T.H White’s classic Arthurian tale, The Once and Future King is an absolute delight to read. I had never read it before, and I was surprised to see the sheer amount of humor found therein. The depth of the work’s story is immense. Here, I will look at some of the worldview level themes found in the book. There will be SPOILERS in this post.
Young Arthur, known as “The Wart,” shows his character in one discussion with Merlyn-
If I were to be a Knight… I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it. (174)
Arthur is an honorable man–and was even an honorable boy. That doesn’t mean he never makes poor choices, but he is ultimately motivated by faith and a desire to take on evil directly.
King David… Arthur
In many ways, the story of Arthur parallels the biblical story of David. Like David, Arthur desires to follow justice and walk in the way of God. Like David, it is illicit affairs which lead to his undoing. Like David, Arthur’s downfall ultimately comes from within his own family. Each has a kind of guide in the early stages of their rule (Merlyn or Samuel), but neither takes on such guidance later in life. Each is guided by faith, and it each attempts to capture a kind of ideal in their monarchy. Their ideals are never quite reached, and it is evident in the story of each that their own choices limit their capacity to reach that ideal. In the end, each turns to God for the final answers.
One of the best portrayals of justice in the book can be found in the way White portrayed injustice. The knights are operating under a principle of “Might makes Right.” They expect the lower class soldiers to be slaughtered, while they themselves are so heavily armored they can barely be harmed (as hilariously depicted in an early scene that young Arthur gets to witness). Arthur seeks to go against this principle–to wage war on Might. Yet, even that battle ends in failure as it becomes corrupted. A question the book seems to point us towards is whether violence to overcome violence is a realistic means.
The conclusion to the book catches Arthur at his most reflective. White’s own view begins to peek through the words of Arthur’s thoughts. What is it that failed Arthur? How did his quest for good become so embroiled in deceit and betrayal? Yet Arthur finds that there was a crucial flaw in his plan: “[T]he whole structure depended on the first premise: that man was decent” (637). He had forgotten about the sinfulness of humanity:
For if there was such a thing as original sin, if man was on the whole a villain, if the Bible was right in saying that the heart of men was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, then the purpose of his life had been a vain one. (638)
The purpose was vain, because it was not pursued alongside God’s will but rather as Arthur’s will imposed upon humanity–the very thing that Merlyn had come back through time (or was it forward?) to discover. Yet that which Arthur wished to bring about–the defeat of Might–was not itself an evil end. Indeed, it is the King’s page who reveals the ultimate judgment on Arthur’s plan: “I think it was a good idea, my lord”–thus said the page; and Arthur’s response: “It was, and it was not. God knows” (644).
Ultimately, it seems, justice is defined on God’s terms and humans are incapable of seeing the whole picture. White was an agnostic, but was apparently scornful of the evil he saw in the world. A kind of pessimism about human capacities is found throughout the book. The fact that, in the end, “God knows” is the answer that can be given towards whether humans can accomplish an ideal is telling. Without God, endeavors of that sort are impossible.
There are some pretty interesting parables included within the text, particularly in the “Sword in the Stone” section. One of them is from the Talmud–a story in which Elijah travels with a Rabbi and perplexes the Rabbi with his apparent lack of concern for the poor while he aids the rich. Yet this parable shows that God is indeed working towards justice, and a God’s-eye perspective of justice is impossible. Another parable tells a story about humanity as a kind of capstone of creation, while limiting humanity to being an “embryo” for all time- a creature in development. This capacity-laden view of humanity points to White’s worldview once more. Human choices matter, but we so often choose poorly.
The Dark Ages, White notes, may have been a bit of a misnomer:
Do you think that they [those times sometimes called “The Dark Ages”], with their Battles, Famine, Black Death and Serfdom, were less enlightened than we are, with our Wars, Blockade, Influenza and Conscription? (544)
Here again we see White’s own world creeping back into the novel. The novel was published in 1939, the year World War II officially began, though there was plenty going on before that. It was difficult to see the War coming and think that another age was to be singled out as the “Dark” age. There is a kind of intellectual hubris in dismissing the ideas of the past and seeing one’s own time as somehow enlightened. White did not think that was a route to take.
Merlyn (yes, Merlyn, not Merlin) is a character whose interactions with Arthur bring up all kinds of questions. He seems to be guiding a young Arthur towards the attempt to bring about justice in the world, but he also allows himself–seemingly willingly–to be cast aside when Arthur is at his most vulnerable. He only reappears at the very end of the book as a kind of wind. I am left feeling rather ambivalent about Merlyn, who had so much power but who did not ultimately use it very effectively.
