Do your New Year’s Resolutions include creating atheists? Join Dr. David Cole for a discussion of Peter Boghossian’s 2013 book on how to do that and hear a Five-Minute Reflection from our own Bill Guse this Sunday, New Year’s Day. The doors of Somers Lounge on the campus of the College of St. Scholastica will open at 9:30 am and the formalities will begin at 10:00. The student cafeteria will not be available but, afterward, some of us will retire to a nearby eating spot to discuss what we’ve heard and to celebrate the beginning of yet another revolution around the sun.
A Controversial Author
According to his byline at the bottom of A Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian was expelled from the doctoral program in philosophy at the University of New Mexico. Instead, he did an Ed.D. at Portland State and lectured there for many years. His book was published by Kurt Volkan’s Pitchstone Publishing, which produces “books that promote secular principles, scientific literacy, humanist ideals, and liberal ethics,” according to its website. The success of this book launched Boghossian’s public career.
In 2017, he co-wrote knock-offs of Alan Sokal’s famous hoax article* and submitted them to open-access journals. Some were accepted and published, but the Institutional Review Board at his school banned him from doing further research. A recent review of this whole exercise said it actually “showed that in the long run, the scientific community will uncover fraudulent practices” (Lagerspetz, 2021).
Boghossian resigned last fall, citing Portland State’s lack of support and attempts to silence him–despite its having renewed his teaching contract every single year for over a decade (Powell, 2021). His book encourages readers to confront believers and show them that their faith lacks the support of any logical evidence: not a surprise to people familiar with the meaning of the word faith.
Nonetheless, Boghossian occupies a special place in our hearts–and not just because he is an avowed atheist. He has been going around town doing his Street Epistemology, which consists of repeatedly asking people to justify steps in their logic until they run out of reasons. Isn’t that what got Socrates into so much trouble? We applaud Peter’s common sense, his ridicule of political correctness, his willingness to go into prisons to advocate clear thinking, and his commitment to using logic to dismantle people’s deeply held (but ill-considered) beliefs.
The Institutional Research Board that sanctioned him was inundated with letters of support from Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Jonathan Haidt, and Jordan Peterson. They see Boghossian as a forward thinking iconoclast known for giving guest speakers, including everyone from flat-earthers to climate change deniers, a platform in his “Science and Pseudoscience” and “Critical Thinking” classes.
So, what do you think? Is he just a silly attention-seeking hack, or a modern day Socrates? Come and decide for yourself, this Sunday at 10:00 am.
- In 1996, NYU physics professor Alan Sokal read Higher Superstition (Gross & Levitt, 1994), which claimed that the some humanities journals would publish anything so long as it expressed the proper leftist ideology and quoted well known leftist thinkers. Sokal wrote and submitted a jargon-filled journal article that was nonsense and should have been recognized immediately and rejected. Instead, it was accepted by Social Text, a respected journal with knowledgeable editors such as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross.
Boghossian, P. G. (2013). A manual for creating atheists. Pitchstone.
Gross, P. R., & Levitt, N. (1994). Higher superstition: The academic left and its quarrels with science. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN: 9781421404875
Lagerspetz, M. (2021, March 1). The grievance studies affair project: Reconstructing and assessing the experimental design. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 46(2), 402–424. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243920923087
Powell, M. (2021, September 9). Longtime PSU instructor quits, citing harassment, lack of free speech. Oregon Public Broadcasting. https://www.opb.org/article/2021/09/09/longtime-psu-instructor-quits-citing-harassment-lack-of-free-speech/