Another Firebrand Failure – A Manual For Creating Atheists

I recently sat down to read Peter Boghossian’s book, A Manual For Creating Atheists. After a few pages of interaction I was immediately reminded of David Silverman’s firebrand manifesto titled Fighting God. In similar fashion, A Manual For Creating Atheists was a difficult read.

The difficulty wasn’t because it struck at the heart of my faith, or challenged my worldview in any serious way, or that it presented challenging philosophical principles that are not easily understood, but because it is so atrociously lacking in comprehending the very thing it looks to criticize and upend – faith and religion. I am beginning to wonder who these New Atheists are attempting to refute, challenge, or rebut, because the parodies they offer as descriptions of religion are wildly off the mark.

And I must say that at this point, following many interactions with the literature, it is beyond dispute that the intellectual ineptitude soaked in elitist contempt for religion is the defining characteristic of the New Atheist movement. It is not reason, evidence, logic, or science that motivates these individuals – hatred is the New Atheist muse.

Every time I pick up one of these books I am hoping to read something that I should take serious. If religion is as stupid, misguided, and evil as New Atheists claim it is, one would expect to find in their presentation a refutation of these positions that do not exude the very dispositions they claim to be challenging, that is, dogmatism, shallow thinking, authoritarianism, philosophical ineptitude, scientific illiteracy etc. I mean, if everyone just knows that religion is stupid and Christianity is false, how come these claims cannot be demonstrated in a way that does not include an endless variety of logical fallacies, misrepresentations, and sleight of hand rhetorical fraudulence. For example, everyone who has ever taken the time to think critically about the position of moral relativism can in the matter of a few moments identify its philosophical shortcomings, and do so without committing the straw man fallacy, or poisoning the well fallacy, or the special pleading fallacy, or begging the question and so on. Moral relativism is easily refuted because the incoherence of the view is resting on the surface of emotional platitude waiting to be exposed by any person willing to think critically about important ethical issues. According to the New Atheist movement, religion is just as flawed on the surface as moral relativism, but the critical thinking allegedly demonstrating the frailty of this position is unable to refrain from committing the fallacies previous mentioned.

It is also interesting to me that these atheistic attacks on religion, Christianity, faith, or whatever, are simultaneously couched in a promulgation of secular progressive politics. This is due to the fact that New Atheism isn’t just a movement committed to exposing religion; it is dedicated to shaping the culture into one that is atheistic to its core.

Despite these frustrations, one of the most vexing things encountered in the atheist literature is this line of thought – we are told that all religion and religious people are basically stupid, but at the same time, those who are found in academia challenging the arguments of the New Atheists are more or less diabolically stupid, clinging desperately to sophistry so the comfort of psychological delusion can be readily maintained for the ‘feels’ of Sunday worship. So understood, and according to New Atheists such as Boghossian, religious people are either inherently anti-intellectual or they create the appearance of being intellectual so that they can remain attached to their metaphysical casuistry. What this amounts to is a cult like dismissal of opposing views, which according to the New Atheist literature, is something only “religion” does.

Another significant error made by Boghossian is to define the term “faith” in the most categorically preposterous way imaginable. The entire book operates as if this definition captures the meaning of the term – pretending to know things you don’t know. That’s it. That is the suggested definition for faith– pretending to know things you don’t know. For someone who claims to be in possession of a superior epistemology, it must have never dawned on him to look at official documents such as, say, I don’t know, the Catechism of the Catholic Church for a more appropriate definition. Looking at how those who take faith seriously define the term might be a more intellectually honest way to write an informed book on the topic, but intellectual honesty concerning religion is not what the New Atheists are interested in.[2]

This is, however, a rather convenient treatment of the term since it implies that all those who have faith are actually lying and they know they are lying. It is convenient since Boghossian wants to treat faith as a psychological delusion rather than an important part of a competing philosophical worldview; and what better way to do that than to define the term in a way which already presupposes a disordered frame of mind to justify an entrenched atheistic political agenda.

And yet another egregious error committed by Boghossian is his assertion that faith is an epistemology, which is entirely incorrect. Faith is an assent to what has been revealed by God. So understood, faith is a disposition to what God has revealed about himself and the nature of reality. Revelation, therefore, would be part of an epistemology that presupposes a very specific theology, metaphysics, and ontology, which can all be defended in their own right on a perfectly rational basis. It should also be noted that while revelation is epistemological concerning knowledge about God and his Triune nature, knowledge that is revelational in this capacity does not exhaust the epistemic apparatus of the Christian perspective of reality. It is the highest form of knowledge we can have, but it does not exclude, for example, methods to which we can utilize when discovering truths about the created order. The diversity of Christian epistemology includes revelation and the scientific method.

It should be transparent by now that New Atheism isn’t concerned with reason or critical thinking; they are interested in a cultural hegemony advanced by dominating the parameters of debate.

Moreover, this movement, especially from Boghossian’s perspective[1], is not categorizing the debate between atheism and theism as conflicting philosophical worldviews. It is being framed as a debate between those who are rational (the atheists) and those who are suffering from a psychological disorder (the theist). Throughout the entire book, Boghossian speaks about atheists doing street epistemology in terms likening the confrontation to treating “subjects” or “patients.” On Boghossian’s view, street epistemology isn’t a philosophical confrontation it is a medical intervention.

The evidence of this is not only found within the language utilized throughout the book, but also by the explicit statement by Boghossian that religious exemption from delusion defined by the DSM-5 ought to be removed. That is, Boghossian wants religious belief to be categorized as a psychological disorder so that it can be more properly contained. On this view, faith is a mental virus infecting and plaguing society, which in turn morally requires its containment through proper government intervention.

The atheistic evangel is a declaration of war devoted to the eradication of religion from society at large. And while atheists are waging war, Christians doing mainstream apologetics are looking to charitably engage in discussion over the issues so that the tenets of liberal democracy and decency can be maintained in the name of a Christianity that is simultaneously being assailed by secularists in every major cultural institution. Christians have compromised the controversy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in order to look cosmopolitan, but it will soon be discovered that the devil is not interested in making deals with those he seeks to destroy.

I am going to do a more in depth analysis of some of the major claims made in this manual, but for now, it can be confidently stated that a better way to understand Boghossian’s book is that he is pretending to know things that he doesn’t know.

For your listening pleasure, here is a video of Boghossian debating Timothy McGrew on the content of his book:


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] I will highlight other areas for this view in later posts.

[2] I will examine the misrepresentations of faith in later posts.

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