Sunday, December 22, 2013

Imagine No Religion 3: Peter Boghossian - Street Epistemology + Q&A with LAAG

Peter Boghossian (PB) talks about dialectical interventions which are designed to separate Faith (the virus) from its host (the faithful person).  The strategy for talking people out of their faith is called Street Epistemology. Rationality, reason and evidence should be used to determine what is good for people and their community, not Faith. In USA public policy is driven by Faith eg abstinence only sex education, prohibitions against gay marriage, bans on death with dignity, corporal punishment in schools, non-funding of family planning projects, promotion of creationism and other pseudosciences in school RE lessons.

PB talk comes from Chapter 4 (Interventions & Strategies) of his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists (Kindle £3.77, accessed 21st December 2013) gives tools to stop the spread of the faith virus.

Its an action plan for skeptical citizenship (2mins 57secs = 2:57), to align their views with reality, to move people away from Faith and superstition. PB has a framework and 9 strategies:-

The core of the framework of Street Epistemology is not about changing peoples beliefs (3:45) its about the way people form beliefs. Epistemology is the study of knowledge, its how you know what you know. Faith is an epistemology (4:25). Faith is belief without sufficient evidence (I use Peter Atkins phrase 'reliable evidence'), it's virtually impossible to prove a faith claim. His research was on behavioural change of prisoners (7:44).
Strategy 1: Meet People 'Where they Are' 
From 'Transtheoretical Model of Change' (8:21). 5 stages of change 1) Precontemplation (Not ready to change) aka denial (I'd say 'delusional') 2) Contemplation (getting ready to change) 3) Preparation (ready to change) 4) Action 5) Maintenance. The goal is to meet people where they are and move them through these stages of change.
2: Non-Adversarial Relationships
People change pathological views from a position of safety. Set the tone of the conversation, the adult table. Use the right words eg We not You. Don't have a hint of the angry atheist, this will compromise the intervention (12:17). Relationship Evangelism (12:40) is used by Faithful but can be used to turn people to atheism and reason.
3: Reconceptualise faith as a virus
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 - way to come to knowledge. Our goal is 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 to I'm not upset with somebody who has caught the faith virus (13:55). It is an epistemological sickness. Everyone in this room need more compassion and more understanding to try to help people move through these stages of change. This will also help to conceptualise Faith as a virus - so we don't develop adversarial relationships (14.30).
4. Faith not god
Strategies 4-6 are prohibitions. God is a conclusion one has based on an unreliable epistemology (14:39). Faith not God (15:24). Don't address the symptom, address the underlying illness. The faith virus is the belief in God (15:49).
5. Faith not religion
Don't address religion, address faith. Community is wedded to religion. Take away faith and everything built upon it is severely compromised (16:55).
6. Faith not politics
How do you know that's true? (17:32)
7. Avoid Facts (in Precomplentative stage)
Don't bring facts into discussion when people are precomplentative (18:18).
8. Bring Focus back to epistemology
Focus on epistemology, don't be sidetracked (20:49)
Strategy 9. Divorce belief from morality
Defense mechanism of faith is that any challenge to it is immoral (22:19) They think that having faith makes them a moral person.

(moving on from Chapter 4) (25:40). When flying sit in the middle chair. Be sincere. Don't talk about yourself. Ask a question that establishes a rapport. Then begin the intervention eg if reading the bible. Many diagnostic questions. Then ask 'Did Jesus walk on water?' 'How sure of that are you?' 90% = precontemplative (don't use facts!), 80%=contemplative, 60%=Preparative. How would someone know that? It's in the bible. (don't talk about existence of god or evolution). [Peter has done 'street epistemology for 25 years, several hours each day!] They say 'I feel it in my heart'. Validate their experience. Dissassociate feel with cause. What do you think of people in other faith traditions? Keep focused on epistemology. How do they know this.

You have to be genuinely willing to reconsider your beliefs. But ... Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (Carl Sagan).

Instead of a replacement 4th Horsemen we can have millions of Street Epistemologists. (35:00)

Questions to 35:00-55:00

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