The Once and Future King is a simply phenomenal book layered with many levels of meaning. There are so many avenues to explore from a worldview level that I’m sure repeated readings will be rewarding. The central theme, however, is incredibly powerful: humans cannot complete their own ideals. We are imperfect. God knows.
Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)
T.H. White The Once and Future King (New York: Ace, 2004 edition).
Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of my favorite TV shows. I have been watching through the series with my wife, Beth. One episode we watched recently, “Rightful Heir,” had some clear worldview-level implications. There will be SPOILERS for the episode in what follows. A plot summary can be found here.
Data and Worf have a couple conversations about faith that are worth commenting on. The definition of faith that is provided in the episode is interesting and seems to be that faith is belief in something that is not necessarily confirmed by empirical data. Worf states that Kahless “is not an empirical matter… it is a matter of ‘faith.'”
Data is particularly curious about this and asks Worf how he can determine whether Kahless is the “real” one or not in the absence of empirical data. Data goes on to describe his own experience that he was told he was merely a machine, but he realized that he had to trust in his own capacity to go beyond his programming. So, he says, “I chose to believe… that I was a person… that I had the potential to be more than a collection of circuits and subprocesses… I made a leap of faith.”
What is interesting about Data’s position is that it is effectively confirmed earlier in the series, “The Measure of a Man” (see my post on the worldview issues therein) in which Data is confirmed to be a “person.” Thus, the faith that is described here is ultimately vindicated.
The definition itself–something that is outside of empirical evidence–is interesting as much for what it reveals as for what it does not. It reveals that the concept of faith here is something that is presumably in something non-physical (for it is outside of empirical evidence), but it also implicitly reveals that there can be some kind of non-physical realm, even in the Star Trek universe. Faith is not denigrated, nor is it endorsed wholeheartedly. Instead, it is something that people–even Data–have. It is a facet of a complete person.
Kahless and Jesus
Kahless is effectively the Klingon’s parallel of Jesus. Ron Moore, the teleplay writer for the episode, said of the episode:
It was intriguing to me because of the religious stuff… What would happen if you could bring Jesus back? What would it do to the faith of his followers? What’s true and what’s not, what’s authentic and what’s not? …They [the Klingons] worship [Kahless] in a literal sense. So what would bringing him back do to his people?
The quote can be found in Star Trek: The Next Generation 365, a most excellent book for the Star Trek fan (like me).
Rick Berman, a writer/producer for TNG also noted the religious parallels in the episode:
Rick Berman recalled, “I had a lot of fights with Ron about this. The character of Kahless and the backstory and the dialogue of Kahless were all a little bit too on the nose Christ-like for me. We had a lot of long debates and eventually it was modified by Ron in a way that I think made it much better. I think he not only solved my problems but made the [episode] better. Kevin Conway’s performance is great and it’s a wonderful episode.” (quoted here)
There are many parallels between Kahless and Jesus, but it is what is missing that is perhaps even more intriguing. Kahless is effectively just the epitome of Klingon values. His promise to return is a promise to reinstate those values. Yet Jesus Christ is not merely an example or a lawgiver. Instead, Jesus is the Incarnate God–king of the universe. Jesus sacrificed himself for us, and this isn’t just a general statement but applies to each individual. It is for my sin that Jesus died. There is no true parallel found in a figure like Kahless who is, however admirable, merely a moral example.
The episode, as noted in the quotes from those involved with it above, does bring up some serious questions. What would happen if we could bring Jesus back? As one of the Klingons note, who is to say the cloning was not the way by which Kahless was meant to return? Thankfully, this will remain a complete hypothetical, because we will never have genetic material from Christ from which a clone could be made.
On a deeper level, a clone is not the original thing that is cloned, but a copy. There is a true difference here. Even though Kahless received some of the memory patterns from the original, he was not the same person. Similarly, a cloned person is not the same as that from which he or she is cloned. Any different experience shapes people, and so they would not be the same person. Simply appealing to the law of identity is another way to point this out. If Kahless is not the original, then by no means could we fairly say that this clone is identical with the original. Similar? Yes. Intriguing? Certainly. Faith-shattering? No.
