Is Political Correctness a Thing?

This controversial term is one I don't like using, because I don't think I ever feel the need for it. When things are cliched it's always good to try and avoid those terms. It forces you to think through a concept instead of just repeating it. Politically correct is one of those concepts.

A midget walks into a bar.

Your reaction to that sentence might give us a starting point. The way I see it political correctness is an attempt to avoid or censor things that others may find offensive. Neil Gaiman thinks it is "treating people with respect", but I disagree. His mistake is to think that avoiding offense is necessarily respect. Sometimes offending someone is a deep sign of respect. 

That doesn't mean we should fool ourselves. Most people employing the term are assholes. They use the term to try and justify being assholes. In their eyes they are fearless truth talkers that are being attacked by the PC brigade. For the most part, I can't blame people for wanting to vilify someone who is being an asshole. What I am concerned about is that we should be drawing a line. Please watch this video if you haven't and join me after the break.

I don't like this video. I think it's insulting and mean. I think that the person who made this is an asshole. What I don't think is that people should be losing their jobs because they are assholes, which is exactly what happened to this the person who made this video. Beyond vilification, if we create stronger measures against people who offend us, we encourage a society that self censors. In that environment, it becomes hard for people to say what they want because they fear losing their jobs or maybe even worse. 

Two things are vitally important here. First, we should aim for a society where it's okay to be wrong about things. I have been wrong about many things, and it took me years to get to where I am now. Some of those things were very offensive. I was definitely homophobic for a long time. If I had felt a risk of expressing myself and losing my job, I would have never found out I was wrong, because if you self censor you never get to argue your incorrect positions and lose. You are always just living under what feels like an oppressive environment where you can't speak your mind. 

Secondly, sometimes everyone else is wrong and the lone nut or asshole is right. Of course we can be pretty sure they are not and if you are that person you should really reflect on your position to see if you are actually right, but if we use this mechanism and accidentally censor someone who is right, we run the risk of being wrong and unable to realise it, because those who know what is right are afraid to speak up. If the video above was criticizing Kim Jong Un in an alternate reality where the North Korea ruled the world and the woman in the video lost her job, how would it be different to what we are doing now? What is freedom of expression really worth when it carries a significant risk with it?

Maybe if someone says something stupid, hateful or offensive we shouldn't be calling for their jobs to be taken away from them, we should be talking to them and convincing them otherwise. After all, people are often assholes because they have some skewed perspective of something. When someone acts out, wouldn't it be better to take the opportunity to engage with them and change their minds than to call for their metaphorical heads?

The question that remains is whether it is a good principle to attempt not to offend people. I think the answer to that is a little more complicated. I think we should offend people. We should offend people for the right reasons in the right situations. I think we should balance our offensiveness with understanding, compassion and level headed dialogue. I think this is the best way to get there to be less assholes in the world. Having people fired or removed from a medium is the wrong way, because it disincentivizes openness. Maybe we should be willing to get hurt sometimes to hear the truth, and maybe we should be willing to get hurt sometimes so we can help those that have hurt us or others to not do it again. I just don't think that people deserve to lose everything just because they are wrong about something.

Ego & Humility: Setting Aside The Ego

When I came across the problem of my ego attaching itself to ideas, I was worried. I knew it was happening. I could feel the anger welling up inside me when an idea contradicted one of my beliefs, and I was disappointed at myself. It seems like a strange sort of inner struggle, and it was. It was the beginning of the way I used to solve the problem. It's what I like to call ego detachment.

I hope it doesn't sound like a bunch of woo woo to you, but I can understand if it does. It makes perfect sense to me, which is perhaps not enough, but I will try to explain.

The first idea that came to my mind was that in order to be more objective and less reactionary to other ideas, I need to detach ideas from my ego. This meant that any particular belief I had needed to be separated from my ego. I am going to suggest a toy example for illustration. Please keep in mind that it doesn't reflect my positions of beliefs and never has. With that disclaimer in mind, consider a belief in free schooling.

