A Manual for Making More of a Mess
Peter Boghossian has written A Manual For Creating Atheists, a book published in 2013. On the back cover a note from Richard Dawkins says, “PETER BOGHOSSIAN’S TECHNIQUES OF FRIENDLY PERSUASION ARE NOT MINE, AND MAYBE I’D BE MORE EFFECTIVE IF THEY WERE. THEY ARE UNDOUBTEDLY VERY PERSUASIVE—AND VERY MUCH NEEDED.” And on the same back cover as well as on the final page of the book we are informed that “Dr. Peter Boghossian is a full-time faculty member in Portland State University’s philosophy department. He was thrown out of the doctoral program in the University of New Mexico’s philosophy department.” The publisher and Boghossian evidently do not mind the readers knowing about his dismissal and, in fact, it looks like that they actually want the news circulated to the credit of Boghossian and to the discredit of the University of New Mexico. Given the title of the book, I would think that Boghossian and those who endorse his book actually fail to see where credit and discredit may belong.
Brazen (at least in print) Sam Harris, after having made a mess of things himself in his very confused book, The Moral Landscape, interviewed Boghossian and placed the interview on his web site. Harris notes that Boghossian not only is on the faculty at Portland State but also is “a national speaker for the Center for Inquiry, the Secular Student Alliance, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.” On an inside page near the front of the book, we have the note that the book is “To Michael Shermer and Sam Harris.” Shermer writes the FORWARD. Let me make a few comments about Sam’s interview with Peter. The interview consisted of a mere six questions to Peter and Peter’s answers.
One, Sam asked Peter what his goal was in writing the book. Peter said, “My primary goal was to give readers the tools to talk people out of faith and into reason.” Peter thinks that people evidently need help in becoming atheists. I think that is correct. If they would become such at all, something has got to affect them in the wrong way. A man who is true to his own nature can never be an atheist since both his body and mind necessitate a creator, and his mind informs him of his own immortality. A man cannot deny himself without at the same affirming himself as Sam Harris did without realizing his serious self-contradiction when he wrote The Moral Landscape. A man cannot deny God without implying that his own nature is other than it actually is. There is too much superficiality entailed in modern atheistic attempts to dislodge the truth about God’s existence from the minds of people who see more clearly than Boghossian currently does. It is another effort at calling good evil and evil good to think that in helping to make atheists, a person is bringing them from faith to reason. That is impossible, since faith comes by proper reason. It is an unproven, unprovable, and disprovable contention that reason is opposed to faith. The fact of the matter is that reason leads to faith. Reason finds faith. Reason supports and defends faith, and reason and faith oppose atheism. Boghossian’s whole book is based on a false concept regarding the relationship of human reason to faith.
Two, Sam asks Peter, “How do you help readers accomplish this?” In his longest answer to any of the six questions, Peter suggests that atheists not “get into a debate about facts or evidence or even their specific beliefs. Rather, get them to question the manner in which they’ve reached their beliefs—that is, get them to question the value of faith in appraising the world. Once they question the value of faith, all the un-evidenced and unreasoned beliefs will inevitably collapse on their own.” This is not the full quotation, but it is enough just here to evoke adequate response for this critique. First, Peter is wise to suggest that facts be left alone when atheists converse with people of faith, for the simple reason that facts do not and cannot support atheism! There are no facts to support atheism at all. The atheistic world has created a fiction based on faulty reasoning about facts which are explainable on no basis other than theism. When suggesting that atheists should get believers to question the value of faith, it may well be that some believers have not invested enough faith to see much value, but there are a few believers who understand the relationship of proof to conclusion and who realize that there is no substitute for actual faith in the existence of God. They realize that to give up faith in God is, in fact, to give up reason, and if any value is placed on reason at all, then the conclusion regarding God’s existence to which reason must inevitably lead (if reason is pursued to its rightful goal), receives the highest value. Unknowingly, Boghossian is working at cross purposes. He wants on the one hand to destroy faith and bring out reason, and yet reason can only lead to faith, the very thing he thinks he needs to destroy. How utterly confused atheism is! If there were no God, there could be no truth and only one fact (the ontological condition of nothingness), and nobody could know the fact, for the fact would be the non-existence of anything and everything including anyone to have knowledge of the fact! And if nothing existed (and the only fact was the fact of non-existence), there could be no atheists. Nothingness could make an atheist, and the existence of anything means can do it either since the existence of one thing demands the existence of God. As Professor Warren used to teach us, if the one thing that exists is God, then theism is true, and if the one thing that exists is not God, it demands God for its existence! It is impossible to be a reasonable atheist!
