Another Bold Gnu Prediction

Atheist activist and blogger John Loftus has yet another book out arguing that philosophy of religion should be banished. AFAICT, his argument boils down to this:

  • God is no different from a fairy
  • There is no philosophy of fairies.
  • Therefore, there should be no philosophy of religion.

The guy actually wrote a whole book built on this false analogy.  Anything to squeeze another dollar out of the Gnu community, I suppose.

Peter Boghossian, the atheist activist who has also made this argument, of course promotes the book with a blurb:

 “Unapologetic offers the philosophy of religion the swift, ugly end it has long deserved. This single book will cause the death of a discipline.” —Peter Boghossian, author, A Manual for Creating Atheists

Over three years ago, Loftus reviewed Bognossian’s pseudoscience book (activists always prop each othe up):

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.

Er, we’re still waiting for those predictions to come true.

I’d say it’s about as likely that Loftus’s book “will cause the death of a discipline” as Boghossian’s book actually changed our “nomenclature” and “religious landscape.”

The grandiose claims of these atheists activists is an endless source of amusement.

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10 Responses to Another Bold Gnu Prediction

  1. Dhay says:

    > 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.

    On the page listing the Street Epistemologists, there’s a map showing their locations, a map that can be zoomed in on using the mouse scroll wheel. One would expect that where the originator and master of Street Epistemology lives and works and teaches a popular (ie easy) Atheism course there would be quite a cluster of them.

    If we count in the Epistemologist in Vancouver, just across the river from Portland, there’s currently two in Boghossian’s home area of Portland; with Boghossian himself added in — he’s not on the List — that’s three.

    The available evidence says that Boghossian hasn’t exactly made a big impact in his own back yard. Is he really such a wonderful teacher, such an effective Epistemologist?

  2. Dhay says:

    Has Sam Harris’ website been hacked?
    [Donald Trump picture at top and tail instead of book cover]

    I know that Harris fans browse here — would someone let his webmaster know, if you are able.
    [Contact form temporarily disabled]

  3. TFBW says:

    You could try tweeting at him.

  4. Dhay says:

    The Secular Outpost’s Bradley Bowen is not impressed with John Loftus’ book; Part 3 in his series of review posts is particularly scathing on the grounds that Loftus is unclear — which really irritates Bowen — about the meaning of key terms.

    In Part 4 Bowen heeds Loftus’ claim that Bowen hasn’t yet read all the book, and that had he done so, and sufficiently attentively, he would have realised there are sufficiently clear definitions provided by statement or examples of usage elsewhere in the book.

    Bowen provides a few quotes which might or might not on further examination and consideration prove to be clear — “Although these definitions seem inadequate and problematic to me, they do provide some good clues …” — and tells his readers he’ll get back with his verdict in the as yet unpublished Part 5. (See link below for whole series.)

    Part 2 tells us is that Loftus’ Chapter 9 is entitled, “On Justifying Ridicule, Mockery, and Satire”. Sound familiar from 2012 and Richard Dawkins at the Reason Rally?

    Of course, that title doesn’t tell us who or what is to be ridiculed, to be mocked, to be satirised, nor who is to perform that ridicule etc. In Part 3 Bowen quotes Loftus’ “…I’m not saying that atheist philosophers … should dismiss religions out of hand or ridicule them. (p.111)”; I note that if atheist philosophers shouldn’t (says Loftus) and non-atheist philosophers won’t ridicule, mock and satirise — and these are not philosophical activities anyway — then no philosophers will. Perhaps Loftus thinks that atheist philosophers shouldn’t “dismiss religions out of hand and ridicule them”, but it is perfectly OK for atheist non-philosophers to dismiss and ridicule what they are not qualified to comment on.


    Verbose Stoic has made a start on his own review series, which starts with a general overview rather than drilling straight down to analytic details as Bowen does, and is more interesting and generally informative because of that.

    One snippet which caught my eye in passing is that Loftus complains that:

    1) Philosophy of Religion … also focuses too much on the Western Analytic tradition.

    Hmmm. Seeing how badly Loftus fares (so far, watch the link above) when his ideas are subjected by Bowen to the Western Analytic tradition, one can readily see what he dislikes about it.

    The following probably summarises VS’s opinion, but I do recommend you read the whole post and eventual series to catch all the nuances and to learn from him about philosophy in general:

    I find myself utterly unconvinced by “Unapologetic”, and Philosophy of Religion is something like seventh on my list of philosophical interests (after luge!). Loftus’ views of what we should do in philosophy classes seems anti-philosophical to me …


    By serendipity, Julian Baggini’s new book The Edge of Reason: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World has arrived in my local library; it’s good, I love it, and although he is a certain-in-his-own-mind atheist, and was once a Jerry Coyne favourite (“Baggini moves closer to the Gnus, totally derides sophisticated theology, MacDonald dissects”), he’s fair-minded and totally understands and explains with reasons why atheists and theists can legitimately hold diametrically opposite views.

    He introduces his first chapter by talking about the futility of debates, how (almost) nobody ever seems swayed to move to positions other than they came into the room with, neither participants nor audience. And he continues:

    The sense of futility … is evoked even more by the academic world of philosophy of religion. Here we find very smart people, all committed to being as rational as possible about their beliefs. They write books and articles full of incredibly arcane, subtle and complex arguments. These are clearly people who take reason very seriously indeed. But how often do you find any of them changing their minds on any of the major issues?

