29th March 2012

“Engaging in religious debate is a useful endeavour, you might not change a street preacher's mind, but there may be people who hear you arguing that haven't considered that atheists exist, what they think, or why they think that. A fellow non-believer might overhear you and be emboldened to start a conversation of his own.”

ConversationalAtheist.com

9 Responses to “29th March 2012”

  1. Sinjin Smythe Says:

    This is why I’m here.

  2. electra Says:

    Street Preachers don’t engage. They’re verbal bullies. Best tactic is ridicule and shunning.

  3. Sinjin Smythe Says:

    Street preachers are most often phonies using a preacher act to solicit donations for their booze addiction.

  4. poky Says:

    It’s interesting to note that the author of the quote used “debate” in the first sentence and “conversation” in the second, when the two processes are so different.

    Debates, by definition produce winners and losers, as in academic debates where debate teams are judged, or political debates where participants are judged by the media or by polls. The goal of debate participants is to forcefully present their arguments while trying to decimate the arguments of opponents.

    Conversations, on the other hand, are processes of sharing ideas and viewpoints by participants without the element of trying to win. Ideally, the goal of conversations is to enhance the understandings of participants through the give and take of ideas. This necessitates listening with openness as well as talking with conviction.

    My experience is that conversations regarding religion, politics, abortion, same-sex marriage, or the chain that has the best pizza quickly morph into debates where participants seek to overpower fellow participants through a variety of strategies. Often, when rationality and common sense don’t do the job, participants may turn to personal attacks and name-calling.

    Because of this, I question the author’s belief that “religious debate is a useful endeavour.”

  5. Xhim Says:

    Well said, poky! One of the most frustrating experiences for anyone is when your “conversationalist” spends the time you are talking thinking about how he can refute what you said rather than actually listen to what you are saying. Real listening is something of a lost art. I would like to say people on my side of the fence never engage in the above, but my mommy told me not to lie.
    Genuine listening, genuine exchange of perspective is useful. Even if no one changes his mind, it helps understanding and encourages mutual respect. One-sided or mutual haranguing can only have a negative effect.

  6. Dan Says:

    Poky,
    I agree. Religious debate does seem to be rather fruitless. Conversations and discussions are definitely much better as you say, but if the topic is religion then I find it rather limiting. So I’d amend your suggestion further and say that “Philosophical discussion is a useful endeavor.”

  7. poky Says:

    Dan,
    Since religious views are based on underlying philosophies, focusing on the philosophies rather than the religious expressions of those philosophies might take conversations one step away from the “dangerous” territory of religious discussions. It would be tricky though, wouldn’t it.

    I suppose that in order for discussions/conversations/debates to be useful, the participants have to agree on some ground rules–that is, the “process” becomes as important as the “content” of exchanges. Agreeing to disagree is an example, but then there’s the question of “where do we do from there?” How do we handle our disagreements without letting our exchanges deteriorate into combats?

    What seems to work for you?

  8. Adam Smith Says:

    This is stupid. If people haven’t thought about there not being a god, they deserve to burn in what ever imaginary place they come up with.

  9. Dan Says:

    Poky,
    Of course religious views are based on underlying philosophies, but they are only a subset of those philosophies. That’s what I was getting at.

    And yes, you’re right, adhering to basic rules of honest discussion are necessary. Such as comparing one’s views pragmatically with facts that we can agree upon as being facts. That’s a good. And to answer your question about “where do we go from there?,” I’d add that when you don’t understand the facts, e.g. in the case of creationists, you should probably study up before claiming to know anything.