In his answer to Harris, Boghossian locates faith at the level of “superstition.” Peter has been talking with alleged “believers” who do not have adequate evidence for their alleged “faith.” I can see how he might be confused. What Peter needs to do is to face someone in public discussion who has sufficient reason and conclusive reason for his faith. If Boghossian follows Harris into the inevitable implications of atheism regarding human nature, he will wind up, just like Harris, denying that there is such a thing as the person. Now, I ask you, dear reader, who is involved in non-reality? Consider the following True-False questions:
TF1. There is no evidence to support the claim that God exists.
TF2. There is no evidence to support the claim that the atheist (the one who says he knows that God does not exist) exists.
Now, I submit that in atheistic evolution must drive both Harris and Boghossian to answer the second question as true. In fact, Harris already has in his book, The Moral Landscape. Now, I ask how could anyone who understands that atheism says that a man does not exist (only a brain does) take seriously that man’s claim that God does not exist? Anytime a man takes the position that he himself does not exist as a metaphysical entity, he is no position whatever to deny the existence of God! And then to attempt to persuade others to accept the second denial as true is really laughable. Atheism implies that real metaphysical “personhood” does not exist. Then, how in the world can Sam or Peter attempt as “non-persons” to deny the ultimate “personhood” of God. If I were Peter, I would rethink the idea that faith is on the level of “superstition.”
It is absolutely impossible for a human mind to exist unless an eternal mind already does. Both Harris and Boghossian have to take the position that there is no “person” inside the physical body, and that unattended brains are simply doing whatever unattended brains can on their own do. If Boghossian can deny himself (as Harris undoubtedly does), then it is easy to deny his Maker. But that is not being reasonable; it is being irrational. It is like Peter is saying, “I’m not here, and I know that whoever is being credited with my alleged existence is not here either!” Now, that is really reasonable!
Three, Sam asks, “What is the most common logical error religious people make in their arguments for the existence of God?” Peter suggests that believers have “started with their conclusion and reasoned backward from that conclusion. They’ve started with the idea not only that God exists but that a very specific God exists—and they’ve asked themselves how they know this is true. They’ve put their metaphysics before their epistemology.”
Now first of all, believers start with themselves. We consider our own existence and what is essential to it. We are able to reflect on our own selves and determine that (1) we have not caused ourselves, (2) no other mere human being is an adequate explanation for ourselves, and (3) matter itself cannot be an ultimate explanation since it is impossible for it to create itself and it is impossible for it to exist eternally. From our own minds, we see the absolute ontological necessity that the explanation for our minds can be no less than a mind, but must be more than all minds in finite form. In other words, our minds (and hence, reason) leads to the obvious (not presupposed conclusion) that God must exist in order for our minds (and reason) to exist. We do not start with God and work back logically to mind. We work from mind and must logically move in the direction of God. And philosophically speaking, it is impossible for there to be more than one infinite God. There could be a trillion “gods” of philosophic fiction. But when Boghossian finds fault with the concept that believers believe (allegedly without warrant) in a specific God, he is simply showing his lack of understanding regarding the ontological impossibility of the existence of more than one infinite God! He is not using reason rightly to think that if believers proved the concept of God to be accurate, that they would then have to get busy to locate the right one. Such is absurd!
No, believers don’t put “metaphysics before their epistemology.” In fact, in one sense epistemology is a part of metaphysics, since the nature of reason is not essentially empirical. Reason certainly makes use of an empirical brain, but a brain doesn’t reason; a mind does. So, in this sense, epistemology itself is a part of metaphysics. Then, we use correct thinking to determine the right or realm of reason, the rigor of reason, and the result of reason. That is, we determine what the nature of knowledge is with its proper realm and limits. We use reason consistently and thoroughly in order to arrive at rational explanation for all that is created including ourselves, and we come to realize that there are limits to knowledge. But the limit does not arise before reason determines ultimate explanation for itself and everything else in this world.
