Make Believers Stay On Topic During Debates (Tip 2 of 10 for Reaching Out To Religious Believers)

Top Ten Tips For Reaching Out To Religious Believers:

1. Don’t Call Religious Believers Stupid.

2. Make Believers Stay on Topic During Debates.

Religious believers debating atheists often have a machine gun style of shooting arguments our way. “How could everything just come from nothing? You really think this is all there is? How can you know there is no God? What is to stop me from killing you and feeding you to my dog if there is no God? How can there be love or ponies in the world if there is no God? How can you ignore the testimony of the apostles who died for Jesus and would not have died for a lie?”

On and on and on, the challenges and arguments are made. Before one can get three sentences out to answer a fallacious line of reasoning which is so confused that it merits a 3,000 word footnoted reply, there is another question or another argument flying at you. No one has a shorter attention span or a greater unwillingness to patiently listen and consider what you are saying than the average Evangelical Christian, for example. They are chugging thoughtlessly through a list of talking points half the time really not interested in understanding you but in spreading the Gospel.

So here is what I recommend. Insist, as a condition of having a discussion about religion and atheism at all, that they concentrate on one question at a time. Insist on only dealing with one issue until it is satisfactorily covered. Don’t let them hop off on a tangent before you finish making your point. Insist they address your arguments in their substance before dismissing them and that they let you counter-address their rebuttals, or that they concede the point. If they do not do this, if they refuse to admit they have lost a point but instead want to change the topic instead, just don’t let them. End the conversation. It is, in my estimation, more important that you insist on seeing one idea through than that you dance around with shallow back and forths on 20 topics in a way that never forces them to reconcile in an in-depth way the numerous problems with an one of their positions.

If someone leaves a topic before you’ve fully refuted it, they can just tell themselves later that there are plenty of other arguments to support their position after all. Corner them intellectually. Make them thoroughly analyze and confront the total emptiness of a position and concede out loud that they have it wrong or at least that you have raised considerations they cannot answer and that they must do much more thinking on that topic, before you let them change the subject.

Your Thoughts?

3. Don’t Tell Religious Believers What They “Really Believe”.

4. Clarify What Kinds of Evidence Warrant What Kinds of Beliefs.

5. Help Break The Spell Of Religious Reverence.

6. Don’t Demonize Religious People’s Motives, Focus On Their Objective Harms.

7. Take Philosophy Seriously.

8. Both Refute The Best Counter-Arguments You Can Think Of And Create Gestalt Shifts.

9. Be Unapologetic, Rigorous, Patient, And Gracious With Religious Believers.

10. Love Religious People.


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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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