Another Flimsy Disclaimer

In his syllabus for his course on Atheism, Peter Boghossian includes a second disclaimer:

Just as the purpose of religious studies is not to convert students to a particular faith tradition, this course is not about “converting” students to atheism.

Really?

First, here are the religious studies courses offered by Portland State University.  I see no class entitled “Christianity” taught by a Christian apologist who uses his own book, “Manual for Creating Christians” as a required text.  Sorry, but Boghossian’s syllabus doesn’t read like any religious studies syllabus from a public university that I have seen.  If it did, it would explore and describe the different types of atheism around the world (materialists, idealists, buddhists, communists, humanists, etc). But judging from his syllabus, Boghossian’s course is about viewing the world as an atheist.

Secondly, and more importantly, is the required text for the course.  Boghossian tells us “this course is not about “converting” students to atheism” yet this is contradicted by the title of the required textbook, “A Manual for Creating Atheists.”

The contents of the required textbook also contradict the disclaimer:

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.

And if that wasn’t clear enough:

This book will teach you how to talk people out of their faith. You’ll learn how to engage the faithful in conversations that help them value reason and rationality, cast doubt on their beliefs, and mistrust their faith. I call this activist approach to helping people overcome their faith, Street Epistemology. The goal of this book is to create a generation of Street Epistemologists: people equipped with an array of dialectical and clinical tools who actively go into the streets, the prisons, the bars, the churches, the schools, and the community-into any and every place the faithful reside – and help them abandon their faith and embrace reason.

 Jerry Coyne promoted this book as “telling the reader how to become a ‘street epistemologist’ with the skills to attack religion” and John Loftus promoted as “There is nothing else on the market like this book that helps atheists talk believers out of their faith.”  The foreword by Michael Shermer is entitled “Born-Again Atheist” and boasts, “If I started reading A Manual for Creating Atheists as a Christian I would have been an atheist by the time I finished it.”  And the book also comes with this blurb:

“Since atheism is truly Good News, it should not be hidden under a bushel. Peter Boghossian shows us how to take it to the highways and the byways. I love it!” —Dan Barker, Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation

Given the purpose of Boghossian’s book is to convert people to atheism, and given the book is a required text in his course, where he spends 3-4 weeks going through the book, the disclaimer about the course not trying to convert people to atheism doesn’t sound very convincing.  Even less so once you consider that Boghossian has publicly advocated that “professors should have a primary goal of changing students beliefs if those beliefs are false and seek to replace those beliefs with true ones.

 

Posted in academia, atheism, education, New Atheism, Peter Boghossian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Atheos: The Atheist Proselytization App

 

It won’t be much longer until the street appistemologists (HT: Dhay) receive some much needed aid to better proselytize for atheism.  It’s the phone app “Atheos” from Peter Boghossian (the philosopher who insists all religious people are infected with a dangerous faith virus and need to be cured) that challenges you to become “Reason’s Champion.”

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The app is apparently going to be marketed as if it is for everyone.  From the official webpage:

The goal is to help people become more thoughtful and more reflective about their faith-based beliefs.—Peter Boghossian

Can you support your positions about God, religion or the supernatural?

Atheos is an app being developed by Dr. Peter Boghossian and his team that helps people have non-confrontational discussions about gods, religion, faith, and superstition. It will show you how to gently explore a person’s strongest beliefs.

Atheos will provide you with the skills you’ll need to spot flaws in weak statements and use reason to politely help people understand why they may not be correct.

It’s the perfect app for atheists, agnostics, humanists, skeptics, freethinkers, and even believers who want to find out how best to engage in religious discussions.

Yet as Boghossian himself admits, it’s just a proselytizing tool for atheists that relies on the renowned  genius of the [cough] internet atheist community:

 

You can see a tutorial of the app in the video below.  Apparently it’s designed so atheists can argue with it so the app can tell the street appistemologists what to think (they actually earn points for picking the “right” answers – Go Champion, Go!).

The app even comes with its own commercial.

