A Conversation with Peter Boghossian

January 26, 2015 — 31 Comments

For those of you who don’t know me, let me introduce myself.

My name is Arron Chambers and I’m the Lead Minister of Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colorado. I’m also the author of seven books, a marriage coach, a leadership coach, and one who deeply believes in critical thinking. I also hold three degrees, including a Masters in Church History and Theology from Abilene Christian University in Texas.

My Dad, a preacher, author, professor, and scientist with a PhD in Ancient History and Human Anthropology from Miami University in Ohio, taught me to never stop learning and to think critically about the important issues in the Church and in the world at large. He encouraged me to read books, listen to messages, and interact with people from–and reflecting–diverse backgrounds/beliefs/perspectives/philosophies, as to not develop my world view in a vacuum.

Which brings me to my new acquaintance and hopefully one day friend, Dr. Peter Boghossian.

Dr. Peter Boghossian was a Councilman for the State of Oregon (LSTA), the Chairman of the Prison Advisory Committee for Columbia River Correctional Institution, an advisor to Sockeye Magazine and The Weekly Alibi, wrote national philosophy curricula for the University of Phoenix, and was a research fellow for the National Center for Teaching and Learning. He teaches Critical Thinking, Science and Pseudoscience, the Philosophy of Education, and Atheism and New Atheism at Portland State University, is an Affiliate research Assistant Professor at Oregon Health Sciences University in the Department of General Internal Medicine, is a national speaker for the Center for Inquiry, a national speaker for the Secular Student Alliance, and an international speaker for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (Source: http://www.PeterBoghossian.com).

Dr. Peter Boghossian

Dr. Peter Boghossian

I connected with Dr. Peter Boghossian in the most unusual way.

A stranger emailed me to let me know he wanted to connect with me and find out more about me because he’d read in Dr. Boghossian’s book that I’d written a book he considered, “frightening.” After a little research I discovered Dr. Boghossian had indeed referenced my book Eats with Sinners in the notes section of his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists and referred to it as “frightening.” I’ll get back to that in a moment.

(Note from Arron Chambers: I’ve since learned that Peter has never read my book and was unaware of the reference to my book until I brought it to his attention. It was an editorial addition made without the author’s knowledge, which is not uncommon in the publishing world.)

Since its release Eats with Sinners has been described with many terms, but this was the first time the word “frightening” was ever used to describe my book about sharing faith in Christ through intentional relationships, so I was fascinated. I downloaded Dr. Bohhossian’s book, started reading it, and decided to reach out to Peter through Facebook—penning a message about his comments, my book, and my desire to correspond about issues of faith.

Peter wrote back almost immediately and was both kind and accommodating.

After reading A Manual for Creating Atheists, I concluded that Peter’s book is for Atheists what Eats with Sinners is for Christians. It’s a book written to teach a generation of Atheists how to share their “beliefs” with other people through intentional relationships.

We’ve corresponded through Facebook many times over the past year and—with each “conversation”—I’ve gained more respect for him. We disagree on almost every issue upon which people of faith and non-faith could agree or disagree, but I’ve found him to be a most agreeable person and I genuinely like him.

His writings and continued discussions on Facebook stimulated my thinking and led me to ask Peter if he’d agree to an interview. Thankfully he did.

I’ve chosen to simply share our conversation (unedited except for distracting typographical errors and for redundant questions and answers) without much further comment and let you draw your own conclusions. If you, like me, are a Christian, or a person of faith, I think you’ll find this interview well worth your time and a great glimpse into the mind of those who view our faith as somewhat “frightening.”

You’ll notice that, in this interview, I cite chapter and page numbers. A lot of my questions were generated in reaction to assertions, comments, and questions raised during my reading of Peter’s book, A Manual for Creation Atheists. Also, all of my reference are for the electronic edition of Peter’s book.

My hope is that this interview will stimulate your thoughts as well as some cordial interaction/reaction in the comments section below.

A Conversation with Dr. Peter Boghossian

Arron: One definition you use for faith is, “Pretending to know things you do not know.” What do you mean by “know”? How can one not say the same thing of those who claim to “know” that there is no God? What is your objective standard for evaluating whether evidence is sufficient, or not?
Peter: In Plato’s Theaetetus, he writes that Knowledge is Justified True Belief. That is, before you can say that you know something it needs to be justified (you need to have good reason to believe it), true (it corresponds with objective reality), and believed (you need to believe it). At a basic level this is what I mean. In technical conversations I adopt a more nuanced definition. However, in everyday conversations when people ask me how I define the word “know” (and yes, I have these sorts of conversations every single day), this is what I mean.

Arron: Who do you say Jesus is? Do you believe Jesus was a historical person?
Peter: I don’t know.

There’s much controversy surrounding these questions, with prominent scholars on both sides of the issue. The consensus seems to be that there was probably at least one historical figure upon whom the character of Jesus was based.

Arron: Would you accept anything as evidence for one’s faith?
Peter: It depends how one defines faith. I’m not avoiding the question, but unless we’ve defined our terms it’s just not possible to answer this question.

Arron: Do you think faith in God is equivalent to mental illness?
Peter: No. But I do think that certain actions people commit in the name of their god indicate that they suffer from a mental disorder.

If we can agree that specific examples are data points in an underlying pathology, then the only question becomes whether or not we can broaden the examples. For example, Fred thinks that Zeus told him to drown his son in the bathtub. I’d hope we’d both agree that it’s more likely Fred has a mental health issue than Zeus’ actually speaking to him. If we agree that Zeus isn’t communicating with Fred and telling him to murder his son, and if we can agree that that’s indicative of mental illness, then what other examples can we agree upon?

