Why It’s So Tricky for Atheists to Debate with Believers

From Alternet:

Debates over faith often leave non-believers holding the bag: look like a jerk or leave the debate unfinished and apparently concede defeat.

In conversations between atheists and believers, is there any way atheists can win?

I’ve been in a lot of discussions and debates with religious believers in the last few years, and I’m beginning to notice a pattern. Believers put atheists in no-win situations, so that no matter what atheists do, we’ll be seen as either acting like jerks or conceding defeat.

Like so many rhetorical gambits aimed at atheists, these “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” tactics aren’t really valid criticisms of atheism. They really only serve to deflect valid questions and criticisms about religion. But they come up often enough that I want to spend a little time pointing them out. I want to spell out the exact ways that these “no-win” situations are both unfair and inaccurate. And I want to point out the general nature of this no-win pattern—in hopes that in future debates with atheists, believers will be more aware of them, and will play a little more fairly.

When atheists focus our critiques on conservative or extremist religions, we get accused of ignoring the tolerant progressive ones and lumping all religions together. But when we do criticize progressive or moderate religions, we’re accused of mean-spirited overkill, of alienating people who could be our allies.

Why this is untrue and unfair: It doesn’t make much sense to assume that the atheist critique of religion you’re reading that moment is the only atheist critique of religion this writer has ever come up with. Most atheist writers who criticize religion do so many times, and from many angles. We critique extremist fundamentalism, and moderate ecumenicalism. We critique specific religious beliefs and practices, and the general belief in the supernatural. It’s not “lumping all religions together” to point out the flaws and hypocrisies and evils committed by one in particular.

[Read more at Alternet]

16 Comments on "Why It’s So Tricky for Atheists to Debate with Believers"

  1. Is it? Watch Christopher Hitchens debate any believer, and you tell me. It's only percieved as tricky by those wishing to elevate common coincidences to something meaningful.

  2. GimpyDonkey | Jan 18, 2010 at 12:06 pm |

    The bottom line is this; no one wants to be the asshole to tell lil johnny that santa isn't real. These people actually believe this nonsense and as such any successful debate on the subject ends in an atheist ripping a believers heart out. Sack up. Talk to any believer long enough (especially with alchohol involved) and you will find there is at least a small part of them that wishes for a return to the inquisition. We don't see this all the time because it seems even more inconcievable than their regular superstitious delusions. No quarter where none given, is that the saying? They honestly believe that a holocaust on logic would be justifiable. So when you go to debate them remember that they drew first blood (especially when you remember that christians v lions deal is just the fable of Daniel and nothing more) and go for the throat. It's the only fair.

  3. you can't debate believers in any real sense,
    they just start spouting slogans and poems like they are rock solid facts

  4. tonyviner | Jan 18, 2010 at 1:18 pm |

    I always start off by telling them that I think the idea of an afterlife is fantastic. You know, try to lure them in, because they will most likely see an opening here to try to use their wily charm to convert me. I mean, who wouldn't want to live forever in whatever paradise is en vogue at the moment? Then I just piss all over everything they say until it comes down to (and it usually does) the whole “you can't prove he does exist, while I cannot prove that he does not. That is an automatic deal breaker for anyone that has the least bit of common sense in their head, at least in the sense that it will get them to shut up about what ever the hell it is that they are trying to sell me at that particular moment.

    I also like to point out that atheism doesn't necessarily mean that there is no afterlife, it just means no belief in God or what-have-you, and you can, in fact, have one without the other. Then I pull the bait-and-switch and tell them that I actually do not believe in any sort of afterlife, I was just stating that it would not go against my core beliefs and anything that might be construed as supernatural is out of the question.

    Atheist heaven would be kind of nice, though. Think about it. The conversation alone makes it somewhere I would like to go. Regular heaven seems kind of bland, just a lot of NASCAR talk, probably.

