Taking Two Minutes to Answer Boghossian’s Unanswerable Challenge

Atheist activist Peter Boghossian has a challenge:

In my May 6, 2012 public lecture for the Humanists of Greater Portland, I further underscored the difference between faith and hope by issuing the following thought challenge:

Give me a sentence where one must use the word ‘faith,’ and cannot replace that with ‘hope’, yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something one doesn’t know.

To date, nobody has answered the thought challenge. I don’t think it can be answered because faith and hope are not synonyms.

Too easy.

For 10 years, Richard Dawkins has been claiming he experienced some harmless molestation as a young boy. Is there any evidence to support this claim? No. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. All we have is Dawkins making some vague claim about the past.

So here is my sentence.

I will accept, on faith, that Dawkins was molested as a young boy.

Clearly, we cannot replace the word “faith” with “hope,” as I certainly do not hope he was molested.

Neither is this an example of pretending to know something, for I certainly do not claim to know that Dawkins was molested as a young boy.

So there ya go.

But now we have a challenge for atheists.

Given he has no evidence to support his claim, and all claims are supposed to be supported by evidence in order to merit belief, why do you believe Dawkins?

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24 Responses to Taking Two Minutes to Answer Boghossian’s Unanswerable Challenge

  1. Crude says:

    I suppose if you want to get meta…

    “I will accept, on faith, that Boghossian never heard a response to his question.”

  2. Sam says:

    Where are these idiots coming from? And – what’s worse – this person is allegedly a philosopher?

  3. “Is there any evidence to support this claim? No. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. All we have is Dawkins making some vague claim about the past.”

    Why is Dawkins’ introspective report about his memory not a form of evidence? It’s not exactly good evidence, or reliably evidence, but it is nevertheless a form of evidence i.e. anecdotal evidence. And if it is an evidential based claim, albeit weakly evidential, then the acceptance of Dawkins’ report is presumably a kind of knowledge claim or pseudo-knowledge claim. Presumably Dawkins would think he possesses introspective evidence about his own past, in the the same way I have introspective memory-based evidence about my personal past.

    “Neither is this an example of pretending to know something, for I certainly do not claim to know that Dawkins was molested as a young boy.”

    While you might not be claiming to “know” that Dawkins was molested with 100% certainty, you are presumably accepting this statement for SOME reason, namely, the fact that Dawkins has given an introspective report from his memory banks and there are solid inferential rules for accepting people’s memory reports as prima facie factive if we regard this people to have a decently reliable memory for major events in their personal past. And this is point of Boghossian’s challenge: knowledge or acceptance claims are based on evidence or reason. If you say “I have faith Jesus walked on water” but have no evidence or reason to back it up, then you are either making a hope-claim or a groundless knowledge claim. The only reason why anyone would “accept” Dawkins’ claim is because they are relying on his testimony and testimony is an evidentially-grounded concept.

  4. Another Steve says:

    I gotta agree with Gary Williams on this. In court, eyewitness testimony is considered evidence.

  5. Crude says:

    Why is Dawkins’ introspective report about his memory not a form of evidence?

    If testimony is evidence, then the claims about Christians lacking evidence for their beliefs dies on the spot. Even full blown claims of revelation have evidence, because it’s just yet another form of testimony.

    This alone would be sufficient to scuttle a tremendous amount of Boghossian’s criticism on this point, and it’s only going to get worse once his claims about ‘faith’ are further examined.

    While you might not be claiming to “know” that Dawkins was molested with 100% certainty, you are presumably accepting this statement for SOME reason, namely, the fact that Dawkins has given an introspective report from his memory banks and there are solid inferential rules for accepting people’s memory reports as prima facie factive if we regard this people to have a decently reliable memory for major events in their personal past.

    Dawkins’ claims can be accepted without any requirement that one believes they have ‘knowledge’ that Dawkins’ claim is true. The problem here is you seem to be having a ‘But what if you said this…!’ approach to Mike’s response, and mounting criticisms based on that. But that’s not really touching on the response Mike actually gave – and that’s that you can have faith in someone’s claim without hoping it’s true, or at the same time believing you have knowledge that their claim is true.

