At the end of my last post on this book analysis series I commented on Boghossian’s rather bizarre redefinition of the word ‘delusion’ and suggested that his usage of the word, together with his non-standard definition of ‘faith’, cannot possibly be seen as helpful in the context of religious and non-religious people having meaningful conversations.
The rest of chapter 4 (‘Interventions and Strategies’) is really just basic advice on how to have good conversations with people. It ranges from basic commonsense principles most people would already agree with (“express empathy” Loc.1450) right through to the downright patronizing (people who are unwilling to change their views despite a SE ‘intervention’ should be regarded as “precontemplative” Loc.1476 or, in a more honest and less politically correct moment, “denial” Loc.1495). Notice that this is evidence of what William Lane Craig has noticed about Boghossian’s project. He is NOT just attacking people’s ideas – he is also attacking THEM. To claim a person is in denial about something is to attack them as a person as having some personality disorder. It is important to notice this because Boghossian often insists he is not interested in attacking people.
In this post I am going to focus on a conversation Boghossian describes right at the end of the chapter. It is called, “Intervention 2: Kill all left-handed people.”
Boghossian tells a story of how he ended up in a church as he was picking up a friend’s daughter from choir practice and how he targeted a young man in his early twenties while waiting for the practice to finish. After discussing a few other matters Boghossian asks him if God still speaks to people today and the young man affirms his belief that God still does. So Boghossian asks:
“Let’s say that God told you to kill all left-handed people and…”
He gets interrupted as the young man tells him God would not ask him to do that but Boghossian insists that the young man goes with him in his thought experiment. Again he insists that the young man think about a scenario where he became completely and utterly convinced that God had spoken to him and told him to order all left-handed people to be killed and what he would do. Again the young man replies by saying that God would not tell him to do that but Boghossian keeps pressing for a response to this hypothetical scenario by pointing out that God asked Abraham to kill his son in the Old Testament.
Here his Christian interlocutor made a mistake. His mistake was in thinking that God could possibly give this type of command in the part of the Christian narrative we currently find ourselves in. So he tells Boghossian that if he knew for certain that the command came from God then he would do it. (Boghossian then attempts to make the young man feel uncomfortable about admitting this as it conflicts with how he feels about killing people.)
Even if we change the genre of the killing to something more akin to some Old Testament commands (instead of killing left handed people (since that is a bit random) let’s change it to people of some extreme religious view which could undermine Christianity and lead people away from God) that command simply does not fit with where the Christian moral story currently is.  There were reasons for the conquests in the Old Testament (the importance of Judah’s line bringing about the Messiah) which simply don’t exist after Jesus has lived and fulfilled his mission. This is why Jesus informs his disciples that the Old Testament law is fulfilled in him. This is why he insists that the time has come in the narrative to love one’s enemies and to pray for those who curse you.
So Boghossian’s question essentially becomes:
“What if God asked you to do something it’s impossible for the God of Christianity to ask you to do?”
The question becomes virtually meaningless  and it’s why the young Christian man should have stayed with his initial response to Boghossian instead of getting brow-beaten into answering the question the way he ended up doing.
Any ‘vision’ or ‘experience’ any Christian (or any person for that matter) has which contradicts the moral teachings of Jesus cannot be from God. This is the essence of what it is to be a Christian. Christians believe that God’s fullest expression of what we should do is found in the teachings of Jesus. Therefore, if I had such an experience, I would have to conclude I was deceived.
Toward the end of this intervention the young man asks Boghossian what his point is and he replies:
“I don’t really have a point. I’m just trying to figure out the limits of your faith. It seems to me that your faith is limitless.”
Given everything Boghossian has said about interventions up to this point in his book it’s very hard to believe he is being sincere when he claims he’s not making a point! Notice that as far as he tells us, he did not tell the young man that he was the subject in an intervention. He rather deceives him by making it sound like he’s just thinking on the spot out loud. He finishes by saying to the young man:
“I’m not sure how you or anyone else could ever be certain that God is talking to you. Just because someone is positive that God speaks to them doesn’t mean that God actually spoke to them. They could be mistaken. And just because you feel that Jesus is the Son of God, I’m not sure that you could ever be certain about that either. You could always be mistaken, maybe even delusional. Maybe it’s an idea that’s germinated and developed in you because of our culture and the way our brains work.” [Loc1624]
Notice what Boghossian is up to here. Remember that his aim is to reduce the confidence theists have in the things they believe (again – another thing he does not admit he’s doing to the young man he’s talking to). He considers an intervention successful if a theist who is a 1.5 (on the Dawkins 1-7 scale of belief) reduces their confidence down to a 1.6. But the tool Boghossian is employing to lower the person’s confidence is nothing less than hyperbolic scepticism. This is the ‘going nuclear’ tactic I have complained about before.  The reason this is going nuclear is because Boghossian is merely asking if it’s at all possible in the slightest that someone could be wrong on the basis that the brain is not functioning correctly. But this argument could easily be flipped and used on Boghossian in reverse. I could, just as easily, ask Boghossian if his belief in not killing people could possibly be wrong on the basis that it’s merely logically possible that his brain isn’t functioning correctly (or that all human brains function incorrectly systemically). Surely Boghossian would have to confess that it’s possible that the brain (or human brains in general) is not functioning aright (after all, since the problem is in the brain how would he possibly know). But should a sceptical argument like that really be seen as a challenge to the view that I should not kill people? I think it would be difficult to find too many philosophers who would think that’s a particularly strong argument for revising our moral convictions. Notice that it’s not an argument against any specific Christian belief but rather an argument about the possibility of knowing anything at all and therefore applies as much to Boghossian’s moral convictions as any theistic moral conviction. The only difference is that the atheist might just have a harder time suggesting they have good beliefs for thinking the human mind is rational when compared to a theists reasons for thinking it is. 
I hope this post helps you think about how you ought to answer a “What if God…” question if you are a Christian. Thanks for continuing with me in ploughing our way through Boghossian’s book. I hope you find some of it useful.
 Here is a very good lecture by Christian scholar Peter Williams in which he talks, in part, about what God can and cannot command. This is vitally important if one is going to attempt to internally critique Christian morality and yet Boghossian appears to have missed this very important point.
 I say ‘virtually’ since some atheist philosophers (eg. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong) have attempted to create a problem for Christian divine command theory by raising, what Walls and Baggett call, an ‘extended arbitrariness objection’. But since this objection is based on a nonstandard semantics for counterfactuals it looks like a pretty lame argument. For reasons why see ‘Appendix A’ in Good God: The theistic foundations of morality by David Baggett and Jerry Walls.
 ‘Going nuclear’ is a term for people who want to doubt something and therefore decide to doubt everything (hence the metaphor). See Boghossian goes nuclear!
 See Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict really lies.