.) some other explanation which isn’t convincing to anyone who isn’t really truly wanting to be convinced.

        1. he can combine presuppositionalism with evidentialist arguments.

          If I deconstruct that correctly, that’s eating your cake, then refusing to look at the plate while loudly insisting that the cake is still there for anyone else to eat.

    3. +1 This really gets to the essence of it. And I think the religious are thus correct to say that “faith” isn’t merely belief in the absence of evidence. They mean it in some other way.

      The religious use “faith” in many senses. Sometimes it does mean belief without evidence. Other times it means a personal commitment to an idea or a kind of character. Still other times it means “trust”, so that “I have faith in God” means the same thing as “I have faith in my friends”, where the existence of the entities is not even in question. And sometimes it is used to describe the holistic experience of religion, the whole bundle of feelings, sentiments, experiences, beliefs, relationships, and so on that make up their experience of religion. It is, to some extent, an all-purpose “woo” word.

      1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The various types of faith you describe do get conflated, and confused, to the extent that believers don’t realise themselves what the word actually means in relation to their own beliefs. So when they read about a definition that is alien to how they want to think, because everyone would like to appear reasonable, they fall back on the assertion that those without ‘religious’ faith don’t know even the meaning of the word.

      2. Like “God,” the word “faith” seems to be a constantly moving goalpost. The main rule seems to be “whatever it is, it’s not what atheists think it is because they don’t get it.”

        1. Or even “my faith” is different to the ordinary sort of faith that you have just successfully argued against.

          It’s not just moving goalposts, it’s “moving the goalposts that I own”.

        2. “god” is obviously desperately hunting around for a new gap to hide in.
          Ohhh, it’s so much more fun than pulling the wings off flies – and more ethically defensible too. Why on earth isn’t this god fighting back with every thunderbolt at her disposal?

      3. I like all of the thoughts here, but let’s not forget that the “faith” of the Bible, especially as used in the new Testament is foremost about redemption. The “faithful christian” does not even realize that they them selves are using the term faith in two completely different contexts, and then when pushed on it, they start inter-changing the two ways, depending upon which way the conversation turns and therefore which one they need to defend. I always attempt to get them to agree with me that they are {themselves} using the word faith in these two ways; a)sometimes it means I need to have “faith” that jesus died on the cross and therefore has given me eternal life if i confess that act and my need of such. b) this way involves all other uses of the word faith within the religious context. such as, “I have faith that…” (fill in the blank with anything other than redemption based notions), in jesus (himself, not his act), in the Bible as truth, in “whatever individual teaching ones chooses to pull out of the Bible” – you get the point. You can clearly hear this distinction when you listen to a christian talk about all of their daily life & struggles. The ‘apologist’ himself never even mentions faith in relation to redemption. He knows, either consciously or subconsciously, that he can not defend “that” use of the word faith, because in that context it is exactly the definition and manner in which Peter Boghossian means it.And even a christian knows that there is, nor can there be, any proof of the redemption schema being true. Short of god showing up in person and setting us all straight. {Damn, I am going to hell now aren’t I!}

    4. I think I’d agree with you that the level of commitment invested is key to what these people mean.

      Or, as I prefer to put it: “faith” does not mean “pretending to believe something”, but is much more than that… it is “pretending really, really, really hard to believe something”.

      1. I think the level of commitment is often expressed in the level of desperation and credulity someone will use in order to rescue a belief from being discredited.

        For example, if you believe your car is in the garage even though the door is closed and you can’t see it, that may be based on what you already know and not immediately provable. You remember parking it there, you don’t live in a high crime area, it’s a ’98 minivan, etc. But it’s not religious faith because if you go out to the garage, open the door, and don’t see it, you’ll say “Hey, my car’s not here!”

        If someone has a religious faith that their car is in the garage, then they’ll either refuse to go out and look (“I don’t need to do that, I know what I know”) or, when they do look and fail to see it, they’ll deny that this means anything.

        “I wouldn’t have expected to see it, that’s not how it works, there are so many things in the universe we have yet to understand or can never know etc etc and on and on.” Anything but “guess I was wrong.”

  2. Just because a belief is undeniably real to one person does not make it real to anyone else. “Belief in the absence of evidence” is faith. Once realized, this is a horrible circumstance to live with for the religious, because it puts the veracity of their claims made within their faith no greater than the length of their small humanoid noses.

