I wonder how much and often you like to debate atheism/theism. Do you seek it out or avoid it? Are you "naughty or nice" (Santa Claus reference) about it? Do you operate from "Well, isn't it obvious?" How is/isn't it working for you? Have you ever actually gotten religious people to take off their blinders?
I am, by academic training, a Rhetorician. I'd like to hear the argumentation techniques that work best for you -- either to convince the other side or get crowds carrying pitchforks and torches to let you live. :)
I try to avoid it in person. On blogs, where my identity is not publicized, I go for the jugular.
All too often, you're just giving them a chance to prove their faith, that their faith is strong enough to withstand evidence. And let's face it: the stronger the onslaught they withstand, the stronger their faith. I feel almost everyone who finds atheism makes the journey on their own. Being pushed just engenders resistance.
I only go on the attack when they walk into the lion's den. Here, because they are asking for it.
I tend to avoid it if the person is too religious. If I sense the person is open minded I will give it a try. I noticed if the goal is persuasion then is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to be very respectful even to the most idiotic statements, and shut them down in a soft but rational manner. Theist will lock into a shell if you throw too much at them, and will stop listening. Most theist have in their head a negative image about atheist, so if you manage to at least change that image then that is progress. I have never deconverted anyone, but I have had people tell me that they look at things a little different afterwards ( which I consider it to be progress ). This has come from a mix of telling them how amazing the universe and science is. How religious stories are not in proportion to this much beauty and complexity. Try to ask question to stimulate critical thinking and to trigger the questioning of authority. Once they are not afraid to ask questions, and they start to care whether their beliefs are true, that is when they are unplugged from the matrix.
I don't seek out debate with people who don't initiate it. What they believe is no business of mine. But I relish any opportunity to argue energetically with anyone who tries to convert me. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons used to come frequently to my door on a Saturday morning; but I guess the word has spread that my house is not fertile ground for proselytizing. I occasionally find someone to argue with on this website, but most people here are already on my side of the debate. I try occasionally to get some dialogue going on Christian websites, but they are hard for an atheist to break into; most of these sites have "atheist filters" of one kind or another.
In my life, I have deconverted, unintentionally, three people: my mother, my wife, and a fellow teacher. In all three cases, they gradually changed because my love of science led me to talk about it a lot. Since I'm pretty good at explaining scientific concepts, all three ladies became increasingly aware that their religious beliefs made little sense, from a logical or scientific perspective.
That being said, all three of them converted only partially and/or temporarily. My mother went from Presbyterian to Unitarian; my wife went from Baptist to Buddhist; and my colleague changes back and forth regularly, depending upon what her latest husband/boyfriend believes.
I spend what is probably considered an un-heathy amount of time reading the bible and anything Bart Ehram has written. Knowing the bible better than Christians, if a debate or discussion on religion ever arises, is aways fun. It's not only top notch entertainmant for me, but educational for the believer as well.
Watching a believer being baffled how an Athiest knows that much about scripture never gets old.
I don't typically debate atheism or theism anymore. Theism is clearly absurd but trying to convince a theist of that is like trying to nail jelly to the wall. You won't get anywhere but frustrated and you'll leave a big mess behind. Atheism in my opinion isn't up for debate. Being atheist is the only sensible thing to be given our current knowledge as a species. Atheism would be a moot point if humans hadn't created gods in the first place. If I'm going to debate I'll stick to debating specific issues. If I'm going to talk atheism I'll stick to providing information, debunking stereotypes, telling personal anecdotes ad being supportive of those who have doubts. If I'm going to talk theism it's got to be in a context like history, philosophy, psychology, or a joke or I'm likely to not want anything to do with it.
In the past I have debated several topics but not atheism. The only reason for that is I am within a couple of years of coming to my senses. My approach has always been to be somewhat diplomatic. I believe atheism or agnosticism or any topic you believe in should stand on its own merit. The need to go on the offensive and attack the other persons beliefs; makes your argument weaker. Of course, if a person is just spouting rhetoric with no sort of proof then it can be necessary to attack the other but generally speaking I don't see a need to do that. I usually try to remain calm and describe my stance and the reasons for. I don't really want to change anyone's beliefs, I just would like them look at the bible or whatever religious text supports their faith. I assume that the zealots are just impossible to reason with so I tend to avoid even socializing with those types.
I usually just give my best attempt at rationalizing the discussion and not leaning on the divine plan litany. Someone like that you just can't reach with reason or logic. These people drain my energy and exhaust my patience.
Debating can become extremely difficult for me locally. I live in a rural area of the deep south. The entire southern half of my state has a huge Catholic influence. I haven't had any major conflicts with anyone around here just that look. You know the look I'm talking about I'm sure. That Oh man you are going to burn in hell for eternity look.
I enjoy a good, well thought out debate, however that is rare on the part of the theist. I try to always be considerate and openminded, but it definatly isnt easy. I like the technique of getting them to agree that the bible is law, and then bust out verses like Leviticus 19:27 or Genesis 1:16. Another good technique is bringing up the idea of all the other possible gods that they deny the existence of. If after about fifteen minutes they refuse to admit even the slightest doubt about their religion, I try to change the subject to avoid losing my temper.
Thank you all for your good advice. I think I'll go for a gentle Socratic dialog, agreeing with them first on common ground issues. For Christians, I'd like to start with introducing them to the notion of inculcation ("If you were born in India, you'd be a Hindu. Born to Muslims you'd be a Muslim."). Get them to see they don't know the "word of God" but believe words taught to them out of a book. What may be the most effective technique, however, is to have a *bigger* concealed pitchfork.