This is a summary/study guide of sorts for myself and anyone else interested in Street Epistemology.
*I am learning to be more tolerant and less judgmental through reading this book. The title is slightly misleading. This book is not about evangelizing. The goal is not to convert anyone into an atheist. The idea is to teach critical thinking skills which will move a person from a faith-based epistemology to a reason-based one. Hopefully this will further move them towards skepticism and possibly atheism. But the goal is not to render them godless, but rather, faithless. This book is a must for dyed-in-the-wool atheists who want to develop the skills needed to interact with the faithful in more loving, tolerant, and productive ways. While at the same time, helping teach them to think more critically. A long overdue book surely to become a classic in the atheist cannon.
Excerpts from book...
Chapter One: Street Epistemology
Street Epistemology is a vision and a strategy for the next generation of atheists, skeptics, humanists, philosophers, and activists. Left behind is the idealized vision of wimpy, effete philosophers: older men in jackets with elbow patches, smoking pipes, stroking their white, unkempt beards. Gone is cowering to ideology, orthodoxy, and the modern threat of political correctness.
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.
The Street Epistemologist is a philosopher and a fighter. She has savvy and street smarts that come from the school of hard knocks. She relentlessly helps others by tearing down falsehoods about whatever enshrined "truths" enslave us.
Vision for Street Epistemology...
Hard-boiled means that you look at things straight on. You play it straight. You don’t sugarcoat it, you don’t play it cute, you don’t pull your punches. You look at the cold, hard truth. You lay things out truthfully. That’s your healthy skepticism. You become the investigator—you have to be your own private investigator—you’re the detective—so you better learn how to handle yourself.
The immediate forerunners to Street Epistemologists were “the Four Horsemen,” each of whom contributed to identifying a part of the problem with faith and religion. American neuroscientist Sam Harris articulated the problems and consequences of faith. British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explained the God delusion and taught us how ideas spread from person to person within a culture. American philosopher Daniel Dennett analyzed religion and its effects as natural phenomena. British-American author Christopher Hitchens divorced religion from morality and addressed the historical role of religion. The Four Horsemen called out the problem of faith and religion and started a turn in our thinking and in our culture—they demeaned society’s view of religion, faith, and superstition, while elevating attitudes about reason, rationality, Enlightenment, and humanistic values.
The Four Horsemen identified the problems and raised our awareness, but they offered few solutions. No roadmap. Not even guideposts. Now the onus is upon the next generation of thinkers and activists to take direct and immediate action to fix the problems Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens identified.
A Manual for Creating Atheists is a step beyond Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett. 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 disabuse them of their faith.
Chapter Two: Faith
Old definition: belief without evidence.
New definition: pretending to know things you don't know.
Common definition: One who does not believe in god(s).
New way to define atheist: An atheist does not assert--claim to know--that there is no god(s). She instead states that, "There’s insufficient evidence to warrant belief in a divine, supernatural creator of the universe. However, if I were shown sufficient evidence to warrant belief in such an entity, then I would believe.” "The atheist does not claim, “No matter how solid the evidence for a supernatural creator, I refuse to believe.”
Do not use the term agnosticism. It is archaic and meaningless.
Faith claims are knowledge claims.
Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that focuses on how we come to knowledge, what knowledge is, and what processes of knowing the world are reliable. Conclusions one comes to as the result of an epistemological process are knowledge claims. A knowledge claim is an assertion of truth.
Faith: pretending to know things you don't.
God works in mysterious ways.
I am pretending to know that god works in mysterious ways.
My faith is true for me.
Pretending to know things I don't know is true for me.
Why should people stop having faith if it helps them get through the day?
Why should people stop pretending to know things they don’t know if it helps them get through the day?
Faith and hope are not synonyms.
One can hope for anything or place one’s trust in anyone or anything. This is not the same as claiming to know something. To hope for something admits there’s a possibility that what you want may not be realized. For example, if you hope your stock will rise tomorrow, you are not claiming to know your stock will rise; you want your stock to rise, but you recognize there’s a possibility it may not. Desire is not certainty but the wish for an outcome.
A recent move by apologists is to avoid the use of the word “faith” entirely, and instead to use the word “trust.” Given that the word “faith” is inherently problematic, I think this is an excellent strategy. The counter to this, however, is identical: “Without sufficient evidence how do you know what to trust?” If the response is, “There’s sufficient evidence,” then your reply should be, “Then you don’t need faith.”