    1. Once realized, this is a horrible circumstance to live with for the religious,

      And this is a reason to not don the steel toe-cap boots and give the belief a good evidential kicking?

  3. If I say, “I think illiteracy should be eradicated,” how come no one ever interprets that as “I want to eradicate the illiterate?”

  4. 99.99 percent would not be good enough for flying. That would imply multiple crashes per day.

    At least one site claims there is on any giving flight, a 0.000014% chance of dying.

    1. When I worked for a (former) airline in the US, they (we) flew about 1500 flights per day, with probably about 110 passengers and crew on each flight. That’s per day. Average flight length was something like 600 miles.

      That’s 1500 X 110 X 600 = 99,000,000 passenger-miles per day. Over 36 billion per year.

      And that airline hadn’t had a fatal accident since 1990 (25+ years: >900 billion seat miles.) A total of 620 people ever died in accidents on this carrier, in its history, since the 1920s.

      About 100 people die per day in traffic (automobile) accidents. (2014 data)

      You are (in the US and Europe) literally (at least) 10,000 times more likely to be killed in a car mile than in an air mile.

      1. … which is why the airline industry quotes the deaths per passenger kilometre.
        The last time I checked, the large majority of aircraft incidents happened either during take-off or landing, not during the (thousands) of intervening kilometres during the cruise phase.
        Changing your metric to deaths per journey changes your comparison number from 10000:1 to about 17:1. Which is still better – I don’t disagree about that. But it’s a considerably less clear option.
        Out of around 1000 flights that I’ve taken to work, I’ve not crashed yet. But I’ve had one engine loss during landing (we came within a metre of planting the rotors into the helideck, but as it was the pilots managed to re-start the engine and pull us out of the dive before we hit the sea), the RTBs (return to base, because of oil leaks into the cabin, chip detectors in the gear boxes, that sort of thing), nearly done a CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain – or in our case, flying into the side of the vessel when hunting for it in fog) on a couple of occasions, and we abort flights for weather several times a year.
        Sorry, did someone have the opinion that flying is safe? Safer than driving, or than taking a boat out to the location an transferring in a basket, I’ll agree. But safe in any absolute sense? Nope.
        A couple of years ago I was attending a session of the (UK) Parliamentary Special Committee on Transport, concerning the high – and rising – level of helicopter crashes, and commented to the MPs on the committee that their deliberations were being watched by people who have to fear dieing after a crash from shark attack instead of dieing of hypothermia.

  5. Ugh. So much ugh I’m not sure where to start. I’m not a fan of Mr. Boghossian or his predilection for disambiguating terms he doesn’t care for. I’m even less of a fan of random punters masquerading as intellectuals by using people of public interest as strawmen. I see it all the time with Harris, Dawkins, our Jerry, et al, as if dragging them through the mud somehow demonstrates their nonsense to be true.
    A pox of ugh on using terms co-opted [like hate] in a silly game of sophist Tu quoque as if *that makes their nonsense credible.

    Just ugh.

  6. His plane analogy would seem to fail because he has access to hard data regarding the statistics of plane accidents and we know of the training of pilots etc… Whereas the “historical data” he refers to in the bible are reports by anonymous sources taken from things they wrote down regarding events that they are biased towards presenting in a positive way… If all I had to give me confidence in riding on a plane was a book written by an anonymous author who themselves had never ridden in a plane, in which certain parts were known to be forgeries, and over which there was as much disagreement as the bible… I would not get on the plane.

    1. These religious text are not authored by people who saw “events that they are biased towards presenting in a positive way”. They are authored by writers that present myths of generations passed as if they happened.

      It is not ‘historical’, but it is also unlikely there were any ‘events’. The tests that we can do return that they are all non-historical, as would be expected.

      All we know is that it is myth, and that claiming some of events not known to be erroneous as of yet would be extraordinary claims without … you know the drill.

      1. By the way, the number of erroneous historical or archaeological facts would make this material for a binomial test. If we can get ~ 3000 erroneous claims, we have 3 sigma evidence (in an approximate test) that it is all fake. Maybe we need to aggregate religions to do it.

        But meanwhile, if we can get tens of errors in a row – which seems feasible – “the dice would be loaded” towards nature cheating religion out of any factual claims. =D

    2. We have more data on commercial aviation than almost any other human endeavor. (And billions of new data every year.) It’s about as well documented as anything can be.

      He’s really silly.

