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God vs. no god futility. May 29, 2007

Posted by Joe in atheism, god, religion, theism.

Richard Wade you are absolutely correct in your comment to my problem of evil post. The existence of god debate is a complete waste of time for both sides.

The existence of any (nontrivial) god cannot be demonstrated nor refuted logically. God is an ill defined concept that challenges the very meaning of the word exist.

Also, such arguments do little more than make both sides look bad. If an atheist wants to influence the reasoning of others in regards to the question his (or her) best strategy is to avoid argument, and focus on the following:

  1. Behavior – Demonstrate with actions and words that atheists are not inherently evil, immoral, impolite, ignorant, abnormally unhappy, arrogant or any other negative stereo-type that is often applied to atheists.
  2. Question – When the opportunity arises well placed, but non-threatening questions are more likely to bring extreme believers to a more liberal outlook on an issue.
  3. Facts – Many extreme religious positions are simply wrong. (i.e. the efficacy of abstinence only education.) Simple, straight forward, polite refutation of these positions can lead believers to question the veracity of their sources of information.

Many deconversion story that I have read feature at least two these factors prominently. I think they are the most respectful and the most effective way of influencing the thoughts of others, regardless of the subject.

Thanks Richard.



1. Richard Wade - May 31, 2007

Joe, I’m glad my remarks were useful to you, and I agree with your points about better strategies for discussions between believers and non believers.

For clarification I use the word “argument” to mean a supported assertion, not a hostile quarrel as your use of the word indicates. It’s just one of the other definitions.

I’m in a “wise old man” mood today, so please forgive me for indulging in offering any of your readers some general advice. This goes for anyone on any side of any issue:

Any discussions about religion carry the potential for strong emotions and can quickly degrade into destructive invective or futile quarrels over unresolvable things. There is a lot of very badly done argument on the internet, and I’d really like to see it improve. It’s discouraging to have to pick through all the diatribe to find thoughtful and articulate people with whom I can talk. Anyone getting into such discourse should first examine their own motives for doing so and their tactics.

If your motive contains anger or fear about another person or group, that indicates that you have been listening to propaganda or you have personal issues that have no place in such a discussion. Take plenty of time to clean that up before getting into a debate. Otherwise you’re most likely going to argue poorly from a rational perspective and discredit yourself and others with similar views. Mind your manners. Swear off the pejorative terms. Humor is okay bout sarcasm is just passive-aggressive hostility. Such things weaken your effect. Even if your arguments are more solid, if you deliver them in a snide, condescending or hostile way people will discount the argument’s strength. If you’re a smartass people will forget the smart and remember the ass. If someone uses such tactics on you, don’t stoop to return the same, patiently point out how that doesn’t work to their advantage and suggest another go at it.

Argue from sincerity rather than superiority. Make mutual understanding the most important goal rather than “winning.” What would “winning” in these blog discussions be anyway? The other person concedes and right there converts to your viewpoint? That’s not very bloody likely to happen. What can be useful is to cooperate in clearing away stereotypes and misconceptions each side has about the other. It takes a long time but only then can any “convincing” ever have even the slightest chance.

Remember that you’re bigger than your argument. Be willing to acknowledge that you’re wrong. You can concede a detail without surrendering your entire position. Don’t pretend to know more than you do. It’s much worse to get caught faking it than to simply say you’re not an expert in something. Use your own speaking language, no need to “sound smart.”

Learn about commonly used fallacious kinds of arguments like ad hominem, straw man and false dichotomy. They are common stumbling blocks to effective argument. Don’t use them and don’t fall for them.

That’s enough sage advice for now from the amateur sage. Sorry if it sounded stuffy or superior; it wasn’t offered in that spirit. If my remarks were not necessary for any particular reader, great; they were intended for some other reader.

Joe, your blog is interesting and I’ll be visiting from time to time, even if I don’t always have something to say.

2. Joe - June 1, 2007

Thanks Richard.

I agree with many of your points. I have gotten into the very emotional have to “win points” mode before. It is easy to fall into and sometimes I don’t really notice. I may very well have gotten there yesterday. It is often something that one regrets later, but at the time is spurred on my strong emotions.

Thanks for being a regular reader. Do you have a blog?

3. Richard Wade - June 1, 2007

Hi Joe, I do the very same things sometimes, forgetting my own advice. The saving grace is to as you say regret it later and resolve to not do it again, rather than feel fully justified and proud of it, as some people do.

No I don’t have a blog. I prefer that you guys do the work and take the emotional risk. I spend way too much time in front of this infernal machine already. If I had a blog I’d really want it to be about the people commenting rather than just me expressing my opinion to the empty air. If nobody visited or commented, it would be like throwing a party and nobody comes. I’d be disappointed. That’s why I admire and feel grateful to bloggers who put forth the effort and risk.

4. Joe - June 1, 2007

I understand.

You might enjoy a place like http://www.freethought-forum.com/

Check it out if you are interested.

5. Richard Wade - June 1, 2007

Thanks Joe. I’ve bookmarked that freethought forum and I’ll investigate it.

I meant to add to my last comment that you really should do something about a better name for your blog. It seems like you’re feeling some of that emotional risk, and anticipating that it will be lame. So you call it that yourself before anyone else can. Think more positively and nurture your self confidence. You’re not lame and neither are your efforts for meaningful communication.

Ah, I just noticed that you already removed “lame.” That’s a start, but the negative, ho-hum connotation is still there. Keep working on something that reflects your affirmative side.

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