We have looked at the HOW and WHY of street epistemology in previous reports and are currently looking their tactics. You can click here to read a basic report before reading further. It is an introduction to basic tactics, so that’s a good place to start. This second part will be more in-depth.
You may also find it helpful to read about the history of atheist street epistemology in our free Ebook, Street Epistemologists ‘On Guard’.
I’m using four primary sources for this part of our report –
- A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian
- Complete Street Epistemology Guide: How to Talk About Beliefs (Last Update: 10 May 2016)
- Street Epistemology videos
I learned early on in my journalistic career about the power of ‘sound bites.’ That’s what we call direct interviews in television news. They’re called ‘actualities’ in radio and ‘quotes’ in print journalism, but it’s basically the same thing – hearing people speak in their ‘own voice.’ I plan to do a lot of that in this series because hearing atheist street epistemologists speak ‘in their own voice’ carries more weight than paraphrasing what they said.
Context is also vital. Pulling quotes ‘out of context’ to make someone say what you want them to say is called ‘cherry picking quotes’ and is wrong. Also known as ‘selective hearing and reporting,’ it’s unfair to the readers and the people being quoted. That’s why I shared the four primary sources with you. You can check the quotes I will share with you in the full context of the book, online guides, and videos from the primary street epistemology sources.
I tell you this for two main reasons:
- I want you to have confidence that what you’re reading is true. If you don’t believe me, check it out.
- Atheists and atheist street epistemologists I’ve communicated with for years often ‘cherry pick’ quotes from Christians or about Christianity to fit their atheist agenda. They often leave out the context and sometimes even get the quotes or attribution wrong. The more you understand their tactics, the better you’ll be able to refute their arguments and present a strong case for Christianity.
Ready? Here’s their first point in guiding fellow atheists in how to do street epistemology –
“The term ” Street Epistemology ” (SE) originates in Dr. Peter Boghossian’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists (AMFCA). In the book, Dr. Boghossian describes how people often use faith as an epistemology — that is, as a way of coming to knowledge and justifying their beliefs. His central theme is that unreliable epistemologies, such as faith, are used to arrive at potentially harmful false beliefs. Because faith-based belief systems typically encourage or require adherents to spread the belief system, he uses the metaphor of “virus of the mind” to describe the effects faith has on people. Faith gains traction by presenting itself as a reliable method, akin to trust, by presenting reasonable doubt as an epistemological failing.
While the authors of this guide were inspired by AMFCA to practice SE, we have since encountered a wide range of claims and epistemologies — not always religious or faith-based. In this guide we do not use “virus” or “intervention” metaphors because we are considering not only faith used as a way of knowing, but all ways of knowing and all kinds of beliefs. Some ways of knowing may indeed turn out to be reliable enough to justify the belief.” The Complete Street Epistemology Guide How to Talk About Beliefs
Notice that the creator of street epistemology views Christianity as a “virus” and recommends ‘interventions’ for Christians. You can read that in his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists.’
“Your new role is that of interventionist. Liberator. Your target is faith. Your pro bono clients are individuals who’ve been infected by faith. Street Epistemologists view every conversation with the faithful as an intervention. An intervention is an attempt to help people, or ‘subjects’ as they are referred to in a clinical context, change their beliefs and/or behavior.” p 110
Notice also that the authors of The Complete Street Epistemology Guide were ‘inspired’ by Boghossian’s book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, but the authors of the ‘Guide’ chose not to use ‘virus’ or ‘intervention’ metaphors. That’s a tactic, so don’t be fooled. The atheist street epistemologists I’ve spoken with still believe we theists carry the ‘faith virus,’ but they don’t want to use the term because of its negative connotations.
Let’s continue –
“Street Epistemology is a movement to apply the tools of philosophy in everyday conversations in order to encourage people to use reliable ways of forming beliefs. While professional philosophers may publish articles and books, anyone who values truth can engage friends, family, community members, etc. in respectful dialogues about how beliefs are known to be true.
The goal is to encourage ourselves and others to examine the methods we use to judge the accuracy of truth claims, and ultimately to improve the reliability of our epistemology. While people may alter conclusions as a result, that is not the express goal. As Dr. Boghossian himself writes, “the core of the dialogue is not changing beliefs, but changing the way people form beliefs” [AMFCA, p72]. Neither participant should fear being persuaded into holding a false belief so long as a high standard for justification is sought. If anyone realizes that they have used an unreliable method to arrive at some belief, how they use that insight is entirely up to them. They are never pressured to accept any specific belief or to act against their own best interests.”
