VANGUARD Exclusive with Peter Boghossian (Portland State University)

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VANGUARD reporter Dan Shepard talks with PSU Professor Peter Boghossian about his soon to be published book "A Manual for Creating Atheists".


This is an interview for his upcoming Mother's Day talk in Portland Oregon

This Mother’s Day, Portland State philosophy professor Peter Boghossian will present a talk about his forthcoming book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, and answer audience questions.

The Humanists of Greater Portland will host the talk at the Friendly House at Northwest 26th Avenue and Sherman Street on Sunday from 10–11:30 a.m. Tickets are free and seating is up for grabs.

Faith and religion are typically sensitive topics in our society. It is easy to offend someone when they identify strongly with a belief, counting it as a part of who they are.But Boghossian does not shy away from sensitive subjects.

Boghossian got into philosophy via a natural curiosity and desire to ask larger questions about knowledge, reality, existence and more. This led to his desire to teach and make philosophy more accessible and practical for students.

Not only has Boghossian taught in academia, he has spent extensive time helping to rehabilitate prisoners by talking with them about their way of thinking and helping them change the flaws in their thought processes that led them into a life of crime.

All of this relates to faith as Boghossian defines it: an epistemology (or system of knowledge) that is inherently flawed because it is unreliable, and it is unreliable because it does not rely on evidence to support its claims.


continue to source article at psuvanguard.com

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      • In reply to #8 by Andrew B.:

        In reply to #1 by sbooder:

        Evangelical atheists…Fuck off! I am not going out to convert anyone.

        So because you don’t want to do something, other people shouldn’t do it either?

        Not at all, but I have my say like all others here. It is just my own opinion that I do not want to do what I dislike most about the religious and try and convert anyone that is all, you go fill your boots!

        • He said in the video that he was not talking about conversion and does not talk about God, just trying to provide a more successful method for gaining knowledge. If you were a member of a religious cult (say christianity) and then you lost your faith while at college due to exposure to people such as Peter Boghossian would you say you were converted to a loss of faith? Do you consider the de-conversion equivalent to the conversion?

          In reply to #9 by sbooder:

          In reply to #8 by Andrew B.:

          In reply to #1 by sbooder:

          Evangelical atheists…Fuck off! I am not going out to convert anyone.

          So because you don’t want to do something, other people shouldn’t do it either?

          Not at all, but I have my say like all others here. It is just my own opinion that I do…

  1. I feel he makes an all too common error when he comments on Islamophobia and immediately defines it as ‘fear of Muslims’ when the subject is Islam, NOT Muslims, who are in fact (IMO) victims of Islam.
    This after pointing out that it is the faulty epistemology, not the individual that can be challenged.

  2. Ever since I was a child, I have been trying talk others out of their faith, in particular Kitt, a supercilious Catholic neighbour who was infuriatingly patronising. I have come up with thousands of arguments, absolute zingers that should shatter faith in an instant. However, they don’t work!

    What we need are not more logical arguments, but more arguments that work, and are proven statistically to work. The arguments will probably be disgustingly emotional and irrational since beliefs they fight are irrational.

    Even life long atheists like my Mom had pockets of religious superstition. She felt suicide to avoid end of life pain was wicked, but getting some to help you was ok. Maybe we should practice exorcising such superstitions on fellow atheists first.

  3. Watching this made be wonder what Voltaire would have done if he could have made a YouTube video. How would the world be different had he a way of communicating his ideas that immediately?

    At some point someone might produce a set of YouTube videos, ostensibly created on the cheap in the author’s library, arguing the case for his hobbyhorses. You might do Voltaire, Mark Twain, Seneca, H.L. Mencken, Robert Green Ingersoll.

  4. Unfortunately, I don’t find this video that useful. I find Christians fairly quickly admit they have very little reason to believe there is a god. They argue they feel it is true in their guts or bones. They argue they would be bereft it it were not true, then they drop the trump card, “I am vastly superior to you in spiritual understanding. I know by faith not mere reason! My belief is thus infinitely more virtuous than yours. You are too immature in spiritual wisdom to grasp the deep mysteries of the universe. You think nothing exists but test tubes.” I have also had Pascal’s wager tried on me.

