As I have shown, Peter Boghossian’s whole “argument” amounts to pseudoscience.
He takes two pseudoscientific claims, a) religious faith is a mental illness and b) religious faith is caused by an infection from a “faith virus” and combines them into a toxic brew that just happens to perpetuate a myth that does harm to real people – the myth that mental illness is contagious. This myth is serious enough that health care agencies often have to inform the public that mental illness is not contagious.
So basically, Boghossian invents a disease and a vector for the disease, all so he can sell a “cure” that he has invented. So let’s take a quick look at his “cure.”
He begins his book as follows:
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.
Bold claims. But is any of this supported by evidence? Nope. Boghossian provides no data, no evidence, to support his contention that his cure will talk people out of their faith. He is clearly pretending to know something he does not know.
In fact, we could ask a simple question. He claims he has been doing these interventions for over 20 years. So, after 20 years of intervening, how many people has he talked out of their faith? For some unexplainable reason, Boghossian doesn’t seem all that interested in sharing these data with the world.
Furthermore, even if we grant, for the sake of argument, the efficacy of his “cure,” we would need to inquire further. For example, what is the cure rate for this “array of dialectical and clinical tools?” Will his “intervention” technique cure one out of ten? One out of a hundred? One out of a million? Boghossian never addresses this question and shows no curiosity about this. Like most pseudoscientists, Boghossian is only interested in pushing his product.
When it comes to supporting the bold claims about his “cure,” the closest thing Boghossian has to evidence is a set of “interventions” he relays in his book as dialogs. Yet as Boghossian says, “Question everything.” So let’s do so.
First, Boghossian claims these dialogs are examples of actual interventions he carried out in the past. Yet there is no evidence these “interventions” actually happened. It is, after all, possible that that he made them up to spice up his book to help with sales. So are they real or fictional? Who knows? Since there is no evidence that such “interventions” happened, I’ll have to accept that they did on faith. This, of course, puts Boghossian’s best “evidence” for the curative elements of his approach in the hilariously ironic position of having to be accepted on faith.
Second, there is something odd about his reports of his interventions – they are rather lengthy and detailed. Either Boghossian is out there secretly recording his conversations with other people (which would be creepy) or he is relying on his memory of such conversations. Since it is probably the later, it turns out the “evidence” for the curative effects of his approach has been filtered through the mind of someone who wrote, “I think I should be given some type of community service award for devoting my life to helping people learn to reason effectively.” What he reports is how he personally remembers things. Not very trustworthy, eh? So not only are they anecdotes; they are unreliable anecdotes.
Third, and most significant of all, is that no one loses their faith in any of his reported interventions. Now, you might expect an author to showcase his best interventions in a book such as this. Given the way he brags about doing such interventions for decades, it is thus rather telling that no one loses their faith because of them. No one becomes an atheist. Yes, he befuddles people and trips them up with his constant stream of “How do you know?” type questions (something that can be done with just about anyone and just about any topic). But that’s a long way from creating atheists. There is no evidence that the Manual For Creating Atheists ever created an atheist.
In summary, Boghossian invents a disease and a vector for the disease, and then sells a “cure.” But is there any evidence the “cure” works? Nope. It sure looks like Boghossian is the Nigel West Dickens of the New Atheist Movement.