I believe that free schooling is a social good and should be implemented. Subtly, my mind creates a connection between me being good and a belief in free schooling. If someone shows me facts that are contrary to free schools being good, let's say a study demonstrates that low fee schools fare objectively better, I don't immediately respond to the facts, but rather to a challenge to the internal proposition of my ego narrative that "my belief in free schooling means that I am a good person". The challenge to the idea suggests that I am not a good person, because kids will be worse off if my idea was implemented. Oddly, my noble goal of making children's lives better now becomes secondary to protecting my belief, which forms part of my ego. Exhausting isn't it?

It turns our there is a simple solution, and it involves reattaching your ego to the thing that actually matters. If your ego narrative does not involve a proposition such as "my belief in free schooling means I am a good person "but rather one such as "I am a good person because I care about better lives for children" there will be no cognitive dissonance when the challenge arrives. But this needs to be done consciously, because if you are like me, and I'd hazard a guess that you are, your mind crafts many ego narratives implicitly and without your knowledge.

This solution involves self reflection, and that's hard. You need to reflect on why what someone says might make you angry. Your mind will give you quick solutions like "that person just hates me" or "that person is just a contrarian for the sake of it" or "that person wants children to suffer". These are all easy answers your mind will offer to , but that you must reject. You need to fight against the stability and coherence that your mind automatically seeks. This is emotionally painful, especially when you are not used to thinking about it. It actually helped me to comfort myself. To tell myself that even if I was wrong, this didn't make me bad, and that changing my mind when I am wrong would be more rewarding in the long term.

Ego attachment makes it harder to lose an argument and easier to win one, because in order to win an argument you really only need to convince yourself that your self narrative, which you already believe, is right. To lose an argument you have to take yourself apart in a horrific act of psychological self surgery. This is the pain we avoid when we "win" arguments online, but look like a total doofus to other people observing our crushing defeat. Even though I am consciously aware that losing to someone who is right means I have a better new perspective on the world, sometimes I still feel the pangs of my ego narrative being damaged, and I hold feelings of anger toward that person.

Our minds even construct preemptive strikes to defend our egos. We believe that people that hold a certain kind of position are opposed to good. They are evil. This makes us use the best defense for our egos: attack! The notion of detaching beliefs from your ego is not an easy one. It means that we need another way to define ourselves, because we can no longer use beliefs to craft a healthy self image, due to the inherent vulnerability of beliefs to contrary evidence. I hope to address that in a later post, but for now I want to bring accross the idea of evaluating ideas as part of your identity, and finding ways to detach those ideas from your identity, so that your thoughts will no longer sabotage truth in order to protect your beliefs about yourself.

Analyze This!

There is a rather annoying, unproductive and insulting behaviour that is very natural to human beings who disagree. At some point one party in an exchange may give up trying to convince the other with arguments and instead attack the motives of the other party. Because it is the 21st century,  you will be treated with a nice little psychoanalysis from the person who disagrees with you. According to them, your disagreement stems not from a genuine difference in knowledge or understanding, but a deep seated psychological malfunction on your part. 

Recently, I was pushed onto the couch and analysed by a fellow netizen. Here is the diagnosis they gave me:
"I see now that I have perhaps tread a little too closely to some of your own deeply held beliefs about the world - a set of beliefs that I cannot be sure of but which I suspect are largely a part of the progressive faith. As I see it, you are engaging in motivated reasoning to support your continued adherence to these beliefs that form a central part of your identity." 
Why is this behaviour wrong? Well if you want to convince someone, telling them that the reason your arguments aren't convincing to them is that they have a psychological problem is in itself not very convincing. On a very basic human level, it is also deeply insulting, but there is a much bigger problem with psychoanalysing people on the internet. 

You don't know them very well. We interact with people online through small little stamp sized images and messages here and there. To propose that something as complex as a human being can be known this way is quite foolish. Usually this kind of thing doesn't get under my skin because I know that the person on the other end doesn't know me. Their analysis is based on a very small set of information that doesn't come close to representing me as the complex person I am. 