“Rightful Heir” is an interesting episode that raises a few questions for Christians to ponder. Yet, upon thinking about it in depth, it turns out that the self-examination the episode calls for is largely surface-level. Kahless is not a true parallel for Jesus, and the question of cloning and return is answered through the concept of identity. I’d love to read your thoughts on this episode in the comments. Don’t forget to look for the worldview behind anything you read or watch!
Television– read my other posts on TV and worldview (scroll down for more).
The photo in this episode was a screenshot capture of the episode. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.
I hope you’ll enjoy the latest round-up of really recommended posts for you, dear readers! This week, we have Aquinas on faith, a response to a claim about Jesus’ view of women, church and state, and Syrian refugees as topics. Let me know what you think, and be sure to let the authors know as well!
Response to Kevin DeYoung’s “Our Pro-Woman, Complementarian Jesus”– Philip Payne is a fantastic biblical scholar, and here he dismantles an article from complementarian Kevin DeYoung in which the latter argued that Jesus would agree to the subordination of roles for women. Also check out Part 2 of the response.
Aquinas on Faith and Reason– Thomas Aquinas had some intriguing things to say about the relationship of faith and reason. So often, people dismiss faith as patently absurd or against reason. Is that the case? Check out this post to see Aquinas’ insight.
The Church is Not the State– Some timely words regarding interpreting Scripture in light of our own nation.
The Syrian Refugee Crisis Moved Into My Neighborhood– Sometimes the best way to discuss controversial topics is to look at case studies. Here is a specific story from someone who had Syrians move into her neighborhood.
Another week, another look at some of the most interesting posts on the web. Here we have posts on the Game of Thrones and Philosophy, Joshua 10 and the meaning of the sun standing still, creationist Ken Ham, abortion, and ways your kid might be learning an oversimplified faith. As always, I’d love to read what you think of the posts! Be sure you leave a comment when you go visit to let the authors know your own insights. We have an owl post edition today because it’s cold.
6 Ways You May Be Raising Your Kids with an Oversimplified Faith– We are charged with raising our children in the faith. That doesn’t apply only to parents, but to the entire Christian community. How might we combat the simplistic image of faith that many children have? Check out this great post (and site) from Natasha Crain, and be sure to follow the site for some awesome posts on Christian teaching for children.
Biblical Credibility and Joshua 10: What does the text really claim?– Joshua 10–the passage about the sun ‘standing still’ in the sky has long drawn criticism from non-Christians for various reasons, primarily scientific inaccuracy. Here, eminent scholar John Walton (seriously one of my favorites) explains the text of Joshua 10 in light of other Ancient Near Eastern literature and the way it would have been understood in its time.
Scott Klusendorf Defends the Pro-Life View on the Unbelievable? Radio Show– Recently, Scott Klusendorf–a wonderful pro-life teacher and advocate–debated Mara Clarke on the subject of abortion. It was interesting to listen to this debate and see how the sides played out their arguments. Check out this post to get summary and commentary on the debate.
“You Win or You Die” (from Game of Thrones and Philosophy)– Whatever your view of the appropriateness of “Game of Thrones” (and we must note there is much objectionable content in it), there is no denying its current popularity. Check out this post from Anthony Weber which discusses some issues related to the philosophy of the series.
The Never-ending Debate: Ken Ham’s Obsession with Bill Nye– Some time ago, Ken Ham debated Bill Nye on evolution, the age of the earth, and more (see my summary and commentary on the debate here). Ken Ham has not let this public debate sit, and continues to utilize it to produce creationist material and muster the troops, so to speak. Is this a bad thing? Is it helpful? Let’s here your thoughts. Here is a post analyzing some recent trends in his organization regarding Bill Nye.
I used to watch almost every episode of Family Guy in the first season or two. I thought it was sometimes a clever show, but as it went on it seemed to devolve into a series of flashbacks and random, drawn-out asides which broke apart the coherence of the story. I recently saw most of an episode of “Family Guy” in which it was revealed that Brian, the family’s dog (who talks and is essentially part of the family), is an atheist. The episode is called “Not All Dogs Go to Heaven.”
My first observation is that despite the apparent intent to make people more aware of the demonization which happens with atheists, the episode does not portray Brian in the best light by any means. For one, Brian’s reasons for remaining an atheist are revealed to be a bit absurd to say the least. When Meg–the daughter who is often the butt of jokes on the show–asked Brian why he doesn’t believe in God given “all the evidence,” he responded with an argument that made my jaw drop. To paraphrase him, he said that Hubble Space Telescope has been taking so many amazing pictures of the wonders of the universe but has never found some old man with a white beard “out there” somewhere. It then cut to an aside with an old man with a beard riding on something with some sweet music in the background [see my comments on the show being a bunch of asides and flashbacks].