    Boom, that’s it.

    If you say “I have faith Jesus walked on water” but have no evidence or reason to back it up, then you are either making a hope-claim or a groundless knowledge claim. The only reason why anyone would “accept” Dawkins’ claim is because they are relying on his testimony and testimony is an evidentially-grounded concept.

    Who says ‘I have faith Jesus walked on water’ and at the same time has no testimony that Jesus walked on water?

    As I said – if you’re taking ‘testimony’ to be ‘evidence’, then you’ve conceded one heck of a thing. And it still doesn’t really touch Mike’s reply, since he can still make the claim without believing he has knowledge that Dawkins’ claim is true.

  6. Michael says:

    Why is Dawkins’ introspective report about his memory not a form of evidence? It’s not exactly good evidence, or reliably evidence, but it is nevertheless a form of evidence i.e. anecdotal evidence.

    Wow. Are you sure you want to go there? Let’s clear up a couple of things before proceeding any further.

    I didn’t consider it evidence because Dawkins, and atheists in general, seem to think evidence must be scientific. So are you conceding that evidence can be evidence even if it is not scientific?

    Secondly, your argument is familiar. Not too long ago, PZ Myers, relying on an email he received, accused a Famous Skeptic of committing rape. PZ’s supporters cited the accusation itself as evidence the Famous Skeptic did commit the act. Are you agreeing with them?

  7. Michael says:

    If testimony is evidence, then the claims about Christians lacking evidence for their beliefs dies on the spot. Even full blown claims of revelation have evidence, because it’s just yet another form of testimony.

    Indeed! That’s why I said “Wow.” In his quest to defend Boghossian, Gary just gave away the keys to the atheist kingdom. Hint to Gary – atheists are 100% committed to the notion there is “NO EVIDENCE” for God’s existence. If testimony is evidence……..

    Dawkins’ claims can be accepted without any requirement that one believes they have ‘knowledge’ that Dawkins’ claim is true. The problem here is you seem to be having a ‘But what if you said this…!’ approach to Mike’s response, and mounting criticisms based on that. But that’s not really touching on the response Mike actually gave – and that’s that you can have faith in someone’s claim without hoping it’s true, or at the same time believing you have knowledge that their claim is true.
    Boom, that’s it.

    Well stated! The challenge has been met. But as we know, New Atheists can never, ever admit to being wrong. It’s just another dimension of their doxastic closure.

  8. >If testimony is evidence, then the claims about Christians lacking evidence for their beliefs dies on the spot.

    Not really. I admit that testimony is a form of evidence but for purposes of scientific inquiry it is not a GOOD form of evidence. There is ample psychological research from Elizabeth Loftus and others that eyewitness testimony is a very unreliable form of evidence. That makes it bad evidence. So if Christians are relying on thousands of years of unreliable testimony, then that’s bad evidence, not a lack of evidence. The Jews and the Muslims have the same kind of testimonial evidence and yet it contradicts Christian evidence, indicating the unreliability of testimony especially if it is testimony about supernatural experiences.

    >I didn’t consider it evidence because Dawkins, and atheists in general, seem to think evidence must be scientific. So are you conceding that evidence can be evidence even if it is not scientific?

    I don’t care what Dawkins thinks. He isn’t a representative for all atheists nor is he a professional philosopher that has studied epistemology in depth. Dawkins is not the shining exemplar of atheistic thinking. If Dawkins says testimony isn’t a form of evidence, he is plainly mistaken. All it takes is a look at volumes like Jennifer Lackey’s “The Epistemology of Testimony” to show that testimony is a form of evidence. The relevant question is not whether it is or isnt evidence, but HOW GOOD of evidence it is. Almost all our beliefs are derived from testimony in some form or another. But that doesn’t make them well-justified, especially in scientific contexts or contexts where the pragmatic stakes are high (e.g. courtroom).

    >PZ’s supporters cited the accusation itself as evidence the Famous Skeptic did commit the act. Are you agreeing with them?

