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Tips for Christians Who Want to Debate Atheists

This was posted on Facebook by Jack V. Butler Jr. on 11/8/2013. Please also see the symmetric list in the bottom half of this page.

  1. Don't be stupid.

    Someone wiser than me said that arguing with an atheist is a bit like picking up a woman in a bar: You're 90% of the way to being successful if you can manage to avoid the stupid **** other people have already done. Most of what you have to do to successfully argue with an atheist is just do not be stupid.

  2. Never, ever quote the Bible at an atheist. Ever.

    Seriously, you're not going to convince them that way. Ask yourself, would you be convinced by someone who was quoting the Hindu vedas at you? Or was quoting the Tao, or the Koran?

    To an atheist, one ancient book of fairy tales is very much like any other ancient book of fairy tales and until the atheist decides to believe in the religion in question, that's all any scripture will ever be.

  3. Do not say things like "God is just" or "God is love".

    The Bible is filled with examples of God being a cruel, nasty, blood-soaked, murderous bastard. Saying these things will only make an atheist laugh at you (or else will make an atheist get angry at you), and it definitely won't persuade them you are right.

  4. Do not mention Creationism, and do not deny Evolution.

    Doing so makes you look like a complete and total moron, like those psychotic wackadoos who still believe in astrology, or that the Earth is flat, or that the Earth is the center of the solar system. Showing your own scientific ignorance will not convince an atheist that you know what you are talking about.

    The opposite is, in fact, true: this is the quickest way to show the atheist that you're not worth listening to.

  5. Do not pretend that Christianity makes you morally superior to the atheist.

    The atheist probably has his own sense or morality, and will be fairly clear on what is wrong and what is right. If you tell him he is morally inferior because he isn't a Christian, all you're doing is insulting him. Besides, the atheist knows that the history of Christianity is filled with violence and bloody atrocity, and that the Bible encourages this bloody violence and prejudice, whereas other religions (like Jainism and Wicca) lack any violent history at all.

  6. Avoid telling an atheist what he or she thinks.

    You'll find yourself wanting to say things along the lines of "How can you believe that the universe just appeared out of nothing" or "How can you believe we came from monkeys?" Don't do it, because the atheist, who is almost always conversant in modern scientific theory, knows that both questions are nonsense and doesn't believe those things at all. Let the atheist speak for himself and do not put words in his mouth.

    Likewise, avoid telling an atheist WHY he thinks. Do not pretend to know why the atheist believes what he believes. Saying "You just hate God" is stupid, insulting, and will absolutely win you zero points. Maybe the atheist doesn't believe in God because there is absolutely no evidence supporting his existence -- which is the same reason you deny the existence of Vishnu and Thor, by the way.

  7. Don't use a broad brush.

    Always remember that atheists have a wide variety of beliefs, hail from a wide variety of backgrounds, and are not one large monolithic herd of people. Just because they don't believe in God does not make them clones of each other. Likewise, just because Atheist A is also a lesbian socialist who works in a record store in Amsterdam, has a pierced nose, and hates Italian food does not mean Atheist B cannot be a heterosexual capitalist who heads up a Fortune 500 company in New York City, is a dedicated family man, doesn't even wear a watch, and loves him some tortalinni al fresco.

  8. Don't threaten them with Hell.

    The threat of Hell is useless because they don't believe in Hell either. Its like threatening them with Never Never Land... they'll just laugh you off for threatening them with a make-believe "punishment" that won't ever happen anyway. And don't be cute and use the backhanded "Its not me, its God" approach to the threat, because that's even more ridiculous.

  9. Do not ignore or evade questions that put your faith to the test.

    Don't evade serious questions that put your faith in a bad light. Do not tap dance and pretend the question does not exist, and do not bull**** about having "answered" the question when all you've done is dodged it.

    Atheists occasionally ask heavy questions like "If God is supposed to be all-loving, then why does he allow so many children to starve to death every year?" or "If God wanted to reveal himself to us, why did he do so through a self-contradictory and confusing Bible that has lead to thousands of splits in Christian theology, so that almost nobody -- NOBODY -- heard the alleged revelation correctly?" Do not avoid these questions by answering with "Who are we to question God?" or "God is mysterious." or "He has a plan and its not up to us to question it." Such answers are just another form of dodge, and it makes you look like you've got something to hide.

  10. Never make an assertion that you cannot defend with independent, verifiable, testable evidence.

    The truth is, Christians often will memorize and parrot points from an apologetics website, but won't actually bother to find out whether what they've memorized is actually true. They won't bother to even find out why they are supposedly true, even when they aren't. Atheists have heard most of these arguments before, know that these arguments are false, and usually have ready answers that point out how false they are.