Seriously, that is apparently one of Brian’s main reasons for rejecting theism, according to the episode. Really? I don’t know if this is really a reflection of what Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) believes about Christianity; but if it is he needs to perhaps reflect upon his own rejection of it. The notion that God should be found somewhere in the physical universe by something as simplistic as the Hubble Space Telescope (or anything, for that matter) and would be seen as an old man with a beard is… well, obscene. If that were my picture of what Christians believed, I’d be an atheist too. But Christians don’t believe this. Instead, they believe that God is spirit and one cannot artistically make anything which looks like God. The old man with a beard was popularized by some Christian art which, for the sake of depicting deity, chose that image to portray God. That doesn’t mean Christians actually believe God is an old man with a beard cruising through space somewhere.
The worst part about this scene is that it seems like Brian is supposed to get points for his response here somehow. That is, it’s like the viewer can feel a running tally going and apparently they’re supposed to check one off for the atheists. But gross misrepresentation of others’ religion does not mean that one has made a good point. Sure, people can sit around laughing at the notion that God is some old white guy–I’ll join them!–but to think that Brian said anything constructive is absurd. I realize it is a TV show, and a fairly shallow one at that, but I expected more. Mea Culpa, I suppose.
So it seems Brian’s atheism is based upon a farce. But that’s not the only reason I think this episode is actually unfriendly to atheists. In a later conversation with Meg, who has newly found a rather zealous faith, he confronts her belief directly with what is apparently some kind of knock-down argument because it destroys her faith:
Meg: “You are not gonna turn me from my faith, Brian!”
Brian: “Ok, fine. Then let me just ask you this. If there were a God would he put you here on Earth with a flat chest and a fat [butt]?”
Meg: “I’m made in his image…”
Brian: “Really? Would he give you a smoking hot mom like Lois and then have you grow up looking like Peter [her odd looking father]? …And what kind of God would put you in a house where no one respects or cares about you?”
That is essentially the extent of the comments on Brian’s reasoning for atheism. Apparently, for Brian [and perhaps MacFarlane, depending upon if he is actually sharing his view], God’s entire purpose should be to go around making everyone’s life the best possible life ever. God is some kind of cosmic vending machine, and if you don’t win the lottery, you should doubt the existence of that vending machine. What was most horrifying about this sequence, in my opinion, was the fact that the “image of God” was reduced down to having a hot body. Ridiculous! Being made in God’s image does not mean that everyone is going to be physically perfect. Such a notion completely misrepresents what is meant by the “image of God” which historic Christianity has long held refers to the intellect, soul, reason, etc.; not physical perfection or even physical form.
Brian’s last retort seems to seal the deal for Meg. After all, why would God put people in homes in which they aren’t cared for? Well, I don’t know, why would God put Joseph in a home in which his brothers sold him into slavery? Oh… right. You see, anyone who thinks that is an objection to the existence of God presumes they know better than God. That is, they know how to run things; they should be in charge. But I’m sorry to anyone who thinks that: you don’t. Moreover, why assume that we should know the reasons for this, or even that there are reasons? Again, I am stretching the philosophical muscle of the show quite a bit [understatement of the millenium], but the whole episode seems disingenuous.
The episode did do some good things, however, in showing the absurdity of mistreating and abusing atheists due to their lack of shared belief. I agree with this. We should not say atheists are automatically terrible people or that we wouldn’t want to live next to them. Anyone who does endorse mistreatment of atheists is acting in a decidedly un-Christian manner and should repent. Period. My point in this post is simply that this episode of Family Guy doesn’t do atheists any favors. It misrepresents Christianity in order to abuse it, but it also presents atheism in an extremely shallow way. Rather than spurring discussion, the episode merely seems bent upon mutual ridicule. I hope my atheist friends would choose, instead, to engage in dialogue rather than resorting to this kind of nonsense–and the same goes for my Christian friends as well.
Check out these posts from all over the web, collected for your own viewing pleasure by yours truly. If you enjoyed the posts, drop them a comment! Let me know what you think here. Thanks for stopping by, now go read!