And every single human being is like this. Every creationist, every anti-vaccer, every atheist, vegan, liberal or anarcho syndicalist is a complex person that can't be psychoanalysed by amateurs on the internet. In fact people who go to intense therapy with psychoanalysts are sometimes misdiagnosed. How then can a random person on the internet have any semblance of accuracy when analysing someone through the interwebs?

Maybe you are screaming in your head that this is a type of ad hominem fallacy, and that is true. The discussion ceases to be about the topic and starts to be about the person: you. It becomes personal.  The merits of the actual arguments fall by the way-side. But this sort of misses the point. It's easy to convince ourselves that the reason our arguments are not convincing is because there is something wrong with the other person. It is the salve we use when we realise that the arguments we expected to succeed didn't work.

The deeper lesson is that we need to look at our own behaviours and arguments first, and at best we can say that our arguments were not convincing to someone else. I made some mistakes in the discussion where I got the free therapy quoted above. I could have done things better. Other people might have different views of reality based on their immediate environment. They might have a psychological need for their beliefs, but really it isn't for us to conclude that about others on internet discussions. Besides, it makes you look like a giant jerk. So before you think of telling someone why you think they haven't changed their minds, consider how little you know about them and how justified you truly are in making such conclusions. This goes doubly for me, since I'm pretty sure I've also done it. 

Agnosticism No More

I'm starting to shift away from being an agnostic atheist. It's been a long time coming, but I've been sort of on the line between adopting the belief that there is no god, and genuine emotional angst over there possibly being one. However after reading +Matt McCormick's piece What’s Left to be Agnostic About? I've done some serious thinking about the topic and feel that I am ready to take the very tiny step necessary to adopting the belief that there is no god. It's by no means an easy step, because despite it seeming that way, I have been asking these questions for years. I always felt that the only fair and rationally justifiable position on the existence of god was that god may or may not exist. The trouble I found is that when defining myself as an agnostic, I wasn't considering what it means not to believe in god. What is god anyway?

Well, we can take various broad definitions, and find ourselves in a place where analysis of god beliefs become mired in endless debates because the definition of god is never quite established. So to be clear, the god I believe does not exist is the god of western philosophy. Philosophy of religion has defined god as basically the monotheistic abrahamic god. This implies that this god must basically possess a few qualities. It has to be 
  1. Omniscient (all knowing)
  2. Omnipotent (all powerful)
  3. Omnibenevolent (all good)
  4. Involved directly in human affairs 
If a definition of god diverges from any of the above, I may feel somewhat agnostic to such gods, especially with regards to the last quality. But nobody else does. Almost everyone in the west finds "gods" which lack those qualities unconvincing, and are atheists with regards to such gods. Gods with finite powers overflow in our history books. Nobody gives them any credibility, so defining myself as agnostic merely to allow for the existence of such entities seems like overkill. 

So what does this mean for my epistemic position? Before I learned anything about theories of knowledge, I recognised that we cannot prove that god does not exist. However in learning more about knowledge, it became increasingly clear that we can't really prove anything to such an extent that the possibility of such a thing is completely removed from reality. So there will always be a possibility that such a being exists and I recognize that in a logical sense, on the condition that apologists can reconcile some of the logical problems inherent in godly superpowers. But I can't pronounce that it is physically possible for such a being to exist. I lack the information to make such a claim, and therefore I think that theists largely assume such a possibility and take it on faith, and I think that due to the cultural baggage of the west carrying the corpse of Christian domination, many atheists grant the physical possibility of such a god even in the face of the logical problems with the superpowers it supposedly posseses. We shouldn't have to. 

The next question may be what nudged me away from agnosticism about god's existence. I would probably say that if apologists and theologians couldn't create convincing arguments in 2000 years for an entity that literally runs the universe, I see no rationally compelling reason to lend such an idea any real weight. That's not to say that we shouldn't take their arguments seriously, but I don't think we should see every apologetic argument as having any realistic chance of being convincing. In fact, a god not existing is completely consistent with failing apologetics, constant divergence between believers and a world that is easily explained by the most libertarian of gods: nature. 