    3. Don’t forget to take into account the training of your fellow passengers in crash procedure, and how to survive afterwards. That’s why I’m scared turd-less of flying in fixed wings with civilians compared to fluttering around in paraffin budgies. (Helicopters)

      1. Not to diminish your post. Accident data and my experience as both pilot and engineer for more than fifty years much of it involved in the design and certification of rotorcraft reveals that rotorcraft are less safe than fixed wing aircraft. This for many reasons many of which are obvious such as flight regime, area of operation, type of operation, crew training and experience and multiple other factors too numerous for this post.
        Statistically the majority of aviation incidents of all types were and still are caused by the flight crew. Please note the distinction, flight crew, not cabin crew.
        The dog is still not biting hard enough!

        1. Oh, I’m quite sure that rotorcraft are inherently less safe than fixed-wings. And that’s fairly unlikely to change until someone invents anti-gravity.
          But for survivable crashes – where the actions of the people in the cabin can significantly influence their likelihood of survival – I’ll still prefer to know exactly what training the people between me and the exit have, and for that training to be to at least a BOSIET level.
          For unsurvivable crashes, I’ll just have to rely on taking a seat as far back as possible. And asking for a rear-facing seat (WHY don’t they fit these?)

  7. In other words I believe that my faith in the truth of Christianity is evidence based & not wishful thinking.

    He’s like, totally objective, dude! *hits Christianity bong*

  8. The criticism that atheists don’t understand the word ‘faith’ I see bandied about more and more now. I agree there are varying definitions, as the aeroplane example in the post demonstrates, but it’s actually not complicated.

    I think the apologists have their backs to the wall. They’re struggling to construct arguments to counter those of the type contained in Faith vs Fact and, to be blunt, are running round like headless chickens.

    1. To be fair to the James Bishop apologist guy, he’s taking a lot of stick in his comments and getting little support. It’s unusual for this type of blog to allow so many dissenting opinions.

    2. Alister McGrath devoted the great majority of his book, Dawkins’ God, Genes, Memes … to the propositions that Dawkins was criticizing the wrong God and faith in his book The God Delusion.

      Too bad Dawkins’ definitions fit neatly with the professions of faith: The Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed.

      It’s a common trope: Real people don’t actually believe that. Except that polling data show that they do …

    3. They’re struggling to construct arguments to counter those of the type contained in Faith vs Fact and, to be blunt, are running round like headless chickens.

      That doesn’t bode well for their projected lifetime.

  9. His glancing reference to naturalism shows that he doesn’t understand it, and hasn’t made any effort to. The foundation of naturalism is that ‘there is a single, natural world or universe, in which we are completely included’ ( That’s what the evidence suggests. No faith required.

    And I wish he’d stop writing ‘off of’ when he means ‘on’.

  10. I think it is fair to say that the word “faith”, as the religious use it, is not merely “belief in the absence of evidence”. I think it is more of an all purpose “woo” word. It is to Christians what “quantum” is to Deepak Chopra.

  11. This blogger comes across as young, naive and ignorant. He goes wrong in several ways, all very typical of committed believers.

    1)He conflates two different meanings of the word “faith” and doesn’t seem to realize it.

    2) Though he doesn’t recognize it he has no idea how to evaluate evidence in an objective way as is done in science (broadly construed). If he actually did then the meaning of faith that he claims applies to him would accurately apply to him. So perhaps the key problem here is that believers like this blogger don’t have a clue about what evidence is and how to utilize it, and that is what leads them to the belief that the faith they exhibit is the same as the faith exhibited in the pursuit of science (broadly construed).

    3) He doesn’t seem to understand the importance of empirical testing, probability / statistics, and logic leading, for example, to common and ludicrous claims like science can’t disprove his religious beliefs. And, science can’t prove that its findings are 100% true.

  12. Hate speech? Really? I am reminded of the cartoon dog in the Pixar movie Up who keeps yelling, “Squirrel!” in the middle of his sentences. When they can’t make a cogent rebuttal they just spout squirrels like “Hate speech!” or “Islamaphobe!” to try and distract the reader.

  13. I love Peter’s definition of faith as ‘pretending to know things that you don’t’. It’s my opening ‘go-to’ line in doorstep conversations with Christians and other people of ‘faith’. Eventually, I hit them with this:

    Faith is, of course, a recent phenomenon for the religious: In the past this virtue was entirely unnecessary as Gods of various persuasions and their acolytes would regularly part seas, flood planets, tear moons asunder, destroy whole cities, kill children at the drop of a hat, demand human sacrifice, fly winged horses, use teenage virgins vaginas as Star-Gates, and bring lots of the dead back to life as Zombies. Faith was simply not required. You just had to open your front door and there’d be a God out there doing Godly things.

