What Would Make Peter Boghossian Believe?

In his book that teaches atheists how to proselytize for atheism, activist Peter Boghossian writes:

Once they’ve given their response [to the question, what would it take for them to disbelieve?], I thank them. If they’ve asked me what it would take for me to believe, I’ll use a variation of American physicist Lawrence Krauss’s example in his debate with William Lane Craig: if I walked outside at night and all of the stars were organized to read, “I am God communicating with you, believe in me!” and every human being worldwide witnessed this in their native language, this would be suggestive (but far from conclusive as it’s a perception and could be a delusion).

Very good. So let’s explore Boghossian’s answer.


1. Boghossian’s answer is actually incomplete, as he would need to answer one simple question that clearly follows – WHY is such a star pattern suggestive evidence for God? It would seem there is only one possible answer – the star pattern could not be explained by the laws of nature. For if scientists could explain it by the laws of nature, would Boghossion still view it as evidence for God? In other words, Boghossian would interpret the star pattern as evidence for God only because he would consider it a Gap. It turns out, then, that Boghossian has embraced the logic of the God-of-the-Gaps argument. He is a God-of-the-Gaps atheist.

2. Notice, however, that he never answers his own question. He was asked what it would take for him “to believe.” But it turns out the spectacular display in the sky, that could not possibly be explained by the laws of nature, would merely be….”suggestive.” Since Boghossian could reasonably admit that the Gap was merely suggestive while remaining a non-believer, he has not answered the question. When it comes to telling us what it would take for him to believe, we still have no answer.

3. Since a star pattern that spells out “I am God communicating with you, believe in me!” and can be seen every human being worldwide witnessed in their native language is merely suggestive, it doesn’t look like Boghossian can ever move beyond the “it’s suggestive” state. He is stuck there. Permanently. In other words, that he requires such a sensational, earth-shattering, universal experience just to entertain the mere suggestion that God might possibly exist tells us he comes to the table with a mind firmly closed. He needs something intellectually and experientially explosive just to pry the door to his mind open a few millimeters. And then it can open no further.

4. The problem gets even worse for Boghossian. He tells us that if he experienced such a miraculous display of God’s power he would consider it suggestive evidence. He says he would. But is there ANY evidence Boghossian would do as I says he would? Nope. No evidence. Zero Zilch. Nada. He is expecting us to accept his answer about what he would do in a hypothetical future on faith. Yet this is the man who tells us that faith is bad, spread by “faith viruses.” The philosopher has painted himself into quite a corner that represents a delicious moment of irony – in order for us to accept the notion that there is any hint of doxastic opennesss to his approach, we must allow ourselves to become infected with his faith virus. The only thing that can rescue Boghossian, and the perception his is closed-minded, are the faith viruses that he decries.

5. Given that Boghossian’s whole response here is so pathetically weak and confused, one has to wonder if it is even sincere. Does he use a variation of American physicist Lawrence Krauss’s example because he means it? Or is it just a debate tactic used to score a point during his “interventions”? I can’t say for sure, but recall that in his interview with Dawkins, Dawkins made it clear that he no longer thinks any data could ever count as evidence for God. Dawkins has completely transformed his atheism into closed-minded dogma. Boghossian, for his part, uttered not one word of disagreement and clearly comes across as someone who agreed with Dawkins.

So in summary, he begins with classic God-of-the-Gaps atheism and, upon further inspection, it looks more like Closed-Minded Atheism. Nevertheless, which ever version of atheism Boghossian is selling, one thing is clear. If we grant his prohibition against faith, for the sake of argument, there is no evidence he could ever change his mind. And there is plenty of evidence that he proselytizes from a position of doxastic closure.

One final thing. Unlike Boghossian and his followers, I try to approach these topics in a fair- and open-minded manner. So I should reciprocate and answer the question about what it would take for me to disbelieve. But, in this case, I will make my reciprocation proportional to Boghossian’s reply. Fair is fair. If Christians are supposed to be satisfied with his answer, then atheists would have to be satisfied with my answer.

