Refute Peter Boghossian Critical Thinking

Hands up:  Who thought atheism needed another arrogant atheist douchebro who cloaks himself in rationality and then proceeds in a spit-flecked rant rife with fallacious reasoning to tell us we are irrational about stuff?

Peter Boghossian raves about “Gender studies professors” who “are pumping out complete bullshit” in Areo Magazine, producing something resembling less of an argument and more of a rancid onion. And for some fucking reason, I’m feeling masochistic enough to peel back the layers of entitled manbaby whinging. Tears to ensue.

One would thinkthat an example of critical thinking would explicitly identify the premises of a presented argument, compare peer-reviewed literature to see whether the premises are accurate, and use formal logic to determine if the conclusion is sound. But Boghossian’s rant is devoid of any particular specifics–aside from quoting one of Jordan Peterson’s critics–and on top of that he has the gall to represent himself as some kind of model freethinker. The problem is that the sort of freethought that lacks any resemblance to reality is the sort of “freethought” we’d expect to see from mushroom-tripping hippies reacting to psychedelic phantoms rather than what’s in front of them.

Compare, for instance, how Boghossian opens up his interview with some pontificating on critical thinking:

Malhar Mali: What in your opinion is the best way of fostering critical thinking when it comes to religious and supernatural beliefs?

Peter Boghossian: I think the whole way we’ve taught critical thinking is wrong from day one. We’ve taught, “Formulate your beliefs on the basis of evidence.” But the problem with that is people already believe they’ve formulated their beliefs on evidence — that’s why they believe what they believe. Instead, what we should focus on is teaching people to seek out and identify defeaters.

What is a defeater? A defeater is:

IF A, THEN B, UNLESS C.

All of which is sound epistemology…

Then, minutes later, Boghossian expels this adorable piece of absolute claptrap:

Disciplines such as gender studies don’t have a dialectic. They’re not truth seeking enterprises. They think they’ve already found they truth and exist to indoctrinate students. There is no dialectic at the core of those disciplines like there is in philosophy. And there are profoundly negative consequences for peoples’ views of reality — it untethers them from what’s real.

This is the tremendous irony: Boghossian’s not wrong, at least on the nature of critical thinking. Knowing what ought to falsify a belief is the cornerstone of rationality. But then he’s completely incapable of actually examining the various positions he brings forward in support of his conclusion that gender studies don’t “have a dialectic” and that they’re not “truth seeking enterprises.” This is just literally seconds after he demonstrates the weakness of inductive logic. Then, having abandoned his own principles of reason, he goes on a rant about how The Left™ has abandoned reason!

So let’s apply Boghossian’s own model to his feverish screed and then have an honest evaluation as to whether Boghossian ought to be considered The Paragon of Rationality.

The area where Boghossian flies off the rails starts with this question from the interviewer:

MM: Some final thoughts on the election? Specifically on the focus on a “post-truth” era of news. It’s funny in a way to watch the side that entertained Post-Modernist thought — which discouraged objective truth — suddenly start worrying about the ways it could actually be applied.

The sheer number of weasel words should be an immediate red flag for a rationalist engaged in specifics. “Post-truth,” “the side that entertained” “Post-Modernist” are all extremely loaded terms. Post-Modernist is the only one defined by the interviewer, as “discouraged objective truth,” which I suspect we could ironically apply to Boghossian as we watch him take the bait. Aside from that, I would recognize a question like this and refuse to answer it altogether with a statement to the effect of “that’s a lot of loaded terminology and it’s unclear what you actually mean. Could you be more specific?”

Boghossian fills in the blanks, though, and illustrates his pet issue.

PB: It’s fascinating. I would be lying to you if I told that I wasn’t genuinely concerned about Trump’s presidency. I think the Left bears considerable responsibility in him being elected.

Care to define “The Left” and “considerable”? From my perspective, even the Democrats are right-leaning. Maybe a strong epistemology won’t take for granted the relational meaning of Left because not everybody has the same Centre from which to lean left?

It’s interesting how people who claim “there is no truth” or “all truth is relative to something” let that belief fall by the wayside when it comes to other root beliefs they have. For example, that lead causes brain damage to children in poor neighborhoods (empirical) or that there should be gender parity at conferences (moral). Everything won’t be relative in that case. It’ll be: “Oh gee, here’s an objective fact.”

Boghossian seems to be implying that “Post-Modernists” engage in this particular bit of hypocrisy. But without a specific frame of reference–an actual individual with actual statements–there’s no actual information here. “This happens.” Okay, but what does that actually mean? “Hypocrites exist” is hardly a revolutionary statement. Does Boghossian mean to imply that hypocrisy is a monopoly of The Left (relative to the unspecified Centre)?

