The atheist Peter Boghossian authored a book called A Manual for Creating Atheists that 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.”
Hate Speech & Defamation.
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 beings – since many (read, not all) 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.
How Boghossian Actually Helps the Other Side.
Although he has authored a book with the intention of converting alleged virus infected unbelievers to his cause he, at the same time, also shows the world the true colours of atheistic fundamentalism. Though Boghossian will receive ample attention from religion hating extremists out there, it is actually true that far more people in the world are appalled by such behaviour that manifests in hateful attacks on ordinary religious people. This would be my hunch that, apart from other insurmountable logical incoherencies & undesirable truths on an atheistic worldview, that atheism remains large a minority worldview even though it has grown in the West. Most people in the world don’t want to be associated with hateful bigots like Boghossian, and such feelings extend to other atheists who can easily smell a bad egg in their ranks.
Where Boghossian Gets it Wrong.
It really just comes down to how he defines faith. He defines it as “pretending to know things that you don’t know.”
Well that is certainly not what I, along with most other critical Christian thinkers, mean by faith. In fact, I believe that my faith is evidence based upon what I believe is rational to hold. In truth Christians shouldn’t want to believe in a lie (which is what Christianity essentially is if Jesus was not resurrected form the dead) or something that is perceived to be evidentially weak. I may be wrong in my beliefs, but I certainly don’t want to hold to something that I know is a wrong interpretation of reality. So, the Christian wouldn’t be wrong to dismiss Boghossian’s strawman caricature of faith. However, there is more to consider here.
Evidence Based Faith.
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) hold to. This is what Boghossian, and other atheists, mean by the word “faith.” Which is ultimately to believe based on 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 the airliner; I have faith that I will arrive at my destination after considering the latest flight statistics. 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.
This applies to a Christians definition of faith. For example, the Christian cannot “prove” that Jesus rose from the dead. However, the Christian can believe his faith is rational when considering historical data. Thus 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 the Christians is able to show that his 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. It is this kind of faith that all human beings, including atheists, have.
For, example Boghossian uses faith in his life all of the time. If he, hypothetically speaking, discusses private business decisions with a friend, someone he knows well and who he believes he can confide in, he has faith that they will not talk behind his back or use such information in a belligerent way. When Boghossian takes a pill that the doctor prescribes him he has faith that the doctor’s diagnosis is accurate and that the medicine will help. Boghossian has faith that his friends and partner loves him; he can’t prove that they do. This could be multiplied many times over in just some of the most ordinary daily tasks, however, I am doubtful that Boghossian would classify such faith as a “virus” for then he would himself become susceptible to his own imaginary disease.
The Biblical Definition of Faith.
The critic should try to understand what Christians mean by faith. The critic should understand the basic biblical theology behind a Christian’s definition lest, as in Boghossian’s case, he constructs a strawman definition.
Biblical theology, the Christian can show, does not instruct Christians to believe blindly, in fact scripture instructs Christians to be able to give reasons for why they believe what they do (1 Peter 3:15). Likewise, key events in the Bible demonstrate that people are not to have blind faith. Surely God’s miraculous interventions (whether that be dividing a sea, or a non-perishing bush etc.) were not missed or unconvincing to those who witnessed such things. Jesus himself via his deity, teachings, miracles and resurrection also well tells us that the Christian faith is not blind but is based upon real acts in history. In fact, Christianity opens itself to being falsified & where corroborating evidence can be found it supports the biblical record. Philosopher William Craig articulates this for us:
“But in addition, I think that the example of Jesus and the apostles confirms the validity of such an [apologetic] approach. Jesus appealed to miracles and to fulfilled prophecy to prove that his claims were true (Luke 24:25–27; John 14:11). What about the apostles? In dealing with Jews, they appealed to fulfilled prophecy, Jesus’ miracles, and especially Jesus’ resurrection. A model apologetic for Jews is Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. In verse 22 he appeals to Jesus’ miracles. In verses 25–31 he appeals to fulfilled prophecy. In verse 32 he appeals to Christ’s resurrection. By means of these arguments the apostles sought to show Jews that Christianity is true. In dealing with non-Jews, the apostles sought to show the existence of God through his handiwork in nature (Acts 14:17). In Romans 1, Paul says that from nature alone all men can know that God exists (Rom. 1:20)” (4).
So no-one can accuse Christianity of teaching its followers to have blind faith & I think that should be enough to dismiss Boghossian’s strawman caricature.
Atheistic Naturalism as a Faith Based Position.
Although I have not read Boghossian’s book, and probably don’t intend to, my goal for this article is to answer his faulty definition of faith – so I am not absolutely sure if Boghossian is a naturalist, a nihilist, humanist or of any other denomination of atheism (although I have been informed that he is a naturalist). So, I shall briefly focus on naturalism.
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” (3).
So, if we were to apply Boghossian’s faulty definition of faith (which is “pretending to know what you don’t know”) to his fellow atheists and their naturalism would it suggest that they suffer from the same virus as do religious people?
I think that Boghossian’s definition of faith falls flat in at least two areas. Firstly, he doesn’t take into account faith that is built upon facts and knowledge from the world, in other words, faith that is evidence based. He also misconstrues the biblical definition of faith so that he merely constructs & demolishes a strawman. Yet the ultimate irony is that atheists themselves have faith in their naturalism & Boghossian is certainly no exception to the rule. It is also unfortunate that Boghossian is so disrespectful to ordinary religious people by telling them that they have a virus that needs to be eradicated. But on the other hand Boghossian shows us what he, and his New Atheist movement, really stand for – a group of dogmatic, fundamentalist atheists positioned in movement that is ultimately built upon a foundation of hate.
1. Boghossian, P. 2013. A Manual for Creating Atheists. Available.
2. Schumacher, R. 2014. Peter Boghossian and the Atheist Definition of Faith. Available.
3. Vela, T. 2011. Is Atheism a Belief? Available.
4. Craig, W. Reasonable Faith. p. 86 – 87 (Scribd ebook format).