So here it goes. In the spirit of Boghossian’s reply, I can tell you what would make me disbelieve. If I walked outside at night and there was a giant spaceship in the sky, and there were giant spaceships over every major city on the planet, and the aliens in these spaceships began the process of exterminating the human race, this would be suggestive (but far from conclusive as it could be a divine test of our faith). Like I said, proportional.

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25 Responses to What Would Make Peter Boghossian Believe?

  1. Ignostic Atheist says:

    Aliens and spaceships would be suggestive that there’s no god?

    Not sure why, but ok.

  2. Crude says:

    Aliens and spaceships would be suggestive that there’s no god?

    Not sure why, but ok.

    Corny messages using stars as a giant lite-brite would be suggestive that there’s a god?

    Not sure why, but ok.

  3. “….then atheists would have to be satisfied with my answer.”
    Is that because you don’t actually have an answer or because you just want to be pissy?

  4. TFBW says:

    Is that because you don’t actually have an answer or because you just want to be pissy?

    It’s pretty clear that he’s demanding atheists not apply a double standard… so, being pissy, I guess? I’d have gone for “snarky”, myself, but I guess “pissy” is what you call it when you’re the target, and not man enough to say “touché”.

  5. Ignostic Atheist says:

    Corny messages written in massive and distant balls of glowing gas seen by the whole globe in their native tongue vs. aliens and spaceships killing off humanity.

    What, could your god not possibly let humanity get killed off? It’s not like he hasn’t got practice doing it.

  6. Michael says:

    myatheistlife and Ignostic Atheist,
    Which ones are you – a god-of-the-gaps atheist or a closed-minded atheist? I couldn’t help but notice that neither one you seem able to defend your leader.

  7. Ignostic Atheist says:

    The reason this phenomenon would be simply suggestive to Boghossian is because the human mind is quite fallible. In order to close in on certainty, you would have to show that everybody who saw it was able to read it natively and that there was no funny business going on like a worldwide aerosol release of hallucinogens.

    Personally, what would make me think twice about my lack of belief is the discovery of an ancient text espousing the existence of a god, which also clearly and accurately solves the issues between quantum physics and relativity, attributing that knowledge as having come from god. Of course, what would be even better is if this text were indestructible and could be read in the language of the reader, but that would make dating it difficult.

    How about you? Are you a god-of-the-gaps theist or a closed-minded theist?

  8. Michael says:

    The reason this phenomenon would be simply suggestive to Boghossian is because the human mind is quite fallible. In order to close in on certainty, you would have to show that everybody who saw it was able to read it natively and that there was no funny business going on like a worldwide aerosol release of hallucinogens.

    Say everyone was able to read it natively and there was no funny business. Are you still stuck at suggestive or would that be enough to make you a believer?

    Personally, what would make me think twice about my lack of belief is the discovery of an ancient text espousing the existence of a god, which also clearly and accurately solves the issues between quantum physics and relativity, attributing that knowledge as having come from god. Of course, what would be even better is if this text were indestructible and could be read in the language of the reader, but that would make dating it difficult.

    And why would this book “make you think twice?”

    How about you? Are you a god-of-the-gaps theist or a closed-minded theist?

    Neither one. For example, I have stated before that I think atheism is a reasonable position. Can you reciprocate?

  9. Michael says:

    Forgot to add one more thing before running off to Christmas shop:

    Personally, what would make me think twice about my lack of belief is the discovery of an ancient text espousing the existence of a god, which also clearly and accurately solves the issues between quantum physics and relativity, attributing that knowledge as having come from god.

    Are you trying to infect me with a faith virus? I see no evidence to support your claim.

  10. Ignostic Atheist says:

    Then why, pray tell, did you only give those two options, if you think atheism is a reasonable position?

    If everyone could read it natively and there were no detectible funny business, I would join what would undoubtedly be a large movement to discover the nature of this being. Because shuffling around stars, while no small feat, does not suggest any known god in particular. However, since this being clearly isn’t so shy as every other god imagined today, I’m sure there would be headway made toward that end.