That has a nice ring to it, but is it the ring of truth?
Peter Boghossian wrote this in his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists –
“This book will teach you how to talk people out of their faith. You’ll learn how to engage the faithful in conversations that help them value reason and rationality, cast doubt on their beliefs, and mistrust their faith. I call this activist approach to helping people overcome their faith, ‘Street Epistemology.’ The goal of this book is to create a generation of Street Epistemologists: people equipped with an array of dialectical and clinical tools who actively go into the streets, the prisons, the bars, the churches, the schools, and the community–into any and every place the faithful reside–and help them abandon their faith and embrace reason.”
Do you see any disconnect between what the street epistemology guide authors and Peter Boghossian wrote about what they’re doing? I do.
“The goal is to encourage ourselves and others to examine the methods we use to judge the accuracy of truth claims, and ultimately to improve the reliability of our epistemology. While people may alter conclusions as a result, that is not the express goal. “
“This book will teach you how to talk people out of their faith … The goal of this book is to create a generation of Street Epistemologists: people equipped with an array of dialectical and clinical tools who actively go into the streets, the prisons, the bars, the churches, the schools, and the community–into any and every place the faithful reside–and help them abandon their faith and embrace reason.” A Manual for Creating Atheists, p 20
There is a huge disconnect, so which is it? Guide or Boghossian? It’s both!
Street epistemologists have adapted and evolved. That’s part of the SE playbook. Atheism is based on theories of adaptation and evolution, so changing tactics to fit the need is to be expected.
Boghossian and street epistemologists believe they use –
“intelligence, reason, rationality, thoughtfulness, ingenuity, sincerity, science, and kindness to build the future; not the 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, p 22
Boghossian wrote that atheist street epistemologists do more than –
“just tear down fairytales, comforting delusions, and imagined entities. She offers a humanist view … Let’s help people develop a trustfulness of reason and a willingness to reconsider, and let’s place rationality in the service of humanity.” A Manual for Creating Atheists, p 23
Though their methods adapt and evolve, it doesn’t mean that their core doctrine has changed. Don’t be fooled.
Let’s look now at a few other points from the SE Guide listed earlier –
“SE dialogues work toward mutual agreement about the reliability of different ways of assessing whether or not a belief is true or likely to be true, without devolving into debate. As a Street Epistemologist, you start from a position of ‘doxastic openness’ in which you acknowledge that the other person’s position may be correct.”
Sounds nice on paper, but I haven’t witnessed that yet. The word “doxastic” is defined as “
Boghossian wrote this on page 46 of his book –
“The only way to figure out which claims about the world are likely true, and which are likely false, is through reason and evidence. There is no other way.” p 46
I agree with Boghossian! We check out truth claims by using reason and evidence.
Boghossian then quotes from James Randi under the title of The Danger of Faith –
“No amount of belief makes something a fact.” p 46
Again I agree! But there is a problem with that claim.
Chapter 4 of Boghossian’s book is titled “Interventions and Strategies.” Part I is about Interventions. Part II is about Strategies. Guess what the first strategy is? ‘Avoid Facts’
Boghossian just talked about the importance of reason and evidence and quoted James Randi about how “no amount of belief makes something a fact,” then begins his section on strategies with ‘Avoid Facts.’ Am I missing something here?
Boghossian started his section about avoiding facts with this quote from Joe Keohane –
“Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite … when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact they often became more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts … were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotics, facts could actually make misinformation stronger.”
If that isn’t strange enough, here are Boghossian’s first words on the subject of avoiding facts following Keohane’s quote –
“People dig themselves into cognitive sinkholes by habituating themselves to not formulate beliefs on the basis of evidence. Hence the beliefs most people hold are not tethered to reality … Thus, it is of little use to bring in facts when attempting to disabuse those in the precontemplative stage of their faith-based beliefs. If people believed on the basis of evidence then they wouldn’t find themselves in their current cognitive quagmire.” p 117
Boghossian seems to believe that “facts” are not evidence. That’s interesting since definitions of the word ‘facts’ include – “a thing that is indisputably the case, something that has actual existence, something that actually exists, reality, truth, a thing that is known or proved to be true.”
