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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

10 Tips For Debating Religion As An Atheist


Debate an atheist

Debating religion as an atheist can be akin to walking a tightrope over a Nickelback concert. One misstep, and you're in the shit. In my opinion, it's not really a route to truth but more of an intellectual dick-measuring contest. Often, it descends into bickering about the minutia of holy texts, which is my no-no zone. For me, a lifer atheist, the Bible means as much as what Kate Middleton is wearing to her fancy fuck-the-poor ball, which is to say it means sweet, fancy, fuck all. In my eyes, debating the Bible's far-fetched yarns can be compared to debating which character has a longer tail in Paw Patrol: A complete fucking waste of my time.



But that's just my perspective. I am also capable of realizing that chipping away at the credibility of the Big Book can help others free themselves from harmful dogma. It's just not for me. And, if I can take the liberty of giving some of you a little digital spanking, I'd suggest it's not for many of you, either. It's an art form that requires not just a solid understanding of the subject but also a finesse in handling conversations that tread the fine line between healthy debate and trolling for internet points. So, how does one master this art? Let’s explore.


1. Know Thy Subject (and Thy Opponent’s)

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Knowledge is power, especially in religious debates. Familiarize yourself with the major religions, their texts, and their philosophies. This is why I am no good on the debate court: I have read some religious texts, but did I retain them? Bahaha. Understanding the core arguments for theism is another thing, though. These I can argue for the most part, and are just as important as knowing the holy texts: the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the ontological argument, and the moral argument. Simultaneously, study the counterarguments from an atheist perspective. Knowledge prevents you from being blindsided and helps you counter effectively.


2. Define Your Ground


Before you begin, clarify what you stand for. Atheism, in its basic form, is a lack of belief in gods. It's not a belief in 'no gods.' This distinction is crucial in debates and it's important that you and your debate partner are using the same definition of words like atheist, theist, religion and faith. Define your stance clearly at the outset. Are you debating the existence of a specific god, the validity of a religious text, or the role of religion in society? Clarity prevents the debate from meandering into irrelevant territories.


3. Logic is Your Ally, But Keep Emotions in Check


This should be in flashing neon on every page of social media. A lot of atheist debate bros seem to think that winning a debate means making the audience laugh at the expense of their opponent. I have also been guilty of this, and it got me nowhere. Rationality and logic are the cornerstones of atheist arguments. Use them effectively to question the logical inconsistencies or lack of empirical evidence in religious claims. However, be mindful of the emotional resonance religious beliefs hold. Rational arguments, no matter how sound, can fall on deaf ears if they are perceived as emotionally insensitive.


4. Question, Don’t Attack


Asking questions is a powerful tool in debates. It forces the opponent to think and articulate their stance and when they inevitably can't, because the Bible is nonsense, they dig themselves into a hole. Asking the right questions ultimately helps your opponent defeat themselves. Use Socratic questioning to probe their beliefs: “Why do you believe that?”, “What evidence supports this claim?”, “How do you reconcile this belief with this evidence to the contrary?”


5. Understanding the Burden of Proof


In any debate, the burden of proof lies on the one making the claim. If someone claims a god exists, it is their responsibility to provide evidence. Understand and articulate this principle. It's not your job as an atheist to disprove God – an impossible task – but to analyze the evidence (or lack thereof) presented.



6. Avoid Logical Fallacies


Be vigilant about not falling into the trap of logical fallacies. The most common include appealing to ignorance (assuming a claim is true because it has not been or cannot be proven false), straw man arguments (misrepresenting someone's argument to make it easier to attack), and ad hominem attacks (attacking the person instead of the argument). In the moment, it can feel like you're really getting places by attacking your opponent rather than his ideas. People chuckle, maybe you get some likes. Ultimately, though, it makes it look like you couldn't think of something relevant to say so you decided to fling shit instead. You look estupido, mi amigo.


7. Empathize and Connect

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Remember, behind every belief is a believer, a human being with emotions, experiences, and a worldview shaped by myriad factors. Empathizing with your opponent creates a respectful environment conducive to healthy debate. Understand where they are coming from, even if you don’t agree. Besides, when they feel safe with you, their walls come down, and they're more likely to hear what you're saying. If you're debating to help people see beyond their faith, this is so crucial.


8. Recognize and Respect Limits


Some debates will reach a point where further discussion is futile. Learn to recognize these moments. If the debate is going in circles or becoming too heated, it’s okay to agree to disagree. Respectful disengagement is a key part of the art of debating. Otherwise, you're just spinning your wheels and getting nowhere, and that's the sort of shit atheists have worked hard to leave behind.


9. The Power of Concession


If a valid point is made by your opponent, acknowledge it. Concessions lend credibility to your argument and show intellectual honesty. This creates trust and helps to take those walls down. Now, your opponent is more likely to hear the things you're saying. Besides, who doesn't love learning new things or seeing things in a whole new way? Debating is not just about proving your point but also about learning and growing.


10. The Art of Listening


Active listening is crucial. Understand the arguments presented, listen for underlying assumptions, and respond to the points made. Listening also shows respect and can calm a potentially volatile conversation. Both your opponent and audience can tell when you're disengaged from what the other person is saying, and it doesn't lend you very much credibility.


Debating religion, to me, is futile as religion has never played a significant role in my life from day one. It's like debating whether or not to feed the chupacabra. It's completely nonsensical. But, for those of you who can tolerate it, the art of debating religion as an atheist is not about winning or converting someone to atheism. It's a journey of exploring ideas, challenging beliefs (including your own), and expanding understanding. It’s about promoting critical thinking and respectful discourse. As an atheist in a religious debate, your goal should be to provoke thought, not to provoke the believer.


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9 Comments


mcampos32
Jan 08

Why debate religio. If your senses are closed to the things of the spirit just keep calm and continue to walk in darkness. You are like the blind debating the things that those that have the sense of sight can see. Don’t debat, don’t look for a guide, don’t search for a cure. Believe in the nothingness you can see.

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relig
Jan 09
Replying to

Being told you walk in darkness by someone blinded by religion hits differently.

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Benin Oakland
Jan 06

Nice column. I may make a few comments. First and foremost:


"These I can argue for the most part, and are just as important as knowing the holy texts: the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the ontological argument, and the moral argument."

what is important to note is that all of these are arguments. But not one of them is actual evidence. as arguments, they are as valid for any God but the Christian God as they are for the Christian God. But they provide no more evidence for the Christian God then they do for any other God. But arguments frequently hold within them the seeds of their genesis. The conclusions depend upon the premises . It would…


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Courtney Heard
Courtney Heard
Jan 08
Replying to

Exactly, thanks you for adding this note!

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Ed Selby
Ed Selby
Jan 05

11) Know when to quit You are highly unlikely to sway a religious person's belief in a "debate". There is no light bulb moment. If you do anything, you will plant seeds that will grow over time. So know when to walk away.

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Nunov Yorbiznes
Nunov Yorbiznes
Jan 29
Replying to

Yep. That's how it happened for me. 40 years a fundagelical, now 10 years atheist.

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Tommy Housworth
Tommy Housworth
Jan 05

Thank you for this, Courtney. I've done more explaining myself (I'm a Buddhist Humanist, so technically an Atheist as well) than debating. Many people don't get that Buddhism is non-theistic, so that's a whole process, especially with family and people I used to go to church with as a teenager. But you've provided the guidelines here for approaching almost any debate situation with poise and discernment. I love the thoughtful wisdom that you laid out here. Thank you.

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Courtney Heard
Courtney Heard
Jan 08
Replying to

Thank you so much for reading, Tommy and I love that I get readers from all walks of life. Welcome!

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