    Such a book as the one I postulated would make me think twice because it would be written from a time long before the question of quantum gravity was even dreamed of, and yet it would provide a solution to a problem that has not yet been solved.

  11. Ignostic Atheist says:

    “Are you trying to infect me with a faith virus? I see no evidence to support your claim.”

    I haven’t made a claim; I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  12. Crude says:

    Then why, pray tell, did you only give those two options, if you think atheism is a reasonable position?

    Just because someone can regard atheism as a reasonable position doesn’t mean that atheists, in the main, are reasonable. The fact is that Cult of Gnu brand atheism is pretty much the major apparent strain at the moment – and the Gnus are a hotbed of irrationality.

    One point Mike is getting at here is one I realized since the days of Coyne’s challenge: if setting down an almost completely subjective standard (and a gaps standard, no less!) for the existence/non-existence of God suffices to show that a person is reasonable, then something automatically follows – the bar for reasonableness of this general belief is low. So low, in fact, that just about everyone likely already meets it. Which isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, but it throws a wrench in the Cult of Gnu machinations – and it’s not a particularly easy situation to pull themselves out of.

    With Boghossian, a big part of the problem here is he wants a clear standard for people to disbelieve, but when the tables are turned at him, suddenly he starts murmuring about ‘what would be suggestive, but far from conclusive, because it could always be wrong for various reasons.’ Boghossian has shut down dialogue with Christians in the past over an inability to name what would cause them to disbelieve in God, but when Richard Dawkins says he can’t name any evidence that would get him to believe in God, it passes without criticism – it turns out doxatic openness isn’t a big deal after all.

  13. Michael says:

    If everyone could read it natively and there were no detectible funny business, I would join what would undoubtedly be a large movement to discover the nature of this being. Because shuffling around stars, while no small feat, does not suggest any known god in particular.

    First things first. Would the star shuffling be evidence for God?

    Such a book as the one I postulated would make me think twice because it would be written from a time long before the question of quantum gravity was even dreamed of, and yet it would provide a solution to a problem that has not yet been solved.

    I understood that. But why would this book be evidence for God?

    I haven’t made a claim; I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Of course you did. You claimed you would “think twice” about your unbelief if such an ancient book was discovered. But there is no evidence you would “think twice about your lack of belief” if such a discovery was made. Do you want me to accept your claim on faith?

  14. Ignostic Atheist says:

    I’m not sure what this Cult of Gnu atheism is. I assume you are using it disparagingly for new atheists. And my opinion of new atheists is that they are the same as old atheists, but willing to open their mouths and publicly share ideas, and thus receiving more flak from theists.

    I’m not sure what it is you’re looking for, some standard event that will instantly convince any human that there is a god? We don’t work like that, we require evidence and deliberation, we follow a process to determine what is true, one that attempts to peel away personal biases and weed out fluke events. When Boghossian says that it would be suggestive, he’s saying that he would be compelled to investigate it, to strip away uncertainties and discover the underlying cause.

    However, what you find when you question the likes of William Lane Craig is self assurance that, no matter what, the Bible is true, god exists, and no argument will ever sway him. If he can’t convince you of this, then it is no failure of god’s, but his own.

    So Boghossian has admitted that he would find an event suggestive, and would therefore investigate it, whereas Craig has admitted that he would find no event suggestive. Michael, on the other hand, has stated that an alien attack would be suggestive to him, even though I can’t see why that would have anything to do with the existence of a god.

    If a person will not even entertain the idea of being wrong, then there is no point in having dialogue. I’m curious about the context of this Dawkins paraphrasing, so I’m watching the video now

  15. Crude says:

    I’m not sure what this Cult of Gnu atheism is. I assume you are using it disparagingly for new atheists. And my opinion of new atheists is that they are the same as old atheists, but willing to open their mouths and publicly share ideas, and thus receiving more flak from theists.

