Debating Theists: Is It Worth It?

Laptop MegaphoneI’ve questioned whether engaging in online debate with random theists is really a worthwhile exercise in the past and the response I usually get is, sure, virtually no theist is going to convert or even acknowledge that they’ve lost, but maybe, just maybe, there’s someone in the virtual audience who might see the debate and change their mind. The problem with this, unfortunately, is that I’m not really sure it’s true most of the time.  Oh, I’ve met people who say they have had their minds changed by watching debates, but those are very few and quite far between.  I really question whether there is enough of this kind of thing to make it all worthwhile.  After all, we have to think that in most debates, absolutely nobody is going to have their minds changed and therefore, most are a complete waste of time.

See, if I’m going to spend my unfortunately very limited free time debating a theist, and those debates go far beyond the time I spend pounding on the keyboard, they include research and serious thought about the subject matter, I really want to see something come of it. I may spend an hour or two on a thoughtful refutation of some theist’s claims, only to have them completely ignore everything I say and act like they’re still right, even if they’ve been proven totally wrong. I don’t want to engage in wishful thinking, dreaming that something I’m doing might make a difference to some unnamed, faceless person somewhere on the Internet.  I want to see it happening.  I want someone to come right out and say that my debate actually caused a fundamental change in their way of thinking.  I don’t get that very often.  Maybe a staged debate, where you have a live studio audience that you can gauge their reactions might be a different animal, but online?  You get none of that.

I suppose that, having debated theists for many, many, many years and only on the very rarest of occasions found any that present anything novel or interesting, I don’t even get any satisfaction out of it.  It’s old, tired argument A, refuted with canned response B, someone could easily write a simple algorithm that will spit out the proper responses to theist questions and save all of us the trouble of having to type it all in time and time again.  In fact, I’ve often thought of just putting my standard responses to typical theist arguments here and just posting links.  As I said, it isn’t like they ever come up with anything new, it’s all been responded to and refuted in the past.  Theists just don’t listen and just don’t care about the facts.

And that’s another reason why it’s all a big waste of time.  Theists don’t care.  They couldn’t care less if their beliefs are factually true or not.  They just want to feel good about what they believe.  Whether it’s actually so means very little.  The more fundamentalist the theist, the more they pointedly ignore the facts. Even the very liberal theists aren’t too concerned about the veracity of their faith, in fact I’ve seen a lot of them weasel around clear and present contradictions in their beliefs, saying that it really doesn’t matter.  Of course it does!  Reality makes a difference and anyone who thinks otherwise has a problem.  These people just don’t care.

Because they don’t care, why should I?  If they want to delude themselves, they can, so long as their delusions don’t harm anyone else.  If it does, then I’ll step in, but not to debate their theological position, but to take them to task for their actual actions.  I don’t care what mindless drivel the idiots in ISIS believe, I care what those beliefs make them do.  I’m not anti-Islam, except on a philosophical level, I’m anti-murder!

And that brings us back to debating theists online.  Yes, I know that other people are usually watching and maybe, just maybe, it might make a tiny number of those people start to ask questions about their beliefs.  The information is out there for them to do a thorough and complete investigation of what they believe, should they be inclined to do so.  I think many people are actually doing so, or at the very least, realizing that the things they’ve embraced all their lives make no rational sense and are leaving them behind.  That’s why the non-religious are increasing in number so dramatically as time goes on.  However, I don’t think that I, or any other online debater, has really had much of an impact in those numbers.  I think, as I’ve said before, that people are just realizing that it’s okay to be an atheist and not pretend to wear the filthy rags of religion so they’re just giving up their social religiosity and being who they’ve really been all along.  Maybe instead of debate, we should just make it more socially acceptable to be an atheist.  I’m sure that would be more useful and ultimately more valuable than all of the ridiculous online god-fests we get involved in.

48 thoughts on “Debating Theists: Is It Worth It?”

  1. I agree the most important thing to do now is get more folks willing to accept atheists. However, we will have a different communication problem, at least with some of the more hardcore Christians. If you've watched any movies like "God Is Not Dead", or at least listened to reviews of them, you know their view is that atheists actually believe in their god, but we are angry at him.

    Unfortunately, that's where debates come back into the picture, since we would then have to argue with those who think this way, that they are mistaken. They will point out several biblical passages that back up their assertion and ignore any facts we present that conflict with their assertion. Do you have any suggestions how we can get over this barrier?

