Flipping the Script on Atheists’ Street Epistemology

Peter Boghossian, who’s an outspoken atheist, popularized his method of street epistemology in 2013 to shake up the views of theists. His followers (such as Anthony Magnabosco) often film themselves walking around college campuses with webcams strapped to themselves. When they encounter “unsuspecting” “interlocutors,” they follow seven steps. The intention of this article is to show how the seven steps can be applied to atheists or agnostics. In other words, if a theist (preferably a Christian) reverses the roles, s/he can potentially inspire atheists to re-examine their positions.

Step 1: Build a rapport with your interlocutor. Rather than debating someone, which is likely to find both parties on edge, street epistemology (SE) works well when both parties are comfortable. Ask for a first name and try to find something in common. Spend a few minutes getting to know your interlocutor rather than jumping into their deepest guiding foundations right away.

Step 2: Identify the claim. Ask them what they believe in. Do you believe in God or a higher power?

Step 3: Confirm the claim. Ask them if they consider themselves agnostic (they don’t know if God exists) or atheist (they do not believe in God OR they lack a belief in God).

Step 4: Clarify definitions. Ensure that you fully understand your interlocutor’s position.

Step 5: Identify a confidence level. Ask them how confident they are in their position. On a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being 100% confident, where do you consider your belief in atheism (or agnosticism, etc.).

Step 6: Identify the method they used to come to that confidence level. What method did you use to determine your confidence is — %?

Step 7: Ask questions that reveal the reliability of the method.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Ask your interlocutor some of the bigger questions in life, which reference our origins, morality, meaning, purpose, and destiny. Why are we here? What is our purpose? How did we get here? Do you think this life is all there is? These questions cannot be answered by atheism or agnosticism, so your interlocuter will be answering “I don’t know” to most, if not all questions.

Step 8: Offer your interlocutor a lifeline. What is the best explanation of our origins, meaning, purpose, morality, agency-seeking nature, spirituality and destiny?

Origins

Scientists have supported the Big Bang in cosmology, which suggests the universe has a start date of time, space, and matter. The Kalam cosmological argument is as follows:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe (time, space, matter) began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

(Let’s take that to the next level – going beyond the Kalam)

  1. The cause must be timeless, immaterial and omnipotent.

 Meaning and purpose

Numerous global studies have found that we ALL seek purpose and desire to do something greater than ourselves. As an example, Kinnear, Kernes, and Dautheribes (2000) consulted the religious texts and sacred writings of seven major world religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism, and Islam) to identify whether any universals could be identified. They further consulted atheist and humanist organizations, along with the United Nations. They found these commonalities:

  1. Commitment to something greater than oneself
  2. Self-respect, but with humility, self-discipline, and acceptance of personal responsibility
  3. Respect and caring for others (i.e., the Golden Rule)
  4. Caring for other living things and the environment

Morality

In addition to the study by Kinnear et al (2000) listed above, we have other studies suggesting universals in values and moral imperatives. For example, Dahlsgaard, Peterson and Seligman (2005) examined the ancient texts from eight religious traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Athenian philosophy, Taoism, Confucianism, Islam, and Hinduism). The authors found six recurrent values: courage, temperance, justice, transcendence, humanity, and wisdom. Westermarck (1906) identified universals in the approval of honesty, charity, mutual aid, and generosity, along with the prohibition of theft and homicide. Henrich and colleagues (2005) examined fifteen societies, finding that fairness and trust were exhibited in all. Finally, in multiple studies of hundreds of samples in eighty-two countries and representing culturally diverse people of varying ages, genders, occupations, and geographies, Schwartz (2012, p. 17) drew a conclusion that he considered “astonishing.” After ranking ten values in order of importance, results indicated universals in values. The vast majority ranked benevolence as the #1 and the most important value, followed by universalism and self-direction.

The moral argument for God can be stated as follows:

  1. If humanity has universal, objective moral values and obligations to do what’s right, there must be a universal source of righteousness that transcends generations.
  2. Humanity has universal, objective moral values and obligations to do what’s right. (See the global studies referenced as example of support).
  3. There is a universal source of righteousness: God.

Agency-seeking nature

God has hard-wired us to believe in Him. Why is religious belief so prevalent all over the world? We have an innate sense to assign agency in nature. Neurotheologians believe that the structure and function of the human brain predispose us to believe in God. They believe the limbic system within the brain, which is the biological center for emotion, is also the source for what some have termed “God neurons” and “God neurotransmitters” (Joseph, 2001). When research subjects engage in religious meditation, for example, functional MRI scans in the hypothalamus, amygdala, and hippocampus indicate that changes in brain activity and blood flow occur (Muller, 2008). These changes make us feel good and keep us coming back for more.

Spirituality

Since 1981, the Journal of Near-Death Experiences (JNDS) has been collecting near death experiences that have been corroborated by others. “JNDS publishes articles on near-death experiences (NDEs), on the empirical aftereffects and theoretical implications of such events, and on related transpersonal (transcending the usual personal limits of space, time, and/or identity) and spiritually transformative experiences (STEs). These phenomena include out-of-body experiences, deathbed visions, the experiences of dying persons, comparable experiences occurring under other circumstances, deathwatch or shared-death experiences, after-death communication, spiritual energy/kundalini awakening, mystical experiences, and past-life memories.” ( https://iands.org/research/publications/journal-of-near-death-studies/basic-information.html). These experiences, coupled with residual UFO experiences, paranormal experiences with ghostly aberrations, experiences reported by those who practice in the occult, and prayers answered in miraculous ways suggest activity beyond the natural world.