  5. wolfeyes723 | Jan 18, 2010 at 5:16 pm |

    Do people really believe in all of the things they say they believe in? Or are they just too frightened to admit that deep down they really don't believe in these things at all? Look at human history for the last two thousands years. Look at the way human beings have behaved toward each other. Would people who really believed in an eternal hell behave the way they have done and the way that they still do? Would people who really feared being called up before an all powerful god to answer for their actions still believe in war, still practice greed, jealousy, and hate. If people really believed in hell and facing their maker, would we have had slavery and genocide? I have always believed that people adhere to religions for two reasons. To hid behind and use it to promote all of the little biases running around in their head. The other reason is fear. People fear the idea of not believing, so they believe. And what they fear more than anything, of course, is the idea that there is nothing after death, that death is a cold, dark end. Reality is just too frightening for them, so they dream up a fantasy. But do they really believe in it? Or do they just say they do?

    • I think religion makes it easier to be inhuman to your fellow man.
      If you are coming from a non religious point of view every person is fundamentally like yourself and your friends.
      Coming from a religious point of view you are the holy chosen people acting in gods will, you are right about everything with a supreme being is on your side, anyone who disagrees with you is obviously evil and sinful and should be purged to make god happy

      • Nonsense (not to mention completely limited to a christian/islamic perception of religion).

        You might as well say the complete opposite. If you're coming from a non-religious perspective, every person is fundamentally worthless except for what they can take over and control, and therefore killing them only means they weren't the fittest and didn't deserve to survive or whatever. Anyone who disagrees deserves to be eliminated. Coming from a Religious point of view, every person is a product of said supreme being and therefore everyone should be treated with a basic morality of kindness.

        It's all crap. Most of what Athiests are really complaining about have nothing to do with religion, but all about politics. If it's not fighting over God (and most of the time it isn't honestly, just someone's political leanings) it's over something else (based on whatever you find uncomfortable about the next guy, maybe he's a Republican, maybe he's a Neo-Nazi voting socialist). Atheism doesn't solve anything, it just pretends that religion is the only issue.

  6. santosfabian | Jan 19, 2010 at 7:12 pm |

    you guys… so blasphemous. haha, no seriously. atheism is way more idiotic than actually believing that there is no God (a creater/design), no need to care for the misfortunate, no such thing as the “unexplainable”, no science behind the cycles of life (how every living organism has its place in the ecosystem), no unconditional love… yeah, “I believe in nothing”. thats fuckin stupid. debate debate myspace.com/santosramos

  7. anti_supernaturalist | Jan 23, 2010 at 2:33 pm |

    The existence of some god is irrelevant to their being a secular state
    Pay no attention to religious humbuggery

    vicious circles of religious irrationality eventually end in repression and violence

    It is ludicrous to read those who discourse in absolutes on behalf of some religion. What happens when their “absolutes” don't bow down to yours? Do you use your text to justify its own contents? Of course you do. Must you thump harder on your fictional screeds, allegedly revealed by some god? Of course you must.

    Vicious (logical) circles are a refuge for the refuted. Their religious ideologies dictate the type of interpretive gloss they scribble in the margins of fiction perversely accepted as dictation from supernatural characters.

    A doctrine of absolutes, unchecked by secular authority, leads to repression and violence — very much related to our secular government are the destructive Puritan takeover of power in Britain (1649-1668) and Gibbon’s analysis xianity’s central role in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776).

    The Constitution of the United States which is

    the founding document of our secular state does not contain the word “God.”

    James Madison, primary author of the Constitution, in 1789 explained its two prescriptive statements about religion:

    “. . . Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any Manner contrary to their conscience.” (Source: 1 Annals of Congress 730. August 15, 1789)

    These three simple statements are a précis of the anti-establishment doctrine in the first amendment and of Article VI Section 3. That is — The Constitution makes freedom of conscience a necessary condition for unfeigned religious belief to be possible.

    a thought experiment in freedom of conscience you can try alone at home

    Exercise your rights to disbelief and to be free from religion. Consider, if you can, the import of any supernatural claim should it be false. First, there would be no supernatural agents, locations, states, or events of any kind whatsoever:

    1. No supernatural agents: minds, souls, spirits, ghosts, godlings, gods, God (Allah, YHVH), cosmic soul, absolute.
    2. No supernatural locations: hell, purgatory, heaven, buddha realms, moral world order.
    3. No supernatural states: the numinous, sin, grace, illumination, nirvana, buddha mind.
    4. No supernatural events: mysterium tremendum, redemption, mystical union, karma, or reincarnation.