And it’s obvious that people don’t believe this relativism stuff fully because if they were sick they would go to the witch-doctor instead of the hospital. And relativists would confine anybody they wanted to any kind of life. I once tweeted something like:

“If you’re really a relativist, then take a vacation in Aleppo,”

and it pissed off a lot of people. But it’s true.

Again, this is padded with a lot of non-information.

It is not sound logic to reject a sphere of thought because some of its adherents suck at advocating for it. After all, if that were the case, I wouldn’t be an atheist just because Robert G. Ingersoll advances limp-wristed nonsense in its name.

Boghossian has instead argued:

Premise 1 — This particular person is a Relativist.

Premise 2 — This particular person is a hypocrite.

Conclusion — All relativists are hypocrites.

If all relativists were consistent in their position, sure, they wouldn’t mind accepting care from witch doctors over doctor doctors. Some do though–they usually die. You could say a great deal about those kinds of relativists but they are, at least, internally consistent. Nonetheless it means Boghossian’s observations on relativists are false, stepping aside the question of whether or not relativism is a worthwhile philosophy to embrace.

Then we get to the claim “pissed off a lot of people.” I’m not particularly fond of Relativism myself, but I am annoyed that Mr. Rational is making Rationalists look real fucking thick at the moment.

So all of this posturing about relativism is just verbal behavior. They don’t actually buy into it. If they did then they’d convince themselves of some insane belief like you can leave your corporeal body and walk into the street. And yet they don’t do that.

I guess Boghossian hasn’t heard of starvation cults. Like I said, most Relativists don’t put their money where their mouth is, but some do, and their deaths are actually evidence of internal consistency being exhibited. (Which is also, incidentally, a great case for why we shouldn’t be Relativists).

I wonder how much more generalized horseshit Boghossian is going to shovel into his answer.

I don’t think it’s mere hypocrisy, either. There are communities of ersatz intellectuals in the humanities in general and gender studies in particular which have been impacted by the legacy of post-modernism. These people are pumping out complete bullshit and indoctrinating a generation of students to believe total nonsense.

As we’re about to see, the interviewer is again going to pull Boghossian along by the nose. Still no specifics as to who, exactly, is advancing this claim, and along comes Mali to plant the juicy red steak that is transphobia:

MM: I’m sure you’re aware but @RealPeerReview deals with this. The debate between Jordan Peterson and Nicholas Matte on The Agenda with Steve Paikin was absurd. Nicholas Matte, a professor of transgender studies at University of Toronto, claimed over the course of the discussion:

 

FINALLY. Some fucking specifics! Now we can engage in reality because at long last we have an actual frame of reference and we can do away with this absurd guessing game that Boghossian insists we play.

Boghossian replies:

PB: That is the most asinine, ridiculous, preposterous piece of ideological tripe. The only way someone could possibly believe that is they’ve been sufficiently indoctrinated by radical Leftists. I was once covering a lecture for a colleague and this topic came up. I said: “If sex were really a cultural construction, why don’t men menstruate? Why don’t men have babies? Why are there no women on professional football teams?” And an individual from the back of the class got up and started yelling, “Fuck you,” gave me the middle finger, shouted at me and stormed out of class.

At this point, I’m tempted to propose Siobhan’s Law of Atheism: The probability a person’s argument will be rational is inversely proportional to how much time they spend positioning themselves as an authority on rationalism.

Boghossian is wrong on several counts just with his opening statement.

“The only way someone could possibly believe that is they’ve been sufficiently indoctrinated by radical Leftists.”

Boghossian has some ‘splaining to do, then, on why the otherwise apolitical field of biological development gives us such observations as:

When genetics is taken into consideration, the boundary between the sexes becomes even blurrier. Scientists have identified many of the genes involved in the main forms of DSD, and have uncovered variations in these genes that have subtle effects on a person’s anatomical or physiological sex. What’s more, new technologies in DNA sequencing and cell biology are revealing that almost everyone is, to varying degrees, a patchwork of genetically distinct cells, some with a sex that might not match that of the rest of their body. Some studies even suggest that the sex of each cell drives its behaviour, through a complicated network of molecular interactions. “I think there’s much greater diversity within male or female, and there is certainly an area of overlap where some people can’t easily define themselves within the binary structure,” says John Achermann, who studies sex development and endocrinology at University College London’s Institute of Child Health.

