Jordan Peterson, Sophisticated Theologian

June 26, 2018 • 9:30 am

I am still deliberately avoiding reading or listening to Jordan Peterson. He seems to be a maelstrom, a black hole who will suck you into Internet arguments that will eat up all your time and energy.  As Bert Jansch sang, “I have no time to spend with you; you talk of nothing, what can you do?” I’ve heard he’s soft on religion, or at least not an overt atheist, and I’m not even sure about that. But these two tweets, sent by Grania, show that he appears to be either an accommodationist or an ultra-Sophisticated Theologian™. Here he tries to limn what he sees as “God”, and it’s a bloody mess. These tweets could have been made by Alvin Plantinga, David Bentley Hart, or even Karen Armstrong.

Well, that makes no sense. Why is faith necessary? And if it is, why place it in God—or is he defining God as “that in which you place faith”, which is almost a tautology. In that case, what is the atheists‘ god? And why is this an “axiom”? The last bit is opaque: yes, believing in gods may be a “mode of being”, but why is that the same thing as a “personality”?

That seems to me like an extended Deepity, sounding fine but meaning nothing.

Here’s another, in which he redefines god as “how you act according to your values”:

I value being an atheist, reading, doing science (or at least writing about it), criticizing political opponents, feeding my ducks, and drinking wine. Does that make this “mode of being” God?

It’s common for Sophisticated Theologians to redefine God in such a way that you couldn’t refute God’s existence(e.g., “God is the cosmos” or “God is love”). But that’s weaselly, and certainly doesn’t correspond to most people’s notion of God, which is represents a powerful and loving divine being who has a personal relationship with you and promotes a certain morality.  What Peterson has done with these two tweets (which, as far as I’ve read, correspond to his general logorrhea and obscurantism) is to “prove” God’s existence by calling something God that everyone has: in this case the “mode of being you value the most.”

I haven’t read much Peterson nor listened to any of his interviews save the infamous one with that persistent interviewer, so I’m not saying this kind of Deepity characterizes all his thought. I’m just saying that if these tweets are Peterson’s notion of god, he’s being a slippery sophist.

I know he’s debated various people lately, and feel free to comment or add links.

174 thoughts on “Jordan Peterson, Sophisticated Theologian

  1. So much I could say but suffice this as enough: Gish Gallop. Word salad. This is all you have to know when listening to him.

      1. He’s also thought out loud about sexual redistribution…it’s why the incels love him so dearly. Good thing I’m old, or I guess I’d have to go check in for my scarlet handsmaid’s outfit. He also called the leader of Ontario’s NDP, Andrea Horwath “a dangerous woman”. Yeah, her ideas are far less scary than his.

        1. “He’s also thought out loud about sexual redistribution….

          No he did not. By all means disagree with the man (as I do on several points), but stop straw-manning him.

          1. Did you yiunread the article posted in this thread? He most certainly does consider sexual redistribution as a way of controlling male violence.

              1. I quoted it. Stop condescending me about what I suppose. There is nothing naive about listening reading articles and listening to someone describe things. I shouldn’t have to think about what career someone has chosen to understand their way of speaking. Good grief, engineers don’t speak different English than lawyers or IT workers.

              2. In this instance you do, as “enforced monogamy” refers to a specific cultural phenomenon, which is explained in the article I link.

              3. No I shouldn’t because then the speaker is using jargon ans speakers often use jargon to try to weasel out of things. That link shows exactly Peterson’s “you just aren’t sophisticated enough to understand my words” argument. Define your terms, argue clearly, otherwise you’re no better than someone doing a Gish gallop. It’s the behaviour the academic colleague exactly accused him of and what he is doing with this religion garagabe. This is no different than theologians that tell you to read all the religious material before you can disagree with them.

              4. And that link you sent doesn’t change anything. Splitting hairs between whether it’s government or society that makes these rules. I think people are actually more interested in why he is offering it as a viable option for a society. Marriage may show to lesson violence in men but that doesn’t make it viable. Sorry but his thinking is unclear and simplistic and suggesting this as the best way to handle violent men is short sighted. His condescending way of handling those that question this also suggests he can’t really engage and communicate effectively. I’m not impressed with his communication or his intellectual rigour.

              5. How exactly can I know? My whole point is he is one big, living Gish Gallop served with a side of word salad. But if I were to try to guess all I can go on is what he’s said before. Listen to his discussion about the pill…it’s all over the place and full of assertions and the connecting of dots where there is no real evidence for that connection to happen. He mentions around 5:35 about monogamy and why it’s a good thing. Evolutionarily what he says is probably true – but here is the thing: he states that monogamy controls the proclivity for a small amount of males to get access to most of the males (oooo he said pareto too so perhaps he’s suggesting 80% of the females go to 20% of the males). Sure, perhaps that is true evolutionarily but then he goes on to talk about how the pill has messed this all up and it could be disastrous. The thing is, we aren’t living in the days where this evolutionary control was necessary for survival and why should we do what evolution wants us to do? That’s the worst way to create a society! Evolution sucks for happyness and I’m pretty sure this whole set up probably didn’t make the females very happy. So this is my issue with this whole monogamy thing he talks about…it’s, like all his arguments, poorly argued, poorly thought out and poorly articulated.

              6. Well, I don’t agree with everything he says in that video. But what he did say about the Pill is: it was a revolutionary technology, the full ramifications of which we still can’t predict. And that is an entirely fair assessment. Peterson has, however, frequently lauded the liberating benefit of the Pill for women.

                I don’t concur that Peterson is committing a naturalistic fallacy. The evidence is robust that the social phenomenon of so-called ‘enforced monogamy’ reduces conflict and male aggression, and so developed for that reason. He believes that today’s hook-up culture has led to essentially a harem dynamic. IDK, but it seems plausible. And one may debate the relative merits of monogamy- or hook-up-centric cultures, but one consequence of the latter may well be a sizable group of passed-over men who will be resentful and may act out. I’m not sure I agree with Peterson that a simple reversion to the ways of old is the remedy (if that is indeed what he’s advocating). But to fundamentally transform a cultural dynamic while denying the existence of evolved mate selection strategies within us, is both to court disaster and to commit a moralistic fallacy.

