Several years ago I locked horns with Professor Peter Boghossian and his acolyte James Lindsay over Boghossian’s Manual for Creating Atheists, part of which involves using dialogue to get people to question where their faith comes from. Boghossian’s “Street Epistemology” method has been gaining steam, mostly led by one Anthony Magnabosco who takes video of these conversations and posts them on YouTube.
Magnabosco and Boghossian both call this a “Socratic Dialogue” sort of exchange. Which is why I was stunned — literally stopped cold, my jaw hanging open — when Magnabosco explained it this way at 1:07 in this explainer video: “I think Plato probably wrote a story about Socrates in which his main character, Socrates, was asking questions.”
No, it wasn’t “a story.” It was Plato’s entire work. Not mostly in the form of story, but unembellished dialogue instead.
And I don’t just “probably” “think” so. No one who’s ever even glanced at Plato could think so.
For perspective, think of someone saying, “I think J. K. Rowling probably wrote a story about Harry Potter, in which her main character, Potter, was doing some magic.”
Now imagine that person as someone who teaches Rowling’s imagery and themes.
Worldwide Teacher of Epistemology?
Magnabosco appears to have been teaching “Socratic dialogue” without ever having read a word of Plato. He probably hasn’t even read an informed word about Socrates; for it’s very difficult to write anything on the philosopher and create the impression he was a “main character” in a “story.”
I don’t know what’s more surprising: That he’s that ignorant of what he’s teaching, or that he was willing to display that ignorance in public. Or that no one involved in producing this video thought it was too ignorant to include.
He teaches workshops worldwide on this. Astonishing.
While I’m at it, I might as well mention another very strange thing in this video. He plays part of one of his Street Epistemology interventions, in which he asks a young woman if she would be holding her belief in the Holy Spirit if faith weren’t available as an option. She didn’t know how to answer. In a way I don’t blame her; she was probably approaching the conversation as if made some sense.
No one who had ever read a word of Plato could think a question like that had anything to do with Socratic dialogue.
She could have simply said “no.” Then she could have asked him, “If unbelief weren’t an option for you, would you still be an unbeliever?” For what Magnabosco was saying, in effect, was, “If it weren’t possible for your belief to be true, would you still believe it?”
Socrates wasn’t sophomoric that way. He wasn’t sophistical. This display was all of that, and worse. I could dissect it further, but this is plenty.
Note: Street epistemologists love denying it’s about promoting atheism. Watch the video to its end.
Image Credit(s): YouTube Screen Grab/Tom Gilson.