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Peter Boghossian’s Course Disclaimer

In his syllabus for his course on Atheism, Peter Boghossian includes the following disclaimer:

This course deals with many controversial topics related to people’s deepest held beliefs about god and religion, science and technology, politics and economics, morality and ethics, and social attitudes and cultural assumptions. I hope to challenge you to think about your beliefs in all these areas, and others. My goal is to teach you how to think about your beliefs, not what to think about them. I have my own set of beliefs that I have developed over the decades, which I do not attempt to hide or suppress…in the classroom my goal is not to convince you of anything other than to think about your beliefs…

That sounds nice.  But two problems come to mind.  First, the course requires the text “A Manual for Creating Atheists” and anyone who has read that book knows “how to think” about God becomes what to think about God belief.  There is a reason the book is entitled, “A Manual for Creating Atheists.”  Boghossian believes that once people learn “how” to think about their religious beliefs,  they will become cured and  become atheists.  In other words, while Boghossian might not proclaim, “You need to abandon your belief in God,” he does teach that belief in a God is a faith virus and faith viruses are bad.  A distinction without a difference.

Secondly, take the exact same disclaimer, without a single word change, and imagine the professor was a Christian apologist who spent much time outside the class as part of a movement trying  to convert people to Christianity.  Imagine the name of this course was “Christianity” and the professor/apologist had the students read his book, “A Manual for Creating Christians.”  Would any atheist be somewhat concerned about this?

Also, we can get a feel for how we’re supposed to think about our religious beliefs from the syllabus.  Consider the subject of week 2:

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American Atheist President Insists “there are no gods”

Dave Rubin is an atheist who does one of those internet talk shows. In a recent show about atheism, he spends the first five minutes telling his atheist viewers what atheism is using the same set of atheist talking points you have heard of before, including the one where “Atheism is just a lack of belief.” For some reason, atheists seem to need continued reminders of what it means to the be an atheist.

Anyway, after the sermon, Rubin turns to his two atheist guests. One is David Silverman, the New Atheist who is president of the American Atheists. Silverman immediately goes off script at 5:50 (video below the fold):

Everybody is godless, there are no gods, so everybody is godless, I’m just aware of it, there are NO gods, everybody is godless, every single person.

There are no gods, eh? But Rubin just got done preaching that atheism is simply a lack of belief in any gods. To insist (twice) there are no gods goes beyond the “lack of belief” claim and makes a knowledge claim – claiming to know there is no God and thus claiming that atheism is objectively true.

Of course, atheist activists and evangelists can’t defend such a knowledge claim, which is why they retreat into the “i just lack a god belief” stance.

Paul Provenza, the other atheist guest, immediately tries to get back on message and gives us the standard talking point at 7:10:

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Peter Boghossian’s Atheism Course

Militant atheist Jerry Coyne recently spoke of  Peter Boghossian:

Peter also teaches an “Atheism” class and a separate “New Atheism” class, both of which are wildly popular: they have to turn students away. That’s a good sign, and most of the students are either nonbelievers, doubters, or simply want to learn more about the nature of modern nonbelief.

So Peter Boghossian teaches a class on “Atheism” and another one on “New Atheism.”  Wonderful.

Here’s the syllabus for Boghossian’s “Atheism” class.  The first thing I noticed was the required texts for this 300-level philosophy class.  There are two of them.  The first is

50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God by Guy P. Harrison.  Prometheus Books (June 5, 2008). 

Harrison is an atheist and Prometheus Books is an atheist publishing company.  Wiki describes Harrison as follows:

Harrison has degrees in history and anthropology at the University of South Florida.[2] He was influenced towards skepticism by thinking about Erich von Däniken’s book Chariots of the Gods?, which theorized that earth had been visited by aliens during antiquity.

It doesn’t sound like Harrison has a PhD in philosophy or religion.  In fact, his book promo page on Amazon.com describes him as “a journalist.”

Harrison describes himself and his book in the video below.  Harrison comes across as one of the New Atheists trying to fly under the radar and the book seems to be going after lots of low hanging fruit and straw men.

