Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Manual for Creating Atheists: After the Fall – Filling the Void

Chapter 6 in MCA purports to be a chapter designed to help the faithful (unfaithful actually) who have come to the self-realization that they really didn’t have faith after all, fill the void left when they confess what has already been the case for some time. In other words, these faithless individuals are trying to figure out how to exchange one delusion for another delusion. They want to replace their old delusion, the one where they thought they had faith with a new delusion, one where they now think they don’t believe that God actually exists. Both of these beliefs, the former and the current, are delusions of different kinds. What is very interesting to me is that Boghossian includes an email from one of these individuals asking for help now that he has decided he does not believe that God exists. In the same paragraph he says the following: “I just stopped believing in God. It’s an unbelievable feeling…I just feel lost. Anything you can suggest will help.” I don’t know about you, but it certainly seems to me that this individual made an emotional decision, not a rational one. After all, if he had really examined the evidence, weighed all the facts, looked at the voluminous research available on the question of God, it seems the last thing he would have felt is “lost.”

Does Boghossian offer this man any answers? Yes, he does. He offers him the answer that we just don’t know. Stop searching for answers, for purpose, for meaning. Accept the ignorance that comes with atheism. Learn to embrace it. The real meaning in life is there is no meaning and if there were, we really could never find it out to begin with. There is no real purpose in life so stop searching for it. Gee Pete; thanks for the help…I think. What a nightmare!  

Boghossian wants us to be free to wonder. What he fails to realize is that skepticism is not a necessary precondition for wonder. Christian theism is filled with wonder because it is filled with the infinite God. Has Boghossian ever thought about why the idea of wonder is so attractive, so inviting, so fascinating? In a world of chance, where human existence is arbitrary, how could wonder ever exist or how could we ever make sense out of it? How could wonder ever be intelligible under the atheist's scheme for reality? We love wonder because we are finite. We know there is more to reality than we can imagine. God created us to wonder. Wonder is wired into the human person by the Creator. God is the only plausible explanation for wonder. God must be true in order for wonder to be meaningfully intelligible. Wonder is not something that can be explained empirically. It is not something that the laws of logic can speak to. But it is there, despite the lack of empirical evidence and despite our inability to make a rationally compelling argument for it. It exists and we know it exists despite our inability to adequately account for it upon empirical or rational grounds. Additionally, we are not being irrational for our "belief" that wonder exists. I cannot help but wonder how Boghossian accounts for the existence and intelligibility of wonder.

Boghossian asks, “What comfort does reality-based reasoning offer someone suffering in this life or perhaps even facing death?” His answer is startling: “I don’t know.” If we are all just accidents, here by chance for a few years and then gone, why does any of this matter, really? When it is all said and done, why not let people live with their delusions? Boghossian says that it harms us. But does it really? What does the medical research say about those who have some sort of faith? There is no indication at all that there is psychological harm to the typical person of faith so long as they are not militants looking for 70 virgins when they get to heaven. In fact, the medical research indicates just the opposite: faith is healthy. It makes a positive contribution to our emotional, psychological, and even physical lives. Boghossian offers a life of reason, but also of despair. He offers a life of doxastic openness but one without significance. He promises a life of truth, but one that has many more questions than it has answers. Sounds like a really good deal to me.

Boghossian seems to be very specific in the types of things he thinks people need to be okay “not knowing.” I wonder how one would fare on one of his exams if they just wrote down, “I don’t know.” What Boghossian does not want people to know is if God exists or does not exist. He does not want them to know if morality transcends human opinion. He does not want them to know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of humanity. But he is perfectly fine with people not knowing what happens when they die. He is fine with people not knowing if life, or suffering or pleasure really has meaning. He is fine with philosophers not being able to explain how they can rely on the validity of induction even if no one can provide any evidence for it or provide a rational case for its adequate defense. Boghossian seems perfectly fine in assuming that the human mind exists, and that there is a real external world about which we can truly know certain things. But when it comes to God, when it comes to faith, when it comes to questions that transcend human limitations, Boghossian insists that we must be okay not knowing.

The howler in all of this is that if there really is that much that Boghossian and his atheist friends do not know, then how is it that he can so confidently dismiss faith, or God, or life beyond death. Since there is much he does not know, how can he confidently affirm that no one else can know either? Isn’t it possible that there is an epistemological method that others have discovered about which Boghossian is still unaware? If it is not possible, I fail to see how a logical case can be made against it. It seems such a case would require an all-knowing agent. What is Boghossian’s rational basis for not only saying he does not know, but for also insisting that no one else can know either, since he has already confessed to so many other things he is fine not knowing? He offers none. If Boghossian were consistent with his “doxastic openness” it seems to me that he would be perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know how that person knows that God exists, but I am fine not knowing that.” Boghossian’s doxastic closure to the possibility that others actually know something that he does not is inconsistent with his basic doctrine at best and smacks of hypocrisy at worse. Boghossian’s entire noetic structure is self-referentially incoherent. I hope that you, the reader, can see the obvious gaps in his arguments at this point. It will only become more and more obvious that MCA does nothing of the sort.

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