Street Epistemologists – On Guard 4
In our previous post about street epistemologists, we saw that atheists are taught to ‘avoid facts’ when talking with theists. It’s part of what they call ‘intervention strategies.’ Street epistemologists believe that ‘faith,’ belief in God, is a ‘virus’ that must be removed from the ‘faithful.’ Street epistemologists are taught that theists experience ‘severe doxastic pathologies’ and need a cure. That cure, they believe, will come through an ‘intervention’ cloaked as a ‘discussion.’
I say ‘cloaked’ because street epistemologists are advised not to reveal their atheism during the intervention with a theist. They are also told that what they will be doing through the ‘intervention’ will be a great ‘help’ to the ‘delusional’ theist.
‘Your discussions with the faithful are a genuine opportunity for you to help people reason more reliably and feel less comfortable pretending to know things they don’t know. They also present an opportunity for you to further develop a disposition conducive to anchoring beliefs in reality.’ (A Manual For Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian, Pichstone Publishing, 2013, Chapter 4)
Let’s take a closer look at how street epistemologists are using their techniques for talking people out of their faith and read some examples.
Target Faith, Not Religion.
Street epistemologists are taught to target the ‘foundation’ of theism – ‘faith.’ Boghossian believes while other atheist leaders have done a good job ‘exposing the fraudulent nature and dangers of religion,’ it’s now time to move the conversation forward by ‘refocusing our attacks primarily on faith.’ He advocates and trains street epistemologists to ‘target faith, not religion’ during their interventions.
Boghossian also trains street epistemologists not to target ‘God.’ That may sound a bit strange coming from an atheist, but here’s his reasoning.
‘Trying to disabuse people of a belief in God (a metaphysical conclusion that comes about as a result of a faulty epistemology) may be an interesting, fun, feel-good pastime, but ultimately it’s unlikely to be as productive as disabusing people of their faith … The faulty reasoning process–the problem–is faith.’ (Chapter 4)
In our recent posts about street epistemology and epistemologists, I mentioned God many times. That’s understandable since I’m a Christian apologist. Here are some of the comments and replies from street epistemologists to my posts. Watch for how they might attack my ‘faith’ or ‘way of knowing’ rather than my ‘religion’ or ‘God.’
“Hello Mark, I must admit I’m having trouble deciphering what you’re saying here. On the one hand you say that you are continually searching for truth, yet on the other you claim to have found it in Jesus. I may be mistaken, but have never met someone who says that they’ve found something who is continuing to look for it. Please explain.
Also, I’m not asking that you pretend not to know something you feel you know, only that you agree that it’s possible to be mistaken about something one thinks one knows.
In the absence of a response to my previous question about the fallible nature of human beings, I’ll assume your answer to be sunshine and proceed accordingly.
Assuming that humans are by their very nature fallible and imperfect, how might you go about determining if you were mistaken?
It has been said that the most potent truths are vulnerable to disproof, yet not disproven. How is your belief in God vulnerable to disproof?”
“This is an interesting question Mark. How does a person determine that their faith is not another part of their inherent fallibility? You have stated that we need systems to help us overcome fallibility, how effective might faith be at performing this function?Are not millions of people using it to reach very different conclusions?
If you were mistaken In believing in God as a result of the human fallibility that you and I have agreed is inherent, how would you go about discovering this?
How are you and I to check our math and eliminate mistakes using faith?”
“‘Strong confidence based on evidence,’ is not faith. If you had evidence to increase a confidence level of anything, you can believe in it. I will say, however, that it also depends on the significance of the matter. For example, I have have confidence that evolution is a fact. I don’t claim to be 100%, because that would be difficult to prove, but every additional piece of evidence increases my understanding of how evolution works. Science also makes predictions of what should be next, but most importantly, how new data could falsify the theory. Can the existence of God do that? If so, please show me.”
“Imagine if your assertion in confidence in evidence being the bases for faith. I don’t call that faith,
I call that justified belief…I can’t justify throwing evidence in there because it weakens the argument. So, if you did have evidence that would prove the existence of God, to everyone on earth, without having to believe first, that would be AMAZING. Don’t you think so? If not, you don’t think God is as important as I do. His existence would change the world. You couldn’t keep it to yourself.
Now, lets also assume, God was Jesus. Everyone else that doesn’t believe in him is wrong, and you need to have the most powerful nation on earth come together to show the world that we are correct. “Here is the evidence” we would all say. They might not come willingly, but through the scripture and evidence based epistemology, they really wouldn’t have a choice in what is true. We would know true things, and just try to show them. Also, WE WOULDN’T NEED FAITH. You might scream “HALLELUJAH” and I might too.
Again, let us see the evidence, pretty please.”
