Atheos: The App That Tries to Control Atheist Incivility

As we all know, New Atheists have long had a problem with civility.  Whether it’s Richard Dawkins encouraging his followers to mock religious people, who he routinely attacks as “faith-heads,” or Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne trying to thwart Francis Collins appointment to head the NIH with a public smear campaign, or PZ Myers looking for publicity by threatening to destroy a Eucharist wafer, or it’s just the hundreds of mean-spirited anti-religious memes New Atheists soldiers post, civility is something that New Atheists have struggled with.  In fact, it’s so bad that many atheists distance themselves from the New Atheists, causing the New Atheists to lash out at them as “accomodationists” and “faiththeists.”

Perhaps because of the bad public image that follows from such incivility,  atheist activist Peter Boghossian is trying to reign it in with his new app, Atheos:

Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University, and a team of PSU students have created a new app called Atheos to facilitate respectful debates between atheists and people with different religious beliefs.

The target audience is clearly the New Atheist community and Boghossian identifies the need:

“There are ways to have productive, civil conversations about contentious issues such as religion, faith, supernatural beliefs, even politics,” says Boghossian

Boghossian recognizes that the New Atheist community is in need of learning ways to have productive, civil conversations and his app is part of the solution.

As an example of how Gnu’s need to have their uncivil behavior constrained, here is what one atheist had to learn from the app:

One of the first categories is “Time to flee,” which tackles the best way to respond to extremely emotional situations by backing off. For example, if someone says, “I was just diagnosed with cancer, but I know God will heal me,” DO NOT respond with, “Didn’t God give you cancer to begin with?” Instead, you should respond with, “I’m sorry you’re sick. Is there something I can do to help?” Being diagnosed with cancer is scary enough without adding a faith crisis on top of things!

Yes, trying to score debate points with someone’s cancer is not civil.  If Atheos can teach just a few Gnu’s this basic lesson, there might be some good to it.

While it’s encouraging the Gnu’s have made a small step to hold back their hostility, it appears they also need help when it comes to reasoning about their own atheism:

Boghossian, author of “A Manual for Creating Atheists,” says that his goal with the app is to give users the confidence and tools to have challenging conversations about beliefs. “How do we help people think critically when there are so many forces aligned against that? It’s through reason and rationality.”

Despite the good intentions of teaching New Atheists how to be civil and finally giving them to the tools of reason and rationality, I doubt Atheos will be successful.

Boghossian himself has his own problems with civility and reason as can be seen from his book on creating atheists.  For example, Boghossian views religious people as mentally diseased and thinks the “cure” can be had by purchasing his book and app. Put simply, his misguided “us vs. them” approach poisons the well.

An example of such well poisoning from the app is as follows:

The app also contains a glossary that includes terms from classical philosophy, along with newer ones such as “deepity” (a term coined in 2009 by author and philosopher Daniel Dennett, meaning “a statement that looks profound but is not”).

The definition itself makes little sense given there is no way to objectively measure whether a statement is profound.  That is something each individual subjectively experiences and is thus a matter of personal opinion. What’s going on here is this – by referring to religious views as “deepities,” Boghossian is mocking them. 

While Boghossian might be savvy enough to mask his hostility, I doubt his Street Epistemologists can mimic him well and, if they can, I doubt they can keep it up for long.  The problem is not that New Atheist incivility is too obvious; the problem is that it is entailed in the New Atheist posturing.

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41 Responses to Atheos: The App That Tries to Control Atheist Incivility

  1. TFBW says:

    … civility is something that New Atheists have struggled with.

    If by this you mean, “have actively tried to find ways to overcome their urge to be civil,” then I agree. Dawkins is notorious for his oft-repeated idea that atheists are too polite to religious folks.

