Arguing About Religion is Worthwhile

Is arguing about religion a waste of time? Greta Christina doesn’t think so and she explained her reasons at the 2011 Secular Student Alliance conference:

In short, there are plenty of reasons to do it, but you don’t want to waste your time on every single person who disagrees with you. There are good and bad ways to go about having that conversation.

If there are any particular parts of Greta’s talk we should all see, please leave the timestamp in the comments!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • M Vanroy

    I would have chosen better wording than “add a little fertilizer”.

    • fiddler

      It took me a minute to figure out why you said that. I think that there is a certain level of conceptual difference that exists. Some people view fertilizer as crap, some view it as something which makes other things grow…

  • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

    I think my favorite part was around 26:40 when she said that we see religion as a hypothesis; they see it as an identity. “They see it as like, being gay.” Awesome.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Yes, arguing about this matters.  People do actually change their minds. I used to be very religious and changed my mind for a variety of reasons that included reading internet discussions. 

  • Anonymous

    I have decided to spend no more than 10 minutes debating with any people who come up trying to convert me. They are already too emotionally involved and will do anything to avoid having to give up the religion they love. If we want to increase the number of atheists (which is the goal of many here) we should focus on those who don’t try to spread their faith, but are just casually living it. They don’t have the same emotional attachment to their faith and are much easier to convince that there is no God. In other words, don’t focus on the loud ones, focus on the ones standing back who aren’t so sure and might be willing to see the other side of the argument.

  • Anonymous

    P.S. Hemant has been on Patheos for weeks and I have yet to see the flood of fundie commenters invading our site that many people worried about.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      (Months!)

    • Rich Wilson

      We get a few more drive-bys than in the past, but being drive-bys, they’re quickly gone.

  • trog69

    I don’t have any particular segments to underline, as I love everything she says. I do think that her laugh is one of the goofiest I’ve ever heard. hehehe.

  • Nick Andrew

    To sum it all up, it’s good to debate the religious but such debates rarely, if ever, change the mind of the person you’re debating. Onlookers are much more likely to deconvert, so always hold these debates in a public forum. And don’t be surprised if it takes a while, because deconversion is a process which takes time, and most people require several different anti-religious stimuli before they can fully give up the faith.

    The debates tend to eliminate religion’s special place in society, the attitude that it can’t be questioned or must always be respected and encourage the attitude that religion is just another idea about the world and not a core part of somebody’s identity.

  • Kevin Bates

    I like her point that arguments with religious people may never convince the people you are having the argument with.  It’s just like high school debate club, or being a a lawyer, or any of professional “arguing”.  You don’t attempt to convince the other person on other side of the stage, you try and convince the audience.  While not every member of the audience will be convinced with each point, many atheists came from religion and had the seeds of doubt planted.

    She also raised a good point with her algebra teacher analogy (@~20:00).  Which basically goes like “you can’t get frustrated stating the same rebuttal to a flawed argument for the millionth time.  Just like being an algebra teacher, if there’s a kid who doesn’t understand algebra, this is the first time they’ve been exposed to it, and the first time it’s ever been explained to them.”

  • Stephanie

    I didn’t take note of the timestamp, but early in her speech she touched on not debating religion with close friends or family members.  I think that’s important to note. Yes, you can have healthy debates with those you know but there can be a price to pay because, as she said, people are so emotionally invested and identify with their beliefs.

  • Octopus

    She had so many wonderful things to say, that this feels like nitpicking – but I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway: The fact that there were many audience members and readers of her blog (and other blogs) that were “believers” who became nonbelievers partly as a result of hearing arguments isn’t much evidence that arguing about religion is effective. We would also need to know how many people it *doesn’t* work on. Even though it apparently works for some people, we would need to know how many people’s beliefs become *more* entrenched (perhaps more extreme and anti-science) in order to know whether or not arguing about religion is “effective”. Perhaps arguing about religion is overall counterproductive… I think there’s been some research on this topic. Maybe someone has a link to something about it?

    I sure *hope* that arguing about religion is worthwhile (as I enjoy doing it in certain circumstances) but I would like to know the actual evidence…

    • Anonymous

      Well, that depends on one’s definition of effectiveness. Sure you can say that spending all that time and energy to convert let’s say 5 out of 100 people is a waste of time. But I’m sure there are people who would say that those five people have been worth it

      • Octopus

        Even if we agree that converting 5 of 100 people is “effective”, a good use of time, etc. we have to ask about the other 95. If those 95 stay the same, then fine, arguing about religion may be worthwhile. (Indeed, I would think that 5 out of 100 is pretty good going!) However if, say, 20 of those 95 develop *more entrenched* beliefs and/or become *more* anti-science, anti-rational thought etc, then it is possible that arguing about religion has done more harm than good. 

        So: in addition to knowing that lots of people “convert” to atheism as a result of hearing arguments, we also need to know what happens to the people who don’t convert – do they stay the same (no harm done then) or do they become more religious/irrational/anti-science in some way (in which case, arguing might cause more harm than good)?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X