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Debate or not debate?

I'd like us to chat about whether or not we should be debating with theists. Since joining this forum in November, I've gathered that the community is kinda split down the middle on the subject. I.e. it's a waste of time, or it isn't.

I have an insight to share that explains why maybe we should. (IMHO)

In the last few years of my involvement with the born again crowd (circa 1995), there was a lot of very intelligent conversation about how to alter a person's paradigm. IOW, convert someone to Christianity. The "intelligent" crowd were acknowledging that direct evangelizing no longer applied to modern society... we've all been fatigued by door-knockers, right?

The new way to proselytize was through "overhearing" the gospel. Which means people aren't being directly challenged IN THEIR FACE, but rather exposed to thoughts they perhaps had never heard before... in an indirect manner. Hence no resistance to the idea.

In my opinion, they are mostly right. That's why I think online public debates are valuable, cuz you never know who is listening on the sidelines.

My opinion, not yours...

Hominid 7 Jan 5

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"That's why I think online public debates are valuable, cuz you never know who is listening on the sidelines."

I wholeheartedly agree. I just don't want to see it, or do it here (on this site), debating with believers.

Ya, that's cool - that's not what I was advocating.

@Hominid I know you weren't. My second sentence was directed at some of the comments in this thread


I agree that well-performed debates about religion in front of large scale audiences can be valuable. Such debates can expose major flaws in religious ideology and hypocritical behavior by believers in he religion. At he same time, I think that one-on-one private arguments about religion are senseless, as such debates degenerate into reason versus blind irrationality.


"That's why I think online public debates are valuable, cuz you never know who is listening on the sidelines."
Nailed it.


In addition to the other points made here, I favor inclusion over exclusion.
It'd be like a sign on a building saying, "You, You and you. Keep Out!"

Debate sites between believers and unbelievers are a dime a dozen. I'll be happy to direct you to those places.

@Duke A key part of this site is the ability for members to post questions, comments, and links. As we want to ensure that this platform is inclusive and discussions lively yet productive, we would like members to consider the following guidelines. Help make this an intelligent place for discussion and it will be.
Remember that all people come to their own truth differently.


Whether I will engage with believers really depends on several circumstances. How much time I have to spend on such debates, and my mood at the moment, are two of the biggest factors. I am, however, in agreement with many here. I don't want to engage in that activity on this site. It's nice that this is a community of relatively like-minded individuals, who aren't prostletizing about their gods and 'holy' books. If I want debate on those topics, I know where to get it.

Further insight

When I remember my first ex's family and their Congregational Church I remember the Minister coming to dinner on Sunday throwing his bullshit around. It will take a lot of energy and effort to debate theist. Is it worth it? I defer to others. For me its fruitless.


I want to believe that rational arguments can change irrational beliefs. I want to believe that a well-led debate can lead to new insights or can change the minds of some of those involved. After all, this is how it works among scientists (which is my profession), at least to some extent.
My personal experience is different though. Religious beliefs like some other beliefs (e.g. fear of vaccinations) are very often not open to debate. People tend to put some kind of emotional armor around these beliefs and no logical argument can get through that.
Two of my most impressive experiences were with christians who were creationists and believed the bible to be literally true (both from different christian sects though). They were both happy to discuss the story of Noah and the arch with me, insisting that everything that is written in the bible about this is a historic fact AND compatible with their image of their god.
So I asked them questions about did god kill all the babies all the unborns as well? Did he kill all the animals that could now swim, did he even kill all the cute Pandas? Why did he not kill the fish though? What did hedgehogs do, were those sinners too? And since god is all powerful, why did he choose to punish the sinners that way instead of snipping his fingers and just killing exactly the sinners. And so on and so forth. Any rationally thinking person would immediately see that there is simply no way to provide logical answers to that but they both did provided some kind of answer and if it got really hard it was always some variation of "we cannot understand the ways of our all knowing all loving all powerful god and we should not even try".
In other words their religion has managed to switch off the most important aspect necessary for debating: critical thinking. Debating with these people is like debating with a wind-up talking doll.


What does "debate" mean?

I think it means "compete to construct the more convincing argument, using facts and logic and building off your opponent's points as appropriate, with the goal of convincing a spectating third party"--NOT argue, disagree, converse, or try to convince your interlocutor. I think this is a fine approach be and I'd like to see more of it.

The way I hear "debate" used these days, it sounds like most people think it means "try to win an argument" or "try to convince the other guy".

I don't have a lot of confidence in the ability of any random person to separate themselves from their ideas--and maintain calm and decorum when their ideas are challenged.

Maybe we should reserve "debate" for those people who have demonstrated an understanding of what it is, and an ability to fulfill its principles when "under fire", so to speak? I'm not one for restrictions or policing speech, but I'm also not one for letting bad behavior run roughshod over delicate systems that can't tolerate it.


I am with David Silverman, I think the most important thing we can do is normalize the word atheist. Once the masses accept that it is a normal and rational world view, then we will not have near as much to debate.


Could be. How do you want to strart these debates?

PEGUS Level 5 Jan 8, 2018

I think the consensus is to not use this platform for such debate, but rather to engage believers in other forums meant for that purpose.

@VictoriaNotes - My recent debating has been solely on Facebook; I don't seek out websites to tango with Xtians... you mentioned there was a plethora of forums for theists and non-believers to have open debate. Is there a shortlist of such websites you could share with this crowd?