I guess the next question that me from about 2 years ago would pose to me of today is whether this puts me in a precarious position, having to scour the entire universe to disprove god. This is not the case. It is true that I do carry a heavier burden of justification, but I don't find it significantly heavier than the one I had before. If you take the general idea that if a god like the one above did exist, that certain things would be a certain way and that our current state of affairs is sort of weird and unexpected, then that directly contradicts the existence of god. Apologists have responses to these ideas which I am aware of, but their explanations are not as harmonious with the knowledge we possess as the simpler answer, which is that there is no god. If that changes I should find myself shifting back into agnosticism, and if it's good enough I may shift to theism. Given the circumstances we find ourselves in, theism is less rationally justifiable than atheism, and it seems unlikely that this will change in the near future.

I should probably address the argument from ignorance claim that might be flung my way and the good old "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" claims. Let's suppose that there is a common belief that dew is the result of pixies watering the plants every morning. It doesn't take long for anomalies to start pouring in. Why don't they show up when it's dry? Why do they water my car's windscreen if it isn't a plant? Why can't we see them? Now pixieologians can come up with all kinds of clever reasons why that which is apparent is not true. It is quite apparent that there are no pixies, just as it is quite apparent that there is no god. The absence of the pixies were their downfall. At best we shouldn't believe things that give us no no rational reasons to believe them, and we shouldn't cling to beliefs as long as someone can find an explanation, no matter how contrived or invented, to reconcile that belief with reality. Most people frown on the attempts of conspiracy theorists to explain things in contrived ways that some central authority is actually in charge behind the curtain, but when apologists do it we praise their efforts because we've put their beliefs on a pedestal. Just as I am not agnostic about moon landing conspiracies, I won't be with regards to god. With things like science it's different. Reading gradually pulls you in with increasingly convincing arguments. Being convinced just kind of happens without strain. All the questions that seemed odd about pixies, like why they water my car if it isn't a plant, becomes perfectly easily to explain in scientific terms. The anomalies melt away. Theists have to constantly deal with pangs of doubt because there is a large, dark cloud of doubt looming over their beliefs. There aren't articles on the internet about how to deal with doubting evolution or e=mc2. Shouldn't this be surprising if theism was so obviously true and apologetics was so good?

It's taken a lot of thinking, reading and discussion over the years, but I think it would be healthier for me not to lend the credibility to god beliefs I had as an agnostic; not to let mere possibilities lure me into false equivalence between possibility and likelihood. That may change and if it does I am perfectly open to that change and will eagerly refute whatever mistakes I made here. I will continue to take apologists seriously, because I believe we should take all people and their ideas seriously. What I won't do however, is keep pretending that there is a significant possibility that their abject and continued failure is going to turn around.

(PS. If you know theists or apologists that would enjoy reading my blog, please share this with them. I think I can here an echo in here! It's hard to build a diverse audience in such a polarised issue. Thanks!)

Skeptical Theism: If We Can't Win, Everyone Must Lose

It's hard to find relevant images to abstract philosophical concepts okay!?

Sceptical theism is the idea that the best way to respond to evil is essentially to say that God works in mysterious ways. I will try to express why I think this is a weak defense and why I think that the argument from evil still works. 

To put it another way, the sceptical theist responds to the argument from evil by saying that: 

We cannot know whether a particular event that causes suffering was permitted or executed by god in order to prevent a greater evil in the future or bring about a greater good in the future. 

My primary problem with this objection to the problem of evil is that it itself is a type of theodicy, because sceptical theists are not indifferent to the moral nature of god. There is still an inherent belief that god does not allow any unnecessary suffering. In the mind of a sceptical theist then, they have absolutely no justification for the apparent suffering in the world, and the moral nature of god is unknown. I would see sceptical theism as strong as it is exactly because it is a position that has retreated from more stronger claims that apologists usually hold. This also explains why it isn't mainstream. It's implication is that even though the problem of evil does not justify absolute belief that god does not exist, it is a good justification for agnosticism. 