  2. Dhay says:

    As Michael pointed out in his Boghossian bites off more than he can chew post nearly three years ago …

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/boghossian-bites-off-more-than-he-can-chew/

    … and as I have echoed in the responses to this April’s Street Epistemologists Get Their Needed Crutch post, a prospective Street Epistemologist needs considerable “atheist saintliness” if they are to fit the prescribed standard; whether there actually are many “atheist saints”, let alone Boghossian’s desired 10,000, is another matter:

    For the record, I am not sure I match that standard myself; I see that one Level 3 reply to choose a multiple-choice response to is:

    “Look how well this banana fits in my hand & how easy it is to peel! That proves that God designed it for me to eat!”

    https://www.facebook.com/seth.andrews.31/posts/1088169411259472 @ 16:04

    To which my instinctive first two answers would both be very sarcastic indeed. My meta-answer, reflecting on the quality of design of this particular part of the test, would also be sarcastic.

    *

    Would Peter Boghossian himself pass the “atheist saintliness” criteria? Probably not, for the “one atheist” linked above also says:

    As I’ve written several times, he tends to say asinine things on Twitter and then cry foul whenever he’s criticized. He also loves to strawman feminists and social justice activists as dogmatists who think all straight white cis men are bad.

    And having seen similar elsewhere, I think the consensus is going to be, No.

    *

    There’s been a rush, and the 10,000 is now up by 12 to 44, one of whom is definitely sub-standard; only 9,956 to go.

  3. Ryan says:

    For example, if someone says, “I was just diagnosed with cancer, but I know God will heal me,” DO NOT respond with, “Didn’t God give you cancer to begin with?” Instead, you should respond with, “I’m sorry you’re sick. Is there something I can do to help?”

    It’s really sad that New Atheists need to be taught how to be human and have empathy. This is because it’s not merely an intellectual issue for them, it’s a crusade against religion. The strong emotional aspect and propensity for mocking religion is a hallmark of New Atheism. A good litmus test for New Atheism is the Flying Spaghetti Monster: if someone thinks that is a good representation of the traditional theistic worldviews (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.) they are a New Atheist. If they recognize it’s a horrible straw-man, then they probably aren’t a New Atheist.

  4. Crude says:

    “There are ways to have productive, civil conversations about contentious issues such as religion, faith, supernatural beliefs, even politics,” says Boghossian

    These guys can’t even have productive, civil conversations with each other. See the New Atheism/Atheism+ split. Those two sides hate each other when it comes to politics. Even on the ‘same side’ problems erupt, as we saw with Carrier. And has Bog himself ever managed to have a productive, civil conversation with a theist about religion, faith, supernatural beliefs and more?

  5. so, have you read Robert Ingersoll? He calls out theists on their false claims as strongly as the supposed “new” atheists. Is he uncivil or are you trying to hide behind civility to avoid being called on your false claims?

  6. Ryan says:

    so, have you read Robert Ingersoll? He calls out theists on their false claims as strongly as the supposed “new” atheists. Is he uncivil or are you trying to hide behind civility to avoid being called on your false claims?

    I’m only vaguely familiar with him. Did he ever say that religion was a disease of the mind, or that teaching children religion was a form of child abuse? Did he compare the traditional Christian theological concept of God to a Flying Spaghetti Monster? Please explain how he was like New Atheists. And what claims have we made that are false? Please demonstrate.

  7. Michael says:

    so, have you read Robert Ingersoll?

    No, but I seem to recall Madalyn Murray O’Hair was a big fan of him.

    He calls out theists on their false claims as strongly as the supposed “new” atheists.

    Calls out. That’s funny. The Gnus lash out.

    Is he uncivil or are you trying to hide behind civility to avoid being called on your false claims?

    I’m not trying to hide behind civility. If Gnu’s want to continue being uncivil, I’m more than happy to help put the spot light on their antics.
    But you are missing the point. The incivility of the New Atheists has become such a PR problem that Boghossian had to make an app to keep them from trying to score debate points off someone’s cancer.

    Look, I’m not the one who needs an app to tell me what to say. Have you downloaded your app yet?

