Sunday, March 6, 2016

Standard Phases of a Debate with a Theist

I've been debating with fundamentalist theists for a while now, and I've started to notice some interesting trends. In this blog, I'll describe the standard tactics theists use when attempting to squash dissent. I believe many of these illuminate pervasive beliefs among the more conservative believers. Many of them strike me as a defense mechanism or a childish black-and-white view where truth is established by authority rather than evidence.


This tact seems to me like the believer needs comfort that they couldn't become atheists. Every time I see it, it seems to me like the theist is desperately trying to hold on to a belief that's impossible to validate.  All these denialist tactics will come off as an accusation that you're lying. Try to remember that the theist just wants to feel better about the security of their own fragile faith.

You're not actually atheist

It's insulting when a someone accuses you of lying -- especially when they don't even know you.  Try not to take this tact personally. There are several factors at play here. First, the Christian Bible clearly states that all men know god is real. The most thoroughly indoctrinated fundamentalist believers are taught to accept the claims in that book regardless of the world they observe. Since the book must be true, you must be lying.
  • "You're just angry with God, you know God is real. You just want to sin without being punished."
  • "You know god is real. It says so in Romans 1:20."
    • Nope. I really don't believe it's real.
  • "You can't unknow something after you've known it"
    • But some of us can realize and admit that we were mistaken
  • "You just want to sin so you pretend God isn't real. But he's gonna getcha' in the end." 
    • OK. I added that last sentence. But the assertion is ridiculous. It's like saying I can rob a bank if I close my eyes and pretend the police aren't there. It's also a claim to know my mind and an accusation that I'm lying. This is treading awfully close to the block button. I don't take kindly to being accused of dishonesty by someone who doesn't know me.

It Can't Happen to Me!

  • "You were never really Christian if you stopped believing. 1 John 2:18-21 and Luke 8:13 predicted this"
    • As if people weren't leaving religions back then too.  It didn't take a genius to make that prophecy. Just look around.

Finding Bearings Without Absolutes

It's pretty disorienting to let go of a core belief. I once thought all my moral values were based in Christian doctrine.  When the Christian doctrine started to crumble, I was left wondering how I would make ethical choices in my life. Turns out this wasn't very hard, but before I thought it through it felt terrifying.


  • "For morality to be absolute, there must be an ultimate lawgiver."
    • Neither true nor a valid reason for an 'ultimate lawgiver' to exist. 
    • This whole line of questioning seems to imply that we are either guaranteed absolute morality or that "absolute morality" is somehow inherently obvious. 
  • "Where do morals come from in a godless universe?"
    • This question is obvious to someone who understands that genes are common within a tribe, so supporting the tribe reinforces the reproduction of genes. Successful tribes are those where the individuals within the tribe demonstrate  empathy for other tribe members.
    • Unfortunately, many of the Christians I talk with haven't got the first clue how evolution actually works, so short of a repeat of high school biology class, they're just not going to understand.
  • "Mere humans are not capable of understanding, but it's moral for God to XXX (insert horrific Bible story here)." This is the usual response to the assertion that a bible story is immoral. 

Good and Evil

  • "Without a reference of absolute good, there's no way to judge anything as good or evil"
  • "Evil must exist so that we can recognize good" (response to the problem of evil)

Science Is Unreliable

Many (not all) atheists accept that the scientific method is the most reliable method for knowing and understanding our world. Some theists feel a need to try to tear down science in order to feel like faith is somehow reliable or at the very least, just as good as science.
  • "Science isn't capable of detecting God"
    • Science is a process for measuring anything that's objective, verifiable, and logical.  Which of these is your god unable to satisfy?
  • 'Scientific "facts" are always changing '
    • A distortion of the truth. Interpretation of facts can change.  Repeatable objective measurements do not change.
  • "It takes Faith to do science!" Followed by an attempt to label imagination and foresight as the same as religious faith. 
    • This is equivocation, a sign of poor arguments. Imagination and creativity are an ability to envision that something might work or might be true.  Faith is concluding that a belief must be true.
  • "Great scientists believed in God". this is typically followed with specific examples of famous scientists who believed in God in ancient times. 
    • It's worth remembering that people didn't have a choice in what they professed to believe back then. The punishment for apostasy is death in the Bible. Thank God we've moved past that!


Sadly, many theists aren't really in it for the discussion. They are used to a preaching style of communication and they think it'll help you find Jesus. 

My Version of Christianity Will Fix You

  • "How many times have you read the Bible cover-to-cover"
    • This one is both a dick-measuring contest and a challenge to believe their special religion.
  • "You need to really READ the Bible."
    • Many of the atheists I know are former Bible scholars.

Quoting Scripture When Things Get Rough

This is like some sort of incantation.  The specific verses vary, but it's like they're trying to reinforce their own beliefs and ward of Satan when you say something that makes them doubt. It's rather amusing when it happens.  I tend to infer that I've likely struck a nerve.

Thinly veiled hell threats

I think these are a good opportunity to ask the believer if they think it's ethical for their God to torture people based on sincere beliefs. It's often a last-resort tactic when the believer needs to make themselves feel better about the fact that they're completely unable to justify their stated beliefs.

  • Every knee will bow
  • Some day, you'll be sorry for what you're saying

Begging the Question

When it's clear they can't possibly demonstrate any of their claims to be true, they'll start working their baseless assumptions as presuppositions to comments and questions. 
It's like they're incapable of even recognizing the places where they've made assumptions. Repeatedly asserting as if it's obvious doesn't make it real.

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