The Fifth Horseman 13

I thought this was an interesting pre-rebuttal to Peter Boghossian’s unconvincing attempt to redefine faith. Consider Oswald Spengler’s explicit linking of faith and mathematics in The Decline of the West:

The symbol of the West is an idea of which no other Culture gives even a hint, the idea of Function. The function is anything rather than an expansion of, it is complete emancipation from, any pre-existent idea of number. With the  function, not only the Euclidean geometry (and with it the common human geometry of children and laymen, based on everyday experience) but also the Archimedean arithmetic, ceased to have any value for the really significant mathematic of Western Europe. Henceforward, this consisted solely in abstract analysis. For Classical man geometry and arithmetic were self-contained and complete sciences of the highest rank, both phenomenal and both concerned with magnitudes that could be drawn or numbered. For us, on the contrary, those things are only practical auxiliaries of daily life. Addition and multiplication, the two Classical methods of reckoning magnitudes, have, like their sister geometrical-drawing, utterly vanished in the infinity of functional processes. Even the power, which in the beginning denotes numerically a set of multiplications (products of equal magnitudes), is, through the exponential idea (logarithm) and its employment in complex, negative and fractional forms, dissociated from all connexion with magnitude and transferred to a transcendent relational world which the Greeks, knowing only the two positive whole-number powers that represent areas and volumes, were unable to approach.

Think, for instance, of expressions like e~~ x , /x, al m

Every one of the significant creations which succeeded one another so rapidly from the Renaissance onward — imaginary and complex numbers, introduced by Cardanus as early as 1550; infinite series, established theoretically by Newton’s great discovery of the binomial theorem in 1666; the differential geometry, the definite integral of Leibniz; the aggregate as a new number-unit, hinted at even by Descartes; new processes like those of general integrals; the expansion of functions into series and even into infinite series of other functions— is a victory over the popular and sensuous number-feeling in us, a victory which the new mathematic had to win in order to make the new world-feeling actual.

In all history, so far, there is no second example of one Culture paying to another Culture long extinguished such reverence and submission in matters of science as ours has paid to the Classical. It was very long before we found courage to think our proper thought. But though the wish to emulate the Classical was constantly present, every step of the attempt took us in reality further away from the imagined ideal. The history of Western knowledge is thus one of progressive emancipation from Classical thought, an emancipation never willed but enforced in the depths of the unconscious. And so the development of the new mathematic consists of a long, secret and finally victorious battle against the notion of magnitude.(1)

(1) Thus Bishop Berkeley’s Discourse addressed to an infidel mathematician (1735) shrewdly asked whether the mathematician were in a position to criticize the divine for proceeding on the basis of faith.

It underlines the New Atheists’ lack of not only historical knowledge, but basic scholarship, when century-old writings by long-dead authors are sufficient to highlight the holes in their arguments. Peter Boghossian isn’t merely a bad anti-apologist, he’s an inept logician and philosopher. Then again, Portland State University isn’t exactly Oxford.

The Fifth Horseman 12

This is the second of Peter Boghossian’s Interventions. In this dialogue, notice how failing to question Boghossian’s naked assertions and blithely agreeing to his inaccurate statements permits him to appear to make his point without ever doing anything more than getting the other person to concur with him. This demonstrates the importance of understanding how the Socratic method can be used to deceive and obscure rather than illuminate.

To repeat: “the dirty little secret of the Socratic method is the way it can be used
to create false dilemmas and illusionary contradictions. This is why
you never, ever, grant someone attempting to use it the right to define
anything, or even agree with any of their seemingly legitimate
statements. Instead, force dictionary definitions on them, as doing so
reliably disrupts their attempt to present their false dilemmas as well
as calls their credibility into question as they attempt to deny that a
dictionary definition is as legitimate as their own question-begging

KP: Do you trust your wife?

PB: To do what? To fly a plane, no. To diagnose a basic medical condition, yes. [My wife is a board certified physician and professor of medicine.]

KP: Well, I mean, you have faith in your wife.

PB: Well that’s not the same as trusting my wife, right? Trust and faith are not the same.

KP: Well, yeah, I mean, you do have faith in your wife, right?
VD: Of course they are. Have you never read a thesaurus? They are synonyms. Trust is defined as “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing”. Faith is defined as “confidence or trust in a person or thing” Trust is a subset of Faith.

PB: No, actually, no. I don’t have faith in my wife. I trust my wife to do or not do certain things. I trust her to not abuse our children. I trust her to not pull a Lorena Bobbitt on me. But that has nothing to do with faith. Why do you ask?

KP: I’m asking because you said that faith is always bad, you know. And I think that you have faith.
VD: Of course that has something to do with faith. Even by your own definition of faith being the pretense of knowing what you don’t know, it should be obvious that you don’t actually know that your wife hasn’t abused your children. You have no way of knowing that she isn’t planning  to Bobbit you tonight. And furthermore, let’s not forget that you’re pretending to know that your daughter is your child when we both know perfectly well that she isn’t. Look at her! She’s freaking Chinese! You’re not Chinese, Peter. Do the math.

PB: What do I have faith in?

KP: Well, lots of stuff. [Motioning to my wife] Your wife. When you flick a switch the light will go on—

PB: I have no faith. My life is joyfully devoid of faith.
(Mutual laughter)

PB: I don’t have faith that the light will go on when I flick a switch. I know it will both because of past experience and because of the scientific process that enabled that to occur in the first place. Why do you think that has anything to do with faith, or with unwarranted belief?

KP: Because you don’t know the light will go on.

PB: That’s true. The light could be burned out—

KP: So you do have faith that the light isn’t burned out.

PB: No. I hope the light isn’t burned out, but it’s always possible it is. That’s hope, that’s not faith. I don’t believe it’s burned out unless I see it’s burned out. And if it is burned out, then I’ll just replace it. And I know that replacing it will likely work because of my history with replacing bulbs. So I don’t need faith. Faith isn’t required at all. Or am I missing something? Is my reasoning in error?
VD: Yes, your reasoning is in error. You said you know the light will go on when you flick a light switch. But if it doesn’t go on, then obviously you were pretending to know something you didn’t. By your own definition, you had faith that the light would go on, and it was a misplaced faith due to the bulb being burned out or the switch being broken.


