The Fifth Horseman 1

Peter Boghossian has written a little manual on atheist evangelism that has concerned some Christians. Having read two of its nine chapters so far, I can assure you that it is simply a weaponized version of the same endless bait-and-switching upon which Messrs. Dawkins and Harris rely so heavily. However, given MPAI, I have no doubt there are living, breathing human beings who found Mr. Harris’s Red State argument as conclusive and convincing as Mr. Dawkins did, so it seems worthwhile to provide an inoculation to Mr. Boghossian’s poisonous little book as a public service.

This I shall do on the blog, going through it in much the same way various atheists went through the first three chapters of TIA before reaching Mount Chapter Four and running off to Las Vegas and so forth.

This book will teach you how to talk people out of their faith. You’ll learn how to engage the faithful in conversations that help them value reason and rationality, cast doubt on their beliefs, and mistrust their faith. I call this activist approach to helping people overcome their faith, “Street Epistemology.” The goal of this book is to create a generation of Street Epistemologists: people equipped with an array of dialectical and clinical tools who actively go into the streets, the prisons, the bars, the churches, the schools, and the community—into any and every place the faithful reside—and help them abandon their faith and embrace reason.

A Manual for Creating Atheists details, explains, and teaches you how to be a street clinician and how to apply the tools I’ve developed and used as an educator and philosopher. The lessons, strategies, and techniques I share come from my experience teaching prisoners, from educating tens of thousands of students in overcrowded public universities, from engaging the faithful every day for more than a quarter century, from over two decades of rigorous scholarship, and from the streets.

Street Epistemology harkens back to the values of the ancient philosophers—individuals who were tough-minded, plain-speaking, known for self-defense, committed to truth, unyielding in the face of danger, and fearless in calling out falsehoods, contradictions, inconsistencies, and nonsense. Plato was a wrestler and a soldier with broad shoulders. He was decorated for bravery in battle (Christian, 2011, p. 51). Socrates was a seasoned soldier. At his trial, when facing the death penalty, he was unapologetic. When asked to suggest a punishment for his “crimes,” he instead proposed to be rewarded (Plato, Apology).

Hellenistic philosophers fought against the superstitions of their time. Lucretius, Sextus Empiricus, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and others combated the religious authorities of their period, including early versions of Christianity (Clarke, 1968; Nussbaum, 1994). They thought the most important step was to liberate people from fear of tortures of the damned and from fear that preachers of their epoch were spouting. Hellenistic philosophers were trying to encourage stoic self-sufficiency, a sense of self-responsibility, and a tough-minded humanism.

Boghossian starts off by trying to fire up the troops. They’re going to be as tough as street preachers and unemployed boy-buggering Greeks! More importantly, he also signals right away that he’s going to play very fast and loose with the readily verifiable truth, given that Lucretius (55 BC) lived before Jesus Christ, Sextus Empiricus wrote against mathemeticians and the very Hellenic philosphers Boghossian is lionizing, and Marcus Aurelius actually WAS the religious authority, being not only the Emperor of Rome, but a member of “all the priestly colleges” of Rome who was literally deified in 180 AD.

None of these four examples, not a single one, “thought the most important step was to liberate people from fear of tortures of the damned”. Sextus Empiricus, for example, declares that “the aim of the Sceptic is tranquility of soul in those things which pertain to the opinion and moderation in the things that life imposes.” Indeed, Boghossian’s very stated purpose is in direct and explicit opposition to everything Sextus Empiricus advises, beginning with “suspension of judgment”.

Boghossian intends to teach atheists how to become an evangelical. And I am going to teach you how to crucify and humiliate those evangelicals using the very tools to which Boghossian is fraudulently appealing. He may be an educator and a philosopher, with two decades of what already appears to be not very rigorous scholarship behind him, but then, I am a superintelligence who has already taken four atheist scalps.

The fifth one won’t be any trouble at all. The manual is nothing but rhetoric in the guise of dialectic, and as most of you have learned, rhetoric combined with actual dialectic will reliably trump the pseudo-dialectic.