Arron: What is the chief motivator behind your passion for “Street Epistemology”?
Peter: Every single individual is capable of living a life free of delusion.

My goal is to help people become less dogmatic, more reflective and more comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” and more humble about what they claim to know. Street Epistemology is an action plan for how to talk people out of faith and superstition and into reason. It’s a guide for people to help others live lives free of delusion.

This is also the main motivation for my forthcoming app and for my game, AntiMatter Matters. My app gives users the skills to talk people out of unreason and into reason; my game helps people nurture dispositions necessary critical and creative thinking.

Arron: I sincerely I believe I came to faith in Christ through rational means. Why am I deluded?
Peter: Are you willing to change your mind? If you were presented with evidence to the contrary would you revise your beliefs? If you were shown that what you think is evidence is not actually evidence, would you jettison your beliefs?

If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” then it’s likely you’re delusional. If your sincere response to these questions is “yes,” then it’s far more likely you’ve misconstrued reality than it is that you’re delusional.

Arron: In A Manual for Creating Atheists you wrote, “Faith and reason have endurance. They don’t evaporate the moment you get slugged.” When you get “slugged” by life, how do you cope?
Peter: I don’t think I ever wrote that. I think I wrote, “Reason has endurance.”

(Note from Arron: I got one word of this quote wrong. It was a typographical error on my part. Here’s what he actually said. Loc 192,193 in the electronic copy of A Manual for Creating Atheists, “This isn’t Pollyanna humanism, but a humanism that’s been slapped around and won’t fall apart. Reason and rationality have endurance. They don’t evaporate the moment you get slugged. And you will get slugged.”)

I’ve been slugged, a lot. When I get slugged I usually talk to friends, or go for long walks, or spend time with my family, or do jiu jutsu. Jiu jitsu in particular is quite relaxing. It’s hard to think about your problems when someone is trying to choke you into unconsciousness or break your arms. (I’m aware of the irony of being slugged and wrestling.)

Arron: Do you believe that faith and intelligence are mutually exclusive?
Peter: Again, it depends on how these terms are defined. I think intelligence and faith are unrelated. The fact that both of us lack faith in Thor, for example, says nothing about our intelligence.

Arron: You envision a “better world” (ch 1) where faith in God has been snuffed out and believers have been “disabused” of their faith. In this “better world,” what will be the objective standard for determining “right” and “wrong”?
Peter: I wouldn’t say “snuffed out,” I’d say, “abandoned”. Snuffing out is external, as if reason and rationality were forced upon people, whereas abandoning faith is internal, that is, people make the conscious decision to shed superstition.

Ideally, people would rationally derive their values—as opposed to getting them from ancient books. There are many ways to do this, but I prefer American philosopher John Rawls’ system. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a concise entry on Rawls’ system for how to determine right and wrong: Plato-Stanford

Arron: You wrote, “Whether a person is an atheist or a believer is immaterial with respect to morality.” (Loc 581 of 4685)) How does an atheist determine what is “right” and “wrong”?
Peter: This relates to the last question. I’ll let my response to that question substitute for this one.

Arron: Wouldn’t it be inconsistent–and hypocritical–for you and me to not proselytize (based on our beliefs that the object-or lack there of–of our faiths is salvatory)?
Peter: This is an excellent question, and I think it speaks to core issues surrounding faith, religion, and one’s God.

Proselytizing means getting/convincing people to hold a particular belief. This is precisely the trap ideologues fall into. They think in terms of conclusions (“Jesus is the Son of God”) and not in terms of processes (epistemology, or, how does one know this?). Don’t become vested in conclusions—think about processes, that is, about how one knows what one claims to know.
The moment one weds oneself to, and thinks in terms of, conclusions, one traps oneself into assigning more confidence to a belief than is warranted by the evidence. That is, when one thinks in terms of conclusions (gun control is good/bad, or abortion is/isn’t murder, or Mohammad did/didn’t received revelations from Allah, etc.) one becomes increasingly certain the conclusions one holds are true.

This is problematic for many reasons, but chief among these is that thinking in this way makes one less likely to revise a belief. This is particularly problematic if one also thinks that holding a particular conclusion makes one a better person. The toxic combination of an unwillingness to revise a belief because doing so would make one a worse person, prevents one from arriving at the truth. If one believes one’s beliefs are never inaccurate, one will necessarily lapse into inaccuracy. (For more on this, see Raymond Smullyan’s work.)

This is just one of many problems with proselytizing.

Arron: Where are you on the 1-7 Dawkins God scale?
Peter: 6.7

Arron: Do you have faith in reason or evidence?
Peter: There’s a theme that’s emerging here, we’ve not defined these terms. If faith is defined as, “belief without sufficient evidence,” then I have no faith in reason and no faith in evidence. I use reason as a tool—often an instrumental tool—to achieve a desired end, like helping me figure out our incredibly complex home theater, or how to take the bus from A to B, or less pedestrian examples like how to live a good life. Evidence plays a role in my decision-making process, but I have no faith in evidence. This brief video may help to explain some of these terms: Faith, Just Say No.

(If your question is pointing to the problem of induction, then Stephen Jay Gould made a good argument for why we shouldn’t worry about it—all the evidence we have says that reason and evidence work, and that the laws of physics don’t change, and we have an obligation when it matters to use methods with the greatest chance of a positive outcome. Reason and evidence, therefore, are justified since we know of nothing that works better.)

Arron: So, theoretically, if you were presented with at least one piece of sufficient evidence in God, you’d believe in God? Or, is that not even a logical option in your world view?
Peter: Yes. If I were presented with evidence for the existence of God I’d believe in God. Personally, I’ve always found the question, “What would constitute sufficient evidence for belief in God?” to be interesting. Richard Dawkins and I discuss this question here: Richard Dawkins in conversation with Peter Boghossian.