Chapter Three: Doxastic Closure, Belief, and Epistemology
There are five reasons why otherwise reasonable people embrace absurd propositions: (1) they have a history of not formulating their beliefs on the basis of evidence; (2) they formulate their beliefs on what they thought was reliable evidence but wasn’t (e.g., the perception of the testament of the Holy Spirit); (3) they have never been exposed to competing epistemologies and beliefs; (4) they yield to social pressures; and (5) they devalue truth or are relativists.
The word “doxastic” derives from the Greek doxa, which means “belief.” I use the phrase “doxastic closure,” which is esoteric even among seasoned epistemologists and logicians, in a different and less technical way than it’s used in philosophical literature. I use the term to mean that either a specific belief one holds, or that one’s entire belief system, is resistant to revision.
Doxastic openness is the beginning of genuine humility. Awareness of ignorance is by definition doxastic openness. Awareness of ignorance makes it possible to look at different alternatives, arguments, ways of viewing the world, and ideas, precisely because one understands that one does not know what one thought one previously knew. The tools and allies of faith—certainty, prejudice, pretending, confirmation bias, irrationality, and superstition—all come into question through the self-awareness of ignorance.
Chapter Four: Interventions and Strategies
• Develop nonadversarial relationships
• Help clients think differently and understand what could be gained through change
• “Meet clients where they are”17 and don’t force a change
• Express empathy
• Go with resistance
• Tap into internal change behavior
Chapter Five: Enter Socrates
The Socratic method has five stages: (1) wonder; (2) hypothesis; (3) elenchus, (4) accepting or revising the hypothesis; (5) acting accordingly.
A hypothesis is never proven to be true. After a hypothesis survives repeated iterations in the elenchus, this only means that to date it has withstood a process of falsification. For example, through a window by a lake, you’ve seen one million white swans; nevertheless, this doesn’t mean all swans are white. No matter how many swans you’ve seen, this does not make the hypothesis that all swans are white true, it only means the hypothesis hasn’t been shown to be false (yet).
Chapter Six: After the Fall
Helping people, especially children, to be comfortable with not knowing, yet at the same time encouraging the development of curiosity, of wonder, and of a zest to explore the world, is a crucial and indispensable undertaking. New books and lines of literature about how to make children comfortable with not knowing and how to develop reliable epistemologies must be written, widely circulated, and read ubiquitously. To start we must create the value of being comfortable with uncertainty, particularly with regard to life’s ultimate questions. In other words, not only do we need to devalue an existing paradigm (faith), we also need to revalue an underappreciated one (reason).
Chapter Seven: Anti-Apologetics 101
There are only eleven defenses for faith. They fall into these three categories:
Faith is True
• Why is there something rather than nothing?
• You can't prove there is no god.
• I don't have enough faith to be an atheist.
• My faith is true for me.
• Science can't explain quantum mechanics.
• You have faith in science.
Faith is Useful
• My faith is beneficial to me.
• Life has no meaning without faith.
• Why take away faith if it helps get people through the day?
To argue that people need faith is to abandon hope, and to condescend and accuse the faithful of being incapable of understanding the importance of reason and rationality. There are better and worse ways to come to terms with death, to find strength during times of crisis, to make meaning and purpose in our lives, to interpret our sense of awe and wonder, and to contribute to human well-being—and the faithful are completely capable of understanding and achieving this.
Atheism is Corrosive
•Without faith society would devolve morally.
Chapter Eight: Faith and the Academy
Epistemological Relativism: That any way to come to knowledge is as good as any other.
Contemporary Academic Leftism: How Criticizing Bad Thinking Became Immoral: Classic and Social Liberalism evolves into Contemporary Academic Leftism
In the twentieth century, social liberalism evolved further still, with its dominant strain becoming contemporary academic leftism.1 This current manifestation of liberalism is a skeleton of former incarnations and is best described not by what it is, but by the parasitic ideologies that have given that skeleton its corrupted form: relativism, subjectivity, tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism, respect for difference, and inclusion.2 These invasive values betray classical and social liberalism’s history of standing for basic freedoms and fighting all forms of tyranny.
Historically, there’s nothing intrinsic to liberalism that necessarily weds it to the ideologies currently piggybacking on it. The fact that there is no necessary connection between the classical forms of liberalism and the values that currently fall within the sphere of contemporary academic leftism is reason for hope—hope that contemporary academic leftism can be decoupled from these external, invasive values, which undermine the emancipatory hope offered by classical and social liberalism, to return liberalism to its historical and intended roots.
