Monday, December 30, 2013

A Manual for Creating Atheists: Interventions & Strategies (Pt. II)

I left off my review of MCA with Boghossian setting the strategy for separating people from their faith by attempting to undermine their confidence in how they claim to know what they know as opposed to what a person believes exists. I should say that Boghossian’s strategy may work just fine on people who really don’t have the kind of faith that exists in Christian theism, but it will not be effective with genuine believers. I will explain why this is so in a later post.

I now want to spend some time interacting with Boghossian’s assertion that “There’s nothing virtuous about pretending to know things you don’t know or in lending one’s belief to a particular proposition.” In other words, the faithful believe it is impossible to separate faith and morality. Boghossian is attempting to establish the idea that faith is morally neutral. There is essentially nothing right or good about having faith. But Boghossian adds, “or in lending one’s belief to a particular proposition.” [Loc.1388] He continues, “The belief that faith is a virtue and that one should have faith are primary impediments to disabusing people of their faith.” And yet, the belief that faith is a virtue, as well as a gift from God, is a primary element in Christian theism. Boghossian is now striking at one of the heartbeat issues of Christian faith. Saying faith isn’t a virtue doesn’t make it so.

Boghossian claims that by redefining faith and by pointing out that people without faith are just as moral as people with faith he can effectively prove there is nothing virtuous about faith. Boghossian points to the atheist Pat Tillman and to Bill Gates as examples of virtuous men without faith. However, giving your life in battle and donating money to good causes does not make one moral or virtuous. Immoral people are capable of doing good deeds just as moral people are capable of doing immoral things. Christian theism teaches that we are all equally sinners in need of a Savior. In truth, if there is nothing virtuous about believing propositions, then there is nothing virtuous about one being willing to revise their beliefs either. I wonder if Boghossian thinks there is anything good about creating Street Epistemologists to go out and talk people out of their faith. Why is this project such a significant passion for him? What is so virtuous about getting at truth? Should people be attempting to know the truth about reality? If there is nothing virtuous about discovering truth, then why does he make all this fuss? Why not just go about your business and leave off this virtue-less initiative?

Boghossian then discusses a tactic that he employs when he has little time to engage the faithful. He refers to these tactics as two powerful dialectical shortcuts. First he asks, “How could your belief [in x] be wrong?” The second question he asks is, “How would you differentiate your belief from a delusion?” Not for nothing, but I love the Socratic Method. I love critical thinking. The only problem with it is that what works for the atheist also works for the Christian. What every Christian thinker has to remember is that he cannot allow the atheist to establish what counts as evidence or as good reasons for belief. The Christian standard and criteria for belief are fundamentally different from those the atheist uses. That being the case, the answer to Boghossian’s questions is simply this: God would have to not exist in order for me to be wrong. The answer to the second question is that my belief is anchored in the unchanging truth of God’s word. I realize this will not satisfy Boghossian’s standards. But satisfying Boghossian’s standards is not our goal. Our goal is giving an account for the hope that is in us to anyone that asks.

There are a number of problems with Boghossian’s attempts to create a morally neutral idea of faith. Not the least of which is his definition of faith as “pretending to know something you do not know.” He assumes that Christian theists will simply let him get away with this definition. I assure you, we will not. The Christian will always insist on the biblical definition of faith. They most certainly will not permit an atheist to redefine it for them. To think otherwise is simply absurd. Since Boghossian’s redefinition of faith will not hold, his attempt to decouple faith from morality is significantly weakened. The second problem is Boghossian’s reasoning that faith has nothing to do with morality. This argument is patently false and it involves fatally fallacious reasoning. The argument looks like this: Some atheists do moral good. No atheists have faith. Therefore, there is nothing virtuous about faith. As anyone can see, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. From the premises above, all we can conclude is that it is possible to go good deeds even if one has no religious faith. I cannot think of any Christian apologist that would disagree with this statement.

I want you to take a different view of Boghossian’s argument. Many Christians do moral good. Many Christians are irrational. Therefore, there is nothing virtuous about rational thinking. Again, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. What Boghossian needs to do is understand the relationship between faith and morality in the Christian worldview. It is evident to this writer that he has not done his homework in this respect. If you are an atheist and you are reading this post, you need to understand that Christianity is a very small religion with very few adherents. Depending on where you live, you may never have encountered an actual Christian. What you have very likely encountered is cultural Christians, or social Christians. These are people who adhere outwardly to some of the teachings of Christianity some of the time. They profess to have faith, but the reality of the case is that they do not. Boghossian’s project is not aimed at biblical Christianity. If it is, I can tell you he misses his mark by a wide margin. Boghossian seems to be aiming at a generic faith, religion in general. You need to understand that true Christians reject the idea of a generic faith. They even reject the notion of theism in general. What Boghossian needs to do is interact with the Christian Scripture if he wants to attack real faith. And this, so far, he has not done.

In order to prove that faith has no virtue, Boghossian needs to understand the Bible’s teaching on the relationship between faith and morality. He needs to know that Christian theism teaches that a lifestyle defined by immorality is a strong indication that a person does not have faith. Conversely, Christian theism teaches that a radical change, to include morality, is the unavoidable consequence of genuine faith. In other words, true faith equals a changed heart and mind. True faith causes a woman to stop lying to her husband, causes a husband to stop cheating on his wife, and causes an unmarried couple to stop sexual activity outside of marriage, just to call out some examples. The kind of faith that Scripture speaks about, true faith, always produces virtuous living wherever it is found. Therefore, there is something virtuous about faith, about trusting in the God who is there.

I am afraid at this point in Boghossian’s project, that the atheist is getting a straw man version of Christianity. Essentially, if you are able to talk someone out of their faith, true Christianity would hold that you have talked them out of something they never really had from the start. Essentially, you are accomplishing nothing, separating men from a shallow mental acceptance of God and not from faith at all.

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