Peter Boghossian is peddling pseudoscience. This becomes obvious once you recognize he is trying to frame his whole case against religion as if he was doing science, when in fact, he is not even close to practicing science.
To begin, even though Boghossian has no expertise in neuroscience, immunology, microbiology, or epidemiology, he builds his case on the existence of something called a “faith virus.” What in the world is a “faith virus?” Boghossian does not seem to know. He provides no evidence to think something called a “faith virus” exists, neither does he make any effort to define what a faith virus is. He simply asserts it into existence and then proceeds to pretend to know that faith viruses do indeed exist.
Boghossian does not stop there.
Like most pseudoscientists, he tries to support the existence of his own version of Dianetics by surrounding it with all sorts of sciencey-sounding words. He likes to talk as if “hosts” are being “infected,” suffering from a “malady” that is in need of “treatment.” He speaks of “immunization,” “vaccination” and “incubation chambers.” He warns of a “public health crisis” and “epidemiological crises.” He talks of “interventions” and “containment protocols.”
Now keep in mind that the use of such terminology is not connected by any scientific thinking or analysis. Again, there is no discussion of what a faith virus is. No discussion of the mechanism by which faith viruses propagate. No discussion of previous experiments that have characterized the “faith virus.” Neither do his claims come with any curiosity. When did the faith virus come into existence? Are there other closely related viruses (knowledge viruses, music viruses, etc.)? Why are there no peer-reviewed studies of the “faith virus” in the scientific literature? Instead, Boghossian is interested in only one thing – attaching the word “virus” to faith. From there, he wants to dress up his argument in a white lab coat by liberally invoke such terminology, creating some rather strange conjunctions, where a virus infection is cured with the Socratic method and the “doxastic” status of the “host” becomes an important consideration in the treatment plan. This is cargo-cult science – a practice that has the semblance of being scientific, but does not in fact follow the scientific method.
Boghossian wants to infuse his atheistic version of Dianetics with scientific terminology because he is trying to make his rhetoric resemble science. Like the typical pseudoscientist, he is trying to make it look like he is doing some sort of science when he is doing nothing of the sort.
Sorry, Peter, but if you want to do science, you need to go back to the beginning. You need to answer some basic questions – Do faith viruses exist and, if so, how do you know? If they exist, what are they? What are their features? What is the mechanism for their propagation? Peter, if you want to sit at the Adult Table, you need to start doing some experiments that address these questions. If all you are going to do is parrot scientific terms and draw pictures of religious symbols on cartoons of viruses, then you need to take your pseudoscience to the Kids Table.
At this point, someone who has bought into the cargo-cult science might object and scold me for being too “uncharitable” with my interpretation, arguing that faith viruses aren’t meant to be taken so literally. Instead, they might argue, faith viruses are memes. Yeah, like that helps. Memetics is pseudoscience. The claim “a faith virus is a meme” is scientifically vacuous. Which explains why the “faith virus” does not exist in science.
What’s more, don’t forget the “faith virus” term is surrounded and propped up by all that other sciencey-sounding language. We are still left with an approach that has the semblance of being scientific, but does not in fact follow the scientific method.
And if that was not bad enough, consider the basic argument itself. According to Boghossian, faith is both a mental illness and a virus that can infect. Peter Boghossian is both tapping into and perpetuating the harmful myth that mental illness is contagious. Unfortunately, people who do suffer from a real mental illness also have to deal with the stigmatization that comes from the myth of mental illness being contagious. How sad it is that there is a philosophy professor out there who, in wanting to be perceived as a scientist when making his anti-religious arguments, is giving life to a harmful myth.
Boghossian is not just peddling pseudoscience. He is peddling harmful pseudoscience. And it belongs at the Naughty Kids Table.