Seriously, Peter Boghossian?

The more I see from Peter Boghossian, the less I like him. From his ridiculous argument that “being published in the philosophy of religion should disqualify one from sitting at the adult table” to his equally ridiculous “street epistemology,” he strikes me as exactly the kind of atheist leader we don’t want. And here’s his latest bit of inanity:

I’ve never understood how someone could be proud of being gay. How can one be proud of something one didn’t work for?

This is a good example of a claim that is both technically true and spectacularly misses the point at the same time. Technically, he’s right. I’ve argued for a long time that the idea of being proud of things one didn’t actually do is silly — proud to be an American, proud that the football team you root for won the Super Bowl, and so forth.

But that obviously is not what is meant when one says they’re proud of being gay. It means the same thing that was meant when James Brown sang “Say it out loud, I’m black and I’m proud.” When the dominant culture says you should be ashamed of something, asserting one’s pride in that something is an act of defiance. And one can justifiably take pride in having stood strong against that bigotry to become a happy person in spite of being deluged with messages that they should be miserable and unhappy.

He also recently pulled a “Dear Muslima” in response to concerns over women’s rights in America:

Yes yes, women are put in sacks and beaten, but that’s no better or worse than in the US where women make less than men.

First of all, it’s a ridiculous straw man. Who actually says that women are as badly mistreated in the United States as they are in, say, Pakistan? No one does. Secondly, so what? Should we stop fighting against inequality here because it’s worse somewhere else? That’s just plain fucking stupid. And lastly, I don’t remember seeing Boghossian saying to Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer and other atheist leaders who complained about “witch hunts” and “inquisitions” and “Stalinist purges” when they were criticized that they have no cause to complain because there are actual victims of those things around the world. As usual, the “logic” applies only to those fighting against sexism.

Frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion that Peter Boghossian is just an asshole with approximately zero credibility.

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  • colnago80

    I assume that he’s referring to the statement by Apple CEO Tim Cook the other day.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion that Peter Boghossian is just an asshole with approximately zero credibility.

    ED BRATYON THEN WHY DONT YOU TWO GET ALONG?!!!

  • R Johnston

    To be fair, there is no such thing as philosophy of religion. There is philosophy as applied within religions, and there is antiphilosophical motivated reasoning as applied within religions, but there is nothing distinctive about the application of philosophy within religion so as to warrant “philosophy of religion” as being a distinct discipline. Philosophy of religion is, when it’s not balderdash, just plain old philosophy.

    “Philosophy of religion” elevates religion beyond its place and implies that there is something distinctive about the application of philosophy within religion such that people trained more generally in philosophy may not have the expertise needed to properly apply philosophy in the context of religion.

    Compare the philosophy of science, which really was an epistemological breakthrough that presented new and more accurate modes of thinking in comparison to the philosophy that came before.

  • tfkreference

    A favorite argument of bigots was (and is): “Why is ‘black pride’ cool and ‘white pride’ racist?

    Same shit, different era.

  • D. C. Sessions

    R Johnston:

    Does your argument pertain similarly to “philosophy of science?”

  • http://changerofbits.blogspot.com/ changerofbits

    Boghossian, it seems, hasn’t figured out that other people’s experiences in the world aren’t the same as his own. The only plausible reason I can see why he’s in the “Global Secular Leader Frat House” is that must be able to hold court well with that crowd.

  • Matt G

    Another privileged, straight, white man in the atheist movement! In other news, nurse goes for bicycle ride. Oh, bad example.

  • Gvlgeologist, FCD

    D.C., that’s what I was thinking as well, since that’s one of the things that I studied in college.

    Ahem. Then I read his last sentence. Still not sure whether I agree, but he did answer your question.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    …but there is nothing distinctive about the application of philosophy within religion so as to warrant “philosophy of religion” as being a distinct discipline.

    You seem to be confusing “religious philosophy” with “the philosophy of religion”. The latter is the philosophical study of religion from without, not something that necessarily occurs within a religion or requires any belief in it. Many if not most philosophers of religion are in fact atheists.

  • smhll

    I’m pretty tired of people like PB using being offensive as a self-conscious and self-admiring form of performance art.

  • http://www.themindisaterriblething.com shripathikamath

    “Proud to be gay” is a stand-in for “I am gay, I have endured and fought against the discrimination, and I am proud to have done my part for the equality of gays” I think he gets that wrong.

