What does success look like to an atheist street epistemologist?
We’ve been looking at the tactics of street epistemology for almost six years – since Peter Boghossian published his Manual for Creating Atheists. Boghossian’s stated purpose for writing the manual was to teach atheists how to “talk people out of their faith” (A Manual for Creating Atheists, Chapter 1).
So, do atheist street epistemologists view success if and when they are able to talk someone out of their faith in Christ? If so, would an unsuccessful encounter be when they were unable to talk someone out of their faith in Christ? Or is it more nuanced than that?
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
Part 3.1.5 of the CSEG (Complete Street Epistemology Guide) is titled – Know what success looks like –
“Take care to view your interactions as a potential learning experience for all parties, and not as some sort of ‘conquest’. Instead, strive to ‘sow seeds of doubt that will blossom into ever-expanding moments of doxastic openness’ [AMFCA, pg 51]. Think of your questions as a pebble in the interlocutor’s shoe that will cause them to revisit the conversation all day long.
Ask yourself : In holding this dialogue, what do I want for myself, for the interlocutor, and for the relationship? What would a successful dialogue look like?”
Notice that the CSEG refers to Boghossian’s book (AMFCA) as foundational to atheist street epistemologists’ beliefs and practices. Read A Manual for Creating Atheists and you will discover what’s behind atheist street epistemology.
So, what is it that atheist street epistemologists want to do when they meet a Christian?
“But the Street Epistemologist doesn’t just tear down fairytales, comforting delusions, and imagined entities. She offers a humanistic view … A Manual for Creating Atheists offers practical solutions to the problems of faith and religion through the creation of Street Epistemologists–legions of people who view interactions with the faithful as clinical interventions designed to abuse them of their faith.” (AMFCA, Chapter 1)
Atheist street epistemologists view their conversations with Christians as “clinical interventions designed to abuse them of their faith.” Make no mistake about what you may hear from atheists to the contrary – they have one purpose: to abuse Christians of their faith. That means talking them out of their faith.
So, how do atheist street epistemologists view success from these “clinical interventions”? It would seem from what we read in the Manual for Creating Atheists that success is when Christians are talked out of their faith. Does that happen the first time an atheist street epistemologist approaches a Christian for a “clinical intervention”?
Instant conversion from Christianity to atheism is not necessary for atheist street epistemologists to view their “intervention” successful. Using the CSEG 3.1.5, here are success points for them –
- View your interactions as a potential learning experience for all parties, and not as some sort of “conquest”.
- Strive to “sow seeds of doubt that will blossom into ever-expanding moments of doxastic openness”.
- Think of your questions as a pebble in the interlocutor’s shoe that will cause them to revisit the conversation all day long.
Sowing seeds of doubt. That’s how atheist street epistemologists view success with their “interventions.” If they can get a Christian to doubt something about what they believe (e.g. existence of God, reliability of Bible, reality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ), they will view that “intervention” as a success. However, what if the Christian does not evidence any doubt in their faith during the “intervention”?
“Redefine what ‘success’ means. Even if you do not achieve any detectable change in your interlocutor’s confidence, you may still have planted some seeds in their mind that they will ponder later. Your interaction may have dispelled previously held, negative opinions about atheists for example.” CSEG 5.2
That means atheist street epistemologists will view just about any conversation (intervention) with a Christian as a success – because they redefine what success means to cover any outcome.
Evaluating the “Intervention”
The CSEG manual lists this process for atheist street epistemologists to go through after talking (clinical intervention) with a Christian –
“Reflect on your performance. Consider follow-up dialogues that can go much deeper than a one-time chat. Also, remember to take care of yourself.
Try reflecting on the dialogue and noting the details soon afterwards. If you recorded the audio or video of your dialogue, consider waiting a day to watch or listen to the recording. The distance helps you reflect on the dialogue from a fresher perspective. Here are some important items to document after a dialogue:
Basic data about the dialogue
● Date, time and location
● Name of the interlocutor
● Classification of belief or belief system investigated (e.g., “Christianity”, “UFOs”,”Energy Healing”)
● Foundational belief and ways of knowing
● Before-and-after confidence
Summary of the dialogue
● Important questions that you asked and the interlocutor’s responses
○ Their method(s) for justifying the belief
○ How they first came to believe it
○ Their definition of faith (if discussed)
● Turning points and important moments in the dialogue
● How you ended the dialogue
● The interlocutor’s feedback regarding the dialogue
● Whether rapport was good and what affected it
● Specific strategies you used (defeasibility, outsider test of faith, etc)
● Explanation of what worked well (or not) about each of your major questions.
● Indicators of change in the interlocutor: Becoming aware of unreliable way of knowing, willingness to revise beliefs, contemplating change
● Goals for follow-up dialogues with the interlocutor
● Recommendations for dialogues with future interlocutors
Continue the relationship
There’s no requirement that you maintain contact after your talks, but if you wish to do that, consider exchanging contacts with the interlocutor and setting up a lunch, dinner, coffee or other occasion to follow up with them and continue the dialogue. If the interlocutor is contemplating their beliefs and ways of knowing, you can offer to stay in touch and be available to talk with them. Prepare well if you are planning to meet with an interlocutor again. Review your last meeting notes or recording. Brainstorm appropriate follow-up questions and possible directions to explore next. If you posed a parting thought, ask if they have any new ideas based on that. If the interlocutor is someone you already see on a regular basis, consider approaching sensitive topics incrementally over time. Pay close attention to maintaining rapport, as there are greater consequences if the dialogue goes poorly in an established relationship than with a stranger.” CSEG 8
The fact CSEG uses the term “clinical intervention” is important to note. They are following the lead of their leader, Peter Boghossian. Boghossian includes an entire chapter on the subject of interventions. Here are some of the highlights that demonstrate what atheist street epistemologists are doing when they talk with Christians –
“This chapter will provide you with tools and intervention strategies to begin your work as a Street Epistemologist. It covers basic principles of effective dialectical interventions designed to help people abandon their faith … 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’re referred to in a clinical context, change their beliefs and/or behavior. Subjects start with a faith-based belief or a faith-based epistemology. You administer a dialectical treatment with the goal of helping them become less certain and less confident in their faith commitment (or perhaps even cured of faith entirely.) You will, in a ver real sense, be administering a dialectical treatment to your conversational partners in a similar way that drug addicts receive treatment for drug abuse … You will not be treating drug addicts–you will be treating people who have been infected with the faith virus.” A Manual for Creating Atheists, Chapter 4
Boghossian and his ‘legion’ of atheist street epistemologists believe Christians are mentally ill.
Let me repeat that: Boghossian and his ‘legion’ of atheist street epistemologists believe Christians are mentally ill.
They believe Christians are infected with a “faith virus” and need atheists to help them get rid of it.
“Even if my interactions are only three or four minutes, they still present an opportunity to help someone jettison faith and live a life free of delusion.” Peter Boghossian, A Manual for Creating Atheists
Street Epistemology Series
If this is the first time you’ve read anything in this series, we invite you to read these articles when you have time. You may find the background helpful –
You may also find it helpful to read about the history of atheist street epistemology in our free eBook, Street Epistemologists ‘On Guard’.
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