We are continuing to report about HOW atheist street epistemologists do what they do.
If this is the first time you’ve read anything in this series, we invite you to read these past articles when you have time. You may find the background helpful –
Street Epistemology: Basic Strategy
Street Epistemology: Basic Tactics, Part One
Street Epistemology: Basic Tactics, Part Two
Street Epistemology: Basic Tactics, Part Three
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
We are currently looking at Section 2.4 from the Complete Street Epistemology Guide (CSEG). In the last part of our series we looked at the claim of street epistemologists concerning what they view as “extraordinary claims” –
“You can use Street Epistemology whenever a truth claim is being made. However it is most useful for extraordinary claims, such as miracles and supernatural phenomena, including:
- Existence of one or more gods or immaterial persons (theism).”
The Existence of God or gods
Atheist street epistemologists view any claim of the existence of God or gods or immaterial persons as “extraordinary.” Why would that be a challenge to a theist?
“The interlocutor may give a justification for their belief that relies on an equally extraordinary claim, such as a specific miracle. In this case think of yourself as a foundation inspector. Work with the interlocutor to determine whether their beliefs are built on solid ground or shifting sand. Dig deeper into the foundations of the interlocutor’s belief system by asking, “What gives you confidence that X is true?” Keep digging until you reach a justification that is not based on something extraordinary. At that point you are ready to begin inspecting the quality of the foundation, determining the reliability of the methods that the interlocutor uses to know that the foundational belief is true.” The Complete Street Epistemology Guide 4.7
Here’s how we responded to this statement in the last part of our series –
“To say that something is rare and doesn’t happen often does not by itself make something an extraordinary claim. What we need to seek is trustworthy, corroborating evidence for any claim. Even the rarest of truth claims can be proven with ordinary evidence if ordinary evidence supports the claim. Why would we need to pass over an abundance of ordinary evidence that supports a supposed extraordinary truth claim and demand extraordinary evidence when ordinary evidence would give us what we need to make a reasonable decision about the claim? Is it possible that atheist street epistemologists require the separate category of extraordinary evidence because of a bias toward the supernatural? That’s what I did when I was an atheist and what I believe many, if not most, atheist street epistemologists are doing as well.”
God exists or He doesn’t; gods (little g) exist or they don’t. The process of determining the existence of a God or gods is a matter of investigating the available evidence, not some special category of “extraordinary” evidence that atheists won’t admit into evidence anyway.
Most atheists I am now communicating with and have communicated with through the years tell me there is no evidence for the existence of God. I used to say that when I was an atheist and now realize how wrong I was to say that.
I should have known better because of my work as a journalist. I had covered enough trials and hearings to know that all sides in a matter present evidence they believe supports their case, point, perspective, issue, etc. It’s about convincing a jury, judge, commission, etc. with the available evidence. However, I admit I didn’t use that knowledge when arguing with theists. I told them they had no evidence and thought I was pretty smart for coming up with that great response to their statements about God. I was wrong. Why?
Because there is evidence for the existence of God – lots of it. So, the question is not whether evidence exists but if it is convincing evidence I’ve been writing another series for FaithandSelfDefense.com called “Convince Me There’s A God.” For almost six years I’ve detailed the evidence I looked at as an atheist that eventually led me to believe in the existence of God and become a Christian.
I recently started presenting evidence for the reliability of the New Testament and the reality of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so it will take a few more years to complete that part of the series. I’m only listing the evidence that was available to me in 1971, when I conducted the investigation in answering atheist questions about why I became a Christian. I’ll start another series after “Convince Me” to look at the evidence for theism and Christianity that’s become available to investigate since ’71.
My main point is that there is an abundance of evidence for the existence of God. I’ve heard some people call it an “embarrassment of riches” because Christians have so much evidence available to support their truth claims.
So, let’s dig in to the atheist street epistemologist’s claim that Christians need “extraordinary evidence” to support a claim that God exists.
What would that “extraordinary” evidence look like?