    If an atheist can show that your argument is false, and you respond with "Um... well... You must just hate God!" or "You refuse to accept the truth when its given" (despite having just been shown that your "truth" is nothing more than a big fat lie...), you're only going to look like an idiot.

  11. Treat atheism seriously.

    Most philosophers and scientists are atheists. You know, the smartest people in the world? So don't just handwave it away as if its not worth your time to discuss. Go out of your way to understand the atheists point of view, especially why they are atheists in the first place. Do not brush aside the points they are making, and always keep one thing in mind: YOU MIGHT BE WRONG AND THEY MIGHT BE RIGHT.

    Since Christians almost never consider atheism seriously, you’ll win a lot of points with atheists if you do this. They’ll see you as a different breed of Christian, one actually worth talking with.

  12. If you're going to talk religion with an atheist, do so honestly.

    Do not begin such discussions from the assumption that your conclusions are automatically true. Rather, be honest and open and talk things out. Doing otherwise isn't discussion, its dictation, and no one likes being dictated to. Again, accept that the atheist might have good, rational, believable reasons for his atheism, and accept that your belief in God is a matter of faith, not fact. When an atheist makes a good point, acknowledge that he has done so. And always stay respectful, even if the atheist isn't.

  13. Admit when you are wrong.

    This is simple: if you are wrong, and can be shown to be wrong, on a matter of verifiable fact, then just admit it and accept it. For example, perhaps an atheist points out where you employed a logical fallacy. Admit your mistake, and then restate your argument without using a fallacy if possible. This is huge. Atheists will respect you for this and will want to talk with you more often about your faith. Admitting your mistakes is very impressive.

    Hopefully you are not a Creationist or a Biblical literalist, because the truth is that a huge part of the original Christian doctrine was simply wrong. There are real, scientific and historical errors in the Bible. However, be aware that the presence of these errors in no way takes away from Jesus's message, and to a Christian it should be the truth of that message, and not the false "inerrancy" of the Bible that matters.

  14. Appeal to reason and evidence, not faith or personal experience or Scripture.

    Atheists don’t see any use for faith, which they often define as "believing in something without any evidence". To the atheist, “I believe because I have faith in God” sounds as silly as “I believe in astrology because I have faith.” Likewise, your personal mystical experiences with God aren’t going to convince the atheist.

    The atheist didn’t have those experiences, and can’t verify them. Besides, the atheist knows that billions of other people around the world claim personal experiences with contradictory gods and spirits and aliens, so he doesn’t see personal experience as reliable evidence.

    And we already talked about the problems with Scripture.

  15. Have a sense of humor.

    At some point, you might be mocked for believing in magic and illusion and having faith in an invisible sky man. Do not get angry, because all that shows is that you are immature, have a thin skin, and need to grow up.

Tips for Atheists Who Want to Debate Christians

  1. Start off casual.

    You should first show how atheism has impacted your own life in a positive way. Citing peer-reviewed scientific publications at every possible opportunity may be a bit much for most Christians, as most of them wouldn't know how to read a scientific paper if you held a gun to their head.

    However, if they bring up their belief that God did this or that in their life, it is okay to point out to them other factors that helped them, such as probability, their own work, or a professional's skill, during those times they believe that it was God doing the heavy lifting.

  2. Keep your temper.

    Try and be polite as you can, regardless of how much you'd rather not, for as long as you possibly can. This is pretty basic. Do not be rude. Be polite, and be understanding. If a Christian says something you find stultifyingly stupid... and they will... then just take a deep breath and calmly and collectedly explain why it is that what they just said doesn't make sense.

    And yes, I know, I haven't always followed this rule. Doesn't mean it shouldn't be a rule. Just means I'm bad at following it.

  3. Get them in the habit of questioning their own faith.

    Sometimes pointing out a single fallacy every now and then is sufficient. Likewise, asking them to explain something about their religion you don't understand to get them thinking about deeper meaning.

  4. Let them try to convert you.

    Many Christians will automatically try to convert you the moment they find out you're an atheist. This is the easiest way to engage them, especially if you are familiar with the arguments they use. By simply remaining calm, firm, yet reasonable, you are already bringing in to question the stereotype of the "immoral and angry atheists."

  5. Stay on point.

    Don't allow the subject to be changed. Once the point of the discussion has been established, don't get tied up in side-arguments. If you have to (politely) point out that your discussion partner has attempted to change the subject, then do so. And then maneuver the conversation back on point.