    The key to puncturing this argument is an assortment of dotty people who hold non-religious crazy ideas on faith, but of course that is an inferior sort of faith, not inspired by the holy ghost…

    Perhaps this nut will not be cracked until we have AI psychiatry with access to real-time brain scans.

    • In reply to #6 by Roedy:

      Hi Roedy,

      Unfortunately, I don’t find this video that useful.

      Your right because, based on what you have said below, I think his approach would be right up your street.

      This is not a good video of Peter Boghossian. He is usually much clearer. I can’t put my finger on why – possibly he was answering questions on-the-fly rather than having sat down with the Interviewer to plan the interview.

      I find Christians fairly quickly admit they have very little reason to believe there is a god. They argue they feel it is true in their guts or bones.

      My response would be: I try not to think with my gut – I have a brain for that.

      They argue they would be bereft it it were not true, then they drop the trump card, “I am vastly superior to you in spiritual understanding. I know by faith not mere reason!”

      Two questions:

      • How do they define spiritual understanding? In my experience people who say this don’t really know what they’re saying – they have no clear idea of what they are describing and they don’t realise that they are being incoherent – to themselves as well as you – by not defining spiritual properly.

      • Why do they value faith over reason? Faith, as Boghossian shows, is not a good way of reaching truth. Reason is. Science is just one part of Reason – and look how successful that is.

      “My belief is thus infinitely more virtuous than yours.”

      Only if they can show that faith is a better way of thinking than reason. What evidence do they have? Has reason delivered more health, more interesting and useful philosophy, more fun, greater morality, than faith. Of course it has. It’s trivial to provide evidence for Reason’s track record and superiority over faith in all these areas.

      The key to puncturing this argument is an assortment of dotty people who hold non-religious crazy ideas on faith, but of course that is an inferior sort of faith, not inspired by the holy ghost…

      I have no idea what that means.

      Perhaps this nut will not be cracked until we have AI psychiatry with access to real-time brain scans.

      I disagree, I think we understand enough about psychology – post Freud – to address the problem of religion.

      Neuro-psychology and neuroscience will both broaden our understanding and bring areas into sharper focus as time passes – but we don’t need that to begin work.

      Peace.

  5. I seem to start every conversation when meeting new people by stating boldly that I’m an Atheist. In a sense some may see that as provocative or even rude, however it helps me decide on keeping conversation going based on the response of the other.

    Boghossian’s manual will be of help to those who lack the confidence to speak up with some reasoned arguments to use when talking to religious believers. We all need to feel free to ridicule and criticize religious beliefs with the same vigour anyone would have when talking about art, politics or any other subject. Religious belief is not a taboo subject for us Westerners at least, and it would be good if all people could take some small action. Reasoning is essential to helping individuals become emotionally self-sufficient.

    Atheism, the knowing that the gods are imaginary, is not a new idea, it is though for us and thanks to outspoken people like Dawkins, talked about without fear of reprisal, violence or claims of heresy. It will get easier when more and more people feel confident about challenging religious privilege in each of our nations.

    Those who suggest that religious privileges are minimal perhaps aren’t seeing too clearly. Here in Ontario the Provincial Legislature and many municipal council meetings begin proceedings with a religious prayer, mostly the Lord’s. Is there any logical reason why business meetings in which committees will decide on garbage collection or transit funding, need to invoke imaginary protection of the gods of Iron Age science fiction before dealing with the issues? What about faith schools, why are so many children segregated to be initiated and indoctrinated into tribal beliefs? If the Canadian government decided to force a state religion and make everyone comply and attend weekly rituals, then logically there would be protests. If this is the case with adults not wanting to be forced to believe, then why are children being treated with disregard?

  6. I have been thinking about why we atheists are so inept at deprogramming Christians. The biggest error is assuming the Christian is making logic errors. We presume they are just like us, but temporarily addled.

    Here are two other ways to look a them.

    1. They are adult abused children. Their whacko Christian parents beat them and terrified them with stories of hell fire. The kids are a traumatised. They have a phobia of Jehovah like a fear of spiders, rats or snakes. Logic has nothing to do with it.

    2.They are like Patty Hearst. They have been brainwashed.

    What they need primarily is reassurance Jehovah cannot hurt them. They don’t want to take the tiniest chance since this bastard is so cruel.