    Kids today would have loved it back then: it would have been like living in a Marvel Comic.

        1. Oh, it looks very nice like that! Thanks!

          (Should it be easy to revisit, you might want to add an apostrophe after “virgins.” :))

          (Or I guess it would also work if you dropped the “s” from “virgins.” I wonder if you were thinking doing it both ways and so ended up with a hybrid.:D)

            1. Can’t stare anymore, as the polls have closed. It’s 1am in Britain and I’ve been chosen to stay awake for the results. A very special privilege here in the UK. I have been told to wake everyone if Bernie wacks Clinton. We’re also quite interested in the clown show, too!

              1. Wow. That was interesting. Yeehaw may be the appropriate Americanism. America seems riven. That’s a large amount of water between Sanders and Trump. Great to watch. Cup of tea and a lie in, methinks. Phew 🙂

  14. Perhaps if the faithful behaved in a more adult way instead of play acting like children with a strict but indulgent invisible parent they may see the sense of skepticism.
    Obviously now that the charge of “blasphemy” doesn’t go down well in Western Law Courts. These rather sensitive souls have now come up with “hate crime” a term so overused (even in oppressive regimes)it is becoming a catch all to silence critics.

    1. Never understood the term apologist. It’s not as though they are apologizing for committing a wrong as the name implies. Excusist would be an apt description. A ThD in excuses seems to be the purpose of divinity schools and seminaries.

      1. I wonder about that term too. Maybe it’s A-Paul-igist, named after Paul who never really saw anything, but told everyone else they were doing religion wrong.

      2. The Greek word apologia (ἀπολογία,) refers to (spoken) defense. It is, after all, the title of Plato’s dialogue in which Socrates delivers his defense on trial.

      1. Some evangelical Christians talk about having an “apologetics ministry”- not sure exactly what that means.

    2. Years ago I was on an active debate listserv and corresponded with a Catholic who had actually quit his job to become a full-time “apologist.” Iirc his wife did something which came with regular salary and benefits. He had a webpage and either he had written or was going to write some books. A nice guy, btw.

      1. Now you’ve got me imagining him doing something like the classic Monty Python sketch “Apology [Politicians]”, only for theologians.


        (The camera pans across a landscape. Roller caption starts to come up, superimposed. The words are quite large and easily readable, but well spaced so that the roller will seem to go on for quite some time. Voice over reads)


  15. Maybe “apologist” Bishop is like “flat earther” rapper BoB who de Grasse Tyson recently rapped into the ground.

    That said he identifies a problem with the definition of faith as identifying unfounded belief with “belief in the absence of evidence”, That may have worked when the world religions appeared, but today we know so much more. It is today belief in the presence of counter evidence, to the degree that is all what remains.

    But like his kin the flat earther Bishop is speaking from a position of ignorance:

    “The naturalist can’t prove that the natural world is all that exists since to assume such goes beyond the available evidence. The same naturalist has to have faith that his cognitive faculties are reliable in interpreting data from the natural world so that he can make sense of it. The same naturalist has to assume that biological life originated from inorganic material, that in the universe order can come from chaos, and that consciousness and rationality can come from unconscious and non-rational forces of nature. He also has to hold that no supernatural reality exists & that all religions are man made thus false.”

    All this breaks Bishop’s own dictum that he shouldn’t believe “in the face of powerful contradicting evidence”.

    – The natural world is the world. If it wasn’t, thermodynamics (and quantum mechanics and on and on) wouldn’t work.

    Sure, that claim is based on the existence of time, which is what the symmetry of energy (and so thermodynamics) rest on. But if you insist that there were magic action that instituted laws and then vanished without trace, you claim extraordinary while unevidenced things, which count as having powerful contradicting evidence against. (E.g. not only lacks evidence, but is unlikely from the get go.)

    And you claim a Last Thursday magic of a lying agent, which you may or may not have a problem pawning off onto others. =D

    – Our senses are reliable enough. It is known physiology!

    This use of science is by the way the response to his purported open question of where the rationality of an empirical method (‘worldview’) comes from. Would hammer and nails, a momentum transfer bar and thin wedges, look rational if they didn’t work?

