Every day, I find myself in a debate with a theist about the existence of God or the reason I am an atheist. Every day, I present the same arguments. Every day, atheists see those arguments and feel the need to comment, saying, “It’s futile. Your arguments are good, but they are falling on deaf ears.” Every day, I respond to them and explain how it is absolutely not futile and that such a claim is as absurd as God existing in the first place.
Let me tell you why.
First, I’m not arguing with that person with the hopes of changing that specific theist’s mind. I’m doing it because I know there is an audience paying attention. In that audience, there could be religious people who have doubts that will grow if they follow the debate. In that audience, there could be atheists who find themselves cornered by religious family and friends, and through following the discussion, learn what to say to them. In that audience, there could be people who identify as non-religious that finally decide to call themselves atheists after hearing what I have to say. I argue with the theist, not to change the theist’s mind, but in hopes that even just one member of the audience can be helped in some way by the things that I am saying.
Second, it is possible to change minds. It’s been demonstrated, over and over and over. There is an overwhelming number of ex-believers in the atheist community, proving that it’s not just possible that minds change, it’s likely. I, myself, have been witness to 3 people change their minds. I even received a letter from one, which I posted here.
Additionally, If you’ve spent any time watching the Atheist Experience, and are still claiming that debating people is futile… I mean, I don’t know what to say to you. I’d need ten sets of hands to count how many times I’ve heard a caller say, “You guys are the reason I identify as an atheist. Thank you.” And I’ve only watched a couple handfuls of episodes!
Discourse is precisely how people change their minds about things. That’s why we have trials for the criminally accused, with juries of peers. It’s why proposed legislation is introduced to senates and congresses and parliaments all over the world. Evidence and arguments change minds across the globe on a daily basis.
Third, the more I debate people about the existence of God, the more I understand the arguments from the other side. This makes me a better writer on the topic of atheism. It helps me to understand theists as someone who has never been one, which is fascinating to me. It leads me to new strings of thought, new topics and new realizations.
Fourth, when you find someone intelligent to spar with, it’s challenging. Nothing is more exciting to me than being challenged.
I think there are certain styles of debate that are futile. Acting arrogant, assuming you’re more intelligent than your opponent, being unable to read what your opponent may respond to, focusing on the win, rather than having your opponent understand what you’re saying – all of these tactics will likely fall flat. If you find that when you debate a theist, it always feels useless, perhaps try focussing on who might be listening in, rather than changing the mind of your opponent.
So many people insist that debating a theist is futile, and I’m terrified by that assertion. Why? Because, in my mind, I can’t think of anything on earth that is more fruitful than discourse and it’s absolutely shocking to my core that there are people on this planet who don’t see it that way. It’s even more mind blowing, that some of those people are folks who claim to value evidence – which there is much of in favour of debate actually changing minds.
In fact, I believe that respectful and honest conversation is the absolute least futile thing I could do.
What do you think? Is debate with theists futile?