Review: Christianity Is Not Great: Chapter 4

Peter Boghossian writes chapter 4: Faith, Epistemology, and Answering Socrates’ Question by Translation. See my index of reviews for his book A Manual for Creating Atheists for more criticisms of his ideas.

According to the author, there is no way around the following three facts:

  1. Faith is an epistemology.
  2. In religious contexts, the term faith is used when one assigns a higher confidence value to a belief than is warranted by the evidence.
  3. Some people live their lives based upon their faith-based beliefs.

It is interesting that Boghossian says he will “flesh out” the first two facts because he certainly doesn’t provide a persuasive argument for them. At the end of the chapter he says that “[r]eason, rationality, honesty, authenticity, epistemic humility, and assigning confidence values in direct proportion to evidence take us toward the good life.” I don’t think he consistently displays these characteristics in the chapter.

The author provides a quick definition of knowledge as justified true belief:

Dating back to Plato’s Theaetetus, knowledge has been understood as Justified True Belief. That is, to say one knows P (a proposition), P needs to be justified (one needs sufficient evidence to warrant belief), true (P must lawfully correspond to reality), and believed (one’s verbal behavior needs to comport with one’s internal state in that one needs to believe what one claims to believe).

Later in the chapter he writes: “the word faith needs to be analyzed by how it’s used in a religious context and not by how its use has been rationalized for centuries.” The reader can be forgiven for expecting to see evidence for the first two alleged facts. No survey of how the word faith is used in the Christian tradition is provided. The first two propositions are not justified and are therefore not knowledge.

But Boghossian is aware of “sophisticated theologians” who will contest his propositions. He knows that they claim “there is adequate historical evidence and/or argument to warrant belief in propositions within their faith tradition.” The curious reader is warned that Christian scholarship is “too tedious, too disingenuous, and too corrupted by confirmation bias to deserve serious intellectual consideration.” This statement clashes with his call for epistemic humility and assigning confidence values in direct proportion to the evidence. A humble thinker might seriously consider the ideas of others. How can I be sure I’m assigning confidence values in direct proportion to the evidence if I don’t even seriously consider all the evidence?

Continuing on we read:

By sidestepping the entire corpus of Christian literature, which gives it the consideration it is due, one can examine what people mean when they use the word faith in a religious context and focus on truth claims as they relate to faith and faith-based epistemologies. Moreover, by bypassing historical sophistry and specious attempts to legitimize faith, we can avoid the well-rehearsed responses of Sophisticated Theologians.

Christian literature is replete with examples of how people use the word faith in a religious context, yet, somehow, we can examine what people mean when they use the word faith in a religious context by ignoring how people use the word faith in a religious context. Moreover, we can avoid changing our false beliefs when confronted with well-rehearsed responses.

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