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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To be brief, I think Hitchens argues in a calm, incredibly intelligent manner, and with such a vast body of knowledge that his style and reason eclipse any friendly, preacherly attempts at reasoning. They don't win with me. :)

Sam Harris is great to check out-- he is exactly the type of Atheist you're eluding to.  However, Hitchens is one of my idols.  People are persuaded in different ways, and I think Hitchens is perfect for people that tend to listen to more assertive types.


He has killer one liners as well...  I definitely see where you're coming from though.  And if I were to pick an Atheist to represent me, I'd pick Sam Harris-- but I can't jump off the Hitchen's bandwagon.  He's incredible, although not the best debater.


Any great movement is fuelled by anger.  I'm not talking about violence.  But anger.  I think a lot of atheists are too laid back about it.  The world has to know that we are here, and fed up with religion having a fake monopoly on 'morality', woven into our governments, and the indoctrination of children-- affectively brainwashing kids... to name a few.


Anger, if properly directed and methodical, can be effective.  And does not have to be chaotic.  I believe we need a combination of Harris' and Hitchens'.


Who is your favourite Atheist debater?

I'm so taken aback by this post I'm a bit lost for words....Christopher Hitchens? Not confident? Not self assured? 

You suggest leaving out some of our personal opinions and maybe using 'fairy stories' to illustrate a point? No doubt I'm misinterpreting I?

Christopher Hitchens isn't a fluffy, cuddly atheist. He's an adult. He is fantastically witty and knowledgeable. I can't imagine him any other way. There is work to be done.

Maybe you can give me an example of his 'under-confidence' and negativity? 

We have no time to lose in the effort to rid the world of the deforming effects of religion, in the sense of taking it out of public decision making. (People can believe whatever they want privately).

It's been estimated that if not for religion in our history we may have cured cancer and heart disease by the dark ages.

The religious elders prevented the dissection of cadavers for about a thousand years. Not to mention the suffering and death going on right now due to our inability to go forward with stem cell research because, and only because of our puny 'respect' for religion. And the millions dead in religious warfare.

People are suffering now, be it illness or fear of hell. I'm not going to pussyfoot. "The sleep of reason brings forth monsters". 

"It's been estimated that if not for religion in our history we may have cured cancer and heart disease by the dark ages."


Thing about these estimations is that they're crap, and the fact that they keep being perpetuated is -partly- a result of debaters like Hitchens who offer a very one-sided story. Criticizing religion is fine, but if we as atheists are going to leave one one-sided story behind and take up another one-sided story, then I do question the effectiveness of our movement.


For once I'd like to hear an atheist debater, for instance, not simply talk about the myriad of anecdotes who can tell about science and religion in conflict, but also a whisper that, hey, it was during the height of Medieval Christianity that the foundation for science was laid.

Ideologues tell one side of the story, rationalists look at the big picture and try to get a balanced assessment of the facts based on reality. I'd like for us to do the latter, and Hitchens isn't always conducive to that.


And I say that as someone who loves Hitchens to death and has spent many an afternoon listening to his debates. But for all the things I admire about him, I'm not going to be silent on his flaws. That's the way rationalists handle things;)

My Favorites;


"Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence."


""Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it."


That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence."


"The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks."


"The governor of Texas, who, when asked if the Bible should also be taught in Spanish, replied that 'if English was good enough for Jesus, then it's good enough for me."


Everyone except the last one maybe are good come back one liners..The last one to be saved when the other side opens up the can of whoop-ass ..then let it go..



Amazing one liners.  The infamous "hitch-slap"
I agree they are good phrases - well worth committing to memory - if only I could plug up the holes in mine... :)

Alice, we atheists do have a culture of reason, science and pragmatism. I've read enough of Hitchens to conclude that he is a better warrior than spokesperson.

In the 1960s (early during my agnostic years), Madelyn Murray performed a valuable service for America when she sued to stop forced prayer in public schools. In the late 1970s, I (still an agnostic) heard her speak in San Francisco and decided that she needed a god with whom she could do battle.