    – We know life emerged from once sterile geology. It is known Earth history!

    – Cosmological structure didn’t emerge out of deterministic chaos but quantum fluctuations. It is known cosmology!

    – Consciousness and rationality evolved from unconscious and ‘non-rational’ (well) organisms. It is known biology!

  16. Bishop’s assertion that boarding a commercial airliner is a leap of faith caused me to chortle heartily. Even while he’s waiting in the terminal, he can watch many identical aircraft landing, and many passengers disembarking — plenty of objective evidence that the odds of reaching his destination safely are greatly in his favor; faith not required. Here’s better analogy he can use: the Heaven’s Gate cult. They were convinced, no doubt on the basis of evidence just as good as Bishop’s, that if they committed mass suicide, they would end up on board an invisible alien spacecraft. Did it work? To say so would be to have faith, I guess.

    By the way, a few weeks ago Richard Carrier took on this same guy, dismantling his list of 41 data points for the existence of an historical Jesus. It makes a handy checklist of common Christian claims and their refutations:

  17. It’s clear that Bishop either: 1) has never read A Manual For Creating Atheists; 2) did not understand it; or 3) is willfully misrepresenting it. Knowing Apologists, each one is likely.

    It’s clear because Boghossian goes out of his way to criticize the Faith Virus, and instructs street epistemologists to treat victims with the compassion expected of a Doctor treating other forms of ailments. Hardly a Hitler-esque strategy. And Boghossian advocates leaving yourself open to questions. A strategy that would fail under insufficient evidence.

  18. I think this guy is talking about what Wm. L. Craig called ‘warranted belief’–a belief that is well-founded according to some formulation. Of course, this just pushes the conflict back one step. MEGO [My Eyes Glaze Over]. As for the business about hate speech, this seems to have become a common rhetorical device among certain religious folk & political reactionaries during the past few years.

    1. “Warrant” is a term of art in epistemology. As Plantinga (the slightly saner version of WLC) shows, this can be abused too. Effectively P. has to invent new organs to have any chance at all to get his stuff off the ground …

  19. The problem here is that for religious people their religion is often not just a “belief”, it is a very important part of their identity (often the most important part). If you ask them “Who are you?”, “Christian” or “Muslim” may be the #1 answer on their list. So criticism of their beliefs is perceived as a very personal attack, and it’s hard for them to wrap their mind around the difference between criticism of their beliefs and an attack on them as people.

    I especially liked Jerry’s suggestion that JB needs to talk with believers of other faiths and then get back to us when consensus on Truth is reached. Religious people are myopic in the extreme when it comes to their own religion. I once had a discussion with a Baptist who asked me if if I went to church. I said no, which gave him pause, so then he asked me “But you do believe in God, right?”. I asked him which god he was asking about and pointed out that Muslims have a different god than Christians. He gave me one of those WTF looks and then commented that he had once been told by a fellow believer to “never go there”. I wonder why?

  20. “He should be going after Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians—at least the ones who agree that faith rests on evidence. Since they all share a quasi-scientific basis for religious belief, let them have a big conclave and decide what the TRUE RELIGION is.”

    The Catholics have held enclaves ad nauseum throughout the centuries to no avail. It seems impossible for such believers to arrive at consensus about what they all should/must believe. As long as human individuals can think, read and discuss what they’ve been taught (and think they know) about their religions, there will be differences of opinion (in some cases, enough to go to war over). It has been proven again and again. It’s like herding cats!

  21. If anyone doubts that the Faithful are “pretending to believe something”, listen to this NPR interview with Professor Tanya Lurhmann (archaeologist, Stanford). Pay special attention to how some evangelicals “train” their minds to hear God and interact with him using their imaginations. The process is not fundamentally different than the interaction some people have with invisible friends when they are children:

    1. Yeuchh. I recognised the name “Tanya Luhrmann” from [somewhere], so I wasted some of my paid-for monthly bandwidth on d/l that.
      Then I listened to it. Fortunately, I used the time to put the recycling into the correct bins, and to walk to the pub.
      I have heard pretty much the same ideas coming out of the mouths of people who were on the “locked ward” of the local psychiatric hospital, when I’ve been visiting colleagues under lock-and-key there.
      “Listening to imaginary friends” ; “talking to people who aren’t there” ; “imagining responses”. The woman is in classic schizophrenia, and needs to rapidly up her dosage of (I suspect) Haloperidol and … I forget what the other one is. I visit a friend when he goes out of dosage, but I pay as little attention to his detailed medication as Tanya obviously does.
      If it weren’t for the “Religion” label, she would certainly be “sectioned” of she were found ranting this sort of stuff on the street. (viz: Section 8 of some 1960s Mental Health Act – detention without choice and forcible treatment, authorised by two doctors).
      Not just deluded, but frankly schizophrenic.