KP: No, I guess not.

PB: So, can we agree that when it comes to my wife, or to flicking a light switch, we don’t need faith?

(Long pause)

KP: Yeah, I guess so.
VD: No, because you were wrong in both cases. You have faith in your wife. You have faith every time you go to flick a light switch. And your level of knowledge quite clearly doesn’t rise to the level of Webster’s or Roget’s.

PB: Cool. So we now need to extend this further and talk about why we don’t need—shouldn’t have—faith at all. Faith, just say no. (Laughter)

I can’t stress this enough. Never simply agree with the Street Epistemologist’s assertions. Make them prove every single statement and every single assertion, no matter how reasonable it sounds, by an objective source. They will not be able to do so because Boghossian’s entire approach is a verbal Three-Card-Monte, and by forcing them to show all of their cards, you will expose the game for the intellectually fraudulent one it is.

The Fifth Horseman 11

This is the first of what Peter Boghossian calls his Interventions. I can’t testify to the veracity of these dialogues, but it is clear that he intends them as examples of how he puts his anti-apologetics into practice. Notice how in addition to being an unmitigated asshole, he’s not actually trying to convince his colleague of anything, merely plant some seeds of doubt. My own recommended response is in italics, underneath JM’s responses. Pay attention to how at each point, they disrupt the Street Epistemologist’s attempt to move the dialogue onto a rote path that permits him to attack without having to defend even the most absurd assertions.

The dirty little secret of the Socratic method is the way it can be used to create false dilemmas and illusionary contradictions. This is why you never, ever, grant someone attempting to use it the right to define anything, or even agree with any of their seemingly legitimate statements. Instead, force dictionary definitions on them, as doing so reliably disrupts their attempt to present their false dilemmas as well as calls their credibility into question as they attempt to deny that a dictionary definition is as legitimate as their own question-begging inventions.

I’ll now show how I’ve used these responses in two brief informal, dialectical interventions. The purpose of the interventions was to change targeted beliefs held by my interlocutors. The first intervention was with a colleague (JM) I bumped into on the street.

JM: What you seem to want to do is to take away everyone’s faith.

PB: Yeah. Why is that a problem?

JM: Well what the hell do you think? I mean what do you really think?
VD: Because what other people believe is not your business. And because faith is proven to be beneficial to literally billions of people around the world. Materially beneficial. (see anti-apologetic #8)

PB: It’s not about what I think, it’s about what you think. Why is that a problem?

JM: I’m not one of your students. Don’t answer a question with a question.
[Excellent response – VD]

PB: Okay. Here’s what I really think. I think I should be given some type of community service award for devoting my life to helping people learn to reason effectively. Now could you please answer my question? Why is helping people to abandon their faith a bad thing?

JM: Because for the most part these are good, decent people. You’re taking good, kind, Christian people and you’re taking away something that they rely on.
VD: Don’t try to evade the question. I asked you why you think that isn’t a problem. I didn’t ask if you think you should be given an award or if you think the Trail Blazers will win next weekend. Answer the question!

PB: Do you think the thing that they rely upon [faith], do you think that will lead them to the truth?

JM: Of course not. No sane person could. But it [faith] not only makes them feel good, it also keeps them in check. What do you think would happen if you and X [a colleague] had your way?
VD: You seem to think that faith is an epistemology. It isn’t. It is nothing more than choosing an operative axiom, just like one does in science and mathematics. You’re committing a category error.

PB: What do you think would happen?

JM: You know what would happen, that’s why you’re asking me what would happen. They’d be murdering and raping and who only knows what else.

PB: So you mean that by taking away a bad way of reasoning the natural consequence is that people become murderers?

JM: The reason that a lot of people don’t rape and murder in the first place is because of religion.

PB: Well what about Scandinavia?
VD: What about it? Scandinavia has the highest rape rates in Europe. Sweden does, to be specific. You’re proving the point. (See anti-apologetic #11)

JM: You people love to talk about Scandinavia.

PB: Well?

JM: Well that’s not the same.

PB: The same as what?

JM: The conditions there are not the same as the conditions here, and you know it.

PB: I have no idea what you’re talking about. What do you mean?

JM: You know exactly what I mean. I mean they’re not analogous, and you’re making them analogous.

PB: You mean if all other variables were held constant and the Scandinavians became more faithful, the murder and rape rates would drop?

(Sigh and a long pause)

JM: You’re impossible.

PB: So are you willing to change your mind and agree that helping to rid large numbers of people from an unreliable process of reasoning will not have a detrimental effect on the society?


PB: Well?


JM got off to a good start, but instead of pressing after he initially knocked Boghossian back, he gave up. But where JM really went off the track here is with his consequential appeal to immorality. This is defensible, but only if you’re prepared to go into considerably more detail than he was. A much better line of response concerning the negative effect of what would happen if Boghossian got his wish is the inevitable decline and fall of Western society. Atheism is observably parasitical on a religious population and it is much harder for Street Epistemologists to deny falling birth rates and the mass replacement of the increasingly irreligious First World population by religious Third World immigrants than to defend the question of whether people are more or less moral than before.

Of course, it’s hilarious that Boggie interprets (sigh) as “you win, there is no intellectually credible response to the brilliance of your wit and reason” rather than “wow, I cannot believe what a hopeless asshole you are.” Vegas would give shorter odds to Boghossian having a higher-than-normal Asperger’s Quotient than to Peyton Manning facing the 2013 Vikings secondary.

The Fifth Horseman 10

And finally, we reach the end of Peter Boghossian’s 16 anti-apologetics. This is, quite literally, all he has in terms of anti-apologetical arguments, so if you’ve been underwhelmed by what he’s been able to show here, well, that’s what he’s got. My conclusion is that any Christian, or indeed, theist, who has merely read through these ten posts will be more than ready to obliterate any Street Epistemologist who attacks his faith on the grounds proposed by Mr. Boghossian.


“Without faith, society would devolve morally.”

