As atheists, we see this kind of thing all the time, really absurd things that are said to us by theists in the midst of a debate or discussion that leave us rolling our eyes. This really isn’t intended so much for the atheist, but for the theist, who really needs to understand that none of these things are going to convince anyone of the validity of their arguments. Maybe that’s okay with them, but maybe, just maybe, they never realized just how pointless any of the following statements actually are.
It leaves me wondering if theists are really debating to come to a mutually agreeable conclusion, or if they’re just “debating” to hear themselves talk or see themselves type.
And so, in no particular order, these are ten statements that I see routinely from theists that are simply not helping your case, and why.
10. I’ll pray for you… This is totally and completely useless. If you really feel the need to talk to yourself about us, I suppose it’s your time to waste, but this statement really comes off as a final flip of the finger to the atheist when the theist has run out of other arguments. It’s essentially “I’m still right, so there!” It appears to be childish, even if it’s sincere. We don’t want you to pray for us, we want you to be able to defend your beliefs. Maybe you should spend more time worrying about that.
9. The Bible says… We don’t care what the Bible says. In fact, we probably know the Bible better than you do and not only the Bible, but many other religious texts as well. Often, that’s why we’re atheists, because we had the courage and commitment to read the Bible and think about what it actually says. We don’t limit our knowledge to the words on the page though, we often know why it’s there, where it came from and how it came to be accepted by your religion. We’ve engaged in higher criticism of your religious text and can almost certainly show how and why your book isn’t trustworthy. Don’t pretend we’re not well-versed in what your book says, we are.
8. This website says… This is probably even worse than the previous statement because not only does it show that you think we’re not well-versed in all of the standard apologetic arguments, it demonstrate that you are not. If the best you can do is grab a claim off some apologist’s website or YouTube video, there’s really no point in talking to you because clearly, you don’t understand the argument well enough to present your own take on it. I don’t care what William Lane Craig says, I’m not debating William Lane Craig, I’m debating you. Make your own arguments and understand what you’re saying because I absolutely will attack the argument and expect you to defend it.
7. You can’t prove God doesn’t exist… No I can’t, it’s not my job to do so. It’s yours. You’re the one claiming that God is real, it rests solely on your shoulders to prove it. After all, you can’t prove that Krishna doesn’t exist, does that mean that the Hindus are right and Krishna does? You can’t prove that unicorns exist, does that make them real? The burden of proof is always on the individual who makes the positive claim. Most atheists do not claim God does not exist, they just reject your claim that he does based on lack of corroboratory evidence.
6. You really believe in God, but… Theists make this statement to make themselves feel better, it has no critical validity. It is a form of the argument from ignorance, where a statement is made, not because there’s evidence that it’s so, but because the individual can’t come up with a better argument. You don’t want to believe that there are people out there who really reject your deity, thus you imagine that nobody actually does, they’re all lying. That’s just not the case.
5. I know God is real! No you don’t, you *BELIEVE* God is real. Knowledge requires some demonstrable basis. You can no more say you know God is real than you can say you know unicorns are real because you have no evidence to present in either case. Claims of knowledge do not impress unless you can show us that you have any objective means of coming by that knowledge.
4. You’re not really an atheist, you’re… an agnostic or some other term which makes the theist feel better. For some reason, theists tend to feel uncomfortable around the word “atheist”, mostly, I suspect, because it suggests that there are people who reject the central tenet of their worldview. They don’t like that so they want to get around that word if at all possible. There are a couple of problems with that, however. First, it’s not up to you to decide what terms mean and/or what other people believe or do not believe. Atheism is the lack of belief in the existence of gods. If the shoe fits, stop pretending that other people ought to wear sandals because it makes you feel better. Secondly, it’s really not up to you to decide what terms people can adopt for themselves. If I want to call myself an atheist, I can call myself an atheist. I have no obligation to choose another term because it softens the blow on you.