  8. Michael says:

    BTW, did y’all see that Jerry Coyne’s next book will be a childrens’ book? Maybe it will be about a cat who becomes an atheist.

  9. Crude says:

    The incivility of the New Atheists has become such a PR problem that Boghossian had to make an app to keep them from trying to score debate points off someone’s cancer.

    Next up: how to hit on women without creeping them out. With a foreword by Richard Carrier.

  10. So, you have never read Robert Ingersoll. And you have no idea what he said. I have no idea if the rather silly Ms. O’Hair considered him interesting or not. So, you admit your claims are unsupported and false. That’s good of you. Now, please do actually read what you are ignorant of: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Robert_G._Ingersoll

    Again, what is a “gnu” other than an animal that lives in Africa? You make ignorant claims and surprise, you are wrong depending on the false claims of other questions. You fail to show that anyone is “uncivil” and only want to claim that anyone who shows you are wrong are “uncivil”. Sorry, Michael, but showing that someone is making false claims isn’t “uncivil”. Showing that the emperor is naked is not uncivil. And showing that Christians can’t cure cancer or any other illness as they lie about is not uncivil.

    Alas, I don’t need a app to tell me what to say, nor is that what the app is for, another lie by a TrueChristian such as yourself. I can call out a liar with no problem. You are indeed hiding behind claims of incivility because you can’t show that your religion is true. However, I am more than happy to entertain your evidence. Do you have any? Please do show that your god is the creator of the universe and no other. Please show that Jesus Christ the son of God existed and this character agrees with you rather than any other Christian who has created God and Jesus in their own image. What did God/Jesus really mean? As a former Christian (Presbyterian), and as someone who has read the bible at least twice, I am interested in what you have to say.

  11. and to remind you, Robert Ingersoll spoke a hundred years ago. Not so new or “gnu”.

  12. Kevin says:

    “He calls out theists on their false claims as strongly as the supposed “new” atheists. Is he uncivil or are you trying to hide behind civility to avoid being called on your false claims?”

    No one on this blog considers being challenged as being uncivil. How many other false claims are you going to throw at us, in typical Gnu fashion?

    “So, you admit your claims are unsupported and false.”

    Another false claim. Your track record at this point is pretty embarrassing.

    “Now, please do actually read what you are ignorant of”

    Why do we care what he said? He is completely irrelevant in every way to this topic.

    “Again, what is a “gnu” other than an animal that lives in Africa?”

    Google is your friend.

    “You fail to show that anyone is “uncivil” and only want to claim that anyone who shows you are wrong are “uncivil”.”

    So calling people names is civil? Saying they have a mental disorder for believing in God is civil? Saying teaching their beliefs to their children is child abuse is civil? You honestly have no idea what you are talking about, do you? Almost everything you say is an ignorant or false claim, well done.

    “Sorry, Michael, but showing that someone is making false claims isn’t “uncivil”.”

    Thanks, Captain Obvious.

    “However, I am more than happy to entertain your evidence. Do you have any?”

    Hahahahaha! Wow, do I hear the world’s most predictable echo?

  13. Michael says:

    So, you have never read Robert Ingersoll. And you have no idea what he said.

    Er, I never said anything about Ingersoll. That tells me you never read my blog entry. Ironic, eh?

    I have no idea if the rather silly Ms. O’Hair considered him interesting or not.

    She did.

    So, you admit your claims are unsupported and false. That’s good of you. Now, please do actually read what you are ignorant of: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Robert_G._Ingersoll

    Earth to clubschadenfreude, Earth to clubschadenfreude. Are you there, clubschadenfreude? Can you specify where exactly I made a claim about Robert Ingersoll? A quote would be most helpful.

    Again, what is a “gnu” other than an animal that lives in Africa?

    It’s a term the New Atheists gave themselves:

    You make ignorant claims and surprise, you are wrong depending on the false claims of other questions.