  22. This is slightly tangential, but it’s a question I have often, sort of the boy who cried racism. What will these people use for vocabulary should actual hate speech roll around one day? Are they not even a little bit worried about this?

    1. Are they not even a little bit worried about this?

      These are people whose consideration of the future begins and ends at “my benign [INSERT NAME(S) OF DEITY(-IES) HERE] will look after us for the whole eternity of the future in the same way that s/he/they have for the preceeding millennia”.
      The evidential bases for both claims are open to dispute.

      1. Though it’s not only religious people who do this. The envelope for “hate speech” is wider every day, and all kinds of people are helping to broaden it. Surely they don’t all think a just afterlife is just around the corner?

        1. I suspect that there are a lot of people who use the term “hate speech” who’ve never had a knife put to their throat for being from the wrong country, or speaking in the wrong accent, and who don’t actually know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of hate.

  23. I have some credulous relatives in Michigan that wasted their money on all these tapes to try and “save” me. The tapes come from an apologist that apparently has a successful radio show and visited their church with his propaganda. I’ve never heard of him before, but his name is Bob Dutko, and he claims to provide “scientific evidence why evolution is impossible”. The unfortunate tenacious pursuit to inundate me with pseudoscience by my family continues. If you happen to be a masochist or wish to irk yourself, enjoy at this link I’ve skimmed through some of the audio and so far it seems to be the usual confirmation bias and straw men. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics come up as well as the famous “irreducible complexity” arguments. I’m able to correct many of these, but I’m not sure about all of them as I’m not professionally trained in any of these subjects and am merely a layperson. Still, from what I can tell, it’s the same Kent Hovind/Ken Ham criteria of finding scientists to agree with your a priori assumptions and may quite possibly be disingenuous. Are any of you familiar with this Bob Dutko? Just thought I’d share.

  24. My absolute favorite attempt at defending “faith” is when religious folks assert that I have “faith” that the sun will rise tomorrow. I always respond by asking that person how many times he/she has seen the sun come up in his/her lifetime. I usually get a blank look, at which point I suggest to them that it’s obviously many thousands of times and they reluctantly agree. Then I ask them how many times they’ve seen Jesus rise from the dead.

  25. As Stephen Law has pointed out, there are good reasons to think the evidence for Christianity has been contaminated. Conflicting genealogies for Jesus, conflicting accounts of his trial, conflicting accounts of the resurrection,
    the extraordinary character of certain claims raising the bar for what is good evidence, etc.

    There are also moral conundrums raised by the teaching of original sin, the substitutionary theory of the atonement, etc. which frankly don’t “make sense” in the way many apologists claim Christianity does. They actually offend good moral sense contrary to the claims of many apologists.

    The best religious minds do NOT think religious belief is quite of the same kind as scientific belief (which doesn’t necessarily validate it).

    Hate speech involves characterizing a group of people is such a way that no dialogue or friendship is possible.

  26. You are right that the writing is so muddled that it’s hard to grab hold of it.

    But this is just bollocks:

    … it is the implications it has when it comes to human people – since many religious people do in fact match Boghossian’s definition of faith. In other words, history well tells us that it is an incredibly dangerous thing to single out a people or a group in such a way as to ostracize and demonize them. That is what it would appear Boghossian is doing here.

    In other words: You can’t criticize bad ideas that are held by any identifiable group of people: That’s hating a group and oppressing them!

    All ideas are to be free of dangerous criticism. Criticism is equal to hate.


    His position is liberal thinking committing suicide.

    1. “His position is liberal thinking committing suicide.”

      That is so delightful. 🙂

      “…it is the implications it has when it comes to human people…”

      …says Bishop, not even noticing that that is blatant hate speech against ungulate people. (And all the other taxa of non-human people.)

  27. “I’ve been told by some believers, especially after Faith versus Fact came out, that religious “faith” does not mean “belief in the absence of evidence”, or “pretending to believe something”, but is much more than that.”
    I’ve been told that too. But it’s really hard to take them seriously on that when they use faith to mean “belief irrespective of evidence”.

