One of the things that drives me nuts is when people enter into an argument without actually listening to the other side’s perspective. When I was in high school we had instructions in how to debate, and one of the specific roles we were told to fill on our debate teams was to have someone whose job was to pretend to be on the other team. The idea was that this person would become an expert at the arguments that the other side was likely to use, so we could smack them down in rebuttal.
For some reason (probably because the target audience is not interested in hearing refutation), ‘debates’ that I see between religious people and atheists never seem to use that tactic.
If I ever get invited to debate a creationist or a theist, I have an entirely different strategy to employ – I’m going to go up there and pretend to be even crazier than my opponent. “You think the word was created 6,000 years ago? Absolutely nonsense! It was created 3 months ago by the sneezing of an intergalactic duck! It was just sneezed with the illusion of age! I know this because I read it on the back of this napkin, and I feel the truth of it in my heart.”
But then again, the people who argue the science side are usually trying to teach the audience something important, and consider it worthwhile showing respect to both their opponent and her/his position. I am labouring under no such burden – I just want them to see how stupid she/he looks.
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Another thing that illustrates this is if you simply ask them to explain your position. Often, they CAN’T do it, because they don’t know what it is and simply made up some strawmen in their own mind, refusing to listen to you.
The opposite is very rarely true, however, and I sometimes think it is useful for rationists to explain the theist’s view back to them (after a bit of discussion that allows you to understand the specifics). If they correct you, then correct your explanation of their position. (Every time I have done this, however, they NEVER corrected me on anything. Even according to them, I explained their position very well. In their mind, who could argue with “Jesus was the son of god”, “he is the way, the truth, and the life”, and “no one gets to the father but through Jesus”, etc.)
THEN ask them to do the same for YOUR position–explain it back to me so I know you understand what I’m saying. They can’t do it. They just spew out strawman after strawman. “You just want to sin.” “Where do morals come from without god?” “You think we are monkeys.” “You think everything came from nothing.” “Something bad happened to you so you turned away from god.” “You worship science without question.”
That’s when you pounce and clarify your position again. If nothing else, they might start to FEEL like they perhaps don’t know where you are coming from (as you were fair with their position and demonstrated you understand it well enough for them to acknowledge that, indeed, you understand it…at least inasmuch as is recognizable with language). And maybe try to make them feel guilty for not giving you the same courtesy to your position as you’ve given to theirs–at least we don’t go around saying the only reason they believe in Jesus is to anger the aliens in the UFOs who we all know are real.
Perhaps you should use an argument using another equally absurd myth such as those from ancient Greece, Roman gods, Egypt or Norse gods. It would provide a good juxtaposition to your opponents god showing the absurdity of their position.
Just something to think about
That’s a good idea. Say “I agree with all of Dr. Craig’s points, except that what it is actually proof of is the validity of Islam. Maybe if he’d read the Qur’an he’d understand. No, I mean really read it.” I like doing that on message boards.
I also find it odd that these debates are never between two theists. I’d love to see WL Craig vs. Ken Ham vs. Bobodoll Comfort vs. Rowan Williams. That would be something to watch.
I have seriously thought about debating in favour of the merits of Zeus the next time I debate a creationist. I had planned to copy large chunks of Craig’s argument, and/or whoever I’d be debating against in order to force them to debate against their own position.
Regarding creationist vs creationist… Ask, and thou shalt receive: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwA7bvco7ow
And let me say this ahead of time: I’m sorry for giving you that link. I’m sorry for the mental suffering you will endure when you watch it. Because it’s *really* painful.
IT BURNS! IT BURNS!
I know, and I’m sorry. 😦
There are many more of these on Youtube…
Comparing the theists specific beliefs to Greek gods, Norse gods, santa, etc, may be a good approach at trying to shame people out of their beliefs (or trying to illustrate the burden of proof), but if they hold their beliefs as strongly as most of us hold the belief that “rocks are hard”, then it probably won’t have any effect (or even the opposite effect).
When you put the Greek gods next to their god, they see myths that (almost) no living humans take seriously, beside their god-notion that is self evident to them and millions of other fellow believers. When you make that juxtaposition, then it seems to CONFIRM their a priori beliefs (unless their belief was weak to begin with–then it could have some effect).
The first step, in my opinion, must be to demonstrate clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly that we know EXACTLY their position, and still reject it. Too often we jump directly to reason, evidence, etc, and the theist hears nothing because they start with their own “reasons” and “evidence” that are utterly divorced from reality, but they don’t know that, nor do they care to find out, and all the reasons and evidence in the world can’t shake them from their “reasons” and “evidence” because REAL reason and evidence is Not-My-Reasons-Evidence, hence “false”.
However, if we make it clear to them that we understand their position in detail and reject it…the only way to counter that in an argument is for THEM to make it clear to us in detail that they understand OUR position (and then try to reject it).
And that is where the real work begins, because they don’t really WANT to understand our position, and will throw strawman after strawman at us, at which time we have to keep correcting them until they understand our position, or until they give up knowing deep down that they don’t really want to know because maybe, just maybe, we are right.
In addition, many theists can’t imagine someone could know, in detail, their position, and STILL REJECT IT. If that can be made clear to them, it just might force them to listen to an opposing view in a way they never have before. (Curiosity is our weapon here, if they happen to have any curiosity–they have to know WHY we reject their position despite understanding it in detail. And if they REALLY want to know why, their ears might finally be open enough to listen to reason.)
As with any method of communication, I don’t think there is a “right” way to change people’s minds. Some people respond to humour, others respond to kindness, others respond to aggression. My suggestion is that when we debate, we don’t rely on the classical, factual method exclusively. The problem is that our opponents don’t meet us on the battlefield with the same armaments. Ridicule and absurd comparison might highlight the paucity of argument on the opposing side.
If you think you can be persuasive in your approach of “I know where you’re coming from, I’ve heard and rejected these reasons already”, which I think is an excellent method, then go for it. I’m a bit more of a clown, and I like to laugh. Laughter is a weapon uniquely able to pierce the armor of undeserved respect that religious ideas have, which is why theists got so up in arms about guys like George Carlin.
I like the idea, but don’t say you feel it in your heart but like, in your nostrils or something. Equally silly as feeling it in a blood pump.
That reminds me of a birthday card I saw once which read: “I love you from the bottom of my bum, which is WAY lower down than my heart.”
Children very amused by video. Husband refuses to laugh at the theology of the Intergalactic Duck, which he claims is merely a variant of “Last Tuesdayism,” an argument frequently employed by him and his buddies. Sheesh.
Actually the daughters liked the video so much they got their brother to watch it hours later and insisted that I read him the intergalactic duck bit. He laughed.
Then my work here is done!