    Empty assertions and chest-thumping. You need to 1) quote me making a claim and then 2) show how that claim is ignorant and false/wrong. Perhaps you can find my ignorant claim in your search for my commentary on Robert Ingersoll.

    You fail to show that anyone is “uncivil” and only want to claim that anyone who shows you are wrong are “uncivil”.

    As we all know, mocking religious people as “faith-heads” is just trying to kindly show them they are wrong. Just kidding. Only Gnu atheists know that.

    Sorry, Michael, but showing that someone is making false claims isn’t “uncivil”.

    Mocking religious people is not showing religious people their claims are false.

    Showing that the emperor is naked is not uncivil. And showing that Christians can’t cure cancer or any other illness as they lie about is not uncivil.

    According to the Atheist App, trying to score debate points with someone’s cancer is uncivil. Or do you disagree?

    Alas, I don’t need a app to tell me what to say, nor is that what the app is for, another lie by a TrueChristian such as yourself.

    Huh? Calm down. I merely asked if you have downloaded the app (go reread it).

    I can call out a liar with no problem.

    Yes, I’m sure that in your mind, all Christians are liars, right?

    You are indeed hiding behind claims of incivility because you can’t show that your religion is true.

    Here we go again. You are entitled to your opinion, club.

    However, I am more than happy to entertain your evidence. Do you have any? Please do show that your god is the creator of the universe and no other. Please show that Jesus Christ the son of God existed and this character agrees with you rather than any other Christian who has created God and Jesus in their own image. What did God/Jesus really mean? As a former Christian (Presbyterian), and as someone who has read the bible at least twice, I am interested in what you have to say.

    [Stardusty was replaceable. ;)]

    Slow down and catch your breath. Look, the topic of this thread is the Atheos app and its significance to the New Atheist community. Can you address that? Have you downloaded it yet?

  14. Michael says:

    and to remind you, Robert Ingersoll spoke a hundred years ago. Not so new or “gnu”.

    According to the skeptics at RationalWiki:

    Robert Ingersoll wrote The Gods; was a New Atheist before it was cool.

  15. TFBW says:

    As clubschadenfreude has so aptly demonstrated, a lot of the New Atheist incivility problem stems from having a hair-trigger reaction to any shibboleth which identifies the speaker as an ideological enemy. Not only does this result in uncivil behaviour, it results in responses to imagined statements rather than actual ones, which is never good for communication.

    That raises an interesting point: is the incivility problem merely a symptom of a deeper problem — namely, a lack of desire to negotiate? Words can be used for dialogue or for assault. If you’re going for the latter effect, a civil tone is entirely optional (and quite difficult to employ: it’s masterful use of language to launch a perfectly civil verbal assault). If you’re trying to engage in dialogue, however, there is diplomacy involved, and civility is a necessary but not sufficient component of that.

    That raises a further interesting point: Boghossian is trying to foster civility, but not for the reason of engaging in dialogue. The whole pitch of Atheos as training the user to be “reason’s champion” presupposes a conflict to be resolved by defeating a foe, not learning to get along despite differences. Boghossian classifies theism as a mental disorder in need of a cure: there’s no room for “dialogue” with a disorder.

    Evidently, then, Boghossian’s desire for civility stems not from a desire to engage in dialogue, but from a belief that a civil approach is more likely to be effective in battle. The cynics in the audience saw this coming a mile away, of course.

  16. TFBW says:

    Michael said:

    Maybe it will be about a cat who becomes an atheist.

    Are cats naturally theist or atheist? It’s a difficult question which largely hinges on the matter of how to classify beings who more or less take it for granted that they are gods.

  17. Michael says:

    Great points as usual, TFBW. Apparently, Boghossian is trying to reinvent the image of the Gnus, such that instead of screaming that religious people are mentally diseased, the Gnus will try to come off as a friendly, and oh so concerned, doctor. I doubt it will work since Boghossian and his team of writers are publicly linked to the Gnu movement. And there is only one group of people who don’t have a negative perception of the Gnus. The Gnus.