    • In reply to #11 by Roedy:

      I have been thinking about why we atheists are so inept at deprogramming Christians. The biggest error is assuming the Christian is making logic errors. We presume they are just like us, but temporarily addled.

      Here are two other ways to look a them.

      They are adult abused children. Their whacko…

      I think they have a “willingness to believe” aspect of their personality and it runs in families. This manifests itself in a myriad ways, not just the supernatural. You name it, they believe in it and stare blankly if questioned. Things that spring to mind are, fake remedies, telepathy, fortune telling, spirituality, weird diets, lucky charms, lucky numbers, colours, omens, etc. I could go on and on. I come across this phenomena constantly in my dealings with other people.

      I have a feeling that if I managed to talk them out of one irrational set of beliefs they would quickly switch to another equally irrational set. They have something added ( or subtracted) in their physical make-up that I just don’t have.

  7. I like Boghossian very much because he talks about exactly the thing that should be focused on: the problem of faith. He doesn’t talk about religions specifically, or target minute details in religious texts that seem weird. Religions, homoeopathy, Tarot cards, healing crystals, etc. are all just nasty symptoms. But the real disease underlying all these is faith, and that’s what he targets.

    I wish Boghossian was more prominently visible in the Atheist movement, or whatever you want to call it. He would be a great asset.

  8. If someone’s got a habit they need to kick only they can do it, all others can do is encourage them. Harrassing them will usually only result in them digging their heels in.

    My main concern is that children be protected from mollestation by religious dogma.

    Apart from that, if someone’s beyond the age of consent they’re free to believe what ever they choose; freedom of religion and freedon from religion is all I ask.

    But, it still leaves the parents who have themselves been damaged to repeat the process with their own offspring, and I don’t know what can be done about that.

  9. I get it!

    The problem it seems to me is that even with the tools and vocabulary necessary to engage with blind faith it’s the blindness that shields those who hold such beliefs from being reached with logical arguments and ideas.

    Therein, I suppose, lies the attraction of faith itself.

  10. Once a person decides on a dualistic worldview, physical and spiritual, then, it is a small step believing evidence can be applied to both worlds. Evidence in the spiritual world becomes faith, revelation, and belief that is every bit as authoritative to that person as evidence is in the material world. “Worlds unseen” take on a reality as potent to ones faith as material evidence is to science. The link to break is not rejecting evidence, but the epistemological bondage a dualistic worldview can cause, because once the mind is absolutely convinced of the reality of a spiritual world, no amount of material evidence can convince otherwise – just ask the director of NIH, Dr. Francis Collins.

  11. FAITH is the lie that something impossible WILL happen in the future while BELIEF is the lie that something impossible DID happen in the past and religion cannot survive without those two lies. These lies get exposed when people are educated on how to differentiate faith-based superstition from evidence-based reality.

  12. I take my hat off to this chap, he is remarkably patient with idiots. Have only been able to bring myself to do this for individuals I care very deeply about, like family and close friends To be able to help strangers like this is a rare talent.

  13. It is a major error to assume that all religious people came from dysfunctional homes where fear was the main tool used to brow beat religion into their brains. The fact is that’s at religious people came from very loving homes and the love that they received from their parents, relatives and community came packaged within the framework of a religious identity that is now a part of their emotional life. Combating that with evidence and logic is very difficult. Their very identity is their religion and they actually love it with all of their hearts despite its many flaws.

  14. I have been thinking more about the problem of effectively deprogramming Christians out of their fear of Jehovah.

    When I was a child I hated being in the dark. I would look out and see monsters forming in the shadows. My parents were quite impatient with me, and insisted on turning out the light and closing the door. I begged them to leave it open a tiny crack. They refused. I would in retaliation rattle my crib causing it to travel across the room. Eventually they got me a night light, which was not really sufficient, but at least it was a sign of good faith so I resolved to make do. To this day I send a gift of a night light to newborn relatives. That last one I sent projected constellations on the ceiling as a side effect, surely even more soothing. Even as a teen I would leap onto my bed, to make it difficult for a sibling (or nameless threat) hiding under the bed to reach out and grab my leg.