The Least Popular Book in the Bible– I found this to be one of the most fun posts I have read in a long time. I really encourage you to check it out. But Don’t Cheat! Leave a guess as to which Bible book is least popular before you head over and find out! The post also gives reasons to read the book, so you may get some good reading in.
Is the Bible’s Definition of Faith Opposed to Logic and Evidence?– In light of the recent debate between Boghossian and McGrew on “Is Faith a False Epistemology?” (see my summary and analysis here), I found this post extremely insightful. What does the Bible say about faith? What kind of definitions does it give? Check out this great post on these questions.
Aquinas’ First Way (image)– Be sure to zoom in on this one! It’s a pictorial way to look at the “First Way” of Aquinas to reason to the existence of God. I think there are a couple problems with the exposition, particularly in speaking of water as only potentially cooling, but it is a good, basic introduction. Check it out.
Did Jesus Ride Two Animals Into Jerusalem?– How might we reconcile apparent differences in reports over how Jesus rode into Jerusalem? Check out this post to read up on a few ways, alongside some analysis. It’s well worth the time spent!
Book Review: The New Perspective on Mary and Martha– Drawing from Luke 10:38-42, Mary and Martha are often seen as quintessential examples of how to focus on Christ. But what message do we often get about/from them? Is there a corrective for some of the wrong pictures we may have? This review gives some insight into these and other questions.
Each Week on Saturday, I’ll be asking a “Question of the Week.” I’d love your input and discussion! Ask a good question in the comments and it may show up as the next week’s question! I may answer the questions in the comments myself.
The Definition of Faith
In light of the recent debate between Tim McGrew and Peter Boghossian on “Is Faith a False Epistemology?” I wanted to ask this question:
How do you define faith?
Bonus: Why do you define it that way?
Peter Boghossian, whose recently wrote a book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, recently met with Tim McGrew in a debate on the Unbelievable? radio program. Here, we’ll take a look at the debate and what we might conclude from it. The Unbelievable? show is set up like a moderated dialogue, and Justin Brierly often asks thoughtful questions throughout the dialogue. Unless otherwise noted, anything in quotation marks are the exact words of the speakers.
McGrew notes that he went into epistemology and philosophy of science due to his interest in evidence for his faith. He shares his chagrin that there doesn’t seem to be any “trickle down” from academic arguments about the faith into internet debates–though he tongue-in-cheek noted that it is “surprising” that someone on the internet might be wrong. He notes that philosophy of religion has given many different reasons to think that faith is grounded in evidence and good reasons to think Christianity is true.
Boghossian notes his movement of “street epistemology” is not about evangelizing for atheism but rather a call to people to think more rationally. He says he wanted to write a book which was aimed at the kind of conversations people have on the street. Developed theology, he says, is “purposeful obfuscation” which has no respect for. Brierly asked Boghossian what, in his view, would believers reaction be when challenged on their thinking, to which Boghossian answered that people would be “disabused of… superstitions” and must be more careful with how they use the word “faith.” He sees people leaving their faith as a consequence of reasoning. His book, he says, is a way to equip people to dialogue about faith without being uncivil.
McGrew states that Boghossian is defining terms in “irregular ways,” particularly the definition of “faith.” He states that he knows of no one outside of Boghossian and those he has encouraged, who defines faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know” (this is the actual definition Boghossian provides for the word “faith”).
The primary definition of “faith” should instead be seen as “belief without evidence.” He says he’s focused on how people use the word faith as opposed to dealing with definitions. He states that this is how “literally billions” of people define faith (belief without evidence). “Pretending to know what you don’t know” is “a very valid” definition of faith, though “belief without evidence” is to be seen as the primary definition.
The vast majority of people do not use faith to mean belief without evidence. Even atheists like “The Good Atheist” are opposed to Boghossian’s definition of faith.
I’m concerned with how “people actually use terms.” When people use the term “faith” they mean there is confidence over and above the value of the evidence. Prominent Christians also use the word “faith” to mean belief without evidence.
Boghossian has already changed his definition of faith by now saying that “faith” means “belief with confidence above that which is allowed by the evidence” (paraphrase). These definitions are not the same as belief without evidence. Well below 1% use faith in that same fashion. There may be different conceptions of what counts as evidence, but this does not mean that people think they are believing without evidence.
Faith should be defined as “trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of difficulties.” McGrew uses an example of a parachute: one who is going skydiving may be apprehensive about jumping out of a plane despite knowing that the vast majority of people make the ground alive when they go skydiving. One can know all of this evidence, but can still say they have “faith” that their instructor packed the parachute correctly. There is a distinction between hope and faith.