As an example of the latter, an Illinois woman named Barbara Commiskey Snyder had been wheelchair bound and bedridden for years when doctors decided that her case was hopeless in 1981. Her hands and feet were crumpled, her lungs almost collapsed, and she couldn’t see. A radio station in the Chicago area heard about her case and hundreds began to pray for her. Suddenly, while in her bed, she heard the words, “My child, get up and walk.” Her symptoms from multiple sclerosis departed from her and she soon found herself out of her bed and walking, without any of the atrophy that had plagued her for years. That night, she went to her church and walked down the aisle. The cheers began when her fellow church members recognized her and noticed she no longer required a wheelchair. This miraculous event has been corroborated by her doctors and she is still MS-free today ( https://www.nes.edu/media/2575/4-dramatic-miracles_part-1.pdf).  Craig Keener has documented hundreds more in his book “In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History.”

Destiny

The Bible speaks to our eternal destiny, which comes from God’s grace. We only need faith in Him.

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, for whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

God is our immanent (within this universe) and transcendent (outside of the universe) Creator. He has the power to go beyond time and to grant eternal life and everlasting love to those so desiring.

  1. Expect resistance. Your interlocutor may say that he is ready to accept a deist position, but question Christianity in particular. You may then offer this argument in support of Christianity. Ask him to offer his best explanation for ALL of the minimal facts.

Roman pagans, Jews, and Christians in Jesus’ time have all have indicated that Jesus’ tomb was found empty – and multiple sources have indicated that second class women made that important discovery. In fact, Paul stated that five hundred people witnessed Jesus over the next forty days after He rose from the dead. Many Biblical and extra-biblical sources have indicated that early Christians preached illegally in support of Jesus for decades, braving beatings, stoning, crucifixions, beheading, and being burned to death.

Gary Habermas uses the minimal facts argument in support of Jesus’ resurrection. Even the most skeptical scholars agree upon these minimal facts.

  1. Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
  2. He suffered, died, and was buried.
  3. His apostles said He rose from the grave and appeared to them multiple times over a period of days.
  4. They preached for Jesus for decades, despite widespread and brutal persecution.
  5. Most of His apostles were martyred for their beliefs. We have extra-biblical support for the martyrdoms of Peter, James (Jesus’ ½ brother) and Paul.

The only way to explain ALL of the minimal facts is that Jesus resurrected. If you would like to see an expansion on these ideas in video form, click here: https://youtu.be/ViWxO5_dc1w

References:

Dahlsgaard, K., Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005). Shared virtue: The convergence of valued human strengths across culture and history. Review of General Psychology, 9(3): 203-213.

Henrich, M.D., Boyd, R. Bowles, S., Camerer, C., Fehr, E., Gintis, H., McElreath, R., Alvard, M.,…Tracer, D. (2005). ‘Economic Man’ in cross-cultural perspective: Behavioral experiments in 15 small-scale societies. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(6): 795-855

Joseph, R. (2001). The limbic system and the soul: Evolution and neuroanatomy of religious experience. Zygon, 36: 105-136.

Kinnear, R.T., Kernes, J.L. & Dautheribes, T.M. (2000). A short list of universal moral values. Counseling and Values, 45, 4-17.

Muller, R.J. (2008). Neurotheology: Are we hard-wired for God? Psychiatric Times, 25(6).

Schwartz, S.H. (2012). An overview of the Schwartz view of basic values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1) https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1116

Westermarck, E.A. (1906). The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas. London, England: Macmillan.

 

11 Replies to “Flipping the Script on Atheists’ Street Epistemology”

      1. “What dogmatic belief”? Oh gee, I dunno… How about you look at your own nickname for a hint?

        Seriously though, this article is a rather pathetic attempt and offers nothing that we atheists haven’t already seen before and refuted thousands of times over.
        Did you even get to use this method on an actual atheist SE interlocutor before writing this piece?

        Like

      2. Have you seen my Twitter account or my YouTube channel? Atheists can only keep their eyes closed for so long before it becomes obvious that they’re running from the truth.

        Like

      3. Oh wow dude, good job building rapport there.
        Wanna try again?
        Maybe freshen up on some SE principles? I heard there was this Christian guy who wrote a blog post about using it on atheists.

        Like

  1. Street Epistemology is all about encouraging the IL to honestly reflect on their own beliefs and the methods they use to arrive at those beliefs. One thing they’ve discovered is that people’s beliefs actually get stronger in the face of contradictory evidence and arguments (see “Backfire Effect” on google). So, reciting syllogistic arguments and facts can actually be counter-productive.

    With that in mind, do you think that steps 8 and 9 will be very effective?

    Please keep us posted on any conversations you have with this system. I’d love to see the results and watch how you improve.

    Like

  2. Nice. Step 4 will not work though , as long as you build assumptions into steps 2 and 3. I think you might want to re-evaluate your interpretation of step 7. It would be fun to see a video of this in action.

    Like

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