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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