Founders of organizations need warrior skills. Managers of organizations need administrative skills. Few founders become managers.

Your post persuades me that you might do well at representing, or perhaps managing, an organization.



It's an interesting point - I saw him saying on one of the you tubes that he thought we were silly to 'love our enemy'.  Which is interesting - because I haven't seen that side of atheism.  I started off with Naturalism and determinism which was promoted as meaning that compassion was a sensible way of being due to none of us having 'choice' about what we do or where we end up - which I think is more Dawkins way of thinking - but Hitchens is very much the warrior in this sense.


In a way I can agree with him - in that we don't just want to be sitting their stupidly looking whilst our enemy mows us down.  The recent attacks of 2001 and 2005 are reason to be defensive - and it does seem that reasoning isn't going to cut it when it comes to people who think like this.  Perhaps though they could be said to be mentally ill - given their motivation - rather than evil people.


But then again perhaps I'm determined to be pathetic, in the sense that I would like everyone to get on and show each other compassion - and no-one would or should ever put me in charge of defending a country.  Perhaps that's another conversation - but perhaps some facts and figures would help me change my mind.  At the moment I'm convinced that it is a possibility that we could have a world that we all got on and no-one needed to be at war.  But then again perhaps war is just a side effect of having too many men and a natural drive to fight for resources, and therefore mating rights and lifestyle.


Actually if someone could help to shake me into some sense on these topics it would be much appreciated - as I know I'll only get there if I'm fully caused :)

Atheists do well when operating from the fundamental base line of true common sense.

This is why I proclaim:

"Well founded common sense and fine reasoning helped by science inevitably lead to atheist wisdom."


As debaters and teachers of this world view, it can be a righteous route for atheist rationalists to follow.

Atheism is serene philosophical wisdom based on unemotional common sense. 

Religion and superstition, by contrast, are null concepts intellectually, and counter-intuitive to all reason.


The thing is that due to determinism and the nature of the brain reason isn't innate as such. I have spend decades with people whose reasoning is completely irrational. The basis of reasoning here is facts - but many people take facts as being anything that can imagine - and not well tested, scientifically researched facts. Some facts we can take for granted - but most people take facts for granted that wouldn't pass the simplest of scientific tests - in other words they aren't really facts at all - but people use them as 'facts' in their own version of 'irrational' reasoning.

My point here is that for years I have been exposed to this - as are many others - and it's a form of enculturation - meaning that it is passed down in families and throughout communities. I had 30 years of it - and now at 35 I've only unravelled a fraction of it in my brain - I'm continually coming across new bits of irrational reasoning that I've rediscovered since my path changed tack and I started to pursue the company of rational thinkers. Naturalists, atheists, brights, sceptics, the rationalist society, books by Dawkins, Dennett, Harris etc.

So what hope do most people have?

I actually had a head start in that my father managed to plant the seed when I was around 6 years old, but telling me the story of evolution after reading Dawkins book - but most people don't have such luck - of course it's not luck - but most are determined to follow another path.

I'm in the process now of aiming to cause my husband to rethink his 'faith' by continually having You Tubes of Dawkins, Hitchens etc going - so that he might benefit from the causal exposure to rationality and reason - perhaps another reason for the anxiety I have regarding our PR :)

Dr. Terence Meaden said

Atheism is serene philosophical wisdom based on unemotional common sense.

This is why I prefer to call myself a Secular Humanist rather than an Atheist. Atheism eschews emotion too much. Emotion is an essential part of humanity. Suppressing or denying it wholesale, out of fear that we will lose the capacity to reason, eviscerates us. It's like archaic Homo Sapiens fearing to use fire as a tool because it's so dangerous. Had we avoided fire, we'd be damned cold and starving in our caves. I believe we need to face our feared animal natures, understand our limitations instead of turning away from them.


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