“I have another comment to add. I do not argue that there might be a God that is both spaceless and timeless. If there is this God, what is the evidence that you claim to know that the God of the bible is true and not one of the thousands of other gods throughout history. Secondly, how is consistent accounts in the bible different from historical accounts in any other sacred text. Christianity claims to be the one true religion, but so does every other religion. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey supports historical facts, but we aren’t searching for a petrified Medusa, mermaids, or praying to Zeus. I would venture that the belief in Christianity comes from the claim that Jesus existed, did miracles and was resurrected. The problem I have is that it has as much believability as the accounts of Muhammad and the winged horse, or Joseph Smith’s golden tablets. each of these examples are INTERNALLY coherent, in that they can explain themselves within the belief system, however, their foundation rests on faith (belief without evidence).
How do we jump from confidence to truth? I can be highly confident in something that is completely untrue. How do you know you are not mistaken? If I am mistaken, I would like to revise my beliefs. I don’t claim to know there isn’t a god, I don’t have sufficient evidence to support the claim for any god.”
“Imagine being ready to start from” I don’t know” at any given time.
This is what is required by the scientific method. At any given time something we consider fact could be disproved and we would have to start over from square one.
Would you be willing to explore this state of being with me?
I have a proposition for you that I wonder if you might find interest in. Could we both start from the same place in the search of truth? Might we both start by saying “I don’t know” and see what we discover?
I will say “I don’t know that God doesn’t exist” and you say “I don’t know that God exists” and we’ll go where the evidence leads us.
How does this sound to you? Thanks.”
“What if I told you that one moment of reason makes me happier than ten years of prayer, bible study, mission work and seeking God’s will ever could?
I’m curious to know how you’ve determined faith to be so reliable, aren’t you curious to know why not believing makes me so happy?”
Answers to Objections
Every Christian should be prepared to answer the objections of non-believers (Acts 22:1; Philippians 1:17; 1 Peter 3:15). Our responses will come from personal knowledge, understanding and experience acquired through study and practice, as well as our relationship with God through worship, prayer and obedience. Because our knowledge, understanding and experience are unique to each one of us, our answers will also be unique. Please keep that in mind as I share some of my answers to objections. Think about how you might respond to similar objections in your own unique way.
“Discovering truth in Jesus Christ doesn’t mean the ‘truth’ journey is finished. In fact, it’s just begun.
Example: as children we learn the ‘truth’ about the number 1. 1 apple, 1 mother, 1 father, 1 sister, 1 house, 1 car, etc. We learn that adding two 1’s together (1+1) gives us 2 things (1+1=2). We learn another truth that if you have 2 things and remove 1 of the things (2-1), you are left with 1 thing. The number 1 is foundational to adding and subtracting. Denial of the number 1 will not help us better understand numbers since it is the foundation of the numerical system.
Believing that Jesus Christ is ‘truth’ is the foundation of spiritual knowledge. Denial of Jesus Christ will not help us better understand the spiritual world since He is the foundation of the spiritual world.
Yes, human beings are fallible. Thus, the need for disciplines and systems that help us overcome fallibility to grasp infallibility. Searching for ‘infallibility’ (the inability to be wrong) in the physical world doesn’t lead to a ‘find’ of anything infallible. If nothing in the physical world is infallible, then everything and anyone can be wrong. If we are surrounded by nothing but ‘fallibility,’ then how do we know when something is right? If anything could be wrong, then how do we recognize ‘right?’
Even as I would not deny the number 1 being necessary to an understanding of numbers, I would not deny Jesus Christ as being necessary to an understanding of truth. Having been an atheist, I understand how that sounds to atheists and why we often have difficulty finding common ground to discuss what is true.
Who said that ‘the most potent truths are vulnerable to disproof’ and what was the context? It’s interesting that you believe a ‘truth’ could be disproved. Truth is what is true, so how can what is true be proved to be untrue? By what criteria? Do you have an absolute measure for what is true? Can what is true become ‘untrue?’ If so, how? Thanks!”
“I used the math example as a demonstration of how we build on truth discovered. Once I know about the number 1 being part of the foundational structure of addition and subtraction, I don’t need to regularly return to that truth to determine whether it is still true. Once we know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, we don’t need to regularly return to that truth to determine whether it is still true.
“Let’s say for instance that two different people are using the same method of adding one plus one and are coming up with two different answers, how could we go about determining which one of them is using the correct method?”
If two different people are using the ‘same’ method of adding one plus one, how would they come up with two different answers? I would think that one of them was using a ‘different’ method or had ‘redefined’ the terminology.
“Many different people are using the same method of faith and coming up with very different results.”
Please give me examples of different people using the ‘same’ method of ‘faith’ who are coming up with ‘very different’ results? I think what we’ll find is that the people used ‘different’ methods or ‘redefined’ terminology, but I’d like to see your examples to know for sure.
“Also, if I’m reading the Bible correctly Jesus says, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life. If a person claims to have found THE truth, how could they then be still searching for it?Is truth a fixed place that can be arrived at?”
