Peter Boghossian accused of hate speech for correctly defining “faith”

Feb 2, 2016

Photo credit: Jerry Coyne/Oxford English Dictionary

By Jerry Coyne

I’m not quite sure who “James Bishop” is, as I hadn’t heard of him previously, but he writes at the website Historical Jesus Studies, and the header of his public Facebook page is strange. Has anyone else described their official position as “apologist”?

What brought Bishop to my attention was his bizarre article called “Answering Peter Boghosssian—atheist hate & the definition of faith.” And I want to say a few words about it because, although the piece is abysmally written, it appears to support a criticism leveled at many atheists, and at me in particular: namely, our conception of the nature of “faith” is completely off the rails. Moreover, Bishop goes farther, saying that those who use the classical conception of faith are promoting hate speech.

I’ve been told by some believers, especially after Faith versus Fact came out, that religious “faith” does not mean “belief in the absence of evidence”, or “pretending to believe something”, but is much more than that. What the “much more” constitutes is often unspecified, but Bishop appears to tout something called “evidence-based faith”. That apparently means “religious belief based on evidence”. In other words, it’s like science. In fact, Bishop argues that there’s no substantive difference between the nature of scientific “belief” (I don’t like to use that term for science) and religious belief.

The good thing about Bishop’s admission is that, since he claims there’s evidence supporting his Christianity, we can now engage him in a debate about the nature and strength of that evidence—in other words, a scientific debate. He also clarifies, as have some other Christians, that belief really is about evidence—that religion is more than just communality, fellowship, values, and morality, but, to be meaningful, must at bottom rest on verifiable epistemic claims.


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18 comments on “Peter Boghossian accused of hate speech for correctly defining “faith”

  • @OP – I’m not quite sure who “James Bishop” is, as I hadn’t heard of him previously, but he writes at the website Historical Jesus Studies,

    Ah! Clear evidence from the start, that he does not know mythology from history! – Given the absence of ANY contemporary records of a person called “Jesus”!

    I’ve been told by some believers, especially after Faith versus Fact came out, that religious “faith” does not mean “belief in the absence of evidence”, or “pretending to believe something”, but is much more than that. What the “much more” constitutes is often unspecified, but Bishop appears to tout something called “evidence-based faith”.

    “OOOOoo look! – My delusional assertions are asserted to provide much more evidence!! What a clever (pseudo-)scientist my self-deception tells me I am!!!!!

    The good thing about Bishop’s admission is that, since he claims there’s evidence supporting his Christianity, we can now engage him in a debate about the nature and strength of that evidence—in other words, a scientific debate.

    Nope! No chance of a scientific debate!
    All that can be expected is theistic semantic obfuscation, and attempts at re-definition shuffling about the term “evidence”. – With asserted “new ways of reasoning”, ( devoid of logic ), and “new ways” of recognising non-material “evidence”! (This is “evidence”! The delusional collective proclaims it is evidence!)



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  • There’s a spectrum of “sciences” that starts at the left (no political connotations, just a convenient label) with physics and chemistry and biology, and heads off towards to the right and “softer” sciences like psychology and sociology which have progressively less and less rigour (mathematics) and become more and more like just-so stories, but nevertheless all actual sciences and “sciences” still feel the need to reconcile with reality and new evidence once a generation or so.

    Further beyond that is economics, which while it has plenty of mathematics to give it the appearance of rigour does not concern itself with making accurate predictions or caring about reality, at least for the majority of practitioners.

    And then beyond the pale we have – ta-da – theology; which is much like economics in that it takes a series of assumptions or axioms and carefully constructs a house of cards on that foundation. Economic’s foundations are plausible but wrong, and it makes heavy use of mathematics to draw conclusions that will be wrong.

    Classical faith. Evidence-based faith. Theology just makes shit up.



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  • From the body of the main article, this is Bishop’s summary of atheism.

    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.

    In the absence of contrary evidence, stick with what can be proven. If new rational evidence comes to light, then assess the evidence, and if credible, change your mind. Which is something the religious cannot do.

    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.

    In the absence of evidence that they are not reliable, I’ll stick with reliable, especially with the peer reviewed system of interpreting data.

    The same naturalist has to assume that biological life originated from inorganic material, that in the universe order can come from chaos,

    The naturalist doesn’t assume anything in the absence of evidence, so the origin of life is still an open question.

    and that consciousness and rationality can come from unconscious and non-rational forces of nature.

    News to me. And here I was thinking that our brain did all this stuff.

    He also has to hold that no supernatural reality exists & that all religions are man made thus false.

    In the absence of contrary evidence, or any evidence for that matter, I’d say he’s got my position exactly.

    These, and many more, are all faith based positions that the atheist naturalist has to maintain in order to believe in his naturalism.

    Nope. They’re just stuff that has no supporting evidence. I don’t have to have “Faith” that they’re true or not true, or made up. I don’t sit here thinking “I believe there is no god, even though I have no evidence to prove it.” That would be an act of faith. As there is no evidence for god, I have no opinion on the matter. It’s a NULL. There is no evidence for fairies. Same argument.



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  • David R Allen
    Feb 2, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    From the body of the main article, this is Bishop’s summary of atheism.

    Or – to summarise his fallacious thinking!

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Negative_proof

    You do not know what X is. (allegedly) Therefore we do.

    @BISHOP – These, and many more, are all faith based positions that the atheist naturalist has to maintain in order to believe in his naturalism.

    Thus sitting in denial of all the evidence of the natural sciences, and pretending a false equivalence for all his personal ignorant assertions of faith!