Epistemic relativism is either coupled with the idea that any process one uses to form beliefs is either just as good as any other process—a kind of epistemic egalitarianism—or with the idea that processes cannot be judged because one process is always judged by another process.
Yet another tenet of contemporary academic leftism is the belief, the value, that ideas have dignity. When one believes dignity is a property of ideas and not just a property of people, then criticizing an idea becomes akin to criticizing a person. In other words, morally, just as one shouldn’t criticize physical attributes common among sub-Saharan Africans, or among Scandinavians, so too one should not criticize ideas, faith traditions, and so forth.
Granting ideas dignity has two consequences. The first consequence is that criticizing faith traditions becomes viewed as a form of hate speech—like saying the “N” word. This kind of political correctness further buttresses faith from dialectical criticism. Most people won’t criticize faith out of fear people will think not only that they’re bad people, but also that they’re mean-spirited, angry, bigoted, prejudiced, insensitive, hateful people.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the failure of contemporary academic feminism. Feminism is currently married to, or rather cohabitating with, academic leftism. Consequently, feminism has absorbed the same exogenous values that liberalism absorbed. Thus, there has been a tragic, catastrophic, and almost wholesale failure of contemporary academic feminism to speak out against the unbridled, ruthless misogyny of the Taliban, the horrific and wide-scale domestic violence suffered by women in Papua New Guinea, the sexual and physical violence common among Aboriginal women and girls in Australia, and the list goes on, and on, and on.
If one were to abstract feminism from values like tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism as applied to the realm of ideas, etc., what would the results be? Would American feminists be more likely or less likely to criticize the treatment of women in other cultures? The answer is obvious. Feminism’s silence can be understood because it’s been tainted by a litany of invasive values such as multiculturalism and relativism.
Contemporary academic leftism is also faith’s unwitting ally. Contemporary academic leftists have bullied criticisms of faith off the table.12
Multiculturalism and associated ideologies grant “diverse” epistemologies—especially faith processes—immunity from criticism. Multiculturalism buttresses faith-based processes from criticism by conflating race with culture, and by making attacks on faith and reasoning processes ethically synonymous with attacks on race, gender, and other immutable characteristics.
In order to reason well, one needs to be able to rule out competing or irrelevant alternatives. But one cannot do this if one believes that there’s no way to make an objective judgment about those alternatives.
Chapter Nine: Containment Protocols
Just as the body is exposed to toxins so is the mind.
Faith is an unclassified cognitive illness disguised as a moral virtue. Each of us dreads the thought of becoming ill, and we take whatever measures necessary to regain our health. Not so with the faith virus. People infected by faith feel gratitude and appreciation for their affliction. But even beyond gratitude, part of the difficulty in dislodging the faith virus is, as Dennett has argued, that it’s perceived as a moral virtue. People infected with faith don’t think of it as a malady, but as a gift, even a blessing.
It’s disturbing that many people who have no faith are untroubled by the possibility of their own infection. The reasons for this are complex and possibly extend into the domain of neuroscience, but a large part of the problem is that faith is intertwined with morality. People infected by the faith virus believe having faith is important, and resolute belief in something—anything—is a virtue.
n the short term, one specific verbal technique to help contain faithbased justifications is through the “Adult Table” response. One can sit at the Adult Table if one has evidence in support of a position. Absent evidence, the claimant needs to go to the Kid’s Table. For example, if one thinks homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children because they’re more likely to beat them, this is an empirical claim and the tools of science can be used to ascertain whether or not this is true (it’s not). Make empirically verifiable claims, even if the conclusions are ugly, and you get a voice in the conversation—you’ve earned the right to sit at the Adult Table. Wave an ancient text and expect others to cede to its authority, or claim faith as a justification for your beliefs—then you need to sit at the Kid’s Table. Those at the Kid’s Table can talk about anything they’d like, but they have no adult responsibilities and no voice in public policy.
The Adult Table metaphor is best used with leaders of faith communities who are accustomed to deference. If you’re fortunate enough to engage imams, mullahs, rabbis, pastors, ministers, clerics, swamis, gurus, chaplains, shaman, priests, witch doctors, or any other faith leaders, be blunt and direct when demanding evidence for their claims. Continued failure to produce evidence should be met with, “You are pretending to know things you don’t know. Go to the Kid’s Table, this is a conversation for adults.”
“We fear clear, honest, blunt dialogue, but what we ought to fear are stupid and dangerous ideas, because while blunt and honest dialogue might be offensive to some, stupid and dangerous ideas can be fatal to all of us.”—Matt Thornton