People use faith and hope as synonyms, but they are not. But where “does evidence stop and faith take over?”
Putting it that way prejudices the outcome of the question, because it puts the question in such a way that faith has to “sometimes make up” evidence for action or belief. But when we act, we are not acting on percentages but rather we are acting or trusting in something on the basis of the evidence we have, despite not having complete certainty.
Justin Brierly eventually cut in and moved to refocus the conversation around Boghossian’s claims that faith should be seen as a mental illness, complete with entire institutions devoted to treating faith as a disease and working towards “interventions” to move people away from faith. Brierly was quoting from Boghossian’s book in this section, and he asked Boghossian to expand on this.
It is “very unfair” to say that I target the Christian faith. “I am deeply hostile to all faiths… My attempt isn’t to demean anybody.” Religions should be seen as possible mental illness, and to exclude faith from treatment as a mental illness is hampering science. Faith “hijacks the thinking process… We need to help people through these delusions they have.”
There still seems to be no point of agreement. To define faith in this manner is to “reduce disagreement to derision.” By defining faith as belief without evidence, Boghossian has derided people of faith. Essentially, the definition is propaganda: defining faith as inferior by default and so demeaning those people of faith.
When people have conversations with people of faith, they should not have a one-on-one conversation with name calling. The advocating of putting religion on the DSM (a manual for diagnosing various mental disorders) is not connected with everyday conversation and is so not insulting.
Boghossian’s overall body of work defines faith in a way which is demeaning: “pretending to know what you don’t know.” If this is the strategy, this is like “newspeak” in 1984 by George Orwell.
The difference is that in public lectures, one should not do this. Instead, we should have “interventions” with people. People who have faith are “not well.” Apologetics is confirmation bias and is damaging.
Boghossian seriously misunderstands the role of apologetics, which is the pursuit of whether a conviction holds up under scrutiny. It is no more necessary to make a detailed scholarly study of every faith before coming to a settled belief that only one is true than to have to read every biography of every person who was alive at the time Lincoln was shot to conclude that John Wilkes Booth shot him. To say otherwise is to “pretend” that one can’t have good evidence unless one concludes one doesn’t have good evidence for other things. We don’t have to rule out all alternatives to a theory, rather, one just has to have good evidence to hold that which they do.
It should be fairly clear that Boghossian’s attitude towards people of faith is not one that is friendly, as he apparently claims. When someone says that people of faith need to have “interventions” and be studied as mentally ill, that hardly is a way to respect them. Moreover, he then advocated a kind of split-personality: when someone is one-on-one, they should not bring up the notion that the person of faith is mentally ill because that would be insulting, but apparently it’s not insulting when someone writes a book saying that very thing.
Clearly the biggest issue in this debate was that of the definition of faith. Here it should be seen that once again, Boghossian’s view did not hold up. He ended up actually changing his definition in the course of the conversation, when pressed, to belief beyond the evidence. But he still claimed that “billions of people” use the term “faith” to mean “belief without evidence.” I would simply ask Boghossian: what is your evidence for that claim? Has he talked to billions of people to discover this? Where is his data to back up this claim? It seems to me that Boghossian’s definition of faith is based upon his “pretending to know something he doesn’t know”–namely, that this is how people of faith define faith.
Polemical use of the term aside, I strongly suspect that Boghossian truly does not have evidence for his use of that term faith as backed by “billions.” Moreover, I wonder whether Boghossian defines faith in that way simply because he rejects the evidence for, say, Christianity, and has gone from his own view that there is no evidence for Christianity to saying that Christians must be having faith as “belief without evidence.” But of course disagreeing with someone else’s assessment of the evidence does not entail that the religious “other” believes they are believing without evidence.
McGrew did a fantastic job of continually orienting the discussion around the topic at hand: epistemology. Boghossian’s continued appeal to certainty or the alleged need to explore every faith to know if one is true was thoroughly shredded. As McGrew pointed out, Boghossian could hardly hold a single belief if one truly had to reject every other possibility in order to hold to one as true. Boghossian’s epistemology, it seems, is the faulty one.
“Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician”- A brief look at the e-book by Tom Gilson– Tom Gilson has challenged Boghossian on a number of points, including his view of the meaning of “faith,” in his e-book “Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician.” It is well worth the read, and this review provides a summary of the major points.
Check out Tom Gilson’s live blog of the debate.