    Think about how anyone successfully talked you out of a fear. They probably cajoled and teased you. They mocked your fear as impotent. They proved to you they had no fear. They might have got you to face the fear one tiny step at a time. They probably were not angry or contemptuous.

    sbooder would argue I have no right to interfere. I counter. When they interfered with my civil rights, spread really malicious lies about me, and threatened my life, and blocked efforts to deal with global warming, and in many ways tried to push their nonsense down my throat, that gave me the right to try amateur psychiatry on them in self defence.

  15. Uhm, no. Also, NO!

    Approaching people to challenge their beliefs has absolutely got to be the wrong approach. Really, who cares if the lady at the bank wears a cross every day? I think this is not what the religious-atheist-awareness movement is all about. (New-atheist movement, whatever. Is there a name historians will use?)

    I am thoroughly unimpressed with Boghossian. He should stick with teaching critical thinking in a formal, scholastic or tutorial setting lest he become what we dislike so much about righteous religious-types.

    • No. That is not what I “dislike so much about righteous religious-types”. I agree that it is not polite to just approach people to challenge their beliefs (and it did seem like Peter Boghossian was suggesting that). What I dislike about righteous religious-types is not the impolite approach but that they pretend to know things they cannot know and they claim that a God has instructed them (via old books and preachers) to pass on that knowledge. If they were “religiously” promoting critical thinking, perhaps inspired by Boghossian, I would be more inclined to overlook the impolite challenge.
      Regarding “what the religious-atheist-awareness movement is all about”, the Wiki entry on New Atheism says it’s proponents argue that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”. I’m happy with that. What do you think the movement is about?

      In reply to #22 by ShesTheBeth:

      Uhm, no. Also, NO!

      Approaching people to challenge their beliefs has absolutely got to be the wrong approach. Really, who cares if the lady at the bank wears a cross every day? I think this is not what the religious-atheist-awareness movement is all about. (New-atheist movement, whatever. Is th…

  16. “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”.

    Unevidenced and irrational thinking, most particularly dogmatic thinking, should not be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by evidence and rational argument wherever its malign influence arises”.

    Fixed.

    Malign?

    Prioritise or waste your life.

    • Agreed. Religion is the result of unevidenced, irrational, and dogmatic thinking.

      In reply to #24 by phil rimmer:

      “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”.

      Unevidenced and irrational thinking, most particularly dogmatic thinking, should not be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by eviden…

      • In reply to #25 by Marktony:

        Agreed. Religion is the result of unevidenced, irrational, and dogmatic thinking.

        In reply to #24 by phil rimmer:

        “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”.

        Unevidenced and irrational thinking, mos…

        But religion is just a small fraction of such thinking. If its malign in its influence it all needs dealing with.

        • What other malign influences did you have in mind to deal with, that make up the bigger fractions? Maybe Boghossians 10,000 won’t be enough!

          In reply to #26 by phil rimmer:

          In reply to #25 by Marktony:

          Agreed. Religion is the result of unevidenced, irrational, and dogmatic thinking.

          In reply to #24 by phil rimmer:

          “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises”.

          Unevidence…

  17. Think about the arguments Christians use to defend Christianity or attack atheism. The most common is the ad hominem. Dawkins is wrong because he is shrill. Atheists are wrong because they molest children.

    Perhaps then the way to fight back in is in similar way, but with a humourous twist. “Christians are 76.323% times more likely to have dandelions in their lawns because they trust Jehovah to do the weeding for them.”

  18. I’ll be upfront: I’m a student at PSU and have worked extensively with Pete (both as his research assistant for his upcoming book and as a TA).

    If one does not want to or do not believe it is right to talk someone out of their faith then it behooves Pete to convince you otherwise. If you’re open to this challenge, check out his videos “Faith: Pretending to know things you don’t know” and “Jesus, the easter bunny, and other delusions: just say no!”

    For those who do not see his methodology as an effective one for talking people out of their faith, unless you’ve seen one of his two most recent talks (one at a Portland CFI event, the other at the greater humanist sunday service), you have yet to see his methodology. Hopefully some version of this talk goes up soon, so that you guys can see his breakdown.

    I, myself, don’t feel as strongly as Pete does about this, but his work is definitely interesting and I think well worth consideration.

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