Friday, November 14, 2014

Tips For Christians Who Want to Debate Atheists

#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 shit 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 not only do atheists not believe in God, 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 bullshit 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.


  1. I can't tell if this was written to help Christians or to mock them :)

    I think the best way to discuss religion with anyone of a different religion (or non-religion) is to shrug and say "It works for me, and I'm happy to share with you why it does," and leave it at that. Find the common ground - treating people with dignity is good, feeding the poor is good, being nice to people is good, don't be a jerk, etc.

    Heck, I find different branches of Christianity differ so much that this could be written for Christians talking to other Christians.

    I mean, hardcore Creationists look like idiots to anyone who knows any science at all (or has even read Genesis 1 and 2, ever), and understands the simple concept that God is smart enough to have spun up an infinite universe 15 billion years ago with the exact plan that human beings would someday be here to fight about what God was thinking (which I think would show a sense of humor on God's part).

    Evolution might look random, or it might have been all part of the Master Plan. (Personally, I prefer random, because the micro-management required for it not to be random - while easily within God's scope - means there ain't really any free will at all.)

    Yep, this girl has a degree in theology; can you tell? :)

  2. This is an extremely well-written and thoughtful piece. Very intelligent and insightful. As the auther says up front, I think if more Christians (or anyone of any faith) followed this advice when discussing faith and religion, there would be many useful discussions about theology and philosophy, and that would make the world a better place, if only because - as the author wrote - "they'll see you as a different breed" i.e. a reasonable human being and not some kind of fairy-tale lunatic. I love that line - "just don't be stupid" :)