              7. But you do agree I was not straw manning him when I defined enforced monogamy as sexual redistribution.

              8. It’s egregious straw manning, implying that happily promiscuous women will be “redistributed” against their will to lonely, undesirable males.

              9. Oh come on and admit that I was NOT straw manning Peterson’s position. The judgement I brought to redistribution of sex was my own and is based on logic of human flourishing. It is not strawmannirg to judge someone’s statement which you have interpreted accurately.

              10. ‘I didn’t put words into his mouth, because those were my own words’ ?? You’re killing me, Smalls.

                I do not follow your point regarding eudaimonia. Peterson observes that the development of monogamous culture was for the purpose of maximizing well-being and stability, while reducing violence and upheaval. The anthropological data strongly support that interpretation.

              11. Oh FFS. I didn’t straw man him. You’re now straw manning me. You clearly don’t want to admit you are wrong about Peterson so I am dropping it. I think it’s pretty clear I accurately represented his views and I argued my point logically.

          2. In particular here is the quote. The criticism I hear of this article is the reporter exaggerated and made it up. I’m not convinced by that argument. I’ve hesrd his “enforced monogamy” theory before in interviews. But please, tell me I’m just not understanding this as a perfectly logical reaction to the murder of several people, mostly women, for not fucking that young man in Toronto:

            …He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Mr. Peterson says of the Toronto killer. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”

            Mr. Peterson does not pause when he says this. Enforced monogamy is, to him, simply a rational solution. Otherwise women will all only go for the most high-status men, he explains, and that couldn’t make either gender happy in the end.

            “Half the men fail,” he says, meaning that they don’t procreate. “And no one cares about the men who fail.”

            I laugh, because it is absurd.

            “You’re laughing about them,” he says, giving me a disappointed look. “That’s because you’re female.”

            But aside from interventions that would redistribute sex, Mr. Peterson is staunchly against what he calls “equality of outcomes,” or efforts to equalize society. He usually calls them pathological or evil.

            He agrees that this is inconsistent. But preventing hordes of single men from violence, he believes, is necessary for the stability of society. Enforced monogamy helps neutralize that.

              1. I read that back when it first came out. The journalist clearly came in very biased & uninformed, and selectively trims Peterson’s statements to paint him in the worst light possible. She, too, does not understand what “enforced monogamy” refers to, instead conjuring up Handmaid’s Tale fantasies.

              2. In the context of that video I i thinknits pretty hard to argue that journalist was misquoting Peterson. And honestly, I may have been joking about the Handsmaid’s Tale and never said it’s what Peterson said but what other logical conclusion is there to enforced monogamy? It is enforced. It doesn’t have to be by government. His crying that he was misunderstood because people don’t know what he means is a tactic to distract his reader. It’s clear what he means in that video.

              3. It was gross misrepresentation to claim that Peterson said women “invite harassment” with makeup, or suggests we “redistribute” women to resentful virgin males.

                This discussion is quickly reaching ‘nesting crush,’ so to be brief as possible: if a profound cultural shift has occurred from monogamy, even serial, to hook-up promiscuity, and female mate selection in that dynamic leads to a few males enjoying most of the mating success, then conflict driven by the unsuccessful males is inevitable and cannot be disregarded.

              4. I didn’t say anything about make up. I simply said he talked about sexual redistribution.

              5. I think it’d be good if you conceded that Diana most certainly did NOT misquote him. His completely and utterly unhinged views on monogamy are right there for you to see.

              1. By refusing to accept information from better informed individuals – i.e. sociologists, evolutionary psychologists, clinical psychologists– about the correct frame of interpretation for the expression “enforced monogamy*, and by instead clinging to her understandable but flawed posture, Diana’s posture is that of an undebatable wilful ignorance, which I suppose has the purpose of avoiding the necessity of reevaluating her current framework of action and motivation.

              2. LOL so I should just accept information based on the pedigree of someone who says it. I don’t subscribe to the fallacy of argument from authority. And I understand what is meant by “enforced monogamy” just fine and how Peterson explains it – see the video if you think I’m making it up.

                Your entire argument is based on one ought to accept the arguments of one’s betters and speculations about my psychological state.

              3. The better informed individuals from social sciences often use their “better information” to try and manipulate the public. Here are the words of Prof. Peterson, as quoted by the New York Times:

                “He was angry at God because women were rejecting him. The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”

                There is no possible way to interpret these words except as saying that some woman rejecting Mr. Minassian should have been locked in a monogamous union with him to keep him happy. If “enforced monogamy” has another meaning among professionals, then Jordan Peterson is to blame for using wrongly the terms of his own field. The second sentence is of course factually incorrect, because in no society known to me, past or present, would Mr. Minassian be laid, because even in societies with arranged or forced marriage, legal guardians of young women don’t force them to marry creepy good-for-nothing losers (unless the latters are very rich or well-positioned, which Minassian wasn’t).

                So I remain convinced by Diana that Peterson is pandering to the incel terrorists and terror sympathizers. His only way out is to claim that NYT has quoted him incorrectly, but as far as I know, he doesn’t (they must have a record).

                The verbal abuse thrown by you to Diana does nothing to help your argument and only convinces me further that you are not free from Peterson’s defects.

      2. At no point in that 1’38” clip does Peterson state that women who wear makeup to work are inviting sexual harassment. He merely states the fact that makeup is a sexual display.

        You might wish to consider watching the extended, 17-minute video of that interview, while also paying attention to what Peterson actually says, instead of putting words into his mouth.

    1. Nothing beats religious folk bickering about the true meaning of their faith-bits. What a colossal waste of time.

      1. That one’s not even in Luke’s version (or the original source, GThomas, for that matter.) But hey, my arbitrary personal interpretation of scripture is better than yours, because: reasons.