Here are some of the mighty theistic arguments Boghossian’s 300-level philosophy class will read up on:

My god is obvious.
Almost everybody on Earth is religious.
Faith is a good thing.
Archaeological discoveries prove that my god exists.
Only my god can make me feel significant.
Atheism is just another religion.
Evolution is bad.
Our world is too beautiful to be an accident.
My god created the universe.
Believing in my god makes me happy.
Better safe than sorry.
A sacred book proves my god is real.

You can see the rest of the list here.

Lastly, Harrison has the distinction of being one of the few people to help promote Peter Boghossian’s strange book.

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Mythers vs. Sam Harris

Instead of complaining that mainstream scholars don’t embrace Mytherism, the Mythers should be concerned that they have yet to convince all the New Atheists.

Over at Amazon.com, Harris’s spirituality book is promoted as follows:

Waking Up is for the twenty percent of Americans who follow no religion but who suspect that important truths can be found in the experiences of such figures as Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the other saints and sages of history.

Huh?  If we were to adopt the Myther brand of Hyper-Skepticism, not only did Jesus not exist.  But neither did Buddha and Lao Tzu exist.  In fact, we may as well keep going, as the same Hyper-Skepticism would teach us that Socrates and Mohammad did not exist.

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Trying to Defend Sam Harris

Militant atheist Jerry Coyne recently promoted an article by militant atheist Jeffrey Taylor.  The shared theme was to defend militant atheist Sam Harris (something Coyne apparently discussed with militant atheist Peter Boghossian).

Coyne’s defense of Harris is pathetic.  He complains:

I’ve long pondered why people make such vicious and unwarranted criticisms of Harris, even compared to other New Atheists like Hitchens or Dennett. I think there are two reasons.

Here is his first reason:

First, Sam asks hard questions, and people don’t like to think about hard questions. Should we ever lie? Is torture ever justifiable? Is it even possible to even imagine a first strike against Islamic enemies? Is it possible that religion can really be a strong motivator for bad acts, including Islamist terrorism? Is our notion of “free will”—of agency—a complete illusion? Is it justifiable to profile people at airports based on their religious beliefs?

Okay, so “Sam asks hard questions.”  Coyne then compares Harris to…well,…..Socrates( I kid you not):

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The Problem With Mythers

The Mythers have a problem – the community of mainstream scholars is not impressed by their arguments and claims.  The problem is made worse in that the Mythers have been peddling their case for over a century now.  So it’s not exactly as if the Mythers have some novel arguments to offer to stir things up.

This puts the Mythers in a terribly awkward position.  If the case for the historicity of Jesus is so completely without evidence, while the case for Mytherism is so powerful and strong, why is it that the community of mainstream scholars, with different backgrounds and outlooks, almost universally rejects Mytherism?

The Mythers have an answer.  Mainstream scholars are attacked as ones who reject Mytherism purely for psychological reasons.  If the scholars don’t agree with you, attack and discredit them.  As Myther Jerry Coyne explains on his blog:

This puts me outside the bailiwick of modern scholarship, but I still claim that those scholars, like Bart Ehrman, who claim that mythicists are dead wrong, are themselves operating from psychological motives rather than from empirical evidence. They are, as Price mentions in this video, adherents to the “Stuck in the Middle with You” brand of scholarship, believing only those in the center with critical but conservative views, while placing both fundamentists like William Lane Craig and mythicists on the outside. In other words, these scholars, even though there’s no evidence for a historical Jesus, adhere to that view because it makes them look reasonable.

 What’s more, multiple layers of psychological motivation must be at play, for Coyne also informs us:

in the end agree with Carrier that mythicism appears to be rejected by Biblical scholars for mere psychological reasons. Christianity is a bedrock of Western society, so even if we doubt the divinity of Jesus, can’t we just make everyone happy by agreeing that the New Testament is based on a real person? What do we have to lose?

 James McGrath also quotes Carrier citing yet another reason:

“I know professors who won’t publicly admit they think we have a point, out of fear for their career.”