    Anyway, I am wondering if Travis is an example of this new version of the Gnus. He came here with his Mr. Nice persona, yet was promoting standard Gnu talking points.

  18. TFBW says:

    … by referring to religious views as “deepities,” Boghossian is mocking them.

    I told a friend of mine about the app, and he promptly installed it for a laugh. He tried me out on some of the “is this a deepity or not” questions. The results were interestingly skewed: if I said that something was a deepity, Boghossian invariably did too; if Boghossian said that something wasn’t a deepity, then I invariably agreed; there was, however, a substantial middle ground where Boghossian classified statements as deepities and I didn’t.

    This is likely in part because I have a slightly different set of criteria for “deepity”: I consider something to be that when it seems profound, but is actually meaningless. If a statement makes a clear claim, then I won’t classify it as a “deepity”: it needs to be something presented as a profound truth, but the exact meaning is obscured in a fog of jargon — preferably the specific jargon of whatever ideology the speaker is peddling.

    With that background out of the way, I’m not sure whether I’m agreeing or disagreeing with the statement I quoted at top. By referring to religious views as “deepities,” Boghossian is effectively dismissing them as — what, not profound? If he were to hold to my stricter criteria (which he clearly doesn’t), then he could dismiss them as lacking proper meaning, but only a subset of what he dismisses falls into that category.

    It seems to me that he wants to use “deepity” as shorthand for a statement that can be dismissed without further consideration, but lack of subjective profundity doesn’t qualify a claim for that treatment. It might qualify the statement for closer analysis with regards to the true extent of its implications, but that’s a completely different thing.

    Boghossian’s classification of a thing as a “deepity” is similar to P. Z. Myers classification of “Courtier’s Reply” — a way of accusing the thing of being unworthy of response, without really demonstrating that it has the necessary qualities to warrant such dismissal. The problem with the “Courtier’s Reply” classification is that it begs the question: the courtier’s reply is deemed irrelevant because the emperor is naked, but that’s the very point in dispute. The trouble with “deepity” (as Boghossian uses it) is that it ignores whatever merits the claim may have had on the basis that it’s not as profound as it pretends to be. That’s not a legitimate cause for dismissal.

    The mockery aspect of “deepity” (and “Courtier’s Reply” for that matter) is merely secondary. The primary purpose of the accusation is to relieve the accuser of the burden of producing a relevant response. They’re both fancy (and frequently illegitimate) ways of saying, “I can ignore you.”

  19. TFBW says:

    Michael said:

    I am wondering if Travis is an example of this new version of the Gnus. He came here with his Mr. Nice persona, yet was promoting standard Gnu talking points.

    I don’t know about Travis, since he vanished too quickly, but let’s look at a Mr Nice Gnu who has been around a lot longer: Hemant Mehta, the “friendly” atheist. It turns out that the “friendly” part is largely a historical vestige, since even six years ago he was saying that the term “doesn’t always describe me accurately,” and questioning the extent to which one might legitimately behave like a dick for the cause.

    You observe, “there is only one group of people who don’t have a negative perception of the Gnus. The Gnus.” This claim is supported by Mehta’s article, since his perception of PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins is that they are more “diplomat” than “warrior”, whereas I can call on a hostile witness like Neil Tyson to disagree, albeit ultra-diplomatically (to which Dawkins’ immediate response is to offer an anecdote showing that he’s “not the worst in this thing”).

    What I find most informative about Mehta’s article is how heavily it rests on the incompatibility of science and religion for its justification. In particular, this, with emphasis on the key idea:

    I don’t think we should give credit to religion where none is due. Like atheists who insist that religion and science are compatible. They’re not. I don’t care that some scientists are religious — they’re lying to themselves or compartmentalizing to the point that even they don’t see the problem.

    When you’re convinced that your ideological opponents are delusional, constructive dialogue isn’t an option: they simply become enemies of your lifestyle, and the goal is to shout them down or shut them down any way you can. On top of that, the friendly face can only ever be a deceptive mask.