    I do not care at all about what PZ thinks. He isn’t a philosopher and doesn’t seem to know much about epistemology and the details of this case seem completely irrelevant. An accusation can be a form of “prima facie” evidence. Prima facie evidence can be over-turned by later discoveries. But this example is too contaminated with moral and legal issues. Which is why it’s a red herring.

    >Hint to Gary – atheists are 100% committed to the notion there is “NO EVIDENCE” for God’s existence.

    There is no GOOD or CONVINCING evidence for God’s existence, not that there is no evidence at all. In fact one of the problems with religion as outlined by John Loftus with his “Outsider test” is that there is TOO MUCH evidence for God, albeit too much contradictory evidence coming from conflicting sources. Followers of Islam claim to have testimonial evidence that Muhammad is the last prophet. Jews have testimonial evidence about the covenant on Sinnai. Christians have testimonial evidence about Jesus rising from the dead. The problem is that all religious believers from across the globe claim to have evidence either derived from their own personal experience or the testimony of someone else’s personal experience. But when all these start contradicting each other, and they are all mutually exclusive, the best answer is that they are ALL wrong.

    In a nutshell: if testimony is good evidence for Christians then it is good evidence for Muslims. But they can’t both be right, which proves that testimony is not a reliable source of evidence in scientific or high-stakes contexts.

  9. The original Mr. X says:

    “Give me a sentence where one must use the word ‘faith,’ and cannot replace that with ‘hope’, yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something one doesn’t know.”

    “Backed up by the full faith and credit of the United States.” Presumably this doesn’t just mean “Fingers crossed, we hope we might be able to pay you back sometime,” although with the present government you never really know.

  10. “Backed up by the full faith and credit of the United States.”

    This can be replaced by “trust”: “Backed up by the full [trust] and credit of the US”. If you read Boghossian’s book, the full context of the challenge is to distinguish faith from hope AND trust, not just hope alone.

  11. Wait, what exactly were we addressing here? Were we debating the validity of Christianity, or answering Boghossian’s challenge? Because his challenge has been answered. The end, we win. It wasn’t hard.

    I didn’t think this comments section was meant to be the place where we set out a full defense of the Christian faith.

  12. Michael says:

    I don’t care what Dawkins thinks. He isn’t a representative for all atheists nor is he a professional philosopher that has studied epistemology in depth. Dawkins is not the shining exemplar of atheistic thinking.

    I can understand that you are embarrassed by Dawkins and want to distance yourself from him, but then why do you channel him? Above, in response to Crude, you try to shoehorn science into the discussion: “I admit that testimony is a form of evidence but for purposes of scientific inquiry it is not a GOOD form of evidence.” Given that scientific inquiry cannot determine whether or not God exists, your point is an irrelevant distraction that adds needless confusion to the discussion.

    Let’s pause and see where we stand. Dawkins claims he was molested as a child. He has no evidence to support his claim, but I am willing to accept it on faith. You, on the other hand, think you have knowledge. You think you know that Dawkins was molested because you think you have evidence. And what is that evidence? He said so. That’s it. That’s all. He said so. But then when we consider another example of testimony, one that accuses a Famous Skeptic of rape, suddenly, testimony ceases to be evidence and you begin complaining about PZ Myers and Red Herrings. I can understand you complaining about the Myers example, as it exposes your intellectual inconsistency.

    If Dawkins says testimony isn’t a form of evidence, he is plainly mistaken.

    So you do acknowledge that evidence does not need to be scientific to be evidence. Good.

    All it takes is a look at volumes like Jennifer Lackey’s “The Epistemology of Testimony” to show that testimony is a form of evidence. The relevant question is not whether it is or isnt evidence, but HOW GOOD of evidence it is.

    So Jerry Coyne was wrong when he wrote: “While uniformly decrying atheists’ lack of theological sophistication, they offer no substantive response to our most trenchant critique: there is no evidence for any divine being, or for the fact claims of any faith. “

    Coyne, and hundreds of other atheists, say such things all the time. At least you can see the folly in that claim. What I can’t figure out is why you atheists cannot use reason to reach a consensus on this core, foundational principle of atheism.