The definitions of ‘evidence’ include – “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid, anything that you see, experience, read, or are told that causes you to believe that something is true or has really happened.”
Sounds like ‘facts’ and ‘evidence’ are the same thing.
Here’s a look at ‘evidence’ from a legal perspective – “Methods and rules that guide and govern the establishment of a fact before a court, collectively called the law of evidence.”
Interesting. The ‘law of evidence’ include methods and rules that guide and govern the establishment of a ‘fact’ before a court.
Evidence helps establish a fact ‘a fact.’ So, what’s the problem about discussing ‘facts’ when you have evidence to support them as true?
Just so you know it – street epistemologists are trained to not talk with you about ‘facts.’ They don’t want to deal with what actually exists, reality, truth, a thing that is known or proved to be true. Facts do not work in their favor, so they’re going to stay as far from facts as they can.
That can’t be true! Certainly Dr. Boghossian would never want to remove evidence and facts from an honest discussion about truth and reality!
In case you think I may be taking Peter Boghossian out of context or cherry picking a quote, here’s how he says he trains beginning street epistemologists –
“When I teach beginning Street Epistemologists how to help rid the faithful of their affliction and anchor their beliefs in reality, one of the most difficult strategies to get across is: do not bring particular pieces of evidence (facts, data points) into the discussion when attempting to disabuse people of specific faith propositions. Many rational, thoughtful people think that somehow, magically, the faithful don’t realize they are not basing their beliefs on reliable evidence–that if they were only shown solid evidence then voila, they’d be cured! This is false. Remember: the core of the intervention is not changing beliefs, but changing the way people form beliefs–hence the term ‘epistemologist.’ Bringing facts into the discussion is the wrong way to conceptualize the problem: the problem is with epistemologies people use, not with conclusions people hold … The introduction of facts may also prove unproductive because this usually leads to a discussion about what constitutes reliable evidence. This is a reasonable and important issue, but one not often encountered in the context of a Street Epistemologist’s intervention.” pp 117-119
Does that cause you any concern? It should. A primary strategy of street epistemologists is to not deal in evidence or facts. They want no part of it. They have other plans to ‘disabuse’ the faithful of their belief in God and they have nothing to do with facts or evidence.
“You should be willing to revise your beliefs if this turns out to be the case. Ideally, it becomes increasingly clear to both of you whether or not the methods can be relied upon to lead one to the truth.” Complete Street Epistemology Guide: How to Talk About Beliefs
I hear what street epistemologists are saying, but I’ve never seen any of them revise their beliefs – at all – none. I base that on talking with street epistemologists personally and watching their videos. I’ve seen street epistemologists in obvious positions of having no way to respond to Christian evidence, but still hold on to their beliefs. Their methods, tactics, strategies failed them, yet they held tenaciously to their atheism.
I do agree with their statement that “it becomes increasingly clear to both of you whether or not the methods can be relied upon to lead one to the truth,” but the problem has been that while their method could not be relied on to lead them to truth concerning atheism, they continued to be atheists.
“You may use Street Epistemology in dialogue because you value truth and because you desire to help yourself and others use methods that are less likely to produce false beliefs. You can expect either party’s confidence or beliefs to change as a result of such dialogues. Realizing you have been using an unreliable method may lead you to re-examine your beliefs, alter your confidence, or even renounce a belief having deemed it unlikely to be true. By holding true beliefs about reality on matters of practical consequence, we can all make better choices for our lives and for our communities.” Complete Street Epistemology Guide: How to Talk About Beliefs
I seriously question whether they ‘value truth’ for the same reasons already mentioned.
I do agree with this statement – “By holding true beliefs about reality on matters of practical consequence, we can all make better choices for our lives and for our communities.” The problem, though, is they continue to hold false beliefs about reality and won’t budge on that. They say they are prepared to ‘re-examine’ their beliefs, ‘alter’ their confidence, and ‘renounce’ a belief having deemed it unlikely to be true, but actions are more powerful than words.
I say that as a former ‘strong and mocking’ atheist who finally looked at the evidence for Christianity and did ‘re-examine’ my beliefs, did ‘alter’ my confidence, and did ‘renounce’ my atheism after deeming it unlikely to be true. I’m not asking any atheist street epistemologist to do something I haven’t done.
We will continue our in-depth look at the tactics of street epistemologists in our next report.