Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What should Christians avoid when debating atheists?

There are certain attributes of Christian/Atheist dialogs that I feel deter from a productive conversation, from both the theistic and atheistic viewpoints.  Today's post is going to focus on the tactics Christians use that are harmful for their case or those that impede effective, progressing discourse.  Tomorrow's post will be on the same topic, but from the atheistic perspective (atheists do stupid things too!).  The goal of having a debate on religious and philosophical topics shouldn't necessary rest on the assumption that, at the end of the conversation, someone is going to flip to the other side.  This expectation is merely wishful thinking.  A more realistic goal is to try and have a conversation in which both sides can come away with a different perspective on the issue.  Even if the person you are talking to makes claims that are easily refutable and your opponent doesn't see or understand the refutations, at least you can come away with arguments you hopefully have never heard of before.  Another benefit of these kinds of discourse is that both of the participants get practice.  Being able to eloquently express your ideas in a concise, pointed manner while maintaining patience takes practice.  So, without further adieu, here are some tactics that Christians should avoid when debating atheists:
  1. Avoid using scripts
Everyone has their "pet arguments" and this is okay.  The scripts I am talking about are ones that are pushed for by apologists to lead a person to God.  The makers of these scripts assume they know how each of their questions will be answered and attempt to lead a person straight to God.  However, if it were that easy, everyone (including me) would be a Christian.  The point is that some Christians, when they get thrown from their script, have no idea what to say and try to continue on with the script.  Make sure you know the objections for your arguments beforehand and be prepared to defend your position through rational thought.  Trying to continue on with the conversation when someone objects is pointless.  What's the point of building an entire argument off of a premise that the person you are talking to disagrees with?  In addition to these pitfalls, scripts attempt to steer the conversation and, in whole, are not as beneficial as civil thought sharing back and forth between you and your partner.  Do your homework before engaging in debates or you won't be taken seriously.  Scientific papers follow this guideline as well.  A good scientific paper must have a section that preemptively deals with the criticisms the author/authors know they will inevitably receive.

    2.   Avoid talking about the theory of evolution, abiogenesis, or Big Bang cosmology when the discussion is about the existence of God

Personally, when I get into a debate with a Christian over the existence of their God and the Christian starts talking about evolution, abiogenesis, or Big Bang cosmology, I immediately concede the point.  More specifically, I grant to them, for the sake of argument, that evolution, abiogenesis, and Big Bang cosmology are all incorrect.  Mind you, these are interesting topics for debating, however all are irrelevant to the question of God's existence.  If evolution was proven wrong tomorrow, that in no way proves that a God exists.  Christians have the "burden of proof" meaning they are the ones making a claim that we atheists lack a belief in.  It is up to the Christians to provide the necessary standards of evidence to prove that their God exists.  There is no dichotomy between the Big Bang and God started the universe with the wave of his hand.  There are many other theories than just these two.  If you want to follow scientific principles and prove that the God of the Bible exists, then you have to provide positive evidence for your claims and not rely on disproving other theories.

    3.   Ask questions

Christians have a much harder time with this one than atheists.  Atheists have natural questions we must ask Christians during every debate because there as many denominations as interpretations of the Bible.  Atheists have to develop some sense of the God you are talking about and what you personally believe.  I find that Christians do not extend this action to atheists.  As long as you're excluding the lack of a belief in a god or gods, the Christian doesn't know anything about what the atheist believes in or the reasons for this said lack of belief.  Avoid lumping people together and committing the fallacy of a sweeping generalization.  In addition to these types of personal questions, always feel free to ask for clarification of a response.  This will never hurt the conversation and can only help.  Plus, you two may agree on the issue but a small semantic difference is holding up the conversation.

    4.   Throw Bible verses around as if they carry weight

Imagine yourself in a debate with a Muslim and that person gives you a verse from the Qur'an in order to prove a point in a discussion that doesn't have to with Islamic teachings or anything of that sort.  The verse means nothing to you because you believe that the book is not divinely inspired and is a bunch of hogwash.  Guess what?  This is how atheists view your holy book!  In order to use the Bible as any type of evidence, you must first give a compelling case on how you know that the Bible is the word of God and isn't a make believe fairytale like every other religious text out there.

    5.   Substituting "I don't know" with "God must have something to do with it!"

This is called the "God of the gaps" fallacy.  I will have a post on this concept eventually, but, essentially, the fallacy is made when a theist offers their god or gods as an answer when us humans do not currently possess one.  For example, when a "medical miracle" happens and we don't know why, some people turn to God and this is a fallacy from ignorance.  Just because you can't possibly think of anything other than "God did it!", does not mean that is the correct answer.  In this case and in debates in general, the honest response to say is "I don't know".  There is nothing shameful about this response in the slightest.  Science says "I don't know" all of the time, but at no point is it justified in giving any answer it wants (such as a God).  Saying "I don't know" during a debate and not attributing events to your God is honest and will ultimately help the conversation.

If you have any other suggestions for tactics Christians should avoid when debating atheists please comment below!  Have a wonderful day!

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