    But hold on. Peter Boghossian, and hundreds of other atheists, define faith as “belief without evidence.” Given that faith is always tied to testimony, and testimony is evidence, are we all not rationally obligated to discard that misguided definition?

    There is no GOOD or CONVINCING evidence for God’s existence, not that there is no evidence at all.

    Oh, oh. So the issue needs to be decided in the quicksand of subjectivity. For just who gets to decide if evidence is GOOD or CONVINCING? Those decisions are typically a matter of personal opinion and depend on the context any particular brain provides. Look, perhaps you could help us out of the quicksand by telling us what YOU would count as GOOD or CONVINCING evidence for God’s existence.

  13. Crude says:

    Gary,

    I’m focusing on the Boghossian challenge, because that was the point of this post, and the original conversation. As Malcolm said, he made a challenge, the challenge has been met. In fact, met pretty easily. Arguments about whether Boghossian’s overall arguments are still good are worth discussion, but don’t have much to do with that particular topic.

    And to be real brief…

    In a nutshell: if testimony is good evidence for Christians then it is good evidence for Muslims. But they can’t both be right, which proves that testimony is not a reliable source of evidence in scientific or high-stakes contexts.

    A) This isn’t a scientific context.
    B) They can both be right, about quite a lot of things. They are not diametrically opposed to each other.
    C) The most reasonable conclusion may well be that both the muslim and the christian faith can be reasonably believed.

    Either way – if you grant that testimony is evidence, as Mike said, it seems you run up against Boghossian anyway. Isn’t one of his schticks that faith is ‘belief without evidence’ and ‘pretending to know what you don’t know’? The first one alone is enough to sink him with you if you take testimony to be evidence. And that’s before we start looking at the other evidences.

  14. The original Mr. X says:

    Gary,

    “This can be replaced by “trust”: “Backed up by the full [trust] and credit of the US”. If you read Boghossian’s book, the full context of the challenge is to distinguish faith from hope AND trust, not just hope alone.”

    First of all, it’s quite rare that a word has no synonyms in a particular context, so I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove here. Secondly, note that in order to try and deflect this answer to Boghossian’s challenge you’re having to re-define the actual challenge.

  15. Michael says:

    This can be replaced by “trust”: “Backed up by the full [trust] and credit of the US”. If you read Boghossian’s book, the full context of the challenge is to distinguish faith from hope AND trust, not just hope alone.

    So it turns out the challenge has a secret dimension to it that can only be gleaned by buying the book? Gimme a break.

    The challenge was made and the challenge was met. Why is it so hard to acknowledge this?

    As for trust, well yeah, it is very, very common to define faith as trust. That’s how I have always defined it. Boghossian is the one who comes to us with ad hoc definitions designed to fit the goals of his activist anti-religious agenda. Why am I supposed to accept an activist’s spin on reality?

  16. Sam says:

    As Christians, “Christian faith” is our concept. The right to define it belongs to us, not atheists. Many of them either can’t or refuse to get this, though. It must mean whatever they – of an opposing camp – say it means, namely a blind leap in the dark. The mixture of arrogance and daftness is astonishing.

  17. The original Mr. X says:

    @ Sam: Exactly so. It’s just like a young-earth creationist defining “evolution” as “a chimpanzee once gave birth to a human baby”, and then insisting that evolutionary biologists stick to and defend that definition.

  18. >As Christians, “Christian faith” is our concept. The right to define it belongs to us, not atheists.

    What do you make of the concept of an “inter-faith alliance” between different religious faiths? Is the concept of faith unique to Christianity? If a Muslim has “confidence” in Allah is that distinct from the kind of confidence a Christian has in Jesus? Is there a correspondingly unique concept of faith for every different religion?

    Atheists are not the only ones offering competing definitions of faith. Different theologians/Christians have offered different and contradictory definitions of faith as well. Is there a single succinct definition of faith that all 40,000+ different denominations of Christianity agree upon? If so, could you enlighten me about what it amounts to?

    P.s. no one has any “right” to define an English word, not even lexicographers. All you can do is make suggestions and hope the majority of the linguistic community accepts it.

