Professor launches smartphone app to encourage critical thinking

Dialogue between skeptics and believers, in person or on Twitter, can result in hurtful language and invalid arguments. A new mobile app published by a Portland State philosophy professor aims to teach users how to hold dialectic conversations with religious individuals and do so respectfully.

The Atheos app, published by Dr. Peter Boghossian in conjunction with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and PSU students, seeks to teach users how to critically analyze belief claims. The app’s development was partially sponsored by the PSU Department of Philosophy and its current chair Dr. Tom Seppalainen.

Epistemology is a form of inquiry utilized in the app; it asks how you know and what you know. The goal of this process is to have “fewer false beliefs,” Boghossian said.

Listen to the Vanguard’s interview with Dr. Peter Boghossian. Image courtesy of Julie Vincent Photography.

The Vanguard spent some time working through the app, including the extended content. There are 10 levels called caves, borrowing from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, that increase in difficulty and specificity. For example, general belief claims, such as god exists, are covered first, and later levels test claims specific to Christianity and other religions.

The app introduces questions and claims one might typically hear while conversing with a person who holds religious beliefs. With the exception of some lessons, four answers are given and the user decides which is the most appropriate response. Explanations for why some answers are appropriate and others are not are displayed after a selection has been made.

The Atheos app is an ongoing project that is continually refining itself with the help of users.

It is free to use but offers an option to purchase extended content which gives access to more caves, a variety of articles, book recommendations and podcasts to help supplement user knowledge.

Dr. Boghossian is the author of the book A Manual for Creating Atheists and can be found on Twitter at @peterboghossian.

Andy Ngo contributed to this article.