There is something irresistibly beguiling about the spectacle of an educated person making what they believe to be grand pronouncements, that they seem to think ought to shake the core of some people's very being, when in fact they are saying very close to nothing at all. I was recently introduced to Peter Boghossian, professor of philosophy at Portland State University, via Sam Harris' posting a link to an interview with him in which he speaks about how faith claims have no place in a public, secular classroom. Something he seemed to think was a very controversial position, at least when presented to believers. Of course, in reality, such a claim is not enough to even arouse mild dissent from religious persons in America, the great majority of which have no interest in 'faith claims' being taught, or utilized in public classroom settings. Perhaps he's worried about the desire of some religious people to have Intelligent Design taught in science classrooms, but even if you're worried about such a thing, you aren't worried about 'faith' being taught in science class, you're worried about what you deem to be bad science being taught in science class. So even here, 'faith in the classroom' is a non-issue for any party involved; virtually no one anywhere desires such a thing.
But maybe this straw-man, this preposterous fear of believers desiring 'faith in the classroom' was a one-off thing, and I should be charitable and cut Professor Boghossian some slack. At that point in time, I did, but Philosophy News recently posted an article that reviews a recent lecture of his titled Jesus, the Easter Bunny, and Other Delusions: Just Say No!, where he essentially reiterates the argument from the earlier interview, only with the slight twist that faith claims not only aren't appropriate in a public classroom, but that they are actually delusional. "Alright", I said to myself "that's quite enough with the charitableness."
Not to put too fine a point on it, but from the interview and the summary of the lecture, it isn't at all clear that Professor Boghossian has any understanding at all of how faith functions for a believer i.e. do even believers themselves hold that "Faith" is the best way to investigate immanent material reality and draw the most reliable conclusions about it? No, so the fact that it isn't fails to disabuse a person of faith from anything whatsoever.
The articles of faith most believers hold are almost all about transcendent reality which is not directly accessible to empirical investigation, or are about empirical events (say, the resurrection), which are mostly only subject to historical investigation, and so the fecundity of empirical, scientific investigation of material reality tells us nothing about whether Faith-as-such is successful at apprehending these realities it actually purports to apprehend, or whether non-Faith -- which is Faith's actual competitor here, not science -- is preferable.
Boghossian's example of transubstantiation -- conceived of as the physical elements transforming physically into flesh and blood, which is a somewhat dubious interpretation -- is uninteresting because it merely demonstrates an article of faith that is subject to empirical, scientific investigation and which we can dismiss as bad faith, or an example of faith in something that isn't true. The history of science is just as chock full of ideas about reality which have proven to be false. If someone persists in holding them, in the face of facts to the contrary, by all means call out that person as ignorant or obstinate, whether it's a scientific belief that is called into question or a matter of faith. None of this has any bearing on the question of whether faith-as-such is reliable, though, anymore than the existence of bad scientific theses throughout history is evidence that science is unreliable.
In addition to all of this, most systems of 'faith' are not completely insulated from the influence of facts or reason; indeed, many systems -- certainly most Christian systems -- are responsive to these things, where applicable, in much the same way that science is.
The more intractable problem for Boghossian's position is that people of faith don't have faith in faith-as-process, they have faith in a particular God, particular tenets, particular traditions, particular institutions etc. And Boghossian's particular critique proceeds as if believers do have faith in faith-as-a-process-for-producing-true-beliefs, which believers do not. Believers in the Christian God, for example, will readily admit that many religions, and non-religious systems of belief, invoke faith at various points (secular systems might not call it 'faith', but at some point they must appeal to some unverifiable 'first principles', which is substantially no different). Christians would merely contend that this is always a misguided -- or at least, in the case of philosophical first principles, incomplete -- faith that will not produce true beliefs. Hence it isn't faith itself that believers elevate, worship, obey, but rather the object of their faith which they believe is the source of their true beliefs, simultaneously remaining completely aware that faith-as-process is very often unreliable and un-illuminating. What is important -- from the believer's perspective -- is having a faith properly oriented, and there is no dispassionate, objective standard by which we can say that a faith properly oriented does not produce true belief, because we have no dispassionate, objective, empirical criteria for demonstrating the truth or falsity of (mostly) claims about transcendent reality.
So, as a believer, I can readily concede that faith-in-faith-as-the-process-most-well-suited-to-reliably-determining-truths-about-immanent-material-reality is misguided, and still hold that Faith in the Christian God of the Bible (a person, not a process) is perfectly warranted and uniquely accurate at apprehending the true nature of reality (that is, the most crucial, spiritual, transcendent level of reality, not scientific facts about immanent reality).
In the same way, a believer can completely affirm various critiques of "religion" in general and still advocate for a particular religion, without contradiction. Thus said critiques of "religion" in general are very often vacuously true, in a way that could never bother actually religious people, who don't subscribe to "religion" but rather subscribe to a particular religion. In the same way, this critique of "faith" could never trouble a person of faith, even if they were to concede that the critique was entirely valid.
If it were just a simple category error of this sort which undermines his entire point, and it wasn't accompanied by such condescending, self-righteous bombast, or if it were a one-time thing, I probably wouldn't even bother addressing it. But this combination is particularly worthy of derision and sharp correction.