        Anyway, in the original Pauline christianity, nobody was inheriting the Earth; it was a prison planet from which our eternal sparks had been ransomed (h/t Christus Jesu) so we could enjoy the eternal Pleroma with God.

        1. Huh? Are you saying that the Gospel of Thomas predates the Gospel of Luke, and that Paul believed in the Pleroma, and What does any that have to do with anything under discussion here?

    1. I find the presuppositionalists to be a parody of themselves. I honestly couldn’t believe that they really exist until I encountered one at The Skeptical Zone forum. Their claims to know what other people really believe, despite repeated explanations to the contrary, went from rude to hilarious over time.

      1. Presuppositionalist theology (not in Descartes’ version, which the more attuned ones claim they are borrowing) is the epistemic equivalent of blowing one’s brains open with a shotgun.

  2. I enjoyed some of the good doctors early screeds but he seems to have succumbed to celebrityhood. He admits that whenever he is attacked his Patreon proceeds go up. Whenever he debates someone on the other side, his Patreon proceeds go up. So I suspect that some of his meanderings are shock and awe tactics and not very well thought out.

    I moan for my people (academics) selling their reputations for lucre, filthy or not. Science is being bought wholesale and sold dear to anyone wanting to read articles. For every Steven Pinker, there are a dozen Jordan Petersons. Woe is me.

  3. I get the sense that Peterson is one of those people that really, really, WANTS to believe. So whenever his mind goes in that direction, it twists itself into knots, because he doesn’t actually believe, and you can’t just will yourself to truly believe something.

    I’ve been noticing this problem more often recently, where people who can think clearly and intelligently about a range of topics will end up emotionally twisting their mind into pretzels on one particular topic or another.

    Peterson can be speaking clearly and concisely on a topic, but then when it comes to things that he has a particular, and I’m guessing childhood, connection to, his mind turns to mush. For Peterson, it’s not just religion, but also old Disney movies. I’ve seen him talk about Pinocchio the exact same way he talks about the Bible. It’s pretty creepy.

    1. Jordan Peterson has a preoccupation with Pinocchio, and so did Pope John Paul I, who addressed some letters to him and mentioned Pinocchio in sermons. In Peterson’s case, I don’t think he learned the lesson — If Pinocchio were God, JP would have a big old nose.


  4. It is nothing more than the needy and I don’t mean the poor. The g*d people believe everyone is needy for the same thing that grabs them. They have no imagination.

    1. Or empathy. They often seem utterly incapable of even imagining how another person would think. Because obsession with God is central to their thinking, they somehow imagine that lack of belief in *their* particular god is central to the thinking of unbelievers. There is a distinct inability to understand that their belief is as irrelevant to me as the beliefs of a Reformed Zoroastrian are to them.

  5. He’s exactly what he claims to hate (post-modernist), and proves so with overly floral language. Uses the old apologetics trick of not tightly defining his terms so that he can claim his opponents are missing his point.

    Completely butchers science, too. Serotonin in lobsters is somehow meant to map to humans.

    A highly amusing, and sweary, take-down:

    1. Ah, so that’s why I feel so good after I slather myself in melted butter and get into fights with passers by!

    2. Yep. I was going to comment on how Peterson disparages postmodernism, then spouts his own brand of pseudoscientific new age applesauce.

    3. How is correctly observing that hierarchies are age-old products of evolution, not recent, de novo constructs of human society, ‘completely butchering’ science?

    4. Oh, that’s brilliant! I do love a good rant.
      And very entertainingly well-written, too.

      “maybe we could all learn from the Asian Sheepshead Wrase, where a female will fight the Alpha Male for dominance, and then change sex if she wins.

      Presumably it then gets to choose whatever fucking pronoun it wants.”

      Peterson’s conjecture about lobsters (if angry-chef described it accurately) reminds me strongly of the recently-featured-on-this-page feminist who thought we should emulate hyenas. Pick-a-species and use it for a model.

      (My suggested species was elephant seals. No, I was being sarcastic.)


      1. A fine rant indeed, but based on gross ignorance.

        “Yes, humans and lobsters share serotonin and we both have a nervous system, but to assume that we can learn anything about human behaviour from lobsters is absurd. We are fundamentally different organisms, living in massively different environments, with societal structures that have so little in common as to make any comparison laughable.“

        A very human exceptionalist, all-nurture-no-nature, view shared by most SJWs.

        “Just because anti-depressant drugs have an effect on lobsters, does not mean lobsters get depressed. Lobsters definitely don’t get depressed, they just back away from fights with larger, stronger lobsters….“

        Does he even stop to consider how depression came to be, or what fitness advantage it provided? He might as well invoke the Muse, Melancholia.

        “Fighting with any animal weaker than you is a pretty good evolutionary strategy when you are a solitary species, but might not be so useful if you are an intrinsically social animal like a human, with emotions, compassion, and a vastly more complex brain than your average crustacean.“

        So, he understands neither how dominance displays work nor their real purpose, and of course again assumes that humans no longer possess any evolved behavioral traits.

        This is on par with Rebecca Watson’s infamous anti-EP talk.

        Ironically, several video clips of Peterson’s lectures, in which he accurately summarizes the ethological understanding of dominance displays, are readily available online.

  6. I have been following Jordan Peterson for a while (without being a devout follower myself) and I think some of his view about feminism and post modernism is spot on. He is surely a provocateur, but it’s definitely entertaining to see him although I often disagree on his rhetoric. His view on The God Question and religion is rather wacky and I know that many of his followers think the same

    1. The ironic thing is that Peterson is hugely postmodern in his thinking (for example there’s a question he’s asked in his talk with Dillahunty whether God would still exist if all people ceased to exist – his answer vastly amused me).

  7. I do not think JP is arguing there is a god. He is analyzing how people’s emotional needs drive their thoughts. As part of this he is trying to make an abstract point about the idea of the divine. This is a functional analysis of the idea of god. If you have a need to believe in something, “god” is the name for that something. You believe, the bile is antecedent to an understanding of what it is you believe in. God is a reification of that missing something. God doesn’t exist so you need to invent him, to allude to Voltaire.