I'm sure you are well aware of Patheos? WordPress? They have a huge community of nonbeliever and believers who debate with one another.

@VictoriaNotes - Thanks for the quick response.

Damn, all those rabbit holes...

@Hominid 😀


I don't know about this indirect influence thing, as I've never given it much thought. I know myself, personally, when I overhear something that is gospel-related, I generally roll my eyes. Then again, I've been through the debate in my own mind countless times and finally arrived at atheism.

I find myself enjoying an occasional, civil debate with a theist. I hold no expectation of changing my opponent's mind and have no fear of my opponent changing mine. However, I do hope to learn, and to teach.

If you are looking to change someone, then perhaps debate is not the tool of choice. If you are looking to engage and, hopefully, exchange insight, then I think debate can be a fun and challenging endeavor.


id rather have a mass debate


It depends on the context and the person(s) involved. For example, it serves no purpose for me to have that debate with my extremely religious 83-year-old mother, or with anyone who might tell her about it. She already worries that I won't go to heaven, and she just doesn't need the stress. I'm a firm believer in picking one's battles, with a preference for battles I may actually have a chance at winning and obeying the "do no harm" maxim.


I have no issues with debates and discussions with people of all walks of life and world view provided all parties remain intellectually honest. Which is hard to come by in all my experience watching and partaking in discussions pertaining to matters of belief.

It just gets rather tiring when I hear the same boring rhetoric over and over to the point that I could play a game of BINGO with it. Becomes less of a fruitful pursuit and more of a waste of time. Sometimes I get some interesting insights, but boy can it be and exhausting trip.


I personally operate on the theory that in the public venue what is ridiculous about religion should be ridiculed.
In person I do not debate unless it's necessary. Just prefer to keep it conversational. I will often give reasons that I personally could no longer believe to hopefully provoke thought. Perhaps when the conversation is done they might ask themselves the same questions.
Peter Boghossian in his book a manual for creating atheist, highlights that we should not go after specific beliefs, as people take this personally. Rather he says we should focus on "how we know what we know", that being faith.


A lot of people think of debate as an argument, with a winner and a loser. That’s often not very productive. Respectfully sharing ideas though, can be beneficial to everyone. Seems that Admin is open to all points of view, but not open to disrespectful behavior, and that seems like the right approach to me. If someone doesn’t want to engage the person, they don’t have to.

It’s not like this place is ever going to be overrun with believers; they will always be a tiny minority, and if they are troublemakers, they won’t last long.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable belonging to a club that rejected members based on religion any more than on race.

And I hope I’m never so certain of my own position that I am closed to learning.

skado Level 8 Jan 5, 2018

We might remind these religious people that this is a serious agnostic site not for espousing fundamentalist belief systems. Serious questions will be discussed, but I wouldn't consider debating with fundamental people about their beliefs.

Do you mean debate as in my side is right and yours is wrong, or exchange of ideas?

@PEGUS Personally, I think of debate as a mutually respectful exchange of ideas. I'm not interested in spatting with anybody, whether they share my worldview or not.


Sound. Avoids cognitive dissonance. They are not under pressure to change their opinions or beliefs when observing others discussions, they can come to accept a mistake in their own time and way.


My own local Freethinker club did a debate ostensibly about evolution recently. We wound up concluding it was a bad experience because the pastor who served as our interlocutor did not act in good faith. He couldn't stay on topic (which I don't think was intentional so much as simply a product of his lack of any kind of structured education or training) and instead of offering a conclusion summarizing his point of view gave the audience a sermon that the Christians thought was "beautiful" and the atheists thought was "disrespectful."

It's very unlikely any minds were changed directly by the exchange. In theory, college students (the venue was a community college) were also present to hear both sides and decide as well, but it's a real good question in my mind a) how much they were really paying attention, and b) how much more likley they would have been to have been persuaded to change their pre-existing point of view than other folks.

Maybe the soft, "overhearing" approach works. But you need to make a leap of faith that it does, because I'm not sure the evidence is there one way or the other about that sort of thing.


I've made a poll for this question:

"Should we be debating theists?"


well, there should be minimum requirements for one to engage in a debate. Just like a computer, there has to be minimum specs for a game to be installed or played. Same goes for debates, the participants should at least be intelligent enough to engage in one. The problem with theists are, there are close-minded, opinionated and brainwashed already.


I'll debate theists and atheists. Typically my argument focuses on the fact they are accepting a position without evidence.


We are Homo Sapiens. We are curious, social creatures. Feral humans are ostracized and left to fend for themselves, unless they return to the fold. Do we demand to have an Overseer to keep the flock united? Note: I answer the door in my underwear when evangicals knock. If someone says "God bless" or have a blessed day...I don't froth at the mouth.


I suppose this depends on one's personal sense of mission. One fellow may feel it is a way of fighting for justice, while another may feel it causes too much derision to be worth it. Which fellow is more "right?"

I subscribe to this simple axiom: "Don't let anyone tell you what to believe."

The hopefully obvious corollary, there, is to not be the one who tells others what to believe.


It depends on the individual I'm debating with. If they're willing to listen to my side, consider their response and have a proper debate, like I will to them, then I'm up for it. If they're just going to become angry and try to shout me down, there's no possibility of a debate and I'll just walk away.

Jnei Level 8 Jan 5, 2018
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