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Joined: July 21st, 2007, 3:54 pm
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Something I read on another website has made me question the purpose of debating with believers about God. I won't say what it was yet. I want to find out the opinions of people here about whether you really think it's worthwhile spending the time and energy debating with religious believers who generally seem to me to be unwilling to budge on any religious issue. Do you actually think it is possible to deconvert people through debate or are you just interested in honing your debating skills? And can you honestly say you keep an open mind and consider everything your opponent says?


November 5th, 2007, 3:00 pm
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Thomas
I want to find out the opinions of people here about whether you really think it's worthwhile spending the time and energy debating with religious believers who generally seem to me to be unwilling to budge on any religious issue.
Debating Christians is my hobby (although I don't do so much of it nowadays, I got sick of refuting the same BS time after time) I never thought I would de-convert anybody, I just used to have so much fun putting them down.
However! When David Robertson joins a debate, I just can't help myself and have to get involved. See his (David Robertson) letter in today's media scan here.
I haven't commented yet, I'm waiting to see if he gets involved :angry:

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November 5th, 2007, 3:40 pm
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Aargh - I didn't realise that David Robertson was in my neck of the woods, I just assumed that he must be from the Western Isles (where did I get that from??) Sorry Alan. Do you want me to go to the Borders event with a big "Alan C" cardboard cut-out and heckle in your name?? :twisted:

Will be back re the OP. Really busy just now. No time to do much but read...... Just the media scan takes up all my lunch break! See y'all soon :wave:


November 5th, 2007, 4:05 pm
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Beki
Do you want me to go to the Borders event with a big "Alan C" cardboard cut-out and heckle in your name??
That would be cool Beki, but he knows me as "saneatheist" which he once told me is an oxymoron :laughter:
I responded by pointing out to him, "religious education" is an oxymoron :nod:

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November 5th, 2007, 4:21 pm
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I thought Robertson was a Free Presbyterian. I don't know what the 'Free Church' is. Can anyone explain?

Beki, is the Free Church more powerful in the Western Isles?

Finally, please don't ever stop debating Christians. If I hadn't read such debates online I would still be a Christian!

:shock:


November 5th, 2007, 4:39 pm
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Curtains
I thought Robertson was a Free Presbyterian. I don't know what the 'Free Church' is. Can anyone explain?




Quote:
In 1892 the Free Church of Scotland, following the example of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Church of Scotland (1889), passed a Declaratory Act relaxing the stringency of subscription to the confession, which was widely perceived as paving the way for unification with the United Presbyterian Church. This was met by a protest from the minister from the island of Raasay, who was later joined by one other minister. The result was that a small number of ministers and congregations, mostly in the Highlands, severed their connection with the Free Church of Scotland and formed the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, along lines they considered to be more orthodox. By 1907 this body had twenty congregations and twelve ministers.

Curtains the full article is here. Isn't Christianity confusing with all these different sects?

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November 5th, 2007, 5:32 pm
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Back again for a proper post. Hi Thomas :wave:

I would say that it is incredibly important to debate in general but also with those who describe themselves as religious. The problem I have found is that there are few who can have a genuine debate without feeling that they are in some way being attacked. There were some very amusing and stimulating debates in the comments section of the Herald a few weeks ago about Creationism (that topic alway seems to create a stir!) and until "Martin McDonald from Cumbernauld" (a Catholic with an immense victim complex) joined in, I was quite enjoying the arguments.

At the end of the day, it comes down to a matter of faith and so may be an impasse at the most fundamental level but that doesn't mean that you can't point out the absurdities of religious dogma and if nothing else you can get people to start thinking about things that they might otherwise have just accepted because they haven't really thought them through. Most Catholics I know haven't a clue about the Old Testament and its appalling stories and morals. My friend from Zimbabwe had no idea that slavery was justified for years by referencing the Bible. They are only told about the 'nice' bits (and some of the teachings in the New Testament are nice). I just don't think that they can pick and choose the bits that they want - how can you differentiate if it all supposed to be the literal word of God?

OK, you are never going to be able to have a 'proper' debate with those who are determined to close their minds, but there will always be a few who have just not heard some of the arguments and therefore a reasoned, polite and informed debate can be positive.