This tends to be a late-game line, with Stalin and Hitler always included, sometimes followed by Pol Pot, Mussolini, and the Kims thrown in for good measure. The basic idea is that without objective standards of right and wrong, not only do ordinary people descend into savages, but vicious dictatorships are also inevitable.

“Without faith, society would devolve morally,” is an empirical claim. It’s a claim about the world. It’s also false. To respond, one need only survey religiosity and livability indices among various societies. Scandinavia has the lowest rate of religious belief in the world, yet on virtually all measures of well-being Scandinavian countries top every index (for more on this, see American sociologist Phil Zuckerman’s work).

I usually hear this defense from Christians. One response I offer is, “Saudi Arabia.” (For a one-word response, try “Iran.”) Saudi Arabia has one of the most devout, adherent populations on the planet, yet its citizens lack basic freedoms and are subject to the tyranny of religious police.

Finally, people use the Stalin/Hitler card in an attempt to argue that the worst dictatorships in recent times have had atheists at their helm (Hitler was more likely a deist if not a theist).

However, even granting this argument’s assumption, these men didn’t act like they did because they were atheists. That is, their nonbelief in a deity didn’t dictate particular actions they took. (This would be akin to arguing that Pol Pot—who was a bad man—didn’t believe in leprechauns, you don’t believe in leprechauns, therefore you’re as bad as Pol Pot.) Their systems were horrific precisely because they resembled faith-based systems where suspending warrant for belief is required (as is the wholesale adoption of an ideology, like Communism, Nazism, Fascism, etc.).

VD RESPONSE: The citation of religiosity and livability indices is not a rational response to an assertion of moral devolution. I’m a little astonished that it is necessary to point out to you that livability is not morality. Moreover, Sweden has the highest rates of rape in Europe while Scandinavia as a whole has very low marriage rates and the majority of Scandinavian children are illegitimate. This is moral devolution by any traditional moral standard.

Saudi Arabia and Iran may lack what you consider to be basic freedoms, but you cannot argue that the behavior of the populace is considerably more moral, on average, than the behavior of people in the USA or Scandinavia. It may be an enforced morality, but let’s face it, there is going to be less theft wherever being caught stealing means running a real risk of having your hand chopped off. And don’t even think about trying to start disputing what is, or what is not moral, as doing so will simply prove the very point you are trying to argue against.

You are right to say that Hitler was not an atheist. He was not. He was a pagan occultist, which from the Christian perspective is considerably worse than atheism. However, you are committing the same basic logical error that Sam Harris commits by appealing to the No True Atheist fallacy. The point is not that an atheist’s action is dictated by his atheism. The point is that an atheist’s atheism removes any sense of externally imposed moral restrictions on his actions, and it is an observed and documented fact that atheists with unrestricted political power have historically been much more likely to behave in an immoral and murderous manner than Christians in similar positions of power. You’re trying to change the subject to causation while we’re pointing to an undeniable correlation.

We don’t have to know precisely what element of the cigarette causes cancer to know that it’s a bad idea to light it and stick it in your mouth. And we don’t have to understand why atheists are disproportionately prone to behaving in an immoral manner to observe when they do so.

In fact, what you are doing now is deeply and profoundly immoral. You have declared your object is to destroy the faith of others, while Mark 9:42 says: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” Your very existence is testimony to the devolution of morality inherent in atheism.

The Fifth Horseman 9


“Life has no meaning without faith.”

This is a remarkably common statement, although I’m not sure how this is a defense of faith. This is a statement about the consequences of faith as opposed to whether or not one’s faith latches onto truth. Many people allege that their lives would be meaningless and that they’d have no life purpose without faith.

If life has no meaning for someone unless they pretend to know something they don’t know, then I would strongly and sincerely urge extensive therapy and counseling. This is particularly true if feelings of meaninglessness and lack of purpose lead to depression, which is a serious illness. Absent a mental disorder, or head trauma, there is no reason an adult should feel life is meaningless without maintaining some form of delusion.

When I hear someone say, “Life has no meaning without faith,” I suggest possible sources of meaning one could find in one’s life: children, music, art, poetry, charity, reading, hobbies, simply trying to make the world a better place, small acts of kindness, etc. I usually try to tailor the source of meaning to the person with whom I’m speaking. I also talk about our daughter who was adopted from China as a “waiting child.” I discuss the meaning and joy she’s brought into our lives.

The overwhelming majority of people will acknowledge that they can find sources of meaning in their lives. For those who don’t, I sincerely recommend seeking professional psychological services.

Being of the Austrian School of Economics, if only as a heretic, I dislike like this line of reasoning. The fact that you happen to find meaning in your religious faith says nothing about where other people happen to find it or not. But the fact that it is not a very good argument doesn’t mean we can’t tear apart Boghossian’s terrible response to it, because he isn’t merely content to point out the argument’s flaws, but tries to use it to suggest that faith is a mental illness.

VD RESPONSE: Who are you to say what does, or does not, have meaning for someone else? That is a fundamental violation of the first principle of human action, which states that acting man alone can provide the meaning for his actions. How can you reasonably say that it is impossible for religious faith, which numerous scientific studies have shown to have material benefits for people, to serve as a legitimate source of meaning on the same basis as the other possibilities you suggest?

You favor a scientific approach, so let’s look at your own claimed source of meaning from a scientific perspective. You claim to derive meaning from a nonexistent “daughter”. You are pretending that she is your child when you know perfectly well that she is not. How can you possibly claim to find meaning in a child who has no genetic relationship to you whatsoever? Such a claim is clearly delusional. Do you also find sources of meaning in random children in Vietnam, Nigeria, and Papua New Guinea? Or is this source of meaning only derived from magic little Chinese girls? You should probably seek professional psychological services for your delusions about your imaginary friends and offspring.


“Why take away faith if it helps get people through the day?”

This is a common line among blue-collar liberals who’ve not been indoctrinated by leftist academic values.  I’ve never really understood how removing a bad way to reason will make it difficult to get through the day. If anything, it would seem that correcting someone’s reasoning would significantly increase their chances of getting through the day. With reliable forms of reasoning comes the capability of crafting conditions that enable people to navigate life’s obstacles. By using a more reliable form of reasoning, people are more capable of bringing about conditions that enable them to flourish.