I’ll add that I have a substantive concern with the phrase “one piece of sufficient evidence.” In this context, I’m not sure what that means. For example, seeing a cow is “one piece of sufficient evidence” that cows exist, but for undetectable entities, what constitutes “one piece” of evidence is tricky. Usually when people use the wording “one piece of evidence,” they mean “one piece of evidence that is sufficient for me”. That is, the thing that is convincing to them. This usually means one is thinking in terms of looking for a reason to believe, which is a terrible way to deal with evidence.

Arron: You say faith is pretending to have sufficient evidence for something for which there is insufficient evidence, while at the same time saying, if you have sufficient evidence then you don’t need faith. So, if I’m understanding your position, any evidence for one’s faith negates one’s faith. You set up a dichotomy between faith and evidence. Therefore, the only option allowed for in your dichotomy is: no faith. Therefore, isn’t your position an example of doxastic closure?
Peter: No, this is not what I’ve said. I never said, “Faith is pretending to have sufficient evidence for something for which there is insufficient evidence”. I defined faith as “pretending to know something you don’t know,” Faith or “belief without sufficient evidence,” [ http://www.amazon.com/Manual-Creating-Atheists-Peter-Boghossian/dp/1939578094/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_i Chapter 2].

(Note from Arron: Peter is correct. My question was not a direct quote. My question was an attempt to summarize his position based on—but not limited to—the following quotes from A Manual for Creating Atheists: Loc 2839 of 4685, Peter wrote, “All faith is blind. All faith is belief on the basis of insufficient evidence, one wouldn’t need faith, one would merely present the evidence.” Loc 554-555, Peter wrote, “‘If the response is, ‘There’s sufficient evidence,’ then your reply should be, ‘Then you don’t need faith.’”)

My challenge to your readers is: Come up with a usage where faith is appropriate without increasing the confidence beyond the warrant of the evidence, but hope, trust, etc., aren’t more suitable.

Arron: What is a common misconception Christians have about atheists?
Peter: Atheists are immoral.

Arron: Would you ever go fishing in a boat with a Christian, if you knew the fish would not be biting? This is me going for levity. I’ve been known to say, “I’d go fishing with him, even if the fish weren’t biting.”
Peter: Of course. I enjoy having spirited, adult conversations.

I had a good chat with Christian Phil Vischer, and after that some people said to me, “Why didn’t you go after him?” I was surprised and disappointed. Why do conversations with those who don’t share one’s views have to be confrontations? (Maybe this is a product of contemporary American culture.) We had a friendly discussion and we both really listened to the other person. Nobody was trying to win or humiliate anyone—we were genuinely listening to each other.

I mention this because Phil’s since become a friend. He’s coming to Portland to speak to my Atheism class next month. I’d be delighted to go fishing with Phil.

My ex office mate, Mark Mossa, is a Catholic priest: Theology-Fordham

I’d go fishing with him anytime.

Arron: What if you’re wrong?
Peter: About what?

It’s certainly possible that I’m wrong about Mohammad receiving revelations. It’s also possible that I’m wrong about reincarnation and samsara. Or the existence of Thor’s hammer. Or the promises of Jesus Christ. But given that I have scant evidence for these things, I did the best that I could. I was honest with myself, sincere, and willing to reconsider what I believe.

Again, it’s entirely possible that the universe has been constructed in a way that’s spelled out in one of the world’s many religions, but if this were the case then the injustice would be grotesque. On the standard Christian model I’d burn in hell for eternity because I didn’t lend my belief to that which I didn’t have sufficient evidence. If this were the case, the universe would be profoundly unjust.

Arron: What is your motivation for “disabusing” believers of their faith in God?
Peter: My goal is to disabuse people of un- or under-evidenced beliefs. My goal is to help people become more thoughtful and more rational. Faith, as I’ve defined it and as people use the word, is anathema to clear thinking. It’s a failed epistemology and it’s harming people. When people abandon faith, they have an opportunity to live more authentic, more meaningful lives. [I discuss this in my 2013 TAM talk: Authenticity

Arron: In the notes section of chapter 4 (Loc 1617 of 4685) of A Manual for Creating Atheists, you wrote, “For a frightening glimpse into the Christian world of ‘Relationship Evangelism,’ see…” and then you referenced my book, Eats with Sinners. What exactly was frightening about my book Eats With Sinners?
Peter: I didn’t read it.

(Note from Arron: I forgive you, Peter. I have faith you’ll read it someday. 😉 )

©2015 Arron Chambers

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31 responses to A Conversation with Peter Boghossian

  1. 

    pretty thorough answers. sheesh

  2. 

    Arron Chambers, I feel the canard about not having an objective moral standard without a god is a bit past it’s prime but other than that this seemed like a fairly cordial interview. I do wish you had mentioned your thoughts or reactions to Peter Boghossian’s responses and had defined what you mean by “Faith”… but I guess you were interviewing him not the other way around.

    I am dying to know how you would respond to this bit :
    “Are you willing to change your mind? If you were presented with evidence to the contrary would you revise your beliefs? If you were shown that what you think is evidence is not actually evidence, would you jettison your beliefs?”

    During the time leading up to my apostasy questions like this one forced me to be honest with myself. The strong gut reaction “I will never deny Jesus no matter what” came into conflict with the moral intuition to be honest, face reality, and follow the truth wherever it lead… even if that meant losing faith. I reasoned I would rather seek truth than seek God, because if God is real then seeking truth would lead me to him and if God was not real then better to have the bitter truth than a consoling lie.