To suggest that god's reasons are inscrutable to man creates a scenario where we cannot judge god as a character whatsoever. Such a lack of capability strikes a serious blow to a god with which you can have a personal relationship. How personal of a relationship do you really have with a being that murders babies and drowns kittens but you just don't know why they do that? It's even worse, because your belief that they have only good intentions when horrific acts happen under their watch is supported by blind faith alone.

Sceptical theism violates a central idea in scepticism, and that is the idea of withholding judgement. You can't claim scepticism and at once be committed to one side of an argument despite agreeing that you have no justification to hold a position. In a desperate attempt to grant the usual weakness of responses to the problem of evil sceptical theists essentially grant the problem of evil most of its power and cripple their own philosophical position in every other quarter. For apologists promoting the idea, it may seem like a victory. At best it is a pyrrhic victory, and at worst it is a devastating defeat with a good PR campaign back home. 

If you want to read more, the IEP has a pretty good coverage of Sceptical theism. What I've said is nothing new, but hopefully a good short primer to the subject.

The Problem Of The Problem Of Evil

The problem of evil is hotly debated in philosophy of religion circles. It is a central concern of theology, and the reason for that is that it destroys the plausibility of Christian theism. If Yahweh is supposed to create moral intuitions in human beings, it boggles the mind as to why the actions and inaction of the deity are contrary to our own moral intuitions. Apologists like William Lane Craig like to state that the appeal of the problem of evil is purely emotional, yet these are the selfsame emotions that this god supposedly created in us. It simply does not make sense that humans would think that a monarch that drowns the vast majority of his people has some underlying good purpose behind this action. 

Apologists like to appeal to intuition when it comes to many of their arguments. Irreducible complexity, a universe requiring a finite beginning, and the idea that the conditions of the universe are tailored  to suit human life are all arguments that appeal to intuitive human thoughts, but when the problem of evil enters the discourse we are told to discard the very intuitions that god supposedly gave us. We need to stretch our imaginations to believe that somehow regardless of all the suffering in the world, it is still the best possible world, or that commanding the genocide of or destroying entire cities is okay because the people in those cities must have been totally depraved and evil. We are supposed to believe that two wrongs make a right, that the ends justify the means. The selective application of intuition by apologists indicates that there is a fundamental flaw in Christian theology, and it cannot be overcome by simplistic analogies and become convincing like other arguments are for christians. We are to believe that a universe that seems indifferent, that random events and suffering are all in service of some bizarre and mysterious higher purpose. 

It might be a good time to point out that many intellectual fields have central problems. Science has the problem of induction for example. But science still holds a pragmatic truth value because of its undeniable utility to the human species. The problem of induction prevents science from achieving absolute truth status, but this is hardly a requirement for it to work. There is absolutely no pragmatic value to the inscrutable actions of an absent deity that is subject to endless disagreement. It is a divisive force that we would profit from throwing on the pile of bad ideas in our history. Modern ethics and jurisprudence has no reliance on the Christian religion anymore and functions perfectly well on its own. In fact whenever Christian ethics interferes with modern ethics it is with a negative effect, such as the institutionalised discrimination against homosexuals in the western world. If we were to judge Christianity only by its utility we would have discarded it long ago. 

What does it mean for an intellectual field that has a central problem that seemingly cannot be solved or dissolved. It casts an ominous shadow on the entire field. Some former Christians claim that reading apologetics made them less convinced. I have no doubt that the problem of evil was central to that experience of apologetics, as I myself have shaken my head at the various responses to the problem of evil that I have seen. As I've previously mentioned, even if theodicies work in theory, there is no direct nod from the deity to indicate their truth. They are just hypothetical explanations for the suffering we see in the world. They are also horribly contrived and often cold to any emotional intuitions; as if crafted by psychopathic PR executives. Saying we live in the best possible world when natural disasters displace millions and destroy lives is an insult to humanity. One of my personal turning points was a thought experiment. I wondered if I could sincerely tell a dying cancer patient that all of the suffering they endured was part of a greater plan. No amount of conviction or love for the Christian god could bring me to that point. 