Another interpretation of this statement is that it’s the contents of one’s beliefs that help people cope. For example, if one believes a recently deceased loved one has gone to the Happy Hunting Ground (a belief found among certain Native American tribes) where the wild game is in abundance, this makes it easier to deal with that person’s passing. However, if one used sound methods of reasoning one would produce better results and feel more in control of one’s life than unreflectively buying into a commonly held belief about what happens after death. One would thus rely less on the content of one’s beliefs and more on the process one uses to arrive at one’s beliefs.

To argue that people need faith is to abandon hope, and to condescend and accuse the faithful of being incapable of understanding the importance of reason and rationality. There are better and worse ways to come to terms with death, to find strength during times of crisis, to make meaning and purpose in our lives, to interpret our sense of awe and wonder, and to contribute to human well-being—and the faithful are completely capable of understanding and achieving this.

VD RESPONSE: You’re appealing to your own inability to understand again, and let’s face it, an appeal to Asperger’s Syndrome is an epistemology that is doomed to inevitable failure. Let’s consider that Chinese girl who lives in your house. Let’s suppose she was not a Chinese adoptee, but an Armenian one who looked like you, and she firmly believed that she was your real, biological daughter. Would telling her that she was adopted necessarily make it easier for her to get through the day? Isn’t at least possible that it would make it harder for her?

If you understand that, then you are perfectly capable of understanding how even a false belief can be emotionally and materially beneficial to an individual. The mere existence of nihilist philosophy is sufficient to shred your false claim that “if one used sound methods of reasoning one would produce better results and feel more in control of one’s life.” The historical fact is that sound methods of reasoning can be, and have been, utilized to justify everything from suicide to genocide.

Faith is not the abandonment of hope. Quite to the contrary, faith is an act of hope; it is an axiomatic choice upon which one’s future actions will depend. The faithful understand the importance of reason and rationality much better than you do, because they understand reason and rationality are intellectual tools that can harm as well as heal. They understand, as you do not, that reason and rationality are tools, they are neither imperatives nor objectives.

You commit a category error when you make a reason an imperative, and ironically, in doing so, you demonstrate your inferior capacity for it.

The Fifth Horseman 8


 “You have faith your partner loves you.”

In 2007, Dawkins was asked this question in a debate with British philosopher John Lennox (Dawkins, 2007). Dawkins eventually replied it’s “not the right use of the word.” Lennox responded, “Oh, it is.” It’s not.

“You have faith your partner loves you” tends to be an “early game” response, given before faith has been razed. It’s similar to, “You have faith in science,” but not as lofty. It’s a more colloquial way of saying that in everyday events you use faith to navigate reality.

Comparing that for which we have abundant evidence (the actions of a real person) to a faith claim, which by definition is that for which we lack evidence (like the existence of an undetectable creator of the universe), is not analogous.

The idea that my wife probably loves me is not a radical hypothesis. The idea that there is a being who created the universe, inseminated a woman, and gave birth to a son who rose from the dead, is an extraordinary, radical claim. Equating an extraordinary claim with a mundane one, and then suggesting they “both require faith,” is disanalogous.

VD RESPONSE: Whether a claim is mundane or extraordinary is irrelevant. In either case, a claim is either true or it is not true. You may think you know your wife loves you, but you don’t actually know that any more than you know exactly how many days the Virgin Mary was pregnant before giving birth to the Christ Child. There are 1,116,000 divorces in the United States every year. Do you truly think none of those people wrongly believed that their partner loved them?

We all use faith to navigate our daily reality every single day. You say faith is “pretending to know what you don’t know”, but that is simply putting a simplistic spin on what everyone really does, which is act on the basis of a chosen assumption. You choose to act on the assumption that your wife loves you, and while that may not be a radical hypothesis, you may well discover one day that it isn’t true directly from her own lips. There are tens of millions of men and women who can tell you, from bitter experience, that all the “abundant evidence” you cite is totally meaningless with regards to proving that your partner really loves you.


“My faith is beneficial for me.”

I never allow the conversation to devolve into the merits of faith until my interlocutor has explicitly admitted that faith is an unreliable path to the truth. Almost invariably discussion about the alleged benefits of faith are red herrings, distracting one from the main issue—whether or not faith can reliably help one to arrive at the truth.

In your work as a Street Epistemologist, once you’ve started engaging the faithful in dialectical interventions, you’ll notice conversations about the merits of faith will have no clear demarcation. Someone won’t say, “Okay, you’re correct, faith is a failed epistemology and thus highly unlikely to get one to the truth. However, having faith is of tremendous benefit both to the faithful and to society.”

Conversations about whether or not faith is beneficial should only take place after your interlocutor explicitly states that faith is an unreliable path to truth. Once you ask people to acknowledge this, you’ll almost never enter into a conversation about the benefits of faith.

If you do, however, find yourself in this position, I’d ask how an unreliable reasoning process can benefit someone. I’d also ask how an unreliable and potentially unrevisable faulty process of reasoning can benefit an entire group of people.

One of the problems with the benefit argument is that people can be mistaken about what’s in their own interest. On an individual level, heroin addicts, alcoholics, and people in abusive relationships will, at various times, claim these states of affairs are beneficial. And in the realm of religious faith, people are often mistaken about what’s in their interest—for example, decisions about personal relationships that are not sanctioned by the faith (my grandfather, who converted to Catholicism, was prohibited by the Catholic Church from walking my mother down the aisle at her wedding because my parents were married in an Apostolic Church), refraining from engaging in homosexual relationships, staying in a deeply unhappy and emotionally harmful marriage due to prohibitions on divorce, physically harmful self-flagellation or extreme fasting, etc.

On a macro level, the Taliban believe imprisoning half their population and beating them is not only in their interest but also their duty: The more people who share a faulty process of reasoning the greater the magnification of potential harm. Premodern history is littered with cultures that have navigated themselves to extinction in part due to faith.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, all or virtually all of the studies you’ll hear people cite about the alleged benefits of belief communities have nothing to do with faith, and everything to do with religion, community, social networks, social support, etc.

