I didn’t manage to get any posts written up for today, so you get a few posts from the vault. The first one is my rules of engagement for talking religion that I wrote for Atheism Resource around last Christmas. I originally wrote it so I could link religioius people back to it in order to weed out the ones who weren’t sincere…which turned out to be almost all of them.
Since being home for the holidays, I’ve had three people from my high school class message me on facebook and ask if I’d like to go grab coffee/beer and talk about my beliefs. This is nothing new. The problem is that I’ve found that more often than not, “Let’s meet because I’m curious about your views” is synonymous for, “Let’s meet in private so I can waste your time without penalty” or, “Let’s meet in private so I can throw a myriad of muddy arguments at the wall and hope one of them sticks.” To avoid this, I’ve developed a list of requirements for meeting anybody to talk about god, and I thought I’d share them.
Conversations are a two way street in which both participants need to be willing to alter their position if it makes sense to do so. Conversations are what I want to be involved in. In order to avoid wasting my time in a one-sided non-conversation (as I have done many times before learning my lesson), I have developed the following questions and requirements.
First, I’ll need you to tell me what could change your mind. If you cannot envision anything that could change your mind, then you’re inviting me to a situation where you expect me to be open to evidence, but are unwilling to play by the same standards yourself. Why should I bother?Second, if I show that one of your arguments is a bad argument, how will that affect your position? Will you alter your position accordingly or will you maintain the exact same position and just move on to the next argument, and the next, and the next, and so forth? If I show one of your arguments to be faulty, will you stop using it in the future? For instance, if you ask me for a transitional fossil and I rattle off a lengthy list of them, will you try that ploy again with your next target hoping that they don’t have the list at hand, or will you accept that transitional fossils exist and change your mind to incorporate this fact (and correct your Christian colleagues when they make the same bad argument in your presence)? If not, why should I bother with you?
These are both important questions that will tell me a lot about whether or not giving you my time will prove worthwhile. Your answers should also tell you about how fairly you intend to play in our potential conversation.
Recommendations, Warnings, and Requirements
Should I agree to chat with you, I have a few recommendations for making sure the conversation yields productive fruit. For one, do not introduce new arguments while another argument has yet to be resolved. If you advance a fact and I show that fact to be inaccurate, do not simply throw out another argument as though we are finished. It is important to resolve individual arguments before moving forward.
Also, either provide evidence for your position or against mine. Do not argue for why you shouldn’t have to be reasonable or for why you shouldn’t need to have evidence on your side. Whichever position is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence is the one that should be accepted as true. If you start making excuses for why you don’t have evidence or for why you should maintain your position even though it’s unreasonable (while expecting me to abandon mine if your arguments are better), then any sane human being would perceive that you are not playing fair and that you have conceded any arguments on the table. That is how I will take it.
You do not get to have it both ways. If you’re unwilling to abide by reason, then your faith is not reasonable; if your faith is a matter of utter certainty, then it has not integrated humility and doubt; and if your position will not change in the face of contradictory evidence, then you are not searching for the truth. If you do not value your opinions enough to make them credible, then I have no interest in giving you any of my time (except in the form on an organized, public debate where I can hold you up as an example of the results of faith and flog you without mercy).
Now, a warning: Every single person I have conceded to talk religion with has thought they had some new fact or some new argument at their disposal. Almost universally they were wrong. I have spent the last six years engaging religious people on a daily basis. It is highly, highly unlikely that I have not heard whatever you intend to say and even more unlikely that I will not be acutely aware of how to shred it. Be aware of this going in.
Now why you should care about that: Whenever I agree to meet with someone, I insist that the conversation be filmed. Afterward, I will post it unedited to my blog (you may also post the video of our conversation wherever you wish). I don’t do this to be a dick. I do this to create accountability. If one of us engages in any of the behaviors I’ve described above, they should lose face. The presence of such a penalty is in place to deter people from ignoring everything I’ve outlined so far and trying to waste my time anyway. I don’t doubt that you’re sincere, but I do doubt that you’re not guilty of confirmation bias. If you make bad arguments and don’t play fair, your religion’s image will suffer accordingly. If you do play fair, then you will gain ground with the non-believers that read my blog. If you’re unwilling to be taped, I would be willing to forgo the filming if you could set up our conversation in front of an audience.
So, if you’re willing to move forward at this point, please answer all the queries in the Questions section and confirm that you are alright with the video being published online.