  20. Ryan says:

    TFBW: Are cats naturally theist or atheist? It’s a difficult question which largely hinges on the matter of how to classify beings who more or less take it for granted that they are gods.

    If we take the definition of ‘atheist’ that many gnus employ: “mere lack of religious belief” then cats are atheists, as well as rocks and piles of dog poop. It could be a t-shirt: “Atheism: worldview of rocks. dog poop, and a small minority of humans”.

  21. Ryan says:

    TFBW: On top of that, the friendly face can only ever be a deceptive mask.

    For a Christian, there is a genuine motivation for evangelism that is rooted in caring about the people themselves. Atheism provides no such motivation. Some atheists will say that they want to “free” people from delusion for their own good, but if we’re all going to an eternal unconsciousness upon death then what difference does it make? Why not leave someone in their delusions of eternal peace and happiness? What’s more important: being able to say that you’re right or having joy and peace? So Atheism, whether it’s true or not, provides no real motive to convert others except for self-serving ends: the atheist hopes that getting rid of religious people (by conversion) will make his short life on this earth a little better because he’s convinced religious people ruin everything.

  22. Bob in Maryland says:

    “If we take the definition of ‘atheist’ that many gnus employ: “mere lack of religious belief” then cats are atheists”

    If some atheist ever uses this argument in a discussion (I haven’t yet encountered such stupidity), I would simply respond “Really? Kindly show me the evidence that cats lack a religious belief.”

    I’ve lived with cats for 34 years (I sadly no longer do), and I can assure you, we humans have NO IDEA what they are thinking about at any particular moment, and still less of what they believe in.

  23. Kevin says:

    I’ve not had cats thrown at me, but I’ve often encountered “All humans are born atheists, you have to teach them religion.” There are a number of obvious ways to respond – babies lack belief in science, gasp! – but I prefer “I see, so you are saying atheists have infantile reasoning capabilities?” Ends that tangent really quickly.

  24. Billy Squibs says:

    Another approach might center around the question of personhood. Many atheists don’t grant that all humans are persons – hence the strong correlation between atheism and a pro-choice/ pro-abortion stance.

    So if somebody says that an atheist is merely the lack of belief in God (when pressed they will likely say ‘person’) then they really should have a solid understanding of the concept of personhood: what it is, when it begins and how we can know this. In other words, it can’t simply be a lack of belief that makes an atheist an atheist. An atheist also has to be a person. And what is a person? Well… that’s a whole nother ball game. And the definition begins to look more than a little shallow.

    Sadly, I don’t think that this redefinition of the word is going to vanish anytime soon. It’s far too effective a way of relieving yourself of the burden of responsibility in a debate. But suppose there are truly those out there who thinks that atheism is the lack of belief in God(s) (and I don’t doubt that they are out there) then what can you do? Perhaps it’s simply enough to point out that their definition is really just a description of their psychology and perhaps not all that persuasive. I’m guessing they will then begin to offer reasoned arguments as to why there is no God(s). At this point, there surely is a contradiction between how they define atheism and how they defend/ advance their ‘lack of belief’.

  25. SteveK says:

    Alas, I don’t need a app to tell me what to say, nor is that what the app is for…

    You may not need this, but Boghossian thinks there are many out there that do need it.

    Dr. Peter Boghossian and his team developed the Atheos app to help people have non-confrontational discussions about gods, religion, faith, and superstition.

    Too many are unable to have non-confrontational discussions about god. They need help.

  26. Crude says:

    I wonder if Boghossian realizes he’s setting his drones up for a panic attack when people go off-script. The sort of people who would need this app are the sort of people who would look poorly in any confrontation with someone even modestly informed.

  27. Dhay says:

    “Confrontation”. Two things to clarify: one is that the App is for preparation, for training, not for during; the other is that the App trains not to be confrontational.

