Street Epistemologists – On Guard 11
First, an understanding of why the need for ‘faith defense.’
“Street Epistemology is a vision and a strategy for the next generation of atheists, skeptics, humanists, philosophers, and activists … Enter the Street Epistemologist: an articulate, clear, helpful voice with an unremitting desire to help people overcome their faith and to create a better world–a world that uses intelligence, reason, rationality, thoughtfulness, ingenuity, sincerity, science, and kindness to build the future; not a world built on faith, delusion, pretending, religion, fear, pseudoscience, superstition, or a certainty achieved by keeping people in a stupor that makes them pawns of unseen forces because they’re terrified.” A Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian, Chapter 1, pg. 22, Pitchstone Publishing, 2013
Peter Boghossian and many atheists who agree with him are part of a growing number of street epistemologists committed to talking people ‘out’ of their belief in God. As Boghossian told fellow atheist Sam Harris – “My primary goal was to give readers the tools to talk people out of faith and into reason.” (Sam Harris Blog)
The problem with that statement is the atheist belief that ‘faith’ is based on something other than ‘reason.’ Christianity, for example, is based on evidence and a reasonable belief in the power of that evidence. Atheists don’t agree with that statement, but their disagreement doesn’t make the statement less true. Any statement that is true is true no matter who doesn’t believe it is true. That is the power of logic and reason.
Atheist Jerry Coyne is a big fan of Boghossian’s book:
‘Up to now, most atheists have simply criticized religion in various ways, but the point is to dispel it. In A Manual For Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian fills that gap, telling the reader how to become a ‘street epistemologist’ with the skills to attack religion at its weakest point: its reliance on faith rather than evidence. This book is essential for nonbelievers who want to do more than just carp about religion, but want to weaken its odious grasp on the world.” Sam Harris Blog
Notice what Coyne, Boghossian and other atheists believe about religion (specifically Christianity). They believe Christianity’s weakest point is ‘its reliance on faith rather than evidence.’ I always find that a bit amusing because the Christian ‘faith’ is founded on evidence. Many former strong atheists, including myself, became Christians because of the strong evidence for Christianity. Belief in God and Jesus Christ is both reasonable and logical.
The Five Steps of Faith Defense
We have introduced the concept of Five Steps of Faith Defense that come from the world of Self Defense.
There’s one more ‘step’ left: Be Quick.
Step 5 – Be Quick
Students in a self-defense class learn they have less than five seconds to mount an effective defense against an aggressive attack. Knowing all of the four steps to self defense leading up to an actual attack are of no use unless the response is quick. All of the hours of training in self defense come to the ultimate test during a real attack. An effective physical response to a physical attack will usually happen in the first three seconds of an attack. Someone trained well in self defense can strike/kick an attacker multiple times while throwing them to the ground in three seconds or less. If necessary, the defender can follow up with a devastating second and even third wave of self defense movements if the first wave doesn’t complete the mission of stopping the attacker.
So, how do we teach the concept of ‘quickness’ in Faith Defense?
- Gain control of the discussion, if possible.
Understanding the ‘Hard’ Attack
Street epistemologists (atheists) will use a number of techniques to control the conversation from the beginning. Atheist techniques often include ‘swarming’ and ‘steamrolling.’ That’s where they throw so many accusations or objections at the Christian worldview that the Christian is not able to respond to any particular point the atheist is making.
A Christian who is aware, prepared and ready can counter ‘swarming’ and ‘steamrolling’ by simply stopping the attack and calmly requesting that they discuss one point at a time. The ‘key’ is to move quickly:
Street epistemologist – ‘You Christians have no evidence, there’s nothing true in the Bible, it’s all made up, a bunch of legends and fairy tales, god doesn’t exist, Jesus never lived, you don’t have one shred of evidence to prove that Christianity is true, I can’t believe you would fall for that trash …’
Christian – “Please .. I’d love to talk with you about this. Let’s take one of your objections about Christianity at a time and discuss the evidence for each one.’
Street epistemologist – “Christianity doesn’t have any evidence, that’s what I’m trying to tell you, it’s all lies, the Bible is based on corrupted texts written by people who lived hundreds of years after Jesus, and Jesus wasn’t a real person any way, he’s a myth based on the dying and rising gods of Greece and Rome …’
Christian – “I’d love to talk with you about the evidence for the life of Jesus Christ. Let’s pick one of your objections and talk about that, then we can move on to the next thing.”
It’s at that point it will become obvious whether the street epistemologist is interested in ‘discussing’ evidence for the Christian worldview or just wants to ‘rant.’ If the atheist is agreeable to talking about one point at a time, you may be able to have a respectful and beneficial discussion.
- If you are not able to gain control of the discussion, leave the door open for future discussion.
