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on 16 November 2013
I'm a confirmed atheist already. I rejected religion as a child, getting into trouble for missing RE lessons and singing childishly amusing versions of hymns at school. I took no notice of it at all through my 20s and 30s and then whilst working far from home and staying in hotels, I actually sat and thought through all of the tenets and tales of christianity. I even read the bible from cover to cover. I came out of this exercise completely against all forms of sky fairy worship; I can't keep quiet if anyone says anything even vaguely religious but I do try to make people laugh whilst inserting little bits of reason into their brains.
I am one of the people who Peter Boghossian is trying to reach with this book; I have a burning need to cure people of the mental illness that is religion, and this book has given me new weaponry to assist my mission.
Faith = Pretending to know something that you don't know.
Excellent book.
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on 27 December 2013
When I started this book, at first I thought it was a parody. It is so extreme, irrational and arrogant, that I assumed it must be a religious person taking the mickey. But apparently not. Apparently, and disturbingly, Peter Boghossian, really means what he says, and is serious about his proposals. I won't list them all but let it suffice to point out a few of them. Faith should be officially classed as a mental illness and should be eradicated like polio. Atheists should bring up their children as atheists. Churches should not receive charitable status. Don't use facts when debating with people of faith. Universities should inoculate against faith. Christians and other people of faith should be treated like racists.

The author comes across as incredibly arrogant and patronising. Only his way is the right way and everyone who disagrees with his epistemology is either a deluded idiot or evil. The smug, patronising attitude and the attempt to try to evangelise people to his (non?) faith position is reminiscent of the worst kind of fundamentalist religions. One good thing about this book is that it provides empirical evidence for the existence of the NFAs - New Fundamentalist Atheists.

The whole book completely falls apart when Boghossian gives the definition of faith as being believing without evidence or pretending to know things one doesn't know. That is not the normal definition of faith - nor is it the definition of those who claim to have faith. It is the classic strawman argument. He himself is guilty of massive sweeping irrational statements of faith - not least his faith in the powers of his own rationality.

The last book I read that was this bad, illogical and intolerant was Mein Kampf! It really is that bad. (incidentally his attempt to justify calling Hitler a Christian is school boy laughable). And I know already that despite this, those who share the NFA faith will love it! Thats how deep the irrationality and hatred runs...A sad book, which could sadly be a pointer to the shape of things to come....
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on 17 April 2014
I give this book 1 star because it is a propaganda manual more than a product of reasoned or enlightened personages.
It is intellectually bankrupt. Peter Boghossian is a so-called philosopher, but goes about rooting the foundation of his entire book on a straw-man concept of faith.

His idea of faith is believing in something which there is no evidence for, and his argument is that faith is not a good or reliable source of knowledge, it has no epistemological value.

Boghossian in Orwellian fashion goes about redefining words, much like the rest of the new atheists, (disbelief? non belief? belief there is no god? tell me mr atheist, what is the definition today? ps, what do people who believe there is no God call themselves?) The problem for this propagandist is that faith is not epistemological. Faith is not a source of knowledge, it is believing something without certainty. Faith is a moral construct of trust, not a source of knowledge. You have faith in a friend to return the CD you lent him. The faith was not baseless, you trust you friend so have faith. If you trusted the friend, but refused to have faith, this is a moral flaw in your character.

The entire catalogue of failure he calls a book is founded on this one straw-man. It is an embarrassing new low for atheist literature. Not that many of the atheists seem to care, they mainly only care about the appearance of a good argument against God so as to excuse their life choices.
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on 18 May 2014
I've been a Christian for 16 years and (over the past few yeas) bought 'God Delision' - gave it 5 star as it debunks a lot of Christian junk (which is about 20% of what Christians beleive) - so good riddance to bad rubbish, I also bought '50 simple questions every Christian must answer' - again, I could probably answer all of them to my satisfaction but the book is clear in it's outcomes - i.e. how to understand 'the (thinking) man on the streets' objections to Christianity... and a good alternative insite to my own belief... but I found this book just a cliched re-hash of things I'd long-since forgotten. Chapter 1 and 2 we're bareable - even if only to hear an amuzing interpretation to 'faith' (no mention of faith leading to actions which show them to be founded on TRUTH) - but by chapter 3 '.. faith removes our curiosity about the world ... and replaces wonder with [epistemological] arrogance ' by this stage I getting a bit 'fed up' and by chapter 7 'anti-appologetics' I was concidering it an alternative to the loo-roll in my holiday back-pack.
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on 27 February 2014
If you have already read the diatribes by Harris and Dawkins on religion then there's no real need to get this book. All Boghossian is doing is borrowing the language of 'faith' as a virus (which he doesn't substantiate by the way) and asserting that religion is delusional. Of course, Boghossian never actually gives any evidence for this and neither does he even attempt any serious interaction with the people he's criticizing in his book but instead clearly thinks the rhetoric alone will suffice as a substitute. Clearly for many it has.