    Ever wondered why the crowd which banner headlines itself as standing for Science and Reason (with implicit capitalisation, even when not capitalised) should call themselves Street Epistemologists instead of the more expectable Street Scientists or Street Rationalists?

    It’s because the Elenctic (Socratic) Method by-passes any “facts” which might probably be argued over and cause confrontation, it by-passes reasoning to or from any recognisable counter-position to the interviewee’s — which again might well be argued over and cause confrontation; instead, it focuses relentlessly upon the interviewee’s ideas (and only the interviewee’s ideas), how they came to those ideas, and what other ideas could they hold instead.

  28. Crude says:

    Dhay,

    That’s interesting, but I think it opens things up to the same problem. Not to mention another: the Soctraic method has the disadvantage of being tremendously annoying to whoever’s dealing with it, and provokes a whole lot of confrontation itself. It may get further with friends who are more likely to tolerate them.

    In your view, is this an app which needs an intellectual counter?

  29. Dhay says:

    Crude > In your view, is this an app which needs an intellectual counter?

    I do think the Socratic method could indeed be annoying to someone on the receiving end, because they are being back-footed all the time, on the defensive, while the neo-Socrates pretends not to have a position that needs defending, or the interviewee is allowed to find out only at the end, and hasn’t had the preparation the neo-Socrates has had from the App in how to persistently keep on asking an interviewee to question themself; it’s a very unequal encounter.

    Not sure how to interpret the question. Does the App need an anti-App? Probably not, the App would probably equally prepare a Christian to make a Street Epistemology intervention on an atheist (or a New Atheist), and get the atheist to question their values. The technique seems to be inherently generic, although I am sure in practice the App exhibits the blindnesses and the prejudiced and skewed opinions of its atheist creators.

    Do we need to develop an intellectual counter to the interview? The interview is structured so that there is no atheist position to counter, seems to be all questions and suggestions about adopting other views. The best counter is probably non-engagement or disengagement.

  30. Crude says:

    The app in particular is what I’m talking about here. Treat it as technology that some third-rate New Atheist is deploying. Do you think Christians would benefit from having an equivalent or better version of it?

  31. SteveK says:

    What the interviewee needs to do after a few questions is begin interviewing the atheist. Does the app tell them what to do in that situation?

  32. SteveK says:

    I can imagine a comical situation where both people are trying to be the interviewer.

    “I’m the one asking the questions here”
    “No I’m the one asking questions”

  33. Dhay says:

    Crude > The app in particular is what I’m talking about here. …

    I’ve never tried any form of ‘Street Epistemology’ or Socratic ‘Dialogue’, so could only speculate.

  34. TFBW says:

    Crude said:

    Do you think Christians would benefit from having an equivalent or better version of it?

    I think that anything which gives anyone a clearer understanding of reasoning is a good thing. Generally speaking, all the Socratic method (properly used) does is highlight those areas where the subject hasn’t thought things through properly. It’s just an audit. Christians should be able to pass the 1 Peter 3:15 test, although I think few actually can, just as a consequence of reasoning being fairly poor among moderns in general. Dialectic is no longer part of basic education.

    Perhaps that’s what’s needed most: training in dialectic — non-confrontational argument. The ability to discuss in such a manner that we work back to shared premises as much as possible, and determine whether our positions are adequately supported by our premises. The strength of a position is rarely clear except in comparison to another position, and it’s important to counter Socrates with questions that allow a position to be put into that kind of perspective. A Street Epistemologist might figure that he’s shown you to be irrational if he reaches a point where you’re unable to answer a question, but that’s not a reasonable assessment if defenders of other positions reach that point sooner. Don’t let the inquirer tacitly hold perfection as the criterion for rationality.

    I don’t know whether an app is the right tool for the job, but it would certainly be handy to have a resource which deals with common New Atheist talking points, provides what solid answers are possible, and shows how these answers fare in relation to alternatives. Knowledge of the alternatives allows the defender to challenge the questioner as to how the position could be better, should the questioner insinuate that the position is weak.