A street epistemologist who isn’t interested in really ‘discussing’ Christianity now may be interested in the future. Leave the door open to talk at another time. That’s especially important if the atheist is a family member, friend or someone at work or school. Treat them the way you’d want to be treated: with respect and consideration.
Understanding the ‘Soft’ Attack
Another technique of street epistemologists is called ‘opening windows to aerate closed minds’ (Street Epistemology.com). The basic techniques include:
- Meet him (person of ‘faith’) at his window
- Speak softly, in a non-threatening fashion
- Make him talk about the reasons why he believes faith is the pathway to truth
Street epistemologists are taught that if the ‘person of faith’ has not opened his or her heart to them, they should do these three specific things:
- Active Listening: Listen to his side and make him aware you’re listening
- Manifest Empathy: Get an understanding of where he’s coming from and how feels. Tell him you know he wants to be decent person, as everybody else, you included.
- Establish a Rapport: Empathy is what you feel. Rapport is when he feels it back. He starts to trust you.
Street epistemologists are told that ‘Only then you’ve earned the right to proceed with the next steps of the invention. Don’t hurry him. Don’t skip any steps. Be confident that the time will come when he will feel the need to not have that piece of glass between him and you.’
That leads to the next steps in the street epistemology system:
- Preach by example
- Mirror his (person of faith) speech
- Use the Socratic method
In self defense terms, we would call this a ‘soft attack.’ Because it is a softer method of attacking a person’s Christian worldview, Christians often don’t recognize it as an attack and don’t move quickly to a ‘faith defense’ position.
Street epistemologists will move through several attack ‘stages’ on their way to leading Christians to doubt or question their beliefs. They often include a series of questions as part of their attack. Here are some of them as taught at Street Epistemology.com.
- Why are you saying that?
- What exactly does this mean?
- How does this relate to what we have been talking about?
- What is the nature of …?
- What do we already know about this?
- Can you give me an example?
- Are you saying … or … ?
- Can you rephrase that, please?
The next attack stage might be in the area of ‘probing assumptions’ to get the Christian to think about presuppositions and unquestioned beliefs. You might hear questions like these:
- What else could we assume?
- You seem to be assuming … ?
- How did you choose those assumptions?
- Please explain why/how … ?
- How can you verify or disprove that assumption?
- What would happen if … ?
- Do you agree or disagree with … ?
Another attack stage is to probe the ‘rationale’ for their beliefs. Those questions might include:
- Why is that happening?
- How do you know this?
- Show me … ?
- Can you give me an example of that?
- What do you think causes … ?
- What is the nature of this?
- Are these reasons good enough?
- Would it stand up in court?
- How might it be refuted?
- How can I be sure of what you are saying?
- Why is … happening?
- Why? (keep asking it — you’ll never get past a few times)
- What evidence is there to support what you are saying?
- On what authority are you basing your argument?
Another attack stage is to question a Christian’s viewpoints and perspectives. Examples might include:
- Another way of looking at this is …, does this seem reasonable?
- What alternative ways of looking at this are there?
- Why it is … necessary?
- Who benefits from this?
- What is the difference between… and…?
- Why is it better than …?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of…?
- How are … and … similar?
- What would … say about it?
- What if you compared … and … ?
- How could you look another way at this?
Street epistemologist then might probe implications and consequences. Questions of the questions might be like these:
- Then what would happen?
- What are the consequences of that assumption?
- How could … be used to … ?
- What are the implications of … ?
- How does … affect … ?
- How does … fit with what we learned before?
- Why is … important?
- What is the best … ? Why?
You might also hear these questions about questions. It’s another attack stage.
- What was the point of asking that question?
- Why do you think I asked this question?
- Am I making sense? Why not?
- What else might I ask?
- What does that mean?
Street epistemologists are trained to ‘remain focused on faith and never succumb to the temptation of hurrying the process by trying to win the argument in an adversarial fashion.’ (Street Epistemology.com) They are looking for that moment when a Christian is ‘suddenly struck by doubt.’ Street epistemologists are taught to ‘say nothing’ while ‘the seed of doubt and reason has been sown in his brain.’
What happens next?
‘Now, it is up to him to decide how he wants to react to the embarrassment of being wrong. If he asks for help, help him. Otherwise, share an anecdote where you surmounted the awkward feeling of realizing a mistake. Whatever happens, successful or not, always end the intervention on a positive note. Thank him for allowing you to revise your belief system and/or learn something new.’ Street Epistemology.com
Responding to Attacks
The correct response to any attack, whether hard or soft, is to be ‘quick.’ Be quick to understand that you are under attack and quick to respond to the attack. We’ll look at some of the best methods for responding to the attacks of street epistemologists next time in our special series, Street Epistemologists – On Guard.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.