first of all, welcome back, it's good to see you on TA again. it's been a while. :)
second, here's a couple of tips for you, first, make sure you're on the same page. ask the theist to define what god is to them. do this so that you don't debate for an hour or more before suddenly realizing that the god you're arguing against and the god they're arguing for are two different things.
ask the theist to give you their single silver bullet drop dead best evidence for god, the piece of evidence where if they only had one opportunity to justify their faith in god on evidence this is the evidence they would use, and then argue against that evidence. see, once you demonstrate why this "evidence" is nothing of the sort they can't expect you to take them seriously when they then try to move on to another piece of "evidence" when the first piece of evidence was meant to be their silver bullet. if you've shown how week that was then any subsequent piece of evidence is necessarily weaker than the first.
I like that chart. The abridged version is fine, and mentally I generally use that to gage whether or not to even grace a statement or comment with a response, but in the professional arena of lectures etc I am periodically confronted by christians who oppose evolution and/or are young earth imbeciles er,... proponents, who wish to have an in depth discussion about the subjects covered in my lecture. (What they actually wish to do is to debunk portions of the lecture by pointing out that my scientific data does not agree with "Christian Scientists" <I find that term a paradox!)
So it would be nice to simply whip out a discussion "contract" and have them look it over and sign if they are willing to abide by actual "rules" of objectivity, listen skill application, etc. Killing the "Parrot" affect where they simply drone on about God or Jesus loving me, or how one or both entities will save the world is such an annoyance in light of nothing to support either statement.
So I like the contract angle. I will print some up with multiple signature lines to keep with me during the event of my lectures, and use them to nullify the post lecture time wasters who detract from folks actually wanting to discus the topic of my work or to talk business with me after an event.
Thanks for sharing that here! Good tool!
Logical arguments are great when you are engaged in a rational conversation; however, when faced with superstitious beliefs, you generally have to navigate personalities and psychology a little first. Shake the foundations. It's like a puzzle: you need to crack the lock on their brain before the alarms go off, security comes in and kicks you out for good.
Do not let them use woo woo on you.
Bring your woo woo shield ... and bring a sword to slay it with. If the dragon of irrationality is being summoned upon you - YOU MUST KILL IT QUICK!!!
Do not let any one of them change to a different point until they recognize your assertions and evidence against it. This sort of goes hand in hand with what Nelson said above. Theists enjoy jumping quickly to different 'arguments' ... because they have a difficult time actually thinking through deeply one specific point ... thinking clearly about their personal beliefs does not help a theists digestion.
You need to put the conversation on 'evidence' ... If you let them corner themselves into the 'I take it on faith' argument ... This is what you say ... "Well, if you are admitting there is no evidence to support your faith , then there is obviously just as much chance that your beliefs are wrong than they are correct ... and say that you believe Truth to be more meaningful than Dishonesty."
As Nelson said, make them DEFINE what their beliefs are. I would also allow them 3 points of evidence - rather than one. This allows you to pick apart 3 - while leaving them with nothing.
Good Luck, and let us know how it goes! (LOL.)
One that I find a little tricky is the argument from personal experience. For example: God spoke to me, I saw an angel, I felt the presence of Jesus, I experienced a miracle, I saw a sign. These can be hard to deal with, but it will also be hard for them to show how they know it was really "God" and not the devil, a hallucination, an illusion, a strong emotion, a trick of memory, etc.
A slight counterexample I have is this: I have an actual "memory" from when I was about 4 years old, that I saw a golden apple on television, even though we had only a black & white TV. I know that this didn't really happen, but I can't explain why I remember it that way -- maybe I misremembered this altogether, or saw an optical illusion of reflected light, or it was just invented by my overactive imagination, etc. But just because I don't have an answer, I can't jump to the conclusion that it happened via some supernatural agent.
In general I find that a counterexamples are useful in informal discussions. Often proofs for God work just as well for proving Zeus, Odin, leprechauns, big foot, invisible dragons & unicorns, etc.
One discussion I had with my mother when she first learned that I had crossed the point of no return left her speechless. She claims that Christianity is the ultimate truth. I asked her, "would you be a Christian if you were born in Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East? Would you be a Christian if you were born in China or India?" Her response was no. I told her that her Christianity was purely an accident of birth. People can't decide where to be born, or in what year BCE or CE. How could a just and loving god only accept into his paradise people who were lucky enough to be born at the right time and in the right place?
I also really like Nelson's suggestion of getting their ultimate evidence out of the way first.
