Every so often, someone will tell me that atheists are impossible to debate, because they think they know it all.  Someone will tell me that I am dismissing their claims before I have even heard them.  They accuse me of shutting out the “evidence” they have to “prove” god’s existence.  They say I am doing what I accuse them of doing:  sticking fingers in the ears and screaming, “La-La-la! Can’t hear you!”

Well, they may have a point.  I guess.

The truth is I’m not really doing this.  I’m not sticking my fingers in my ears.  It’s just that I’ve heard this before.  Care to guess how many times I’ve been approached with the first cause argument?  Or the argument from design? Or pascal’s wager?  Or the ontological argument?  Seriously. 

I help run a student organization at my local university.  One of the things we are doing now is going over these arguments that are so common; they may as well be mantras.  A few of the younger members haven’t heard these before, and I want them to understand that these are not new arguments and they have been refuted by people WAY smarter than I long before I could spell atheist.

So if I cut someone off when they begin with, “Everything has a cause…” and insert immediately, “What caused god?”, it’s not that I have fingers in my ears, it’s I’ve heard this before.  When they begin with, “God is the greatest thing we can imagine…” and I cut them off with, “So you admit god is imaginary,” I just want to skip the long explanation I know is coming.  And when they fall back to, “What if you’re wrong?”, I just smile and ask, “What if you’re wrong about Zeus?” 

It’s not that I know everything.  It is completely possible that there is an argument out there I’ve not heard and will actually have to consider.  Thus far, that has not happened.

Oh, and back to my student group:  We entertained briefly the idea of having “mock debates” where one of us would take the opposing side and argue for it.  We wanted to be sure we were not attacking strawmen and that the actual arguments were justly represented.  But when this came to practice, we couldn’t figure out how to do it in a way that would not at least appear that we were attacking strawmen.   So we just present the argument and refute it in a discussion.

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Comment by Ash on February 15, 2011 at 11:24pm
Best way to practice is to have actual christians there (I know, it's painful).  I started the non-religious group at at my school years ago and christians were never excluded even though it wasn't a group necessarily for them.  The ones who came to more than one meeting were the more open-minded christians (also more creative), and over the course of a year we got tons of practice and heard all the arguments.  If you don't want to open a can of worms by including them in your group, set up cross group meetings from time to time with set topics and make sure they're held with civility.  I strongly recommend you have a second meeting planned for right after, or the next day, so your group can discuss what was said.
Comment by Mario Rodgers on February 15, 2011 at 11:51pm
For more fun than a barrel of monkeys, let the atheists sit back and watch and bring in Muslims, Hindus, and even a couple Pagans and Wiccans in and have them defend the "truth" of their preferred religion versus the "falsehood" of the others and discuss why everybody is somebody else's non-believer.
Comment by Ava Wilson on February 16, 2011 at 2:49am
Using Christians is usually the best option for practice. I argue with other atheists sometimes in the place of Christians because I disagree with fellow Atheists in quite a few places. Like the argument that God can't be benevolent if there is suffering. I think that is a weak argument that Christians can easily demolish if they are smart. And it's odd because I am a militant Atheist- I don't believe God's existence is possible, and I am not at all agnostic about it. I am one of those Dawkinish "I know God doesn't exist" types. But a lot of Atheists you encounter day to day use weak arguments. That's what practice is for though, right? That's why we need groups and classes that educate Atheists on why they don't believe. For a lot of them it's just a feeling they can't reconcile with society's demand for religious association. They just don't feel God exists. The biggest culprits of weak arguments are people my age- circa 20. I noticed a lot of new-new Atheists in high school who read a lot have stronger arguments than the younger adults in my college agegroup I encounter. When I was in high school, other Atheists annoyed me with how ignorant and hateful of God they sounded. Almost like they hadn't let go of their belief completely and were more bitter than anything. Just very immature points of view on it. That being said, is it bad that I debate such Atheists as fast as I do Christians, possibly even more harshly? Who knows. Sorry for the rant!
Comment by Jonel Burge on February 16, 2011 at 5:04am

I will quote Tim Minchin here--


“You’re so sure of your position
But you’re just closed-minded
I think you’ll find
Your faith in Science and Tests
Is just as blind
As the faith of any fundamentalist”

“Hm that’s a good point, let me think for a bit
Oh wait, my mistake, it’s absolute bullshit.
Science adjusts it’s beliefs based on what’s observed
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.
If you show me
That, say, homeopathy works,
Then I will change my mind
I’ll spin on a fucking dime
I’ll be embarrassed as hell,
But I will run through the streets yelling
It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
Water has memory!
And while it’s memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is Infinite
It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!

You show me that it works and how it works
And when I’ve recovered from the shock
I will take a compass and carve Fancy That on the side of my cock.”



Yeah, that sums it up for me.

You show me that it works, and how it works, and when I've recovered from the shock, I will take a compass and carve 'Fancy That' on the side of my cock.

For anyone who complains that you act like you "know it all", it's because guess what, you do. But should tomorrow, we find out that atoms are held together by tiny clothespins and not electrical charges, guess what? we adjust to that, but we will want to see how and why, rather than just accepting it. We have questions, they have been answered, and these are the rational answers. No, there's no proof for jesus or the bible, but I think

Comment by Mr. Anderson on February 16, 2011 at 7:47am

@Jonel Burge

That poem came to mind too. Total genius, is that man!

Comment by Ash on February 16, 2011 at 11:20am

I love Tim Minchin. 


@ Ava.  I see nothing wrong with debating Atheists as aggressively or even more so than theists.  You and another Atheist may actually be open minded enough to learn something from your disagreement. I know I have by talking with (debating?) other Atheists.  Some of the best discussions our non-religious group had in college is where our group split on an idea and we could argue it out with other people who were willing to change their minds, if they were so convinced.  


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