The problem of evil presents another solution, which is more parsimonious than the one offered by Christian apologists. A world where bad things happen to good people, natural disasters strike, and diseases decimate is perfectly in line with a world that has no master plan, no caretaker, no loving father. Although it seems bleak it results in a call to action; a motivation for us to unify and leave our petty differences behind and make life better for ourselves and all our fellow living things. It means that no eyes have gazed under the ice-covered ocean of Europa. It's a reason for looking beyond our suffering here and now, instead of fantasizing about a hypothetical paradise beyond our current existence. It's a reason to create the best possible world we can create with our limited powers. It's a reason to flourish. If there is some god out there that is looking at how we conduct ourselves, it would be monstrous for it to condemn us for trying to make the real lives of all living things better and indulging in our endless curiosity.

Breaking Down Street Epistemology?

Mark McGee is another apologist on the smear campaign against street epistemology. Although I don't fully agree with the principles of SE(street epistemology), I can't help but defend it simply because there is a very central truth to it that is hard to deny. That truth is that respectful, kind and sincere engagement can change the way we have the global conversation about religion. The book encourages atheists to be kind and thoughtful, and people like +Anthony Magnabosco and +Socrates Jones  are practicing those principles actively. The methods of SE has changed my own life for the better, because I've learned to ask questions instead of going for an all out assault with a battery of logic and philosophy.

Mark does not understand this. Mark is focused squarely on what he perceives as the insidious nature of questioning the faith of others. I'm going to examine some of the things Mark says and I think you will also come to agree with me that Mark's reaction is a knee-jerk reaction and not a reasonable evaluation of SE as it is practised.
"The atheist is looking for possibly unreliable methods to determine belief in God, which means he or she is claiming to know the reliable method to determine belief in God. But, wait a minute! Do atheists believe there is a reliable method to determine belief in God? Of course they don’t. If atheists believed there is a reliable method to believe in God, they would believe in God because they know the method upon which they can rely."
This is a simple misunderstanding. Unfortunately Mark, like other apologists, are not committed to understanding anything that is counter to their strongly held beliefs. It is absolutely true that atheists do not posses a method to reliably know if god exists. That is why we ask believers. If there is a reliable method to know god we want to know what that is. To quote from the SE book:
"Certainty is an enemy of truth: examination and reexamination are allies of truth." - A Manual For Creating Atheists (pg 43)
"It’s obvious that the statement about helping people discover that they’re using an unreliable method to arrive at belief in God is a ruse, a clever trick."
Not at all. I know that when I believed I had poor reasons to believe. So I don't believe anymore. If anyone can show me that there are good reasons to believe I will change my mind. Mark would be lying if he had to assert that most christians have good reasons to believe in god. If he believed that he would not be engaged in apologetics, which aims to soothe the cognitive dissonance believers experience when they encounter disagreement. If these believers had good reasons, Mark would have nothing to fear. The "trick" would not work.
" Christians ask questions to understand what people are thinking and to guide them to supply ‘evidence’ that will help answer people’s questions about God and the Christian worldview."
Not in my experience. Christian street evangelists (who are the opposite of SE practitioners) trigger cognitive dissonance in other christians so they can get those christians to buy into apologetics.
" So, we ask, are street epistemologists (atheists) asking questions to understand what people are thinking so they can supply them with ‘evidence’ to help answer people’s question about the atheist worldview?"
Atheism is not a worldview. I almost feel physical pain at this point having to mention this over and over again.
"Is it reasonable to ask someone to select a percentage of their belief about God?"
"Does that mean anything?"
"Where is the logic in a belief percentage?"
It's very simple. If you have absolute certainty then you assign 100%. Maybe you have some doubts, but you are still sure, so you might say 75%. If you don't believe it will be less than 50%. It is a very simple concept. It is not systematic; it is just meant to be a subjective evaluation from the perspective of the believer.
"From an apologetics perspective, what is the atheist’s argument? What is their evidence? "
Mark wants this to be about apologetics. Somehow we are not allowed to ask people why they believe. We always need to present an argument. It is about the believer's internal reasons for believing what they do. I often use the methods of SE on racists. I will ask them why they think one race is superior to another. As the discussion moves forward, and they become aware that they have poor evidence, they are open to changing their minds. That's the point. If Mark's argument is that we can't just ask people for justification of their beliefs, then he implies that we should leave racists, sexists, and all manner of mistaken people to their own devices. The fact that I use SE on fellow atheists should confuse him, and it should probably confuse him more that I use this exact method to get atheists to abandon bad arguments against religion.
"Asking unreasonable questions in what appears to be a reasonable manner is an off-balancing technique."
I suppose this is fair, but thus far Mark has not demonstrated that any of the questions street epistemologists are asking is unreasonable.
" ‘What if that hadn’t happened to you? Would you still believe in God?’ ‘What if your grandmother didn’t get better after you prayed, would you still believe in God?’ ‘What if the feelings you have after a church service are bad instead of good, does that mean you would feel differently about God?’ And so on. ‘What if’ questions are not based in evidence. They are not reasonable, rational arguments. They are not logical. They are just ‘what if’ questions used as a tactic to confuse and mislead."