November 5th, 2007, 11:51 pm
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Curtains wrote:
I thought Robertson was a Free Presbyterian. I don't know what the 'Free Church' is. Can anyone explain?

Beki, is the Free Church more powerful in the Western Isles?
:shock:

It sure is. The local paper letters page, week after week, is full of correspondence condemning everything in sight and in their name. One of their ministers writes a weekly column of the most utter bilge dressed up as considered philosophy, sounding learned becuase he quotes obscure writings from the 18th and 19th centuries. As quoted in another thread recently, it is socially unacceptable to challenge him, which would lead to a large degree of social ostracism.They also have influence way and beyond their membership through bluster and intimidation, effective because shildhood indoctrination (abuse!) is rife.
Even more interesting, they can't even live in peace amongst themselves. A breakaway group formed a few years ago calling themselves The Free Church(Continuing) all because their Professor of Systematic Theology couldn't keep it in his trousers where one or more of his parishioners were concerned, allegedly. This new group is now in dispute with the old group as to who has legal posession of property, churches, money etc., and has, as far as I understand gone as far as the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

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November 6th, 2007, 10:23 am
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Thomas, after long, long, experience I have to say that I now accept Richard Dawkins advie; 'Faith will always win over reason'.

Quite bluntly, if you are facing one of the 'true believers' type of mindset and you get to the point where you have demonstrated a mix of reason, logic, evidence and plain common sense that something they believe in is false or not demonstrable - they will simply resport to 'but that's what I believe' or 'that what my faith teaches us'.

Worse still, and very common with those of the USA evangelical variety, in trying to offer any alternative you may instead reinforce their misconceptions - religious teachers can have a clever way with warning adherents that any attempt by others to question their faith is either the work of the devil or a 'test from God' (crikey, it's weird even just repeating these primitive beliefs that I have heard expressed :sad: )

Of course, we must not be arrogant in our secularism. So I have found it appropriate to ask myself at times 'why am I discussing this with this person?' It is simply answered if you think that the person is looking for alternatives, and you think you can help in this search. There agin, it may be you who is on a search, however much by default.

It can also be that an individual is resolute and unchanging and unwilling to change in their beliefs, but at the same time offer no threat or injury (physical or otherwise) to any 'non-believers. In that case you have to decide for yourself whether it is worth the effort.

More importantly for me, you might want to ask; 'what right do I have to challenge what clearly works for this person without injury to others?' That was the case with me and my father. Once I got over the youthful bolshie phase) I determined that the ethical and appropriate thing was not to challenge his stolid beliefs... and it made sharing a couple of drinks with him all the more easier :wink:


November 6th, 2007, 1:18 pm
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Hi Thomas. I've meaning to respond in full to your question since you posted it. It's a subject very close to my heart, obviously. You don't differentiate between the different fora where debate can take place i.e on internet message boards such as this one, 'real life' debates organised by amateurs or professionals in various real life locations, televised debates etc. I think there is a crucial difference but more of that later. Here are some general comments:

Quote:
I want to find out the opinions of people here about whether you really think it's worthwhile spending the time and energy debating with religious believers who generally seem to me to be unwilling to budge on any religious issue.

I don't think it's just religious believers who are unwilling to budge. I think we are all like that on any subject we feel strongly about and, when it comes to religion, I think that if you look back at some of the arguments we've had on this forum, you will see atheists who are every bit as unyielding even though we are arguing on the same side of the fence.

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Do you actually think it is possible to deconvert people through debate

I have read quite a few testimonies of people who, like Curtains and Malcolm on this forum, have deconverted largely because, through the internet, they have been exposed to ideas and arguments that they'd never come across before and some of those arguments were being had in online forums. I don't think you will necessarily change the mind of your direct opponent, at least, not at the time of the debate. I don't mind admitting that I have changed my thinking on some things as a result of arguments I have been directly involved with. Sometimes it's happened then and there, more often it's happened after the argument was done and dusted, we've agreed to differ or whatever. As I slowly consolidated in my mind different perspectives that had been put to me, I realised I was not as right as I thought I was. But mostly I think debating is for the benefit of onlookers. It's as an onlooker that I personally have had my thinking challenged the most.

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or are you just interested in honing your debating skills?

