Street Epistemology online walkthrough

While commenting on a friend’s Facebook conversation about how many religious people are in jail, I suddenly found myself in a conversation where I decided to apply what I know of Street Epistemology.

To be clear, I’m no expert at SE.  I’ve read the “Manual for Creating Atheists”, and I’ve even written an article praising this better way of speaking to people about their beliefs, and why it is important to atheists.

The truth is that I frequently lack patience, that I am often snarky at just the wrong time, and that I find it difficult to suffer through what I believe are foolish statements.

In other words, if there is an opposite to Street Epistemology, that’s probably what I’m practicing!

But I try!  And I count this conversation as a “win” because I did my best to not go after the bait, to not snark at low-hanging fruit, and to stay on task.

How did I do?  I have no idea.  But I have an idea of how to find out.

I’m going to drop this whole conversation into the SE Private Study Group and see if we can figure out what I did wrong, what I did right, and how I can do better.

You can’t leave comments on my website.  But feel free to comment in the SE private study group.

And if I’m an example of what NOT to do?  Well, that’s cool too.

First is my comment that started this.

::MD:
I am not sure it is fair to argue about the high incident of religion in prisons.

A lot of prisoners are trying to get paroled. As part of their efforts to get out of jail, they need to demonstrate to their parole board that they have “changed”.

An easy, no brainer way of demonstrating change is to have a “come-to-Jesus” conversion.

This works especially well if you’re parole board is made up of Christians.

Perhaps it would be different if you were in an Islamic country. You could have a Mohammed miracle.

Hey, whatever works to reduce your time in the big house, right?

132 Replies: (Yikes!)

James is the first person to reply.  Billy joins in later.  But since I was “on task” I didn’t realize that I suddenly had TWO conversation partners.  When I realized I started using their names when it wasn’t clear that I was replying to one specific person.

::James:
^^^^ good point !! ALSO many will actually come to really know God when they are locked up.. and maintain they’re Faith, EVEN if they are still facing life.

::MD:
Or, most people will lie in order to get out of jail. Even if that lie is about their belief in God.

::James:
That definitely holds truth MD, and there’s also truth in my statement as well.

::MD:
(Shrug) Sure. But faith can be used to justify anything.

::James:
True.. how do u feel it applies to your statement? Basically I’m not 100% sure I know where ur going with that.

::MD:
I was replying to your statement about faith – as if faith were some positive quantity. But I see you’ve agreed with me that it can be used to justify any belief.

::James:
Faith IS positive by all means.. but can it be faked, yes it can.. but there’s plenty that can be.. I know for a FACT there are cons and ex cons that have turned their life around because of REAL faith

::MD:
Really? Faith is a positive? Well, I guess it depends on your definition of “faith”.

How would you define it?

::James:
MY faith is not needing God to appear in front of me to believe, and to trust in Him. Other than that I guess it’s hard to put in words. MY faith isn’t necessarily something I can describe rather than something I FEEL.

::MD:
So, you can “feel” that something is true? Sort of like how people “feel” that they’ve been abducted by aliens and had operations performed on them?

::MD:
Or is it like how some people “feel” that prayers to Ganesha is the reason why they aced their chemistry exam?

::MD:
Besides trusting in God, in what other aspects of your life do you use faith to determine what is real or true?

::James:
No, I’m pretty sure people who claim to have been abducted also claim to have seen at least something.. and I can’t compare to this who pray to Ganesha, bec I don’t… like I said, can’t really put it in words.

::MD:
Hm. So I have to wonder – if it is so nebulous and indefinable, then how you know that faith is a good thing?

::James:
Well Ive determined based on first hand experiences and what I’ve witnessed… and why wouldn’t it be a good thing to have faith?

::MD:
So, it’s what you have determined works for you? Subjectively? It’s not something that I can observe objectively?

And why would it be a good thing to have faith is exactly the question I’m asking.

::James:
Experiences is why can tell u that not ALL cons and ex cons are faking their faith

::MD:
How can you tell that someone is not faking their faith? What if that person realizes that he gets a better deal if he pretends to be a godly person. He gets out of jail, he finds the love of his life, he becomes a model worker, all by pretending that he has faith in God.

How can you tell the difference between a really good faker, who’s in it for the long haul, and from someone who really has faith?

::MD:
And we still haven’t figured out what faith is. We should really nail that down before we decide if it is good or not.

::James:
Well I’ve been locked up… have family who have been to prison.. still Christians..

::MD:
(nodding)

So, what is faith?

::James:
I can’t tell u what faith is to everyone I told u what it is to ME

::MD:
Does faith only have meaning to you? Does it only have one meaning to you? Do you think that faith might mean something completely different to someone else?

::James:
Look up Tookie Williams… someone who held strong to his Christianity (which he didn’t truly find until prison) all the way until the death penalty.

::MD:
Did Tookie Williams define faith? What was that definition?

