How can we as atheists present our view as worthy and valuable in public debates and forums?

I've been watching a few You Tubes of debates between Christopher Hitchens and others of mainly religious persuasion.

Hitchens comes across as being negative.

I totally agree with Hitchens but I'm trying to work out what it is that causes him to seem this way.

I totally understand his disinterest, boredom and frustration at debating with these people - but clearly he believes that doing so is useful.

The religious people come across as confident, self assured and definite in their arguments and statements.

I think that it's because Hitchens is taking a position against their arguments - to counter their arguments. I suppose this is a natural position when self-identifying as an atheist and put into a debate with a theist. But it would be nice to up our profile a bit - come across as strong in ourselves with the same confident, self assured and definite approach that they have with their world views.

I think we need a "culture" to promote - a culture of reason, science and pragmatism. A way of approaching life and life's challenges and dilemmas - one that can be talked about in a positive way - it doesn't need to include personal opinions, but it can include the way that we reach those private opinions - such as in a reasonable way that is based in scientific method for good moral values.

I notice also that they keep getting into a preaching sort of track where they start going on about Jesus or such like and really it would be the equivalent as Hitchens using fairy stories to illustrate his point. Perhaps he should. Perhaps people might relate better to him if he did use fairy stories to illustrate his points. Then he might come across as confident as they do.

I think that another important point is that religion has changed according to society. Things have changed as time has passed. But I suppose on things like human rights are lacking - such as gay marriage - and these are the points that we need to keep arguing with our "culture" of reason, rational and science based, morally good values.

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Replies to This Discussion

Sam Harris has always delivered his positions and rebuttals with sincereness that Dawkins and Hitchens don't always have.
I think Harris just has been born with better social skills for that sort of thing....  evolutionary biologists and journalists have other qualities :)

a conversation with a religious person is never wasted. Something will stick.


I love the optimism of this statement - and it's very much what I've suspected for a while now - having understood determinism, the causal web and our lack of CCFW.


Thanks for the links - I'm always keen to hear more sense and reason :)  I'll have a look at them all.


Also I saw a great Dawkins you tube yesterday where he says something similar to this - in answer to someone accusing atheists of being scary - saying that they haven't every threatened anyone or flown into a building or strapped a bomb to themselves or waged war on others for hating their god etc...


"...a conversation with a religious person is never wasted. Something will stick."

Not likely; check out homeostasis.

Hearing the views of atheists may stir imbalances in believers' minds. Stress responses may follow and believers may put a lot of probably unconscious effort into returning to their comfort zones.

Conversations with believers will more likely benefit atheists by strengthening synapses in their minds and helping them adapt to atheism's many freedoms.



well the personal benefit is enough motivation to carry on with it - and also it might be the straw that broke the camels back with the theist also :)

I think we all might agree there is no absolute answer to this. Yes, we can de-convert with argument. No, we can't, they become more entrenched. Both happen. In psychoanalysis this is known, I think, as negative therapeutic effect. Someone takes a shaky step out of the miserable, maybe shame-bound dungeon of depression, suddenly feels unworthy and lost, runs back in. It's a process therapists work with. And sometimes it's one step out, two back, but in time confidence might grow with familiarity.

But none of us here have numbers that tell us either fundies never change their minds or given the right words, they all can. No doubt religion will always be around in some form.

I have grown quite tired of arguing with believers over the years but I hope, in a very small way to add something good to the world before I go. This is why I will always talk to a religious person if they want to. Somewhere down the line, I hope I'm adding to the stock of reason in the world, however inadequately I might do it.

People will allow themselves to be influenced if they feel safe and have great respect for the source of influence. I actively take influence from people here in AN because I've been surrounded by theists for 30 years most of the time - and now I want to take the opportunity to absorb the influence of rational thinkers. I'm not doing it without critical thinking - but in kind.

I know that religious folk do the same - when I was a kid I saw many people knew to the religious group I grew up in, and they were thirsty for knowledge and understanding and asked many questions and were very open to absorbing knowledge. It was all fairy tales. It would be nice that others could be enculturated through education and our culture to have the same enthusiasm for rationality, reason and science. In that if they were offered the same 'family', moral values etc from the scientific community or our community - that it was more overtly known about or expressed.

I watched the whole debate - 5 you tubes - and this was my comment:


I totally agree with Fry and Hichens - but they might have shown more compassion and sportsmanship at the end - by shacking hands or something - it's not personal - it's about the institution - and like Fry states - he's not against individuals who are genuine hearted in their desire to do good in the world - despite their ignorance and religious indoctrination. After all - there being no such thing as contra causal free will - they are determined to be that way - as are the other billions...

Harris is brilliant in this one - I wonder was he born Jewish?  because he really fits into that Jewish humour - it's great.... :)

Yes Sam Harris is Jewish. He is also a scientist by the way. He researches neurology. I often think his equitable, calm and humorous manner may be a result of his experiments with drugs and meditation! Perhaps the latter mostly!

It's nice of you to have watched all that debate by the way! I didn't think many would. 

But you could argue that the other side could have also behaved in a more sportsmanlike manner too. Losers usually like to appear to take it graciously. I'm guessing they probably shook hands outside.

I've many many Jewish people who have a wicked sense of humour and seem to know how to make fun of themselves even with very serious matters - perhaps not so much in Israel... I don't know. But it shows, I think, just how strong culture can be - and how creating culture is valuable for communication.

I think because I identify with Hitchens and Fry so strongly that I'm concerned about how they come across - I couldn't care less how the other side come across. My mother always taught me that it didn't matter what others did - I should always act with respect and integrity - it was shameful not to. I suppose I feel that shame now - perhaps misplaced and unnecessary English cultural habits designed to keep us all in our places - just what Hitchens and Fry are fighting against :)
There is a reason that the best comedians are Jewish, black, and Irish; it's from a response to suffering. And that there are no good conservative comedians--their attempts at comedy amount to mere mockery, because they do not relate to reality.




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