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.
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?
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.