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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We have evolved to stay alive - that's what our bio-chemistry is about - but it doesn't allow us to view the world objectively - which is also a valuable tool if we want to learn more about the world and accelerate our ability to manipulate our environment and maximise our well being whilst here.

This latest situation with Dawkins and Watson is an interesting example - because there are strong feelings on both sides - and yet we are all meant to be on the same side of the fence here. I think if those involved had more understanding of bio-chemistry - they would be better equipped to deal with the situation in a rational manner. Although I think that acknowledgement of our bio-chemical limitations and deceptions are taboo almost - and seen as an indication of either weakness or manipulation.

I am perhaps wrong about this - and it is always better to play the ball rather than the person.

I agree with you about accepting our emotions in part; however, I do not accept that my emotions should come into play when it comes into my interpretation of the universe. 


This leads to a slippery slope where religious people can make the claim that we are Atheists because we don't "believe" or "feel" like there is a higher power. 


I don't doubt the existence of a higher power based on my emotions, I doubt the idea of higher powers or dieties because there is no scientific evidence to support those claims, and because there is science to explain the origins of life and the creation of our entire universe.


I don't need to read a sonnet or a poem about there being no god.  This is why some Christians need "Intelligent Design" to try to use psuedoscience to mis-represent facts, but no Atheist has ever tried to appeal to a religious persons feelings to try and convince them about the lack of a higher power.

The thing with bio chemistry is that you can't decide when it 'should' and 'shouldn't' come into play.


slippery slope theory .... I don't go for it generally - based on a hunch - not on stats at this stage...


And sure we need to get as much evidence as possible to make choices about how we conduct our lives and what we choose to believe.  Sometimes intuition is backed up by science and sometimes the facts are counter intuitive - but intuition, bio chemistry and feelings do have an effect on us all the time - men and women do differ slightly on average - not sure how much - but from what I understand women have more connections between both sides of their brain, whereas men are better at dealing with things separately and aren't as connected for verbally expressing their 'feelings'.

I appreciate everyone's responses.  I suppose that I am searching for someone to take an example from in terms of being an atheist publicly.  Someone whom I feel akin to and would like to 'walk in their footsteps'.  A mentor of sorts.  And so I was feeling frustrated at not finding that in Hitchens, although I totally agree that the small amount of material I've seen of his, that he is knowledgeable, witty, charismatic and intelligent.  Just not quite the mentor that I was after personally.


Funnily enough I've been disappointed also with some of Dawkins public appearances.  I have read a couple of Dawkins books and have been very impressed with his knowledge and ability to explain kindly and patiently the details of evolution.  I saw him in an Andrew Denton interview and he came across terribly.  And I say this because I am terribly attached to these people - and I do identify with them personally - having read their books and do already see them as mentors and guides - and so this is why I feel upset - because I'd like them to come across better - to convince the world of common sense, reason and scientific method.


I've not seen Harris slip as yet - although I find his regular references to ample use of LSD to be of a concern - all my concerns are about PR really - the PR of our community and the furthering of our message of reason and science.


My suggestions that Hitchens use fairy stories to get his message across was tongue in cheek :) - but perhaps also an expression of my desperation to do something to change the direction of the argument - perhaps him using fairy stories to illustrate his point might highlight the ridiculousness of their own fairy stories - but then again perhaps not....

Alice, your posts have persuaded me that you have considerable intelligence and you therefore require much of a mentor. I'm curious, how will your being an atheist publicly help you?


LOL - I think I understand your question - how about I'm sick and tired of people talking rubbish, therefore educating them more on rational thought might improve the company I currently keep :)

For a long time I have been absolutely surrounded by supernatural thinkers - I went along with it for a long time, but the suffocation became unbearable and I broke out into Naturalism - I now spend most of my social time online - but it would be nice to have more 'real life' contact with rational thinkers - for the influence as well as company and social entertainment. I don't get a lot of free time having 3 young children 24/7 - so yes - I also feel strongly about educating others on the benefits of rational thought and hope that others can benefit from my efforts :)

People "need" stories far more than they "need" facts, in the sense of craving and comfort. Instead of fairy stories, we could use avatars to speak for humanist values, virtual spokespersons who know they are virtual (it's part of their programming). Then when people feel confused, alone and overwhelmed, they can "talk" to the humanist avatar of their choice. Such spokespersons could compete with gods at the gut level without demanding memebot slavery as a price of their services.