  6. Read and understand their holy book cover-to-cover.

    Read the Bible. Read the Koran. Read the Torah and the Bhagavad Gita. Learn what these books say. Learn what the most commonly quoted verses are. Learn where the contradictions and the scientific errors are. Learn which of these scripture's stories not only contain the contradictions but also have been proven historically false (like the Hebrew Exodus out of Egypt, or the Great Flood).

  7. Learn common arguments leveled by theists and the best rebuttals.

    Although it is not possible to prepare for every conceivable argument that might be brought to the table by a Christian, there are a handful of arguments which do seem to be used over and over and over and over again. Study the common talking points of Christian apologetics, and be prepared with their refutations.

    These refuted-yet-still-used arguments include the "Fine-Tuned Universe" argument, the "Evolution is Just a Theory" argument, Kalam's Cosmological Argument, Pascal's Wager, Arguments from Morality, the "Abiogenesis = Evolution" argument, the "Second Law" argument, the "Tornado in a Junkyard" argument, the "Banana Man" argument, "Irreducibly Complexity", Arguments from Personal Experience, Teleological Reasoning, and so on. Also memorize the list of "Arguments Creationists Should Never Use" list, found on the Creationist website "Answers in Genesis", because using a Creationists own arguments against him is often the best way to convince them they are wrong.

    Learn the Presuppositionalist Playbook and choose your favorite way of utterly destroying it.

    The point is, pretty much all of these arguments have been refuted already. Learn these refutations and keep them in mind every time you talk to a Christian. This way, you'll better understand what they are trying to say, and you can more easily explain to them why using these arguments is a mistake. Likewise, become familiar with all of the logical fallacies and the reasons why they are logical fallacies, and be prepared to inform your discussion partner of when they have made use of one of these fallacies.

  8. Keep your temper.

    Try and be polite as you can, regardless of how much you'd rather not, for as long as you possibly can.

    Yes, this is a repeat of #2, but it needs to be repeated. It is a statistical fact that as the length of the discussion increases, the chances that the Christian you are talking to will say something that is either a) utterly and completely insulting, b) utterly and completely condescending, c) a scientific error that any 2nd Grader should have known was wrong, or d) something that you've already refuted utterly approaches 1:1. When this happens, take a deep breath and count to 10 and realize that they aren't (hopefully) trying to intentionally piss you off.

  9. Be respectful of their beliefs, even if you find them ridiculous.

    Christians have a right to their own opinions, even as you do, and its amazingly rude to be disrespectful of these beliefs. Likewise, treat the Bible with respect, even as you are proving that its nothing more than a work of fiction (believe it or not, doing both is possible; if you don't believe me, I direct you to Isaac Asimov's "Guide to the Bible").

  10. Be open-minded.

    Listen and understand their point of view. Learn what makes them believe what they do. Remember, we can't prove, in any absolute sense, that no gods exist. We can only show evidence that gods and religion have truly human origins, point out inconsistencies in their belief, and show how scientists have answered a number of the grand questions of the universe. We can only show that the world doesn't end when your faith does.

  11. Examine the reasons why people end up believing in myths, urban legends, and superstitions in the first place.

    If you can gain an understanding as to why people believe stories that are backed by little evidence, you'll be able to understand the thinking of your discussion partner. Being knowledgeable about the psychology of belief will better prepare you for the challenges ahead.

  12. Study basic physics and biology, as believers may form arguments using a flawed interpretation of physics, chemistry, or biology.

    Understanding the core of these subjects will allow you to identify poor arguments like that from the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

  13. Don't try to change them too drastically or too quickly.

    Deconversion from a lifetime of religious indoctrination is a highly personal activity that inherently takes a long time. Changes are gradual, so don't push too hard. Let the other person come to their own understanding of a world without any gods. A journey of personal discovery will always yield stronger results than browbeating them.

  14. Keep to the same standards of evidence as you are holding them to.

    If you make a fact, you should be prepared to support that claim with evidence. Being able to do so, especially when your discussion partner has openly said that you won't be able to, is an especially strong move in a discussion.

  15. Admit when you are wrong.

    Usually, you'll only be wrong about the little things, but admit it anyway.

  16. Have a sense of humor.

    At some point, you might be mocked for not believing in God. Do not get angry, because all that shows is that you are immature, have a thin skin, and need to grow up.

  17. Know when to back away.

    Don't let differences and debate cause bad feelings. Know when to let the Christian off the hook and when their off of it, leave them be for a while. And also, know when the Christian you are talking to is an utterly bugnuts insane wackadoo to whom talking is never going to be convincing.