Okay here is a point of fact that really destroys Christians (in fact it will trigger their "does not compute" button in their brain quicker than almost anything else). Christians have key ideas that are droned into their heads. One of the strongest and most recurrent is the "There is only one true God" idea. It is the cornerstone of their faith and the premise for their "Truth". Since they are mono(single/one)-theists, they will tout that their one God must be correct and all other beliefs (beyond just atheism and agnosticism) are false.
So ask them who wrote the Old Testiment? The original books? They will tout Moses as the original author. A fact already debunked by several Church scholars doing their own independent research on the writings. Not only have several authors been found, but the evidence has pointed to one man in particular who IS the initiator of the Christian Holy books.
That person is Abraham, who was a Sumerian. He lived in a pagan society (polytheistic) and worshiped a number of Gods and Goddesses. His favorite was an entity known as Jaweh/Yaweh (later to evolve nomenclaturally into Jahovah aka: God). The problem for Abraham was that his favorite entity was not what one might call an "A" lister on the list of Sumerian God's and Goddess's. In fact he was not even a "B" lister. Jaweh was a mere "C" lister (just slightly above heroes and Demi-Gods in the eyes of the populace).
Abraham lived in the city of Ur. A great city with many temples devoted to the 4 Primary Deities of their faith, and to various Secondary Divinities. But Jaweh had a rather small following and was not in a position of high popularity among the people. He was a Deity much like a Greek "Muse" or the Norse God Bragi. He was seen as a "creative inspiration" type of God. He was also described as ruling the time of darkness (in the context of night, not evil). Anyway, Abraham loved this God above all others and wanted to push Jaweh into a position of prominence. When he attempted to argue a better temple and grander place for his favorite Diety he was eventually banished from Ur and begins to wander in the deserts. But there is where the brillant part occurs. Abraham was one of the few people who was literate. He begins writing and cleverly places Jaweh above other Deities as the one "Creator" God. He had figured out, and rightly so, that if he wrote it down it became truth in the eyes of the illiterate. Intelligence certainly does have a sort of magic when viewed by those lacking it.
You may now summarize to the stunned Christian that in point of historical fact their God and his son are actually just part of a pantheon of ancient Sumerian Gods and Goddess's. That they are in fact worshiping a minor God with good advertising, who was not that popular with the people who created him in the first place. You may also (if you have a cruel or sarcastic streak) ask them when they plan to start catching up on their late prayers and sacrifices to the Gods and Goddesses who are seen as the Father and Mother of Jaweh/Jahovah? And if they are going to deny God's parents and brethren the same respect that they have shown to this one little entity?
When they ask you for proof, you can smile and say, "The proof is in the history books and Sumerian writings. The onus is not on me to prove anything to you. I KNOW the truth about your God and his lineage and origins! The burden is on you to refute the facts, and bear in mind, that you will be upsetting God's parents, as you have your entire life, every moment that you only recognize one of their minor children, but ignore them!"
Have fun with this. It is historical fact, and due to the obvious laziness of Christians, they will seldom dig around to try to find the historical evidence. If they do you will see them leaving the faith behind them. To date I have caused two priests to leave the church and become ardent atheists, and most folks who I have talked with at length do not long remain strong Christians, or even in the faith period.
Intelligence is the superstition killer! Hope that this helps out.
Here are some very important points to keep in mind, things that the religious deliberately confuse in order to confuse the discussion and make their delusions seem rational:
1. The question of the origins of the universe and the question of god's existence are two separate questions. The fact that the religious constantly assume that they are the same question reveals that they are engaging in circular reasoning without even noticing.
2. One can be and should be agnostic with regard to the origins of the universe. Only a liar, a fool, or a madman would claim to know the truth about that.
3. There is no evidence for ANY supernatural thing, much less god. All scientific studies that have attempted to find such evidence, such as studies of the efficacy of prayer, found no evidence at all.
4. Believing in one supernatural thing and not others is dishonest. There is no evidence for any of them.
5. The existence of the universe is proof of god only if you assume god is the only possible explanation. (See #1 and #2 above) No one knows what the possible explanations are. There is no reason to think that "invisible magic men" belong on the list of possible explanations--but a lot of reasons to think that they don't.
6. All the invisible magic men theories used to explain gaps in knowledge in the past have turned out to be wrong. Not a single one had any validity. The idea that it is logical to assume that "if we can't explain something then it must be an invisible magic man" has been thoroughly discredited.
See this blog for ideas:
Finally, don't forget that they are not sane. You wouldn't spend too much time arguing with the inmates of an asylum or worry about what they think. Pretend you are a doctor making her rounds on the psych ward. That will make it easier to maintain the right frame of mind during the ordeal.