    The way I put it these days is: “faith is the non-rational acceptance of irrational ideas.” It’s not an issue of whether it’s rational to have faith, because the act of faith isn’t about rationality. However, that doesn’t take away the question of whether the ideas one has faith about are irrational, and if someone would choose to have faith in an irrational idea, then faith is about belief in the absence of warrant.

  28. And how is Bishop going to argue with a Muslim who cites the Qur’an and hadith as showing completely contrary “historical data”?

    I think a very successful approach to argument’s like Bishop’s is to ask whether he would agree that his Christian faith is – according to his own definition of rational – as rational as a muslim’s faith in Islam, or as rational as an animist’s faith in nature spirits.

    Lots of philosophically inclined folks will defend their faith by expanding the definition of what counts as a rational belief. IMO arguing that their expanded definition is wrong never works. Pointing out what else their expanded version would count as “rational belief,” however, can. Everyone likes to think their beliefs as rational, but pointing out that according to their definition their belief is as rational as the belief “there are faeries in my garden” tends to produce spluttering – as well as an immediate claim that they’re different because Bible. Which exposes their biased starting point for all to see.

    1. I complete agree eric. Christians seem to be constantly thinking of ways to show how absurd evolution sounds or how morality is impossible without god. Turn around is fair play.

      Do you believe Noah live to be over 900 years old? Do you believe in the flood? Do you literal believe in Adam and Eve? How old is the universe? Do you believe in evolution? Do you believe in Demons? Etc., etc., etc.

      Is this attempting to embarrass them? Hey, if what they believe is embarrassing they may have a problem getting into heaven. I’m just trying to help 😉

      1. Here’s the scriptural verse to use when asking those embarrassing questions:

        Mark 8:38
        Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

  29. Historical evidence for Jesus, eh? No matter how you splice it, the evidence is laughably poor.

    Lets assume the gospels were written by eyewitnesses. Let’s ignore the contradictions and historical innacuracies. Let’s say the gospels were as well written as they could possibly have been.

    You would still only have records of 4 people saying that a man was the son and prophet of god.

    And no matter how well written they may have been, “Because four guys said so” is about as week as you can get in terms of arguments.

  30. it is often difficult to get a man to understand something, when his
    god commands that he not understand it … but here bishop is clearly ignoring what his own bible tells him about the irrelevance of evidence in adopting faith. bishop’s exercise is just an attempt to redefine faith in order to avoid the bitter truth: bishop lacks faith; our evidence-based world makes it impossible for him to wholeheartedly indulge himself in evidence-free thinking and not be ridiculed. fortunately, his wretched writing alone guarantees that.

  31. as most theists, this fellow Bishop seems to confuse faith and trust. Trust is earned, supported by evidence. Faith demands it is given without intellect and consideration, to be blindly accepted.

    Bishop is indeed an apologist. He must make excuse after excuse, never able to show his version of his religion is true.

  32. Going from fideism to evidentialism, for the sake of holding onto one’s faith, seems like a sophistic maneuver rather than an argument. Christians frequently alternate between the two epistemologies due to the double aspect of there father god and the incarnation of that.

    Eevidentialism makes theism seem the easier to argue against (at least it’s an argument); believers accept ancient scripture as evidence.

    But that’s just not what anyone in their right mind would call evidence. At least natural theology points to a real aspect of the world and only then goes beyond the evidence to claim a supernatural cause.

    There is no parallel in science to scripture as evidence. This, as always, is a diversion away from the contradiction of competing holy books.

    1. Not only that, but believing I’m immoral to the point of deserving eternal damnation seems to at least parallel calling their god a fairy tail. Doesn’t it?

  33. “Apologist” has long had positive connotations …in certain circles. There was John Henry (Cardinal) Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua.

  34. The fact that you don’t know something as basic as what an “apologist” is exposes a level of ignorance that is simply astonishing in a man with such credentials. It only goes to show just how limited education is these days, and explains your inability to formulate a truly rational argument.

    1. The fact that you didn’t read what I said, which was to express curiosity at someone describing themselves as a professional apologist, shows that it’s you and not I who are the ignorant one here. I’ve posted about apologetics here and written about them in Faith versus Fact, so I know perfectly well what the discipline is.

      Now go away and read the Roolz, which will show you why you’re out the door.

  35. I think the word, “apologist” is very appropriate: for what they’re wanting people to do, they SHOULD be apologizing!

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