    Needless to say that open honest approach lead straight out of christianity for me, so im interested if you have considered this?

    • 

      If the bones of Jesus were found, I’d be a lunatic for remaining a Christ-follower.
      With the Apostle Paul I say, 13 “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hopeb in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:13-19).

      But, until those bones are produced (or any other evidence to prove that Christ wasn’t who he claimed to be, I’ll accept the testimony of a man who once obsessed over stamping out Christianity, but saw something that changed his life: the Apostle Paul, who said 20 “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

      • 

        That’s awesome Arron, you wouldn’t believe how many people say they would stick to their guns even if evidence demonstrated their belief was not true. There seems to be no reasoning with people like that beyond showing them that when it comes to any other belief they would consider that kind of behavior delusional.

        But I’m a little disappointed by the second part of your response. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown tired of the “Take my word! I used to be -X but now I’m X” spiel. I’m sure you can think of an evangelical preacher who “Saw the light” and is now an atheist, there are a bunch of them. Hell, I used to do everything in my power to win souls for christ until my whole life was changed. Does that make my testimony a reliable foundation for disbelief? I don’t think so.

        Even more than that, this idea that you are justified in believing something until it is proved false irks me. I mean there are lots of things you can believe that cannot or have not yet been proved false. Take for example theism “I believe a god exists” and antitheism “I believe no gods exist”. Neither of them have been proved or disproved, does that mean I am justified in believing both? Doesn’t that seem like a poor reason to believe anything?

      • 

        Show you the bones? Habeus corpus it is, then!

        Show us the bones of Moses, John the Baptist, or any of the major characters of christianity. Body preservation shouldn’t have been some impossible mystery as the ancient Egyptians had been doing that for centuries?

        Not having the bones is just as good a reason for the belief in any human that allegedly gained the powers of a god and leaves no physical trace behind as believing in a tea pot orbiting our sun. Egyptian gods, legends of all kinds, even new allegations of god-like powers, especially when the historians that write of the works of that person wrote their accounts well *after* the time of them being done. I’ve got fish stories that aren’t very different from biblical writings.

        A lack of evidence should lead to a lack of belief, not embolden faith. But religion gets an evidentiary pass.

      • 

        Presumably you meant “accept”, not “except”. Buddha’s bones have never been found, and there is real discussion as to whether he really existed. But I don’t think the majority of Buddhists would stop believing even if it were proved that no such person existed. It’s a good life philosophy, period. And contrary to what Paul said – “most pitied people”- that would be a ridiculous concept to lay on Buddhists. Why? Because Buddhists don’t believe a person will be tortured for eternity for not believing in Buddha. But Christianity DEPENDS on it, no matter how Emergents and liberal evangelicals try to sugar-coat the very real doctrine of Hell. It was also what you were thinking when you asked Boghossian “What if you’re wrong?”

  3. 

    This was an excellent interview, I found my way here via Peter’s G+, which is almost a miracle, being as G+ is a virtual ghost town.

    I saw Peter from a distance just yesterday in Pasadena, we are both at a Skeptic’s event, Bill Nye’s out touting his new book. I’m a fan of his work [PB], and believe that methodology is the place to start when trying to find truth, not conclusions. This is the opposite of what I was taught as a Christian (I was an evangelical for 37 years).

    Something struck me, however, thinking about Bill Nye’s book (and the reason for it, his publisher pushed him to do it after the some 7 million views of his debate with Ken Hamm), and that was the fact that I’d given up my belief in Christianity with much struggle, it was emotionally devastating. I then gave up a belief in a god fairly easily, I figured if Christianity wasn’t true, it was nearly axiomatic that there was no god (this was my own prejudice, quoting Hitchen’s, I’m a Protestant atheist).

    Evolution was the last thing for me to accept, maybe because it’s a positive belief.

    I couldn’t get my mind around how such a crazy idea could be real, and I didn’t want to just take it “on faith”, this was prior to reading Peter’s book.

    I read The Selfish Gene, some other Dawkins, I listened to debates, I read Why Evolution is True and eventually I grasped the reason’s why evolutionary biology is simply the way life evolved here on earth. It’s much easier to accept a fantastic claim when you understand the process, the evidence, the facts, etc., behind it.

    Now, I bring this all up because this is the exact opposite of how Christianity is presented and taught.

    Christianity is taught to the youth as if it’s a fact, confirmed, true, not requiring through investigation, and that you are being proud, stubborn and ungodly and immoral if you don’t believe it.

    After some discussion with a Christian recently, I was motivated to read a couple apologetic books, so I went and read two, I wanted to see how I perceived the claims of evangelical apologists that had best selling books.

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R16STJ7UTIJ2RI/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R3VU80BWD4686F/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

    It wasn’t good.

    Arron, you guys aren’t honest, you simply are not honest about the reliability of the evidence for Christianity and you aren’t honest about how dreadful the track record of church leadership has been over the years to the people.

    It’s easy to pick on Catholics, with all the child rape scandals, and it’s easy to bring up things in the past; witch burnings and even burning those that tried to publish an English Bible, and the inquisition, the Crusades, American slavery and sins of the church like Yancey points out in How I Survived the Church (just about his youth mostly), but I’m not wanting to go there, I was wondering if you’d discuss something more “today”; more relevant?

    How is it that Christians claim this wonderful truth, of grace, mercy, love, acceptance and so forth, yet the Christian church is fractured and splintered beyond the ability to count factions, sects, denominations and cults, AND in the most important relationships that count; marriages and families, those that attend Christian churches and call themselves Christians do not have a different record (divorce, suicide, drug use, teen pregnancy, etc.) than the “world”?

