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A Manual for Creating Atheists
A Manual for Creating Atheists

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful, but with some negative distractions., 22 Feb 2014
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I liked this book, but it’s not without its faults.

As a basic methodology, it seems quite a sound approach to weaning people off delusions, superstitions and other forms of faith-belief, although some would question Boghossian’s view that you should try to avoid arguing facts; I suspect there are some cases where this might become necessary, e.g. when dealing with some revisionists.

Undoubtedly the technique explained here is difficult to put into practice, a fact which Boghossian is clear about. Boghossian gives two definitions of “faith” –
1) Belief without evidence, and
2) Pretending to know things you don’t know,
although it is on the second of these that he tends to concentrate.

One reviewer on this site (David Robertson) claims these definitions are not true, but that is a red herring; if a person does not suffer from “pretending to know things he doesn’t know” then he has nothing to worry about from this book, whether or not this “pretending” is rightly called “faith”. If someone does pretend to know things he doesn’t know, then this book applies, and my guess is that’s why some reviewers get so riled.

Boghossian shows that it is important to model the behaviour yourself that you are trying to get a faith-filled person to adopt. Thus, street epistemologists, as he calls those who put into practice the principles of this book, should certainly not pretend to know things they do not know.

I would have no disagreement here. It is strange, then, that he offers as one of his positive examples an occasion when he very much failed to live up to this practice. Describing how he was approached late at night at a gas station by a woman on drugs asking for a lift, he responded by lifting up his shirt and showing her a scar from an operation he had had. “I would offer you a ride, but the last time I gave a woman a ride my wife stabbed me”, he said. Whilst being a very entertaining story, and shows off his quick-thinking, it is clearly a case of pretending to know something he didn’t know! Not helpful in context.

After some very sensible advice on not getting diverted into conversations about politics with the faithful, he spends much of chapter 8 decrying “leftism” which is unlikely to impress many readers outside of the USA. Indeed at one point he adopts Donald Rumsfeld’s discredited notion of “old Europe” – a term Rumsfeld created to protect his own “pretending to know something he didn’t know” (namely that Saddam Hussein had WMD). Boghossian’s use of the term is no more credible, and seems to hint at an underlying USA-centric/ignorance of international politics. Boghossian would do well to consult someone from outside the USA on this kind of issue before publishing a second edition.

At a few points in the book Boghossian seems to indicate that he has adopted uncritically one of the internet memes that is popular these days, namely “Jesus mythicism”; he doesn’t actually state this, and so perhaps I am being hyper-sensitive here. There are a couple of places where you might read what he says as, understandably, dismissing the alleged miracles of Jesus. But here’s an example of what I mean:

“… instead of continuing the discussion about the resurrection of Jesus and the evidence that supports this claim, I talk about Muhammad riding to heaven on a winged horse. Specifically, I ask why they don’t believe in that proposition on the basis of faith, especially given there’s overwhelming evidence that Muhammad was an historical figure.” (note 7, chapter 7).

If I have detected correctly Boghossian’s stance on the matter, then he would do well to become doxastically open to what secular historians have to say on the subject, and avoid the more conspiracy-theory-type approach, which will distract from his main message.

Despite these few gripes with the book, I nonetheless found it an enjoyable read, and useful in considering how help people out of faith.


Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Plus)
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Plus)
by Bart D. Ehrman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.47

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to textual criticism of the NT, 15 Mar 2008
Bart Ehrman is one of the world's foremost textual critics of the New Testament (NT) and probably the most influential currently in the English-speaking world, having taken over this role from his previous tutor, the late Bruce Metzger.

Here he presents for the lay-reader some of the thorny issues that textual critics examine in their attempts to get back to earlier and earlier texts and readings of the NT. To those who are familiar and up-to-date with NT textual criticism, little here is particularly startling, although Ehrman's rehabilitation of particular readings (e.g. Luke 23:34, "father forgive them for they know not what they are doing") may come as a surprise to UBS4 aficionados. In some of the examples he gives, he is undoubtedly combining his expertise in early Christian history (he follows on from, and develops, the ideas of Walter Bauer) with his enormous proficiency in textual criticism.

He annoys the conservatives, because he sets the record straight about how unreliable the text of the NT is, and he clearly shows how fabricated statistics of 95%-99% textual reliability are demonstrably false. What a breath of fresh air and honesty!

Ehrman writes in his very accessible style, which has made this book a hit with a wide public. For a more technical treatment, Bruce Metzger's The Text of the New Testament would be recommended reading. In fact Ehrman has edited the latest edition of this standard work.

A few mistakes have crept into the edition I read; most embarrassingly the manuscript on the cover is reproduced upside down! This particular mistake will undoubtedly be a fault of the publisher rather than Ehrman. I hope this and a few others are corrected in future editions; but the current situation has lead to me dropping a star.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 1, 2008 6:29 AM GMT


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