    1. So if I believe that Donald Trump and the Republicans are deeply wrong, is that “divine”? If I believe that Van Gogh was the greatest painter of modern times, is that “divine”. To call that “god” is palpably ridiculous, and his abstract point is risible. With that logic, anything can be god, and thus the idea of the divine because meaningless.

      1. There are two Jordan Peterson/ Sam HArris debates which you can listen to if you want him to express his…well, what is it exactly? He’s certainly presbyterian by temperament and background (he says this himself).
        And he believes in a god who is present (and has been present) in human lives. But–it doesn’t seem to enter into his clinical work. Said clinical work is, I have to say, as someone who works in the field, utterly mainstream (e.g. take responsiblity for the things you can, identify meaningful goals, orient yourself towards them and reward yourself for incremental improvements).
        He believes some odd stuff. But then–so do lots of folk without it invalidating the other stuff they believe. And he seems open to debate. For him to be secretly alt-right or a nazi would certainly jar with his other, apparently sincere values.
        I found the debates with Sam Harris interesting because in a sense both of them are approaching an old problem with logically equivalent goals but from opposite directions.
        Harris wants to argue that values can be reduced to facts (facts about human flourishing). Peterson wants to argue that facts can be reduced to values (about goals worth pursuing).
        Both are (in effect) arguing that the fact/value distinction is bogus–but from opposite sides.
        Im aware that not everyone found this interesting to listen to, however!

        1. I listened to Sam’s conversations with Peterson, and it didn’t at all sound like they were both approaching the same goal from opposite directions. Peterson simply wasn’t making sense, and the more Sam tried to pin him down the less sense he made.

          He was deeply, deeply unimpressive. As far as the low-hanging fruit of idiotic left-wing students and over-reaching SJWs goes, yes he can criticise them in a relatively incisive fashion. When he’s pressed on the consistency of his beliefs – political, philosophical, scientific, whatever – he turns into a slightly less happy-clappy Deepak Chopra.

          1. I completely agree and I don’t know why he is given the attention he gets. I suspect his stand on the whole “political correctness” thing gave him some credentials but once you ask him anything beyond that, you see there isn’t much there. Sadly, many keep trying to look for something that simply isn’t there. I found the whole Sam Harris conversation frustrating and it’s too bad Sam continues to associate with him despite his admission of a terrible conversation.

            1. My impression for why he’s attained the level of celebrity he has is that he answers a yearning among a very particular, mainly online, demographic of anti-political correctness, anti-feminism, anti-a-whole-load-of-things men.

              I wrote out my theory lower down this thread, but basically they want someone who will vicariously render their beliefs respectable and ‘go to bat’ for them. When he ‘PWNS LIBTARD SOYBOY!’, they do too. When he ‘DESTROYS IDIOT BBC HACK!’ they do too.

              And his conspicuously highbrow illusions are extremely impressive to anyone who doesn’t know that, for example, Jung is a crank and his theories were vacuous, or that Nietzsche was hardly a great thinker and his views bordered on outright fascism. That patina of highbrow intellectualism makes him an even more attractive avatar for his supporters.

              (I note that I’ve spoken to some perfectly lovely fans of his. They’re not all like this by any means. But a hell of a lot are.)

              1. Yes, I think your assessment of his popularity has some merit. The incels love him and I think Peterson knows they help propel him forward.

              2. Worse: Jung is a crank, and JP is a *clinical psychologist*, which is the perfect profession to know all about that. In my view that by itself is enough to make the guy not worth anyone’s time.

      2. I must say that seems an odd reading of what I said. I am trying to clarify that JP is talking about inchoate thoughts and emotional needs (this is his idea not mine) that he believes are unconscious and inherent in how the human mind works. Those drive most people to have a need to believe. Believe in what? That matters not. Whatever the (vague, numinous) object of that belief is what we really mean, functionally, when we talk about that person’s god. It does not refer to considered beliefs, such as the inadequacy of Donald Trump,but to the operation of tendencies in the mind that need reflection and thought to uncover.
        I am not endorsing this view, just trying to clarify what JP has suggested in fuller contexts.

        1. The more Peterson attempts to elucidate his thoughts in “fuller contexts” the more he reveals himself as indistinguishable from the vacuous postmodernists he criticises.

          He is an appallingly inconsistent thinker – at least the postmodernists were inconsistent within a single philosophical framework – and the fact that he repeatedly brings up Nietsche and Jung as his intellectual(and worse, epistemological) heroes should set alarms bells off in anyone with a functioning bullshit-detector.

      3. It’s important to remember Peterson is a psychologist. His interests involve what people think and feel as well as what’s objectively true. I think he tends to blend those two perspectives which can be confusing. He’s very observant about how some feminists and SJWs run off the tracks. His idea of God seems like a social construct useful as a tool to understand human nature.

        1. Yes, I have noticed that too. Peterson sometimes gives explanations of what others believe and sometimes it is hard to tease that apart from his own beliefs.

    2. Yes, but this is still a bit of an Orwellian abuse of language, to radically redefine “God” to mean something disconnected from the traditional meaning.

      David Bentley Hart is terribly snide, but at least he uses a definition of God that’s been around for several centuries with a pedigree, for all its perplexity.

  8. He just spent a couple of nights in Vancouver having a conversation with Sam Harris, moderated by Bret Weinstein.

    Hasn’t been published yet AFAIK.

    1. I disagree.I think that they are not that far apart. Peterson can sometimes overreach and is not willing to dumb down his speech and Blackmore refuses to acknowledge the roots of her so-called rationality. What she calls self-evident is actually based on religious pre-suppositions.

    2. Ha! Dawkins has this notion of unmoderated discussions rather than what we see here. He complains that the moderator has his or her own agenda and interrupts the flow of a good discussion. This is a perfect example of what he means. The two are in a fascinating back and forth about memes and the moderator butts in to say he wants to get on to Peterson’s 12 whatchamacallits from his book. I nearly had a cow! Leave them alone you idiot!