I’m sure if the Mythers sat in their armchairs long enough, they could dream up a few more psychological motivations to add to the mix.

The problem for Coyne, Price, and Carrier is that this approach cuts both ways.  If we are to go down this road, then we must address the following question:

Who is more likely to be operating from psychological motives?  A global community of scholars with diverse backgrounds and outlooks?  Or a tiny, fringe group of atheist activists? 

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Street Epistemologists Get Their Needed Crutch

About three years ago, John Loftus excitedly reviewed Peter Boghossian’s silly book as follows:

Peter Boghossian’s new brilliant book will change our nomenclature and effectiveness in disabusing believers of their faith. His book will definitely change the religious landscape.
Nomenclature refers to the names we give to phenomena.
[…]
So he’s calling on a potential legion of people who are willing to help cure believers of their faith virus. He calls them “Street Epistemologists” who are equipped with the tactics he presents in his manual.
[….]
I think that with the Socratic Method as an excellent tool in our toolkit (as he explains in chapter five), Boghossian has given the Street Epistemologist a better understanding of how to argue believers out of their faith, even if many of them still probably cannot be argued out of it. He writes, “In order to reason them out of their faith they’ll have to be taught how to reason first, and then instructed in the application of this new tool to their epistemic condition.” (p. 63)
This is the brilliant part of Boghossian’s book. I look forward to the results in the years to come.

Well, it’s been about three years now and where is this promised change in “our nomenclature and effectiveness in disabusing believers of their faith?”

As far as I can tell, no one outside of the Cult of Gnu has taken Boghossian’s book seriously. I have seen no glowing reviews from mainstream scholars or scholarly publications. And no one outside of the Cult of Gnu has adopted Boghossian’s twisted definition of faith. In fact, I don’t even see Dawkins or Harris adopting Boghossian’s nomenclature.

And where is the legion of “Street Epistemologists?” Over the last three years, we had a single Street Epistemologist show up at this blog and after some of us asked him a few questions, he ran away.

There is a Street Epistemology website that is trying to put together a list of 10,000 people “who will be active and engage others and teach others better ways to come to knowledge.” Three years after setting it up, they have 66 members.

Clearly, the tiny, timid community of street epistemologists need some help.  Fast.  So Boghossian has come up with a way to help energize this flailing community.  Consider what Gnu activist Jerry Coyne recently wrote:

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New Atheist Leader Comes Out as a Myther

On April 17th, Jerry Coyne wrote:

I’m pretty much of the opinion that there’s no strong evidence for the claim that Jesus was a historical person around whom the Jesus myths (obviously false) accreted. In other words, I’m a mythicist. I don’t claim that we know that a Jesus-man didn’t exist, only that we don’t have good evidence that he did.

Coyne then tries to rationalize his fringe position:

This puts me outside the bailiwick of modern scholarship, but I still claim that those scholars, like Bart Ehrman, who claim that mythicists are dead wrong, are themselves operating from psychological motives rather than from empirical evidence. They are, as Price mentions in this video, adherents to the “Stuck in the Middle with You” brand of scholarship, believing only those in the center with critical but conservative views, while placing both fundamentists like William Lane Craig and mythicists on the outside. In other words, these scholars, even though there’s no evidence for a historical Jesus, adhere to that view because it makes them look reasonable.

Of course!  Psychological motives.  But not only are all these modern scholars psychologically motivated to be snooty, they are doing their duty to Defend Western Civilization:

in the end agree with Carrier that mythicism appears to be rejected by Biblical scholars for mere psychological reasons. Christianity is a bedrock of Western society, so even if we doubt the divinity of Jesus, can’t we just make everyone happy by agreeing that the New Testament is based on a real person? What do we have to lose?

How did I miss that before?  That modern scholars reject the position of militant atheist activists can only be explained with pyschology!  They defend the bedrock of Western society with great snootiness.   But wait.  Is it possible, just possible, that the the mythers are operating from psychological motives given their fringe, crackpot status?

Posted in Mytherism, New Atheism, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 9 Comments