You are reading the Bible correctly. That is what Jesus said. People who believe what Jesus claimed about Himself, that He is THE truth, are not searching for ‘another’ truth or a ‘different’ truth. Jesus is THE truth. Just like the math example of building numerical knowledge based on the foundation of the ‘number 1,’ people who believe Jesus Christ is THE truth build on that foundation to discover more about truth. If I want to know the answer to 50+50, I’m not turning my back on the foundation of the number 1. In fact, I’m using that foundation to help answer my question about 50+50.
I believe ‘truth’ is a fixed place at which people can arrive. The number 1 is a foundational truth of mathematics. Jesus Christ is foundational truth of life. Both are truths in a ‘fixed’ place. We build on those foundations to learn more truth.
“How does a person determine that their faith is not another part of their inherent fallibility? You have stated that we need systems to help us overcome fallibility, how effective might faith be at performing this function?Are not millions of people using it to reach very different conclusions?”
People first must know that their system for discovering truth works (e.g. truth is discovered). If their system does not work, then they are wasting their time trying to discover truth. They need to analyze their system (systems analysis) to make sure their system works as intended. That means taking their system apart and putting it back together. It’s a basic principle of investigative journalism and many other disciplines.
Based on the way you have postulated your questions concerning ‘faith,’ it appears you think that everyone who believes in ‘God’ used the same method to come to that conclusion. Is that correct?”
“I remember sitting at the large RCA console in the radio studio and telling my audience that I was going to challenge God to prove Himself to be real by sitting in a chair across from me and answer my questions. I waited several seconds (dead air on radio feels like forever), then told the audience that God had not shown up and that He must be on vacation or under the weather. I laughed and opened the phone lines to a mob of people who wanted to tell me I was going to burn in hell for what I had just done. What I didn’t expect was for God to send someone to be a guest on my show a year later who would begin the process of presenting evidence that would lead to my quest for the truth about the existence of God. I wish I still had a tape of that show and others I did as an atheist.
I was skeptical during my investigation into the evidence for theism and Christianity because I didn’t believe in the supernatural. I looked at all the evidence I could find and asked every question I could think of to get to the truth, but I didn’t let go of my disbelief in the supernatural. That was my presupposition and as an investigative reporter I knew that presuppositions were dangerous to discovering the truth. I had to be open to the possibility that the supernatural existed. I didn’t believe it existed, so that was something I had to struggle with during the investigation.
The journey I’m writing about in ‘Convince Me There’s A God’ is a look at the investigative process that led me to believe in God’s existence. Because of my presupposition that the supernatural didn’t exist, I looked at the evidence from a skeptical perspective. What I found through the study of archaeology and history was that the Bible was a credible compilation of ancient documents. That brought me to the life of Jesus Christ. Even though the ancient records indicated that a man named Jesus lived in Israel during the 1st century AD, I didn’t believe He did anything supernatural. It was after following the various biblical and extra-biblical historical evidences concerning Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that the real possibility of the supernatural began to take shape. If Jesus rose from the dead, the other miracles attributed to Him were not out of the realm of possibility. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then, as Paul wrote, the Christian worldview fails.”
“The starting point for my belief was when all my questions were answered. I started months earlier from the position of ‘I don’t believe.’ It later became ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure’ as my investigation continued.
One of the people to whom I asked many questions about evidence asked me if there was any ‘reason’ why I shouldn’t believe in Jesus Christ. I thought about that for a bit and realized I could not think of any ‘reason’ not to do just that. The answers I had received to my investigative questions were reasonable and that started my trust in the evidence I had seen.
The process I use to determine that the person standing in front of me exists is to believe my eyes. The process I use to determine that a man who lived two thousand years ago walked on water is to believe the evidence. If a man who lived two thousand years ago and claimed to be the Son of God was raised from the dead and was seen by hundreds of witnesses before ascending into the sky, then something like walking on water would certainly be in the realm of possibilities.”
“I also have found happiness in the continual search for truth. However, my search is based on the Truth of Jesus Christ and not on something that is not known. Basing one’s life on truth creates an exciting foundation for discovering more truth at a deeper level. As Jesus said, ‘you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ I have found great freedom in knowing the truth. It has opened a vast gold mine of knowledge and wisdom to investigate. As the Bible says, ‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.’ The combination of ‘deep diving’ the well of God’s Word and investigating the life we are living is a wonderful classroom and laboratory.
You asked me to meet you at the crossroads of uncertainty in order to proceed. I am very interested in continuing our conversation. However, I cannot pretend not to know something I know. I cannot be uncertain about what I am certain. I can move forward with you from my certainty to explore evidence, but not uncertainty. Is that acceptable to you? Thanks!”
What are your thoughts about the methods and techniques of street epistemologists? Are you and your children prepared to counter their ‘intervention?’ If not, then let’s keep training.
We’ll look even deeper next time in Street Epistemologists – On Guard.