  35. Crude says:

    TFBW,

    Generally speaking, all the Socratic method (properly used) does is highlight those areas where the subject hasn’t thought things through properly. It’s just an audit.

    I agree to a point, except I also think that the bar for ‘thinking things through properly’ is typically askew. I recall when Dawkins said, right in front of Boghossian, that he can’t even think of any evidence that would budge him on God’s existence. Bog seemed to play that off as no big deal, or a topic he’d rather not even get into – but it seems to cut against his own definition of rationality. Remember when Jerry Coyne considered the ability to name what would change your mind as a fundamental requirement to be rational?

    Now me, I’m fine with things. I generally have thought through my positions, including the risks I take (assumptions, etc), more than many. I think that qualifies for most here. But my worry is always with the person who feels as if they need to have an answer to everything, precisely because someone is telling them that they do. Here, it looks like the Socratic method as a weapon, not an epistemological tool. (It’s telling that Bog talks about the dangers of faith, but then takes a faith-fueled position on atheism, where theism is treated as not a live option.)

  36. SteveK says:

    “But my worry is always with the person who feels as if they need to have an answer to everything, precisely because someone is telling them that they do.”

    I’m thinking of one atheist in particular on a blog that tells people that. Any time you explain something related to God and reasons for belief this person asks what you mean by all the terms (what do you mean by “God”, and be very specific?). That’s fine up to a point but nobody can be expected to capture God using the English language – or any language. The end game was always the charge that I’m spouting meaningless nonsense because I haven’t answered every question they said I must be able to answer.

  37. TFBW says:

    Crude,

    Here, it looks like the Socratic method as a weapon, not an epistemological tool.

    I agree — Boghossian is more sophist than philosopher — but it doesn’t change my response much either way. Some well-developed dialectic skills are what’s needed for handling Socratic inquiry whether it’s honest or not. If it’s an undermining attack with a Socratic front, then some rhetorical skills would probably help as well, just so you’re better attuned to the rhetorical tricks which might be employed, but if you’re sufficiently fluent in dialectic, you’ll spot what’s valid and what’s not.

    So, apropos of your comments, a useful tool in the dialectic toolkit is awareness of self-consistency. If your Socrates is asking loaded questions which suggest particular criteria for rationality, ask whether his criteria can bear their own weight. If he asserts (or implies) that nothing ought to be believed except on presentation of sufficient evidence, ask if he can back up that demand with sufficient evidence. If not that, then at least be aware when normative assertions are sneaking into the conversation via loaded questions, and ask whether your Socrates wishes to explicitly assert them, and if so, on what grounds.

  38. Crude says:

    SteveK,

    No one can explain much of anything with a persistent Socratic. Physics or evolution suffer the same fate if you keep drilling with a ‘Why?’ You’ll end at uncertainties, points of ignorance, fundamentals of models or worse. I worry about this not for my own sake – I know this game, and I know how to deal with it. But the psychological battering is something I want people steeled against as much as possible. I’m just trying to think of how to make that happen.

  39. Kevin says:

    The link of Street Epistemologists has “joined dates” anywhere from July of this year to…September of this year. Atheists must truly be masters of reason and science if they are already joining in the future.

    I’m skeptical of the list, to say the least.

  40. SteveK says:

    Crude,
    I’m curious how you deal with it. It doesn’t bother me that I can’t answer every question.

  41. Crude says:

    SteveK,

    It’s hard to put into words, since part of it is psychology and attitude: employed the way it is by the CoGs, it’s largely a rhetorical tool, not dialectical. But achieving the rhetorical aspect requires cooperation – no going off-script, no questioning in turn, etc. I think a good number of people can stumble on that front and end up becoming sitting ducks, in the same way that a number of people judge the reasonableness of their beliefs by someone else (often a hostile party) admitting they’re reasonable.

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