Robert Barron | – Creating Atheists

Friends, his wildly popular book, “A Manual for Creating Atheists,” Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University, outlines his process of “street epistemology,” which is intended to be a process of anti-evangelization, or talking people out of their religious faith. In this episode of the “Word on Fire Show,” Brandon Vogt and I discuss this method of “street epistemology” and whether it’s a good approach for religious dialogue. 

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About The Author

Bishop Robert Barron These are brief and insightful commentaries on faith and culture by Catholic theologian and author Bishop Robert Barron. The videos complement his weekly sermons posted and podcasted at

Comment (47)

  1. What an arrogant ass. I love the assertion that it's the atheists who have cornered the market on thinking they are both smart and right – people like this guy just ooze overconfidence and self righteousness.

  2. Most of the atheists I know are ex-catholics who left because they encountered abuse or hypocrisy in the Church.

    "You don't leave because of Judas" Yeah, yeah, yeah. When you actually run into Judas, the hurt and struggle is very, very real.

  3. wow I can't believe the Street Epistemology YouTube channel made a very reasonable and open response video.

    I hope Bishop Barron responds, as he says "Both parties must be willing to have their minds open in dialogue or it is manipulation " I think he is doing a good job modeling open discussion with those who have never heard Catholic ideas you talked about. They seem like pretty regular non-believers, I hope Bishop Barron can demonstrate for us how to engage with loving and inquisitive souls like them.

  4. As an atheist, I find the concept of "talking someone out of faith" both disrespectful and dumb. I am very often curious about the inner lives of people. If they best express this through religious language, ok. I usually value the meeting too much to spoil it with disrespect. Also, deconvertion, as crucial as it had been in my own life, is something you do yourself, others cannot do it TO you :-/

  5. I think the bishop is completely missing the point of street epistemology. It's about finding out what that person believes and why they believe it. For a lot of ppl, they've never really thought much about why they believe what they do – they learned it from an early age and just repeated it, much like memorizing Bible verses or catechisms. Not that memorizing the Bible or catechisms is bad, but the problem is that most ppl rarely stop to consider what they're reciting and if they actually agree with it or not. The point of street epistemology is to get ppl to actively think about not only what they believe but why they believe it.

    It's up to the individuals as to what they do after they reach that point. I've seen plenty of ppl that feel even stronger in their faith after answering the questions and thinking about it. But there's a lot that find such questioning opens up questions they'd never considered before and find themselves going down the path of deconversion. I suspect the bishop wouldn't object to Mormons or Muslims or any other group of ppl deciding that they don't really have very good reasons for their belief and questioning the belief itself. It's the idea that Catholics might realize that they don't have good reasons for their beliefs that makes him upset.

    One of the key things that shapes a person's response is how their religious authority figures respond when they come to them with questions. Most of those who end up walking away from the faith often find that their religious leaders don't have any answers and don't want to entertain the questions. I've seen pastors just laugh and dismiss the questions as nonsense. In a lot of Christian denominations, there's a lot of shaming of those that express doubts or ask questions and they shed members like crazy once the members are encouraged to actually think about the things they were taught as children (this is especially true for evangelicals).

    Anyone that fears questioning their faith and applying rational thought and evaluation to said faith is admitting they're insecure. They know they're one unanswered question away from losing their faith – and that's something that scares a lot of believers because most believers don't actually know all that much about their religion. They go to religious services every now and then, maybe they even go every week, but it's not something they've ever really studied or thought about. There's a lot of doctrines that they know of but never really bothered to try to understand or think about critically. This is why a lot of the snap assumptions and judgements about certain religions (magic underwear for Mormons, ritual cannibalism for Catholics) don't make any sense to the average lay person (and are also lazy generalizations as well). The average Mormon wears normal underwear. The average Catholic hasn't really given any thought to what church doctrines about communion mean – I've met plenty of Catholics that had never even heard the term "transubstantiation" before I mentioned it, and I grew up Baptist.

  6. Bishop Barron, why not read the book before making all the lofty judgements? You talk about breathtaking arrogance – but how about actually knowing what you're talking about? Street Epistemology is no threat to the truth because truth withstands scrutiny.

  7. "we must teach people the truth that there is no god" why? if there is no God, if we are only an interesting arrangement of space dust why does the truth matter? why does it matter what that space dust thinks in its infinitesimal stint as a living being? as far as I can tell this book amounts a manual for classic CS Lewis style Debunking which is a very effective method of winning debates until you realize that it can debunk itself as easily as it can debunk everything else.

  8. Why didn’t he invite a street epistemologist to take part in this discussion? Because it’s much easier to straw-man their arguments and beliefs when they are not there to defend themselves?

  9. I feel your righteous indignation against these new atheists who are instruments of Satan that drag young people to hell with them! I'm a Baptist but I appreciate your work very much. May God bless you with good health and a sharp mind.

  10. I'm more agnostic than atheist, as I think it's just as intellectually dishonest to completely reject something that cannot be disproven as it is to assert with 100% certainty that it exists. It's 2 sides of the same fallacy. I think morality MIGHT be a by-product of psychosocial evolution. As a highly social species, we have evolved mechanisms to suppress unwanted/unfavourable behaviours that might hurt our social group or prevent it from thriving (murder, theft, incest etc.) and encourage beneficial ones (protection, altruism, sharing of resources etc.). I think that's probably what it boils down to, although I might be wrong. And the idea that morality is externally imposed and unchangeable is just another way to reinforce these rules and prevent too much dissent, essentially. Social animals in the wild also tend to discipline or even ostracise individuals that cause too much disruption in order to protect the rest of the group. Perhaps our haughty ideas about morality and good & evil are just part of the same evolutionary mechanism. Occam's razor would favour this explanation as well. But I'd love to hear other points of view.