Amongst the most important reasons for participating in debates are: (1) acquiring knowledge - one frequently needs to do some research if one wants to be on firm ground. Wanting to get the better of one's opponent is a powerful motivator.(2) developing one's own ideas and critical thinking skills. Sloppy, muddled thinking, lack of original thinking and paucity of ideas is a widespread affliction amongst atheists, humanists and secularists, IMO; (3) learning how to actually debate effectively so that you can change minds. It's not a skill that any of us were born with, I don't think.

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And can you honestly say you keep an open mind and consider everything your opponent says?


Honestly, no, though I try to. Some things that the most fanatical opponents say are just too off-the-wall to be considered seriously and I tend to respond with knee-jerk mockery, which reminds me of another reaons for participating in debates: they can be damn good fun!

As I said earlier, I think that where a debate takes place is crucial. For debates to influence thinking in any significant way they need to be recorded so that people can see and study what is being said. That's why on-line debates are good, debates that are recorded and later read or watched on video are good. Debates that take place in halls packed with supporters of one side or the other, are over in a couple of hours and have no record kept so are lost to wider audiences, are generally a waste of time, IMO.


November 6th, 2007, 2:28 pm
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Thanks for all the contributions.

Beki wrote:
The problem I have found is that there are few who can have a genuine debate without feeling that they are in some way being attacked.


This is undoubtedly true of some folk whether they are religious believers or not. I think we've seen it on this forum where a few people have simply not been able to handle being disagreed with and have either flounced off or resorted to become aggressive and spiteful.

Ted Harvey wrote:

Quite bluntly, if you are facing one of the 'true believers' type of mindset and you get to the point where you have demonstrated a mix of reason, logic, evidence and plain common sense that something they believe in is false or not demonstrable - they will simply resport to 'but that's what I believe' or 'that what my faith teaches us'.



Again, I think there is the atheist version of this where, instead of simply resorting to 'this is my faith' they will instead resort to personal insult or playing the victim.

Maria wrote:
Sloppy, muddled thinking, lack of original thinking and paucity of ideas is a widespread affliction amongst atheists, humanists and secularists.


Ne're a truer word spoken as far as the muddled thinking part is concerned. I'm not sure that 'original thinking and paucity of ideas' can be remedied by engaging in debate, though.

Maria wrote:

Debates that take place in halls packed with supporters of one side or the other, are over in a couple of hours and have no record kept so are lost to wider audiences, are generally a waste of time, IMO.


Indeed. It was actually on the HSS Board that I saw this comment advertising a debate on the existence of God: "It would be great to pack the audience with HSS members who will ask questions or make points during the open period."

The idea of "packing the audience" with people who already agree with one side and who will "make points" in that side's favour surely indicates that their aim was nowt more than to dominate their opponents and make themselves feel superior - unless they were naive enough to think that they would change the thinking of their opponents and their supporters. If they actually hoped to change anyone's thinking, they would have wanted to pack the audience with doubters and fence-sitters, I would have thought.


November 6th, 2007, 7:23 pm
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Curtains wrote:
Finally, please don't ever stop debating Christians. If I hadn't read such debates online I would still be a Christian!


Curtains, please tell. What, exactly, changed your mind? I would love to know.


November 7th, 2007, 7:23 pm
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It's a big story, Tehabwa but, briefly, I come from rural Brazil and was raised in a very strict Bible literalist family. I had no exposure to any other ideas until I was 18. There were computers in my school but I wasn't free to browse the internet until I went to university. Of course I read books as well but it was discovering that ordinary intelligent people were atheists and happy with it that had the biggest impact on me. My deconversion was swift and caused me no great trauma - perhaps because in my heart I had never really believed all of it in the first place.


November 7th, 2007, 10:36 pm
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Thanks for the reply, Curtains.

So it wasn't really a matter of convincing you, but of letting you know that others shared your doubts, and that atheism was possible, in a way that had been hidden from you through control of the ideas you had been exposed to.

Interesting.

But, to tie that in to this thread, it doesn't really make the case for DEBATE as a means of changing someone's mind.

As I've mentioned before, I participate in Yahoo's question and answer site, which has a "Religion & Sprituality" category, where there's much believer-atheist "debate" -- in Q&A format, which makes it less debatey.

The believers there are pretty entrenched. I recently saw a question asking what most needed to be "brought to the attention of believers" to which I responded that, for the people there, it wasn't a matter of bringing things to their attention. I don't think that works.

