John Loftus has a lot riding on Peter Boghossian’s book. He gushes that “Dr. Peter Boghossian Seeks to Revolutionize Our Academic Institutions” and “Peter Boghossian is taking the world by storm” and Boghossian’s book will change our nomenclature” and “Boghossian is Very Serious; He’s a Crusader, a Radical, and I Like It!” At this rate Boghossian should have cured cancer and solved the energy crisis by June.
I, on the other hand, am somewhat less sanguine about the book. […] Okay, I think it’s atrocious. And I’ve been blogging on why, focusing thus far on Boghossian’s glaring ineptitude when it comes to providing serviceable definitions. (My critique of Boghossian’s mind-numbingly bad definition of agnosticism should be up in a day or two.)
So Loftus thinks Boghossian is the messiah. And I think he’s the author of a really, really bad book. You might be wondering when Loftus might step in and defend his buddy.
Well he did so earlier today in a comment responding to my article “Peter Boghossian’s Manual for Wasting Paper Part 5: Defining Atheism.” In that article I critique two of Boghossian’s definitions of “atheist”. I point out that the first definition entails that some people who believe God exists are atheists and some people who believe God doesn’t exist are not atheists. And, incredibly enough, that was the better of the two definitions!
So how does Loftus defend this man who will revolutionize our academic institutions, and take the world by storm, and change our nomenclature (and probably cure cancer and solve the energy crisis)? He writes:
Randal, before snapping at a straw man like you have done without using the principle of charity (a Christian tribute, correct?), in order to properly criticize Boghossian here you need to first try to understand what his definition seeks to do. Try reading through this article and figure it out yourself:
Here we see Loftus beginning by making a claim that I have critiqued a “straw man”. Loftus loves to pretend he’s an evidentialist but here, as usual, he makes claims without any evidence for them. If he believes I have critiqued a straw man, he should provide evidence to support his claim.
Next, he claims that I have violated the “principle of charity”. This charge is laughable given that Loftus himself evinces not a bit of charity when it comes to engaging his critics. For example, after writing a book with me and debating me on three occasions, he made this statement:
“Rauser is impervious to reason. When I engage him it’s to expose him as the culturally indoctrinated person that he clearly is. It’s to show to thinking people how badly he reasons because faith is unreasonable.”
This isn’t Loftus on a bad day. Rather, that’s how he regularly behaves, with rudeness and condescension. And yet the minute you criticize a word from his new favorite book, he starts bleating about the “principle of charity”.
And then there’s Loftus’ advice: “in order to properly criticize Boghossian here you need to first try to understand what his definition seeks to do.” I presume Loftus is appealing here to a general principle:
Loftus’ Principle: “in order to criticize properly a definition, one first needs to try to understand what the author of the definition intends to accomplish by it.”
I must say, I find this a most perplexing principle. After all, definitions are formal statements of the meaning and/or significance of a word or phrase. As for the author’s intention in providing a definition, there’s no mystery here. If an author presents you with a definition (rather than, say, a hyperbolic or humorous or ironic statement under the guise of a definition) then the author is intending to present an accurate formal statement of the meaning and or significance of the word and or phrase. A good definition is one that accurately conveys the meaning and/or significance of the word or phrase in question while a bad definition is one that fails to convey accurately this meaning and/or significance.
Consequently, if Boghossian was attempting to provide a definition of “atheist”, then he was intending to specify the meaning and/or significance of the word “atheist”. But as I pointed out, nobody defines “atheist” the way Boghossian defines it (i.e. as excluding many people who believe God doesn’t exist and including people who believe God does exist). Thus, his definition is bad and it deserves to be censured.
This much is clear: Loftus’ defense of Boghossian’s book is a fitting complement to it: They both stink.