As someone who has read a lot of epistemology his attempts at doing any serious epistemology are laughable. He gives his 'street epistemologists' a terribly trite introduction to the theory of knowledge and only goes so far as is required by his anti-religious polemic. Of course, his anti-religious agenda means that any interaction with the philosophical giants who were religious is virtually non-existent. It's like he's embarrassed to admit people like Descartes and Locke were theists.

For those who think I'm being too critical we'll just have to let history be the judge but this book brings nothing new to the discussion - if anything it takes it back about 8 years. A waste of money and time. As Hitch said, that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.
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on 31 May 2015
Peter Boghossian, a full-time philosophy lecturer, who seems to be proud of having been ‘thrown out of the doctoral program in the University of New Mexico …’ and regards himself as having enough street cred to enable others to deliver people who believe in God (‘the faithful’) from their illogical and unscientific ways of thinking. Here are some of the many things that are unsatisfactory about the book.
He bases his argument on two faulty definitions of ‘faith’. One is wrong: ‘belief without evidence’; one is also insulting (‘pretending to know things you don’t know’). In a letter (to Katie Z from Pete, pp. 132f.) he writes: ‘Atheism is a conclusion one comes to after a sincere, honest evaluation of the evidence. Here’s the evidence for the existence of God: Nothing. There is no evidence for God’s existence.’ The mind boggles at such dogmatic closed mindedness (sorry, ‘doxastic closure’). But he is not even consistent in his own definition referring in other places to faith as ‘belief without sufficient evidence’. Now a fact only becomes ‘evidence’ when it is interpreted as such, making the conclusion subjective, and PB’s original knock-down definition looks (logically as well as subjectively) completely unsatisfactory. This basic, schoolchild error vitiates most of the arguments in the book.
Boghossian also commits further logical blunders. He often does not distinguish between arguments about the existence of any creative power or mind outside of our universe, and those concerning specific religious (usually Christian) beliefs. He often lumps all believers (liberal, conservative, Muslim, Christian, educated, ignorant) together. This is seen in the numerous generalizations concerning what ‘the faithful’ will say when confronted in the street with PB’s arguments.
I wondered if PB had ever interacted with intelligent Christians, his examples are so much directed towards fundamentalist (and poorly instructed) Christians, such as he once was that I began to wonder if that’s what he thought all believers were like that: cocksure, illogical, basing their beliefs on a particular interpretation of the Bible, etc., ignorant of science and philosophy. Well, he does refer to Christian thinkers (e.g. William Craig Lane; John Lennox) but it’s rather like a Labour Party speech being reported in the Daily Mail. Many ‘interventions’ (what to say to people in the street to help them get over their wrong beliefs) are highly artificial, self-promoting contests with straw people; the actual quoted conversations (e.g. Dawkins v Lennox, discussing evidence for a wife’s love, pp. 157-159) tend to be very selective, taken out of context, and inconclusive.
The book did have an effect on me. I resolved to continue to try and educate Christians in such a way that they know what the Bible says, they know and wrestle with the difficulties, they read what intelligent people say who disagree with them; in short they make it their aim to discover the truth and not to flinch from evidence that challenges them. I wish I could believe that PB has the same goals – if so I’d love to meet him and chat - but the evidence is insufficient.
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on 9 March 2014
Boghossian sets out to convince us all that faith is a dirty, nasty thing that ought to be eradicated like the plague. He manages to set out well on what is fast becoming a well worn anti-theist path. However, he soon errs and shows that while he may write decent philosophy, he does not carry the skill required to write great activist prose.

The book begins by advising the reader of its purpose - to make him a `Street Epistemologist', that is, a person who is able to engage others in debate so as to alter their way of thinking. Boghossian sets out his manifesto right here in the first chapter - he envisions a world where amauetur philosophers are wondering the highways and byways socratically debating people out of their mis-understandings of the world and setting poor souls free to see things as he does. I was left feeling more than a little unnerved by Boghossian's almost Orwellian dreams.

The best chapter of the books follows. Boghossian is clearly a philosopher of some merit and sets out, clearly and lucidly, his argument for the re-defining of `faith' to be `pretending to know things you don't know'. It is difficult to argue with anything that Boghossian says in this regard and indeed his thought process seems at its clearest when he is making these philosophical distinctions and definitions. By the end of the chapter, one is convinced of the merit of the re-definition of faith and the total chasm that sits between faith and hope as notions.