    No, the problem with the New Atheists has never merely been that they’re ‘willing to open their mouths’. The old atheists were too. The problem is their hate, their strident anti-theism, their faux praise of science and reason. But mostly their hate – see Dawkins and the ‘butt of contempt’, see Boghossian wanting to make religious belief a full blown mental illness in need of treatment and for which scientists can perform experiments to find out how to remove said ‘virus’.

    When Boghossian says that it would be suggestive, he’s saying that he would be compelled to investigate it, to strip away uncertainties and discover the underlying cause.

    Funny how that’s not what Bog asked of the theists then, eh? He wanted to know what would make them disbelieve. But when the question is turned around, he can only talk about what would be ‘suggestive’ and certainly not conclusive. It’s hypocrisy – rather like how he holds that standard of ‘What would make you disbelieve?’ up as a requirement for a theist to even discuss things with him… but when Dawkins says he can’t really think of anything that would make him reject his atheism, he’s all smiles and nods.

    However, what you find when you question the likes of William Lane Craig is self assurance that, no matter what, the Bible is true, god exists, and no argument will ever sway him.

    However, what you find when you question the likes of Richard Dawkins is self assurance that, no matter what, the Bible is false, God doesn’t exist, no evidence will ever sway him.

    So Boghossian has admitted that he would find an event suggestive, and would therefore investigate it, whereas Craig has admitted that he would find no event suggestive.

    Craig never spoke about ‘suggestive’, to my knowledge. And why is Craig the subject anyway? We’re talking about Boghossian. Again: Bog didn’t settle for ‘suggestive’ with Christians. Why must Christians declare what would make them disbelieve, yet Bog seemingly lets himself off that same hook?

    Michael, on the other hand, has stated that an alien attack would be suggestive to him, even though I can’t see why that would have anything to do with the existence of a god.

    Why would someone using unknown powers to use the universe as a lite-brite have something to do with the existence of God? Mike’s point is, in part, that these are not objective, but subjective standards of evidence. Which I’d say isn’t necessarily a problem – but if subjective standards fly, then they’re open to the problems and limitations I already mentioned.

  16. Ignostic Atheist says:

    “First things first. Would the star shuffling be evidence for God?”

    The star shuffling would be evidence that there is a much greater being out there. The message would indicate the being’s preference for being considered a god. The language specific delivery would reinforce its assertion.

    “I understood that. But why would this book be evidence for God?”

    It would be evidence for one of two things: either aliens wanted to impart knowledge via an ancient and biodegradable method of record, in a language in which the abstraction required to write this knowledge would be difficult, located beside religious claims, or a god did it. I personally find the second option more compelling, because I think that aliens, A) wouldn’t be bothered to do it in the first place, and B) would do it in something a bit more durable, and in their own language or in math, providing a proper encyclopedia for our benefit.

    “Of course you did. You claimed you would “think twice” about your unbelief if such an ancient book was discovered. But there is no evidence you would “think twice about your lack of belief” if such a discovery was made. Do you want me to accept your claim on faith?”

    Likewise, I have no reason to accept that you believe there is a god. I find it much more likely that you are, in fact, an atheist troll. To accept your god belief would be an act of faith in you, and why should I believe that?

    Probably because I have no reason to believe otherwise, and neither do you. There is a certain amount of faith that is required between people in order to even speak to one another. I have faith that when you say the word “evidence” you are referring to available facts, but I can’t prove that is what you mean. You could be referring to newspaper clippings.

    Accept it or not, I don’t care. It will only prove to me that you’re just as obstinate as the people you rail against.

  17. Ignostic Atheist says:

    Craig is the subject because apparently that’s who Boghossian was talking to. Theists are just as welcome to state what would make them consider the nonexistence of god. I can’t answer for Dawkins, or quite frankly for anyone other than myself, but you’re not interested in focusing on me. And Michael over there is asking why he should take anything I say on faith. This discussion is going nowhere rapidly, and I am losing interest.