  9. I posted this on the video with Susan Blackmore:

    I am getting really confused about Petersons view of religion.

    From wikipedia (links to his statements on wikipedia) :

    In a 2017 interview, Peterson identified as a Christian, but in 2018 he did not. He emphasized his conceptualization of Christianity is probably not what it is generally understood, stating that the ethical responsibility of a Christian is to imitate Christ, for him meaning “something like you need to take responsibility for the evil in the world as if you were responsible for it … to understand that you determine the direction of the world, whether it’s toward heaven or hell”.[97] When asked if he believes in God, Peterson responded: “I think the proper response to that is No, but I’m afraid He might exist”

    Now he seems to have changed his position. Confusing,,,,,,,,,,,,I suspect in reality he is a cultural christian, more og less in the same way even the ultra-atheist Dawkins has considered himself a cultural christian

    In fact, the way he talks now about religion I find him highly inconsistent. Whether he’s a atheist, true christian, or a cultural christian, does’t matter, but he should be clearer if he wants to maintain any credibility as a serous interlectual. Now he really talks like a postmodernist, something he is highly critical of

  10. When climbing a ladder, I must have necessary faith in the rungs of said ladder, and necessary faith in the workers who assembled it. Does that make me polytheistic?

  11. He keeps using religious words (e.g. people are “possessed” by bad thoughts) and then retreating when someone like Matt Dillahunty takes him at face value and asks him direct questions about those words. When he steps out of politics into psychology and morality, the man is a walking motte and bailey argument.

  12. Now here’s a shortish YouTube of an interview with Susan Blackmore and Jordan Peterson.

    Well worth a watch. Peterson, as usual, avoids answering whether or not God exists – saying that the question is so broad that it becomes pointless to answer.

    At the end of the clip the interviewer says (paraphrased by me):

    Justin Brierly: Do we need god to make sense of life.
    SB: Absolutely not.
    JP: God is what you need to make sense of life, however you understand ‘god’. It’s built in.

    It’s quite possible (my charitable view) that Jordan Peterson believes that God-as-Myths is embedded in biology through social relevance. This has little to do with whether God-as-supreme-being is ‘real’.

    Of course what is natural should not necessarily determine our behaviour. Or that what is supernatural should necessarily determine our behaviour. Or politics for that matter.

    1. “God is what you need to make sense of life”

      What an absolute cop-out. Replace the word it with its meaning according to Peterson. Then the question becomes “do we need what we need to make sense of life to make sense of life?” A tautology. This is trivial and uninteresting.

      I think people debating Peterson should do this more – to replace the word with its meaning, e.g., do we need any one of the supreme beings, allegedly creators of the universe, which the world’s religions worship, to make sense of life?

      1. He’d probably want to say that cultures throughout history and the world have needed to make sense of the world. Thus, God is invoked as an instantiation of that need…something like that.

  13. God is that which you manifest as necessary with pie, having it a la mode, which is to say: perfection

    1. I like the photo though. I think someone’s just put the Bee-Gees on in the background and even though he’s halfway through a photoshoot he JUST CAN’T HELP HIMSELF.

    2. Yes, I read that disingenous hit piece. Fairly typical piece from the type of person incapable of or unwilling to make the effort to understand what he is actually saying.

  14. I think Jordan has been thrust into the spotlight too soon. I’ve been paying attention to him, and many of his ideas are half-baked, and I think even he would admit that to some extent. For your own sanity, don’t tread there lightly if you decide to look into him more. Peterson engenders some pretty strong feelings on opposite sides with regard to his understanding of the world.

    I’ve deduced from listening to him that he does not believe in a literal god, but wants to justify the reasonableness of his personal history with Christianity as a means of helping people be better, including himself.

    As for his tweets, I reduced the first quote to him saying we are all our own god, and the ego is that manifestation (ala Freud). The second one, however, seems to be saying that god is the super ego, and represents our ideals (again, referencing Freud). As a Jungian, he’d be likely to be influenced by Freud on some level, and in that light it is at least sensible, even if the validity of that conclusion is in question.

    1. He has some elements of spiritual mysticism, but I wouldn’t put him in the intellectual sewer with Chopra.

  15. I find that JP will say some things that make sense or sound logical, but he’ll intersperse word salad statements that sound intelligent but are difficult to decipher. I suspect many people agree with him on the obvious statements, and then assume the other statements must be right too, because they sound impressive and come from an intellectual. In some ways he is taking deepitys to the next level.

  16. I hadn’t come across Peterson before, so appreciate having him called to my attention. Not sure what to make of his tweets, but the outline of his book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is certainly appealing:

    1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back
    2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
    3. Make friends with people who want the best for you
    4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
    5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them
    6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world
    7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
    8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie
    9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t
    10. Be precise in your speech
    11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding
    12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

    The subtitle, “An Antidote to Chaos” puts me in mind of Robert Frost’s description of a poem as being “a momentary stay against confusion,” which I’ve always liked. Am curious to look further into Peterson’s work. Thanks.

  17. Jordan Peterson appears to have much to say that’s original and cogent. Unfortunately, what’s cogent isn’t very original, and what’s original isn’t at all cogent.

    1. I have to say I haven’t found his originality yet. Any sociologist or anthropologist can tell you all societies, all communities and all adult human beings make a distinction between sacred and profane.

      I’m all for petting cats and declining to believe Sam Harris is immune to naturalistic fallacy, but I don’t think this is very deep or original.

      Most adults, I hope, do not think things they hold sacred are supernatural.

  18. Jordan Peterson’s output on this subject has very little to do with the existence of god as a fact claim, which makes it very far removed from sophisticated theology. Whether or not he is right or wrong, he is arguing about things at a far more fundamental level than his critics are willing to engage at. He is asking people to look at what actually underpins their “rational” worldview and suggesting that it is far more informed by specific “religious principles” than they would like to think.