    1. This is a problem, they don't live in the same world that the rest of us do. I just had someone try to argue that gods are non-dualistic and therefore could never be demonstrated and I simply responded that if they can never be demonstrated, there is no rational reason to believe they exist at all, even from the people who believe they do. They immediately stopped talking to me because I wouldn't fall for their irrational posturing.

      1. Or we do, but see it differently.

        I read the article wondering what Atheists consider actual debate when they run across a theist?

        You for example at least reason and think and toss ideas back and forth. Some don't, that may be true on both sides of the issue though.

        1. I've got very little free time and when I do engage in any kind of debate, I don't want to waste my time. Unfortunately, I haven't found any debates with theists to be a good use of my time recently, all of them fall apart because the theists simply are not living in the same reality that non-theists do. Most of the time I can't even get them to acknowledge that their standards of evidence are different. They won't even have that conversation. Maybe other atheists have just given up on finding any reasonable, rational theists, I'm about there myself.

          1. Christianity is a faith as much as believing in Bigfoot is a faith. It's as much a faith as believing in ghosts, leprechauns and unicorns is a faith. But whereas most people reject all of those other beliefs because they are not based on evidence, religion unfortunately gets a pass because it's also based on emotional attachment, not because it's any better.

          2. Jesus of Nazareth was a historical person.

            The others you mentioned? Not so much.
            The conclusions based on that life are things of faith, not His existence as a person.

            This is where you have a separate standard of proof for something of a religious nature.
            Even the people in the Bible have had independent confirmations, like the house of King David.

            Is there an emotional attachment? I'd have to say there is an instinctive reaction positive and negative. Very seldom do people not have a reaction to the mention of any higher power. Either they want total control with no consequences or they want to reach for something higher.

          3. There's no actual evidence of that, sorry. Now while I'm sure there was some real person at the center of the Jesus myth, it wasn't Jesus as described in the Bible, the Son of God who did miracles and rose from the dead. There simply is no independent evidence for any of that and there are no contemporary eyewitness accounts for Jesus at all. Not one.

          4. Cephus sure there is. Pilate was later governor of Egypt and helped found the Coptic Christian church. He's still considered a patron saint.

            History is full of references to HIs life and existence as a man in Israel.

            You may not want to make the leap into concluding what His life meant, but He did live and walk on the earth.

            You don't demand any such proof about other secular people, so don't start with the double standards you mock Christians for having.

          5. That's not evidence for Jesus though, it's evidence for Pilate. The Harry Potter books talk about real places in England, that isn't evidence that Hogwarts is real. You're leaping to unwarranted conclusions for which you have no direct evidence.

            Try again.

          6. It's evidence that Pilate knew Jesus and believed what Jesus said.

            This is why it's not always worth talking to atheists, you have two standards, one for your beliefs and one for anyone else. Human nature, it's the same on both sides of the debate.

            But there was a contemporary witness to the life of Jesus.
            It was compelling and convincing enough to be included in the New Testament.
            John said he saw, touched, felt. And next you're probably going to say there is no evidence of John. Believers have maintained the cave John lived in.

          7. None of the stories of a rehabilitated Pilate appear until the late 4th century and there are no written records dating back to the time Pilate actually lived suggesting any of the things that appear in the newer stories. The newer stories appeared in a Christianized Rome where the authors wanted to rehabilitate the view of Rome as not being so anti-Christianity in the early days. What you are doing is citing myth as historical fact, the same thing you do with the Bible. Likewise, you have no idea what John actually did because you have no direct reference from John's own hand. You only have other people writing down third-hand stories, claiming that John did things.

            Besides, none of this actually proves the supernatural Jesus was real. You're trying desperately to demonstrate it by inference. I want objective evidence. Let me know when you have some.

          8. Of course, exactly what Roger is trying desperately to do right now. He has no clue what objective evidence actually is, as he's established time and time again. He doesn't want to understand it either because if he did, he'd be forced to acknowledge that objective evidence for the existence of the Biblical Jesus simply doesn't exist. Instead he, like most other Christians, simply dances around it, trying to infer things instead of being able to demonstrate things.

          9. I can't find any kind of independent claim that Pilate founded the Coptic Church at all, according to all accounts, it was started by Mark. And again, you are not arguing for the factual existence of the Biblical Jesus, you're trying to infer it without having any evidence.