Before moving on to the nuts-and-bolts of how one might engage persons of faith in thought-altering conversations, Boghossian sets out what he considers to be the problem with people of faith: they are closed-minded. Like so many academics, Boghossian feels the need to invent an overly obtuse phrase to describe what could easily be described in simpler terms - thus `closed-mindedness' becomes `doxastic closure'. Upon reading the descriptions of the aforementioned, one is struck by the fact that so many before him have set out the same problem with more clarity that Boghossian achieves in what turns out to be dense, repetitive and at times circular prose. I was left wondering if the author wouldn't have been better served alterting the reader to the already extant, and superior, works on the matter rather than re-inventing the wheel (only a less useful one).

Boghossian is clear that the central purpose of his text is to act as a field-guide for the actual `doing' of `street epistemology' and thus the chapter on `Interventions and Strategies' forms the very core of his work. In it, the author serves up a plentiful bounty of his own interactions with friends and strangers in which he (with one glossed-over exception) comes out the intellectual victor. While some of the examples are without question of use to a student of the socratic method - the sheer arrogance and indifference to the human condition with which they are related all but blinds the reader to anything else. Over and over again, Boghossian seems intent on proving how he is smarter than everyone he meets (which inserting the occasional `I am not arrogant, really...' statement). I had to read this chapter twice - the second time making a conscious choice to set the tone to one side and examine the content alone.

Finally, Boghossian sets out his vision of a better world. In this world, places of learning are freed from societal constraints and allowed to teach based on evidence and reason alone. Students who mention God are swiftly brought to the front of the class and evidence of this god is demanded upon threat of a `fail'. As a reader, one sensed the passion in the Author's intent - the intent that teaching should be based on what is provable and not, as is so often the case, what is acceptable. However, when Boghossian claims that faith should be regarded as a mental illness and its sufferers treated accordingly, one wonders if the passion for truth and reason has morphed into something more sinister. The moment one wants to consign those who disagree to an asylum, there are very real questions to be asked.

Overall, I felt that this book has little to offer in advancing the understanding of why religious faith is a bad thing, how one can go about affecting change or the philosophical imperative for so doing. I did feel that I had been sitting beside a slightly inebriated dinner guest who had regaled me with tales of his own intellectual prowess for most of the night.
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on 6 February 2014
The arguments for atheism, naturalism and secular humanism are around for quite a long time. So why is faith so resistant against them and what can be done to address this problem?

You get some answers to this question when reading Peter Boghossians book.
Basically he advocates a Socratic strategy of making people doubt by simply asking questions pointing to possible inconsistencies of their views. That's not novel but always deserves a reminder. More important is the authors insisting claim that we shouldn't accept an intellectual and social preserve for religious faith, treating it as a no-touch private preference or matter of taste. Boghossian's attack on constructivism and epistemological and moral (multicultural) relativism as an academic and social aberration is justified and deserves support. So far the motivating aspects of the book.

But unfortunately there are severe flaws. The author has no empathy for religious people. You can't understand the comforting effects of faith by simply stating that there is no evidence for it. For example many people want to believe that there beloved ones still exist somehow and somewhere after having passed away. Wrong - but we should be able to feel some empathy for the emotionally comforting effect of such wishful thinking. Lack of that pushes Boghossian to demand that we should try to talk everybody out of his or her faith, people personally unknown to us, everybody, everywhere, in principle regardless of the personal situation (desperate life conditions, terminal illness, high age, psychological stability or instability?). And here things begin to turn unpleasant and even potentially dangerous.

When finally classifying religious faith as a mental disease which should be addressed by public health programs Boghossian risks to shift to sectarianism and make his whole principally laudable enterprise look ridiculous. Religions are out-dated ways of interpreting the world and finding orientation in life but they are no diseases (with violent fanaticism as a borderline case between crime and mental disorder). If not so a considerable part of arts and human civilization would just be the product of insane people. Sounds a bit ahistorical, doesn't it?
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on 28 November 2013
I've read all the new atheist books: hitchens, harris, dennet, dawkins. I'm a big fan.

However, I find this guy insufferable. If I was a believer and his friend and he kept bothering me with the kind of tactics he promotes in this book he wouldn't remain my friend for very long.

I don't agree with faith but trying to turn the mass of unbelievers into secular missionaries is just going to turn people off all the more. I don't like it when some religious fundie tries to convert me on the street and I suspect believers feel the same way.

By all means have a friendly, meaningful conversation with your friends about faith if it comes up in conversation. Make your position clear. However, starting that conversation with the intention of converting them is an intrusion in my opinion and probably won't end well.
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on 22 February 2014
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.
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