  19. I recently saw some interesting things about Jordan Peterson’s views on religion. Before he was famous he was on a panel show about an atheist bus ad. He seems to think lack of faith is dangerous and was to blame for Stalin’s mass murders.

    I’m stealing from reddit comment that summarizes some of what is in the video. I will link the video and comment below, but here is some description from the comment:

    At 4:45, he calls the bus ads a “Juvenile publicity stunt”. At 6:18 he says there is no evidence that Dawkins is oppressed though maybe he should be.

    At 11:10 he quotes Nietzsche saying “God is dead. And we’ve killed him. There won’t be enough water to wash away the rivers of blood.” He says this was Nietzsche predicting the millions of deaths in the 20th century due to people’s loss of faith. I went to look up if other people had interpreted Nietzsche’s quote this way and then discovered that Nietzsche’s quote was significantly different.

    At 25:15, he talks about Stalin, “He was killing people because as a rational man, his conclusion that life was so unbearable, it should be wiped out.” He warns that rational thinking can go in a variety directions. If you think life is evil then you wipe it out. He said without faith in an ultimate authority that says life is sacred there isn’t anything to stop you from killing as many as you can.

    link to the video

    link to reddit comment

    1. Indeed, Nietzsche calls us the “murdererers of all murderers”. It wasn’t how Peterson says it. When I studied this part of Nietzsche back in the day, we talked about how he was contemplating how we would go on from there because we had to move forward as a human race without gods.

      Here is the full quote:

      God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

    2. At about 15 minutes in, Buckman criticizes Jordan to say his idea that everyone’s morality is predicated on faith is “wishy washy”. The question is really about – is there a supernatural God who affects our lives. Here, Jordan cannot really answer because he isn’t willing or able to deal with the question of God directly. I’d fault him here for being evasive and vague.

  20. It seems to me that a big chunk of Peterson’s followers exemplify an online phenomenon in which a group of people come together, bonded by their very strong but nevertheless marginal/non-respectable political beliefs(in this case a hatred of political correctness/feminism/’cultural marxism’).

    They have each other, but they obviously want wider recognition in the cultural arena.

    Then, a figurehead comes along who is relatively intelligent, who makes highbrow allusions and uses long words, and who seems to be – joy of joys – on their side. Best of all, this figurehead proceeds to “PWN/DESTROY SJW SNOWFLAKES!!!!”, apparently on a tri-daily basis.

    Through this figurehead the group of online outcasts attain a kind of vicarious respectability. When he ‘wins’, they ‘win’.

    The group gloms onto said figurehead in a slightly unhealthy fashion, and tie themselves in knots defending his or her intellectual flaws. They are so starved of prominent, respectable intellectuals who are prepared to stand on their side that they will paper over every crack in their hero’s facade. If they are atheists and Peterson is a wafty religious bullshitter they’ll find a way around it.

    I saw a lot of people flock to Sam Harris(even Richard Dawkins to a slightly lesser extent) for the same reasons, because he was prepared to ‘side with them’ about a whole host of hot potatoes – eg. political correctness, the illiberal left and particularly Islam. As soon as it became clear that Sam was not a hypocrite, and that he despised demagogues like Trump just as much as he despised Islamic demagogues, those people began to turn on him.

    What they want is someone who will be their mouthpiece. For now Peterson is their mouthpiece, and they’ll support him and cover for him, but if he ever becomes vocally critical of, say, Trump, or the populist right, he will see his YouTube views and follower figures drop off a cliff.

      1. He’s still very careful to skirt around criticism of Trump, or the alt-right, or any of the other things that overlap with his supporters’ interests.

        One of the things that increased my respect for Sam Harris was that he leapt into the Trump debate and made no attempt to tone down his entirely reasonable criticisms, even though he must’ve known he’d piss off or even drive away a big chunk of his audience. That’s exactly what happened, but he didn’t consider going back on anything he’d said for a second.

        Consequently he’s been one of the most credible and powerful critics of Trump there is; because, in common with right-wingers like Andrew Sullivan and David Frum, he had something to lose. I don’t see Peterson ever having the imagination or the spine to take such a stand.

    1. Yeah, we see this a lot. People want a champion for their views, often because they themselves are not particularly good at arguing them and because they have no public standing to make them on a big stage.

      But then they don’t want their champion to be publicly damaged by being wrong, even on a separate issue, so they make excuses and ignore problems for which they would excoriate their opponents.

      People leapt onto Peterson’s wagon because he made an articulate stand against some social-justice-type excesses. He’s also generally conservative in some none-too-specific way. But moderates who like him for the first point will hand-wave away the other stuff, and those who mostly agree with his politics suddenly find themselves defending his Jungian word salad and obfuscation as deep insights.

      1. They basically want an avatar. And it doesn’t lead to productive dialogue because they define their avatar in an entirely antagonistic fashion.

        1. The Angry Chef is spot on. Thanks for the intro, Infinite😻
          But what does he have against Bryan Adams??

  21. Jerry, one of my PET peeves is how people (you, in this case) hear or read something by/from/about someone online, out of context, and then form an OPINION about that person’s thinking. If you do this with Jordan Peterson, you’ll fail miserably. I’d suggest leaving him alone, because I doubt you’re someone who’d appreciate much of him, anyway. Seriously. This isn’t a putdown, just what I suspect to be the case.

    1. One of my PET peeves on this site is how people (you in this case), assume that I’ve formed an opinion about Peterson’s thinking in general.

      I have simply responded to the sentiments in two tweets, sentiments that he not only expressed, but, as far as I know, are echoed in much else that he says about God (I have read more about his views on God), by the way. Multiple people here and elsewhere have called him out for his refusal to be pinned down about God.

      I’d suggest that you go comment on another site. This is a Roolz violation in multiple ways, and it’s a nasty and unwarranted comment.

      And yes, your comment is a putdown, because I made clear that I was not criticizing any of Peterson’s other views.