          10. No, they know more about the TRADITIONS of the church. Pilate couldn't have possibly started the Coptic church because it wasn't started until 42CE in Alexandria when Pilate killed himself in 37-38CE, according to both Eusebius and Agrapius of Hieropolis. At the time the Copts say their church was founded, Pilate was dead.

            You're so ridiculously full of shit Roger, you don't even bother to check out the mythology that you hold so dear.

          11. They know their documentation.

            You call it traditions. Why do you insist their knowledge of their own foundings is wrong?

            Can I turn the tables and say you keep repeating the traditions of atheism?

          12. No, because the facts don’t fit with their claims. Pilate was long dead before their church was founded. That makes them wrong. It also makes you a fool because you didn’t bother to spend 60 seconds actually verifying their claim… or at least the claim you think they make as I couldn’t find anyone from the Coptic Church or otherwise claiming that Pilate had anything to do with the founding of their church.

            Maybe you ought to stop listening to idiots.

          13. But it does fit with their claims.

            Pilate was there and helped found the church, it's one of the oldest in the world, had you realized that Mark lived contemporaniously with Pilate then there is no contradiction or problem with them knowing how their church was founded.

            I don't agree with many of their doctrines, but Christians don't march lockstep that way.

          14. How can it conceivably fit their claims that Pilate was one of the founders of their church when their claims say that their church was founded in Alexandria in 42CE and Pilate died at least 5 years earlier and there is no historical evidence that he was ever in Alexandria? Following the end of his stint in Judea, he returned to Rome and there is no indication that he ever left again prior to his death.

            Besides, none of this has anything to do with the historical Jesus or proving that Jesus, the Biblical character, was actually real.

          15. The coptic priest I spoke to never claimed it was founded in 425 CE, Mark lived at the same time and traveled with Paul who was alive but never claimed to have met Jesus the historical man.

            You have mixed facts and it's no wonder they won't fit together.

          16. Nobody said 425CE, I said 42CE, which is exactly when the Coptic Church was founded in Alexandria, Egypt. This whole debate started when you said Jesus was a historical figure and started trying to use Pilate's supposed founding of the Coptic Church as evidence. It's neither evidence, nor is it true.

          17. Mark lived about 30-80 AD does that correlate with the CE date you give?

            And Pilate helping to found the Christian church in Egypt is a contemporary of Jesus that spoke to Him and judged Him being a witness to His life. That's the test you have used before in the instance of historical figures. I've also references other witnesses that left a record of seeing and talking to, and touching and being with Jesus but you reject that one out of hand. And that was so strongly in favor of Jesus that John was called 'the beloved'. You simply reject any evidence for Jesus that would be more than enough for anyone else.

            If you reject it fine, but don't pretend you can selectively deny it exists.

          18. You're not making a claim about Mark, you're making a claim about Pilate. Two different people. Every account I've been able to find from the Coptic Church lists Mark as their founder in Alexandria in 42CE. I have never once found one that mentioned Pilate in that role at all. That's what I keep trying to point out to you. If you have someone telling you otherwise, maybe they're simply wrong. Regardless, none of this has anything to do with Jesus. Just because someone claims to believe in Jesus doesn't make Jesus real, any more than people who claim to believe in ghosts make ghosts real. You need to do a lot better than that.

          19. If they lived at the same time and helped found the Christian movement in Egypt they are going to have histories that intertwine.

          20. Once again roger CHECKMATE ! You lose. Going to be some sweet sounds going down on the nightshift. The Commodores. I'm here all night roger. Care to play another game?

  2. Why would a god being non-dualistic make any difference in proving whether or not it exists? Sounds like that person went so far into irrationality, there was no turning back.

    Right now, I'm in a discussion with a friend on Facebook, about the controversy of adding more religious holidays to a public school's year. He thinks we should do that, out of respect for whatever religion is asking for them. I responded with the idea that we should get rid of all religious holidays, since public schools represent the government and therefore should stay neutral about religions. Or maybe the school should offer a set number of holidays that each child could use as needed. He then accused me of being insensitive towards religions, and lectured about how schools are not legislatures, then went on the etymological roots of the word, "holiday".

    I'm wondering at this point, if this is worth pursuing any further. My friend's position is obviously accommodating religions, which I think will be a dead end. Kids attending public school could eventually end up spending more time off due to holidays, than actually attending classes. And I might lose a real life friend over what is obviously a no-win situation. Ideology is almost as toxic as religion, and once a person is entrenched in their position, it's almost impossible to convince them to consider a contrary argument.