I would hazard another guess that Boghossian isn’t referring to the fields of sex development and endocrinology when he characterizes critics of the Binary Sex model as “radical Leftists.” Yet that is nonetheless his explanation for Dr. Achermann’s position that “almost everyone is, to varying degrees, a patchwork of genetically distinct cells, some with a sex that might not match that of the rest of their body.”

Perhaps Dr. Matte might be referring to this observation, Mr. Rational? That “male” and “female” are legacies of observation based on genitalia produced in naked ignorance of human genetics and sex development because the ideas were introduced before those fields of study even existed? Now that we know better, it’s plainly false to say genitalia is the end-all be-all of biological sex, the way Boghossian implies by characterizing Matte’s statement as “tripe.”

Now we get to the hilarious part, fact-checking:

why don’t men menstruate?

They do.

Why don’t men have babies

They do.

Why are there no women on professional football teams?

There are. (For the other football, too)

And an individual from the back of the class got up and started yelling, “Fuck you,” gave me the middle finger, shouted at me and stormed out of class.

I’d be pretty upset if I paid thousands of dollars in tuition to receive instruction from someone with the acuity of a sack of hammers, too.

Next round of snide bullshit…

Disciplines such as gender studies don’t have a dialectic. They’re not truth seeking enterprises. They think they’ve already found they truth and exist to indoctrinate students. There is no dialectic at the core of those disciplines like there is in philosophy. And there are profoundly negative consequences for peoples’ views of reality — it untethers them from what’s real.

The tremendous irony of a man blissfully unaware of what actual human sex determination entails accusing “gender studies” as lacking a dialectic and being an enterprise that avoids truth. If the premise about discrete biological categories such as “male” and “female” is untrue, might that not unravel a fair number of observations made about gender under such paradigms?

“They think they’ve already found they truth and exist to indoctrinate students.”

BREAKING NEWS: EDUCATORS BELIEVE THEY ARE CORRECT, SEEK TO INSTILL THAT IN STUDENTS

What a fucking asinine thing to say. Of course educators think they’re correct. That’s why they’re teaching it.

“it untethers them from what’s real”

What’s “real” is that gender essentialism is founded upon an untrue premise and thus renders invalid any reasoning about the nature of gender predicated in the belief of discrete categories.

A friend of mine is a physician and she told me an interesting story. She had a guy to come in to see her who was born biologically female who transitioned to male. Who by every indication looked like a male — beard, the whole thing. And he came in because he had a yeast infection.

Does Boghossian build off this observation? No. It’s a flippant insert which is then promptly discarded. All I conclude is that yeast is not particularly concerned about whose vagina it infects, only that the environment is suitable.

Now you can go around denying reality all you want, but isn’t it funny that we only deny reality in regard to some things and not other things. Why don’t people deny reality in terms of the value of a currency? Why don’t people walk into a bank with a $10 bill and tell them that in their reality it equals 15 $5 dollar bills? Because people don’t believe this stuff. That’s why. This is not complicated. You just have to be honest. Don’t barter truth for hope.

First question: The fuck is with the yeast anecdote?

Now you can go around denying reality all you want, but isn’t it funny that we only deny reality in regard to some things and not other things.

Wait, the rationalist is now arguing that it is better to deny all reality than only some of it? Am I on acid?

Why don’t people walk into a bank with a $10 bill and tell them that in their reality it equals 15 $5 dollar bills?

Well, first of all, I’m sure someone has tried to do this, sincerely or otherwise. The reason it won’t work is that we’ve more or less allowed our governments to define the value of a dollar, which means our personal opinion on its worth is meaningless.

Because people don’t believe this stuff

Oh really? Earlier you made the claim:

But the problem with that is people already believe they’ve formulated their beliefs on evidence — that’s why they believe what they believe.

So which is it? Do people form demonstrably false opinions because they believe they have the evidence to substantiate it or do they not actually believe in demonstrably false opinions?

You lack internal consistency and you’re lecturing about internal consistency!

One of the first orders of business is that we need to completely defund gender studies departments. These places are toxic cesspools of misinformation pumping out dangerous, dangerous nonsense.

Yes, because your judgement on misinformation can clearly be trusted.

I don’t know how much more can be done to show that these “disciplines” are really a situation in which the emperor has no clothes. And that’s putting it charitably.

The fuck is Boghossian even saying?

Here’s what is surprising: with very few exceptions, and there are exceptions, Christians are very kind decent people all over the world. I do talks and we go out afterwards for drinks etc., and we talk with civility.

