I have been reading the recent discussion between believers and non-believers with a lot of interest, some of the comments have been informative, some humorous but unfortunately most full of hate and ignorance (from both sides). I am in a different situation to most atheists as I was born an atheist, not in the sense that “every baby is born atheist” but that I was born into an atheist family. My father was an atheist and at best my mother was agnostic. This means I have very little religious upbringing to influence my thoughts and from the day I was introduced to religion at school I was always questioning the bible and found many if not all the bible stories to be unbelievable.
However, what my atheist upbringing taught me, from a very young age was that you cannot argue with a believer, Christian or otherwise. Religious followers are extremely dogmatic in their beliefs and just like any type of argument the minute somebody starts criticising their beliefs and insulting their intelligence they get defensive and angry (think how you get when someone mocks your favourite sports team). Whilst religious debates will continue till the end of time, I would like to share a few things I have learnt over my 40 years as an atheist in the hope that the debate can remain intelligent and not ended up as verbal mudslinging.
Try not to get angry with a believer, I know it is difficult and I still do get angry at times, but this only ends up with one result – Both parties “shutting down”
Don’t quote scripture to try to explain the faults of the bible, Christians often chose their own interpretations and will ignore your views anyway. Also most Christians are “Sunday school” taught and don’t understand their bible as well as an atheist so your explanations will fall on badly informed ears and Christians will interpret this as going against their “intelligent” pastor/teacher and will fight you accordingly.
If possible argue points and facts, if they don’t believe in evolution try and explain, for example, the recent evolution of insects adapting to pesticides or how white people in hot climates cope with the sun better than white people in cold climates etc and slowly work backwards. Remember as an atheist you really need to know your facts, I understand you will be debating an irrational thinker but one slip up on your side will lead to ridicule from the believer. If you need to discuss the bible, again be very sure of the scriptures you are debating and also remember most Christians use the old testament as it suits them so they will ignore you when you raise the issue of what a sexist, racist, slave condoning and murdering bastard their god is.
Many believers feel they have had a god/Jesus experience, the best way to debate this is to ask them to explain this experience and then rationally dissect it. Telling them they were hallucinating or are insane will only get them defensive and angry and will result in the debate going no further.
These are just a few pointers I have picked up along the way and I hope they help, just remember if you were once a believer your enlightenment to becoming an atheist didn’t happen over night so show calm and patience with others.
Your debating techniques should be similar to that of an atheist, insulting and threatening them will only be met with the same. Most atheists used to be believers and they left their belief for their own reasons and getting all “bible puncher” with them will only encourage them to feel they made the correct choice.
Don’t quote scripture, an atheist doesn’t believe in your bible or god so scripture will be meaningless to them and will only show your inability to think for yourself.
Don’t threaten an atheist with the fires of hell, again this is meaningless to them and will not scare them anymore than the boogieman living under their bed.
Atheists in general are fact based, faith to them is meaningless and you need to try and get your points across without resorting to “have to have faith”
Be careful when using examples of how god has answered a prayer or helped you in any way, as an atheist will jump all over that like a ton of bricks as there is no tangible proof that prayer works, rather try and explain how your belief is improving your life.
Research and find ways of explaining your belief without referring constantly to the bible, saying Jesus said something in the bible has as much meaning to an atheist as saying magic exists because it says so in the Harry Potter books. Try and find references outside the bible to support your claims.
Read your bible, study it on your own without the influence of a pastor or study group, if you want to counter an atheists comment you need to talk with authority not by regurgitating what you heard at Sunday school.
Remember the onus of proof is on you, you cannot say; “prove there is no god, you can’t so therefore god exists”. It is the other way around, you need to prove god exists and the problem is your only source of reference is the bible and your faith, both of which are subjective to non-believers so you need to think out of the box here.
In closing - it is difficult for me to argue for a believer as I am not one but just like with atheists, be calm and patience and think before you talk and make statements.
The above is based on an atheist/Christian debate but these points should be valid for any belief system, except perhaps Buddism, but that’s another discussion altogether.
I hope these helped in some way to make the discussions more intelligent and not just insulting competitions J