It could be that the variables in these studies being tested are social cohesion and group reciprocity. Faith would need to be teased out and isolated before any benefits could be shown. To my knowledge, no study has isolated faith as a variable and shown its positive results.

Notice how right here Boghossian even admits that he won’t even try to make a case without having gotten his interlocutor to surrender on the primary point of the discussion. So, this tells us that when dealing with a Street Epistemologist, one should never agree to any of his definitions or agree to concede anything “just for the sake of argument” even if one doesn’t have actually a problem with them. Just like an NFL cornerback chucking a receiver at the line, refusing to go along with Street Epistemologist’s rote routines will disrupt him and throw him off his line of attack. It forces them to improvise, and the more they are forced to actually think and improvise, the more likely it is that they will make the sort of obvious blunder that you can exploit to destroy both their confidence in their arguments as well as their pretense at intellectual credibility.

VD RESPONSE: That is an impressive collection of ignorant statements. First, it is outright hilarious to hear an atheist talking about cultures navigating themselves to extinction given the fact that atheists are much less likely to marry or to have children than people from every faith tradition on the planet, with the possible exception of Catholic priests sworn to celibacy. Even the Taliban are far more evolutionarily fit than you atheists.

Now, wouldn’t you agree that if you could avoid becoming more likely to be infected by an STD, more likely to smoke, more likely to become an alchoholic, more likely to become a drug addict, more likely to be depressed, more likely to commit suicide, and more likely to sexually abuse a child, that be pretty beneficial? It would add years to your life, right?

And that’s just one example of the many benefits of faith. You said yourself that religious faith can lead to “refraining from engaging in homosexual relationships”.

What I find most disappointing, however, is the way that you’ve again shown yourself to be a science denier. You openly admit that there are no shortage of scientific studies that show the benefits of religious faith, but then you turn around and claim, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, that all of those scientists are incompetent and unable to understand the concept of controlling for various factors. Whatever happened to your claim that “Science is the best way we’ve currently found to explain and understand how the universe works”?

But what is even worse is that as someone who is actively attempting to destroy those religious communities and those social networks of faith-based groups, your criticism of those studies about the benefits of faith communities shows that you are knowingly attempting to harm people. You are knowingly attempting to destroy something that you admit is beneficial to people. Even if you were correct and the primary benefits of faith come from its community aspects, you’re not helping anyone by attacking their faith, you are trying to harm them by cutting them off from the very communities that benefit them!

And you can’t hide behind an excuse that the communities will exist even if the faith that sustains it vanishes either. You said yourself that you don’t believe religious faith has to be replaced by anything. So, whether the scientific benefits happen to stem from religious faith itself or from the faith-based community it inspires, your actions are clearly both harmful and malicious.

The Fifth Horseman 7


“Science can’t explain quantum mechanics.”

This line is tossed out in conversations when all else has failed in a desperate attempt to fortify the fiefdom of faith. As frequently as I’ve heard this, and asked people exactly what they mean, I’m not even sure how this could be a defense of faith. Quantum mechanics is science, discovered through the tools of science, and is verifiable and testable within science.

The attempt to draw fire away from the discussion may be why I’ve never read this defense of faith in peer-reviewed literature. It also doesn’t fall into one of Harris’s categories. It is not another version of the God of the gaps argument, and is not precisely a deepity.

I think this statement may be a way of saying that we can’t really be certain of anything. On one level, this is a feeble attempt to undermine reason by stating that there are some mysteries even our best and brightest can’t grasp—thus giving the faithful license to pretend to know things they don’t know.

On an even more pedestrian level, I’ve often heard this deployed as a justification for miracles. That is, quantum instability leaks into the visible realm—what Dawkins calls the Middle Kingdom, or what British philosopher J. L. Austin termed the realm of “medium-sized dry goods” (Dawkins, 2005)—and could be responsible for a whole host of bizarre occurrences, like the sea parting or people being spontaneously healed.

In the latter case, the response to this is that quantum weirdness does not lend itself to a specific faith tradition. That is, if somehow what was happening in the quantum realm seeped into the Middle Kingdom and caused unexplained phenomena (and there is no evidence it has) this wouldn’t be relegated to a single faith tradition. Quantum weirdness didn’t cause only the alleged miracles in the Koran (or the Bible)—but if someone claimed to know this is how the phenomena manifested, I’d ask how they knew this and to produce the evidence. (For practice, you can also argue that quantum states do manifest, but only in [insert any faith tradition other than your interlocutor’s].)

In the former case, I’m not sure how a lack of understanding about subatomic particles translates into the need for faith. Because we don’t yet and might never entirely understand how the universe is ordered and operates in the realm of the very, very small, this does not translate into needing to use an unreliable epistemology.

VD RESPONSE: How quickly you forget your own definitions! You have been droning on and on about how bad faith is, and how faith is pretending to know what you don’t know, and now that it is pointed out that you don’t understand quantum mechanics or know how the universe is ordered and operates at the finest level of detail, suddenly you abandon all that? Suddenly you can’t figure out how a lack of knowledge about subatomic particles relates to pretending to know something you don’t about the universe?

The existence of quantum mechanics completely undermines your entire epistemology. It undermines your entire pretense that your materialism is any more meaningful, any more indicative of true objective reality, than the pagan who believes the universe is resting on the back of a giant turtle.

Your epistemology is entirely rooted upon the basic assumption that what we can see, touch, feel, and measure is all there is. Quantum mechanics upends that assumption, and thereby delegitimizes the materialist metric by which you have been attempting to pass judgment on the supernatural.

As for how the quantum world potentially relates to various faith traditions, I would direct your attention to a televised lecture by Bryan Cox, the British pop physicist, called A Night with the Stars. At minute 36 of the lecture, Cox explained that the Pauli Exclusion principle is a universal phenomenon and that by heating up a diamond by rubbing it, all the electrons in the entire universe would immediately adjust their energy states so that none of them would precisely match any of those in the diamond.