This is not the first time I have seen an apologist express a hostile attitude toward thought experiments. What if questions are valuable tools in thinking. What these questions often expose is that the reason the theist has given for their belief in god is not the actual reason they have for belief in god. When they are pressed on this they say that if that event hadn't occurred they would still believe, when they have given a specific event as their reason for belief. This indicates that the believer is just using these justifications as cover for some other underlying reason for belief. The purpose of Socratic method and SE is to get to those reasons.

As a sign of good faith, I will answer Mark's questions:

‘What if Christians you knew growing up in your church had been nicer to you? Might you have grown up believing in God?’

Unlikely. Noah's ark set me on the path of doubt, not how christians behaved. If christian behaviour had any effect, I would have been an atheist much sooner.

‘What if your grandmother had lived instead of died after you prayed for her? Is it possible that you would have believed in God if she was healed?’

Sure it is. Something had to trigger my doubt, and grammy's passing definitely made me think more about my beliefs than I did before.
"That is not a reasonable discussion, it’s a tactic."
Okay, but I just answered the questions without hesitation. It was an interesting thought experiment.
"However, and this is the danger to believers who have not learned why they believe what they believe, unreasonable questions asked in a reasonable fashion often have the appearance of being reasonable and thereby can mislead without being obviously misleading." (my emphasis)
This is exactly the problem with apologetics. If someone does not know why they believe what they believe, they have no justification and should not believe it. That's the entire point of things like SE, to get people in a place where they believe things based on good reasons. But people need to go on this journey for themselves. By telling them why they should continue believing something we rob them of true knowledge. Mark himself was an atheist and claims to have found god through evidence, but he wants to rob others of the journey he himself went through. If you don't have good reasons to believe something, don't believe it. Look at the evidence and decide as objectively as possible whether you find it convincing or not.
"Christians of all ages, but especially the young, must be equipped to ‘recognize’ atheist arguments for what they are, including when there is no argument."
Of course the best way to prevent people from engaging with people they disagree with is to indoctrinate them. If christians have good reasons for their beliefs they don't need to fear SE. In fact SE should have the effect of converting people to their beliefs, because it encourages openness to the ideas of others.
"The word ‘faith’ means “trust, confidence,’ so a crisis of faith means a believer is struggling with trust and confidence issues."
Trust and confidence in what or who? This definition is nonsensical.
"All believers, if they’re honest with themselves, have times in their walk with God when they struggle with trust and confidence, but that doesn’t mean they are going to ‘lose’ their faith."
Doubt is important. Doubt is how we find the truth. And we shouldn't run to our own camps when we feel doubts about any of our beliefs. We should go and see what the other side has to say. If your goal is to find the truth this is what you will do.
"ask them to ask one question at a time and allow you to answer the question before commenting or asking another question."
This assumes that we don't let people answer our questions? Really? In no kind of interaction is that desired. In fact the Gish Gallop was a Christian invention. I haven't seen it used by SE practitioners. What this seems like is an outright lie.
" A true conversation is two-sided. What atheists are looking for is a one-sided event where they ask questions for the purpose of pushing their agenda on an unsuspecting victim."
