I'm reading things on here and trying to learn as much as I can from everyone. I am not a confrontational person at ALL, and so when someone argues (and I mean argue. I can have calm, friendly discussions just fine), my mind goes blank and basically says, "Sh*t! Someone's arguing with you! Quick, throw emotions at them! That'll confuse 'em!"
I don't like that that's what happens. I'm wondering if anyone else was once in the same position, and what you did to get away from it.
I put this in "Theist Arguments & You" because I'm mostly concerned about my lack of ability to defend myself against a theist at this point. I'm slowly making it known that I am an atheist, and sooner or later I'm going to be confronted about it.
I am pretty lousy at "thinking on my feet" which is what you need to be to be a good debater. It takes me some time to think through a position and muster arguments so I always miss the chance to make my points! But being good at debate isn't the same as being right. (Remember that old saying: if you can't dazzle them with brilliance baffle them with bulls&*t.) Some theists are very good at debating and they can sound like they are making sense when they really are not - it just takes more time and thought to uncover their nonsense. But I've come up with a sort of workable strategy: keep it simple - say, "I am an atheist because I have yet to discover any credible evidence for the existence of god or gods" or something to that effect; shift the evidentiary burden to the theist. Play offense!!
I saw this post and found it particularly interesting as I just watched probably THE worst atheist debater that I have ever seen in my life (John Luftus). I can't tell you how many times I face palmed or sighed or rolled my eyes at the horrible comments and statements he was making. I truly believe he did far more harm than good in his presentation. I'm tempted to go to his website and ask him to either improve his game or stop representing the atheist position because it's embarrassing. So here is a link to a video that I would like to re-title: How NOT to debate a theist:
(Note: He had a cold that night but the LEAST of his problems was his scratchy voice.)
I WILL WATCH THIS.
I highly recommend the "Hunting Humbug" podcasts:
If it's theists you want to debate, you can learn a lot from this video --
Offline, I am a pretty good debater. Online debating is useless because both sides can continuously talk even if they have been hosed the whole conversation.
The secret is to anticipate before you debate what they are going to say and work out responses. Then work out responses to their responses to your responses. My favorite thing to do is to present strong arguments against the existence of god and explain why they make god less likely than naturalism. This ultimately leads into "god is mysterious", which is my bait to use the very powerful problem of divine hiddennes.
One big key is never debate outside of a topic you are very familiar with. Also, don't be an asshole. It just makes people turn their listening switches off and enforces the idea that you are "persecuting them."
I don't think I'm an expert debater but I can typically hold my own among the average debater. I've done tons of online debating... I don't do as much now as I did in the past. I tend to get bored debating the same things over and over again. I also did a little formal debating in high school but wasn't too good at that... I prefer to have time to think before responding. A debate only works if both sides are following a set of guidelines (such as the guidelines for using T|A) and understand the definitions of the words being used. I've been in many online debates where in the end it came down to a disagreement on the definition of a single but key word. I've found it helpful to define the words I am using as clearly as possible and I usually abort a debate when an acceptable definition of a word can't be found/agreed upon. I've also begun debates with people only to realize that they have no idea how to have a successful debate... which is frustrating and I typically abort these debates too.
Tips that help me in debates:
- Know when to abort a debate. Some debates just aren't wort it.
- Listen to who you are debating don't make blanket assumptions about the other person's position but do try to anticipate arguments they may use and how to refute them.
- Educate yourself on the logical fallacies by using websites with examples... it took me a while to be proficient in recognizing when another person is using a logical fallacy... cheat sheets help.
- Don't debate about things you aren't reasonably educated in/informed on. You don't need to be an expert by any means on the topic though.
I notice you are concerned with defending yourself to Christians. Don't look at it this way. Of course if you feel like you're in the defensive position, you panic. Your competitor is the one making the claim. He is the one that needs to defend and prove his position to YOU. The burden of proof lies on the one making the claim. If someone wants to know why you're an atheist, just say you're not convinced by the evidence you've been presented (assuming that's true). Do some research on common theist arguments and refutations (I recommend Talk Origins for claims involving God as a creator of the universe: http://talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html), so that when they try to throw out some new "evidence" to convince you, you can concisely explain why you're not convinced. Then turn it around on him: Why does HE believe what he believes? Remember, he is the one making the claim. He is the one in the hot seat. You just have to explain why his arguments suck.
As to arguments vs. polite conversations: no one is ready for a full-on argument when they first start out. If your opposition gets rude, mean, or loud, simply refuse to continue the conversation unless you can have it in a more respectful manner. You reserve the right to withdraw from the debate. This does not have to mean defeat, although your opponent may see it as such. As time goes by, you'll get better at meeting confrontations head-on.
Debate is pointless with a religious person. The best bet is to simply smile and remove yourself from the waste of time. You cannot discus something with someone who is too brainwashed and/or stupid to see the potential of flawed reason or lack of logic. I generally shut them down and tell them that they are changing the subject to one of the social taboos that I do not discus unless or until they are willing to sign a contract of discussion.
No signature, no discussion. I keep 10-14 of these contracts with me in most circumstances in which I may wind up running across a Christian (aka: after one of my lectures or during one of my book signings and discussions etc). I am having the contract printed up in a smaller laminated form so that I can keep it on hand for unexpected occasions. I simply don't have time to waste discussing imbecilic nonsense with under-intelligent brainwashed sheep!
But if you want to save time and keep it simple just tell them this; "Look I will give you five minutes, and I am timing you, to explain to me some logical argument for the existence of God. BUT,.. You cannot use the Bible. If God exists, there should be plenty of non-scriptural, logical verifiable proof that is unique and exclusive to only God, that proves that he exists. If you cannot prove God without the Bible then don't waste my 5 minutes with your nonsense. Agreed?"
Of course this will end their entire discussion point. Some will try to talk about nature, the world, the universe etc as proof, but you simply state , actually there is far greater proof that all of what you ascribe to God is natural and not made by any Deity. Anything else?" (Then quote them their remaining time.)