    The alleged “Dear Muslima letter” is not quite that. He simply mocking those who take umbrage at others pointing out degrees in oppression. Enough MRA advocates. for example, claim “but this happens to men too” ignoring the degree and often even the nature of the excess.

    Here’s PZ on Ghomeshi

    What do you think he meant when he says:

    Ciccone got off easy.

    ?

  • xxxxxx

    Area Man #9 said,

    “Many if not most philosophers of religion are in fact atheists.”

    When taken as a general group, most philosophers (~75% going by the PhilPapers survey) may be atheists, but when one breaks it down by specialty, philosophers of religion actually seem to be overwhelmingly believers (~75% being at least marginally religious), and stand out among all of the philosphical specialties as the only one with a significant majority of believers among their ranks.

    While Boghossian is clearly stereotyping philosophers of religion…there are legitimate and significant general criticisms regarding Philosophers of religion, as a specialty, within the philosophical community because their specialty has this unique relationship to theology and a majority of them with personal foundational beliefs that, all too often, all lean in one direction, so to speak. As a result, philosophers of religions tend to lack ideological diversity within their ranks, and tend to suffer more from the “echo chamber effect” and “group think” than most other philosophical disciplines. This bias does tend to affect their overall quality of work, and many philosophers are of the opinion that the output from among philosophers of religion is rather unimpressive. The social and academic divisions that exist between philosophers of religion and all other philosophical specialties, in fact, is usually quite palpable in most philosophy departments.

    That said, however, it is wrong to stereotype a philosopher of religoin as a bad philosopher simply based upon their specialty. There are clearly many fine philosophers that also happen to specialize in religion too.

  • Michael Heath

    Ed wrote:

    I don’t remember seeing Boghossian saying to Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer and other atheist leaders who complained about “witch hunts” and “inquisitions” and “Stalinist purges” when they were criticized that they have no cause to complain

    I don’t follow Dawkins or Shermer closely at all nor am I apologist for either with the exception on how creationists have defamed and misrepresented Dawkins. However Ed misrepresents that those two were reacting to mere criticism. Perhaps in some cases, but what little I have encountered was frequently defamation of each and misrepresentation of what each stated.

    So bad form on Ed’s part using a strawman. From my perspective what he does here is identical to a dog whistle on the right identifying one’s loyalty to the tribe, a version of Liars for Jesus® rhetoric.

    Having said that, it still chaps my ass when conservatives and liberals claim one side “attacked” someone from their side. That when in fact what really happened was mere criticism. Both sides are far too prone to relying on such a weak rhetorical fallacy. So in both types of cases we see a misuse of term criticism. Criticism good, strawman, defamations, and misrepresentations not good at all.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    Michael Heath @ 13 – nope. Michael Shermer, at least, was reacting to no defamation or misrepresentation at all. Dawkins did at least get a lot of vehement pushback on Twitter, but even that mostly wasn’t defamatory or inaccurate.

  • Michael Heath

    Ophelia Benson,

    I’ve repeatedly demonstrably how you’ve misrepresented Mr. Shermer in least one occurrence. Cite: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2013/01/17/shermer-and-the-myth-of-feminist-persecution/#comment-213151.

    You also lied about your behavior repeatedly when Shermer revealed your lies, in spite of the fact your defamation was self-evident to reasonable people with a modicum of critical thinking skills.

    And to be clear: My pointing out that Ms. Benson is a demonstrable liar and a defamer in no way excuses bad behavior by her targets. Nor does it reveal a bias towards any of these people with the exception of my being grateful for some lessons in science Dr. Dawkins has taught me through his books. (I know very little about Michael Shermer). Instead I despise dishonesty regardless of the source while holding all those who lie in contempt.

    People with actual integrity reveal some character by admitting what they did was wrong when their bad behavior is exposed. Defending their lies instead reveals their character is poorer than the original lies suggested.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    I did not lie. There was no defamation.

  • Edward Gemmer

    Is it really necessary to answer these things with “I don’t like you.” He asked a question and said he didn’t understand something. People then answered and provided an explanation he could understand. The end.

  • http://thorgolucky.com/ ThorGoLucky

    I liked PB’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, untill it went off on an unnecessary tangent near the end, and I found the phrase “street epistimologist” as fun.

  • Forbidden Snowflake

    PB quote from the OP:

    Yes yes, women are put in sacks and beaten, but that’s no better or worse than in the US where women make less than men.