    Now if you and Mike want to believe that using the universe as a lite-brite to send a personalized message to everyone that looks up is subjective, I’m not sure you know what objectivity is. A subjective lite-brite would be one person looking up and seeing a message. Concerning the question of why it would have anything to do with the existence of a god, I’ll quote to you my response to Michael:

    “The star shuffling would be evidence that there is a much greater being out there. The message would indicate the being’s preference for being considered a god. The language specific delivery would reinforce its assertion.”

    As opposed to Michael’s aliens which have nothing to do with a god or lack thereof.

  18. Kevin says:

    I believe Michael is referring to the Christian God specifically when he says an alien extermination would be suggestive that God does not exist. Not the idea of a deity in general, but the God of the Bible that the complete extermination of mankind would handily contradict.

  19. Michael says:

    The star shuffling would be evidence that there is a much greater being out there. The message would indicate the being’s preference for being considered a god. The language specific delivery would reinforce its assertion.

    In other words, you would not consider it evidence for God’s existence. In their discussion of this example, Boghossian and Dawkins say such acts could be done by another, advanced alien culture. Boghossian himself says it could be some sort of alien “trickster” culture.


    It would be evidence for one of two things: either aliens wanted to impart knowledge via an ancient and biodegradable method of record, in a language in which the abstraction required to write this knowledge would be difficult, located beside religious claims, or a god did it. I personally find the second option more compelling, because I think that aliens, A) wouldn’t be bothered to do it in the first place, and B) would do it in something a bit more durable, and in their own language or in math, providing a proper encyclopedia for our benefit.

    Interesting. Your reasons A) and B) are entirely subjective. The book becomes evidence solely on the back of your private intuition about what an alien species would do. How can you be so sure?

    Likewise, I have no reason to accept that you believe there is a god. I find it much more likely that you are, in fact, an atheist troll. To accept your god belief would be an act of faith in you, and why should I believe that?

    Exactly. Once we put Boghossian’s ban on faith into place, this is the place we end up.

    Probably because I have no reason to believe otherwise, and neither do you. There is a certain amount of faith that is required between people in order to even speak to one another. I have faith that when you say the word “evidence” you are referring to available facts, but I can’t prove that is what you mean. You could be referring to newspaper clippings.

    But according to Boghossian, faith is in a huge no no and results from a mind virus that needs to be contained and eradicated. Since there is no evidence that you would do as you claimed, I am rationally obligated to reject your claim as part of his containment protocols.

    Accept it or not, I don’t care. It will only prove to me that you’re just as obstinate as the people you rail against.

    No, since as you noted, “there is a certain amount of faith that is required between people in order to even speak to one another,” it will prove that Boghossian’s entire thesis is unworkable, atheist fantasy.

    If you are willing to reject Boghossian’s anti-faith agenda, I can accept your claim. If you embrace his work and ideas, then you need to practice what you preach and a) support every claim you make with evidence and b) refrain from spreading faith viruses.

  20. Michael says:

    I believe Michael is referring to the Christian God specifically when he says an alien extermination would be suggestive that God does not exist. Not the idea of a deity in general, but the God of the Bible that the complete extermination of mankind would handily contradict.

    Exactly. Not sure how an alien extermination of the human race would fit into the Christian narrative.

  21. Michael says:

    Funny how that’s not what Bog asked of the theists then, eh? He wanted to know what would make them disbelieve. But when the question is turned around, he can only talk about what would be ‘suggestive’ and certainly not conclusive. It’s hypocrisy – rather like how he holds that standard of ‘What would make you disbelieve?’ up as a requirement for a theist to even discuss things with him… but when Dawkins says he can’t really think of anything that would make him reject his atheism, he’s all smiles and nods.

    One has to wonder if these atheists leaders are truly blind to such massive and obvious hypocrisy. Or could it be that they just don’t care if they are hypocrites and what really matters, all that matters, is to flood the system with any and all anti-religious narratives?

    Keep in mind also that Dawkins let the cat out of that bag when I said he had been pay “lip service” to the scientific need for evidence. Lip service. His words.

