Street Epistemology : An Interview with Peter Boghossian | Sam Harris Blog


Peter Boghossian is a full-time faculty member in the philosophy department at Portland State University. He is also a national speaker for the Center for Inquiry, the Secular Student Alliance, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Peter was kind enough to answer a few questions about his new book, A Manual for Creating Atheists.

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.

The book draws from multiple domains of study—philosophy, psychology, cognitive neuroscience, psychotherapy, history, apologetics, even criminal justice and addiction medicine—and focuses principally on research designed to change the behavior of people who don’t think they have a problem and don’t want their behavior changed. This vast body of peer-reviewed literature forms the basis of the book, but the book also stems in large part from my own decades-long work using and teaching these techniques in prisons, colleges, seminaries, and hospitals, and even on the streets, where I’ve honed and revised them, improved upon what’s worked, and discarded what hasn’t. The result is a book that will get the reader quickly up to speed—through step-by-step guides and conversational templates—on all the academically grounded, street-tested techniques and tools required for talking people out of faith and superstition and into reason.

3. What is the most common logical error religious people make in their arguments for the existence of God?



Written By: Sam Harris
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  1. Maybe I should buy this book. I recently had a debate with a Facebook friend who tried to tell me that not only was Noah’s Ark real, but there were dinosaurs on board. But, oh, they were baby dinosaurs because obviously mature ones would not fit! I told him that was bollocks and tried to use scientific evidence to prove the reality of evolution, but he just told me the evidence was “the devils work”, to fool non-believers.

  2. The logic of the approach is sound, but like most things it’s easier said than done.

    He’s advocating the Socratic method of engagement, where you have to refrain from asserting yourself, which I find terribly difficult to do, but, I will make the effort because at present I am mightily frustrated by the pronouncements of blind-faithers.

    People say oh, don’t bother, leave them to it, it’s harmless; well it isn’t harmless, it can damage children emotionally and it distorts science teaching.

  3. Haven’t read it but … it sounds too much like proselytisng.
    I’d rather read about Schrödinger or watch Fr Ted.

  4. … or read Woody Allen

    “To you, I’m an atheist.
    To God, I’m the loyal opposition.”

  5. In reply to #4 by quarecuss:

    … or read Woody Allen“To you, I’m an atheist. To God, I’m the loyal opposition.”

    I’ll use that!

    S G

  6. In reply to #1 by David W:

    I recently had a debate with a Facebook friend who tried to tell me that not only was Noah’s Ark real, but there were dinosaurs on board.

    I know! Those darned seagulls get everywhere!

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