    This is the sort of thing I despise, not just because of the “Dear Muslima” element, but because by comparing physical violence “out there” to employment injustice in the USA, he tacitly implies that physical violence against women does not exist in the USA, all while maintaining plausible deniability (“I never said that! ‘Implication’? What’s that? Highly illogical, beep boop”).

    Michael Heath:

    I’ve repeatedly demonstrably how you’ve misrepresented Mr. Shermer in least one occurrence.

    In your link, you repeatedly and demonstrably misrepresent Ophelia, so that’s great irony value, I guess.

  • http://www.northernpick.com danrobinson

    I’m a bisexual and a cross-dresser. I’m proud to have endured a lifetime of self loathing and worked out of it and come to love myself because of who and what I am. I feel like that was a journey worthy of pride in having made it.

  • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005149187408 Diego Garcia

    I love the smell of atheists bashing each other in the morning!

  • leni

    I’ve repeatedly demonstrably how you’ve misrepresented Mr. Shermer in least one occurrence.

    I missed that thread the first time over, and don’t want to rehash it here, but as a first time reader of your argument, I disagree that you demonstrated misrepresentation. The best I could say is that Ophelia should have instead sarcastically condensed his argument to “women don’t do act-y”.

    Calling that a lie is a stretch. Mischaracterization? Barely. He stated “it” probably is 50-50 and immediately “clarified” that the reason he thinks this parity isn’t evident is because women just don’t do activism. Because they aren’t into “guy things”, like publicly defending their beliefs. Ok. So he said women probably are on average as thoughtful about their unbelief as men, just that they don’t act on it in any measurable way that he could think of off the cuff.

    Well great, I guess. Thanks for clearing that up. Amidst all the noise and confusion, we can at least be sure of one thing: we now also have a convenient reason for why white people participate in American conservatism at greater rates. It’s because it’s more of a white thing.

  • leni

    I love the smell of atheists bashing each other in the morning!

    Put your penis away and go back to 4chan. This is not the bashing you are looking for.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Give it up, Heath; your bullshit allegations have been dealt with and debunked every time you dredge them up — including in the thread you cited here. I can’t believe an otherwise intelligent person such as yourself can so obsessively cling to such a long-discredited line of obvious bullshit for so long.

  • Phillip Hallam-Baker

    Boghossian has a rather limited grasp of epistemology. Like Ayn Rand he seems to make the mistake of thinking that all you need to do is take the obvious approach.

    Clearly the notion of ‘gay pride’ is paradoxical if we hold that the only reason for pride is personal achievement. But as I point out on Greta’s post on the same topic, personal achievement is not the only basis for pride. We have patriotic pride, pride in the achievements of our children and even the sports teams we follow.

    And without going evo-psych, it is pretty easy to see that personal pride has to take a back seat to community pride when it comes to survival. It took several centuries to establish the concept of the nation state and this was achieved by persuading largely illiterate peoples to transfer some of their community pride in their village or clan to the greater nation state.

    It isn’t just Boghossian who is clueless about this, the US military is equally clueless and that is why their nation building program in Iraq has failed so spectacularly.

    Getting back to Boghossian, he seems to be attempting to raise the dead ghost of logical positivism, the idea that all facts can be reduced to verifiable propositions. While it seems obvious that this should be the case, attempting to do just that using computers has been a humbling experience for almost everyone who has tried it. Certainly, nobody has succeeded. While there are indeed analytical truths, there arn’t any interesting ones.

    To see why logic alone is insufficient, consider the statements ‘Alice says the sky is blue’ and ‘Fox News says the sky is blue’. The first statement my provide useful and valid information while the second comes from a source that is so discredited and untrustworthy that it has to be discarded. Empirical observation shows that if it suits the political needs of Fox News they will in fact report that the sky is pink, green or lemon with red stripes if it serves the political point they are peddling at that minute. And they will tell us that it is green in the morning and swear that it has never been any color but violet the same afternoon.

    Note here that we can’t settle the question of the sky color scientifically since our mode of communication is limited to statements. Stephen Hawking can perform an experiment to find out the color of the sky but when he reports the result all we have is a statement from Stephen Hawking.

    So when we are evaluating such statements what we have to do is being with a relativist framework in which we evaluate the claims made by various sources. Then we evaluate the consistency of the statements made in their own terms.

    We can see this at work on Comedy Central where Jon Stewart regularly produces a critique of Fox News showing how their absolutist statements change according to the conclusion they wish the audience to draw.