When we debate believers, what is the goal?

Proving to the other side that god doesn't exist? Proving that creationism is silly? Proving that morals are independent of religion? Proving that religion is bad for humanity?

What about proselytizing? Is that what atheists are doing as well? Trying to sell non-belief to believers?

I have a problem with doing this. Meaning, while it's fine to debate believers, I don't think we should be trying to convert believers. At least not by proving that god doesn't exist or that religion is bad. I think those are negative approaches.

I certainly didn't become an atheist because someone convinced me otherwise. I did it because I convinced myself. I sought after the truth by seeking knowledge of the world around me. I learned about the tenacity of life and its seeming impossibility within our universe. I learned some basics in many fields of science before I let go of my belief. Personally, I think it is the only real way to do it. Otherwise you leave those who were believers standing on less than solid ground. They want certainty but they've lost it because they don't have the knowledge to reinforce their mind.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't try to convince believers, I'm just saying that if you're going to do so, do it positively by teaching some basics about the universe we all live in. Provide the person with a place they can go to learn more about the various fields of science. Be aware that you should be pulling the rug out from under someone that may not know enough to keep standing. Lastly, there is also the possibility that one of these people might fall into the fallacy of thinking that since there is go deity, there are no rules and therefore anything is possible, including murder, rape, stealing, and whatever else. For some people it really is the thought of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing deity watching over their shoulders which keeps them in check.

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Comment by Rev. Tom Hicks, D.D. on May 28, 2009 at 3:41pm
This is true. Once someone has taken someone's belief in a god away, there is no tellin' what the person might do. We could be unleashin' a true monster that only an imaginary friend could hold back.
Comment by Rick Watts on May 28, 2009 at 4:24pm
About 30+ years ago I began to search for something 'in religion' in order to achieve a feeling of security that I was on the right track to sort of be right with God. My own church (United Church of Canada) was very liberal but seemed too bland for me. I could never feel a real sense of communication with a higher power in any Christian denomination regardless of how many 'praise the lords' or alter calls.. and an experience for a few years with the Bahai faith was ok but i still felt like I'd gotten nowhere. About 1 1/2 years ago I was on 'answerbag' site and found myself arguing against the wackiness of fundies and expressing favour for the atheist concept. Then one evening last winter a revelation came to me "hey, there IS NO god". I think I'm on the right track now.
So for me, direct exposure to the concept of atheism inspired me to give serious consideration otherwise it would be still a dead file. It is an option that needs more exposure I may say..
Comment by Jim Valentine on May 28, 2009 at 5:24pm
@Rick - I think what you've illustrated is more like window shopping. I'm most definitely not saying that we should hide the concept of atheism from anyone. I think that everyone reading this can agree that there is a difference between being talked at by someone and talking to someone.

Of course, there's an immense variability in how people act and react to situations. What I'm referring to is representative of a particular facet, which is not at all uncommon.
Comment by CJoe on May 28, 2009 at 10:54pm
Here's my thought. I'm here to plant little seeds of doubt; to say something that will get their attention without offending them and cause them to want answers, too. That's pretty much what happened to me. I learned a couple things from neutral sources that caused me to want to dig deeper. No one converted me. Like you said, I became atheist on my own.

We'll NEVER be able to convince anyone of anything in one sitting, especially if they feel attacked or simply want to be right. You just have to let them know you hear them, too, and speak their language if you can. This is easy for me since I was such a "strong" Christian... I can say things in such a way that they'll accept it and process it without feeling threatened.

But, unless the topic comes up naturally, I don't think we should bother. If people have questions, they'll ask.
Comment by jen o on May 28, 2009 at 11:40pm
I totally agree. I came to atheism on my own as well...I am still in the process of letting go of my old habitual thinking too. It takes time. And I think that we as atheists should keep in mind that we were once in their shoes, or at least I was. I always try to speak gently in a way that I would like to be spoken to. As if they are a foreigner, staying in my home, that has no clue about 'our culture'. If they don't understand, I must not get angry with them, I must politely teach them or 'show' them one thing at a time.

In the end would you rather be right or free? And I mean free from ego.
Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on May 29, 2009 at 7:08am
Religion requires faith, which is beyond the scope of logic, by definition.
You can't appeal to someone on logic in this situation and expect to win. The best thing you can do is plant an excitement of learning in them and watch it take off.
For some people it never will. That is their right and their choice. As long as it doesn't effect me or any child under the age of 18, I wish them the best and hope that such a lifestyle helps them to become their very best.
Sometimes our jobs in the atheist community is just to let people know that they are alright the way they are.
It must be hard living day in and day out being told that you were created by some omnipotent being, but still feeling out of place. What we can offer is the truth that an unbiased universe spent millions of years selecting and evolving organisms that at this very moment is YOU....and you are just perfect the way you are.
Atheism does it's best when providing freedom. That's freedom of education, freedom of choice and freedom from fear.
For a person that has been living in terror of an eternity burning in agony, that is the greatest peace there is.
Comment by Jim Valentine on May 29, 2009 at 5:39pm
@Michel Poisson - I agree, you can't say anything to these people because they have an agenda already. There is no purpose in debating someone who's entire basis of 'knowledge' is faith. Faith wins all arguments because it is completely disingenuous and intellectually dishonest. Let those that haven't learned about the 'faith bomb', debate them and feel the same burn when they waste precious time out of their life working logically through an argument to have the whole thing swept away by, 'I'm right because I have faith.'

The only way to reach these people is to get them off the subject they want to talk about. Steer their mind and therefore their motivation, towards something that might make a difference in their lives. Debating atheism isn't going to do it.

Debating the existance of god is an argument that fills and deflates egos. The argument itself is pointless. God is irrelevant. The universe and how it works and people and how they work, that is the only thing that is relevant.
Comment by jen o on May 29, 2009 at 7:00pm
Nicely put Jim!

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