  11. i don’t think the target is naive believers. the questions from the book sound very good to me and they can be used for any belief and any belief level. i think the real point of the questions is to make the person reflect on if they have good reasons for what they believe. if they don’t then they should educate themselves more and either become a stronger believer or abandon their belief. that’s not a bad thing right?

  12. Politicians who call themselves Catholic, then write and pass laws or executive orders that go directly against God's commands should be warned, if they don't turn from their evil ways, then excommunicated. If not, the Church becomes a complicit participant in aborting babies, same-sex marriage, biological boys competing with biological girls. Then the Church is rightly labeled hypocritical.

  13. Moral values are already "relative" in your belief system Dear Mr. Bishop.

    We detest genocides today; but that was heavily condoned, praised even commanded repeatedly in your Old Testmament.

    Even according to this very relative "moral standard". Mr. Bishop, it seems that you always speak like a well-read hypocrite, a liar, an actor and a successful god-selling charlatan.

    On "moral code": Here's what I have found: Even altruistic morals can be understood to be evolutionally beneficial for certain genes to carry on. "Morals" in human society has a "statistical normality" across each historical and geographical cohort. "Morality" is a derivative term, it's something that most people agree upon and make words and laws to preserve to maximize perception of expected common benifit; there is no essense in "morality" itself.

  14. Bishop Barron is a true intellectual. However, he makes his teaching and content accessible and palatable to the lay person without dumbing down the teaching. I recently completed RCIA. I plan to make Crusillo in the fall. I'm so thankful for Bishop Barron and the excellent content of Word on Fire.

  15. To any atheist, "My brother, Jesus rules. I am a Roman Catholic Evangelist. To make myself and the world a better place, I go to Confession, Eucharist daily, and prayer continually.
    I'm lucky and happy." repeat as many times as necessary.
    My atheist brother's belief, as Charles Taylor, "Secular Age" notes, is fragilized.
    His "faith" is weakened.
    Bishop Barron is right. You need to answer. But, keep your answer in the field of faith. Do not play contingency, smingency. Do not argue.
    Trust the Holy Spirit

  16. I really don't bother with atheists or try to change their minds. It's an insincere belief system. I think most "atheists" actually believe in God, but they don't like Him at all and live with a kind of defiance against the Divine. I take the position of Peter Hitchens (Christopher's pious Anglican brother) that there is some kind of idealogical hobby-horse these atheists are riding or there is some particular sin they especially like. I don't argue with the insincere. Someday they may stop resisting the Holy Ghost, but there is little I can tell them that would make them change their minds.

  17. That's why the Marxist is only halfway there. They're not smart enough to know the complete truth. Infinity is a very big thing. Very huge mathematics. It drastically hampers scientific hypothesis.

    Edit: I don't think we'll ever live in infinity on the Earth either. That's why faith is important

    Note: We've all been given the amount of faith

  18. Sadly, our Holy Father tells us not to try to convert others which seems to go against Evangelisation and the whole Missionary Movement by the great Religious Orders, throughout the centuries including funnily enough, the Jesuits. So what are we suppose to do with our faith? Just keep it to ourselves and why does Pope Francs say this? I find this papal advice quite upsetting.

  19. Barron, I find your dismissive, smug demeanor off-putting. YouTube suggested this video to me, perhaps as a counterpoint view to the time I’ve spent watching Matt Dillahunty lately, and in that spirit I decided to watch and listen carefully to your response to atheism and street epistemology. I have to say that I was not impressed with your attempts to characterize atheists as arrogant and combative, while simultaneously dismissing the point of making the effort to have a productive conversation and saying that they should focus their efforts on “smart christians” who might be able to argue more effectively than a lay person. Street epistemology is specifically targeted at lay people to get them thinking critically about their beliefs for perhaps the first time in their lives, and the confidence argument is expecting to get that 100% level for a reason—finding people who have chosen to let their indoctrination or family ties do all the thinking for them, and start leading them on a journey towards truth, which is worthwhile even if somebody comes to a conclusion that we disagree with. If you consider yourself among that storied group of well-read and well-considered Christian apologists, perhaps you could have taken more time to present an argument beyond “Shakespeare’s sonnets are beautiful and not scientific, but they are truth and therefore so is Christianity,” or purporting that atheists think science explains everything therefore they are fooling themselves. That is a quintessential straw man argument: the critically thinking atheist knows that it’s okay to say, “I don’t know, and I will not make a decision about belief until there is evidence for a given claim, and the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinary the evidence required.” Perhaps you could arrange a discussion with Matt, and I would enjoy seeing how that goes, but otherwise I don’t intend to give you any more of my time.

  20. Step #1 for a Christian: Flip the script and make it about them. Ask them about their motives, and their hearts. It's cruel to try and talk someone out of their faith, and I'd want to have that discussion.

  21. Great work. The more we can people to consider the issues of theism, the more theists we can deconvert. A lot of theists were just raised that way and never questioned. Theists can be moral, but they have no way to explain morality through faith.

  22. As an atheist, my response would be "What do you mean by contingent universe? What do you mean by objective morality?"

    Also, shouldn't it be the responsibility of the theist and their preschers to seek out good reasons for their beliefs? If a theist wants to use arguments from theistic & philosophical experts, they have the ability to find that information before or after the discussion with the street epistemologist.

    See, the point of street epistemology isn't to talk someone out of faith but to get them thinking about what they believe and why. If beliefs can't hold up to scrutiny or believers won't look up arguments, that's on them.

    "Serious religious believers under consideration"

    That's incredibly arrogant of you to presume believers who falter in examining their reasons to believe weren't serious.