    1. Just because this is off topic, I'll keep it separate, but the whole reason they have religious holidays in public schools is because they know, at least for major holidays like Christmas and Easter, the kids aren't going to show up no matter what they do and it's expensive to keep the school open for a very few kids who might actually show up. It's pragmatic, not religious.

      1. Thanks for touching on that detail. I'll try to stay on topic here. Sorry for wandering off so much before.

        The pragmatic reason for giving kids off on Christmas & Easter does make sense. I considered whether or not I wanted to continue pursuing the topic with my friend, because he did mention those two holidays as being Christian-only. He doesn't seem to be aware of or care about the severe lack of students at those times, hence the reason to cancel classes for those days. However, I think I've pushed this issue as far as I can, without permanently alienating my friend.

        As I mentioned, he seems caught up in an ideology that calls for "respect" for religions, acceding to their demands, no matter how impractical or how much it violates our Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that explain how we should apply it.

        It's amazing how anyone can get caught so easily in such thinking. I hope I stay alert enough for signs of such in my own positions, so I rely only on empirical evidence to guide me.

        In the end, this is another reason to sometimes back off from debates or disagreements, because alienating a friend is not something that anyone should do lightly.

        1. Those two holidays are not entirely religious. Some will gladly point out that Christmas, or the birth of the historic Jesus of Nazereth probably happened in a time of year other than winter. It was chosen by the Catholic church to help assimilate those pagans who worship the days no longer growing longer, and the return of the 'sun' in their belief system. And during the dead of winter having a break makes sense for those who struggle in winter like conditions going to and from a school house.

          Easter? It was a springtime pagan holiday and having extra hands on the farm to help prepare for planting made sense even outside a religious context.

          If religion is totally impractical it tends to die out.

          1. Unfortunately, there are quite a few Christians who claim that Christmas is only a religious holiday and anyone not celebrating the way they do is somehow doing it wrong. After all, it's called "Christmas" for a reason, forgetting that words change meanings over time, that's why we have to keep updating the dictionaries. Halloween isn't a religious holiday anymore either, even though it started that way. The overwhelming majority of people, even those who observe some religious rituals at Christmas, celebrate it as a secular holiday primarily. Most people have trees and lights and decorations and presents, they tell their kids about Santa Claus and sing secular Christmas carols about reindeer and snowmen. There are probably only a very tiny minority of Christians who only celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. Most have acknowledged the change from religious to secular.

            And yes, religion, once revealed to be totally impractical, dies out. That explains the move toward increasing secularization around the world.

          2. As long as it's celebrated in a church, by definition it's a religious holiday. Not to many, you have a point there. But when it's celebrated as a secular holiday then it's being defined by people that don't much care and are looking for an excuse to celebrate.

          3. Funny how many churches have Christmas trees though, isn't it? My church, back when I was a believer, always had a big one. They also had Christmas celebrations where the pastor dressed up like Santa Claus. I guess they didn't take it too seriously either.

          4. Yeppers, I find that interesting.

            One lady I dated put together the Christmas play at her church, it was 'A Charlie Brown Christmas" I found that curious. Another church I played the piano at didn't believe in celebrating the 12/25 Christmas for the very reasons you keep mentioning. I didn't know it and played 'Oh Holy Night' when I saw the looks on their faces I changed to something else and asked later.

            It's not a unified movement, outside the position in Christianity on the sacrifice of Christ, the rest is just generalization that are often deserved.

  3. A debate about the truth of religion on scientific or even dialectic terms is a fool’s errand. At its best, faith is a choice.

  4. Unless you are a Christian you can never say that you have proved a single aspect of Christianity wrong. It seems wrong to you but you do not know what we know. The complete opposite of your blog is true for us, however, there really is no point in trying to give someone, who refuses to read the book from the other side, to know the alternative story it tells. It is all down to athristic blinker vision, and a closed bigoted mind that has no capacity to think laterally.

    1. I spent a long time of my life as a Christian. I got better. I would say that I know a lot more about Christianity than the overwhelming majority of Christians, that's why I'm no longer a Christian. I have read the Bible cover to cover multiple times, both as a Christian and as an atheist.

      But yes, go on and keep explaining how I don't know what I'm talking about, it's quite entertaining.

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