Intervention from Street Epistemologist Doesn’t Go So Well

A few days ago, a “street epistemologist” paid us a visit. You can read the whole exchange starting here, but I have lifted the relevant excerpts for those who prefer the CliffNotes version. I think it illustrates the type of harm that Peter Boghossian’s atheist manual is doing:

G-Man: The title to Boghossians book (“A Manual For Creating Athiests”) can easily be taken negatively by the faithful, but the books central aim is to promote critical thinking; essentially asking why the believe the things they sat they do. Boghossian clearly thinks that applying critical thinking will lead people to atheism. You may disagree on that point, but I would hope you would agree that critical thinking is an important skill to have, and to apply. I would be interest to hear from anyone who disagrees with that.

Me: The problem is that Boghossian and his faithful fans don’t have a monopoly on critical thinking. In fact, while they pat themselves on the back as if they excel at this ability, in reality, they suck at it. Consider you, for just one example. You assert: “The second part; that faith “does harm to real people”. The 9/11 hijackers clearly had faith, and it was faith that convinced them to do what they did.”

Cherry picking, eh? Let’s apply some critical thinking. First, can you tell us what % of people with faith commit 9/11-type atrocities?

G-Man: You have mentioned my faulty critical thinking skills. Can you specially point out what they are? I would genuinely like to know. I guess everyone thinks they think critically until it’s pointed out to them they where they don’t.

Me: There are several places. We can start with the one I started with. You wrote: “The second part; that faith “does harm to real people”. The 9/11 hijackers clearly had faith, and it was faith that convinced them to do what they did.” So I asked you, “First, can you tell us what % of people with faith commit 9/11-type atrocities?” You replied, “Honestly, I don’t know. Probably very few.” In other words, you chose an example that was atypical. Why would you use an extremely atypical example when talking about faith?

G-Man: Because its an example of faith causing harm. Does it matter if it typical or not? It still caused a lot of harm. In my opinion all faith causes harm by promoting belief without evidence as a virtue…..We started out have an interesting conversation that I enjoyed, but its turning into a point scoring exercise, which I don’t enjoy and only entrenches positions. So I won’t be replying again. Maybe this isn’t the best forum for such conversations.
Anyway, good luck to you all in finding the truth.

Summary: G-Man was clearly violating the principles of critical thinking by trying to use an atypical example as representative of faith. When I asked why he would do such thing, he saw nothing wrong with it, reasserted a standard Gnu talking point, and they broke off the discussion.
This person has clearly been duped into thinking Boghossian’s book teaches people how to think critically. It does not. He thought that by simply expressing anti-faith comments he was engaged in critical thinking. So what we are now going to see are people who think they are skilled at critical thinking simply because they are atheists.

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4 Responses to Intervention from Street Epistemologist Doesn’t Go So Well

  1. darrenl says:

    You can put a name to what he was doing: fallacy of composition. Even if the 9/11 attacks were an act of faith, it does not say anything about faith as a whole.

    For a movement that prides itself on critical thinking, it still amazes me that these very basic logical errors still occur.

  2. Richie says:

    “So what we are now going to see are people who think they are skilled at critical thinking simply because they are atheists.”

    I think we’ve been seeing this all along, though. One reason why the Gnu movement is so popular is that sells itself on the idea that, simply by becoming an atheist, one’s critical thinking faculties will automatically grow exponentially, well past those of most of society and well past those of any believer. i.e. a “get smart over night” pill.

  3. Apollyon says:

    It’s amazing atheists still use these examples. What about atrocities committed by those that don’t have faith (at least, not faith as atheists define it)? Atheist lose this game by a mile. Also, the vast majority of wars/atrocities, etc were not committed in the name of any religion.

  4. aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

    I’m yet to be visited by the ‘street epistemology’ crew despite several taunts. I think anyone who dares call themselves any kind of epistemologist ought to know what their own epistemology is but I get the sense most of them don’t and Boghossian has misinformed his drones and sent them out into a battle naked and without any weapons. Bring em on!

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