::James:
I told u I can’t DEFINE what it is to EVERYONE…. MYYYYYYY faith is the only faith that I can really speak on freely… YOUR faith or lack of faith, or whatever is your business.. not my business, nor do I not try to disprove or question your beliefs

::MD:
So if you can’t tell me what faith is, why would you think that it would be good for me to have it?

::MD:
You’ve asserted that having faith is a good thing. I want to know why it is a good thing. Let’s start by agreeing upon what faith is.

::MD:
Let’s try this a different way. Instead of using the word “faith”, let’s use the word, “Blorch”.

Let’s assume that Blorch is a good thing, and that people in jail who have Blorch become better people. …See More

::James:
All I’m saying is why would it be bad ?

::MD:
Why would it be good?

::James:
Why not?

::MD:
I am not saying that it is bad. I’m saying that I can’t tell what “it” is. “You’ve got to have faith!” Okay, fine. What is faith? “Faith is good!” Okay, why? “I can’t explain it!” Okay, why should I have faith? “Why would faith be bad?”

I don’t know why faith would be good, or bad, because I don’t know what faith is. You haven’t explained it yet.

::James:
I also don’t use the word “blorch” ever

::MD:
Yes. I was trying to generalize the concept so you would stop using the word that we are trying to define in the definition.

::MD:
My apologies if that offended you.

::Billy:
And you chose blorch?

::MD:
Well, I could choose “Foo” or “Bar”. Those are traditional in programming. “Blorch” is the word my software professor used to use when defining unknowns.

::MD:
I’m sorry you’re concentrating on this, and not on helping me understand faith.

::MD:
What is faith?

::Billy:
Faith is a belief, why does there have to be a definition?

::MD:
Beliefs are fine. We all have beliefs. We have beliefs for reasons. Some reasons are good, and some reasons are bad. Is faith a belief, or a reason for belief?

::James:
U don’t offend me one bit… u know big words so I’m sure u know the definition of faith. There’s faith in others, faith in the judicial system, faith in ones self… my faith in God is something that I PERSONALLY feel… I PERSONALLY have faith in God without having to see him

::MD:
Well James, do you have faith in how a system works? The Judicial System seems a little vague, and I think that lots of people don’t actually think it works. What about elevators, do you have faith in elevators?

::MD:
And I want your definition of faith. Let’s start with what you know, and I’ll tell you if I can accept that.

::James:
I never said that I had faith in any of those.. I just used those as examples

::Billy:
In many contexts, including some religious contexts, faith is the same as trust. In some other religious contexts, it can be a feel-good word of no coherent meaning, it can refer to beliefwithout evidence but also without any particular social/moral reason, or it can imply extra stuff such as being a spur to action.

::James:
^^^ word !

::MD:
So, faith is a flexible word? It can mean different things depending on context?

So if I have faith that having faith is a bad thing, that’s a correct statement?

::James:
If that how u feel then sure

::Billy:
If that’s how you feel then yes. It’s you’re own right to believe what you wish

::MD:
Cool. So why is faith good? And why should I have it?

::James:
U should at least have faith in yourself

::Billy:
If you believe that having faith is bad then that’s not gonna change my faith in feeling that it’s good

::MD:
I’m quite serious here, if “faith” can mean anything you want it to mean, then why should I have “faith”.

And what do you mean when you say I should have faith in myself?

::James:
Didn’t say faith could mean anything u want it to mean…..

::MD:
Cool, so what does “faith” mean?

::James:
Trust.

::MD:
So, I trust people based upon how they treat me. I trust things based upon experience and knowledge. I trust there is a tree in my backyard because I saw it there 10 minutes ago. I trust my wife loves me because of lots and lots of evidence.

Is that how faith works? It’s based on experience, knowledge, and evidence?

::MD:
I will also modify my trust based on further evidence. Betrayel makes me trust a person less. My car breaking down makes me trust it less.

::MD:
Is that how faith works? Does it get less based upon evidence?

::James:
If that’s how you want to define it then fine..

::Billy:
I don’t think James is telling you you should have faith, he is simply saying that by him himself having faith is a good thing to him, if you choose not to faith in, or believe faith may or may not be good then that is simply you’re opinion, if you do …See More

::MD:
So, James, are you saying that the definition of faith doesn’t matter?

::MD:
How can I believe in faith if neither of you will define it?

::MD:
“You should have faith!” Okay, good, define it.

Lots of time later, I still have no definition.

::Billy:
We are not asking you to believe in faith

::MD:
I’m seriously trying to understand here guys.

::James:
What’s your definition MD

::MD:
At the very beginning of this conversation Billy, James said that “Faith IS positive by all means”

Good. What is Faith?

::MD:
I don’t have a definition James. I’m waiting for one.

::Billy:
1. Definition: complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

“this restores one’s faith in politicians”…See More

::MD:
The most I’ve received is that faith is trust. I have a difinition for trust, and explained it. I asked if faith is like that… and got… what?