    2. I think Jerry has been pretty careful not to form a judgement about Peterson. He’s said so himself.

  22. Peterson is a psychologist. So, is he making a statement about psychology of religion, or a statement about theology??

  23. I think you should favor Weaselly Theologians over Sophisticated Theologians for these people who see God in everything, everywhere as “sophisticated” gives them far too much credit.

  24. Peterson sort-of claims to be an atheist, but also claims that psychological health depends on familiarity with Bible stories:

    “The Bible is a series of books written, edited and assembled over thousands of years. It contains the most influential stories of mankind. Knowledge of those stories is essential to a deep understanding of Western culture, which is in turn vital to proper psychological health (as human beings are cultural animals) and societal stability. These stories are neither history, as we commonly conceive it, nor empirical science. Instead, they are investigations into the structure of Being itself and calls to action within that Being.”

    1. Oh, FFS! That’s almost worthy of Deepak.

      Also, garbage. “Investigations into the structure of Being itself”?

      His primary thesis (that a deep understanding of Western culture is essential to psychological health) is self-evident bollocks. Does that mean that nobody from a different cultural background can be psychologically healthy?

      And his secondary thesis – that you can only get that from the Bible – is even greater bollocks. I’d bet (though I’m not equipped to debate this) that Western culture owes far more to Greek and Roman writers – and to memories of pre-Christian folk tales and customs, many of which were incorporated by Xtianity, – than anything in the Bible. Santa Claus, anyone?


  25. Bernard Schiff’s Toronto Star article argues that Jordan Peterson’s natural grandiosity has grown worse as a result of celebrity, an evolution that is not exactly unknown.

    On the other hand, some of Schiff’s charges against JP ring hollow to me. For example, Schiff complains about Peterson’s use of the term “murderous” for the ideology that underlay the USSR, the Peoples’ Democracies of eastern Europe, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, and the Kim dynasty in Peoples’ North Korea. “This is like,” Schiff complains, “calling Christianity a murderous ideology because of the blood that was shed in its name during the Inquisition, the Crusades and the great wars of Europe”. Well, yes it is, and it is also like noticing that the Islamic State was Islamic.

    Further on, Schiff complains about Peterson’s unapologetic view of certain academic operations: “Jordan, our “free speech warrior,” decided to launch a website that listed “postmodern neo-Marxist” professors and “corrupt” academic disciplines, warning students and their parents to avoid them. Those disciplines, postmodern or not, included women’s, ethnic and racial studies.” I’d say that Peterson’s account of these departmental rackets as “corrupt” is entirely precise, even clinical—as one has the right to expect from a Clinical Psychologist.

    As for JP’s grandiose, vague deepities about the deity, I am inclined to dismiss them as mostly harmless symptoms of his celebrity.

  26. It’s hard to tell what Peterson actually believes personally, I suspect it is unclear even to himself. What he argues publicly, albeit elliptically, is 1) that “God” is symbolic language for our highest values, 2) that these values are deduced from our actions (by Peterson naturally), 3) that basic concern for other people, e.g. not murdering, is a Judeo-Christian value so we all subconsciously believe in God, and 4) that doing away with the explicit religious trappings in line with atheism would somehow destroy our concern for others and lead to mass calamity.

    1) He redefines a word to avoid the usual question addressed by atheism
    2) He makes sloppy personal interpretations of both stories and people’s internal states in order to reinforce his desired conclusions
    3) He ignores the details of history and sociology to claim common values indicate an agreement with his whole worldview
    4) Despite claiming we all subconsciously agree with him, he makes the wild and counter-evidential leap that we should go through the motions of consciously agreeing with him

    He is a deeply confused person.

  27. Peterson is very good on human behavior, is fully versed in the latest brain science and psychometrics, and could easily be classified as friend of evolutionary psychology.

    IMO, he’s painted himself into a corner on this God-definition thing, and is making the very same errors he chides pomos for.

    1. Dyson in my opinion was appalling. An unashamed race baiter and to quote Stephen Fry, “a huckstering snake oil salesman”.

    2. I watched that whole debate and felt thst Dyson(who I’d never heard of) really pwned Peterson. Jordan came across as a self-satisfied, thin-skinned twit. His partner in the “debate”, Stephen Fry, was excellent however. I put debate in quotes because although the resolution was not very clearly articulated, the whole thing turned into a very engaging discussion.

      1. The fact that the audience poll shifted towards Fry and Peterson’s position following the free for all, suggests the audience thought otherwise. The phrase “mean mad white man”, could only be hurled one way and not the other.

        1. I think it suggests that they agreed with the Fry and Peterson’s position, and were probably impressed by Stephen. I saw nothing in Peterson’s performance that would’ve impressed the crowd. Either he had an off-day or he’s just not that good at/experienced with adversarial debates.

        2. Dyson may have been slightly over the top there, but I felt he said it almost affectionately. Peterson refused to acknowledge that he had had any privilege at all in growing up a white male. I generally detest all these arguments about privilege, but I think that Peterson was almost asking for it here.

      2. It was very interesting. I watched it after hearing from various people that Dyson had behaved appallingly and humiliated himself, and Peterson had coolly and calmly demolished him.

        Then I watched the debate, and while I thought Dyson was talking po-mo bollocks throughout, I don’t think he behaved appallingly either, and while the ‘mean, mad white man’ phrase was childish it was delivered with enough playfulness that Peterson could have shrugged it off and looked like the better person. Instead thi one utterance seemed to completely derail him, and he looked spectacularly unequipped for adversarial debate. He looked sulky and upset throughout, which I confess I found quite funny.

        Stephen Fry stole the show obviously 🙂

  28. First of all let me say I am not a Peterson follower, although I am aware of some things he says. I think to be fair to him he is simply saying what you suspect, that God is “that in which you place your faith.” It may be a tautology, but we all have faith in something if we are still getting up in the morning. And I think that is his only point.

    1. What if I place my faith in the ability of the universe to reliably and regularly cause small children to suffer incredible pain…is that my god? Can I now define god as ‘the physical agony of small children’?

