A Review of Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists
A Manual for Creating Atheists, by Peter Boghossian, is one of the most unique books about atheism I’ve ever read. The title says it all: it is literally a manual that teaches you strategies to help people reason better and question beliefs they came to believe “for non-smart reasons,” to quote Michael Shermer, who offers a wonderful Forward to the book.
After a brief introduction to “Street Epistemology,” Boghossian’s term for a method of confronting people infected with the “faith virus” and attempting to reason them out of their faith-based beliefs anywhere and everywhere believers may be found, he begins with one of the best and clearest discussions of faith I’ve read to date. Like the author, I too very much believe in laying a foundation by defining your terms and the chapter on faith is excellent. He logically demonstrates that faith is “pretending to know things you don’t know” and discusses a few counter-arguments when believers try to counter by stating that “you just don’t understand what faith really is.”
After these warm up chapters, what follows is the meat of the book, with Boghossian explaining how to apply “Street Epistemology” by recognizing when you have successfully engaged a person of faith and have been successful in getting them to think about and question their beliefs. This then leads into a discussion of this strategy’s practical application, a method which the author has used for years on a daily basis when talking with a whole host of people. By using this Socratic method of asking questions and pointing out inconstancies and fallacies in the way people of faith reason and rationalize their beliefs, it is hoped that they will begin to ask questions and see the flaws in their own thinking; or planting the seeds of doubt. Throughout the book he provides many real life examples of these “interventions,” both successful and unsuccessful, and he is careful to warn readers that this method is not scientifically proven, and many not always work.
After these enlightening chapters about how to apply “Street Epistemology” the author changes his focus to academia, where criticism of the faith virus is considered taboo and professors should not challenge a students’ deeply held beliefs. He believes what caused these problems to begin with is modern liberalism. The author believes that several views have “piggybacked” onto the original liberalism as developed by John Locke. He argues that these beliefs are: “cultural relativism,” “multiculturalism,” and “tolerance,” specifically tolerance of Islam. He then sets out a plan of action to combat this problem by pointing out that it is perfectly moral to criticize beliefs that can and do harm societies.
Finally, Boghossian provides added strategies to combat the prevalence of faith and the respect that faith gets from large majorities of the population, and gives the budding “Street Epistemologist” tips for better handling the faith claims of religious believers.
Well-thought out and well-written, I hope this book will change the course of secularism and the prevalence of rationalism in modern society.