Now, I don’t know if this is true or not. You don’t know if it is true or not. The electron state of a diamond-sized object orbiting a star in the proto-galaxy UDFy-33436598 is not the sort of thing we can readily observe. But the fact is that the idea of a Creator God, and any other number of observed supernatural concepts, is considerably less ridiculous to nearly everyone than magic universe-transforming trans-galactic diamonds that operate at speeds much faster than light. Quantum mechanics may not lend itself to proving any faith tradition, but it does tend to destroy the effectiveness of conventional Newtonian science as a basis for ridiculing the various faith traditions.

A citation of quantum mechanics is not so much a defense of faith as it is people pointing out to you that you have the very sort of faith in things you cannot prove and things you do not know that you decry in others. As we can easily observe in your next anti-apologetic.


“You have faith in science.”

This is usually a “late game” line, offered after faith has been demolished and exposed as fraudulent. People say this because they want to show some parity in belief: they have faith in X and you have faith in Y. You both have faith, but in different things. I’ve also found that people make this statement because they’re afraid of being seen as stupid or ignorant, so they want to leave the conversation and save face.

Science is the antithesis of faith. Science is a process that contains multiple and redundant checks, balances, and safeguards against human bias. Science has a built-in corrective mechanism—hypothesis testing—that weeds out false claims.

Claims that come about as a result of a scientific process are held as tentatively true by scientists—unlike claims of faith that are held as eternally true. Related to this, claims that come about as the result of a scientific process are falsifiable, that is, there is a way to show the claims are false. This is not the case with most faith claims. For example, there’s no way to falsify the claim that the Norse god Loki was able to assume other forms.

Scientists also try to prove claims false (falsification), unlike faith leaders who unequivocally state that their faith claims are true. Related to the bizarre notion that there’s a vast conspiracy among scientists to suppress certain lines of research, if a scientist can demonstrate that a popular scientific claim is false, she can become famous, get tenure, publish her results, earn more money, and become respected by her peers. Moreover, the more prominent the defeated hypothesis, the greater the reward. If a preacher states that the claims of his faith tradition are false, he’s excommunicated, defrocked, or otherwise forced to abandon his position.

Science is a method of advancing our understanding. It is a process we can use to bring us closer to the truth and to weed out false claims. Science is the best way we’ve currently found to explain and understand how the universe works. It should be jettisoned if something better (more explanatory, more predictive, more parsimonious, etc.) comes along (Schick & Vaughn, 2008).

VD RESPONSE: Your attempted defense only succeeds in proving the charge is true. Let me remind you that you defined faith as “pretending to know what you don’t know”. And while you say that “all faith is blind”, yours is observably blinder than most. Even if the religious faithful are pretending to know something they can’t know to be true, you are pretending to know something we all know to be false. You make fun of people who believe in fairies in the garden, then promptly proclaim your belief in white-coated fairies working in the lab.

The science you describe doesn’t exist. It has never existed. It is the Platonic Form of an ideal Science that exists nowhere but in your imagination and the overheated imaginations of the scientific faithful. Science, as it is actually practiced by scientists on this planet, does not contain “multiple and redundant checks, balances, and safeguards against human bias.” As it is actually practiced, one could make much stronger case for Accounting. You don’t only have faith in science, you have a badly misplaced faith in it.

The fact is that the vast majority of published and peer-reviewed papers are never checked, not even once. The fact is that most published and peer-reviewed papers are littered with basic mathematical and statistical errors that are never discovered because most scientists are mathematically and statistically incompetent. The fact is that modern science is a corrupt big business and most scientists are intellectual mercenaries whose compensation and continued employment depends entirely upon producing results that are in line with their employer’s expectations.

Your declarations are manifestly untrue. Scientists don’t try to prove claims false. They do precisely the opposite. Not only have a statistically significant percentage of published and peer-reviewed papers been confirmed to contain FABRICATED data, but the former editor of the British Medical Journal, Richard Smith has declared: “Most scientific studies are wrong, and they are wrong because scientists
are interested in funding and careers rather than truth.”

I strongly suggest you read the paper, published in PLOS Medicine, entitled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” to better understand how fundamentally misplaced your naive faith in science is. What you are claiming to be “the best way we’ve currently found to explain and understand how the universe works” observably doesn’t even work as well as a coin toss, and that’s before we even get to Quantum Mechanics, String Theory, Global Warming, Evolution by Natural Selection, and a whole host of other “scientific facts” that are no more currently falsifiable than Loki’s purported shape-shifting

The Fifth Horseman 6


“My faith is true for me” is rarely heard among more sophisticated believers and almost never heard among fundamentalists.

It is very difficult to explain why this claim is fallacious because often the type of person who makes this statement does not have the intellectual or educational wherewithal to understand more thoughtful, substantive responses. (The exceptions are the youthful solipsists, the postmodernists, and the epistemological and cognitive relativists.)

The statement, “My faith is true for me,” means the faith-based beliefs one holds are true for the speaker and not necessarily for other people. The utterer of this statement is not making claims about faith beliefs being universally true—that is, true for all people.

Here’s my response: does your faith tradition include statements of fact about the world? For example, humans are thetans trapped on Earth in physical bodies, Jesus walked on water, the ability to fly can result from fasting (Jacobsen, 2011), or the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, Missouri.

If your faith tradition includes no empirical statements, then it’s unclear what your faith tradition entails. However, if your faith tradition makes empirical claims (and all faith claims that fall within the domain of religion make empirical claims), then what you’re saying is that your belief is true for you, regardless of how the world actually is. Since the world is the way it is regardless of our beliefs or of the epistemology we use to know the world, “my faith is true for me” is a nonsensical statement. One can have faith that if one jumps out of a twenty-story window one will polymorph into an eagle and fly to safety. This doesn’t make it the case.

What one is really saying when one states, “My faith is true for me,” is, “I prefer my delusions, and I wish to remain with them in spite of the evidence.”

Once more, we see Boghossian making an appeal to his personal incredulity. And the fact that some people may not understand “more thoughtful substantive responses” explaining why the statement is fallacious does not mean that it is difficult to explain why it is fallacious. After all, Boggie correctly notes that the youthful solipsists, the postmodernists, and the epistemological and cognitive relativists all have the intellectual wherewithal to understand any such explanation, and yet Boghossian does not provide one.

