Obviously I am not writing a manual for creating atheists myself but I wish to write a few brief blogs responding to an American atheist called Peter Boghossian. No offense to Boghossian but I had not heard of him until recently and since this book was going cheap on kindle I bought it. My plan is to write a few short blogs responding to the book over the next couple of months. I’m sure there will be moments of disagreement (unless he converts me to atheism!), moments of agreement and lots of questions raised.
I will start by admitting that I know next to nothing about Boghossian as a person and that might be a good thing because I can approach his book without preconceptions of him as a person. So that is why I cannot tell you much about him and why I am going to avoid looking him up on the internet at this point. What I can be interested in primarily is what he has to say about theological / philosophical matters.
Having said that the ‘advance praise’ at the beginning of the book has raised my suspicions in terms of what to expect since I note praise from Richard Dawkins, John Loftus, Victor Stenger, Richard Carrier and Stefan Molyneux (among others). These are all atheist authors I have read in the past and I think they are all very superficial in their attempts at engagement with Christian theism. Anyway – I shall attempt to forget their praise and move quickly to the preface.
Unfortunately the preface is written by Michael Shermer. I say ‘unfortunately’ because Shermer is another atheist who has not impressed me with his attempts at critiquing Christianity (or theism in general) in the past. Even more unfortunate is that this preface also begins the book off in a rather vitriolic tone as Shermer pours scorn on those who would believe that:
“God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself. Barking mad!”
Shermer is well known for advocating Carl Sagan’s ‘Baloney Detection Kit’ and one principle of the BDK is not to take Shermer’s word on this so I won’t. Let’s look this matter up and find some evidence.
Who else thought that God “sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself”? Well it’s possible that in the ancient world Praxeas did think something like that and it became known as modalism (which implied patripassianism – the idea that God the Father himself suffered on the cross) which was the doctrine that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were not distinct persons in the Godhead but only manifestations or modes of one person. But modalism was condemned in early church history not just as mistaken theology but as heresy. If Shermer really wishes to interact seriously with Christian thought he will need to take into account the Nicene Creed, Athanasius and the Cappadocian fathers rather than an idea which the church viewed as heretical. It appears that if I apply Shermer’s / Sagan’s BDK to him he fails at the very first criterion since it appears the source of the claim is unreliable.
A very different book which deals with how we should interact with the ideas of others in a rational fashion is called ‘The Philosopher’s Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods’ by Julian Baggini and Peter Fosl. In the section on ‘The Principle of Charity’ they say:
“The ‘Principle of Charity states that interpreters should seek to maximize the soundness of others’ arguments and truth of their claims by rendering them in the strongest way reasonable.”
Julian Baggini and Peter Fosl,
‘The Philosopher’s Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods’ p.115
It would certainly appear that if Shermer is looking to ridicule Christian thought he is going to need to do better than appeal to an idea which the church condemned as heresy early on in its history. This is certainly the opposite of the principle of charity. I just hope we get better interaction by Boghossian than we get from Shermer in the preface!
Shermer, clearly alluding to Dawkins in ‘The God Delusion’, also states in the preface:
“If I started reading ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists’ as a Christian I would have been an atheist by the time I finished it.”
“Peter Boghossian’s ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists’ is the perfect companion to Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’. They should be bundled like an atheist software package to reprogram minds into employing reason instead of faith, science instead of superstition.”
I was full of excitement after the first comment above. Wow! A book which might change my entire worldview? I cannot wait to begin. Talk about being brought down to earth in the next comment! I hope it’s not like ‘The God Delusion’ since that book proved to only work on laypeople who didn’t know too much about religion, history or philosophy of religion. Even several academic atheists distanced themselves from Dawkins’ book which strongly suggests it was not all it’s often made up to be.  But let us just hope Shermer is completely wrong. Let’s hope Boghossian’s book is far superior to Dawkins’.
Anyway… off to read chapter one!
 It led the famous atheist philosopher Michael Ruse to say:
“Richard Dawkins in ‘The God Delusion’ would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing.”
After writing this is did see his interview and book plug with Sam Harris which can be found on Harris’s website here. Sorry but I could not help but notice that the Facebook ‘likes’ for this interview and book endorsement did not even manage to get to 1% of Harris’s numbered fans. Just a mathematical observation – nothing more!Tweets by @aRemonstrant