  19. The original Mr. X says:

    “P.s. no one has any “right” to define an English word, not even lexicographers. All you can do is make suggestions and hope the majority of the linguistic community accepts it.”

    Except when the word in question is “faith”, of course, in which case it’s perfectly fine to insist that everybody uses the term as you do, read your definition back into authors who weren’t using the word like that, and generally ignore any protests at your linguistic manipulation.

  20. Michael says:

    Since it doesn’t look like Gary is going to respond to my last reply, I’ll respond to some of his comments from his blog.

    If it’s not a knowledge claim then why would anyone “accept” that claim about Dawkins?

    We begin with the fact that Dawkins publicly makes a claim and there is no evidence to support this claim. I choose to accept it. My acceptance is an act of the will. If I am unwilling to accept his claim on faith, I am left with two other options. I would have to believe that he is either lying or he is deluded (and that would be one serious delusion).

    Acceptance is a mental state and presumably people accept things on the basis of gathering knowledge.

    But the only knowledge I have is that Richard Dawkins made a claim about being molested. From there, I am left with a choice. I can choose to accept his claim on faith, or, perceive him as a liar or delusional.

    So how exactly is that claim not “pretending to know something one doesn’t know.”?

    Because I don’t know if he was truly molested. Neither do I claim to know. How can I pretend to know something when I openly acknowledge I don’t know?

    Gary was asked, “Would you agree his challenge has been met?”
    Gary replied:

    Not, not really. You have not shown to my satisfaction that acceptance as a psychological concept isn’t related to knowledge as a psychological concept.

    Yet I make it crystal clear that my acceptance is not rooted in knowledge.

    At the very least, the sentence is grammatical because no one would ever say it because it violates the psychological connotations surrounding the word “accept” and “faith”.

    Huh? I just said it. I stand by it. Your claim has been falsified.

    Take the following imaginary dialogue:

    Alice: ““I will accept, on faith, that Richard Dawkins was molested as a young boy.”
    Bob: Why do you accept that? Do you have evidence?
    Alice: Yes, I do have evidence: Dawkins’ own testimony.
    Bob: So you don’t accept it on FAITH then, you accept it on the basis of evidence.If you have evidence, then faith isn’t necessary.
    Alice:I guess so.

    Instead of arguing against hypothetical ghosts, why not deal with something closer to empirical reality:

    Alice: ““I will accept, on faith, that Richard Dawkins was molested as a young boy.”
    Bob: Why do you accept that? Do you have evidence?
    Alice: No, there is no evidence. But I am willing to accept it on faith.
    Bob: How can that be? You cannot accept that claim unless you have knowledge it is true.
    Alice: Told ya. I’m willing to accept it on faith. Do you accept his claim?
    Bob: Yes, I have evidence.
    Alice: And what is that evidence?
    Bob: He said so.
    Alice: And because, in your mind, you have evidence, you think you have knowledge?
    Bob: Yes, I know Dawkins was molested because the evidence tells me so.
    Alice: To be clear, that evidence is nothing more him saying so, right?
    Bob: Right.
    Alice: Looks to me like you are the one pretending to know something you don’t know.
    Bob: Preposterous.
    Alice: Really? Wouldn’t you have the same exact evidence if he was lying?
    Bob: Gotta run.

    You are forgetting an important facet of my response: Boghossian is making a NORMATIVE claim. Do you know what that means? It means that he thinks faith *should* be defined as “pretending to know what you don’t know.”

    Why *should* anyone take him seriously? He is, afterall, an activist with an agenda. And the agenda clearly has shaped his new definition.

    Someone might disagree with Boghossian about how the word *should* be defined, just like people disagree about how to define the word “consciousness” or “free will”. Pointing out that some people disagree with how Boghossian thinks the word should be defined obviously does not refute Boghossian on this point in particular because he is offering a NEW definition of faith that HE prefers.

    I reject his definition because it does not apply to me. So how would Boghossian react to this discovery? A true scholar/scientist does not try to make reality conform to his definitions. The activist with an agenda does that.