As will become clear from my recommended response, it’s not hard to understand why Boghossian doesn’t want to explain why the statement is fallacious. Nevertheless, because I am not a relativist, I would not recommend relying upon this particular defense of faith except as a rhetorical feint that is a prelude to an attack on unwarranted atheist morality claims.

VD RESPONSE: My claim that my faith is true for me is no different than your claim that your morality is true for you. Do you believe that some actions are good and others are evil? Do you believe that some actions are objectively desirable and others are objectively undesirable? If one believes in an objective moral Law that is universally applicable to everyone, then one must necessarily believe in a Lawgiver.

However, since you reject the existence of the Lawgiver, we know you also reject the existence of an objective universal moral law. Therefore the limits of your moral claims extend no farther than you. What you’re saying is that your moral beliefs are true for you, regardless of what the moral law actually is. You’re saying that you prefer to act however you momentarily desire, regardless of the morality of your actions.

This is why even atheists believe other atheists are less trustworthy than believers. And the bloody history of atheist rule has shown that people whose moral reality is subjective are far more dangerous to the world than people whose perception of reality is subjective. The subjective believer may be delusional and dangerous to himself, but the subjective moralist is not only delusional, he is dangerous to everyone else.


Defense: “Atheism and secular humanism are as much a religion—and require as much faith—as any religion. Atheists and secular humanists love to equivocate on religious issues—claiming they are not religious and are free of religious bias—but they are no less religious or faithful than anyone else. They are not aware of their own faith and are blind to their biases. There is a saying: ‘There are no nonreligious people, only false Gods.’”

Response: “Confusing atheism with secular humanism demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding as to what the terms mean. Secular humanism is a philosophy and a set of ideals; atheism is simply the lack of belief in a God or Gods. There is no dogma attached to nonbelief in a divine Shiva the Destroyer. And, as to the saying—it’s silly. To assert that people are incapable of letting go of belief in mythological fairytales without attaching themselves to some other form of worship is narrow-minded, condescending, pessimistic, and without evidential merit.”

VD RESPONSE: How can you possibly think that is an adequate response? You are providing an example of the very evidence you claim does not exist! You are responding to a charge of atheist equivocation by blatantly equivocating! The claim was that atheism and secular humanism were religions that required faith… and your response is to say that atheism is not secular humanism? That is a complete non sequitur.

As a Street Epistemologist, you are an atheist who is actively selling secular humanism, a specific “humanistic vision” as Peter Boghossian describes it, and yet the moment you’re called on what you are doing, which is religious proselytizing, you retreat to pretending that your atheism is totally unrelated to your secular humanism.  And describing secular humanism as “a philosophy and a set of ideals” doesn’t mean that secular humanism isn’t a religion. Quite to the contrary, by describing it that way you have admitted that it is “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons”. That is the literal dictionary definition of a religion!

You are not merely religious, you are a religious fanatic. You’re the secular humanist version of the crazy guy raving about the End of Days in the park.

As for atheism, it is merely a specific belief that is a subset of the secular humanist religion. Your position is no more reasonable than a Southern Baptist who doesn’t believe in infant baptism claiming that his lack of belief in infant baptism means he isn’t a theist. That sounds absurd, but it is no less absurd than your attempt to delink atheism from secular humanism.

The Fifth Horseman 5

Anti-Apologetic #3

“I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.”

I have personally heard this objection innumerous times—mostly from those who are more fundamentalist in their orientation. My suspicion is that people who have genuine doubts about their faith but want to demonstrate or voice strong verbal support for their faith (not necessarily to others but for themselves) make this statement.

This defense is problematic for several reasons. First, what amount of “faith” is required for someone’s nonbelief in the Norse god Thor? Or, are most people Thor atheists? Does nonbelief in Thor require effort? Do people need to congregate and sing songs together to reinforce their nonbelief in Thor? Anyone who says, “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” doesn’t understand what the word “atheist” means, or is simply insincere.

Second, one possible reason this defense has gained such traction is the starting point. The faithful start with defaulting to God; in other words, the faithful look at the world around them and say, “God.” I happen to be on a plane now, and when I look around I see clouds, seats, people, my laptop, but I don’t see an invisible, unifying metaphysical and supernatural element. I see objects. It is unclear to me why one’s default would be God.

Borrowing from a term first used by pastor and French theologian John Calvin, contemporary American Christian apologist Alvin Plantinga tries to answer questions of defaulting to God with the Sensus Divinitatis or “God sensor” (Plantinga, 2000). Basically, Plantinga’s answer is that some people have a built-in sense of the divine—something within them senses God in the same way that we have eyes that sense things in the visual realm.

One of the main problems with the God sensor argument is that just as some people allegedly claim to sense God, other people can allegedly claim to sense other imagined entities. This common rebuttal is referred to as “the Great Pumpkin” objection. In American cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts, Linus believes there’s a Great Pumpkin who arises from the pumpkin patch to reward well-behaved children. If the theist can claim that her sensation of God is immediate, why can’t anyone who genuinely feels an imagined entity claim that entity is real? (This argument can become very complicated, and as a general rule I’d suggest avoiding it whenever possible. Focus instead on the fact that one’s confidence in a sensation does not map onto its accuracy—just because people feel in their hearts the Emperor of Japan is divine, does not make the Emperor of Japan divine.)

When responding to, “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” I begin by clearly defining the words “faith” and “atheist.” I can’t imagine how these two definitions could align so as to make this statement sensible.

VD RESPONSE: An appeal to your own lack of imagination is not only a fundamental logical fallacy, but is so hapless and inept a response that I would be embarrassed for you if I didn’t think you were an intellectually dishonest jerk who is willing to say anything in order to tear others down.

Also, you’re wrong. Let’s look at your own definitions of “faith” and “atheist”. You defined faith, improperly, as “pretending to know something you don’t”. As for atheist, you say: “Atheist,” as I use the term, means, “There’s insufficient evidence to warrant belief in a divine, supernatural creator of the universe.”