::Billy:
Definition^^^^^^, mic drop!!

::James:
I guess I just don’t have one for you that’s gonna satisfy you, but I’m ok with that

::Billy:
We have faith you’ll understand the meaning one day.

::Billy:
And if not it will not affect my faith or belief

::James:
^ word

::MD:
So, the first definition looks like “trust”. The second definition says “spiritual apprehension, rather than proof”.

Spiritual apprehension. That’s an interesting definition. And it seems to exclude proof. Is that correct?

::Billy:
I do not need proof,,period

::MD:
Can you use spiritual apprehension to believe in politicians?

::MD:
What other things do you believe in without proof?

::James:
Well an athlete can have FAITH in his team winning… but does he know for sure ?

::MD:
Could you use spiritual apprehension to purchase car insurance?

::Billy:
No I’d use money

::MD:
Wouldn’t an athlete spend a lot of time practicing? Wouldn’t a cocky self-assurance help him with his confidence during the game? Wouldn’t going into a game psyching yourself up to think you’re going to win be a mental benefit over going in unsure, or doubtful?

::MD:
Could you use spiritual apprehension to choose which car insurance is the right one?

::MD:
Is “belief without proof” a good definition of faith?

::Billy:
No I’d just have to have faith I chose the right one

::Billy:
Yes

::James:
Yes it can… I said that waaaay earlier.. just not in those words

::MD:
So, you would choose first, and then decide through faith that you got the right insurance?

Couldn’t I do that with a faith in a deity that is not your God?

::MD:
What if I believed in Ganesh, the Hindu elephant deity, and then decided afterward – through faith – that I am worshipping the right deity?

::MD:
It occurs to me that there are literally BILLIONS of non-Christians on this planet that have faith that they have chosen correctly. Are they wrong?

::Billy:
If that’s what you believe

::James:
Then that what u have faith in

::MD:
“Belief without proof” “Choose first, and then use faith to support your choice”.

Does this sound like a good way to know what is true?

::James:
In my beliefs they are wrong but I never knock them for it

::MD:
I really think it is important to only believe things that are true. Is that wrong?

::James:
U believe what u want to

::MD:
I want to believe things that are true. But from our conversation, it doesn’t seem to me that Faith is a good way to determine what is true.

::MD:
James, are you saying that you don’t care what you believe in?

::Billy:
My faith is in god, if you chose not to believe there is a god, then in my belief you are wrong, with that being said it’s not my place to tell you what you should believe in, I know what my belief is, what you believe will not hinder or change my personal belief

::MD:
Billy, you’re not a Christian I guess.

::Billy:
How so?

::MD:
It just seems that way from your last statement. “Believe what you want” seems to be what you said. From my understanding of the Bible, that is a very UN-Christian statement.

~~~

::MD:
But, maybe I have that wrong.

::MD:
James, I have no idea what you just posted. All I see is ~~~

::Billy:
You absolutely have that wrong

::James:
Fred durst ….. gotta have faith

::MD:
Really? Christians are not supposed to teach about God and Jesus?

::MD:
Ah, thanks James.

::James:
Yes… spread the word BUT not beat a dead horse…

::MD:
But what about people who are trying to understand? If they can’t, you just… stop?

::Billy:
I do teach about God and Jesus! But if someone stands there and tells me after I have spread the word that they DO NOT believe in god then it is not my place to judge this person nor look down on them for what they believe or do not believe in, that is between them in god.

::James:
And as a TRUE Christian also know we are flawed..

::MD:
So, starting from my assertion that I want to know things that are true, how can we help me understand that God is true?

::MD:
From the definition that you’ve both supplied to me, it is pretty obvious that faith is not very useful to know that God is true. Unless I have misunderstood somehow?

::Billy:
Have faith

::MD:
What is faith?

::MD:
“Spiritual apprehension without need of proof” Okay, cool. What is “spiritual apprehension”? (don’t use the word “faith”!)

::Billy:
Belief in god

::MD:
I believe there is a tree in my backyard because I saw that tree earlier tonight. Will I be able to believe in god by seeing him?

::MD:
(or her, or it)

::MD:
We already said that “faith” doesn’t need proof. But belief can be had by using proof. Those two concepts don’t seem like the same thing do they?

::MD:
I’m sorry both of you, I find this conversation fascinating (if frustrating!) but I need to leave the conversation because I’ve got something else I have to do tonight before I go to bed.

Thank you both for talking with me!

::James:
I have faith in something I haven’t necessarily seen.. u only have faith in what u see… u don’t have faith in God.. that’s on .. If physically SHOWING you God is what you need then I’m the wrong guy

::Billy:
And so am i!

::MD:
Thanks both of you for being so patient. I hope I can find the “right guy” to teach me.

::James:
His name is Jesus

::Billy:
I’m sorry we could not find the word’s to teach you, I believe God speaks through me as a Christian, and I hope one day you find that person to teach or answer questions we were unable to answer.