Hello everyone! I am in need of help. As an atheist, I feel I am constantly having to ague or defend my stance and views. Although I am a non confrontational person, I can no longer allow myself to be walked upon any longer. I see people who are able to hold their own in a debate; however, I personally do not know how to argue a point/debate an idea to save my life! Can this be learned or are you just born with it?
My preferred style when confronted by a theist is to lead with FACTS, hard, strong FACTS. This means boning up on what may be a LOT of stuff, though you don't have to be an expert on evolution, the bible, physics, cosmogony and who knows what else to be able to hold your own. BTW, as it comes to the bible, a GREAT resource is The Skeptic's Annotated Bible. Give a look when you have a moment; it is VERY much worth your time!
The problem is that your opponent will frequently not acknowledge your facts, or they will ignore them, or they will make an emotional appeal rather than a logical one. These take multiple forms and can be slippery to deal with. About all I can suggest here is to learn from others, read about encounters others have had here and on other atheist fora. Dealing with believers is a learned skill, like many other things. It'll take patience and time, but it is worth it!
If you have a specific issue you're dealing with, do please bring it out. There are LOTS of folks here (yours truly included!) who would be more than glad to help.
In an emotional appeal, I always point out where religion ignores emotion and human happiness. Not hard To find examples.
One other piece of advice (actually more than one, depending on how you look at it) is this video from A|N member Steve Shives on 9 Tips For Having a Civil Argument. It's good basic stuff, less about debate than discussion.
Steve has also done a number of videos where he looks at books regarding christian apologetics, including Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith. Frankly, he tears them apart, clearly and systematically. I recommend them all highly. You'll find them all on Steve's YouTube page.
Agree with Phoenix. The burden of proof is on the theist - never on the atheist. We're not the ones proposing an invisible, all encompassing creator. They are. One simple response is this. Ask them why they dismiss Zeus, Chango, Apollo, Queztacoatl, Baal, Ashtorath, Poseidon, or the thousands of other gods that have been worshiped throughout human history. Then, mention that when they actually understand why they dismiss them, they'll know the reason why you dismiss theirs.
Here's a great, short, argument that may help. Richard Dawkins answering this very question.
Why not just tell them you believe in facts and rational observations from same; then tell them there is not a single fact they can advance to prove the existence of any "god."
I only argue with people that I have a measure of respect for. Many times an argument may be put on hold until I or my opponent have had time to look up a reference.
For the rest of the population, when I feel inclined to disagree openly, I just state that "I disagree". Then I sit on my statement like a mule. I am not expending the energy to have a dialogue with someone that dismisses what I have to say with no more thought than a chimpanzee.
Lately, i decided to do what xtians have always done to me. I shake my head and look at them like they're nuts. I do minimal talking, and just say "that's bull", or"you can never prove what you're saying", etc. I want them to have a fit, not me. It's been working so far.
It helps to first consider what you're trying to accomplish. If you absolutely must "win" in every case I can put you in touch with my wife, who refuses to surrender...ever. It is an exercise in frustration if you're looking to either discuss or crush the obstinate with facts and the "perfect" argument.
If you're looking to discuss, I suggest you first pick wisely who you associate with. It might actually help you to learn something.
Only state what you know, not what you speculate may be true. Don't put forth wishful thinking as an argument or you'll be beaten to the ground. It is difficult sometimes to recognize in ourselves positions based upon emotion. Again, what do you know? Also, accept that you don't know everything. Some things we can't be expected to know, maybe not just now but ever.
Ask questions. "How do you know that" and "what evidence is there that this is true" go a long way towards not only exposing weaknesses but wishful thinking on the part of the opponent. I much prefer to have my adversary place their head in the noose than myself. Call them out on it once exposed...respectfully (assuming they respond in kind).
Lastly, it has been my experience that most people I come in contact with will be there a while. I would much rather respectfully disagree and have friends than generate hatred in those I've offended. I believe one of the reasons this country is having such a difficult time moving forward is because we've lost the ability to respectfully disagree. No matter how a debate turns out, unless you intend to fight to the death, we still have to live together. Animosity means we've terminated the discussion, in which case both sides have lost the future opportunity to put forward a convincing argument. Having a humble sense of humor goes a long way towards soothing hurt feelings and anger. Of course it does not do much for the person without either humility or a sense of humor but it will certainly help you.
It's funny how a christian can be real nasty and disrespectful and not even realize it, but when we disagree, we have crossed the line. This is the tough part. Don't raise your voice, and give them a reason to ask ....... "Why are you so angry?" :)
Excellent point. I hear that repeatedly on other websites. A constant complaint about the "angry militant atheist". I just try to ignore it and move forward, confident that I'm being as honest as I can be. I know I'm not going to change the world, I'm just trying to have a discussion in my little corner of it. I'm confident we're gaining strength in numbers and our arguments are beginning to resonate. We need to have a little faith (ok, confidence) in our fellow A/Ners.
This may not follow, but hearing you talk about that made me understand "angry militant feminists" in a whole new light. It seems like the two could be pretty interchangeable in the right situation. That's a new line of thought for me.