Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How to Argue Like a Theist

So what am I doing making a post with such a title? Over the years of arguing with them, I've learned to anticipate the arguments that theists will use in a discussion. It's like you can write a script for nearly every single debate (at least the ones with theists who haven't really debated before, or haven't given much thought as to why they think what they do). We nonbelievers have learned all the theists' tricks simply because these arguments are all that they have. They just keep using them again and again, no matter how many times they've been proven wrong.

  • Attack #1: Shift the burden of proof ("Can you prove God doesn't exist?")
  • Attack #2: What did God do to make you so angry?
  • Attack #3: Can you prove love?
  • Attack #4: Pascal's Wager
  • Attack #5: Watchmaker and other painter/painting Ray Comfort BS pseudo-arguments
  • Attack #6: Since science doesn't know how we got here, it must be God.
  • Attack #7: Offer personal experiences (you can't say I'm wrong now...I just *feel* it!)
  • Attack #8: Then what do you believe in? (purpose in life, morality, etc.)
  • Attack #n: see Ways to Annoy an Atheist

The first step (depending on how threatened the theist feels) is to attempt to rid themselves of the burden of proof. They may also falsely confuse passion with anger and try to use emotional arguments, claiming that the atheist must have been "hurt" by religion in the past. When these attempts fail, the next step is to argue from design. As the nonbeliever will typically use current scientific understanding to combat these weak attacks, the believer's next attempt is to attack science itself, claiming that scientific methods are invalid or flawed and will commonly use the "well, it's just a theory!". Once shown that science works, they resort to the only thing the atheist can't take away from them: personal experience. By the end of the discussion (if both parties ever reach such a point), the theist will throw out an argument from morality and begin considering what would be required to "believe IN" if one doesn't believe in God.

This is in no way a complete list, nor is it a script that occurs at each encounter. As I said earlier, it's the most common arguments that I find believers using to try to justify their unjustifiable beliefs. Yet the nonbeliever usually finds that every counter-attack has the opposite result: the more you show them there's no proof, the stronger they become in their belief! Faith is the evidence of what you can't see or prove. That's how you know, you just HAVE to know, and then you know. Faith (read: ignorance) can prevail.

Tracie Harris (who writes the Atheist Eve web comic) provides a similar list of theistic tactics, though in a different order:



Eric T. Jones said...

That's a pretty good list. I've seen all versions of those "arguments". I've toned my attitude way down when discussing religion with a believer. I'm like a zen monk, confident and calm, just to avoid the confusion that creationists always have when it comes to emotions. I think that because they are angry, they assume that we are too. When in fact, we are probably just frustrated.

One of the best ways to help me to be calm when talking with them is I've completely given up on trying to "convert" anyone. Instead, the only thing I try to do is to get them to say that god is mysterious, or that he works in mysterious ways. Once they say that, they are essentially admitting that they are stumped. I play a little game in my mind, watching the clock to see how quickly someone says it, or something equivalent. I find that the less open minded someone is, the sooner they say it. Do you get the "god is mysterious" statement often?

Instead of showing them inconsistencies between them and science or logic, I've switched to showing them inconsistencies within themselves. I hope that it makes them think about it at some other time.

STA said...

No, I don't really get the "god is mysterious" comment per se, it's more like "we can't understand god" then they proceed to tell me all kinds of things about Him. It's like saying "no one can know faeries" and then explaining their culture, size of wings, and their favorite flavor of faerie ice cream.

I agree with you on being calm and collected while talking with theists. It's true that they often mistake passion for anger. All to often, we are frustrated -- either from having to deal with the same topics over and over, or just the annoyance of seeing a capable person just not get it.

I have never deconverted anyone (to my knowledge) and I don't necessarily try to. Just planting a seed of doubt is good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

"All to often, we are frustrated -- either from having to deal with the same topics over and over, or just the annoyance of seeing a capable person just not get it."

Especially the case of the capable person that just not get it... This case frustrates me the most - I've worked with chemists, engineers, computer techs that are foaming mouth fundies... and I know they are NOT stupid nor emotionally insane (except of course when it comes to religion).

- Fastthumbs

Anonymous said...

I have long ago given up argueing with believers as it seems the conversation goes nowhere. like a circle around and round we go trying to one up each other but failing to convince the other of anything.

Such is the power of belief, it really is a dealbreaker. The only time i would go out of my way to argue is if i seen a believer trying to impose thier beliefs on another,(trying to recruit new members) i would have to try and stop the virus spreading.

RevKeith said...

If I may, as a Non-Denominational Christian Minister, I know what you're talking about, all of you.

You're sick and tired of having these people come over to you and try to share with you things they have no expertise in. I get it.

Two things to consider.

1. The people some of you describe would fit into the "Christian by family" category. They grew up in a Christian family, don't really know WHAT they believe or WHY they believe it, it's been instilled in them and that's that. It shouldn't surprise you, but most of these are "False Christians". Well intended, but most of them have no relationship with God to speak of.

2. Just because these people can't answer your questions to your satisfaction doesn't make them wrong. If 1 out of 100 of these Christians are "real" and they love you enough to come to you and speak to you about something they feel is CRITICALLY important to them, is making them feel like dirt in some way improving your own self worth?

To be honest, I don't use any of those methods, nor am I uneducated. I can go round for round with anyone, but guess what?


That's right, I said it. I said it because it's true!

Paul made it pretty clear here, 1 Corinthians 2:14 - But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

And he also said, "Romans 8:7 - Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.

All someone can do is speak to you, it's up to you if you want to listen or not. Similarly, if you are interested in God, He'll let you know. Did that last sentence sound backwards? It wasn't.

As a life long Atheist / Agnostic, I've heard it all and said it all. I was wrong. If you're even the slightest bit curious, I invite you to read my personal Testimony on my blog.

God Bless,

Anonymous said...

I don't use any of those arguments...he says as he starts quoting scripture--a tactic called out in the comic strip illustrated in the post above.