    Second, nothing alters in reality: not the universe, the solar system, the Earth, physical events, psychological events. Humanity’s supernatural hypotheses say nothing about nature — physical nature or psychological nature.

    Third, nature itself is neither meaningful nor meaningless. Neither a source of comfort nor a source of despair. Both ideologies are rooted in the same mistaken presupposition that meaning should be found by searching “the starry heavens” for divine agents or by quarrying human inwardness for moral or cosmic “laws”.

    Altering Nietzsche: There are altogether no supernatural phenomena, only supernatural interpretations of phenomena. (Compare, Beyond Good and Evil. section 108.)

    religious Ponzi schemes offer nothing but mendacious humbuggery and vampirism

    Faith provides no contact with reality — consequently religions, above all the big-3 monster theisms (xianity, islam, judaism) must indoctrinate, lie, punish, bribe, co-opt power. They must feed upon the faithful — sucking money, time, psychological energy, and life itself — to enrich their institutions and to establish their irrational ideological agendas as theocratic dominions enforced by thuggery, violence, and warfare. (Just as the “C” Street Family seeks to do in Uganda, and later here in a theocracy, call it “Ameristan.”)

    Religions’ sacred Ponzi schemes cannot be tolerated. Their defrauded dead investors are numbered in millions; their fraudulent tax-free take in billions. Their ideologies are inimical to constitutional secular democracy and to an open society — dismissive of human life, freedom of conscience, and freedom of thought.

    The de-deification of western culture (including the sciences) is our task for the next 100 years. We owe it to James Madison.

    the anti_supernaturalist

    • James Madison? are you kidding me bro? you know he was a freemason right? they are ALL ABOUT THE SUPERNATURAL (just in case you honestly didnt know). theres a lot of knowledge out there if you seek after it. im sure you know about how everyone has their own unique fingerprints & dna. nothing “supernatural about that huh? heres a little link on your J. Madison http://www.theforbiddenknowledge.com/hardtruth/

  8. I think that most atheists are the way they are because they have not yet had the true three-fisted words of Bob revealed to them yet. Why not begin your enlightenment today and learn the power of slack? Best of all, you get eternal salvation for a mere $30 or triple your money back! So, what are you waiting for? Are ya pink or are ya Yeti?

  9. hola soy franco de peru tengo 19 años, hola amigo yo soy ateo, la verdad no se que eres tu porque hablas de manera formal y usando tecnicismos, pero te quiero decir que los ateos no nos sentimos victoriosos con nada, a nosotros simplemente aveces nos molesta que la gente nos mire con desprecio, desden y subestimen.Y o puedo resolver tus preguntas puedo debatir contigo si quieres, mi correo coby_003@hotmail.com a mi corta edad no significa que no sepa meditar ni tenga conocimientos de filosofia, claro que se ambos.

  10. The extremists are too entrenched to do anything but howl and wave sticks. I’m not moving one inch, as the argument left unheard cannot convince. So my sticks gonna be a waving.

    Yes, that is a very close minded philosophy, especially for the purportedly open minded Atheist. Theres my lampshade on it.

  11. The extremists are too entrenched to do anything but howl and wave sticks. I'm not moving one inch, as the argument left unheard cannot convince. So my sticks gonna be a waving.

    Yes, that is a very close minded philosophy, especially for the purportedly open minded Atheist. Theres my lampshade on it.

  12. When you are agrue with an idiot you run the risk of taking yourself down to their level.

  13. When you are agrue with an idiot you run the risk of taking yourself down to their level.

Comments are closed.