Citation needed. Hey! I’m just observing that if we’re going to argue with personal anecdotes that I can just as easily mention the guy who literally soapboxes on street corners shouting brimstone and hellfire at me every time I walk past him just because I’m… well, a lot of things.

And now, for some world-class irony, watch Boghossian pretend the extensive efforts to unseat evolution and those who teach it never happened:

The far Left in contemporary academia is not like this. These are viciously ideological and nasty people whose goal it is to shut down discourse and indoctrinate students. I think we’ve spent too much time on Creationism. The problem is less with creationism and more with radical Leftism. For example, if you’re a professor who teaches in the biological sciences, creationists have substantive disagreements with your work and they’ll try to demean it. But they’re not going to harass you or your family. They’re not going to try and get you fired. They’re not going to call you a racist, a sexist, a bigot, a homophobe.

Unholy shit, man.

For example, if you’re a professor who teaches in the biological sciences, creationists have substantive disagreements with your work and they’ll try to demean it. But they’re not going to harass you or your family.

Yeah they will.

They’re not going to try and get you fired.

Yeah they will.

They’re not going to call you a racist, a sexist, a bigot, a homophobe.

Yeah they will? (At least the nice ones do).

What the fuck man, how do you get away with saying this much bullshit in one paragraph?

Next:

The far Left have successfully managed to infiltrate our universities. A consequence: radical incivility and students who hold preposterous views of reality and think they’re better people as a result. One reason is because people go into ideological bunkers where they protect themselves from ideas. And this is a type of ideological convergence which strengthens and exemplifies their convictions. They’ve created “safe spaces” for themselves and anyone who persistently questions those becomes the target of a smear campaign.

This is less of an argument and more smashing open a jar of live gnats. Jesus cracker Christ, man, focus on something!

The far Left have successfully managed to infiltrate our universities.

WooooOOOOoooo *spooky fingers*

(Citation needed)

A consequence: radical incivility and students who hold preposterous views of reality and think they’re better people as a result.

I’m going to go out on a whim and point out that first positioning critical thinking as a moral imperative and then claiming to be a splendid example of it is a demonstration of thinking you’re better than people who don’t do it as a result.

One reason is because people go into ideological bunkers where they protect themselves from ideas.

Bunkers like this insistence that human sex determination is binary despite evidence to the contrary?

They’ve created “safe spaces” for themselves and anyone who persistently questions those becomes the target of a smear campaign.

Again, no specifics for a reader to actually comment on, fact check, or assess in any rational fashion.

I do, however, think there’s hope. Dave Rubin (@RubinReport), Joe Rogan (@JoeRogan), Christina Hoff Sommers (@CHSommers), Real Peer-Review (@RealPeerReview) and others, see who I follow on my Twitter (@PeterBoghossian), are fighting back against nonsense. They’re needed voices of clarity in a world where obfuscation is a virtue. And they’re making a difference.

There’s the face of Atheistic Rationalism, apparently. An endorsement of Christina Hoff Sommers and the rapid abandonment of rational principles because the precious Gender Binary is not supported by empirical evidence.

but the science says…

In essence, Boghossian’s argument is “I am good at the epistemology of theism, therefore my opinion on an entirely unrelated topic is valid.”

What a bunch of twaddle. Areo Magazine should be embarrassed they ever published it. I would say the same of Boghossian but I would anticipate–as has been the case with every other prominent atheist douchebro–that he has no shame.

-Shiv

 

For thousands of years, the faithful have honed proselytizing strategies and talked people into believing the truth of one holy book or another. Indeed, the faithful often view converting others as an obligation of their faith—and are trained from an early age to spread their unique brand of religion. The result is a world broken in large part by unquestioned faith. As anFor thousands of years, the faithful have honed proselytizing strategies and talked people into believing the truth of one holy book or another. Indeed, the faithful often view converting others as an obligation of their faith—and are trained from an early age to spread their unique brand of religion. The result is a world broken in large part by unquestioned faith. As an urgently needed counter to this tried-and-true tradition of religious evangelism, A Manual for Creating Atheists offers the first-ever guide not for talking people into faith—but for talking them out of it. Peter Boghossian draws on the tools he has developed and used for more than twenty years as a philosopher and educator to teach how to engage the faithful in conversations that will help them value reason and rationality, cast doubt on their religious beliefs, mistrust their faith, abandon superstition, and irrationality, and ultimately embrace reason....more

Paperback, 278 pages

Published November 1st 2013 by Pitchstone Publishing (first published January 1st 2013)

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