      What if I have faith that all peanut butter will go mouldy if you leave it out long enough? Is god now defined as ‘the way that peanut butter goes mouldy given time’?

      And if Peterson’s answer to these questions is yes, how am I meant to take him seriously?

      1. From all the various replies it seems there are various definitions of faith that people have-trust, confidence, blind faith etc. I agree that when I say faith is required to get up in the morning, that is very vague. However, I and I think Peterson(in that first tweet), is simply trying to identify that part of us that behaves and feels as if we have free will. I am not talking about whether we actually have or haven’t free will, just that we all feel and behave as if we do. And behaving as if we have free will takes what I call faith, because science only sees determinism. So why do we act as if we have free will?

    2. The statement is certainly vacuous, but it is not a tautology. Faith is simply a presumption of truth without evidence. Whenever I fly I have faith that the pilot knows what she is doing, but I don’t think she is God.

      1. I’m pretty sure we have actual evidence that pilots hired by airlines know how to fly planes. No faith required. You’re conflating faith and confidence.

          1. But you have trust because you’ve flown on a plane before, you know there are extensive regulations governing airline safety, you know that it requires a lot of training, you know that the statistics re. crashes are actually very reassuring, etc.

            Trust is justifiable, faith isn’t.

          2. It is not semantics. You have far more knowledge of real, verifiable, facts on which to base your confidence. You know, for example, that there are FAA regulations that govern the operation of airlines. You know that the probabilities of getting on a plane with a pilot who doesn’t know how to fly is near zero.

            Confidence is what you have when you get on a plane. Faith is what you have when you sit on a carpet and expect to fly.

  29. “we all have faith in something if we are still getting up in the morning”

    I think this is nonsense. At best it is a trivializing of the word “faith” into meaninglessness.

    1. It is similar to the thesis of the book _The Sciences and the Humanities_, which attempts to “save religion” by making it poetry.

      One of my problems with that is that it actually doesn’t take what religious believers actually believe seriously.

  30. Peterson’s book is, I would say, greater (or better anyhow) than the sum of its parts. Each chapter is a sort of interior monologue connecting up bits of homely perennial wisdom with autobiographical snatches, clinical observation, literary and philosophical references, and mythological material from Jung and the Bible. I read it with some fascination as being an enactment of a particular mind, not an unintelligent one, circling around a subject and thinking it through, pretty much as an intelligent layperson, not a scholar, would do. There’s a sort of existentialist intensity in it. The theological component is almost non-existent. The bible stories are brought in just as instances of the way humans have attempted to understand the big problems of life. To the extent that Peterson is conservative it’s that he looks backward into history, literature and philosophy for his guidance about these things, and he has a view of life as being a struggle in which the old virtues of courage, self-discipline and fortitude are what matter in a life. I found that rather bracing if old-fashioned. Not many intellectuals write in that way nowadays. It’s one of the reasons he has gained a following.

  31. You should listen to the Sam Harris podcast (#62) where he was a guest. It was truly baffling. And now he and Harris are appearing on stage together? Wish I was raking in $80K a month on Patreon for spouting pseudo-philosophic nonsense. JAC maybe you need a Patreon account!

    1. That was illuminating. I didn’t know he’d named his daughter after Mikhail Gorbachev(!) for example.

      I think it’ll be fun to look back in a few years time to see how many people were taken in by an obvious crank.

      1. Well, if falling for fad diets is sufficient grounds for dismissing a person’s entire intellectual output, then I guess we can ignore Bill Maher, too.

  32. Peterson has been collaborating with Dennis Prager lately…let that sink in, and then tell me he’s worth listening to.

  33. In this day and age of collective hive-minds on both sides I just enjoy the fact that JP is something of a one off. Something different.

    And yes, that word-salad definition of God was dumb, and so what?

  34. Hi Jerry,

    I don’t know if I mentioned my affinity for Joseph Campbell when I hosted you in New Zealand, but Campbell’s definition of a myth is “an organization of symbols, images and narratives that are metaphorical of the possibilities of human experience and fulfillment in a given society at a given time.” If you accept that religions fit this definition of a myth, then you can accept any and all religions as myths and move on to the more substantial issues that confront us today. Of course, believers will never accept that they have not only confused connotations (their manifestation of the possibilities of human experience and fulfillment in a given society at a given time in whatever form their religion presents itself, but they compound the problem by confusing their connotation as the denotation (god. It’s wordy, but makes sense to me.

  35. Right on. He’s great on free speech related issues but when he actually exercises his free speech, he’s not saying anything that makes sense. He also seems to be pretty clear (in as much as anything he says can be described as “clear”) that he thinks trans people are faking it or self-deluded.

  36. As a few commenters here have attacked Peterson for his “completely and utterly unhinged views “ on “enforced monogamy”, I thought it might be useful to share what he’s actually said on the matter (my emphasis ):

    “blockquote>”So, let’s summarize. Men get frustrated when they are not competitive in the sexual marketplace (note: the fact that they DO get frustrated does not mean that they SHOULD get frustrated. Pointing out the existence of something is not the same as justifying its existence). Frustrated men tend to become dangerous, particularly if they are young. The dangerousness of frustrated young men (even if that frustration stems from their own incompetence) has to be regulated socially. The manifold social conventions tilting most societies toward monogamy constitute such regulation.

    That’s all.

    No recommendation of police-state assignation of woman to man (or, for that matter, man to woman).

    No arbitrary dealing out of damsels to incels.

    Nothing scandalous (all innuendo and suggestive editing to the contrary)

    Just the plain, bare, common-sense facts: socially-enforced monogamous conventions decrease male violence. In addition (and not trivially) they also help provide mothers with comparatively reliable male partners, and increase the probability that stable, father-intact homes will exist for children.”

    1. It might be plain, bare and common sense, but are they facts at all? I don’t think there is consensus in anthropology that most societies are monogamous. Does he cite evidence to support that?

Leave a Reply