There is nothing that prevents believers from responding with questions. This is where I diverge from SE. I think an exchange is positive and should be promoted. However I don't think that SE practitioners refuse equal exchanges. At least I've never seen it.
"Atheists are not trying to help anyone discover a reliable method for believing in God. They have one primary motive – to lead believers to ‘disabuse themselves of their faith.’ That’s a term atheists use as the goal of talking people out of their ‘faith tradition, irrationality, and superstition,’ and ‘into reason.’ Atheists believe that once they can lead people ‘into reason,’ the former believers will ‘disabuse themselves of their faith.’"
The level of projection here is severe. Christian apologists are focused on converting people, so it is hypocritical to find that behaviour wrong in others. Yes, I want to talk people out of their poorly held beliefs. That is true about every kind of belief be it about science, politics or religion. I want to live in a world where people have good reasons for believing things. As far as I can tell, Christians have poor reasons for their beliefs, so they must abandon them if we are to have a better world. If people can use reason to come to belief in god, then more power to them, but I am not okay with a majority of the world having beliefs for stupid reasons like being taught to believe those things by their parents. We need to move beyond that as a species because it represents the friction that hampers our continued progress.
"Because I’ve been on both sides (atheist and theist) I have some background in what each side is doing and why they’re doing it."
Not really. It is evident that Mark was not a intellectually fulfilled atheist. Anyone who refers to the "atheist worldview" is ignorant about stronger forms of atheism.
"They need to know that the atheist world is coming for them and will use any trick they can find to deceive them to the point of questioning what they believe. Teach your children what to believe ‘and’ why they can be confident that what they believe is the Truth based on truth and reason."
I'll use this final comment to move into my conclusions. There was a time before SE, when all we did was try and show religious people the flaws of their beliefs. This method is not convincing to people. People need to follow their own path to knowledge. Each and every one of them. By talking at them instead of to them nothing changed. Street Epistemology changed all of that. It is the beginning of a discussion that I think we need to have to improve the way we conduct ourselves in these exchanges. We never asked questions. Questions give people a chance to reason through their beliefs. There isn't a better question than one that makes you think. It is a gift, and if it results in you changing your mind it can be extremely rewarding. Apologists like Mark are in damage control mode. They know that most christians don't have good reasons to be christian. If most of those christians realise that the rational step for them would be to abandon their faith and investigate the question objectively as committed agnostics there would be a level playing field. Mark does not want that, because he knows that once people lose their belief in god it is unlikely to return. He is an exception, not the rule. 

The idea that we are trying to trick people is the worst part of what Mark has to say. He assumes that we think we need to trick people to get them to abandon their faith. That we are inherently dishonest and evil. It makes me angry that apologists keep smearing us like this. We have a difference of opinion. We are trying as honestly as possible to get people to question. That's really all we want: people who question, doubt and consider things carefully and abandon certainty.  

The truth is that Mark is afraid, and he should be. Mark is afraid that SE will work, and that there will be more atheists. He is afraid of people asking questions. He knows that people who embrace their doubts are likely to lose their faith. He doesn't want to see that, because he assumes that he has "Truth" with a capital letter T. Maybe Mark should listen to what SE is about, instead of trying to smear us evil tricksters.