Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Manual for Creating Atheists: A Presuppositionalist Responds

Chapter One
Street Epistemology

Over the next several posts, I intend to deliver a critical response to the claims made in the new book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists.” I will begin with the first chapter on Street Epistemology and weave my way through all nine chapters. Since one of the central principles of the book is that Christian faith is antithetical to critical thinking, I will undoubtedly be subjecting the claims of this project to some critical examination of my own. My central proposition is that only Christian theism as a worldview can provide the necessary preconditions to make this atheistic project possible from the start. In other words, the only reason that such a project on atheism could possibly exist is because the state of affairs are what Christian theism says they are. Before the atheist can even get started on their own quest to subject the believer to a fusillade of critical questions, the believer should turn the tables on them. My aim is to not only refute the claims made in this book, but also to help you interact with the scenarios in kind of a role-play methodology, if you will. The game that the atheist is taught to play in the book presupposes that which atheism itself cannot possibly justify, namely, knowledge apart from God. Since we know the atheist will be asking leading questions, we will challenge the basis for the presupposition behind the question before we answer it. In other words, there is a presupposition that serves as the basis for a leading question. And every one of those presuppositions rests upon some ground. We answer a question with a question in an attempt to identify and then annihilate that ground. We engage in the tactic of meta-questioning. We challenge the very basis of the question to begin with and the knowledge it presupposes.

When Peter told us to be ready to give an answer to anyone that asked us to give an account for the hope that is in us, he was not implying that we had to prove to the unbeliever, through rational argumentation, that the reason for the hope that is in us must meet the demands of unbelieving standards. We have no such obligation. The atheist may demand it but Scripture does not! Our command is to provide the atheist with a biblically faithful answer, not one that comports with the unbelieving demands of godless criteria. In addition, we must also keep in mind, as my pastor would say, that we are to avoid casting our perils before the swine. This is a very ominous command and one that Christians would do well to integrate in their evangelism.

The Christian must take the Street Epistemologist to the epistemological woodshed, and remind him that justification remains the central difference between us rather than the lack of sound argumentation or evidences. You see, the atheist demands justification for every belief. The presupposition is that every belief is ‘justifiable.’ However, what happens when we subject the idea of justifiability to the process of critical thinking? We have to ask what kind of statement is the statement that “justifiability is a necessary component for rational belief.” And we conclude that such a statement is a belief. Moreover, since such a statement is a belief, it seems right, for the sake of consistency, that it also must come under the ‘justifiability’ requirements the same as any other belief. However, if the atheist says that justifiability is self-justifying, we must then ask how they offer justification for the belief that some beliefs are self-justifying. You see, a self-justifying belief does not require evidences or sound argumentation. Self-justifying beliefs are uncontroversial and obvious to human thought. An example is the belief in other minds. I realize that for many Christians, this line of reasoning may sound like a foreign language, but it really isn’t as difficult as it seems. It is only difficult because you may not be used to some of the language or the pattern of thought that is being employed. I encourage you to stick with it and in time it will become second nature.

Human beings form beliefs on the basis of other beliefs. However, sooner or later, we run out of beliefs that justify our other beliefs. I view it like the chain that runs from the ship to the anchor. There has to be an end somewhere along this chain of beliefs. Otherwise, we could never have made our way to even the idea of belief. The concept of belief simply would not exist. In case you are thinking about the consequences of such a state of affairs, you should be thinking that in such a scenario meaning would be impossible. That is the point. Along this chain of beliefs, we eventually get to the anchor. You see, a worldview is a system of beliefs that are eventually anchored to something or nothing at all. The anchor is analogous to self-justifying beliefs. These beliefs are the end of the chain. They do not rely on other beliefs for justification.

“A Manual for Creating Atheists (MCA hereafter) offers practical solutions to the problems of faith and religion through the creation of Street Epistemologists – legions of people who view interactions with the faithful as clinical interventions designed to disabuse them of their faith.” (Ibid. Loc. 216, KE) The arrogance of intellectual autonomy is apparent at the outset of the project. From the beginning, it is difficult to take the writer seriously. The first chapter seems more like an encouraging sermon, a pep-rally if you will with Boghossian as the cheerleader, to fellow atheists, attempting to convince them they really do have the upper hand.

Chapter one of MCA begins with a discussion about the kind of atheist and the method the author seeks to create. He calls this kind of atheist a Street Epistemologist. It is supposed to be a direct, blunt, straight-talking atheist that can bring a sharp, articulate tone to the conversation with the faithful who are really sick and in need of clinical intervention. There is a humanistic tone of compassion emanating from the rank arrogance of it all. The language really would be humorous if it wasn’t so blasphemous.

Boghossian, the author, tells us “Street Epistemology harkens back to the values of the ancient philosophers – individuals who were tough-minded, plain-speaking, known for self-defense, committed to truth, unyielding in the face of danger, fearless in calling out falsehoods, contradictions, inconsistencies, and nonsense.” (MCA, 187) These are characteristics that are very admirable indeed. I hold them in high esteem along with the author. However, the challenge we will put to the atheist repeatedly will be to account for such values in a universe of pure chance, where there is no rational or scientific justification for connecting these particulars with the general. There is no basis for induction in a chance universe. In a world of chance, tough-minded is nothing more than one way to behave no different from weak-minded. To move from us to ought is beyond the reach of justification. The “Street Epistemologist” is going to have to show how reason, or science or experience can provide any rational ground for why some behaviors are admirable and worthy of honor while others ought to be avoided.

The idea of the Street Epistemologist is a mixture of an intellectual MMA tough-guy who at the same time, after he bashes your faith to smithereens, opens his satchel and applies the ointment of reason, science, and evidence to make it all better. This tough guy atheist operates with a moral code, a set of values from within. So we begin our journey with the god-hating blasphemer, Peter Boghossian, to see exactly how tough and how smart he really is. 

Mr. Boghossian, can you please provide justification for your view that all beliefs ought to be justifiable?

Atheist Street Epistemologist

Faithful Christian

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