Peter Boghossian – Street Epistemology

Peter Boghossian is a philosopher, atheist activist and author of the 2013 book ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists’.

Peter Boghossian’s goal is to help religious people, to trade their unreliable (religious) way of understanding the world (epistemology) to a reliable way of understanding the world.

In Sam Harris Q&A with Peter Boghossian (Wikipedia) Sam asks:

1. What was your goal in writing A Manual for Creating Atheists?

My primary goal was to give readers the tools to talk people out of faith and into reason.

2. How do you help readers accomplish this?

Almost everyone can relate to having had conversations with friends, family, coworkers, where you are left shaking your head and wondering how in the world they can believe what they believe—conversations where they fully and uniformly dismiss every fact and piece of evidence presented to them. So the core piece of advice I give may at first sound counterintuitive, but it is simple: When speaking with people who hold beliefs based on faith, don’t get into a debate about facts or evidence or even their specific beliefs. Rather, get them to question the manner in which they’ve reached their beliefs—that is, get them to question the value of faith in appraising the world. Once they question the value of faith, all the unevidenced and unreasoned beliefs will inevitably collapse on their own. In that sense, the book is really about getting people to think critically—the atheism part is just a by-product. So my hope is that people won’t just read A Manual for Creating Atheists—they’ll act on it and put it to use. It’s a tool, and like any tool, it does no good unless it’s used. …
3. What is the most common logical error religious people make in their arguments for the existence of God?

Confirmation bias—although I think it’s less that they’re using a logical fallacy and more that the entire way they’ve conceptualized the problem is fallacious. In other words, they’ve started with their conclusion and reasoned backward from that conclusion. They’ve started with the idea not only that God exists but that a very specific God exists—and they’ve asked themselves how they know this is true. They’ve put their metaphysics before their epistemology.

4. Perhaps you should spell out what you mean by “epistemology” and why you think it’s important.

“Epistemology” basically means how one knows what one knows. In the context of a faith-based intervention, one can also look at epistemology as a belief-forming mechanism. A key principle in helping people abandon faith and embrace reason is to focus on how one acquires knowledge. As I said, interventions should not target conclusions that someone holds, or specific beliefs, but the processes used to form beliefs. God, for example, is a conclusion arrived at as the result of a faulty epistemology. For too long we’ve misidentified the problem. We’ve conceptualized it in terms of conclusions people hold, not mechanisms of belief formation they use. I’m advocating that we reconceptualize the problem of faith, God, and religion (and virtually every other instance of insufficiently evidenced belief) in terms of epistemology—that is, in terms of how people come to know what they think they know.

5. What do you consider to be the core commitments of a healthy epistemology?

1) An understanding that the way to improve the human condition is through reason, rationality, and science. Consequently, the words “reason” and “hope” would be forever wedded, as would the words “faith” and “despair.”
2) The willingness to revise one’s beliefs.
3) Saying “I don’t know” when one doesn’t know.


Peter Boghossian said (see video below at 12:55m): “I conceptualise Faith is a virus. The faithful are not well cognitively and they need our help. They are epistemic victims of some specious dangerous epistemology (a way to come to knowledge). Our goal is to help them trade an unreliable epistemology for a reliable epistemology – from an unreliable way to know the world – to a reliable way to know the world. I’m not upset with somebody who has caught a cold, so too I’m not upset with somebody who has caught the faith virus (13:55). It is an epistemological sickness. Everyone in this room needs more compassion and more understanding to try to help people move through these stages of change. It will also help us to conceptualise Faith as a virus – so we don’t develop adversarial relationships (14.30). (source: HASSNERS)


London Atheist Activist Group 2013 Q&A with Peter Boghossian

Using micro-inoculations of critical thinking against the faith virus.

Helping a muslim question her islamic faith – a step by step tutorial

Many more Street Epistemology videos from @magnabosco.

Peter Boghossian on

Link to Page.

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