I recently downloaded Tom Gilson’s evaluation of Peter Boghossian’s epistemology for my Kindle. The work is witty but also to the point. Gilson launched a full-on attack against Boghossian’s mission to create atheists. The best parts of the book–and let me be clear, I think the entire work is essential reading–were his critique of Boghossian’s view of faith and his appeal to Christians regarding the importance of the topic.
Gilson makes it clear how important it is to provide a reasoned answer to Boghossian’s view. However, he goes much further than that; he notes that Boghossian’s mission is specifically to destroy the faith of Christians. For any Christian, this should be a disturbing thing to hear. Unlike many other atheists, Boghossian seems to have a plan: he’s going to actively work to proselytize Christians for atheism. He may be called an atheist missionary. Gilson called Christians to see this as a serious threat for Christianity. It’s not that Christianity doesn’t have the resources to answer Boghossian’s arguments; instead, it is that we have not equipped ourselves to do so. The average Christian-in-the-pew is basically incapable of refuting Boghossian-esque reasoning, and so will, possibly, have their faith seriously challenged by arguments which are basically vacuous.
Part of Boghossian’s mission, Gilson notes, is to redefine the meaning of faith. For Boghossian, faith should always be understood as “pretending to know what one does not know” (kindle location 118). Gilson notes that not only would such a redefinition be catastrophic for people of faith [of “pretending to know…”], but it is also a completely invented definition with no basis in reality. That is, Boghossian sems to be pretending to know what he doesn’t know. On his own definition, he is very faithful.
Why think that Boghossian’s definition is wrong? Gilson offers a number of points. Among them is the fact that the redefinition of the term cannot account for its usage among the faithful. Gilson shows how the redefined “faith” would lead to an absurd meaning for any number of texts in the Bible. Not only that, but he also cites a number of Christian thinkers to demonstrate that the usage of “faith” is much more grounded in evidence and true belief than it is grounded in a “pretend” world. By the time Gilson has finished dismantling Boghossian’s usage, it becomes clear that the latter is truly living in his own fantasy. The problem is that if Christians do not equip themselves to combat it, the dream may become reality.
There are a number of other excellent portions of this quick read, such as Gilson’s direct interaction with a number of Boghossian’s interviews and writings. He also approaches Boghossian’s work from several angles, providing a solid ground for the refutation of the atheistic work.
In short, I implore you to pick up and read this work by Gilson. He has done an excellent job of showing how Boghossian’s work may prove to be a challenge to Christianity. But the greater service he has done is provided a tool to equip believers to combat this challenge. Read it, spread it. Keep the faith.
Tom Gilson, Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician (2014).
I have found another round of excellent posts around the internet, and I will share them with you! This week, we look at zombies, complementarianism, moralistic therapeutic deism, Faith, video games, and Oz. As always, drop a comment about what you liked!
Warm Bodies: Exhuming Humanity– Anthony Weber looks into both the book and movie “Warm Bodies” to find a too-true account of humanity, with some confusing messages along the way.
How Complementarian is the Bible? (video)– Philip Payne, author of Man and Woman, One in Christ (my review is linked), offers a presentation on the Bible’s view of women and whether it entails complementarianism–the view that women are to be subordinate to men.
What is moralistic therapeutic deism?– A fascinating post outlining the state of beliefs in contemporary Christianity. The post also goes into “debunking” this position. This is well-worth the read because we have essentially an entire generation of children who hold this position growing up in our churches.
Hebrews 11:1-3- Defining Faith– Edgar Andrews has a fantastic post up on how we define faith, in contrast to many modern notions and distortions. Edgar Andrews is the author of what I think is one of the greatest introductions to apologetics available: “Who Made God?”
Review: Of Games and God– I found this post on a book about video games and Christianity pretty interesting. I appreciated the notion that the issue is much more complex than some people paint it: “The simple truth is that those not significantly invested in the world of video games often lack a point of reference to understand and interpret this artistic culture. Rather than condemning those who have genuine concerns about this new medium, however, Schut takes the time to work through what they may have missed—as well as the places where their impressions may be correct.” Check out this interesting review.
Recommending Viewing: DIsney’s “Return to Oz” (1985)– One of my new favorite sites (and podcasts!) is “The Sci-Fi Christian” (readers know this is for good reason: I LOVE science fiction). Check out their excellent look at a 1985 Disney movie on Oz, which offers a different look into the world than either the new movie or the old classic.