“Dig deeper into the foundations of the interlocutor’s belief system by asking, ‘What gives you confidence that X is true?’ Keep digging until you reach a justification that is not based on something extraordinary. At that point you are ready to begin inspecting the quality of the foundation, determining the reliability of the methods that the interlocutor uses to know that the foundational belief is true.” The Complete Street Epistemology Guide 4.7
Isn’t that interesting. Atheists tell Christians that belief in God is an extraordinary claim that demands extraordinary evidence, but they will only accept a justification that is not based on something extraordinary. Does that seem illogical to you? It does, but is even more than illogical – it’s manipulative. They demand to see something they won’t accept if they see it. Either they don’t know what they’re saying or they do. Probably some of both within the atheist community.
The evidence is on the side of Christians, so we need to get over thinking we have to cower in a defensive position about the existence of God. We make a big mistake by handing over control of a conversation about God to atheists.
Cumulative Case & Best Explanation
Two of the primary areas we can talk about with atheists are the “cumulative case” and “best explanation.” The evidentiary process includes looking at all available evidence through the lenses of deduction, induction and abduction.
Deduction – “the deriving of a conclusion by reasoning; specifically : inference in which the conclusion about particulars follows necessarily from general or universal premises : a conclusion reached by logical deduction … Simply put, deduction—or the process of deducing—is the formation of a conclusion based on generally accepted statements or facts” (Merriam-Webster)
Induction – “inference of a generalized conclusion from particular instances : a conclusion arrived at by induction … it means forming a generalization based on what is known or observed.” (Merriam-Webster)
Abduction – “a syllogism in which the major premise is evident but the minor premise and therefore the conclusion only probable. Basically, it involves forming a conclusion from the information that is known.” (Merriam-Webster)
Think about the roots of each word. Deduction, induction and abduction are based on the Latin word ducere, which means “to lead.” The de in deduction means “from” and is used for accepted statements or facts. The in in induction means “to” or “toward” and is used for “lead to” a generalization. The ab in abduction means “away” and leads us to “take away” the best explanation we find during an investigation.
Investigative journalism uses all three in the process of developing coverage of a story or series of stories. I’m personally thankful to scores of police and sheriff’s detectives, and public and private investigators who took time during their investigations to help me understand how to process evidence and reach proper conclusions based on that evidence.
Cumulative case — observing and testing all available evidence and building a case based on the totality of the presented evidence
An example would be looking at all of the available evidence from science, history and philosophy concerning the existence of God or gods.
Best explanation — choosing the hypothesis that best explains the presented evidence
An example would be choosing the best explanation for the presented evidence from possible theories. That’s explanatory power.
Most of the investigations I undertook as a journalist were based on current cases – cases that were still fresh. I did get involved in some older cases and a few cold-case investigations, but certainly not as many as former atheist Jim Wallace. He was a cold-case detective in the Los Angeles area for many years and was one of the founding members of the Torrance Police Department’s Cold-Case Homicide Unit. Jim used his skills investigating the claims of theism and Christianity and became a Christian.
Understanding the process of cold-case investigation is helpful in learning how to investigate ancient historical events. Jim wrote – “Christianity could be defined as a ‘cold case’: it makes a claim about an event from the distant past for which there is little forensic evidence.” (Cold-Case Christianity, David C. Cook, 2013)
The cold-case approach works well because it was developed to deal with events that happened in the distant past that have little or no direct physical evidence and no living eyewitnesses. Here’s how Jim Wallace explains it –
“These cases are made by examining the nature of circumstantial evidence and assembling a convincing, cumulative circumstantial case … The tools used by Cold Case Investigators can be applied to the New Testament gospels to determine if the facts they represent are a true record of the life of Jesus.” Jim Wallace
I conducted my “cold case” investigation in 1971 and Jim conducted his in 1996, 25 years apart, yet we both came to the same conclusion. Why? Because we looked at the same evidence and used similar investigative techniques. I believe that can work for anyone who is willing to spend the time and energy to conduct a similar investigation.
In the next part of our series about the tactics of atheist street epistemologists we will look at how to talk with atheist and agnostics about evidence for the existence of God.