Boghossian’s book evinces one of the clearest examples of indoctrination that I have yet encountered in atheist literature. One of the hallmarks of indoctrination (as I explain in my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think) is found in the categorization (and marginalization) of all opinions that dissent from the in-group in terms of mental or moral deficiency. In short, the indoctrinator secures the ideology by claiming that anybody who knowingly dissents from it is either cognitively deficient or morally deficient.
Rarely does one find this position articulated with the kind of brashness that one finds in Boghossian’s book. In the section “Immune to Street Epistemology?” he addresses the question of those who remain unpersuaded by the machinations of the brazen “street epistemologist”. He writes:
“This section will unpack the two primary reasons for this appearance of failure: either (1) an interlocutor’s brain is neurologically damaged, or (2) you’re actually succeeding. In the latter case, an interlocutor’s verbal behavior indicates that your intervention is failing–for example, they’re getting angry or raising their voice, or they seem to become even more entrenched in their belief. Such protests may actually indicate a successful treatment.” (51)
Note the two options Boghossian invokes to explain interlocutor resistance to the wiles of the street epistemologist. Either the person is brain damaged or he/she is indeed being persuaded, but is refusing to admit it.
This bare dichotomy conforms quite neatly to the above-mentioned pattern of indoctrination: attribute resistance to cognitive or moral deficiency. The resistance in the latter case — “getting angry”, “raising their voice” — reflects the moral deficiency of those who are resistant to truth.
Rarely, however, does one find the pole of cognitive deficiency stated with such unadorned brazenness. Incredibly, Boghossian goes even further:
“In instances of damage to the brain, no dialectical intervention will be effective in eliciting cognitive and attitudinal change. These and other conditions like some strokes, intracranial tumors, or Alzheimer’s disease affect the brain and are beyond the reach of nonmedical interventions. In short, if someone is suffering from a brain-based faith delusion your work will be futile.” (52)
Based upon the content of this book, I am overwhelmingly confident that any “therapeutic intervention” Boghossian might attempt on myself would end badly. I would not be persuaded by his “street epistemology”. Moreover, my resistance wouldn’t be an immoral refusal to admit Boghossian’s success. According to Boghossian, this would leave but one explanation for my resistance to his intervention: I must be brain damaged, i.e. suffering a brain-based cognitive deficiency akin to a stroke or intracranial tumor.
Like I said, it is truly rare to find a systematic attempt to indoctrinate readers this brazen. Never once does Boghossian consider the blushingly obvious possibility that a person might decline the therapeutic intervention of his street epistemologist for some legitimate reason such as:
(1) they find the street epistemologist to have spurious definitions of terms like “faith” and “atheism”
(2) it is apparent that the street epistemologist is unable to reason his way out of a paper bag
(3) the street epistemologist evinces signs of indoctrination
(4) the street epistemologist fails to provide sufficient defeaters for the grounds one has for their religious beliefs
Yet (1)-(4) provides a partial list of the real reasons why many folks like myself would remain resistant to the evangelistic entreaties of Boghossian’s street epistemologist. There are indeed options other than brain damage and immoral intransigence.
So then I look to the list of well known atheists that have endorsed this book: Victor Stenger, Richard Carrier, Guy Harrison, John Loftus, Dan Barker and Richard Dawkins. This disappoints me deeply because I would never endorse a book of Christian evangelism that attributed all evangelistic resistance to the brain damage or sin of the non-Christian. And yet these individuals endorse Boghossian’s invocation of the same indoctrinational categories in defense of atheism. Assuming that all these individuals read the book, it must be that they are in broad agreement with Boghossian’s categories.
This leads me to a disturbing conclusion. A Manual for Creating Atheists is not so much the problem as a symptom of the problem. This kind of brazen indoctrination only gets written, published, and widely endorsed because there is already a receptive audience that is open to embracing it. Like the contractor who pulls back the drywall to reveal extensive mold in the walls, so Boghossian’s book reveals the extensive indoctrination already present within the atheist/secular/skeptic community. If there is one redeeming value in Boghossian’s book, it is the way it effectively conveys the extreme degree of indoctrination already present within the atheist community, and the need for change.