After reading some of his material, and watching several videos, I have reached the opinion that Peter Boghossian does indeed have a talent. No, it’s not that he is super smart or very good with Reason and Evidence. It’s the same talent that is shared by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins – the talent of self-promotion. Boghossian is just the latest atheist activist trying to cash in on the New Atheist movement.
Consider how Boghossian sets things up with his book. First, the title – “A Manual For Creating Atheists.” You would think most philosophers would be embarrassed by such a title. What’s next? Atheism for Dummies? The Debate Pocket Handbook for Atheists? Why would Boghossian choose such a cheesy, poised-to-be-mocked, title for his book? Well, think of the target audience. The New Atheist movement. That is a title that is designed for one thing – to sell.
The sales pitch continues in the first chapter of his book. He first plays to the narcissistic tendencies of his target audience:
Street Epistemology is a vision and a strategy for the next generation of atheists, skeptics, humanists, philosophers, and activists. Left behind is the idealized vision of wimpy, effete philosophers: older men in jackets with elbow patches, smoking pipes, stroking their white, unkempt beards. Gone is cowering to ideology, orthodoxy, and the modern threat of political correctness.
Enter the Street Epistemologist: an articulate, clear, helpful voice with an unremitting desire to help people overcome their faith and to create a better world—a world that uses intelligence, reason, rationality, thoughtfulness, ingenuity, sincerity, science, and kindness to build the future; not a world built on faith, delusion, pretending, religion, fear, pseudoscience, superstition, or a certainty achieved by keeping people in a stupor that makes them pawns of unseen forces because they’re terrified.
The Street Epistemologist is a philosopher and a fighter. She has savvy and street smarts that come from the school of hard knocks. She relentlessly helps others by tearing down falsehoods about whatever enshrined “truths” enslave us.
Boghossian knows that most of the New Atheist fan base is not that smart. So he patronizes them with their “street smarts” and promises to transform them into a some Ninja Philosopher who will help bring about some utopia. And you just know the New Atheist faithful will lap this up.
Toward the end, he pays tribute to “The Four Horsemen” (something that is required in the Cult of Gnu) but then notes a problem:
The Four Horsemen identified the problems and raised our awareness, but they offered few solutions. No roadmap. Not even guideposts. Now the onus is upon the next generation of thinkers and activists to take direct and immediate action to fix the problems Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens identified.
Hmmm. If you’ve listened to Dawkins and Harris all these years, they claim their books did much more than identify problems and raise awareness – they claim those books are responsible for multiple conversions and the decline of religion. New Atheism was supposed to be doing just fine before Boghossian’s book came out. Boghossian can’t repeat that talking point, as he has something to sell. So he writes:
A Manual for Creating Atheists is a step beyond Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett. A Manual for Creating Atheists offers practical solutions to the problems of faith and religion through the creation of Street Epistemologists—legions of people who view interactions with the faithful as clinical interventions designed to disabuse them of their faith.
Very clever. Boghossian is arguing that while Harris and Dawkins did their thing, he is the one now holding the Keys to the Kingdom. And he is willing to provide them to the “legions,” as if the average Gnu is being promised the ability to be the next Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. In fact, he makes that promise explicitly clear in the next paragraph:
Hitchens may be gone, but no single individual will take his place. Instead of a replacement Horseman, there are millions of Horsemen ushering in a new Enlightenment and an Age of Reason. You, the reader, will be one of these Horsemen. You will become a Street Epistemologist. You will transform a broken world long ruled by unquestioned faith into a society built on reason, evidence, and thought- out positions. This is work that needs to be done and work that will pay off by potentially helping millions—even billions—of people to live in a better world.
Wow! What a brilliant sales pitch. The problem was identified by the Four Horsemen and now Peter Boghossian is selling not only the solution, but the chance to be “one of these Horsemen.” How exciting it must be for the typical New Atheist to think he too can be Richard Dawkins. And my oh my, what a declaration of faith. How does Boghossian know his readers “will transform a broken world long ruled by unquestioned faith into a society built on reason, evidence, and thought- out positions?” He simply declares it on faith, expecting his readers to accept it on faith.
If you watch the video below, you will see Boghossian making the same sales pitch starting at 33:20. When doing so, pay attention to the image on the screen.
When Boghossian sells the notion of “millions of horsemen”, what is it you see on that screen? Can’t make it out? Here’s what was on the screen:
Surprise! It’s his book. Millions of horsemen equate to…..millions of copies of his book. Of course! From Boghossian’s perspective, each image of a person in a lab coat holding a copy of his book could just as well be a dollar sign. Like I said, this is a brilliant example of planned self-promotion and salesmanship.
One problem – Boghossian is peddling cargo-cult science. We’ll explore that in a future posting.