    I find this indictment to be among the strongest evidences that there is zero statistical evidence or proof of anything “spiritual” or “godly supernatural” in the Christian world, it’s all myth and legend and man made stuff, OR your friend Jesus purposely keeps marriages in discord and an appropriate number of Christian children in the cancer ward, just to make sure the atheists don’t get “unfair” evidence to rob them of the chance at evidencing “faith”.

    I’m interesting in connecting with people like you, and wondering, if you’ve read books like: Atheism, A Case Against God, by George Smith, Godless, by Dan Barker, or any of the books by Bart Ehrman?

    When was a Christian I was very well read (you can see from my Amazon link, above, I’ve reviewed hundreds of books over the years) but I NEVER read the other side. I never investigated, I never seriously thought for myself.

    My intention is to work hard to help destroy faith based beliefs in those I come across, I firmly believe in the work Peter is doing, in fact, I’ve been begging my 13 year old to consider moving to Portland, I would love for her to study with PG if he’s still around in 5 years teaching up there.

    I’m curious if you’ve ever really understood how someone that lived for Jesus, loved Jesus, prayed in the streets for Jesus, went on missions trips for Jesus, was in lay leadership for Jesus, could walk away and say “I don’t believe in Jesus anymore”?

    Ray Comfort and I meet in Huntington Beach (he does a ministry there) and he told me I was never a Christian. I don’t want to foul your blog here, but just imagine me cussing right now, that was a terrible insult on his part, and I mean to call him on it some day. How dare he say that?

    I love the Lord, I prayed, I read, I studied, I laid hands on people, my mother was a pastor, I lead Bible studies, I was a Christian.

    I now know for complete certainty that I was in a cult. Leaving, I nearly committed suicide. It was the hardest thing I ever went through, so I understand the inability for people to accept that a Christian that is devote and loves Jesus can just become an atheist.

    But I did not “just become” an atheist, I studied, read, thought, asked questions, listened to debates and weighed the evidence, things I NEVER did as a Christian.

    So either Jesus is not really a God, or he is a sadist cruel torturer that allowed me to be tricked and deceived by an entire community of otherwise loving and kind people, including my own mother, whom allowed me to waste 37 years of my life in a false religion, all the while, the “real” Christianity was going on across the street.

    Thank you in advance for the platform, I hope you find my thoughts insightful and I’m willing to discuss more if you care to.

    • 

      Michael–Thanks for writing. I want to push back on one point you make, “You guys aren’t honest, you simply are not honest about the reliability of the evidence for Christianity and you aren’t honest about how dreadful the track record of church leadership has been over the years to the people.”

      This is a general–and inflammatory—accusation.

      Can you be more specific?

      1) Share something specific that I’m not being honest about.
      2) Share evidence that what “I’m not being honest about” is a lie.
      3) Share evidence that I know something to be a lie, yet I’m still promoting it as truth.

      btw…I’m sorry for what Ray Comfort said. I don’t agree with him. I reject Calvinism and the notion promoted by hard-core Calvinists who teach because you rejected Christ, you never were a Christian (because true Christians–according to hard-core Calvinists–are predestined to be Christians and can’t choose to believe or not believe). Based on your testimony, you were a Christian who used to love Jesus, but who has now decided that you don’t believe in (or love) Him anymore. That’s your choice, the beauty of free will, and evidence (imho) of God’s amazing love for us. You can’t have true love without free will.

      • 

        Absolutely, thanks for responding.

        1. Something you are not being honest about?

        Well, I’d say Christianity in general, but obviously that’s not fair, but let me explain what I mean.

        Take the idea that the Synoptic Gospels were actually written by Matthew, Mark and Luke. This is shared with the “the pew sitters” and children and even those that ask basic questions about faith as if it was an established fact.

        In Lee Strobel’s book, he interviews an expert, a Christian apologist, that says “strictly speaking the gospels are anonymous” but then Lee spends the rest of the book using the conclusion that these books were written by their named authors.

        Other than fundamentalist scholar’s claiming that the Synoptic Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark and Luke, we have most experts, apologists and non-believing experts alike, acknowledging that these books were written well after the time of Christ and by other than eye witnesses.

        This should (and does) seriously undermine the credibility of the New Testament.

        Now, people like myself, and you can see how much I’ve read, hundreds of Christian books over the years, were NEVER told this by pastors and leaders like yourself.

        Why is that? It shows to me now, that you guys (those professionals that teach Christianity today as pastors, etc.), you guys KNOW that the truth undermines what you are teaching, so you don’t preach it.

        Bart Ehrman points this out in his work.

        He states that when he gets first year Bible students, they go crazy, thinking he’s teaching them some wild liberal lies about the Bible, when in fact, he’s teaching stuff that all experts in the field agree upon.

        2. Evidence that what you’re not being honest about is a lie.

        Okay, here’s the deal. When I was a Christian, I was often taught, when it came to things like lust, lies, etc. that these ideas were more subtle than “the world” would have us believe.

        Adultery isn’t just having sex with a woman who is married to another man, adultery is thinking about it, “lust in the eyes”, etc.

        So, a lie isn’t just “not telling the truth” a lie is: deception in many forms, telling half the truth, telling the truth to appear as if it’s a lie, telling the truth but omitting a key piece of evidence, telling the opposite of the truth, and telling things in shades of gray, and many other variations.

        When you don’t explain to children/young adults/uneducated adults, etc., the “people in the pews”, the whole story, you are intentionally withholding truths that you know harm your cause and argument, this to me is a form of lying.

        In all my years of being a Christian, and a reasonable well informed one, why is it, do you think, that nobody ever shared with me that the Synoptic Gospels were written under pseudonyms?