    All of this might appear to be scandalous. The currency of philosophy of religion is supposed to be rational argument, but it can’t buy an opposing position at any price. However, to despair at this would be to misunderstand the nature of rational argument and its importance in bi life commitments such as whether to believe in God or not. …

    So there we have it, Loftus is upset that philosophy of religion so much as exists, whereas Baggini is relaxed, is reasonable and above all — Baggini’s book is about the importance in our lives of being rational — is rational.

  5. TFBW says:

    These are clearly people who take reason very seriously indeed. But how often do you find any of them changing their minds on any of the major issues?

    This is what makes the change so significant when it happens, e.g. Antony Flew. It’s also indicative of the limits of reason when applied to a unique question like the existence of God. People assign some arguments greater weight than others, thus reaching opposite conclusions on the basis of the same information. But how does one know which arguments are truly more significant than others in the field? That kind of judgement is based on personal intuition.

    Loftus and Boghossian are trivialising the situation. This reflects badly on them, not the philosophy of religion.

  6. Dhay says:

    Loftus is not just attacking theology but the rather larger discipline of philosophy of religion, which includes the atheistic religions such as Theravada Buddhism. Why attack not just the theist preserve of theology but also this rather wider discipline where there are theists, agnostics and atheists practicing? Could it by any chance be that the agnostics and atheists include those embarrassing — for New Atheists — philosophers of religion who are accommodationists™.

    No, Loftus will never actually cause the “swift, ugly end” of philosophy of religion, his idea’s straight out of pie-in-the-sky fantasy-land; most philosophers of religion will probably not so much as notice Loftus’ book, let alone heed it; you just don’t write popular books to reach philosophers.

    The book’s not written to persuade philosophers, then; and theologians and ordinary religious people will hardly read it — certainly not if they have encountered Loftus’ writings already.

    The people who are to be persuaded, I think, are the atheist faithful, those who regularly read the kind of anti-religious books written by Loftus and his like. These can now bask in the warmth of intellectual satisfaction, secure in the knowlege that those annoying philosophers of religion who disagree with Loftus, with the other New Atheists, and with their own, er, superior intellects — those professional philosophers of religion can now be safely ignored or discounted, ignored and discounted entirely because Loftus has declared it so.

    It is sometimes, perhaps often, a mistake to see a book in terms of its declared aims of intellectual persuasion and tight logical argumentation; this one looks to be self-serving propaganda for the (New) atheist faithful, to make them feel more comfortable with their existing ideas.

    Poof, the opposition has been disappeared. Who says (New) atheists don’t believe in magic.

    Looks like it also makes them comfortable with the last chapter’s subject, “Justifying Ridicule, Mockery, and Satire”. What a give-away: no, it’s not an intellectual book, with a chapter subject like that it scarcely pretends to be, and there’s really no need to deal with it on an intellectual level; it is perhaps more appropriate to deal with it on its own rather lower level, and turn back on it and its author those same methods of ridicule, mockery and satire which Loftus “justifies”.

  7. Dhay says:

    Here’s Jerry Coyne explaining in 2011 that being an atheist had become a bigger part of his identity than his career as an evolutionary biologist:

    “As the years went on I gradually transmogrified from being an evolutionary biologist to an evolutionary biologist atheist and now I’m more of an atheist than an evolutionary biologist. I realized that creationism, the opposition to evolution, is the least of our worries that religion promulgates, compared to someone throwing acid in the face of a schoolgirl in Afghanistan.”
    —Jerry Coyne, acceptance speech of Emperor Has No Clothes Award, October 2011

    Does Coyne know that as commonly used “transmogrified” has the meaning of ‘changed completely to something strange, bizarre, grotesque, humorous’?


    Then there’s that “creationism, the opposition to evolution, is the least of our worries…”; such a casual disregard for creationism, such a minimisation of the importance of opposing creationism is not at all apparent nowadays, for the next day after Coyne quoted himself saying so – hence “owning” the quote – he’s back telling us that Darwinian evolution dealt a “death blow” to religion.

    As for “exalting Darwin,” well, wasn’t it Darwin who struck a death blow at religion by showing that phenomena once explainable only by God had a purely naturalistic basis?

    That’s the link-in with the OP: it’s a ‘death blow’ – dealing predicted death to religion – which is very unlikely to result in that death. Ever. Rather like John Loftus’ death blow to give philosophy of religion its “swift, ugly end”.


    Will we see Peter Boghossian’s next book lauded – by the usual back-slappers – as dealing a death blow to eg gender studies, and as giving the “regressive left” its “swift, ugly end”?

  8. Kevin says:

    I can imagine atheists, with all their death blows to religion, being like the military in the alien invasion movie Independence Day, where they fire their nuke at the alien ship, whoop for joy when it impacts, and then sadly realizing, when the dust clears, that the target remains…I repeat, the target remains.

  9. Dhay says:

    The Secular Outpost‘s several-part look at Loftus’ book and its arguments continues, and it is consistently unflattering.

    Here’s from Part 10, a quote which I think probably summarises long posts and detailed criticism:

    Therefore, the central argument by Loftus in Unapologetic is an argument dealing with a paradigm case of an issue in philosophy of religion. In addition to being an UNSOUND argument, this argument is self-undermining.
    [My emboldening.]

  10. Dhay says:

    I think that after such a long period without a further continuation post The Secular Outpost‘s several-part look at John Loftus’ book Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End can be considered to have concluded — with the conclusion that Loftus’ central argument is both unsound and self-undermining.

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