This is my candidate, Momtwo, virtual Earth Mother Goddess who speaks for the future of our species and for sustainability. You can say, "That's just a picture." But so are all of those Virgin Mary pictures.

yes I get an intuitive sense of this too - coming from different sources - but it would be interesting to understand more about this topic of stories and how they are way more appealing that facts to our brains - in the way that they are entertaining, memorable and capture us on an emotional level also.


I'm sure there is a book in there somewhere - perhaps one has been written already - let me know if there has :)

Hitchens and others will not convert believers into nonbelievers but their arguments are important as solace for nonbelievers and reasonableness for those who are wrestling with their beliefs. What would be great to see and hear are more television and radio programs such as Nova and Science Friday that discuss our universe and its origins scientifically. I would love something like a Darwin Radio Hour on NPR or a Big Bang Roundtable on PBS.

Apologies ahead of time for my many YouTube links. I do hope Alice that you have a look at them.

So first off, to Michael, above. You say Hitchens (and I presume you think this about many atheist debaters and rhetoricians ) does not change the views of believers, just affirms the views of the unbelievers. He is well known for saying that a conversation with a religious person is never wasted. Something will stick. 

Here in London last year (I think) there was a debate which has now become very well known for it's demolition of the motion of the opposing side. It took place at Westminster, one of the many talks and debates organised by 'Intelligence Squared'. The motion was 'Is the Catholic church a force for good in the world?'. I went with a friend from my atheist Meetup group. A poll as we entered showed the numbers as FOR (the motion) - 678, AGAINST -1,102, UNDECIDED - 346. There were 2 speakers for each side, one against was C. Hitchens. At the end the poll was FOR - 268, AGAINST - 1,876 and UNDECIDED - 34. In the history of these debates there has never been such a win. The swing was an extra 774 AGAINST. Don't tell me talk doesn't change us. It can and does. For anyone interested HERE is most of Christopher Hitchens talk but it really is worth watching all the segments. Stephen Fry was even better I felt. Here is the Conclusion which includes the poll count at the end.

But if you want something less argumentative here is a cute funny clip of Sam Harris -

I'm guessing Alice that with a believer husband you find anger in debate a possible turn off, which, instead of reading as probably the correct response to have to religious atrocity, you are couching as 'negative'. It's possible your husband and others don't hear it that way.

And as though we should have a complete coherent philosophy to put in it's place. We already have that. We share a majority of our moral code with most religious people, with many glaring exceptions. The point of religious debate is about what creates the greatest good in the world and again and again Hitchens does an exemplary job of sweeping back the cloak of psuedo morality and grandiosity within which religion so often swathes itself. This, backed by his famous retentive memory for the fact and figures, can look merciless or even violent. But listen to the reality of what he's battling. Religion deforms and decays our moral compass under the revoltingly smug guise of having the 'creator of all that is' as your big bully brother behind you.

The truth is, atheists have spent history being persecuted, tortured, executed and nowadays in the west, being tainted and insulted for our view. What do we do in retaliation? We use words. We have long been offended and more, by religion. No-one should have the right NOT to be offended. The religious can make jokes about us and we can draw cartoons about Muhammed. We have free speech. To the religious - get over yourselves!!

Another (quick) clip. -Stephen Fry on 'offence'

 At the risk of burnout here is - Sam Harris on drugs.

Thank you, Cheryl, I am always on the lookout for a Christopher Hitchens win and that was an absolute and magnificent win! Thank you. Phantasmogorous!!!
I see you are a follower of Hitch like myself Pangea Girl!
Who can possibly take his place? He is a fearless and outspoken ethicist and polemicist who has no equal, at least as far as I can see. And I admire the people who take him on in debate as I never see anyone match him for knowledge or eloquence.

But I support everyone, including the 'non-celebrities' who speak out against religion.

The IQ squared debate was a blinder! Other members of our Meetup group could have come, chose not to, and later wished they had.




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