        3. Share evidence that something you know to be a lie, yet you are still promoting it to be the truth.

        Okay, I have one good example.

        Easter Sunday, you’ve probably (and forgive me if I’m making an assumption that isn’t clear, maybe you’ve not done this, and maybe you don’t know of the contradiction), on Easter Sunday you’ve probably talked about Jesus as the Lamb of God, rising on Sunday, as in the Book of John, the author has Him being resurrected.

        John wanted Jesus to fit the “Lamb of God” title, so he moved the day of resurrection to Sunday, it’s on a different day entirely in the Synoptic Gospels. (I’m don’t have the exact verses memorized, I’m going off what Bart Ehrman wrote in his book: Interrupting Jesus).

        Now, maybe you’ve not thought about this contradiction, in that case, I’d fault your teachers, but if you’re aware of this, I’d say you’ve been telling a kind of lie, you’ve withheld evidence from people because you’ve come to a conclusion you’ve accepted as truth for yourself.

        Would you concur that American Christian churches are losing the youth by the droves?

        I read a synopsis of a Barna study recently that seem to acknowledge this fact from a Christian viewpoint, so I don’t just think it’s “wishful” thinking on my part.

        I know it’s anecdotal, but here’s how my very devoted and Christian mother’s down line family has fallen, remember, she was a Christian pastor, extremely devoted and extremely prayerful (and her family was a huge priority in her life, we all adored her very much, and respected her):

        6 Children: 1 outspoken anti-theist atheist (me), 1 atheist, but quiet about, 3 that don’t go to church, would say they believed in a god, but aren’t “Christian” in any traditional sense, and finally 1 that claims to be Christian, but hasn’t attended church in 15+ years.

        9 Grandchildren: 1 outspoken anti-theist atheist, 1 declared atheist, 1 declared agnostic, 3 that are not Christian but haven’t declared they are atheists, 2 that are too young to have any beliefs, but are been raised as non-religious, and finally 1 that believes in the Christian God, but has nothing to do with church and thinks organized religion is a sham.

        Out of 15 people in the next two generations of a committed Bible believing, praying evangelical, my mother, a former pastor who filled a small church with believers for her memorial service, had not a SINGLE child or grandchild at her death that was a Bible believing Christian that was living a Christ centered life in a community of like minded believers.

        And several of us are pretty hostile to Christianity as a whole.

        Why do you think that is?

        Are you going to claim that “we are in the last days” and the “devil is deceiving more” and other nonsense? Can you see that the internet and knowledge and great men like Peter Boghossian are changing the world for the better by removing superstition?

        If the wonderful loving and kind hearted Mormon missionary is out deceiving people due to his misplaced “faith” what rigorous means have you used to ensure you aren’t doing the same thing (misleading people even though you’re heart is in the right place)?

        Could you be wrong?

  4. 

    Thanks for posting this Arron. I read “A Manual for Creating Athiests” pretty soon after it came out and I think it is an admirable attempt to increase the amount of rational thought in the world. Too many people think “Oh, you’ll never change their minds”. His book is a straightforward guide to help people do so.

  5. 

    Interesting and glad you shared your conversation. I liked your question on proselytizing (I liked all your questionns). I’m amazed how they don’t see themselves doing that but that is what we are doing because we are blind and ignorant. I may be wrong but I always feel the presentation of issues, many a times, is skewed because of who gets to define the conversation. He says that you need to agree on the definition of what you are discussing but they always get to do the defining, reason is almost always when you decide to walk away from The Lord. There is no rational reason in serving The Lord.
    I might be simply minded in my interpretations but enjoyed the blog.

    • 

      I pray you two develop a strong, sincere friendship and go fishing someday.

    • 

      Tammy, your reply is almost a case study for everything Dr Boghossian is saying. You’ve made up your mind and you’re not open to thinking about why you believe what you believe.

      That’s a real shame. Did you read the whole interview? You seem to have overlaid your own prejudices.

      For example, you complain that: “He says that you need to agree on the definition of what you are discussing but they always get to do the defining, reason is almost always when you decide to walk away from The Lord”.

      Dr B. kept asking that they agree a definition of terms, and when no definition was offered for a given term he would offer one in order to be able to answer particular questions.

      But you seem to view this as a positive attempt by Dr B. to impose definitions that are negative.

  6. 

    Jesus Christ IS LORD! Whether or not you talk about Him. Whether or not you believe in Him, He exists. No one will convince me otherwise, and that is my choice. I am confident in my faith. I have seen JESUS. I have had experiences with Him. I have heard his voice. I have experienced healing. I have a deep relationship with Him, and I will always love and worship Him. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone, just like I would not use my time proving my husband exists when he’s sitting right here. I love Jesus! What is unfortunate is that people spend so much energy and time trying to disprove his existence, when he’s loving you and giving you that freedom the whole time. Why not give him a chance before it’s too late to chose? Why not embrace His love? His love is more amazing than anything else you will ever experience. Like I said, he’s shown himself to me, so I’m not concerned whether or not he exists. I’ve given him my heart and my life. I’m concerned that there are people who are missing out on such tremendous overflowing love, because they reject him. God is so good. You have the freedom to talk about Him. You have the freedom not to believe. It’s your choice! And he loves you anyway! That’s the beauty of our God! If you give him a chance using the same amount of energy and time you use to disprove him, then maybe you can discover the truth! Your choice. None of my business what you choose. I know what I’ve decided, and it’s to follow JESUS, and I have seen Him working in my life. I’m content with that. And I want MORE AND MORE of JESUS!