In the case of someone simply not exposed to the idea in the first place, that's one thing. But the idea that, if I just inform the believer of X, they'll rethink -- I just don't see it.

When I do debate (on Yahoo, or in person) it's more for fun, for the experience of writing out my case, and clarifying my own thinking, for coming up with clear, accurate responses to the various arguments I encounter.

There was a time when I invited the door-to-door folk (more Mormons than Jehova's Witnesses, as it happened) in to argue. But I was studying critical thinking and argumentation, and so it was more for the fun of learning how to argue, than for any hope of changing their minds.

It's an interesting topic, though.

On the whole, the believer who wants to believe will. They'll always have an answer.

What gets me most is the evolution thing. The people on the other side are clearly sleezmoids. Like taking quotes out of context to make their case. No honest person can continue to believe evolution is wrong, if they do any reading of what, for instance, Darwin really said.

I even saw one quote Dawkins, where he was laying out the basic pro-belief arguments, preperatory to addressing each. The quote was given as HIS view. That's just scummy.

:angry:

As I had just read that part of The God Delusion, I really let them have it. It's one thing to make your case, but when you have to completely distort someone else's writing, there's no excuse for that.

Of course, what Dawkins believes is irrelevant. The believers really have a hard time with the idea of thinking for oneself, and simply don't get that, even if Dawkins converted, that doesn't mean there is a god. And they're always asking who are our leaders and authorities.

I find myself pointing out that I have a mind. They just don't get it.


November 7th, 2007, 10:58 pm
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I can't answer for Curtains but I suspect he did get a lot out of watching and participating in debates as I did myself. I posted my deconverstion story here.

What I find most interesting about this discussion is the idea that critical thinking and debating skills can be learned. This was never something that had occurred to me as an evangelist. I thought it enough to speak from the heart "knowing" the truth as I did. I very much felt that all I had to do spread the Word and somehow this would strike a chord and all you heathens would open your hearts. I knew it wouldn't happen to everyone at the same time but would vary from individual to individual. That was why we had to keep on witnessing at every opportunity.

Talk of reason, thinking, evidence etc was all water off a duck's back. You were just being obstinate.

:wink:


November 8th, 2007, 3:37 pm
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Debate isn't a way of changing minds. That's not usually how it works.

But I agree with those who say that the important thing is that debates are read/heard by other people, and encountering those ideas could turn out to be pivotal in the development of the audience's beliefs.

Engaging in debate is also a good way of honing your own argumentative skills and strengthening your ideas. You don't develop a strong position by declining to engage with contrary ideas.

Dan


November 27th, 2007, 12:26 pm
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I see the wee flea has resurfaced, it's been a while.
From the Telegraph.
Quote:
Sir - Richard Dawkins is sounding more like a religious fundamentalist every day, and wants to investigate whether reading Harry Potter books will have a "pernicious effect" upon children (report, October 25).

His use of "evil" is also interesting. "It is evil to describe a child as a Muslim child or a Christian child", he says, as the child is too young to know what "its views are about the cosmos or morality". On the same logic one assumes then that calling a child English is "evil" because the child does not know what it means.

As humans we live in societies largely determined for many by religious belief and practice. So it is logical to describe a child in the context of its community and family. Atheist fundamentalists believe their view is the only way, and any other should be suppressed.

David A. Robertson, Dundee
My emphasis.
He does make some ridiculous statements, but that must be one of his best ever :laughter:

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October 27th, 2008, 7:53 pm
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Robertson isn't the greatest of thinkers, is he?

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October 27th, 2008, 8:01 pm
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You are unlikely to influence the diehards who oppose you in debate.

But there may be many in the audience who could be influenced.

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October 27th, 2008, 8:56 pm
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peterangus
You are unlikely to influence the diehards who oppose you in debate.
Hi Peter, in case you are not aware, David A Robertson is a "wee free" minister, you know? the kind that won't switch on a light on the "sabbath", they prepare Sunday dinner before midnight Saturday, and lock up the swings and roundabouts in the playparks on Sundays.
If you have some spare time, and you want a giggle, google him, I have crossed swords with him many times and while I know it's futile to debate him, it's fun nonetheless. :smile:

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October 27th, 2008, 10:47 pm
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