3. If you don’t believe, you’ll go to hell… This is utterly pointless, we don’t believe hell exists. You might as well be threatening us with Hogwarts. Hell, to us, is no more real than the Greek underworld, heaven is no more real than Valhalla. If someone approached you and said that if you don’t accept Odin as your personal lord and savior, you’d be sent to Helheim, to be punished by the Norse goddess Hela for all time, would that bother you? If not, then you understand why Hell doesn’t bother us. Save your breath.
2. I have evidence for God… Then by all means, present it, you’ll be famous and a multi-millionaire, the first person to ever present actual evidence for the existence of any god. Oh wait, that’s not what you really mean, is it? You have *CLAIMS* about God. You have *ASSERTIONS* about God. You have *BELIEFS* about God. You have no evidence though. This is one of those wiggle words that we see from theists all the time, like “knowledge”, it’s something that’s claimed, but once you really get down to the nuts and bolts, it’s totally false. There isn’t any evidence for God that has heretofore been presented, just like there isn’t any evidence that has been presented for Bigfoot or alien visitations. If you’ve got some, present it, but it had better be more than “this convinced me”. That doesn’t mean it will convince anyone else.
1. You can’t take away my faith! Nobody can “take” anything away from you, atheist mind control technology is still in it’s experimental stages and won’t be ready for testing until early 2015. If you lose your faith, that’s on you, but let’s be honest, faith really isn’t a rational way of looking at the world anyhow. Besides, your faith is meaningless to us, we don’t want to take it away, we want you to deal with reality as it actually is. So far, if you believe in an unseen and unproven god, you’re not doing that. You can argue that point all you like, but I’m sure that argument will fall into one of the above categories. Don’t have faith. Don’t believe. THINK!
So what about some things that you should say or do in a debate? I’ll give you my short list:
1. Know your argument. If you don’t know what you believe or what you’re trying to prove, how do you think you’ll manage it? I don’t want to hear what someone else thinks, I want to know what you think and I want you to prove to me that you have a functional understanding of your claims and have worked out in your head, logically and rationally, how it’s supposed to operate.
2. Know your source material. Again, this means prepare your arguments and get your ducks in a row. If you want to claim that the Bible is the source of your information, be ready to defend the Bible’s validity with more than “I believe it”.
3. Understand proper debate techniques. Most theists stumble blindly from one logical fallacy to the next, they don’t understand how to properly construct arguments or build logical syllogisms. Learn how to move from one segment of your claim to the next in a logically demonstrable fashion. Avoid absurd leaps of irrationality, say, from making a claim to asserting a cause unless you can actually demonstrate a direct link between the cause and the effect.
4. Stop being so emotional. The purpose of a debate is to reach a conclusion based on the evidence and the best delivered argumentation. How your position makes you feel is entirely irrelevant. I’m interested in how you come to your conclusions, not how your conclusions make you feel.
5. Be ready to concede defeat. If you lose, lose graciously. Your claims are only as good as your evidence and your arguments. If you are emotionally unable to evaluate your claims intellectually, don’t bother debating, you’re just going to look foolish.
6. Be ready to change your mind if you lose. This is the most important part and the hardest one theists have in accepting. You, as an intellectual, rational and logical individual, ought to want to believe as many factually true things as possible and reject as many factually false things as possible and know how to differentiate between the two. Unfortunately, as in point #4, most theists don’t really care if what they believe is true, the y have an emotional attachment to their arguments and when it comes to rejecting heartfelt beliefs or ignoring evidence, virtually all theists will clench their eyes shut, stick their fingers in their ears and scream “I’m right! I’m right! I’m right!” This is a problem and a serious one at that. It separates the metaphorical philosophical men from the philosophical boys. It reveals who is willing and able to deal with reality and who would prefer to curl up inside their comforting fantasy world and pretend everything is going to be alright.
If you’re not someone who can put aside your feelings and deal with the facts, who will overlook the evidence if it gets in the way of the blind faith, then you have no business pretending to do so, you have no business trying to debate with educated and intellectual atheists. We’ve been there. It’s how we got where we are today. We put in the legwork, we did the math and we came to conclusions because we weren’t afraid to follow where the actual evidence led.
Maybe one of these days, you’ll be willing to do the same, even if it doesn’t lead to your religious convictions.