    • 

      Hi Melissa. I’m intrigued by what you said. I’m curious how you know that you’re not mistaken. The Hindus believe that they have received direct revelations from The Vedas. They sincerely believe this to be true. How would one go about discovering that one is mistaken? Have you considered that it might feel quite ‘right’ to be wrong? Please watch this talk, and think about it…

      Cheers, Melissa. I wish you well.

    • 

      “and that is my choice.”

      Is that really a choice though? Do you typically form beliefs by choice? I’m not sure I myself could ever choose to believe in anything if I haven’t already been convinced.

      Consider, did you ever believe in Santa? If your parents told you Santa was real, and you one day found yourself in their closet looking for something only to discover a toy you really wanted. You didn’t say anything because you didn’t know why it was there, but you remembered it.

      Imagine, a week later, Christmas comes by and under the presents wrapped ‘Santa’ you open to discover that toy you found. You may really want to ‘choose to believe’ at that point, but would you really not find your faith in Santa shaken, without your volition? Could you really continue to believe, even in spite of evidence that flatly contradicts what you had been told? Why should any claim, god included, be any different?

      How did you come to believe in Jesus in the first place? What was the rational process you employed?

      And further, how is your faith different from the faith of a member of a different religion, who would equally claim to “KNOW” their god, as real as a member of their family? How could we distinguish which claim is actually true?

    • 

      When I was a young student at Bible College, and later as a missionary with Operation Mobilization, I too wrote something very very similar to what you wrote above.

      I thought nothing would ever shake my faith. But I did leave my faith, reluctantly, after 46 years of believing.

      I am glad you have faith that gives your life meaning. I hope that no one tries to talk you out of it, because it would be like arrows bouncing off the Maginot Line (use Google), and a pure waste of time. You probably will maintain your faith till you die, but if cracks appear, they will come from within, as a result of an insatiable curiosity to know what is real.

  7. 

    This notion that faith is rational is a new invention recently promoted by apologists who increasingly find the irrational faith happily promoted for centuries untenable in a world that increasingly values rationality. This might be considered a good step in a good direction were it not so mendaciously inconsistent with what the bible says about faith. Until recently, faith was proudly considered to be an irrational commitment to some god, and the more the gulf between your faith an the evidence, the more virtuous you were. Luther called reason a “whore”, a consistent notion throughout the history of christianity. Were the millions of christians consciously and proudly accepting Jesus based on this irrational faith actually damned to hell? Are you willing to say that, those now admitting their faith is irrational, can not be real christians?

    In the bible you actually have a man coming to Jesus to request that he heal his son. When Jesus asks whether he believes, he actually responds, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief”. This is biblical faith; when in doubt about the credibility of someone, instead of asking for evidence, ask that someone to help you believe more. Jesus also blesses those who believe without actually seeing the evidence rather than those who request evidence.

    Your claim that your faith is rational would seem much less dishonest if you were first teaching little children the foundation of rationality BEFORE you introduced them to your particular god. However, what you are doing is the opposite; you first get them to commit to “Jesus”, then build your “rationality” around that. Do you understand how absurd it then sounds when you claim your faith is based on rationality?

    Finally, simply consider where prior commitments to faith or rationality take people. Those who contemplate gods prior to learning rationality often end up believing quite the opposite to someone doing the same on the other side of the world. In contrast, those who are first introduced to the basics of rationality BEFORE they are introduced to various notions of god tend to converge in their conclusions; most consider a personal god improbable, and an Einsteinian god uncertain. Simply consider the converging philosophies of all the world’s scientists who grew up in various religious contexts, yet were taught the proper need for rationality prior to assessment.

    So, this silly claim that your faith is rational does not stand up historically, biblically, nor experimentally, and runs counter to your own practice of promoting your god to children before equipping them with the standars of evidence and tools of rationality.

  8. 

    Aaron, thanks for this interview. It’s very telling that those who replied to this blog who have walked away from faith seem to quickly jump on your faith and tell you why it’s wrong before actually listening to your reasons for the faith that you have in God. It seems that’s the way these type of arguments always go.

    Jesus had a similar conversation with His disciples when they asked Him to show them the Father. It’s interesting that His closest disciples wanted Him to show them the way to God when they had been with Him for 3 years. They had seen the “evidence” of miracles that Jesus had performed, and yet still were struggling with knowing the Father. Philip said, “Lord show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

    Jesus tells them, “You already have seen the evidence that I’m who I say I am. You’ve already seen that “I am the way, the truth, and the life. So believe the evidence. If you don’t believe that I’m who I say I am, at least believe the evidence of the things that I’ve done.” (John 14)

    I think the evidence of the love of Christ is still abundant today. There are miracles that still happen today. A wife forgiving her husband of being unfaithful to her. A nurse working with patients who are stricken with Ebola, even though she is exposed herself. Isn’t that what Jesus taught? Isn’t that what He did Himself when He loved the world (yes, even those who try to wipe out the evidence of His presence with their arguments) enough to die on the cross to take the punishment we each deserve. I see clear evidence every day that Jesus is who He says He is. Jesus had these same discussions about faith in Him. Thanks Aaron for being willing to have these difficult conversations. It is further evidence of the love of Jesus for everyone.

  9. 

    I’m curious if Peter has ever read Lee Strobles “Case for Christ”. I think you can have faith in evidence that has occurred precendently. George Washington crossed the Delaware river. I was not there, but i believe it to have happened. I believe it because it was well documented and taught as is the life of Christ and His resurrection.
    Also, satan challenges me, it seems, daily to reason through my faith; for example, there was over 500 witness that saw Christ reincarnated, or, Peter was, along with many others in Christs days, willing to be stoned, whipped, or beaten for his reason and visible evidence (his faith in Christ), evidence that was well documented and taught through the years.