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  • @OP – Peter Boghossian accused of hate speech for correctly defining “faith”

    @God-delusion:-
    Ooooo this definition “hatefully” exposes the lack of any foundation for my puppet host’s belief in my existence!
    That’s nasty and threatening!!!!! Along with my fellow god-delusions, I could become homeless and perish.
    Quick – get him distracted into assertive preaching denial mode!




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  • “based off of”

    “reached out to”

    Like all the faux-professional language of dull middle management (and, for that matter, cappuccino after 11o’clock in the morning), this should be made illegal.



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  • Ooooh if “Assertive Preaching Denial Mode” is not the title of a prog-rock epic (and/or a collection title (CD/Lp Name) somewhere in the known universe – I’d be VERY disappointed haha!



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  • 12
    Pinball1970 says:

    Faith is believing something without evidence.

    If they had real evidence (theists) they would not need faith they would just use the facts.

    People who believe something without checking the facts first, can be considered to be not particularly intelligent, careless or gullible and naive like a child.

    Faith used to be considered something of a virtue probably until fairly recently, it was pushed as such in my catholic 1980s school

    ”Happy are those of you who have not seen yet still believe, “ JC circa 33AD (allegedly)

    Those ill chosen words have condemned many a mortal soul into thinking that taking something on faith is actually a good thing, honourable even.

    This guy is making a ridiculous attempt to redefine faith or is claiming they do have sufficient evidence after all.

    Evidence that has evaded the greatest and most diligent archaeologists, historians, biblical scholars and academics of the last 500 years.

    I won’t hold my breath.



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  • @OP – website Historical Jesus Studies,

    Ah! His-story!

    Once upon at time in year zero, there may have been a village called “Nazareth” (which may have existed at that time or may have been established later according to archaeologists).

    According to mythology, there lived there a young woman who was pregnant. This apparently was nothing to do with her boyfriend or even members of the pillaging Roman army nearby, but was related to visits by “angels”!

    The boyfriend Joe, seems to have accepted the baby as his, but before the birth, he was called on to take part in a Roman census in his home town Bethlehem, where by “coincidence” there were prophecies that a messiah would be born.
    Apparently none of the meticulous Roman chroniclers noticed this massively coordinated regional population census, so there is no historical record of it!

    While they were in Bethlehem, three astrologers turned up at the palace looking for a new king, which is perhaps unsurprising, as King Herod had died in 4BC some years earlier.

    However undeterred by this, they talked to Herod, who it is said expressed interest in any news of kings they might find!

    The story tells that went off to look for the king in a stable (where else would you find royalty?), and gave away gold etc. to a poor baby they found, – while the dead King Herod set about killing the local babies who might usurp his throne, – although once again the Roman chroniclers did not notice this!

    That’s probably enough of his-story for now!



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  • Jerry, I think this guy is someone you could safely ignore. His logic is absurd and he clearly doesn’t know the difference between faith and hope for a start let alone between faith and fact. His airline analogy of having faith that the pilot is trained and that the plane is airworthy is obviously confusing faith and hope. He hopes the plane is in good order and that the pilot is trained. The evidence is that planes and pilots have a good record of staying airborne so the odds are that they will continue to do so and one hopes that they will. There is no faith involved at all.



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  • Phil

    Like all the faux-professional language of dull middle management (and, for that matter, cappuccino after 11o’clock in the morning), this should be made illegal.

    Cappuccino after 11am? It’s always 11am somewhere on the time/space continuum!

    Cappuccino drinkers will not fare well in the US prison population, me thinks… 🙁



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  • Meanwhile, theocrats are still making up nonsense about atheists elsewhere as a basis for blatant discrimination!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-35492525
    A group of Kenyan atheists say they have suffered “blatant discrimination” after the authorities refused to register their society.

    They were told the application was turned down because of concerns that registration could affect the “peace… [and] good order” in the country.

    AIK does have the right to appeal against the decision but Mr Mumia told the BBC that he will be taking the issue to court because he argues the constitutional right to freedom of association had been violated.

    AIK believes that official recognition would allow it to participate more fully in public affairs, as well as allow it to do things like open a bank account.

    The 60-member Atheists In Kenya applied for official recognition last year.

    More than 97% of Kenyans indentify themselves with a religion, according to Pew Research.

    Head of Atheists In Kenya (AIK) Harrison Mumia has accused the official registrar Maria Nyariki of running her office “through guesswork”, as she cannot possibly know what impact registration would have.

    He also complained that there are “church leaders who have defiled minors” who have been allowed to register.



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  • I think anyone stupid and muddle headed enough to be able to equate airline travel with religion is probably not someone worth spending a lot of time refuting. Aeroplanes actually exist and in sufficient numbers that we have good statistics as to how often they crash. Religion has zero evidence to support it and therefore relies on blind faith alone. The ridiculous ploy of assuming the buybull is true and then using it to support your views is so old hat that I see little point in rehashing it. Nothing new to see here. Move along now.



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  • 18
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    @op

    “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 people – since many 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.”

    James Bishop

    Sigh…. Once again, Bishop demonstrates how religious apologists simply don’t get it. Notice how many times he used the word “people” in that attack? Bishop is (purposefully or not) conflating the criticism of beliefs with criticism of people.

    The two groups who typically do this are: the Christian right (with their “Christianity is under attack by secularists” BS) and the regressive secular left on the topic of criticizing the doctrine of Islam and the misogynistic, homophobic, intolerant culture of many majority Muslim countries as constituting hate speech and Islamaphobia.



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