Four, Sam asks, “Perhaps you should spell out what you mean by “epistemology” and why you think it’s important.” Now, in a very confused answer Peter attempts to suggest that atheism has been going about the attack on theism in the wrong way. It has up to now been, generally speaking, attacking the conclusion that the believer has drawn about God. However, what should be done, he suggests, is to attack the way that believers have arrived at this conclusion. He claims that theism is based on faulty reasoning, and so the reasoning process whereby one came to faith should be attacked. He refers to this “faulty reasoning” as “faulty epistemology.” The “processes used to form beliefs” or “how people come to know what they think they know” is what Peter refers to as their “epistemology.”
Now, of course, I’ll have to admit that an atheist may have some success in gaining “converts” to atheism if the “process” of reaching the theistic conclusion is not sufficiently evidential. That is, and I know it is the case, that many so-called “believers” are not really believers in the biblical sense of that word. They are “religious guessers” about things. They do not move from evidence to conclusion; they do not know that God’s existence can be proved. They may have reached the theistic conclusion for reasons other than that the conclusion is demanded by the evidence. With such people, Boghossian’s tactic could very likely work. But if a genuine believer knows how faith comes and grasps the relationship between faith and reason, he cannot be moved by such a strategy. The scope of epistemology carries one logically all the way to the existence of God, the God who knows everything about everything.
I assert just now that it is Sam Harris and Peter Boghossian who are using reason in a wrong way in the futile and self-contradictory process of attempting to prove the non-existence of God! They are, in effect, using reason to attack reason.
Five, Sam asks, “What do you consider to be the core commitments of a healthy epistemology?” Here in answer, Peter supplies three things:
“(1) An understanding that the way to improve the human condition is through reason, rationality, and science. Consequently, the words ‘reason’ and ‘hope’ would be forever wedded, as would the words ‘faith’ and ‘despair.’
(2) The willingness to revise one’s beliefs.
(3) Saying, “I don’t know” when one doesn’t know.”
In response, I would suggest to Peter that reason leads ultimately to God, there can be no sense to anything without God, and science does have a role to play in making a better world. But science can only go so far in helping man. Man is composed of body, soul, and spirit, and the nature of spirit is such that empirical help (through science) simply cannot address his spiritual needs. Certainly we must all change our minds when our conclusions have been proven false; honesty demands no less, but to surrender a view proved by a sound argument in order to embrace a view that cannot be proved by sound argument and which can be falsified by sound argument is not adopting a rational approach to information.
The “law of rationality” still declares that “we ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence,” and I know that neither Sam nor Peter has adequate evidence with which they can rationally make an atheist out of anyone. But I applaud Peter for saying that we ought to say we don’t know when we don’t! The sad thing is that he cannot see his own failure in this regard. He cannot possibly know that God does not exist anymore than Sam Harris can possibly know that Sam Harris doesn’t exist! Yet, Sam tried to prove to us that we do not exist! He tried to persuade us in The Moral Landscape that none of us exists. Only our brains exist. I do not think that anyone who dedicates his book, at least in part, to a man who denies that any of us is really here, is making a wise decision regarding a book “dedication.”
Six, Sam’s final question for Peter is, “Do you think that the forces of reason are winning?” Peter answers, “Yes. I think they are winning, and I think they will prevail.” Unfortunately, the answer means that Peter thinks that atheism is winning and will prevail. However, as I have already affirmed, when atheism wins, we all lose. Atheism can only rise at the demise of reason. And for men to want atheism to win is for men to unknowingly seek their own destruction. Neither Sam nor Peter knows what he is doing. It wouldn’t be so bad (if they are determined to be atheists) if they would just try to leave everyone else alone. But they are in the atheistic “persuading business.” They want us all to be in the same muddled mess that they intellectually now are. That is too bad. And I predict that Peter’s manual will be successful in making an atheist out of a theist only if the theist is such for inadequate or insufficient reasons. There are no sufficient reasons for being an atheist!
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Mac Deaver holds the MA in Philosophy of Religion and Christian Doctrine from Harding Graduate School of Religion. He has done additional graduate work at the University of Dallas. He earned the Ph.D. in Christian Apologetics from Tennessee Bible College studying under Dr. Thomas B. Warren. He may be contact at firstname.lastname@example.org