    It would be fun to talk about this in a small group environment.
    I enjoyed reading your interview.

    • 

      500 witnesses? Do we have 500 witnesses to the resurrection? From where I’m sitting, it appears we only have an old book containing an unvalidated claim from someone we cannot now interview that 500 additional witnesses who we cannot now interview also saw Jesus resurrect. Imagine I go to criminal court, and when the judge asks for an alibi, I tell him, without providing evidence, I was far from the crime, and 500 dead unnamed witnesses can vouch for me.

    • 

      Yes, Peter has read Strobles book. I live in Portland and attend PSU, where he lectures. If you don’t know the refutations of Stroble’s arguments, and about the lack of documentation for Christ’s resurrection (which apparently the author of Mark didn’t know about), then you need to start reading a lot more. Start with Robert Price, Bart Erhman, Richard Carrier, et al. That is, if you REALLY want to know the other side.

  10. 

    Thank you so much for sharing this critical narrative. Arron, you have gone through “deep and chilly waters”. It reminds me of another man who debated those who would deny God’s existence. your father.

  11. 

    Arron wrote: “I sincerely I believe I came to faith in Christ through rational means.”

    I’m a former born-again evangelical Christian that used to also believe as you do now. I now see it as the God delusion. I’ve come to find out there is no rational basis for believing in the existence of God. The best reasons are logical fallacies, such as “Who made the big bang or the law of physics?” (logical fallacy of ‘appeal to ignorance.’) Arron, tell me what evidence you have for the existence of your 3-in-1 God. And the gospels are not evidence… they are codified myths… no better than other supposed Holy Stories like those in the Book or Mormon fiction.

  12. 

    Aaron, it’s interesting that you say above, “If the bones of Jesus were found, I’d be a lunatic for remaining a Christ-follower.” This gambit is one of the conversations Dr. Boghossian relates in his book. His reply was essentially, “What evidence would persuade you that the bones in question were those of Jesus?” I invite you to answer that.

    I suspect that, like Dr. Boghossian’s interlocutor, you would not find (nor could you describe beforehand) ANY evidence sufficient to convince you that a set of ancient bones were, in fact, those of Jesus. You thus pretend to a shroud of rationality with your “lunatic” gambit, secure in the knowledge that you will never be put to a test of that “rationality.” Your thoughts?

  13. 

    Hi Aaron,

    Thank you for posting a thoughtful exchange with Peter Boghossian.

    The game developed by Elbowfish, on which Peter is collaborating, is called “JUX: A Storytelling Game for Creative Thinkers”. The game you mention, “Antimatter Matters: A Quantum Physics Board Game (Really!)”, is unrelated. It’s a great game about an intimidating branch of science, but it is not directly about critical or creative thinking and Peter was not involved in its creation.

    He is the critical thinking expert Elbowfish is working with on JUX, a fun card game for families, parties and other groups large or small, and his contribution has been invaluable. JUX is now in final development and will ship in a few months. Please change the name of the game referenced in your post. Thanks!

    – David Galiel, CEO, Elbowfish http://elbowfish.com

  14. 

    Jesus loves me!! Unless I don’t love him back. Then he’s going to torture me forever.

    *sigh*

    Eternity is a long time. Yet we’re here on earth for 80+ years. Why the pop quiz with torture in the balance? Is 80 years long enough to cram for an eternity long reward/punishment exam? What about when life expectancy was 40 years?

    Why create the universe in the first place and put us on this speck of sand at the bottom of a universal ocean? Why didn’t he just create us all in heaven/paradise/nirvana from the beginning so we could worship him there? That’s what he claims he wants right? Maybe he needed that “Rocks will cry out” plan B.

    Funny how when everyone meets/experiences God it’s always their particular God. If Jesus is God then why do people in other countries have their religious experiences with the Prophet Mohammed or Shiva? Wouldn’t Jesus show them the error of their ways? Oh! That’s right! They aren’t having true religious experiences like you are. They’re all wrong. Their holy books are all wrong. Yours is the right one. And to think if you’d been born in India you’d be damned forever just based on where you were born and what your parents believed. Aren’t you lucky? I pity those poor brown people swimming in fire forever. God bless America.

    Jesus knocked.
    “Who’s there?”
    “Jesus. Let me in.”
    “Why?”
    “So I can save you.”
    “From what?”
    “From what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in.”

    Ask yourself the tough questions. It took me three years of reading to finally, hesitantly whisper the words “There is no god”. It was an emotional roller coaster for someone who was brought up with my entire life revolving around church. My father was a music minister and my grandfather wasted his life being a pastor and died penniless. And that’s because he was one of the honest ones.

    I will not pass that legacy on to my children. I have broken that yoke. With the help of Peter Boghossian I will help others do the same.

  15. 

    Fascinating dialogue. Thanks for the effort at befriending this interesting man, your thoughtful reflections, and for sharing the results with us!

  16. 

    I liked the irenic tone of the interview, but felt disappointed. The interview seemed fawning and superficial. There were no hard-hitting questions about the Achille’s heel of atheism: its inadequate philosophy and psychology of science. In failing to keep Boghossian honest, the interviewer only succeeded in giving him another forum for advancing his pretentious atheism.

  17. 

    While I liked the irenic tone of this interview, it seemed fawning and superficial. No hard questions were asked that would have exposed the Achille’s heel of atheism: it’s inadequate philosophy of science. Going easy on Boghossian, the interviewer simply gave another pretentious atheist a forum to advance his worldview.

  18. 

    I wrote a comment yesterday. It appeared to have been posted and then disappeared. Can someone explain? Has it been deleted?

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