The two definitions don’t align because your definition of atheist doesn’t even conform to the grammatical rules of the English language. “Atheist” doesn’t mean “there’s insufficient evidence to believe” anything. It’s not a statement, it’s a freaking noun! An “atheist’ is a type of person, specifically, a person who does not believe in the existence of God, gods, or the supernatural, who “offers a humanistic vision”, to quote Peter Boghossian, and in most cases, also subscribes to rational materialism and scientific determinism.

And given that the possibility that God always existed cannot be ruled out, as per Mr. Boghossian’s Anti-Apologetic #1, it should be obvious that every atheist who claims God does not exist is someone who is pretending to know something he does not know. Which, according to your own definition, is someone who has faith.

Very few theists have the sort of faith required to engage in that pretense, to say nothing of the vast quantities required to pretend to know that the universe always existed, life came from non-life, science is the only means of obtaining reliable evidence, and global warming requires a global government.


Defense: “You’re just talking about blind faith. My faith is not blind.”

Response: “There is no need to modify the word ‘faith’ with the word ‘blind.’ All faith is blind. All faith is belief on the basis of insufficient evidence. That’s what makes it faith. If one had evidence, one wouldn’t need faith, one would merely present the evidence.”

VD RESPONSE: Your thinking is too simplistic. Faith is no more a binary matter than science is. I also notice that you’re changing the definition of faith again: before you said faith was “pretending to know what you don’t know”. You are also contradicting yourself here. What distinguishes “sufficient” evidence from “insufficient” evidence? What is the magical binary line that separates one form of evidence from the other?

Even “insufficient evidence” is still evidence, by definition, so your assertion that if one had evidence, one wouldn’t need faith is obviously false since you declare that faith necessarily requires a form of evidence upon which the belief is based.

A lesson in rhetoric

In reading the responses to the Anti-Apologetics, SimplyTimothy observed: “Not stated, but now obvious, is that when you decide to bring the
rhetoric it is like bringing a swift kick to the balls to the
arm-wrestling contest. I like how you light the fuse of their ideas,
amplify them, then hand it back to them like a ticking time-bomb – then
you offer them a lit cigarette. It is very civilized of you.”

When writing on such disputative matters, I always attempt to do so with a tea service and one pinky extended. Anyhow, as a few people, mostly Tango, appear to be confused on the difference between a rhetorical response and a dialectical response, (which is legitimately confusing since technically, a rhetorical response IS a dialectical response), I think a brief refresher is worthwhile.

Remember that rhetoric is not limited to the laws of logic. Aristotle wrote: “Rhetorical study, in its strict sense, is concerned with the modes of persuasion. Persuasion
is clearly a sort of demonstration, since we are most fully persuaded when we consider a thing to have been
demonstrated. The orator’s demonstration is an enthymeme, and this is, in general, the most effective of the modes of
persuasion. The enthymeme is a sort of syllogism, and the consideration of syllogisms of all kinds, without
distinction, is the business of dialectic, either of dialectic as a whole or of one of its branches. It follows
plainly, therefore, that he who is best able to see how and from what elements a syllogism is produced will also be
best skilled in the enthymeme, when he has further learnt what its subject-matter is and in what respects it differs
from the syllogism of strict logic.”

In other words, when using rhetoric, one has to know when to utilize strict logical syllogisms and when to depart from them. And this totally depends on the audience. For, as I have frequently quoted him before, Aristotle observes: “Before some audiences not even the possession
of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge
implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct.”

In rhetoric, it is perfectly legitimate to engage in all manner of logical fallacies. This is exactly what Peter Boghossian’s Street Epistemologists are taught to do, which is why they advance various arguments that are not only mutually contradictory, but blatantly flawed from a strict logical perspective. They engage in bait-and-switches, false definitions, and appeals to everything from authority to their own incredulity.

Now, because they claim to be faithful devotees of Science and Reason, this is why using scientific consensus and strict logic against them can be useful. But it is not our only weapon; they are woefully unprepared to see any sophisticated rhetoric arrayed against them. As one can see from the specific defenses they are being taught to attack, they are only being prepared for the lowest and crudest levels of rhetoric.

The rhetoric I am teaching you, on the other hand, is a much more sophisticated and deeper approach. Suppose, for example, the Street Epistemologist were to take Tango’s approach, retreat to the dialectic, and point out the difference between Boggie’s construction (1) and my own (2):

1) No faith is needed to POSTULATE that the universe may have always
2) No faith is needed to POSTULATE that the
universe always existed.

“Postulate (Subject One) versus Postulate (Subject One or Subject
Two). What you postulate is enclosed within the brackets, the subject of
the postulation. There is a world of difference when the subject allows
for alternatives compared to a straight out declaration with no choice.”

While it is true that the subjects postulated are modestly different, the differences are irrelevant and it is a huge mistake for the Street Epistemologist to try this line of retreat because it exposes an even bigger flaw in Boghossian’s attack. The fact is that no faith is needed to POSTULATE ANYTHING because a postulate is, by definition, “a defining”. A postulate, or a positing, is not a conclusion; it is the IF in the IF-THEN statement. The spearpoint of Anti-Apologetic #1 is nothing more than a statement of the obvious given rhetorical effect through specification.

So, it should be obvious that if one goes with a purely dialectical approach here, one gets no additional benefit from the perfectly analogous enthymeme. The postulates may be different, but the important thing to note is that there is no difference between the legitimacy of one postulate and another. Recall that the opponent is not going to be impressed with your dialectical precision; he has already shown that he is willing to say anything so long as it might be persuasive. But by responding in the rhetorical manner, with a slightly modified postulate, one gets the same benefit as well as the additional rhetorical benefit of the stronger statement and opening up the possibility of not one, but two effective new lines of attack if the Street Epistemologist is so foolish as to stubbornly attempt to salvage this particular attack by distinguishing between Postulate 1 and Postulate 2.

I’ve already pointed out the one line of attack that a retreat to a dialectical defense would expose the Street Epistemologist. See if you can correctly identify the second, and even more effective one, it also exposes.