  21. Chad says:

    Look closer. You still didn’t answer Boghossian’s question. When you say that you “accept on faith” Dawkins claims, you are either saying you take his claims to be true (a knowledge claim), or you are making a judgement about his character. You are saying “I choose to believe him” because only a terrible sort of person would make that up, and I prefer to have faith (hope) that he’s not that sort of person.

  22. Kevin says:

    All I know is Boghossian makes a living pretending to know what he doesn’t know, regardless of word games.

  23. Dhay says:

    I see that Michael’s linked source for this quote — which from the close similarity of some words of Peter Boghossian’s to words Boghossian has used in connection with a claim based on Hebrews 11:1 — has an introduction:

    Faith is not the same as hope, trust, or confidence.

    There’s the obvious question of what “not the same as” means here: if it is meant to be “not identical with” or synonymity (“nearly not identical with”), it is either a rather silly redefinition of faith, or refuted by ordinary usage such as, “My granddaughters have complete faith that Mummy will pick them up from school today” — which faith includes all three of “hope, trust, [and] confidence”, or, “Although I cannot now remember what I ate for lunch last Saturday, I have complete faith that I did eat lunch that day — simply because I always do.”

    The introduction continues … :

    Faith is a kind of knowledge claim predicated on a particular brand of epistemology: faith-based epistemology.

    I rather think my granddaughters’ faith in Mummy is constant and continual and implicit; the only time they will make an explicit claim to knowledge is when they are pushed into replying, “But of course Mummy will come for us.”

    The introduction does not expand on what it means by a “faith-based epistemology”. I first note the circularity: faith seems here to be knowledge that is based on a theory of knowledge that is based on faith.

    Secondly, I note that Boghossian, hence presumably this introduction, seems to mean “blind-faith” type Biblical-literal fideism, based upon Boghossian’s eisegesis (ironically and amusingly, a word which easily stretches to “pretending to know something one doesn’t know”) of Hebrews 11:1. The blogger aRemonstrant has nicely disposed of that misreading, as I pointed out in another response, link below, which in turn links to aRemonstrant’s original refutation of Boghossian and demonstration that for Hebrews 11, faith is confidence based upon the empirical evidence of previous experience.

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/steven-pinker-reviews-coynes-book/#comment-9385

    Peter Boghossian has offered a challenge for anyone who thinks faith is synonymous with hope:

    I firstly note that the introduction makes the claim that “Faith is not the same as hope, trust, or confidence”, but now changes and restricts focus to Boghossian’s claim of faith not being synonymous with hope. So why are trust and confidence suddenly dropped?

    Boghossian’s challenge was:

    Give me a sentence where one must use the word ‘faith,’ and cannot replace that with ‘hope’, yet at the same time isn’t an example of pretending to know something one doesn’t know.

    Well, I done so above: my granddaughters’ ‘faith’ could be replaced with ‘confidence bordering on utter certainty’, but ‘hope’ is incongruous, misleading and plain wrong.

    And one could of course quote 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESVUK):

    “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

    Which is a sentence where Paul did use ‘faith’ and where we cannot replace that with ‘hope’; Paul clearly intends to distinguish the two, each from the other; as will Christians following Paul’s example of what is orthodox Christian teaching.

    (Of course, Boghossian could claim that Paul was pretending not to be writing rubbish, but that’s a claim for Boghossian to defend, not me the negative.)

    aRemonstrant’s exegesis of Hebrews 11 (hence Hebrews 11 itself) supplies another counter-example to Boghossian’s challenge.

  24. Michael says:

    Look closer. You still didn’t answer Boghossian’s question. When you say that you “accept on faith” Dawkins claims, you are either saying you take his claims to be true (a knowledge claim),

    You are confused. Accepting Dawkins claim on faith is not the same as making a knowledge claim. I clearly do not know if Dawkins was molested as a child. Do you? Yet I am willing to accept it on faith.

    or you are making a judgement about his character. You are saying “I choose to believe him” because only a terrible sort of person would make that up, and I prefer to have faith (hope) that he’s not that sort of person.

    I have no hope that “he’s not that sort of person.” In fact, Dawkins has a track record of being dishonest.

    So yes, Boghossian’s question has been answered. Can you deal with that?

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