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    Let me try out an argument here. I’m not sure it works, but I think it might be worth developing if someone can take it somewhere.

    Boghossian makes a big deal about faith being “evidence-free belief.” If there is nothing that could cause Boghossian to conclude that there is a God, then the phrase, “evidence for God” references an empty set in his view, and it’s also fair to conclude that that applies to “evidence for faith.”

    Now, if “evidence for faith” references an empty set, then it seems to me that it’s a meaningless phrase, no better than, say, “uxlomaza for faith.”

    If that’s a fair conclusion, then Boghossian’s problem with faith is not that there’s no evidence for it, but that the very conception of “evidence for faith” is meaningless.

    It seems to me, though, that he ought to recognize how idiosyncratic that view is. Millions upon millions of people have encountered evidence for faith.

    And it seems to me as well that he ought to recognize that when he says, “Christians have no evidence for their faith,” then on his view of evidence, he’s saying something that’s no more sensible than saying “Christians have no uxlomaza for their faith.” And why would he make such a big deal about that?

  23. TFBW says:

    And why would he make such a big deal about that?

    For rhetorical effect.

    If you think of Boghossian as a philosophically sophisticated but disingenuous rhetorician, proselytising for atheism, it all makes perfect sense. I think that Michael is taking the right approach here: draw attention to the inconsistencies and double-standards inherent in his teachings; shatter the façade of impartiality and unadulterated reason. Find the best ways to show that Boghossian is not teaching clear thinking; rather, he’s pulling the wool over people’s eyes with sophistry.

  24. Dhay says:

    TFBW > If you think of Boghossian as a philosophically sophisticated …

    Maybe not: tweeting his opinion of a NYT article calling for university philosophy departments to diversify away from “footnotes to Plato” — my phrase, not the article’s, a phrase I use because I see Victor Reppert’s Plato’s Footnote blog explains its title as “because all (Western) philosophy consists of a series of footnotes to Plato” — an article calling for universities to teach and research on philosophy from around the world, Peter Boghossian said:

    Much of the field is total bullshit anyway, let’s just add more bullshit for arbitrary reasons

    https://twitter.com/peterboghossian/status/730577051330203652

    Doesn’t sound philosophically sophisticated at all, to me. Is Boghossian so besotted with Plato, Plato’s ventriloquist’s dummy, “Socrates”, and Plato’s philosophical heirs, that he cannot bear to contemplate philosophers and students looking elsewhere for their philosophical inspiration and learning from other areas of the world and other cultures.

    NYT article: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/05/11/opinion/if-philosophy-wont-diversify-lets-call-it-what-it-really-is.html

    Is Boghossian guilty of that philosophical sin which he calls doxastic closure. Would he pass the Outsider Test for philosophical affiliation.

  25. TFBW says:

    In my defence, it was 2013 and Boghossian had only just appeared on the radar. My full remark was, “if you think of Boghossian as a philosophically sophisticated but disingenuous rhetorician, proselytising for atheism, it all makes perfect sense.” So long as you qualify “philosophically sophisticated” with “relative to Dawkins and his ilk”, then I totally had Boghossian’s number, even back then. Of course, a house-brick might well be considered philosophically sophisticated relative to Dawkins, so that’s a big caveat.

    The argument between Boghossian and the NYT article authors leaves me with nothing to cheer for on either side. Boghossian clearly thinks that everything which isn’t supportive of atheism is bullshit, putting a low upper limit on the value of his opinion, and the NYT article seems to be an exercise in bleeding-heart liberal political correctness, more concerned with devaluing Western thought than actually promoting anything, explicit caveats to the contrary notwithstanding.

    When I did a philosophy degree, the Metaphysics course was split into Eastern and Western halves, taught by different lecturers, so I did actually get some exposure to the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, the Four Noble Truths, and other such representative samples (more breadth than depth, obviously). I don’t have a problem with that stuff being available (assuming student demand actually exists, as opposed to mandating it in the name of politically correct diversity), but I’ve been exposed to enough of it to know that it’s not for me.

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